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Karen Chen on getting back to Belize, relaxing in Jamaica, and hazy IPAs

We caught up with the executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association to talk about all things travel.

Karen Chen in Chinatown.
Karen Chen in Chinatown.GuruAmar Khalsa

As executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association, Karen Chen doesn’t have much time for travel. But when she does get a break, she wants to go back to Jamaica. “It is just so beautiful there, and it is nice and relaxing,” said Chen, 42, whose work with the grassroots community organization focuses on securing equality and empowerment of the Chinese community in the Greater Boston area and beyond. “We want to ensure that people in our community get access to basic needs,” Chen said. The CPA is in the throes of planning its annual Chinatown Block Party on Aug. 15. “It’s an opportunity for residents to get to know each other and support each other,” she said. “And it’s a lot of fun.” The Cambridge resident was born and raised in Taishan City in the Guangdong Province of China. She moved to Belize with her family when she was 9 years old, then to Boston when she was 10. We caught up with the Boston University graduate to talk about all things travel.

Favorite vacation destination?


My last vacation was in Jamaica 2018. I can say that it is one of my favorites because it was really relaxing. I stayed at the Rock House Hotel in Negril. It was really nice and relaxing.

Favorite food or drink while vacationing?

Favorite drink: Hazy IPA from local breweries. Favorite food: almost anything Asian and dishes with lots of vegetables.

Where would you like to travel to but haven’t?

Belize. I lived there for about a year when I was 9 years old. I haven’t been back since. I would love to visit.

One item you can’t leave home without when traveling?

My phone and a water bottle.

Aisle or window?

Window. That way I don’t have to keep getting up when people use the bathroom. Also, I’m small enough that I don’t need extra leg room.


Favorite childhood travel memory?

None. My family emigrated from China to Belize and then here [Boston] when I was 10. Like many other immigrant children, I became an adult immediately because both of my parents were working — my dad in restaurants and my mom was a garment worker. So my older brother and I had to take care of everything at home — including two younger brothers. Vacations were not a part of our life.

Guilty pleasure when traveling?

Binge watch TV shows. Some of my favorites are “Better Call Saul” and “Breaking Bad.”

Best travel tip?

Be open-minded and adventurous — while also taking safety precautions.