Thoughts in Transit // Go Alone 

Current location: Gate A6, Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok, en route to Chiang Mai. 

  

I figure the only time I may have to write on this trip is while I’m in transit.

My days have been packed to capacity with tours, dinner outings and roaming the streets. 

Since I began planning this vacation, people have expressed a healthy mix of concern and admiration for the fact that I was coming here alone. 

I won’t pretend it’s an easy decision to make. Going anywhere alone can be intimidating.

Halfway across the world? To a country where you know neither a soul nor the language? 

Well that…is straight up terrifying. 

Or it should have been. But for me it was easier done than said. I don’t know why. Maybe I was fed up. Fed up of saying I wanted to go places and never going. Fed up of saying ‘Oh that’s on my bucket list’ while ignoring the fact that my time could be up any hour of any day and my bucket list remained unchecked.  

I spend dumb money. All the time. I buy things that go to the back of my closet and never see daylight again until a year later when I decide to clear my closet to donate, and it gets thrown into the pile of ‘stuff I bought a long time ago but never wore and now it’s not my style anymore so bye’.

I figured it was time to start spending money on experiences and memories, rather than disposable things. 

 

except stocks…probably. and gold.

 
The next common excuse for me has been, even more so than finances, that unfortunately I don’t have a dedicated travel buddy. Not one in Trinidad anyway. There’s no friend I can message in the dead of the night and say “Hey, let’s go to Thailand nah.” and have them reply “Ok cool, will start looking at flights.” and mean it. 

That’s fine. Everyone is entitled to their priorities and interest. It just so happens that I don’t have one whose priorities and interests align with mine at the time I need it to. There are any number of limitations when seeking a travel companion – their finances, time, they were planning to go somewhere else, they don’t necessarily want to go where I want to go. 

Again, that’s ok. That’s no one’s fault. But what I could not keep doing was allowing that to prevent me from going. 

So I made the decision to get my shit together and book a flight. 

  
I plan to blog more about my actual trip but I figured a good place to start would be some of the things I learned while preparing for this journey. Hopefully this will help or motivate any one of you who’s been thinking about taking the plunge and buying the ticket to actually do it. 

1. Plan plan plan plan plan. As a solo traveler, and as a female no less, it was imperative that I have as much of this trip planned as I possibly could cater for. Now that’s not to say you can’t have spontaneous moments on your trip, but I spent a lot of time checking hotels, cross referencing reviews on TripAdvisor, checking the distance from said hotels to places of interest, evaluating public transportation options close to potential hotels, checking tours and comparing prices across different providers. One big challenge I encountered planning this trip was that many tours require two persons minimum. That, or you pay out of your eyeballs. For example, one tour increased to USD$130 from USD$50 because I am but one person. Eventually I found the same tour (and pretty much everyone offers the same tours) at a much more reasonable cost. I booked most of my tours on Viator and the balance on tour operators recommended on TripAdvisor forums. For hotels and flight I used Kayak and then checked reviews on TripAdvisor. For Thailand I originally reached out to one of those vacation concierge services. The price they quoted me was INSANE, especially since one of the reasons I chose Thailand was because I’ve often heard that it’s one of the most affordable places to visit. These people were recommending a budget of USD$300 a day! What?! I was going for 14 days. And that’s not even including airfare. So I decided to book everything myself. Sure it takes longer but my budget was half of their recommendation by the time I was done. So yeah, get ready for some serious leg work in the run up to your trip, if you want to save some coin.

2. Leave a trail. Again, top of mind for me in planning this trip was my security. Not that I’ve heard Thailand is an unsafe place per se, and my experience so far confirms that Thailand feels a lot safer than home. However, you can’t take for granted the fact that you’re out here alone and IF something happens to you…it shouldn’t be for lack of sense on your part. I printed off two copies of my hotel bookings and my flight confirmations and left a detailed itinerary with my parents, which said where I would be on each day – which tours I was taking, along with contact information for each tour provider. Let me put it this way (and of course this is morbid) if anything were to happen to me, God forbid, my loved ones should AT LEAST know where to find my body. Just saying. I also created a Google Sheet with the same itinerary and shared with a few responsible friends, just in case I had any changes to my schedule, I could update it there. 

