How Travel Makes You a Better Person

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Photo by Kate Ter Haar via Flickr.com

If travel were packaged as a product, the label might read like a prescription. The (positive) effects would include making you smarter, stronger, healthier, relaxed, and, yes, happier. Even much more interesting as a person; I’m just throwing the last part in.

Like many similar articles out there, travel can make you a better person for a ton of reasons. Here are some of mine.

  • You learn to adapt to new and different situations and surroundings quicker.
  • You see how others live, sometimes with more and often times with a lot less. How you measure the difference is up to you.
  • You will mistakes and possibly tough ones, or even get caught in worst-case scenarios, but learn and grow from them. Experience is a great teacher.
  • You discover how very little you need and what you don’t have to buy, from what gets packed in your suitcase or what is not worth buying there.
  • You will become more conscious of what’s going on around you as well as pick up on when and where you need to be more cautious.
  • You will have great stories to tell and memories that will last a lifetime.
  • You realize you have to keep track of your spending as well as plan and maintain a budget.
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Image by tup wanders via Flick.com

  • Your taste buds will get a workout in sampling different foods and drinks. Yes, at times, your stomach too.
  • You will meet and befriend people from all walks of life, locals and fellow travelers. It’s certain that most will be friendly and helpful and want to talk to you.
  • You will gain self-confidence and, perhaps gradually, a better sense of direction.
  • You will always learn something new: history, culture, religion, politics, culinary, nature/wildlife and, of course, language.
  • You can conquer your fears: of the unknown, of physical challenges, of getting lost (insert here). And if you realize you have limitations, it’s okay.
  • You learn to go with the flow and realize that people have a different way of doing things than they do back home.
  • You will see how a destination’s past and present coincide. You’ll also see how certain things are changing the future of the places you go to.

What to Look for in a Travel Partner

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Photo by dichohecho via Flickr.com

As much as I think people should not be hesitant with solo travel, I have to admit that it’s nice to have a travel partner. But how you pick one is very important.

Drawing from my experiences, here are my suggestions on how what to look for in a travel partner.

1)   Be upfront about your travel expectations before you leave.

It’s exciting to book a trip together to a place you’ve always wanted to see or if the opportunity strikes to go somewhere. However, you and your travel buddy may or may not share the same sense of travel style. While your idea of seeing a tropic destination is pursuing local activities, your travel partner may be more down for a ton of beach time. Or while you plan to visit museums, your friend may want to explore the local scene or the outdoors. Before leaving, talk about what you both would like to do. When I go overseas with my cousin, we email and text each other the names of places and things that we want to see and do—a few weeks beforehand. We also set up a general day-by-day itinerary, with some wiggle room for changes, solo activities, and downtime.

2)   Be honest about what you both can afford.

Slightly or greatly, spending limits and habits can differ, so talk openly about what financial shape you’re in. With making reservations and purchases, I find it’s best for each person to buy his/her airfare. It’s also important for both of you to be very clear, as well as mutually agree, on how to divide up shared expenses like lodging or transportation. Figure out, too, how you both might respond to unexpected costs. For one girls’ getaway, I booked our hotel reservation with my credit card; my friend gave me her half in cash. When we got to our hotel, we found out our reservation had listed us as arriving the following night. We were still able to get a room, but a new and higher price (which I fought against but lost) was charged to my card. So, I asked my friend for the difference. To my surprise, she said no, arguing that she had paid the amount I had told her it was going to be. Whether she was right or wrong, her answer made me leery about traveling with her again. (We’re still friends.)

3)  Make sure you both can adjust to situations, or at least compromise.

Since no travel plans are fully secure, it’s important for both of you to be able to go with the flow—or be open to switching up your schedule. At your destination, you might learn about a great scenic tour or a hit up a locally recommended nightspot. Food can also be tricky, so see what and where each of you will eat—and won’t. I’ve been lucky in that most of my travel partners are pretty open to trying new things or agreeing to last-minute changes. I’ve gotten better in these areas too. A college friend of mine is very spontaneous, especially when traveling, and by doing things on a whim (like driving one night from Chicago to Gary, Indiana for riverboat gambling) we had some great times on the road together.

4)   Know when to let certain things go.

