Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Feeling Like A Local Abroad

I was born with insatiable wanderlust.  From a very young age, all I wanted to do was see everywhere.  Over the course of my life, I've been very fortunate to be able to see other places & experience other cultures.  While I still have a bucket list a mile long, my preferred mode of travel has moved from seeing as much as possible within a short window to leisurely inserting myself into local life.  The more people with whom I speak, the more I hear that people prefer this kind of travel as well.  If that's what you're looking for too, then, here are a few tips to experience a destination like a local:

1. AirBNB or other rental
In my opinion, there's nothing that makes me feel "on the road" more than the lack of private cooking facilities.  For as much as I love to eat out, at some point, my stomach and my wallet wave a white flag.  Eating a homemade meal on the couch while watching local tv or a movie can be very grounding, especially if you're in a completely different environment. 

Aside from the ability to self cater, renting a place means you're more likely to be in a neighborhood vs. a tourist or business area.  So, you'll have easy access to shops & services that locals need & use.

Advice: Make sure your rental has multiple, varied reviews over a span of time.  This indicates a legitimate property.

2. Shopping: Supermarkets & Pharmacies/Chemists
If you want a snapshot of where a place is at, check the supermarket and pharmacies.  Supermarkets will be showcasing the latest trendy foods while simultaneously tipping their hat to the latest wave of immigration.  Pharmacies can give you all kinds of clues to the general state of things.  Big end cap with allergy pills, tissues, & eye drops? Something ferocious is about to bloom! More contraceptives than baby items? Definitely a younger neighborhood so there's probably some good restaurants nearby. Etc., Etc., Etc..

Beyond the inferred social commentary of stocked products, supermarkets and pharmacies provide the best kind of souvenirs: Experience Gifts! Have you ever used Labello chap stick?  You'll be hoarding it like quarters for laundry. Love fancy chocolate?  Supermarket level bars in Europe (especially Switzerland & Belgium) are higher quality, fresher, and an incredible value compared to anything you can get here.  Enjoy taking baths?  A box of 20 fizzing bath tablets in Japan will run you under $5.

Advice: Be open minded & buy anything small that catches your eye to try while you're there. You never know when you'll find your new favorite sweet or sunscreen.

3. Classes
The 2 classes I love to take when I am traveling are yoga and cooking.   Travel is wonderful and life changing but it can be really hard on your physical body & mental state.  Between the jet lag, congested spaces, new food, & different environment, your body can go out of balance pretty quickly.   I've found a couple of yoga classes can get me right back to where I need to be.  Luckily, most yoga studios offer an introductory pass and equipment rentals.  I've never regretted spending money on yoga - ever.

Cooking classes are amazing for 3 reasons:
1. You get to eat something delicious.
2. You get to hang out with fun people (usually - food & wine people tend to be pretty open).
3. You get recipes to take home & relive your experience over and over again.

Advice: Check Yelp, Swarm, or other social media for best local options.  Trip Advisor is great for resorts, hotels, and other attractions but cater more to visitors rather than locals.

If there are things that make you feel like a local abroad, I'm all ears in the comments below!









Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Happy, Happy Money

This morning, I saw a quote that basically said once you figure out money, everything in your life becomes easier.  Given that we live in capitalist society, I would agree with that.  Money is inert but it solves problems & generates a certain type of freedom.

Lately, there's been a lot of talk about student loan debt, for profit schools, and inability to ever retire.   When I started college, I had no clue about student debt and how that would end up dictating my career choices and lifestyle.  Long story short, I was pretty broke through my 20s but, eventually, became debt free. Although, trying to pay off Navient turned into an exercise of red tape, requiring assistance from Elizabeth Warren's office (another story, another time).  Anyway, because of my experience growing up in a working class family & navigating post school debt, I ended up with a volunteer gig doing financial literacy seminars for inner city, college bound students. 

As we're moving into a new season and a time of reinvention, I wanted to share some of the concepts that I share with my kids:

Practical Tips

1. Never spend more than you earn.

2. Always pay your credit cards off & any debt down.  Better yet, don't get into debt.

3. Read your contracts. Know your obligations and for how long you will have them.  Think about how these obligations will dictate future life choices - because they will.

4. Budget for all your expenses - not just the big ones.

5. Use contraception #momoneymoproblems

6.  Save for a rainy day.  There's nothing worse than having a crisis and no way to make it better. 

7. Keep an emergency $20 bill tucked in your wallet.  You never know when you'll be stuck somewhere where you can't pay with your phone or cards.