3. Stay in touch. I check in with my dad everyday. I also have an app installed on my phone – bSafe. Highly recommend it for solo travellers. It basically allows you to send friends (who also have to download the app) updates with your location. If you’re in a crisis, there’s an alarm feature that will send them a push notification, and start the camera on your phone, record for an amount of time then send that recording to them. I gave said friends my parents’ contact information so they could reach them if they got an alarm from me. I would have installed it on my dad’s phone but I don’t know if he would have been as proficient at checking it as my more digitally inclined friends. Once I got to Thailand I got a local SIM card. Since Thailand is such a tourist destination, there were SIM cards marketed especially to tourists, offering 7-day data packages and access to wifi hotspots. It’s ESSENTIAL that you have data on your phone while abroad. And roaming makes no financial sense. Pop a SIM card in your phone, activate data and also have a way to contact hotels, tour operators, new friends (ew) on the cheap. It’s a no-brainer. 

4. Don’t overpack. This is a good rule even if you’re not travelling alone, but especially essential when you’re the only one available to tote luggage. I’ve been in some really horrible situations as a solo traveller before, in places like London, no less, so I wanted to be sure I could manage my baggage on this trip, both from a security perspective and a struggling to get up some steps perspective. 

5. Be realistic about your timeline. I knew there was no way I could see and do everything I wanted to do in the time I had. I had to prioritise. Jet lag is a bitch. I’m running on about four hours of sleep a night since I’ve been here because my body thinks I’m trying to take a day nap. Taking that exhaustion into consideration, as well as travel times, distance from sights, duration of tours, etc, you need to know what you can do in the time you have, and be willing to cut some things off your check list, where possible. 

6. Conquer public transport. This is a big thing for me no matter where I go. I’m not a big fan of buses but if there is a metro, I dey. Get acquainted with the various public transportation options, since you won’t be splitting the taxi fare with anyone and that cost can rack up. Luckily for me, Bangkok has about a bousand different ways to get around and I was able to learn the MRT (subway) and BTS (sky train) system pretty quickly. It’s so much cheaper and quicker than taking a cab. 

7. Make Google Maps your bestie. Any map service should work but Google Maps is my personal pick abroad. I use it to map out my journey regardless of mode of transportation. I also use it to get an idea of what taxi fares would be like, know how long I have to nap on a tour bus, and just generally a way to figure out where the f I’m going if I’m walking. It’s saved my butt more than a few times. You also have to stop and ask for directions less, which is important for me as a solo female traveler because I don’t necessarily want to give anyone the impression that I’m lost, ever, in life. This circles back to the importance of having data on your mobile. 

8. Get familiar with the culture. Before I left I looked up some of the cultural disparities between my home and my destination. You think “Oh I’m going on vacation, let me pack my shortest shorts and strappiest tops and get ready to skin out.” NAH. Thailand turned out to be a very conservative country. Most of the temples enforce a strict dress code for visitors – no bare shoulders or knees, and no tight fitting clothing. I can’t lie, getting dressed here has been challenging but I’m getting better. It’s also useful to know what’s generally frowned upon in a country so you can not do those things. Check your attitude once you board that plane because you are no longer on home turf and you are in people country with no contacts. No Visa face here people, only jail. 

9. Find contacts. Look up the embassy or consulate of your home country in your destination country. If there isn’t one, find the closest one to you. Ask around among friends to see if anyone has any friends or family where you’re headed, so at least you have a number and a name if anything goes awry. Trinis like salt, there must be a few where you’re headed. Ensure that they’re fine with you contacting them if need be and save that number. 

10. Keep your phone charged. Without a functional phone, most of the technological aides I described earlier, as well as the basic function of calling your hotel or taxi is null and void. Invest in a few battery packs, keep them fully charged and walk with extra charging cables. Don’t assume you will find a port or an outlet everywhere you go. Be sure to check the electric socket where you’re going too. Never know if you may need a converter. 

11. Invest in a monopod. A lot of people like to scorn selfie-sticks. I think that’s more ego and less sense to be honest, especially if you’re travelling alone abroad. If you don’t like the idea of using an extendable monopod, then make sure you’re cool with close, tightly-cropped pictures of yourself, no pictures of yourself at all, or constantly depending on a stranger to take a photo for you. About a month before I came I bought the new Go Pro Hero Session 4, which is a miniature, hardier version of the popular camera. I also bought an extendable monopod and a head mount. This is probably the best thing I’ve bought in a while. It not only captures video but time lapse photographs, and you can download the Go Pro app to your phone to control it remotely. Bear in mind this version of the Go Pro has no screen on the back so you’ll be flying blind unless you hook up to the app. 

