The So and So: Chantel Rivera
"The So and So" feature was inspired by a friend who encouraged me to do the things I thought I wasn't capable of doing. We always say, "Oh, I could never wear that/do that/be that, but so and so could..." and she would always tell me, "Tay, be the So and So." Through this feature, I hope you find the encouragement and inspiration you need to be the so and so.
Have you ever met a girl who knows how to do it all? You know who I’m referring to: the girl who can cook, she’s organized, has perfect hair, travels whenever she wants, and has the coolest style. You either love her and aspire to be just like her, or you might possibly have a little bit of envy rush over you when you see her - in the best way possible, of course. ;)
Well, I know one of those girls in real life - and she happens to be one of my closest friends! While I sometimes can be quite envious of her lifestyle and you might be too, I aspire to be like her! Luckily for you, I sat down with her and got to chat one on one with her about her life and how she’s been so successful.
Would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hey, I’m Chantel Rivera. I’m from New York. I’ve lived in New York, Virginia, Mississippi. My mom lives in Houston, my dad lives in Maryland. So basically, I’m just all over the place.
So, I know that you love to travel... where did you get the love for traveling?
I think I’ve always loved traveling. I remember my first airplane ride - I was in the third grade and I went to the Dominican Republic, and then I remember specific travel memories. So like, in our culture, having a “big” 15th birthday - a quincinera, is a big deal, but since we were here in the United States, we were going to do [a party] for my sixteenth birthday.
I remember my mom told me, “You can have a big party or you can take a trip.” For me, it was a no brainer and I wanted to go to Paris. I think that was my first time deciding to have an experience rather than spending the money on a party or on clothes. I’d rather go somewhere and seeing something new.
Side note: Chantel and I were obsessed with Paris when we were younger. Our rooms were decked out in a ton of Eiffel towers and a pink and black color scheme. We were the original #frenchgirlgoals, ok?
What is your favorite place you’ve visited?
Granada is my favorite place I’ve visited. It’s in the South of Spain. I spent four months there, and I think that’s the place I got to see the most, so it wasn’t like I was just some tourist.
How do you afford to travel so often? Do you have a savings plan that you could share with us?
This is the biggest question I get asked. Everyone, literally everyone, asks me how I afford to travel, how is it that I can do this. I think there was a rumor going around my church at one point that I was secretly rich, and they’d ask me my roommate (“slash best friend”, she says) Madison like, “How does she afford to go on all of these trips?!” My number one thing that I tell people all of the time is that you do not have to be rich or make a lot of money to travel.
So, these are the things I do. When I’m traveling in the states, if it’s cheaper to take the $50 airplane ride and then pay for transportation, do that. If it’s cheaper to take your car, and your car can make the trip - do that. Go some place where you know people, and you can stay for free. The things you spend the most money on is your food and where you stay.
When I travel internationally, I stay in hostels. You stay with like ten other people. It’s extremely safe, it’s not scary at all. Some of them are nicer than hotels than I’ve stayed in in the states because this is what they do. So if you’re paying $20-30 a night to sleep somewhere, and literally all you’re doing is sleeping and showering there because you’re out traveling for the rest of the time, it really makes the trip more affordable.
Side note: Clearly I was curious about hostels because the only time I’ve ever really even looked into hostels is when I watched the episode of Gilmore Girls where Lorelai and Rory are trying to convince Emily and Richard that backpacking through Europe isn’t dangerous.
So like, you sleep in the same room with them?
Yeah, so you can pick all girls or all guys. I only do them in Europe because Europe is well known for them, it’s clean, they’re secure. They have security in the hostels. You can use apps to look up hostels too like “Hostel World”. If that’s not your thing, I do Airbnb. You can read reviews, the hosts don’t bother you. There’s tons of way to get around. I’ve never spent $100/night at a hotel, ever.
Food wise, it’s cool to find someone who likes the same things as you do. So my travel partner, Katie, we already know when we go on a trip that we’re going to go to a grocery store and buy a ton of fruit and bread, and that’ll be our breakfast. And coffee and snacks will be our lunch, because we know we’re going to be gone all day, and then we’ll splurge on dinner. So it’s about finding what works for you.
You’re a foodie and obviously that plays in really well with your travels. How do you find the best spots to eat at when you’re traveling?
I used to do the whole “Google and find the 10 best spots to eat at”, and sometimes I do still just for a reference point. But honestly, ask locals. Literally talk to people. Don’t plan out every part of your trip. Just go, and ask, and talk to people and you will literally have some of the best times of your life
What is something you try to do every time you travel?
I try to see something that is not tourist-y. I try to see the non-tourist area and see how the locals live. I try to talk to everyone. (She really emphasized everyone, so next time you’re traveling - get out there and talk to those locals!) Obviously, be safe and have common sense about it. I try to go do something either historic or artistic, you know, something that means something to that city or town.
Speaking of being a foodie, I know you’re an amazing cook - how did you get into that?
I studied food and nutrition, because food has always just been a huge thing for me and my family. So, when I moved into my first apartment, when you’re broke and you just really have to buy groceries, you want to make sure the things you buy taste good, so it came through trial and error and a lot of phone calls to my grandma.
What is something your grandma taught you to make?
Her black beans, which are my favorite. Black beans and rice. I remember calling her the first time I made them like, “I need you to help me!” There’s a certain way to season it and to make it and it’s just delish.
We live in a day and age, where some women are against “homemaking” and being domestic, or they just think that cooking is too daunting of a task. What advice would you give to girls who want to be homemakers or who just want to learn how to cook better?
I think, especially when people see me, they said “Chantel, your husband is going to have to be a really strong person.” And I think what they mean is that I have a very strong personality. And I’m very much “Girl Power” like girls can do it, you know? You don’t have to be married to do all of these things. (#totesagree)
But, I also don't think there’s anything wrong or demeaning about wanting to take care of your family. So knowing how to cook and knowing how to do these things, just really search it out. If you want to know how to do something, you’re going to find out how to do it. Ask people. Ask older women. I love getting recipes from the ladies in my church and just talking with them and hearing their conversations. It’s hilarious. Plus, you learn so much.
“If you want to know how to do something, you’re going to find out how to do it.”
What is one thing that your mom taught you growing up?
I think the biggest thing she taught me is how to always assert myself, but not in a forceful way. But gracefully. And to know that I can be and do anything that I work hard for and put my mind to. I think that so many times girls think that they have to look a certain way, or do certain things to get places in life. My grandma is always telling me, “Beauty and smiles will fade, but you better have something to back that up.” So education was always very important in my family..
My mom taught me to always pray and ask God for every single thing. Every single decision. Before you jump and move, make sure you pray about it. And I’d like to think I live my life that way. Before taking a trip, before any big or small decision, I think it’s really important to pray about it.
I hope you enjoyed reading through this feature story. I had so much fun interviewing and taking photos of one of my best friends of fourteen years now! You can follow Chantel and her travels on Instagram @chanty_m.