By Jacqueline Boss
Followers of Escape Normal, and especially the monthly income posts, will know that this site progressed from a blog with zero traffic and no revenue to a job-board website with hundreds of thousands of visitors per month and multiple streams of income. It took a long time and a lot of effort, so the prospect of starting from scratch again- from zero- on another website and a new business was not appealing, and therefore I did not consider until recently building my own art business (beyond landing a few freelance jobs).
But now, as I continue to move from place to place (currently I’m working and living on Santa Catalina Island off of mainland Southern California, at a zipline attraction– check out their site and apply in the off-season for some great summer jobs) I realize that if I’m ever going to be able to travel without going through the process of applying and interviewing for seasonal job after seasonal job (however fun some of the jobs turn out to be) and be paid for the effort not all that much above minimum wage, I need to get serious about making money doing something that I love and that can travel with me. And as cool as Escape Normal has become, I can’t honestly say that posting job openings of other companies is profoundly exciting or satisfying. But art is. Creating art is something that consistently makes me happy- and beyond that, illustrating what I am interested in at the moment brings me significantly more happiness than freelancing and working on bringing somebody else’s dream to life.
After having a conversation with a friend I met on the island, I was inspired to finally create a website for my art: Jacquelineboss.com. Here I have begun to keep a blog, a shop, and an ever-growing portfolio.
Some of my illustrations are inspired by places I have been or would like to go- most notably, Crystal Lighthouse (one of my favorite illustrations to date) was inspired by a photograph of a lighthouse in Acadia National Park.
As I’m in the very, very first steps of breathing life into the site and the business, I’ve started a monthly traffic and progress update like the one I kept and shared with the readers of Escape Normal. I expect that it will be harder to drive traffic to my new site- I’m not really sure yet what to write about art, what niche to focus in on, what I can say that will be helpful beyond the entertainment and emotional factors of original artwork. I hope to figure it out through trial and error and research. See my work, cheer me on, follow Jacqueline Boss Digital Art on Facebook, or learn from my business mistakes and successes over on my new blog!
Are there any other artists out there with some insider tips and information?
By Jacqueline Boss
Sometimes it is difficult to find ways to have fun with your partner in a long distance relationship. The following list of long distance relationship activities from my ebook Long Distance Love: A Survival Guide for Long Distance Relationships includes a wide variety of activities for any situation, whether you have access to Skype and a webcam, a cell phone, or even just snail mail. For more activities (a full list of 60 fun things to try), a list of conversation questions, and long distance relationship ideas and advice, read my ebook, available the weekend of October 11, 2014.
1.Have a duct tape contest. Making things out of duct tape was a bit of a fad at one point. Mythbusters even created an episode based on surviving on an island with nothing but a lot of duct tape. Working with duct tape is fun because it is simple and versatile (and waterproof) – so look up some tutorials and challenge your partner to make the best duct tape wallet, bag, costume, hammock – whatever. All it requires is a bunch of duct tape, and nowadays you can find all kinds of pretty colors and patterns on duct tape’s fashionable cousin, washi tape.
2.Play Battleship & grid games. Battleship wins major long-distance points for being one of the few games you can play together with the physical game. You’ll need to buy one copy and mail half of the components to your boyfriend, so that each of you has a copy of the board, colored pegs, and ships. Then you’ll be able to play over the phone or on Skype. Alternatively, you can play with nothing but a piece of graph paper and a pencil. Other grid-based games like the printable Grid Race (at boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/67821/grid-race) are excellent because they are free and printable, and as long as you label the x and y axes, it will be easy to convey your moves to your partner and play the game over the phone. Chess, checkers, Connect Four, Quoridor, and Stratego also translate easily to graph paper, as do many other commercial games.
3.Ask thought-provoking questions. Good questions can lead to some very interesting discussions and heated debates. You may have heard of the game “Table Topics,” – well, it’s the same idea, but you don’t need to buy the cards to have a good time. You can come up with your own or pick and choose from online questions or from the “Conversation Topics” section of my ebook.
4.Have an origami competition. This requires nothing but a piece of paper cut into a square and a webcam or phone with a camera to compare final products. When my boyfriend and I tried it, we chose to make paper cranes. We followed the same set of directions online and took our time to try to make the better crane. My boyfriend got points for being much faster, but I won anyway since his crane looked like a pile of mush.
5.Play 21 questions. This is a go-to of mine since it is easy and can be played anytime, anywhere. One person chooses a person, character, or object and the other tries to guess who or what it is by asking yes or no questions until he arrives at the answer. Technically the guesser is only allowed to ask 21 questions, but my boyfriend and I throw that rule out the window and just play for fun.
6.Play charades. All that this requires is a webcam. One of you must choose a movie (or book or song or anything you like) and act out its title silently so that the other player can correctly guess what you’ve chosen. Charades is always a good back-up game if you are bored and have nothing planned, since it requires next to no set-up or preparation.
7.Play the Newlywed Game. This was an American TV game show on which couples had to answer questions about one another and compare their answers against their spouses’ secret correct answers. It was played as a competition between sets of couples, but you can switch it up and compete with your partner. Simply print and play my version of the game from my blog: http://www.escapenormal.com/2014/10/09/long-distance-relationship-print-and-play-games/.
8.Take personality quizzes together. There are quizzes and personality tests out there for every topic under the sun. Pick a few quizzes that interest you – anything from determining your spirit animal to which Hogwarts house you belong in, and compare results with your partner. A good site to get you started is playbuzz.com. It can also be a lot of fun to create your own quiz with your partner, and then share it so others can enjoy it too.
9.Blind drawing challenge. This is a challenge designed to see how well you can communicate with one another. Do an image search online for some abstract geometric shapes and patterns. (Or search for tangrams shapes.) Something that could work well is an image of two slanted rectangles intersected by an arrow shape, all inside of a circle. The partner who finds the image online has one minute to give instructions to the other, describing exactly how to draw the shapes. The second partner must draw silently and cannot ask for clarification. After the minute is up, compare the drawing to the actual image and see how well (or terribly) you did.
10.Have list competitions. The website Sporcle.comis great for having friendly trivia competitions. The many list-quizzes on the site focus on certain topics (for example, the countries of Europe, the original Pokémon, famous logos) and the goal is to list as many items within that category as possible within the given time limit. You could also do this as a pen-and-paper activity if you think of your own topics and use a timer.
11.Do a snail-mail art project. Complete an art project by mailing the materials back and forth. For example, one of you could draw a doodle on an item and mail it off – the next could color in the doodle and draw a new one. Repeat. You could do this with useful items like a white handkerchief or pillow case, or you could purchase something fun like a deck of blank playing cards, in which case you’d mail two cards at a time until the entire deck is covered in original doodles. When you’re finished you’ll have a functional and personalized piece of artwork.
12.Play storytelling games. Ah, the ancient art of storytelling. It may feel ridiculous to sit down and tell each other stories, but it’s tons of fun to weave stories together under the guise of playing a game. Some such games, like Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, are book-based (though expensive), and guide you through a fictional world, allowing you to direct the story based on your decisions. Other games, like the popular card game Once Upon A Time, require you to come up with the story, but gives you boundaries and inspiration in the form of keywords based around a theme. The game is affordable so you can purchase a copy for each of you and play via Skype.
13.Play board games online. Listing all the sites you can use to play board games would probably require another book. En.boardgamearena.comis one that has a bunch of excellent and popular games (popular in the gaming world, at least) like Hive, Coloretto, Saboteur, Jaipur, Seasons, and many more, and they are free to play. I have enjoyed using this site many times. If you need more ideas, check out http:// boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/140673/exhaustive-list-board-games-you-can-play- online-fr for a nearly all-inclusive list of free online versions of board games. Days of Wonder has some really wonderful games at Daysofwonder.com,though you’ll have to pay for a subscription. Ticket to Ride is an excellent game so to start off with if you don’t often play board games.
14.Play MMO games. There are many more of these Massive Multiplayer Online games than I can mention – if you’re a gamer you’ll already know many of them (World of Warcraft, League of Legends, Call of Duty, etc.), but if not, then it can be hard to know where to start. Minecraft, the world-building and exploring game, is an excellent choice for people who consider themselves non-gamers. It is tons of fun to have your own private creative server where you and your partner can build a world together. Second Life, extremely popular with certain groups, is another user-built world where you can go to virtually hang out with others, though it lags and glitches terribly. Dofus is an old-school turn-based RPG (role-playing game) I’ve enjoyed with my boyfriend. MMOs can be played on your computer or various consoles. You just have to do a bit of research and find what’s right for you.
15.Play (or make) text-based decision games. Companies like Choice of Games (at choiceofgames.com) still make the cool retro-style story games that read like a book and allow you to make decisions after each scene, which will affect the path of the game. Read aloud a game with your partner and take turns making the decisions. (Or make them together.) If one of you is code-savvy, you can even use the site’s own programming language to make your own games together and upload them for sale.