In following Tip 4, remember that people react to issues in different ways and reactions can change the course of your trip. When tensions get high, and depending upon what’s happening, remember to not take it personally. If possible, step away for few seconds or more, or just stop what you’re doing, so you each can calm down. It will also help you both out in addressing the problem better without initially responding with your emotions. During stressful scenarios, I’ve discovered that some people I’ve traveled with can get “tough” on others and I learned quickly when to ignore them and when to push back. And don’t be afraid if you or your travel partner needs alone time. If you’re both comfortable about splitting up, just check in with each other about where you’re at and if everything is okay, and set a certain time and place to meet up later.

In all, remember that with your travel partner it’s the journey that should really matter. Make sure you’re both on the same route.

 

Magical Kenya: New Campaign for Kenyan Tourism Board

_DSC1033When asked by Kenya Tourism Board about what they like most about the country, visitors’ answers include the people, the wildlife and the scenery. In fact, Kenya is considered to be the “safari epicenter of the world,” where the “Big Five” (a former hunting term for a group of animals including lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard) can be seen.

During a New York City luncheon held by Kenya Tourism, representatives greeted guests with a warm Jumbo (hello) and spoke about their recently launched campaign, “Magical Kenya.” The campaign is not just important in terms of attracting visitors but also to help to maintain tourism levels after recent events impacting Kenya.

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Phyllis Jeplosgei Kandie, cabinet secretary for Ministry of East African Affairs, Commerce and Tourism, spoke of the challenges that Kenya faced last year such as the attack by gunmen at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi last September and the conflicts happening in neighboring Somalia.

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A number of measures are being taken to change this public notion that Kenya is unsafe, said Jeplosgei Kandie, and “that is what we are fighting.”

“There are good stories found in Kenya,” she added.

In increasing security levels in Kenya, there are many new initiatives being introduced through the current fiscal budget. They include increasing new police recruits by 7,000, bringing protection of Kenya wildlife under police departments, and establishing special 24-hour operation units in towns. Another big change is in bringing in community police to encourage locals to give information on anything suspicious.

By nature, Jeplosgei Kandie explained that Kenyans are friendly people who want to help visitors. Yet she also acknowledged that, too, there can be a need to “have to look at ourselves and say that not everyone that comes to us means well.”

With marketing, Kenya Tourism Board recently launched #whyiloveKenya, a virtual campaign to encourage visitors to share their experiences. The campaign centers on promoting what people love most about this East African country.

Kenya has also earned accolades through last year’s World Travel Awards, being given the title of “World’s Leading Safari Destination.” CNN Travel  named Kenya’s Watamu and Diani beaches as the second and third Best Beaches in Africa for 2013. Further good news, particularly for visitors to East African, happened this past February with the launch of the East African Joint Tourist Visa, a single visa to Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.

Learn more about Kenya Tourism Board through www.magicalkenya.com.

Editor’s Note: Top image provided by Kenya Tourism Board

 

Eating Alone? Try Communal Dining

Travel and food will always go together. Yet if the thought of requesting a seat for one could leave you without much of an appetite for solo dining, don’t go hungry. Here are some options of what I would call “communal dining,” for eating with others in your destination.

Feastly

Currently with offerings in major U.S. cities and other locations through the country, Feastly is like an Airbnb for diners. The online community website connects eaters with both home cooks and professional chefs willing to make and set meals for strangers in the venue of their choosing.

DSCN2719Diners first have to create an account through Feastly, then they can browse through current or future scheduled meal dates. Once they see an event or meal that they can sign up for (with a listing of what’s on the menu) they then register and pay for their seat. The meal “ticket” price goes toward ingredients.

DSCN2707 DSCN2716Often based on their personal backgrounds and taste preferences, the cooks set the menu. The picked location can be held in their or someone’s private home. In May through Feastly, I got to try Filipino cuisine for the first time through The SALO Project, a traveling Filipino pop-up feast. Created by Yana Gilbuena, a talented home cook, the SALO Project consists of bringing a sit-down, five-course, family style meal in all 50 U.S. States. I ate at her stop in Connecticut.

DSCN2699DSCN2727That evening in New Haven, the SALO Project menu consisted of a fish soup served inside a green pepper, a rice medley with coconut milk, okra, scallions, radishes and garlic, mussels, cooked bok choy with salmon and bluefish and a rice pudding for dessert. A row of banana leaves doubled as a table cloth and place mats.

