Travel

How-to: Afford Travel

Vasastan, Stockholm

Vasastan, Stockholm

Many people ask me, “How can you afford to travel?” The truth is I barely can. It involves a ton of planning, and usually months of savings. Every January I choose my destinations and travel dates for the rest of the year. Then I make a plan: tracking airfare prices, hotel deals, researching the exchange rate and how to make the most of my hard-earned dollars once I land there. I also start cutting back on eating-out and random purchases. The usual ways of saving. I’m not great at it, but I keep at it. Because regardless of the cost, I believe there’s a lot more we earn from travel than what we spend.

Swedish Institute, Stockholm

Swedish Institute, Stockholm

But I recently discovered a way to travel that allows you to learn more about your chosen destination in an affordable way, and grow your career along the way. I’m talking about grants and scholarships. Many governmental and nonprofit organizations around the world offer travel grants to foreign students and influencers to encourage international relations between nations and as a way of sharing their culture abroad. I used to think these grants were only available to students, but there are a few that are actually targeted to working adults, in order to help them develop their careers. One of the organizations offering these types of grants and scholarships is Svenska Institutet (SI).

“We have governmental grants that we provide to the countries of interest to Sweden, and that’s basically the whole world,” said Johanna Jeppsson, Deputy Head of Unit of Talent Mobility at SI.

The Swedish Institute, as it’s called in English, is an organization under Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs that provides aid in two ways. One branch focuses on poverty reduction, providing scholarships to students in need who live in developing nations. The other branch focuses on promoting Sweden around the world, mostly concentrating on the U.S. and other western countries.

As an American citizen, I applied for a professional growth scholarship called the Bicentennial Swedish-American Exchange Fund. The goal of this particular fund is to give American citizens and permanent residents a chance to grow in their respective fields and contribute to the development of their societies with those learnings.  

“We are looking for what we call change makers,” said Jeppsson. “People that have an idea of how they would like to use the amount of money they receive from us, in order to change something or to create opinion.”

Johanna Jeppsson

Johanna Jeppsson

Each person selected for this scholarship is awarded up to SEK $30,000 to pay for a study visit to Sweden ranging between two- and four-weeks. At the end of the trip, scholarship holders are requested to submit a report to SI explaining what they learned and how they accomplished the goal originally stated in their proposal.

And don’t worry, you don’t have to be a social media influencer to get awarded. There are many ways in which your field can influence change in society. Those involved within public administration, the environment, politics, education and business can also benefit greatly from this type of study visit. Bringing back their knowledge and influencing their community.

“We had a person from the U.S. who came here to study our transportation system,” said Jeppsson as an example. “We also had a social worker from the U.S., who came here to study how we work with the refugees, in order for her to use these methods.”

The Bicentennial Fund is only one of the scholarships offered. In 2016, the Swedish Institute sponsored 1,707 people from all different walks of life.

Swedish Princess Cake and Smörgås lunch.

Swedish Princess Cake and Smörgås lunch.

For me, the visit to Sweden helped me define a more focused vision for my career, this website and my social media presence. It also allowed me to experience an incredible society and a culture that, while being very different from my own, it’s incredibly easy to fall in love with. Most importantly, it allowed me to share that beautiful culture with the world.

To learn more about the Swedish Institute, visit: https://eng.si.se/

The Bicentennial Swedish-American Exchange Fund will be managed by the Sweden-American Foundation as of this year, for more information visit: http://sweamfo.se/in-english/

 

 

Los Angeles: A visit to the Getty Villa

While many people have heard of Getty Images, the unrelated Getty Villa located in Los Angeles holds just as impressive a collection. This breathtaking mansion has 44,000 Greek, Roman and Etruscan pieces dating back to 6,500 BC. But if art history isn’t your thing, the architecture of the villa itself is sure to make you want to stay a while. With fountains hidden in various corners of the grounds and a majestic garden, it’s easy to feel like you’re walking among the Gods in Mount Olympus.

This amazing gallery was built as part of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty’s philanthropic projects, which also include the Getty Museum, the Getty Foundation and the Getty Trust.

The villa is located on the Pacific Coastal Highway and it’s a great place to stop while on your way to Malibu. Admission is free and parking is available at $15 per vehicle.