16.Watch movies simultaneously. This is probably the single most popular long distance relationship activity, as it is so easy to set up and mimics the traditional in-person movie date so well. Get snacks and run Skype in the background so you can communicate during the movie. My boyfriend and I like watching documentaries together, and we always learn something new and find plenty to comment on during the movies. Watching really bad movies is also extremely fun – two amazingly bad films are The Room, starring Tommy Wiseau, and Titanic II. There’s nothing quite like bonding and laughing over something awful. Or choose a cartoon from your childhood that you haven’t seen in years – you can find a bunch of old shows on Netflix and just about everything has been uploaded to the Internet somewhere. There’s almost nothing you can’t find for free if you look hard enough.
17.Play print-and-play games. As a graphic designer, board game enthusiast, and someone in a long distance relationship, I felt that there really needed to be some more easily accessible and free board games that could be played without a dependency on Internet connections. Online games are fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t work in relationships that rely on phone calls or snail mail. That, and the fact that physical games have a certain charm that online games can’t capture, prompted me to recreate some games so that they would work well for long distance relationships specifically. I’ve uploaded these games to my blog at http://www.escapenormal.com/2014/10/09/long-distance-relationship-print-and-play-games/. In order to play, you and your partner will each need to print a copy and learn the rules.
18.Have drawing competitions. Using sites like CoSketch.com, youand your partner can have a private place to draw together online. Follow the lead of the YouTube show “Morning Drawfee,” during which two artists take turns bringing to life the ridiculous suggestions sent in by their viewers. They draw things like rejected Pokémon, forgotten Disney princesses, and samurai birds. Keep your artwork saved on your computer so you can get it printed as a hysterical photo book one day. Alternately, each of you could draw your image on a piece of paper and show it off via webcam. (Note: it can be hard to draw on the computer without a tablet pen).
19.Have a miracle berry date. This is something that’s especially fun in person, but so unique that it will also make a good Skype date. Miracle berries (or miracle berry pills) are naturally occurring fruits that change how your taste buds react to sour foods and drinks and make nearly everything taste sweet. Lemons will taste like sugar-saturated lemonade. The effects wear off in an hour or two, but during that period you and your partner can have a great time tasting drinks, sweets, and savory foods over Skype. It’s best if you each have a spread of the same foods in front of you, because there will be shouts of “oh my god, you have to try this!” back and forth. (This activity is sometimes called “flavor tripping.”)
20.Read bedtime stories. If you and your partner normally have a bedtime phone call, consider taking an extra ten to fifteen minutes each night to read stories aloud to one another. Bedtime stories are fun and relaxing and can even teach you new things and give you a sense of accomplishment. Short stories work well, but this could also be a great opportunity for you to finally make time to read that novel that’s been on your shelf for two years. Cuddle up in bed and read a chapter over the phone, picking up where you left off the night before. One person may like to read and one person may prefer to listen, but you could also purchase two copies of the same book (or share a digital version) and take turns reading to one another each night. Alternatively, if neither of you feels like reading aloud, you could download the audio version of a book and listen to it simultaneously.
21.Have Skype drinking dates. You can play some of your old favorite drinking games together via webcam or take turns choosing new and exciting drinks to try. Test out the same drink recipes together or, for sophisticated folk, sip and nibble on new brands and flavors of wine and cheese or tea and cookies. This is the kind of activity that works well if you do it weekly or monthly, like your own private “drink of the month” club.
22.Run outside and talk. A Bluetooth headset for your phone or a simple set of earbuds with a built-in microphone will allow you to have tandem outdoor exercise time with your partner. Most of the time you’ll both be silent or huffing and puffing, so a good way to make sure there is some communication and opportunity for bonding is to set a time goal for your run. Near the end you can encourage each other and give updates on how many minutes and seconds are left. There isn’t much you can do to get outside with your partner when separated, but this sometimes does the trick. If you’re not a runner, walk while your partner runs.
23.Hold a fitness competition. The site Fitocracy.com is an excellent tool for holding fitness competitions – with the ability to easily track every exercise you complete and give you an appropriate number of points per exercise, it makes working out feel like a real-life video game. You gain levels each time you earn a certain number of points and complete challenges, so it’s very simple to compete with your partner, though the site has a special challenge feature as well. I love this site and can’t recommend it enough. If you don’t want to use it, simply challenge each other to exercise more (without using the site) – set an end date and determine the winning criteria – for example, most sit-ups in two minutes, most improved mile time, etc. You can each work out in your own free time or set a time to work out together each day over Skype.
24.Meld your faces together online. There are a few sites where you can upload images of your face and the face of another person and see what you would look like mixed together. The point is to see what a hypothetical “child” will look like, but this of course is just for fun.
25.Have double date nights on Google Hangouts. Get two of your long-distance couple friends (if you don’t have any, have two of your in-person couple friends each get on his or her own computer) to video chat with you and your partner. Take any of the ideas from this list to form your double-date plan: watch a movie, have a competition, or play a hysterical multi-player storytelling game like The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen.
26.Write a story together. Over the course of a day or week, construct a short story with your partner, one sentence (or paragraph) at a time. Start by emailing the first sentence to your partner; when he has time, he’ll email you back with your sentence and his second sentence, until a story unfolds. One of the couples I spoke to when writing this book loves this method of story-making, but I prefer NaNoWriMo, which occurs every November (with mini-sessions in April and July). During the month you aim to write 50,000 words and have access to one of the most amazing and supportive communities on the Internet. Writing the novel that’s been in your head while your partner writes his can be very rewarding.
27.Play six degrees of separation. This is another easy game to play over the phone. Each of you should pick an actor and then work together to connect them through no more than six movies. For example, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan star in Cast Away, Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal star in When Harry met Sally, Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro star in Analyze This; thus we have connected Tom Hanks and Robert De Niro by three degrees of separation.
28.Learn a language. If you’re both sitting at the computer at a loss for new conversation topics, you might as well open a language learning program and go through it together, lesson by lesson. There are dozens of great free computer programs available now, but there are also many other options for your phone (like the free Rosetta Stone-esque app Duolingo) and for your car or mp3 player. So even if you can’t practice at the exact same time as your partner, you can still schedule little practice sessions together and apply what you’ve learned in real conversations.
29.Draw each other. Your artistic skills are irrelevant to how much you will enjoy drawing your partner. Take turns posing via webcam and drawing one another. Aim to draw a realistic portrait and just see how you do… if you’re not practiced in art you’ll probably end up with something really goofy looking that somewhat resembles your partner, and she’ll draw a lopsided, squished-looking version of you. Then you can just enjoy making fun of each other. With practice, though, you can get pretty good pretty quickly.
30.Play photo freeze tag. Make an agreement with your partner that at any time of the day, either of you can text the word “freeze” to the other. When the text is received, the receiver must immediately take a picture of himself doing whatever he is doing at that moment and send it to his partner. Try to catch each other in funny situations or just enjoy seeing what your partner is doing at any time of the day.
31.Scavenger hunt. Normally these hunts are done by a group of people who split into smaller groups and meet up at the end to compare results; the idea here is the same, but the meet-up is virtual. Find a few people in different locations who want to participate. Come up with a list of things you’ll need to find and take pictures of – such as a building more than 100 years old, someone in costume, your entire team in a tree, etc., and determine how many points each item will be worth. At the end of a designated amount of time, join a Google Hangouts session with all of the groups to share pictures and determine which team is the winner. This could be good if you have a lot of long-distance friends within similar time zones.
32.Make bets. Place some stakes on the goings-on of your everyday life: how long you can go without eating dessert, how much time you think you’ll spend on Skype together in a week, how many times the main character’s first name will be used in an episode of your favorite TV show. Decide in advance what the losing guesser owes the winner – money might not be a fun stake in your relationship, but massages, dinners, risqué rewards, and other personal goodies sure can be.
33.Paint. Paint-and-wine nights have been gaining popularity lately. The idea can easily be transferred to a webcam date. You and your partner will need some painting supplies and a simple painting tutorial to follow online. Set up your canvases facing your webcam, so you and your partner can check out each other’s work as you go along. This date can be sweet and romantic or it can be ridiculous; take a hint from Jenna Marbles’ YouTube video, “Jenna’s Drunk Art School,” for an idea of how funny a painting date can be if you pick your own image and don’t take yourself too seriously.
34.Play “Would you rather?” This is another simple phone-based game that requires no set-up. Simply take turns thinking of would-you-rather questions and answering them. How else will you ever know if your partner would rather be stuck on an island with his least favorite relative for a year, or lose the ability to taste sweet things forever?
35.Research your family histories. This activity is always fun but takes on even more meaning if you are married to your partner or if you plan to have children together. After you’ve gathered as much information from your parents and grandparents as you can, share it with your partner and take turns focusing on one family or the other, figuring out when and where your ancestors were born, where they lived, and what their lives were like. This hobby can be addictive, however, so consider yourself warned. Ancestry.comis a great starting point, though you’ll have to pay a subscription fee. Once you’ve gathered a decent amount of information, create a joint family tree to display in your home.
36.Grow plants from seeds. Owning a plant is like the easy, low-commitment version of owning a pet. Spend some time choosing a plant with your partner – maybe something you’d eventually like to have growing outside when you move in together, like an olive, fig, or lemon tree. Tradewindsfruit.com(where I get my seeds) has a really interesting variety of tropical fruit seeds you can grow at home – everything from dragon fruit to cherimoya to passion fruit. Order a packet of seeds (they are very inexpensive) for each of you and plant them at the same time. As they grow, compare their progress and share tips. It is a simple and very sweet way to feel closer to your partner.