Those are all the single traveler tips I can come up with at the moment. I think I covered the most essential bits. 

Sorry if this post doesn’t have much by way of pictures and whatnot, like I said, this is a rush job.

For prettier and more entertaining updates you can follow my trip on my social pages – @CeolaB (Instagram) and CeolaB (Snapchat). 

Hopefully this encourages you to take that vacation you’ve been meaning to take, and go to that place you’ve always dreamed of going, even if it means going alone.  

 

Things to leave behind in 2015 – VPL

VPL…

It’s like…the biggest faux pas ever.

Seriously…let’s consider:

Visible bra straps? Hell…showing your whole bra is a hot trend now.

Free the nipple? It was a movement on social media at one point and side boob is a thing to behold. 

Underwear as outerwear inspired entire designer collections back in 2014.

But one thing no one has EVER found even an iota of couture in…is the visible panty line.

Since the dawn of time, women have been saddled with the burden of finding the appropriate under garment for every outfit.

The most elusive of these has been, no doubt, that drop dead sexy slinky dress that hugs every crevice, cranny and valley of your body. You know…those dresses that look painted on, but the material isn’t sturdy enough to keep your underwear from printing through.

And with these dresses…it’s not just the panty line around the derriere that we have to contend with…it’s the straps of the underwear that create that less than flattering indentation in the hip and gives you that dreaded muffin-top-like illusion on even the fittest of females.

So what have we done? Well to date…women have fallen into one of three camps:

Camp 1: Those who don’t wear that kind of thing at all. They’re the boring bunch.

Camp 2. Those who rock the look AND the visible panty, and don’t really give a damn. They’re the nonchalant crew.

Camp 3: The commando cadets. These ladies are the devil-may-care bunch who rather spend an evening sans draws than subject themselves to panty-line scrutiny.

However…there’s a fourth camp emerging. It’s a little radical…and some may say even a little bit of a fad. But from personal experience I can say there’s something to it.

I first came across Shibue strapless panties in the run up to Carnival 2015. I bought a pair and used it beneath my costume on Carnival Tuesday and let me tell you…God send.

It wasn’t until I was approached by the rep for Shibue to write a review of the underwear that I began to consider its other applications – much like the scenario I presented above.

I own a lot of close-fitting, body con dresses that are made of a stretch cotton or jersey material.

I wore one of the aforementioned dresses for my birthday dinner back in October and it was a real relief not to have to worry about any unsightly visible panty line, with the security of coverage you’d enjoy from a regular pair of underwear.

The Shibue strapless panty has a strip of silicone on the front, as well as on the rear end of the underwear.

You have to ensure your skin is clean and free of moisture and press the front part of the underwear to your lower abdomen (basically where you’d expect your underwear to rest normally) and then pull the other end through your legs and attach the back end just above your butt. Make sure it’s snug…you don’t want to be all loosey goosey down there.

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When you’re ready to remove it, just unstick both ends from your skin, hand wash your Shibue and leave to air dry.

Turns out Shibue was also the official underwear for the Trinidad and Tobago Fashion Week (2TFW) 2015 and is used by Claudia Pegus in her runway shows.

Babes like Chrissy Teigen and Jennifer Lopez also use Shibue.

If it’s good enough for Chrissy…it’s good enough for me.

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Before (yikes) and after

Persons interested in retail or wholesale purchases can email shibuecouturetnt@gmail.com

Disclaimer: I was not paid for this review. I was, however, given a Shibue strapless panty for my consideration. 

#ShopLocal // Christmas Gift Guide

Hide yo wallets! Hide yo ATM cards!

The recession is here y’all and so is Christmas!!!

I’ve always seen Christmas time as my own personal recession anyway…since it’s the time of year I spend with reckless abandon…both on my loved ones and myself.

Anyhoo! In my humble, completely unprofessional opinion, there’s no better way to stimulate a country’s ailing economy by spending more money…locally.