EatWith

Similar to Feastly, EatWith is a community centered site where people who cook for work or for fun and like to share they can make with others with offerings within the U.S. and also overseas. It can be weird to go over a stranger’s home but EatWith does have safety check measures in place.

Also like Feastly, reviews are listed, so you can read what they have to say about their experience. I haven’t booked a meal through EatWith just yet. Hopefully soon enough.

 Dishcrawl

Another professional “meal” site, Dishcrawl is like a pub crawl but takes out the bars and puts in restaurants instead. Outings are set by location, like in Connecticut’s Fairfield County, or by a certain type like brunch or a foodie scene. Locations are usually hidden until about 48 hours before the event takes place.

Meetup Groups

As Meetup groups are based on common interests, look for one that’s all about dining out. Group organizers may schedule group dinners out at restaurants, ranging from ethnic to diet-types to hotspots. Sometimes, due to reservations or restaurant space, signups can be limited to a small number. If all these fails, the organizer might opt to include a waitlist, which could give you still a chance of getting a seat.

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In May, I went with a group to Pok Pok, a hip Thai-inspired restaurant in Brooklyn and shared four dishes with about five other people). I had a nice time and enjoyed a good meal.

Food Tours

If you don’t mind walking while eating, food tours are a fun way to discover local good eats. Most often, tours will include at least four or so stops (look for a reasonable number to make sure you get your money’s worth) and, unless it’s a single theme, it’s also good to go ones that present a good culinary mix.

photo(133)photo(132)photo(130)Recently, I went on a food tour in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg section that led me to a pizza place, a barbecue smokehouse, a neat bagel place, a cheese shop, a funky ice cream shop, and yes a chocolate shop. Especially in NYC, check out by neighborhood food tours as they really give you a taste (no pun intended) of your location.

Editor’s Note: Feastly invited me to attend the SALO Series dinner in Connecticut, in which I accepted on gratuity.

Air France Soars with New York City Expo

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Have you ever wanted to sit in First Class? On a flight to Paris? In New York City, you can have a seat on one or all of Air France’s newly-improved aircraft cabins. Well, at least for a little while.

Now through Saturday, June 28, Air France is hosting “France Is In The Air,” an exposition at Center 548 in the city’s Chelsea district, near the High Line, at West 22nd Street and 11th Avenue.

photo(110)photo(112)photo(109)The airline has been conducting an extensive overhaul of its fleet, revamping its Economy, First Class and Business cabins, as well as introducing a new cabin called Premium Economy. New features among them include more legroom, touchscreen TV monitors, outlets for smartphones, and even spaces for putting your phone, water bottle or headphones. Seat comfort is also getting better with adjustable headrests and flat seats with better reclining.

photo(118)photo(127) photo(128) photo(126)Open to the public, “France Is In The Air” connects the glory days of past air travel (when people actually dressed up to go on flights) with modern technical wonders (such as charging stations and more in-flight TV/movie options). Framed commercial Air France posters are wonderful to look at as well as vintage flight attendant outfits on view. Window displays of topnotch amenities that accompany each cabin status–from dinnerware to toiletry kits–can also be seen.

photo(119)photo(129)photo(120)There are also some fun interactive exhibits throughout the expo’s two floors. For example, while en route from Economy to Economy Premium, you can blow into a tube to find out where you would be heading to next: Shanghai, Paris (I got that one) or New York City. In fact, the expo will be heading next to Paris for display in September.

photo(111) photo(113)photo(121)photo(125)Free and open to the public,  “France Is In The Air” (with the hashtag #AirFranceExpo) is open today, June 27 and tomorrow, June 28 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit this link.

  • Ice Cream, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Wine Tasting with Sommelier Ida Rae Zapanta, 12 p.m. – 2 p.m.
  • Kids Workshop, 3 p.m. – 4 p.m.
  • French Lessons, 3 p.m.  – 4 p.m.
  • Laduree Macaron and Champagne Bar, 4 p.m. – 5 p.m.

- See more at: http://www.businesstravelerusa.com/news/air-france-expo-in-nyc-june-26-a-28,-2014#sthash.0AvxUpwB.dpuf

  • Ice Cream, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Wine Tasting with Sommelier Ida Rae Zapanta, 12 p.m. – 2 p.m.
  • Kids Workshop, 3 p.m. – 4 p.m.
  • French Lessons, 3 p.m.  – 4 p.m.
  • Laduree Macaron and Champagne Bar, 4 p.m. – 5 p.m.