37.Play television-based games. The next time you watch your favorite TV show together, make it a more active experience. Many popular shows now have corresponding drinking games – a Google search will show you what games already exist, but it’s simple enough to make up your own. A funny example is taping a paper mustache to the very center of your screen and drinking whenever it lines up properly on a character’s face. If, like myself, you’re not a drinker, you can play exercise games – do a certain amount of jumping jacks, a couple calf raises, a few seconds of wall squatting, etc., in place of taking a drink.
38.Choose each other’s dinners. You can have a regular Skype dinner date anytime, so every now and then try switching it up. Each of you should find a similar restaurant in your own area that offers delivery, ideally in a style you don’t eat often – perhaps Thai or Greek. Taking your partner’s tastes into account, secretly choose items from his restaurant and place his order for him (pay on the phone with your credit card), and vice versa. When both of your surprise meals have arrived, sit and talk while you dine or watch a movie simultaneously. For a little extra adventure, try eating with chopsticks or with your wrong hand.
39.Help out others who put up with the distance. You two know how tough it is to be separated, so work together to do something special for someone else who is separated from his or her loved ones and who might need some support. A good way to go about this is to put together a care package for a deployed soldier. Decide together what you want to include and gather supplies – though if you want to put them all in one package, one of you will have to mail your supplies to the other eventually. Alternatively, start something new on one of the long distance relationship forums and offer to set up a couples’ care package swap. Each couple could be matched up with another to swap date night packages for use during visits.
40.Invent an activity and share it. Many people in long distance relationships struggle through periods of boredom and just can’t think of anything new to do. So create a pen and paper game or a phone game with your partner (or write about something unique you’ve done together long-distance) and, for the good of all the distance couples out there, share it with the world. Submit it to this list so other couples can easily find it: just add your idea in a comment or submit it via my contact page and if I think other people would enjoy it, I’ll add it to the list with your name attached.
These are a few print and play games to go with the latest Escape Normal ebook, Long Distance Love: A Survival Guide to Long Distance Relationships, available the weekend of October 11th, 2014. I’ve made the games here specifically for long distance couples so that they are easy to play via Skype or telephone, though anyone can print and play the games. Click on the titles for PDF files with full game components and explanations/rules. If you have a print and play game that you have created that is playable remotely and you would like to add it to this list, feel free to email me! (I will credit you, of course.)
This is a pirate themed Stratego game. Labeled axis make it is easy to play and communicate your movements to your partner.
This is a 50-question trivia game in which you and your partner must answer questions about one another. Which of you knows more about the other?
By Jacqueline Boss
Anyone can learn a language without enrolling in an expensive course or traveling to another country. I’ve taken many language classes throughout my schooling- Spanish and German to intermediate levels and Russian and Italian to beginner levels. I’ve even taken a class to learn how to teach English as a foreign language. And though I’ve only ever been fluent in English, I wanted to write this post because I’ve recently rekindled my interest in German and have been teaching myself at home for free. I would like to one day be fluent, so I’m using a method that is efficient and effective for me, and am therefore learning much more quickly than I ever did at school. (Though I did love my college German classes).
Here are the free tools and methods I’m using and what I think of them.
This is a free language learning app that is like a mini Rosetta Stone. It looks nice and with minimal effort you’ll be able to grasp some beginner words and concepts pretty easily. You’ll go through levels and earn points like you would in a video game, and you’ll be able to unlock a few extra lessons as rewards.
The major downside to Duolingo is its inefficiency. You’ll be spending more time typing out English translations and trying to remember how to spell words in the target language then you will actually learning new things. Since it’s an app that is based on the concept of testing, you will be kept at a very slow pace so that you can prove to the program that you know the correct answer. You can test out of a lesson to move on (you’re not allowed to skip ahead… this made the app basically useless to me as an intermediate level speaker as I wasn’t allowed to get to the new vocabulary without spending hours and hours and hours testing out of beginner lessons) but testing out, if you actually know the material, takes just about as long as completing the lesson in the first place. So while you’ll be able to learn some of the basics with Duolingo, you’ll be spending a lot more time doing so than you would with other methods. A LOT more time.
The value in Duolingo and the reason I like it enough to put it on this list is its ability to get people excited about language learning. It makes it so simple to see and feel that you’re making progress and is such a nice looking program. If you do nothing else or you’re hesitant about your own abilities or the time you’ll be able to commit, then just play around with this app every now and then. It may give you the confidence to try something more effective later on.
If Duolingo is something you’re interested in I recommend reading through a free introductory lesson to your chosen language online beforehand and learning both pronunciation and a few basic words, like I/she/he/it/we/they/us, to be, and a few standard phrases. Unlike Rosetta Stone, Duolingo starts quickly and it can be hard for someone who’s never seen the language to get through the first few lessons.
Once you’ve got the basics down and you can understand sentence structure and pronunciation, use the free flashcard app Anki (you can also download it for your computer) to build your vocabulary quickly. This is one of the single most efficient ways to learn new words- you can learn and remember hundreds in a week with only fifteen minutes per day.
The app, although horrendously complicated to use if you go outside the pre-programmed settings, is the most powerful and perhaps the most popular flashcard app that exists. It’s based on the concept of spaced repetition, so that when you are shown a flashcard, you are able to select your level of understanding of the card via a choice of two to four difficulty levels on the bottom of the screen. If you mark it as easy, the card will show up less often in the future. If you mark it difficult, it will repeat more often until you remember it and then you’ll be able to mark it as easy later on. Spaced repetition ensures that the next time you see a flashcard you marked as easy, if you sill find it easy, it will be even longer until you see it the next time and you can devote your time to more difficult flashcards.
Another wonderful thing about Anki is that, in addition to making your own flashcards, you can choose to download one of the many decks that other people have uploaded to share. I found a great intermediate level German deck this way, so I was able to get started learning right away without having to spend any time picking and translating my own words.
Still, memorizing alone won’t help you learn how sentences are put together and won’t let you understand the correct usage of words, which brings us to our next point.
Reading novels/ The Little Prince
Supplement your studies with lots of reading. I chose to begin with Der Kleine Prinz (The Little Prince), which is a 94-page book written for adults but reads like a children’s book. It is extremely popular and therefore has been translated from French, its original language, into almost any language you could want to learn. And while buying a copy isn’t necessarily free, it is very cheap for such a great learning tool- you can pick up a used copy on Amazon for just a few dollars.
For any novel-reading endeavor, it will help your understanding if you have read the book at some point in English. Harry Potter is another excellent choice and is also widely used by language learners as it too has been translated into many languages. If you choose a novel you haven’t read in English or your native language first, it will help if you read a synopsis in advance so you have some idea of where the story is headed.
This is where our learning methods will first intersect. First I read a page and try to understand as much as I can. Then I go back and begin picking out new vocabulary word by word and translating it online. For each new word, I make a flashcard with Anki. Next I’ll use Anki to memorize the new vocabulary. Finally, I go back and re-read the chapters I’ve studied for and I am able to understand a great deal more than the first time around. I also get the opportunity to see the new words in context, which is a very important part of committing them to memory and understanding their usage. I also pretty much blatantly refuse to memorize gendered articles (der/die/das) with my nouns because I hate them, so I while I don’t use articles in Anki, I get to see the correct articles immediately when I read, which gives me a gut feeling about them. I prefer this to memorizing. For these reasons, my own Der Kleine Prinz flash cards are much more effective for me than the intermediate German flashcards I downloaded the first time I used Anki, because I get to use the words I learn right away.(FYI, I’m uploading these flashcards to Anki as I make them so that anyone can use them. Just search Anki shared decks for “Der Kleine Prinz”.)
In case reading and translating and re-reading and re-reading and re-reading wasn’t enough, I’m also listening to the audiobook version of Der Kleine Prinz (which I found for free on Youtube). Listening comprehension is a separate skill from reading comprehension, and for me it’s the harder of the two. I find it more difficult to keep up with the pace of a native speaker then to go through the book sentence by sentence and take my time to make sure I understand everything. But it is necessary for learning pronunciation and inflection, as well as comprehension.
Listening is not a passive activity by any means. Far from the urban legend that you can play tapes while you sleep to absorb new information, you’ll need to actively try to recognize words and phrases and it will take a lot of mental energy. Your brain will feel tired at the end.
Audiobooks have the added benefit of being multi-tasking sort of things, so while they do require that you pay close attention in order to get any benefit out of them, you can listen to them while driving, cleaning, cooking, or anything that ties up your hands but doesn’t take up much mental energy. On the same note, podcasts are another excellent language learning tool and there are many available. Unfortunately for me I’ve never understood how to use them or how to find good ones (though I’m not really interested in trying), so I’ll leave that to you if you’re interested.
Another thing I like to do when I’m feeling too tired to read, translate, or listen to something that is difficult to keep up with, is watch kids’ programs. Sesame Street (Sesamstraße) in particular. The language is at a beginner-intermediate level so I am able to understand what is going on in each skit. That means that I don’t have to devote so much mental energy to understanding the plot and I can focus on learning new words and sentence structure. Since it is an educational kids’ show, they speak slowly and clearly and repeat important words throughout each skit.