A ride along the West Lake - Hangzhou, China

The sky is gray and a thick fog hangs well below the clouds, yet somehow this adds a touch of vibrancy to the place. This is Hangzhou, China. A city of over 9 million people. A small city by Chinese standards, but one with big traditions and rich with folklore.

I hopped on a traditional river boat and cruised the West Lake to hear the legend of the Leifeng Pagoda. The pagoda has become a tourist destination since it was rebuilt 4 years ago. But it’s tale dates back to 925 AD, when it was originally built.

Hangzhou, China

As the story goes, a white snake disguised herself as a beautiful woman and fell in love with a young man. They fell hard for each other and finally got married. However, because she wasn’t really human, their love was forbidden. So the gods trapped her under the Leifeng Pagoda for eternity, or until the pagoda crumbled to the ground. In 1924, that’s exactly what happened. The Pagoda collapsed and the old tale regained its fire.

Today thousands of people visit the new pagoda and take river cruises around it to admire its history.

 

 

 

Quick Guide to Paris - Off The Beaten Path

No 5 letters have ever come together to shape a name more full of meaning than Paris. Historically, culturally, and artistically, Paris has been at the center of it all for centuries. “Paris is always a good idea,” were the famous words of Audrey Hepburn, and it really is.

Today the city is still at the top of virtually everyone's travel list. But, while the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre tend to be the first spots to visit, there’s a lot more to see and experience often left off the guide books. Here are my top 5 off-the-beaten-path attractions in Paris.

1 - Musée de L’Orangerie

You know the Musée D’Orsay and the Louvre, but this small gallery located at the opposite end of the Jardins de Tuileries holds an even more impressive collection. The first floor counts with two oval rooms where Monet’s Water Lilies are in permanent display. The idea is that you can see the scene just as Monet did while he painted it. Downstairs, an impressive collection includes works by Picasso, Cézanne, Matisse, Renoir, and countless others.

Tip: You can buy a special ticket that guarantees dual entry into Musée de L’Orangerie and Musée D’Orsay to save some $$ and time.

2 - Merci

Merci

Shopping in Paris is great, especially during the summer and winter sales (“Les Soldes” which take place at specific times during the year determined by the government). La Bonne Marché and Galeries Lafayette are two of the largest shopping centers in Paris, carrying all the major brands. But if what you’re looking for is more of a highly curated collection, the unique and super cool items at Merci is what you need. This shop is located on the 3rd Arrondissement and holds a literary café on the first floor. It’s the perfect place to relax after some sightseeing.

3 - Hôtel Amour

Let’s say you’ve spend the afternoon exploring Sacré-Coeur and now it’s time for dinner. The courtyard restaurant at the Hôtel Amour is your spot. There’s a nice tropical vibe with lush trees scattered all around the restaurant and it’s a very authentic spot where real Parisians dine.

Tip: If you’re not too tired, do the 15-min walk from Sacré-Coeur to the Hôtel Amour to get a nice look at the neighborhood of Montmartre.

4 - Picnic at Versailles

Bike tour of Versailles

Technically this is more of a day trip from Paris, but the train ride is so easy there’s no reason not to do it. You can hop on the Métro and it takes about an hour to get to Versailles. Stop by a local market to get the famous Versailles orange juice, a baguette, cheese and some wine. Then you’re ready for a picnic along the magnificent Grand Canal in the Jardins de Versaille. Make sure to eat all your food or throw it out before heading into the Palace, as food is not allowed inside.

Tip: You can also book a bike tour in advance, and they’ll make all the arrangements. You often get to meet your tour guide in Paris and take the Métro as a group.

5 - Coutume Café

Finding good breakfast in Paris is not an issue, but this little spot in the École Militaire neighborhood has probably the best coffee I had in Paris. The shop is owned by a Parisian and an Australian (both great coffee nations!), so you can tell they know what they’re doing. The raw decor and white tiles may feel a little bit like Brooklyn, but the food is as authentic as it comes.

Do you have any off-the-beaten-path sites in Paris? Add them in the comments!

 

 

 

8 things to bring on a long-haul flight

In a few hours I’ll be hopping on a flight from NYC to Shanghai. It’s a 15 plus hour flight, the longest one I’ve ever been on. I feel like there should be a special name for these super long flights. Like sports have “extreme” versions, these long trips should be called “extreme flying” or something.