So tell Amazon to go suck an egg (most of the Skybox companies have passed their Christmas shipping deadlines anyyyywaaayyyy) and check out these great gift options for your peeps…or….yourself.

$800 and under

So if I’m even bothering to get you a gift, and you’re not Mombert or Dadbert or Brobert, you probably fall into this category. You ma top tier peeps so I’m gonna shell a little more on you than I would other folks in my life.

Rebel Swimwear – $700-$800 at The Shop

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Woven Baskets – $576 – $684 at The Shop

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Meiling Tunic – $650 at The Shop

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Shop Shari Necklace – $600 at Exhibit A

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Delia Alleyne Wrap Jumper – $600 at The Shop

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Lisa See Tai Fringe Kimono – $558 at The Shop

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$500 and under

Cocoa Vintage Necklace – $475 at The Shop

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Toni Crockett Design Throw Pillows – $400 each at Exhibit A

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Lend & Borough Tote – $351 at The Shop

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The Urban Factory Bracelet – $380 at Exhibit A

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Colouriot Jewelry for Bene Caribe Necklace – $280 each at Akimbo

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Zidelle Crop Top – $360 at The Shop

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Island Bags Pouch – $320 at Exhibit A

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Aya Made Necklace – $250 at Akimbo

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Wholesome You Body Care Gift Set – $225 at Akimbo

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JoVew by Makisa Bag – $315 at Akimbo

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Drevait Clutch – $360 at Akimbo

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Bay Leaf Tunic – $350 at Akimbo

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Sanianitos Sunnies – $250 at The Shop

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Greta Michelle Tea Cups – $245 each at The Shop

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$200 and under

Yes this category exists!

Cocoa Vintage Cocoa Pod Studs – $125 (gold) and $100 (brown/yellow) at The Shop

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Nikki Biedes Bracelet – $175 at Exhibit A

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Immortelle Beauty Gift Set – $150 at The Shop

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Wholesome You Hair Care Gift Set – $140 at Akimbo

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Turtle Warriors Tassel Bracelets – $150 each at The Shop

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Immortelle Beauty Ambré Candle – $125 at Exhibit A

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Nola Daniels Coconut Tea Cup – $72 at The Shop

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Classy Gents Beard Oil and Balm – $130 and $60 at Akimbo

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I still have to hit up Exhibit A and Blue Basin to see what they have on offer, so this guide will probably get updated on the weekend.

This list is by no means exhaustive – there’s no way I could document every single item at these stores, so I just selected the items I liked the most:)

Please pay a visit to either The Shop at the Normandie Hotel or Akimbo on Pro Queen Street, Arima, to grab some locally made goodies for the loves in your life.

Happy shopping!

Go Barefoot on the Beach for NYE

NYE is fast approaching and the thought at the top of everyone’s head, as usual, is how to celebrate.

I suspect my Ole Year’s will involve copious amounts of prosecco and Netflix…but for those of you heading over to the sister isle, there’s a slightly less ‘future cat lady’ option.

Mount Irvine Bay Resort is making NYE in Tobago fabulous with Barefoot on the Beach, a premium all-inclusive event, hosted at Mount Irvine’s Private Beach Facility on December 31st, 2015 from 9PM to 3AM.

Mount Irvine Bay Resort recently enjoyed a rejuvenation if you will, enlisting the superior branding expertise à la the geniuses at Abovegroup and embarking on a significant redesign via the Mac Farlane (yes, THAT Mac Farlane) Design Studio.

How do you lose with a combination like that?

Spoiler alert: you don’t.

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Imagine ringing in 2016 with waves lapping gently around your feet, with a glass of champagne in one hand and the other holding a plate stacked high with food. If that isn’t a great way to start the year I’m not sure why you’re reading my blog because literally…all I care about is food.

Now naturally, when an event’s tagline is ‘island chic, footwear optional’, you start thinking about what faboosh wardrobe you’d be stuffing into Caribbean Airlines Dash 8-friendly carry on suitcase for the weekend.

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Here’s what I would pack for a weekend away in Tobago, and a New Year’s Eve romp in the sand at Barefoot on the Beach.