Another great thing about Sesame Street and other kids programs (I also watch the Magic School Bus/Der Zauberschulbus) is that the actions going on in each clip are very closely related to what is being said. Blockbuster movies will have tons of dialogue in nondescript scenes: two people can be talking in a plain, generic room for minutes at a time and if you don’t understand what they are talking about, you’re fresh out of luck. With children’s shows, there will be props and gestures used constantly to reinforce what is going on and make everything clear and easy to understand.
Do a google search to find out what the best children’s shows are for new language learner in your target language, or see if your favorite English or native language show has been translated into your target language, which will help because you’ll already know what’s going on.
The next step would be finding someone to help you practice your speaking. To avoid the costs of a tutor, you can do what many others do and find a native speaker of your target language who is looking to practice your native language, and spend time speaking to one another. If you can’t find anyone or don’t know where to look, http://www.reddit.com/r/LanguageLearning is a good place to post a question so that someone can point you in the right direction, though you’ll need an account (free).
For more reading on this subject, try the following:
Here is an interesting article about measuring the time it takes to become fluent in hours rather than years.
I also really enjoyed what Zane Claes did here– he tracked and graphed his progress in learning French through reading novels, taking into account the time it took him to finish each chapter and the words he looked up on each page. The results are really interesting.
Finally, though this post is pretty simple, it is motivational because the author shows massive improvement in a short time through reading the Harry Potter novels.
It’s officially summer and whether or not you get a break from work or school, it’s bright and sunny in the great outsideland, and it’s a perfect time to start your own official bucket list.
My own bucket list is pretty extensive and most of the items on it aren’t things I’ll be able to do this summer, but I still want to try lots of new things. I’ve begun to come up with a mini-bucket list full of skills I can learn in my free time- things that are fun and silly (and sometimes useful) that take anywhere from an hour to a week to learn. The list is short but growing, and it’s full of ideas that I’ve had over the past few years- things that I’ve scribbled in notebooks or written in my phone or in a word document lost in my computer somewhere, but now I want to get all of these things together and start knocking them off one by one.
So far this summer some of my mini-challenges have been:
-Learning to skateboard. This has been a great one because I can pick up the board and head outside at any time. The board is more portable than a bike and riding is fairly simple to learn- it took me only a few hours to get to a decent level to be able to cruise the streets on a cruiser board.
-Learning to make an origami crane. Another simple one that takes under half an hour and just a square piece of paper. I always thought this would be a neat trick to learn, and now it’s in my random skills arsenal.
-Dying my hair green. Yeah, I did it. Just the ends though, because I’ve been wanting to for years, so why not? Luckily I have long hair so if I change my mind I can just chop it off.
-Starting a vegetable garden. This takes a bit more effort because it needs to be maintained, but since I one day want to grow my own food, I figured I needed some practice. Currently growing are a few types of tomatoes (including yellow cherry tomatoes!), peppers and jalepenos, purple potatoes, and a few herbs. Mmm I can’t wait till the veggies are ripe.
Some more mini-things I’d like to do are learn how to accurately pronounce French words, how to make some cool shadow puppets, play hacky sack and marbles, make gnocci and energy bars, pick a lock… etc, etc.
There are some sites out there that make it fun and easy to keep track of your bucket list (or goal list):
This site is one of my favorites and I’ve been using it for years to keep track of goals and adventure wishes. It allows you to track your progress, write about your successes and failures, and share ideas and encouragement with other users who have the same goals.
Pinterest is popular for all sorts of things, and it is an excellent tool for keeping bucket lists. The idea is to create pin boards full of images you come across on the internet- so any time you come across something you’d like to try, you can pin it to your own personal Bucket List board. It’s something that many users do, and a simple search for “bucket list” on Pinterest will give you hundreds of ideas to get you started. This is an excellent tool for visually driven people. You can comment on your pins and the pins of others, but Pinterest is first and foremost a site for images.
Bucketlist.org and other bucket-list-specific sites like bucketlist.net and summerbucketlist.org (shown in the image) provide fun, colorful, supportive environments for people looking to create and share bucket list ideas.
So start your own list and make sure you have some fun new experiences this summer! What are some odd and interesting things you want to try?
By Jacqueline Boss
Toiletries can get expensive. They can also be bad for you and for the environment, since almost all of the popular body care brands are made with harsh chemicals that you don’t really want to be absorbed into your skin. Over the course of my travels I’ve slowly dropped the use of different toiletries and replaced them with extremely simple and much healthier options, usually homemade. And generally once I’ve switched over, I never go back- not even on long stays home between travels. I’ll share some of my most effective tips with you.
Some of these tips will require you to buy a few ingredients. They should be easy to find- some you can buy in various stores and the rest you can easily find on Amazon. The upfront cost for the ingredients might be higher than just buying the brand name version of the toiletry you are trying to make, but you will get much more for your money and the products you make will last a long time. Some of the products are also multi-purpose, so you only need a few basic ingredients to make many different types of personal care products.
Combination Lotion/Sunblock/Bug repellant
This one recipe will serve many purposes. Put it on in the afternoon when you go out in the sun and it will act as sunblock, keep mosquitos and bugs away, and moisturize your skin. And it smells good to boot.
You will need:
-zinc oxide powder
-essential oils (your choice of: lavender, peppermint, eucalyptus, tea tree, clove, cedar, and possibly pine). Do NOT use citrus oils, as they can cause your skin to react badly to the sun. Also never put essential oil directly on the skin- they require some sort of carrier oil or liquid to dilute their potency. A tiny bottle of essential oil goes a long way.
To make the lotion: open your jar of coconut oil. That’s it. Coconut oil, without any additives, is an excellent and healthy skin moisturizer. I have completely stopped using other lotions and creams and only use coconut oil (or other oils like almond or apricot, or even olive) on my skin. My skin typically dries out during New York winters, but this does the trick. Plain coconut oil also has a natural SPF between 5 and 10, so you’ve already got an instant weak sunblock.
To give your lotion bug repelling powers: add the essential oils to your coconut oil. 50 drops of essential oil to 8 oz of coconut oil is a good goal, but this is more an art than a science. Essential oils all have their own unique “powers”- lavender, for instance, is anti microbial and generally produces a calming effect in humans (and keeps bugs away, of course). So it’s sort of like you’re brewing your own unique potion.
Coconut oil has a melting point in the mid to high 70’s (Fahrenheit), so depending on the temperature of the room you are in it may be a solid or a liquid. If you are in a cool room you’ll need to heat it up a bit so that you can mix in the essential oils. For storage purposes it comes down to preference. I prefer it right at the melting point when it is sort of a runny cream, but I generally just leave it at my bedside and it is what it is.
All the essential oils I listed repel mosquitoes and many common bugs- you’ll have to do a bit of research to find out which oils repel exactly which bugs, but you can effectively deter flies, spiders, ticks, gnats, and more with the right combination of ingredients. But if you want a bug spray or a spray sunblock, you’ll obviously need to keep it on the warm side.
To turn your bug repelling lotion into sun block: add the zinc oxide. This comes with some standard warnings- basically don’t eat it or snort it or rub it in your eyes, and you’ll be fine. Remember that coconut oil itself is a weak sunblock- so we are adding zinc oxide to make it stronger. Zinc oxide will dry white unless you buy a version comprised of small particles- then it will dry clear.
Mommypotamus recommends your mixture contain 5%-20% zinc oxide, but notes that the difference in effectiveness as you add more zinc oxide will be very little. So at a certain point you’re just wasting zinc oxide. Read her post here. She also notes that if you have a favorite lotion, you can use this as a base to mix the zinc oxide into instead of using coconut oil.
You may prefer a more solidified or waterproof option, and can choose to use different cream bases or beeswax in your recipe. So if you want to get a little more complicated or you feel like you need an exact recipe, check out this article at Wellness Mama. If you are really into living a natural and healthy lifestyle, her site is one of the best around.
Combination Deodorant/Bug repellant/Sunburn relief/Facial cleanser
This is essentially the same idea as first recipe, but you’re ditching the coconut oil and using witch hazel instead. And since this isn’t a sunblock, there is no zinc oxide involved.
You will need:
-Essential oils (same as before)
To make: Caitie at Naturalla Beauty recommends 4 drops of lavender essential oil to each ounce of witch hazel. Other sources say 20-ish drops to the ounce. So as before, artfully mix some amount of lavender with whatever other oils smell nice to you and some witch hazel and stick it all in a spray bottle. That’s it. This one product can be sprayed under your arms as deodorant, on your body as bug spray, held with a cloth over sunburn or bug bites to provide pain and itch relief, or used as a facial cleanser. I will be staying in a tent soon so I plan to spray it around the perimeter to deter bugs from my living space.
If you’re using this only as bug spray, you can dilute the witch hazel with water and add some extra drops of essential oil.
For a bit more info about natural deodorants, check out this post at Naturalla Beauty.