8. Always have skills that will enable you to support yourself & your lifestyle.  Never stop learning.

9. Insurance. Insurance. Insurance.  Health, dental, car, renters'.  If you're inclined to get other types of insurance, make sure you know what the policy covers & decide whether it meets your needs.  Pet insurance is a notorious one for never covering what you need.

10. Take care of your health & well being.  Eating out, smoking, etc. are expensive and often not great for you. 

Emotional Tips

1. Find what you love about your work and value that.  It's almost impossible to love your job all the time - and you won't.

2.  It's better to be broke in your 20s when all your other friends are & you have no pressing obligations or dependents.

3. Spend money on experiences, not stuff.

4.  Earning your own money is empowering and intellectually stimulating at any age.  Over the years, I've worked with various age groups but mostly retirees.  By their own admission, those who worked part time or had outside obligations felt healthier & happier.

At the end of my seminars, I always recommend the book Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending, where 2 Harvard researchers explain from a scientific standpoint how spending money in certain ways can make you happier & more fulfilled.  I recommend it for those starting fresh, starting over, or just looking for a new way to think about old concepts.

If you have any tried & true money tips, leave them in the comments as I share this blog with my kids.

 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Girl Crushes and Hot Summer Music

So far, 2016 has turned out to be a bang up year in terms of losing musical legends.  As a "professional personality", it's my job to spin these events in the most thoughtful way possible. One big thing I've learned from all of these passings is that we love artists not because we know them personally, but, because their art helps us know ourselves better.  At this point, I think I know myself pretty well but I can always get on board with somebody who's going down a similar path.

Recently, there are 2 artists that have come into my orbit recently that have validated my existence - Esme Patterson & Jarryd James.  Allow me to introduce you to them:

Esme Patterson

Most people probably know Esme Patterson as the lady singing with Shakey Graves on "Dearly Departed".  If you do a bit of digging, Esme's done some really amazing things on her own & with her old bands, Paper Bird & Harpoontang #bestbandnamever.  Last year, she got some buzz with her "Woman to Woman" eps, where she sings from the perspective of women immortalized in song, i.e., "Alison", "Jolene", "Lola", "Billie Jean". etc..  The lyrics & video for the Billie Jean song, "What Do You Call A Woman" still gives me chills:

               
Aside from loving her sound, I've never heard anyone capture the female experience the way she has.  For as many strides as have been made in equality, there's still this "thing" where the end goal for women is marriage, family, & career, i.e. "having it all".  For some of us, "having it all" doesn't necessarily mean that traditional path - and that's what Esme's songs are all about.  Between figuring out who you are alone and in the context of a relationship, hopes, fears, reflections - it's all there.  It's the rare occasion I've come across a body of art so validating for me personally.  I don't give away my affections easily but I have a serious girl crush on her.  

Since Esme's a working musician, she's on the road multiple times a year.  Seeing her live is energizing - she's completely electric on stage.  If her studio stuff doesn't draw you in, the live show will.  It's impossible to not love her.  Right now, she's still in a space where she works her own merch table.  My husband made her night by making it rain on her, buying one of everything with a stack of $2 bills...which are her favorite denomination.  So, buy her album online; go see her live; and buy more merch with $2s.  A girl's gotta eat & buy guitar strings, so, help her out!

Jarryd James
          
The second artist who has completely grabbed my attention is Jarryd James.  His story has a been a bit winding in the US. In 2015, he made some quick in roads in his native Australia and was immediately optioned in the US.  Last Spring, there was a big push around "Do You Remember" & we all loved it at the station.  Then, things just tailed off.  While I don't have the back story, it seems like Interscope may have put him back in the studio to do a different album for this market.  Finally, 2 weeks ago, instead of "Thirty One", we in the US got "High" (not that kind of high...I wish) and it's as good as his Australian debut but with a few different tracks.  




What grabbed me about his music is the pure sensuality & sincerity of it.  Jarryd's music the audio equivalent of making out on a really hot night with somebody you've been dying to get with.  If that isn't the main driving force of this existence, I don't know what is.  Even though we had to wait a year to get "High" (I...can't...stop...smiling...), July 2016 was the perfect time with the unprecedented heat waves across the US.  