Indie Swim

Indie Swim bikini available online or at NIXPIXX

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Jae Jolly playsuit available at Exhibit A

Shop Shari

Shop Shari dress available online

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Cocoa Vintage earrings available at The Shop at Normandie

Kite Dress

Kite dress by Meiling available at 6 Carlos

Sokanaval

Sokanaval ensemble available online

So…before the booty shorts and crop tops of Carnival come out to play, let’s end 2015 with some style.

Barefoot on the Beach tickets are available through Island E Tickets.

You can get more information or RSVP to the event on Facebook or send a message via Mount Irvine Bay Resort’s Facebook page.

 

I’ll be hosting a giveaway on my Instagram profile @CeolaB this week. One lucky winner gets a pair of tickets to Barefoot on the Beach, courtesy of the Mount Irvine Bay Resort.

Just repost the Barefoot on the Beach image and my caption and you have a chance to win a ticket to this exclusive bram!

 

Disclaimer: I was not paid to post about Mount Irvine Bay Resort or Barefoot on the Beach:)

Treasure Hunting // Akimbo

East people…our time has come!

Finally there’s a shopping resource in the east for people who want to put their money where their mouth is and buy locally (and regionally) made clothing, accessories and beauty products.

Akimbo, located on Pro Queen Street, Arima (obliquely opposite the tennis courts near the Arima market) is a newly opened boutique which carries products from Trinbagonian artisans, as well as a few folks from other islands.

I missed the opening on November 7th but was able to pop in today.

They carry a variety of designers and makers, with products ranging from clothing to jewellery to handbags to toiletries to furniture to art.

Prices are reasonable IMO – ie, you don’t get the impression you’re paying a heavily inflated price for purchasing from a retail outlet as opposed to directly from a designer.

The store itself is spacious and comfortable. You don’t feel cramped while browsing the items. I didn’t get to check out the changing rooms but they seemed to have quite a bit of space in the area behind the register, so I’m optimistic those also give you enough room to wiggle into some of the pretty dresses on offer.

If you’re still stuck for Christmas shopping, and not able to make it to any of the local markets, consider Akimbo as a shopping destination “past the lighthouse” (eye roll, eye roll, eye roll).

Please note that Akimbo doesn’t currently have a LINX machine. They’re working on it, but for now it’s cash only. Luckily there’s an RBC a stone’s throw away.

Check out my pics from Akimbo:

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AYA Made necklace (custom order)

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William McIntosh

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JoVew by Makisa

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KisKiddies by Xala Ramesar

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Bay Leaf

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Ai Naturals soap

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All Things Pallet

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Tizik

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Affrillance Haiti

Subscription Addiction // diemBox

Subscription boxes have become my latest guilty pleasure.

Somehow I managed to convince myself that it’s not really shopping if you get it routinely deducted from your credit card, without you actually having to go back in and click ‘Make Payment’ each time.

Right.

Anyway, right now I’m subscribed to a few foreign-based boxes, but have long ruminated on the feasibility of a locally-based subscription box, specifically one that carried locally-made items.

I was happy then, to receive an invitation to the launch of diemBox, a subscription service which positions itself as the Caribbean’s premiere subscription box service.

The launch was originally carded for July 24, which, if your memory is sharp, you’ll recall is the day POS thought it was going to burn…but then didn’t. Ie, POS Prison jailbreak day. So everyone cancelled all their evening plans, save for the usual Avenue rats who fear nothing, not even gun-toting prison escapees.

ANY. WAY.

The launch got postponed to the following Sunday and I was unable to attend because I went to CPL finals instead *record scratch*. More on that another day.

Elena of diemBox was kind enough to deliver my box to me at work, so I could bask in the glory of the first of the ‘Caribbean-inspired’ monthly offerings.

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Hello gorgeous

According to the description, each box is carefully curated based on a monthly theme, which embodies life in the Caribbean.

Cost: $60USD per month; with free shipping for addresses within T&T. Regional/International subscribers will incur an additional shipping cost.

Note however that there are different costs depending on the length of subscription you take.