- See more at: http://www.businesstravelerusa.com/news/air-france-expo-in-nyc-june-26-a-28,-2014#sthash.0AvxUpwB.dpuf

  • Ice Cream, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Wine Tasting with Sommelier Ida Rae Zapanta, 12 p.m. – 2 p.m.
  • Kids Workshop, 3 p.m. – 4 p.m.
  • French Lessons, 3 p.m.  – 4 p.m.
  • Laduree Macaron and Champagne Bar, 4 p.m. – 5 p.m.

- See more at: http://www.businesstravelerusa.com/news/air-france-expo-in-nyc-june-26-a-28,-2014#sthash.0AvxUpwB.dpu

Claire’s Corner Copia: A Vegetarian Delight

Lately I’ve been more open to trying vegetarian dishes. So when I got invited by Visit Connecticut to have brunch at a well-respected vegetarian restaurant in my home state, I couldn’t pass them up.

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Over the years, I had heard a lot about Claire’s Corner Copia, a fixture in downtown New Haven for almost 40 years. Last Saturday, as part of Connecticut’s Open House Day, I joined other bloggers to dine at this cozy and colorful eatery on Chapel Street, near Yale.

Claire’s Corner Copia was founded in 1975 by Claire Criscuolo, with her husband Frank Criscuolo, based on the couple’s shared belief in the importance of healthy eating. Each also grew up in a family of bakers and cooks. Still today, Claire owns her “corner copia,” which has a quite a large menu of entrees, soups, salads, smoothies and desserts with vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free ingredients.

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Lines–and waits that come along with them–can happen here quite a bit, but my group lucked out. I ordered a roasted eggplant flat bread pizza with organic baby spinach, mozzarella and garlic oil on a whole wheat tortilla. Other guests chose different salads, quiche and other pizzas with pesto or as a caprese (which the second one was great). I thought my pizza was pretty good. I’m used to picking up slices, but with this version I had to end up using my knife and fork. Next time, I would probably try a salad or sandwich instead.

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The desserts at Claire’s are really visually appealing. Treats are an eclectic mix. They include vegan chocolate cupcakes  (which I definitely recommend), a rainbow colored assortment of frosted cupcakes, as well as cakes such as carrot cake, a Lithuanian coffee cake, and a lavender cake (another good choice; I bought a slice to take home). There’s an assortment of cookies too.

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Overall, meal portions are well sized, and prices reflect what you find in New Haven. Also note: If you eat in, your food is brought to you by servers, but you’re the one that has to bus your finished plates and utensils. And if you know New Haven, parking can get a bit hairy. I recommend using the parking garage on Crown Street, and then take the short walk over to Claire’s.

In all, Claire’s is worth a visit. Leave room for dessert.

Editor’s note: I was invited to a brunch at Claire’s Corner Copia held on behalf of Visit Connecticut, in which all the attendees’ meals were comped.

A Night with Papua New Guinea Tourism

DSCN2764 If New York City seems like a far away destination, imagine if you were coming to the Big Apple from Papua New Guinea. Last night, cultural representatives from Papua New Guinea Tourism hosted a reception inside their PNG Pop Up Village/Art Gallery in Manhattan’s Chelsea district.

DSCN2772 DSCN2773DSCN2771The evening party also featured a screening of the film, “Dancing with the Papuans.” Directed by French filmmaker Marc Dozier, the movie tells the real story of Mundiya Kepanga, a Huli tribesman who invited three Parisian cabaret dancers to Papua New Guinea to join his village in the country’s largest tribal gathering. Mundiya met the dancers at Cabaret Lido while on a trip to Paris.

DSCN2765Mundiya and Dozier talked about the hour-long film before and after the showing, touching on everything from cultural differences to perceptions about beauty.

The event also marked Mundiya’s first time visiting the United States. During Thursday, Mundiya and Papua New Guinea Master Carver Fabian Paino spent a promotional “day out” in New York City. Truly in tourist fashion, the two rode on a subway, went to the Empire State Building, and visited Times Square, even having their photo taken with The Naked Cowboy. Fabian was kind to pose with me for a photo.

Now, if I could get to see Papua New Guinea, perhaps I should start taking dance lessons?

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