Monthly girl stuff
Guys, skip ahead. Girls, stop whatever it is you’re doing and buy this right now: Lady Cup. Size small for young folk, size large for women who have given birth or are over 30. It is an alternative to tampons and something I wish I’d known about years ago. I haven’t used a tampon since I bought a menstrual cup. (I call it the hippie cup, but I’m not a hippie- just FYI.) It is ridiculous how much more comfortable this is than a tampon- I’ve forgotten it’s there multiple times. And as a bonus, it will save you tons of money (and space in your suitcase) since you only need to buy one for the next ten years.
What it does is collects the blood throughout the day- you only need to empty it once in the morning and once before bed. It creates a sort of suction barrier so you don’t have to worry about leaks nearly as much as if you were using tampons. The first few days will be weird but by month two you’ll be a pro. Rinse it in hot water and mild soap each time you empty it and stick it in some boiling water for 30 seconds before you use it each month. The brand Lady Cup comes with a cute little storage pouch and different color options. Throw that in your travel pack and you’re good to go.
I’ve also turned in disposable pads for cute reusable ones. These are very soft and comfortable. There are some options on amazon, but they look a little too hippy for me, so you can also search Etsy.com for literally thousands of design, size, and absorbency options. It’s a good idea to wear a thin pad along with your lady cup for occasional leaks. You can hand wash these or throw them in the wash with the rest of your clothes. Hand washing is good if you don’t want to buy too many- wash one and let it dry overnight for use the next day.
Ditch the tissues
Use a hankie. Any old bandana will do, though it’s kind of fun to pick out a nice one. Buy two and you’ll never need to buy tissues again- just wash one hankie and use the other while the first dries. It’s a lot more comfortable than using tissues, in my opinion, and when I got a cold it didn’t make my nose sore and chapped like repeated use of tissues usually does. If you’re traveling, you can even use your dirty t-shirts from the laundry bag in a pinch- it sounds gross, but it will wash right out. Unless you’ve got a nosebleed.
If you found this post interesting, there is a world of natural body care and natural remedies that you can look into. Wellness Mama is an excellent blog to start at. Some things I have tried that aren’t on this list are a jojoba oil antimicrobial with lavender and oregano essential oils for small cuts and acne, boric acid powder suppositories for yeast infections (TMI, but is amazingly effective), sugar/olive oil/essential oil body scrub, witch hazel/corn starch/cocoa powder dry shampoo for those days you don’t feel like showering, and cocoa butter lip balm. If you have any other cool ideas for natural travel toiletries, let me know!
Recently I participated in a work exchange at the Concordia Eco Resort on St John in the US Virgin Islands. Though I didn’t stay long, I got a chance to look around the area and spent some time at the most beautiful beach I have ever seen in my life. While the volunteer work was simple, the heat and hundreds of stairs to climb made the days feel long and swimming in the sea after a hard day’s work was an incredible luxury. I’ve posted many times about the different experiences I’ve had while traveling, and here is just one more thing to fuel your fire for travel and give you some ideas about what kind of experiences are out there.
I went to St John with a friend I’d met while doing a work exchange at a retreat center in Hawaii. The retreat center, Kalani, had been set up to be very volunteer friendly with a great community environment, and we were expecting something similar-ish at Concordia. Concordia turned out to be its own unique entity with its own set of pros and cons. Getting there was more of a puzzle: we had to take a plane to St Thomas, a taxi to a ferry station, a ferry to St John, and finally a taxi to the resort. It was a long day of travel. The taxi was kind of fun though because it was open-air, although I was pretty car sick by the end of it. The roads are incredibly winding.
When we finally arrived at Concordia, my friend (Michelle) and I checked in for duty and were briefed about the property and our schedule: we would have the evening and the next day off to get settled in before work. We lugged our bags to our eco-tent, but since we had been told we would need to switch to a new tent in a few days, we didn’t unpack. The tents weren’t what you would normally imagine tents to look like– they were more like tree forts with vinyl walls and screens for windows. Each unit contained a few beds, a kitchenette with cookware, and an unattached toilet and shower. Some rooms were split-level, adding to the tree house feel, and each had a small porch. From ours we could see the ocean and feel the nice sea breeze. Unfortunately ours was one of the tents without potable water and with no electrical outlets (although it did have a mini fridge), so we had to lug heavy containers of water up many flights of stairs and store them in our refrigerator.
We were eager to see the beach and told that we could take the hiking trail down (a fifteen minute hike) even in the dark, as long as we brought flashlights. About a minute into the hike though, Michelle and I stopped in our tracks when we saw an enormous shelled sand crab right in the middle of the path, about as big as two fists. We decided our first hike should probably wait until daylight. Who knows what other kinds of wildlife were hiding in the woods?
Our frist night was uncomfortable. We didn’t have much food to eat and I cooked some plain pasta (no sauce), and despite being covered in sweat and grime we were unable to figure out how to use the shower. Our room was very windy, so much so that every few minutes we would be woken up to what sounded like someone violently breaking in to the room, but which was actually just the vinyl walls flapping against the frame of the tent. (Later we learned that we were extremely lucky to have one of the only rooms with such a strong cross winds, because despite the noise, our tent was dramatically cooler than most of the others.)
On our second day, which was our first time waking up at Concordia, we knew we had to go shopping for food before heading to the beach. The one bus to town charged a $1 ride fee, so we hopped on with a really sweet couple we had met the day before. We had been warned that the grocery store looked like a place you would want to stay away from– run down and off the beaten path– but that it was actually perfectly safe and had the biggest selection on this side of the island. So we loaded up on food and waited for the bus back (which never showed up, by the way. Apparently that just happens sometimes. We debated hitchhiking but ended up taking a taxi) and as we waited, a whole bunch of clucking chickens and a pack of donkeys wandered by. The donkeys looked at us, but the chickens didn’t care that we were there.
When we finally had to move from our first eco tent to our second, we realized sadly that it was a bit of a downgrade. I was excited at first to find that a cute orange kitty lived near our new home, and he decided to invite himself in. I pet him for a few minutes and shooed him out eventually, but the second time we let him in he nearly bit me when I tried to get him out, so that was the last time he was invited over. Luckily as soon as Michelle picked up the broom he knew he was unwelcome and got the heck outta there.
Concordia also had two architecture interns around our age, who let me photograph some of their beautiful drawings to put on my site. I think they are more fun to look at then some of the photographs I took:
Another fun thing about the tents were the many sand crabs who lived under and around it: we quickly found out that the enormous one we saw on our first night was one of thousands. They are nothing to fear: they are slow moving and stay out of your way for the most part. There are many of them on the hiking trail, but they curl into their shells when people walk by. So many of them tumble as they curl up though, that it sounds like rain as you walk by. But the best part? If you have leftover food, throw it on the ground outside of your tent and watch as one crab comes to eat, then five more, then ten… at first it is cute, but by the time a hundred crabs are scampering over each other trying to eat your leftovers, it gets kind of gross.
Back at our eco tent, we prepared for the hike to the beach. I packed my snorkel and mask and we began walking. The hike was actually a lot tougher than I expected: the path was roundabout and turned back uphill before descending all the way to the beach. In “normal” weather it wouldn’t have been so bad, but ninety-degree heat made it difficult. Of course, the beach was absolutely worth it.
I’ve never been to a beach like that one, and I couldn’t have imagined it any better. Dream up your ideal beach, then double its beauty, and you’ll have Salt Pond Bay. I suddenly became grateful for the 15-minute hike down, because I imagined it severely limited visitors to the beach and kept it from over crowding.
The beach was a long, curved stretch of sand with shaded picnic areas under the trees. The water was a perfect sea green, surrounded on three sides by deep green hills and the other by open ocean. There was actually a small rock island right outside of the inlet which supposedly had excellent coral life for snorkelers to explore, but I never went out that far myself for fear of being carried away into the sea. You never know when those rip tides will get you.
Michelle swam and tanned and I was really excited to do some snorkeling. (Without fins though, because they feel to restrictive.) The water was as warm as bath water and perfectly still. The sea life was most abundant along the rocky sides of the beach, the leftmost side especially (when you are facing the ocean). I got up close with tons of colorful fish and some coral and some painful-looking sea urchins. Oddly enough my favorite fish were the little minnows. They traveled in huge schools and I tried my best to get caught in the middle of them, so that no matter what direction I turned, all I saw was tons of sparkling fish that looked like little stars. It felt like I was in the night sky, but underwater.
After a long time I thought I would head back in, so I swam back out toward the beach.
In the middle of the inlet, where there was sand as far as you could see and nothing growing in it, I found a huge stingray. It was really exciting and I debated getting closer to it. I know that stingrays are pretty harmless, but that stinger just looks like a weapon waiting to be wielded. So before I got any closer I decided to spin around and make sure I had a quick escape route to the beach, but what I saw made my decision much harder.
Directly on my opposite side was an enormous sea turtle! It was about as big as both of my arms fully spread, and it was munching a small patch of grass on the ocean floor. The two amazing creatures were moving apart from each other and I was stuck in indecision. Which is cooler, a stingray or a sea turtle?
The sea turtle won out. I hovered almost directly over him and watched him eat for a few minutes. Finally he needed to come up for air and began to rise to the surface very slowly, so I swam along beside him. I could have reached out and touched him. It felt more like flying than swimming… I was flying with a sea turtle!