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Promotional Image of diemBox contents

The information card I received with the box listed the items and their retail value:

MIKASA Stemless Wine Glass – $163TTD

MG Oolong Tea – $138TTD (Wasn’t included in the box I received)

Immortelle Beauty Esscentials Shower Gel – $69TTD

Bottega Mini Black 200ml – $59TTD

Anigram Ring Holder – $95TTD (Mine was a whale. I saw others got giraffes and rabbits)

Porcelain Ramekin – $45TTD

Stonewall Kitchen Raspberry Peach Champagne Jam 3.75 oz – $45TTD

MACO – $44TTD

Total Retail Value of items: $658TTD

Note: I received a Cailyn Nailpolish – which I priced in Starlite Pharmacy at $20TTD (This was not listed on the info card, so I presume it was a last minute replacement for the Oolong Tea).

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I think the assumption most people made/are making (myself included) is that this box was supposed to be a box of locally-made products.

Not so…as diemBox clearly states on their website and all social media profiles…it’s a Caribbean-inspired box.

Inspired.

Verdict:

I think this is a good first attempt at a Caribbean-based subscription service.

I’m not unreasonable…I know a service like this is expensive to curate, especially since we here in the Caribbean don’t have the benefit of mass-produced items to pop into subscription boxes.

However, that’s not the consumer’s concern. The consumer’s concern is whether they’re getting value for money.

Value is a pretty abstract concept. It’s not just dollars and cents; it’s the intrinsic benefit added to your life by a product or service, and that’s very subjective.

Would I pay $60USD per month for this box? Not based on the contents of the first box. And that’s not a dig at the quality of the items…they’re very good quality, tastefully designed products. Would I use all of them? Sure!

Like…I love me some prosecco any day of the week, and Bottega is the bomb…that ring holder is adorable…I never realised I needed a ramekin until I got this box (not even kidding)…Immortelle Beauty body wash went straight into my gym bag.

My real issue is that I want more locally made products. If this box included even two or three more locally made items, I would happily pay the asking price.

I must note that I have seen a concerted effort on the part of Elena and her team to get more local artisans on board with the project.

Hopefully this will encourage more local artisans to actually produce more of their goods in sample sizes, so it can be economically feasible for them to contribute to the box.

I could easily see an Amara Organics, Koko Karibi, Peta Odini, Shop Shari, Turtle Warrior TT, etc fitting in with this box, based on the type of products they make.

I’ll be monitoring the contents of the next few months’ boxes to see how the curation progresses.

Let me emphasize again – in terms of product quality and retail value…this box is worth the money. But if you’re looking for something you truly can’t get from a foreign subscription box, it’s not all the way there yet.

I encourage you to check out diemBox for yourself though, and decide whether this is a box you’re willing to try.

Website

Facebook

Instagram

Twitter

Travel Diary // Eating the Big Apple I

Hi, I’m back and slowly but surely getting over my intense NYC withdrawal.

For those of you who follow me on Instagram and Snapchat (@CeolaB), you probably witnessed me successfully eating my way through The Big Apple last weekend with my best friend Sandi and her sister Ashanna.

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No makeup selfie on the way to Brooklyn from JFK. Shout out to Jose who was the best host ever (AirBNB y’all).

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These beauts on the A train ^^^

Normally my trips to NY are just huge shopping marathons with my mom but on this trip I wanted to focus on eating at places I’d never been to before. I polled my FB friends before I left to try and get a gist of some of the best NYC eateries that I should hit up while on vacation.

Naturally I couldn’t hit them all, but I think I achieved my goal of enjoying a true foodie experience in New York.

Check out the pics below for a run down of all the grub I had.

Spice was one place that kept coming up when I asked about good food in New York. It’s a chain restaurant with extremely quick service, which doesn’t come at the expense of the quality of the food. We had a great meal and all our entrees came with complimentary appetizers. Don’t mind if we do.

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That night we decided to check out a Zagat rated southern comfort restaurant nearby where we staying. Peaches Hot House was packed to capacity when we arrived around 8:30pm. We placed our names on a board and went outside in the cold to wait, staring daggers at this group of folks who were taking forever to pay their bill and leave.

Eventually we got a seat and started in on some good ol’ comfort food. Not too shabby, but admittedly, didn’t live up to my expectations. I was super excited about the mac n cheese and blackened catfish but the fish turned out tasting a bit overseasoned and the cheese was slightly too sharp given the tartness of the salsa on the catfish.

Sorry about the dodgy pics, the lighting in the restaurant was next to none and I didn’t want to blind my fellow diners with my flash.

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That was day one of my NYC eats. Look out for the next post in which I gush over Chelsea Market.