Needless to say, I was quite excited for his show with Broods last week.  Jarryd & his band went on first & were super tight, sounding exactly like the record.  Surprisingly, there was a large LED screen behind him which showed nothing but explosions.  I agree with the metaphor but it sort of detracted from the mood.   Given how hot his sound is, I would've preferred to see him in a bit more of an intimate light and feel the explosions through the music vs. watching them on screen.  I'll take what I can get though.

If the opportunity ever presented itself, I'd love the opportunity to interview him.  He looks very introspective/sad in all his photos so I get the impression he's got a lot going on his head.  It's a real privilege to be able to pick somebody's brain about his or her art if they're up for talking about it. 

Anyway, 2 summer recommendations for you! As always, I am all ears if you've got somebody I should check out.























Friday, November 13, 2015

More Travel Tips: Money

Lately, I've been hearing from friends that they've had their ATM or credit cards hacked while on the road. When I called into my bank to advise that I was travelling, the coordinator told me that she'd been getting a lot of "hot card" alerts, i.e. stolen or hacked cards.

The challenge of getting money on the road today is, unless you're carrying all the cash you need, you're dependent upon cards.  Travelers cheques aren't worth taking (imho) as it's harder to find places who will cash them.  If they do cash them, the fees can be up to 40% of the face value.  Plus, the exchange rate is often better with cards.  Certain credit cards & banks will waive the foreign transaction fee (Capital One, Chase Sapphire, etc.) so it literally can pay to use cards.

In general, your cards could be compromised anywhere (Hello, Target!). However, it's a bit easier to deal with the issue when you're home vs. travelling.  So, here are some tips to help lessen the chances of being inconvenienced by "hot cards" on the road:

1. Bring 2 credit cards from separate banks - If one card gets compromised, then, you will have the other one.  Some exceptional cards will express you a new card but you'll still need something while you're waiting.

2. Bring 2 ATM cards - Some banks offer fee free checking - or you may have multiple checking accounts with your bank.  Use one of them as your "travel" account. Deposit enough money in this account to cover your travel expenses. If something does happen to that card/account on the road, it's not your main checking account.

3. Use an old hotel key card to get into bank ATMs after hours - The bank coordinator told me that she thought some of the hacking occured from inserting the card in the door slot to access the ATM. That may or may not be the case, but, if you're concerned, use the old hotel key to gain access. I recommend carrying a card with a magnetic strip in your suitcase anyway.  Many eco hotels require the key card to be in a slot to turn on the lights in your room.  I, personally, have left the room and the key card in the slot as I've departed.  While it's not a super pain to get a new a key card, why waste the time?

4. Use AMEX or Visa Gift cards in lieu of cards or cash for shopping - In some ways, you could consider these the new travelers' cheques as they're widely accepted and independent of your accounts.

If you do get hacked or lose your cards, I recommend calling the banks ASAP to report your accounts being compromised & to discuss your options.  If you lose your ATM card, you may have the option for the bank to run your credit card through their terminal.  They may be able to give you cash at a lower interest rate than if you used your credit card as a straight ATM card in the machine.

I hope these tips help and I wish you safe travels.






Sunday, November 8, 2015

Deutschland 83

As I am emerging from a crazy period, my brain space is starting to clear.  Of course, I will attempt to blog more because I simply like blogging.  Sending that intention out to the universe...

One of the other things I enjoy doing is watching clever television which can be challenging to find. Over the summer, Phil was scrolling through the guide & came across a show that was "in German with English Subtitles".   Of course, we were totally intrigued & it ended up being the fourth episode of Deutschland 83.

Deutschland 83 was a joint project between Sundance & RTL, Germany's largest television network, and is the first German language show to be broadcast in the US. The premise is a young East German native, Martin, is recruited by the Stasi to spy on the West in 1983. Watching it was like falling into a black hole and landing square in 1983.  Everything from the sets to the music to the socio-political issues, they nailed it.  Creator Anna Winger said it wasn't that difficult to find backdrops for the scenes as much of what was East Berlin still looks like East Berlin.