He took a breath of air and went back down for more food. I knew he’d have to breathe again eventually, so I waited for five or ten more minutes, and this time when he resurfaced I reached out and felt his shell. It was a little scary petting a turtle that was nearly as big as me, but very fun. He got his air and went back down again. I waited with him and flew with him for about five more breaths before I decided to go lay on the beach.
This was how Michelle and I spent nearly all of our afternoons. After that first day we usually brought my bright pink inner tube too. Michelle discovered that if you plant your face in the center of the tube, it’s nearly as good as snorkeling– you can see right down to the bottom of the water without having to breathe through the snorkel.
There are other great beaches in the area, which all are appealing for different reasons. Salt Pond Bay, however, was said to have the best snorkeling. Volunteers also had the option of island-hopping during their days off, though that can get expensive and defeat the purpose of volunteering as a means to travel cheaply.
Food is expensive on the island so most days we had pretty bland meals: pasta, rice, and cream of wheat with some kind of flavoring mixed in. We had juice instead of real fruit most of the time. About a fifteen minute walk from our tent was a place called the “Tourist Trap,” a tiny restaurant/bar that gets rave reviews from everyone at Concordia who visits it. In my opinion, the reviews aren’t really warranted: the small selection of food isn’t that great, but the place just happens to be dramatically closer and easier to get to from Concordia then any other place but Concordia’s own cafe, which has odd hours. Regardless, I did enjoy their nachos (not something I’d normally eat if there was a healthy option available), and they had a good selection of tropical drinks, including a favorite of many tourists, the “BBC.” For a while I couldn’t understand why there was a drink named after a television network, but then I discovered it stands for Bailey’s Banana Colada. Now if you know anything about tropical drinks you probably already knew that… but I did not.
The main town on St John, which is where the ferry terminal is, is a long drive from Concordia. We took a bus in one day just to see what the town was like, but I wouldn’t go back a second time. There wasn’t much to do and the beach area was full of boats (and ferries). There were a few decent places to eat, including a smoothie shack where me and Michelle got our first fresh fruit since we’d arrived. I went back to that shack a second time when I was leaving the island.
The town and most of its stores (except for the uber-touristy ones) looked pretty run down, but I think that is something that comes with most tropical islands. It is difficult to build things that will stand up to the rain and heat, especially when importing is made so difficult because of geographic isolation. All in all, the town wasn’t too exciting and I think it was a better hangout for the other volunteers who liked to drink a lot in their downtime.
The Volunteer Work
And I suppose I should mention the actual volunteer work, as I’ve made volunteer life seem like a giant vacation. It was far from it. The work, while in any other setting would be perfectly easy, was made very difficult by the heat. Volunteers were split up into groups, but were often split into pairs with the people they came to the island with… meaning Michelle and I worked together most days. We did a lot of housework and took inventory a bunch of times. The coordinators seemed to think taking inventory should last us the full six hour day (seven if you count the lunch half-hour and two fifteen-minute breaks), but we accomplished it in an hour and a half, tops. When we asked for more work there really wasn’t anything for us to do… I actually forget what we ended up doing that day. But what I want to drill home is that despite the fact that the work was simple, we were dead tired every day by the time we headed down to the beach.
And the men had it worse: even those who had never built a thing in their lives (like our friend who had a comfy office job back home), were put on the construction team and helped to build a new eco-tent. Michelle and I passed them a couple of times throughout the day, standing on top of the framework of the structure in the hot sun. It made our job seem a lot easier.
Work began early in the day and ended at 2:pm, except for the two female volunteers who worked as waitresses in the cafe at night. Each volunteer received two days off per week, but usually the only other person who would have off on the same days as you would be the partner you came to Concordia with (if you came with one), so it made it a little more difficult to hang out with people, and nearly impossible to plan group trips. Getting away from Concordia to see other places turned out to be a lot more difficult in general than I expected it to be, so we spent most of the time on campus and at the beach.
There are some really beautiful hiking trails in the area: one of the most notable is the Ram’s Head Trail, mostly because it is right off of Salt Pond Bay and therefore extremely easy to get to. Michelle and I hiked that one evening (hiking during the heat of day isn’t the most fun thing to do), and it was really spectacular. I don’t remember exactly but I’m going to ballpark estimate that the entire round trip would take an hour and a half. We didn’t make it quite to the end because the sun set and we didn’t want to hike all the way back in the dark, but near the end of the trail were some really beautiful views. My favorites were an opening in the cliffside where you could see down onto big waves crashing over rocks, and a huge sloping field full of round little Thurk’s Head cacti.
I thought these cacti were pretty incredible because they bare edible fruit that looks like tiny neon pink peppers, which you can pull from their own little burrow-like holes in the top of the cactus. I gathered a bunch and (after making absolutely certain that they were edible) tasted a few. The flavor, unfortunately, was pretty boring and mild, but they were cool looking on the inside too, with white pulp and lots of tiny black seeds.
On the topic of fruit, there are also wild mango trees around so if you come in the right season you might be able to snatch a few before they are all picked by people and animals. And on one of my bus rides, a nice older man in front of my gave me some Spanish Lime (thank you xchell for the correction). It was nice to get to try them but they too were pretty boring-flavored. However, if you’re interested, it is easy to find these fruits growing wildly in bushes lining the beaches all over the island.
The hike down from Concordia to the beach, while not nearly as exciting or picturesque, in kind of nice. About halfway there is a little architectural ruin where I found a few pieces of an animal’s skeleton that looked pretty cool.
Here are some things you might want to know if you are considering working at Concordia:
There is no cell service. There is wifi, but only around the pool area and at a bench outside the main office. Occasionally you can get wifi at the cafe, which is nice because there are tables and chairs and a roof over your head.
Meals are not included. You pay for your own food, whether you buy it at the cafe or at a grocery store. There are kitchenettes in the eco tents, with a refrigerators, stove, sink, and cookware.
There are washers and dryers on premises, but you need to pay to use them. I just did my laundry in the sink.
Each eco tent comes with an unattached bathroom/shower area. Luxury level of the bathrooms is low (and so is the water pressure) so this may not be the place for you if you like to feel very fresh and clean every day. I suppose the experience is like “glamping.”
The people are friendly: Concordia’s employees will be very nice to you, despite the fact that they meet tons of new volunteers who come and go constantly and probably all ask the same stupid questions. The other volunteers were all very nice too, and of all the places I’ve been they seemed to be the most “grown up” acting and well-rounded. Though to be fair, the sample size was very small. There were probably about ten volunteers in total including me and Michelle, or maybe even fewer.
The beach is a great place to watch meteor showers if you can plan to be there at dark with flashlights. You’ll be able to see meteors most days of they year, but during the biggest meteor showers of the year you’ll be able to see many more (August 12, for example, is one of the best meteor nights of the year.)
By Jacqueline Boss
And I’m back after a long break! I’m excited to tell you about my new eBook, Bucket List Festivals: The 100 Best Festivals in the World, which has been in the works for quite a while. Based on my popular blog post “The 50 Greatest Festivals in the World“, the book features 100 articles, including pictures and 100 links to interesting YouTube videos to put you in the heart of the action, this book is full of great festivals that you’ll want to attend in your lifetime.
A stunning journey through the world’s most spectacular festivals, Bucket List Festivals is an adventure in itself. The one hundred carefully selected festivals represent all corners of the earth; they each bring something unique to the table, something magical, something to add to your bucket list.
This is your chance to experience a new world up-close and personal, to glimpse into exotic cultures and join in their celebrations, whether it be by releasing paper lanterns into the sky, viewing a dramatic battle reenactment on the lake, joining in a massive food fight, or dancing the night away under the stars.
The book is currently available for $4.99 on Amazon in Kindle format, and as a PDF file, which you can download to your computer and print if you prefer to hold your books in your hands.
This is a guest post by Andrea Hempel.
I caught the travel bug early on in life. Growing up, my parents used to load us up into the car for spontaneous road trips to the beach, out into West Texas, or sometimes just to a place close to our home in Austin, but far enough that it felt like a new, different experience. From then on, I was hooked.
I spent most of my college years studying abroad. My degree states that I went to TCU in Fort Worth Texas, but I feel like the majority of my education was spent at various institutions abroad. In fact, I’d say that over half of my degree was comprised of study abroad programs. Needless to say, when I finally graduated my days of study abroad were over. Desperate to find a way to continue traveling, I announced to friends and family that the year of 2005 would be Andrea’s Year of Solo Travels. My parents agreed to my proposal because I was an adult now with a college degree under my belt and could make these kinds of decisions if I wanted to. However, they also stipulated that if this is what I wanted to do, I would have to fund it myself. Because I was an adult now.
So, I started saving up every penny I earned at my job as a museum gallery attendant. I knew this was not going to be enough to support me for a whole year of travels, but it would be enough to get me going. Meanwhile I began looking for ways I could make money while traveling.
I found many options, some turned out to be great while others not all they were cracked up to be. In the end, the best way I found to support myself, and the one which funded most of my travels that year, was becoming an Au Pair.
I had spent much of my youth babysitting and continued to babysit on the side whenever I needed extra cash. So, while looking for jobs abroad, I naturally gravitated towards childcare. I had heard that being an Au Pair, which is pretty much synonymous to a nanny, was a great way to immerse yourself into a different culture and also a great way to earn money. Families that hire Au Pairs are looking for help with childcare, but also would like to have a cultural exchange between their children and you. A lot of families want to hire English speaking Au Pairs to help their children learn English, so if you happen to speak it as your native language that is a plus.