I’m really excited to be going to the other side of the world, but I’m also bracing for all those hours stuck in a plane. Here’s my list of what you should always bring on any flight longer than 8 hours:

1. Sleep gear
Sleeping is important, especially when you’re 30,000 feet above the ground. Neck pillows and eye masks may not be stylish, but they get the job done. I recommend a neck pillow with a button at the bottom to keep it in place no matter how much you move around. Some airlines are now offering free eye masks, but bring yours just in case.

2. Antibacterial Stuff
I’m not usually a germaphobe, but lock me in a flying machine and I get a little bit more concerned about those pesky little critters. I carry antibacterial wipes (Clorox are best) to clean up the tray tables. If you can’t find antibacterial wipes, alcohol pads (you can find them at any drugstore) work just fine. Also, use hand sanitizer or wash your hands before meals, you don’t want to get sick while on vacation.

3. Vitamin boost
Vitamins make a huge difference. I like Emergen-C because you can dissolve it in a bottle of water and it's super easy to drink. It will give your immune system a boost and you’ll feel more energized when you finally land.

4. Lip balm
Airplanes are dry, so I try to carry lip balm and hand lotion to keep my skin from getting rough and cracked while on the air.

5. Tech
Bring your own fancy headphones. I’m not particularly fond of the noise-cancelling ones, since I feel that my regular chunky ones work just as well. And if you’ll be watching a movie on your iPad, I love headphone jack splitters. They let you share the screen with your travel buddy and split the sound into two or more headsets.

6. Toiletries
Toothbrush, toothpaste, face wash, moisturizer. I also like to carry a Korean hydrating facial mask. Some of the other passengers may look at you funny, but your skin will super soft afterwards.  

7. Pen
Pens are useful, since you’ll probably have to fill out customs forms before landing. You can also doodle a few hours away.

8. Snacks
Like any other extreme sport, extreme flying (yeah, it’s a thing now!) requires hydration and nutrition. Buy a bottle of water right before you hop on the plane and bring a snack. While most airlines supply food, you can never be sure that you’ll like it. So, carrying a granola bar or some nuts is always a good idea. I also like to bring my own tea bags. They’ll definitely have hot water onboard, so you can skip the coffee and brew your favorite flavor.

Have any other tips for surviving a long flight? Share them in the comments!

How to Survive the Tourist Visa Application Process

Visas are hard. Loads of paperwork and hours of waiting may leave you with a bitter taste about your destination. So, what can you do to survive the process? Prepare. A lot. And when you think you’re done preparing, prepare a little more.

Even if you’re traveling with an American passport, which allows you to visit many countries without a tourist visa, there are still many others that require it. Brazil, China, India, Vietnam, and Australia to name a few.

The process itself varies greatly from one country to another, but there are a few steps that have helped me get through it in one piece.

1 - Download the application from the web.
My first instinct is usually to wait until arriving at the Consulate or Embassy to find and fill out the forms. Instead, the thing to do is go online. Most Consulates have the applications on their websites. Download, fill it out and print. It will save you tons of time. And help you with step #2.

2 - Read the instructions. Then read them again.
This may seem straightforward, but visa forms can be very specific as to how you should fill them out. One time I was turned away from a Consulate after hours of waiting in line outside because the application had to be typed and I filled it out by hand. I had to come back the next day. There is no arguing when the instructions specifically dictate it on the top of the page. So read them.

3 - Make copies of everything.
Keeping a copy of all the paperwork is always a good idea. It’s also good to leave a copy at home or with a friend while you’re away, in case your passport gets lost or stolen.

4 - Verify the accepted forms of payment.
Visas are not cheap and the fees may vary depending on your nationality. Check on the Consulate/Embassy’s website how much and how to pay. You may be allowed to pay with your card or you may need to bring a check.

5 - Meditate. Bring a book. Breath.
There’s always a lot of waiting involved and there’s no way around it. So be ready. Bring a good book. Better yet, bring a travel guide and start daydreaming about your awesome vacation. You’re halfway there.

Do you have any useful tips? Share them in the comment section.