I began my Au Pair experience by joining a couple of placement websites. At the time, the two most popular were GreatAuPairs.com and Nannyjob.co.uk. I set up my profile upon registering for each of them. The profile included information like childcare experience, age, country of origin, some references (I got mine from people I for whom I had babysat) and a photo or two.
It took a couple of weeks until I started hearing from potential families. I started getting many requests and by the end of the week I had the option of choosing which family sounded like the right fit for me. Some families wanted an Au Pair semi-permanently, others wanted one for a specific period of time, usually over summer vacation. I was able to arrange my Au Pair experiences so that I did one for 2 months then had 2 weeks off to travel around before my next Au Pair experience began, which lasted 3 months.It is also important to work out your schedule with the family you chose before you arrive. Many families will work out arrangements such as working with the children from 8-4, Monday through Friday then you may have the evenings off and weekends. Or, if you are lucky, some families really want you to experience the place where they live and will give you ample time off each day and on weekends to explore. Just make sure you know what kind of working schedule you are signing up for.
My first experience was in a tiny town (TINY!) outside of Liege, Belgium. It was beautiful there and I really enjoyed going on hikes around the village and in the country. The family lived in an tiny, old farmhouse and it was just the dad and his two kids. They had a garden of fresh herbs and vegetables in the backyard and collected eggs from a chicken coop. They made every meal from scratch. It was a quaint, idyllic situation.
However, the hours that I had agreed to started to feel like a lot. Unfortunately, this was my very first Au Pair experience so I didn’t do a good job of making sure the hours worked for me beforehand (hence my advice of arranging this ahead of time). I wound up waking up at the crack of dawn, doing general cleaning duties, preparing breakfast for the kids, taking the kids to school (while also learning how to drive a stick shift), working the garden, preparing lunch, picking the kids up from school, having lunch, taking them back to school, practicing my French so I could speak to the baker about what kind of bread we needed, free time activity of my choice, picking the kids back up at school (did I mention they went to two different schools?) having English lessons, going to do some kind of outdoor activity, getting dinner ready, preparing for bed, then finding my way to my bedroom so that I could crash. This experience was difficult for me, perhaps not for others who are full time nannies already. I enjoyed very much my free time activities, which mainly included going for hikes in the scenic countryside, but the work was exhausting. I left this experience wanting to feel a little more prepared for my next. I spent the next two weeks traveling, but mostly traveling for the sake of relaxation.
My next experience was so different from the first. The family for whom I worked was amazing from the get go. They had three children and were on summer vacation at their beach home in Italy (a coastal resort town near Venice). My duties were 4 hours a day with the kids then the rest of it was my own free time. Weekends I also had off. I got along so well with this family, that most of my free time was just spent with them anyway. The only cleaning duty I had was making the beds and I didn’t have to cook meals, unless I chose to. I ended up introducing them to fajitas, tacos and salsa (didn’t taste quite as authentic since I only had Italian ingredients to cook with, but they still got the point). I introduced the mom to margaritas, which she ended up liking a little too much! Did I mention this was their beach home? So, my four hours a day consisted of taking the kids to the beach or the pool or both. I have no complaints about getting paid to go hang out at a beach or pool. Plus the kids were the sweetest in the world. By the end of our time together we were crying as we said our goodbyes. I came back a few years later to pay them a visit and it was just like visiting family. I still keep in touch with them to this day and hope to visit them again soon.
Me with two of the children I took care of in Italy
The benefits of Au Pairing are many. Getting to immerse yourself in a new culture, learning a new language, sharing your own language and culture, making new friends, becoming part of a family, not having to pay for room or board and getting paid well. Most all of the money you make there is saved. I used the money I made in each experience to support me for the rest of my travels. The pay is usually not tremendous (I was paid between $150 – $200 Euros per week, but sometimes got more if I did anything above the agreed upon work schedule). It doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you figure in that you will not pay for anything else and will save all that, it adds up quickly.
There are now several more websites that offer assistance in placement for Au Pairs. (I recently discovered a placement service through STA Travel). If you are interested in this type of experience I highly recommend researching placement sites, getting your profile set up and going for it! If you are wanting to do long term travel, it is a great way to break up your travels with a steady form of pay as well as room and board. As long as you are good with kids and don’t mind giving up a little bit of privacy and independence in the short term (you are living with the family after all) it’s the perfect way to finance your journey.
Post by Andrea Hempel
This is a guest post by Lindsay Brown.
So you want to go to New Zealand? Here are a few pro tips.
Get the most out of your expensive flight to NZ by having an extended stay in the country. The NZ Working Holiday Visa is for young people (under 30) who don’t have children and can demonstrate they have enough resources for their entire stay. It allows 12 months residency in NZ and permits temporary employment, giving you the flexibility to travel and work freely throughout your stay.
I know it sounds crazy, but it’s the most affordable way to go everywhere you want to go. You can get a decent car for around US$600 and third party insurance for around US$60 for the year. Sell back the car at the end of the year, and reap hundreds of dollars in savings. (You don’t need any special driver’s license for NZ, just a valid driver’s license for any country. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the NZ right-of-way laws, and remember – drive on the left side of the road)
Ruby, my 1990 Honda Vigor, at Wanaka
The alternatives to buying a car are taking buses, renting or hitchhiking. Buses are very expensive and slow and only go to specific stops (lots of New Zealand wonders are roadside stops). Renting a sleeper caravan is as convenient as car ownership, but more expensive over any extended period of time (they cost over NZ$65/day). Another option some travelers choose is hitchhiking, and it is quite safe.
The Milford Sound is known as ‘the finest walk in the world’ and I believe it. It’s expensive and is booked up months in advance, but it is totally worth the effort. Book it before you go.
The Milford Track, and the most epic photo ever taken of me
4. Use NZ as a base to the usually-hard-to-reach South Pacific.
It costs thousands to get to Tonga from the US, but only a few hundred from NZ. NZ a major hub in the South Pacific, so use that to your advantage and include an exotic, beautiful island in your trip to NZ.
Samuel Tanenbaum, a fun-loving traveler from Maine, tells us about his recent experience living and working on the beautiful pacific island of Saipan.
How did you first become interested in going to Saipan and how did you go about looking for a job there?
I saw an advertisement to work as an activities staff/lifeguard at a resort on an island that I had never heard of in the middle of the pacific ocean. I did research on the island and resort and decided to apply.
When you first arrived on the island, what were a few of the things that stood out to you the most?
The first thing that stood out to me was the temperature and the different vegetation compared to what I have been accustomed to. The next thing that stood out to me was the amount of Asian tourists, and the how family oriented the locals are here.
What are the people like on Saipan?
Saipan is a beautiful tropical island. Because of this it attracts many tourists, which is why there are so many resorts on the island. The amount of tourists on the island is astounding. There are still many more locals on the island than tourists.
What might a typical workday look like for you?
To start a typical day I would open one of the areas of the waterpark around 9am. Throughout the day I will spend each hour working at a different area in the park. Some of the different activity areas for the guest including: several pools, lazy river, several beach activities in and out of the water, flow riding machine, wall climbing, archery, tennis, etc. Most of the work consists of activities, lifeguarding, and handing out equipment to guests. Work days vary in hours from 4 hrs to 11 hrs. Each week is different.
What has been one of your favorite experiences on the island?
I have grown fond of interacting with guests from Korea, Japan, and Russia. Every day there are new guests who come for vacation. Each guest has a story of their own, and I get great satisfaction from talking with them and learning about them.
What is the most difficult thing about island life?
Spending 10 months on the island I have been able to see many different things. Growing up in Maine I was able to experience all four seasons, and get excited for the next season to come. Saipan is one of the most consistant temperature areas in the world. All year the temp says between 75-85, because of this there are only two seasons, summer, and 1 month of rain, The most difficult thing for me has been adapting to the lack the four seasons.
Do you have a favorite spot on the island?
My favorite spot is on top of the highest mountain on the island, that allows me to see all around the island. It has an amazing view of the vegetation, buildings, and surrounding islands.
Experiencing a new culture in a new location is part of what makes traveling such a wonderful experience.
Working in a new place and taking seasonal jobs in various locations are great ways to travel at a slow pace. Seasonal jobs often come with housing, and sometimes with food, making the planning and transition phases between travels easy. Spending a few months in one location lets you transform from a tourist into a local, develop strong friendships, and learn about a new culture, all things that are difficult to do on a short vacation.
Want to live your own travel adventures? Check out the Adventure Job board or browse this great List of Resources for Free Travel! You don’t need to be super-experienced to begin your adventures. There are positions (both volunteer and paid) for all types of people, from a volunteer position at a Buddhist Retreat Center, to trip leader positions around the world. Best of all, there are still plenty of positions to snatch up for the summer!
Koninginnedag, or Queen’s Day, is a national holiday in the Netherlands, celebrated on April 30th, or April 29th if the 30th falls on a Sunday.
The holiday was first celebrated in 1885 as Prinsessedag (Princess’s Day) to honor Princess Wilhelmina on her birthday, but became Queen’s Day when Princess Wilhelmina became queen. The holiday jumped dates for many years– it was changed to fall on the birthday of Wilhelmina’s daughter, Juliana, and then on the birthday of her daughter’s daughter (Beatrix) on April 30th.
The celebrations traditionally involved a parade (for Wilhelmina), a floral tribute (for Juliana), and a tour of the towns of the Netherlands by Beatrix, who uses the opportunity to honor her country’s citizens and thank them for their service.
Today there are some vibrant and exciting traditions that accompany Queen’s Day, which provide a good excuse for many tourists to join in the celebrations.
Orenjegekte (also known as Orange Craze, Oranjekoorts, or Orange Fever), sweeps the nation each Queen’s Day. The Dutch people dress in all orange attire, often painting their faces, dying their hair, and wearing crazy orange accessories. Orange, though not represented in the Dutch flag, is the color of the Dutch Royal Family, the House of Orange, so named because of the Dutch acquisition of the principality of Orange in France in 1530. Orange was later annexed by France in 1660, but the title “House of Orange” stuck in the Netherlands.
The biggest celebrations take place in Amsterdam, with festivities starting a day early on “Queen’s Night” and taking over the streets, canals, parks, and buildings. Many Dutch take to the canals on vividly decorated (and often orange) boats, creating a gridlock bumper-boat party on the waterway.
Queen’s Day in Amsterdam boasts live music, DJ’s, and a city-wide flea market, because it is also a free market day (called Vrijmarkt). The city transforms into a giant yard sale; everyone and anyone sells stuff– stuff they’ve made, stuff they’ve bought, and stuff they want to get rid of. Many people sell out of transport bikes, a practical way to transport and display the goods among the crowds. On Queen’s Day no license is necessary to sell and no taxes are paid. There is even a dedicated section for kids to set up shop and sell their old toys for a few cents each.
If you want to join the festivities you’ll have to book a hotel early and walk to the event areas, because the streets will be impassable with crowds of excited, orange clad people. It’s recommended that you bring some snacks and water in a backpack because lines for food can get very long.
This is a guest post by Frances Atkins.
Your first thought for travel after college may be getting as far from home as possible to test your boundaries and escape your comfort zone. I’d recommend you spread your wings and head to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus if you want to go somewhere a bit different, challenge yourself and have a love of the great outdoors.
The island is packed full of lush, Mediterranean landscapes and the year round sunshine means you can get to grips with mountains, forests and wildlife whenever you make the trip out. In my opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world and you’re never more than an hour or so from the next adventure.
As it costs very little to hike and explore by foot, you can set your own pace. If you want to make the most of Cyprus, visit five of its best natural sights and enjoy unforgettable views.
1. Paphos forest
Paphos on the south-west of the island hosts an absolute dream forest; everywhere you look is green and bursting with life. Both Bonelli and Goshawk eagle species still breed here in the wild and, closer to the ground, you’ll find indigenous lizards and snakes. As you take in the huge range of the Brutia pine trees, you can stay within the forest boundaries and walk from sea level to a peak of over 1000m for beautiful panoramic views. Fuel up with local Paphos food, such as pork afelia, a meat and rice dish flavoured with coriander seeds.
2. Troodos mountains
Drink from freshwater streams surrounded by colourful wildflowers and the sound of bird calls. This is a ‘time-out’ location where serenity is king and your troubles seem very far away. The highest mountain in the range is Mount Olympus, which is nearly 2,000m tall. The varying heights mean you can be looking up on a sunny day and see snow-capped peaks that’ll take your breath-away. Horned moufflon, a species of wild sheep that only exist in Cyprus, also graze on the surrounding countryside.
3. Limassol Salt Lake
These landlocked bodies of water have more salt than sea water and create a raw eco-system that looks almost prehistoric. You’ll get to see thousands of wading birds during their migration seasons; to witness a “flamboyance” (group) of flamingos, travel in the winter months. I’d recommend taking either a pair of sturdy shoes or wellington boots for the rough terrain.
4. BLUE Flag Beaches
Walking, hiking and exploring earn you time to relax and recuperate on some of the best, environmentally protected beaches in the world. Nissi is the most popular beach but Aphrodite’s Rock is legendary. It is said if you swim around the rock three times you’re meant to attain eternal beauty! With that in mind, you can do your part and help preserve the natural beauty of Cyprus by cleaning up any rubbish you may find. Alternatively, you can join a beach clean-up scheme, which is a good way to give something back as well as getting a chance to meet locals.
5. Endangered species of turtle
If you’re keen to help the wildlife of the island as well as enjoying it, then volunteer to work with turtles. There are several societies that would be happy for your services in protecting nesting female Green and Loggerhead turtles, which lay their eggs on the island’s beaches (including Paphos and Ayia Napa). As slow, vulnerable creatures, they need to be kept away from predators and it’s a once in a lifetime experience ensuring the survival of their next generation.
When you’re out there, drink plenty of water, especially when walking long distances. I’d also suggest taking lots of photos of the rare animals and wild flowers, as friends and family will be keen to share your experiences. Most importantly, stay outdoors as much as you can to get real-life experience from your travels.
Frances is a travel writer based in the UK who is a destination expert for lowcostholidays.com. She enjoys cycling and is looking to explore Spain in the summer.
By Jacqueline Boss
This is a guest post by Chambrey Willis.
I wasn’t ready to settle into the 9-5 after college, but I still wanted to learn and use my degree. So I found an amazing organization in Guatemala that fulfilled those requirements: Trama Textiles. (Here is a list of other similar organizations that are free to intern with.) Trama Textiles is a 100% women owned weaving co-op located in the western highlands of Guatemala. It was formed after Guatemala’s Civil War in 1988 where many of the women’s fathers, brothers, husbands and children “disappeared” due to the guerrilla army. The women had to figure out a way to replace the income that was now gone, and weaving was the answer.
While we were there we worked on filming a documentary: A Day in the Life of a Weaver, spotlighting the plight of women living in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, the struggles the women face daily, and how we can help.
Below: Weaving on a loom.
Because these families don’t make a lot of money they are forced to stop their children’s education so the children can help bring in income. The girls weave and the boys do field work. A lot of girls as young as 6 and 7 start weaving when their families aren’t bringing in enough money. Through the documentary we aimed to raise awareness of this issue so the children could get funded to go to school and relieve their parents of this financial burden. I was astounded at how much I took education for granted and how badly these children wanted it.
They realized at a young age what I didn’t realize until now: education is an equalizer. If you have an education you can be anything you want to be.
Empowering women through weaving empowers the whole community. Women can provide food, shelter, and education for their children through this avenue.
Below: Everyone loves seeing themselves on camera!
Learning about the weaving process
Weavers make the thread from plants, dye it with berries and colored plants, and eventually put it all onto a weaving loom where they weave intricate patterns indigenous to the area they live. Every village has its own unique pattern so you can tell what area the piece you have is from. Weaving is a part of their culture, it is their heritage they are keeping alive, so being able to do that while making money to provide for their families is wonderful.
Below: Some weavers of the Maam village that allowed us into their homes wear their indigenous weaving patterns.
Below: A meal of tortillas and hot water. While we were filming they waited for us to get there before they ate, and shared everything they had with us. They even taught us how to make tortillas! It was amazing to be able to capture and spread awareness of these incredibly strong women trying to do what is best for their families.
Spending a month working in your field in another country is so helpful career-wise especially if you want to do anything international. Don’t worry about money getting in the way of wanting to do a summer internship abroad, check out my How to Fund Your Humanitarian Travel Tips. On my website you can also find these beautiful indigenous women’s weavings so we can all work together to break this vicious cycle of poverty.
This festival takes place during the last weekend of April and first weekend of May.
Formally known as the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Jazz fest is a traditionally celebration of New Orleans and Louisiana culture, although the festival has become a vibrant and exciting melting pot of cultures.
The celebrations began in 1970 and were carefully planned out by New Orleans and George Wein, creator of the Newport Jazz Festival and Newport Folk Festival. Wein was commissioned to create a festival to celebrate New Orleans culture, and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation was created. The Jazz Fest was born and became a great success.
Today the festival features live music, flavorful food, crafts, markets, parades, and demonstrations. Food is a big part of the fun; you can find things from the fiery to the refreshing, like crawfish bisque, cajun chicken, jambalaya, fried plantains, Creole cream cheese cake, sweet potato pie, and chocolate Azteca gelato. The Louisiana Folklife Village brings together artisans and experts in Louisiana tradition to get back-to-basics with traditional crafting skills. The Louisiana Marketplace is a representation of New Orleans and Louisiana culture as seen through the eyes of Louisiana artisans.
The music is a big part of what draws such a huge crowd; while plenty of Lousiana music is represented, there are also tons of well-known singers and bands from around the world. The festival boasts country music, pop, blues, R&B, folk, Latin, rock, rap, Cajun and much, much more.
The Jazz Fest falls on the same weekend each year as the newer Festival International de Louisiane, so many festival-goers feel torn between the two options. While the Festival International de Louisiane is said to have a more authentic, community-oriented feel (and is free), many think the Jazz Fest has a more intense atmosphere and is more culturally diverse. There is plenty to see and do.