As we jumped in halfway through the season, we had a hard time following along. So, we took the plunge & purchased the entire series from iTunes. It was a leap of faith but totally worth it.  I've started watching it again and I realize that I missed so many subtle details during the first run.  Oddly, I am forming a real attachment to the series - the kind of attachment that I only have with music. Aside from the intelligent writing, there were a handful things that struck me through the series:

1. The colors on the sets - When Martin wakes up in West Germany, everything is brightly colored.  It reminded me of the Radiohead video for "Fake Plastic Trees" - big, bold, & clean

2. Toblerone - Martin has a Toblerone for the first time and eats it like a Snickers. I rewound that scene multiple times because I could not get my mind around somebody eating a Toblerone like that.  You're supposed to break off each peak individually. Then, you slowly savor the smooth chocolate and lightly chew on the honey nougat to experience its full flavour.  It's a real sensual experience. I feel he was disrespectful to the Toblerone. Also, I feel weird that I have feelings about an imaginary person disrespecting a candy bar. Disclaimer: Toblerone is only chocolate bar I liked a child and it continues to be one of my favorite things to eat (MB + Toblerone = <3 forever).

3. Description of the American General's Taste In Women - At one point in the series, Martin tries to conjecture what sort of women the American General likes based on his taste in food. A long time ago, I read a study that showed food, sex, & music fired the same pleasure receptors in the brain.  As some of the US stuff can a bit on the conservative side, I appreciate a tv character publicly acknowledging this aspect of life.

4. Alexander Beyer - Excuse me, I am about to be rude...but he is the Salted Almond Toblerone of men.  He looks like Phil's cousin who is the second hottest man on earth.

Even if you don't have a thing for Toblerones, hot German men, or 80s music, I highly recommend Deutschland 83.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

One Must Have Goals

I had mentioned that I’d be posting more from Australia.  Well, we all know how that worked out.   If you’re up & close and personal with me on a regular basis, you’re probably not surprised at my lack of blogging.  My track record on returning calls & emails runs on the slow side. 

Anyway, Australia has always been one of my places – it’s an American West Coast lifestyle with European infrastructure.  As with any good adventure, the country left a couple of permanent physical marks on me including a new piercing and a new hair color.  Thank you, Southern Sun!


A lot has happened since my adventure Down Under...and I should now have more free time.  With all this newfound time, I’ll probably be updating my blog a lot more. #daretodream  One must have goals, right?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Are you coming to this school or what?

There's always been something about Australia for me...maybe it was the music? Maybe it was "Facts of Life Down Under"?  I am not sure when or where the seed was sowed but it's just one of the places I've always dreamt of seeing.  When I filled out my SAT application in high school, I realized that the University of Sydney would take the scores as part of their application.  After that, I always wondered, "What if...".  Although looking back, I am not sure I could've handled going away & not coming home for a long time.  Being 10,000 miles away from home doesn't lend itself to any quick visits. But, still...

In 2003, I was able to make here for the first time & it surpassed my expectations.  Melbourne reminded me of Boston & Sydney was more like Los Angeles.  At the time, the whole country really felt like it was at the end of the earth.  I can't articulate the feeling beyond you're in a country the size of the US with the population of New York spread out across it while being thousands of miles from any world hub.  While the internet was around, it still felt a little isolated.  However, that isolation (and some of the social/political events of the late 80s/early 90s) gave way to amazing art, music, food, & fashion.  I was in love.

In 2010, I was approached about working in a vineyard in Victoria...but I still wasn't ready to take the plunge.

Finally, last year, I earned a sabbatical at work.  So, here was another chance to find out what it would be like IF I did take that opportunity to come here.  This time, I jumped on it. I got a cheap flight, rented an apartment, & packed my bag.

Here I am...and I've never been so glad to be anywhere. First, it's 80 degrees & summer here. Second, it's changed SO much!  With globalization & their robust economy, Australia feels so much more connected to the world.  "Murial's Wedding" & "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" celebrated their 20th birthday last year.  Stephen Elliot, the director of "Priscilla" said you could never make those films again. They really spoke to the isolation people felt at the time & how they'd do anything to get out of wherever they were.  Sydney still has it's unique character but it's much more global.

I am on my 5th day here...it took me 3 nights before I woke up feeling ok.  Waking up after the 4th night, I felt great.  This morning, after my fifth night, I feel like I've always been here.  In my fog, I've been able to basically walk the entire city & most of the inner suburbs.  Today, I was definitely "myself" inasmuch as I picked up some great interesting wines to prepare for my WSET.  I've made a list of music I'd like to pick up...most of the unique stuff is from New Zealand...which may still have that isolated feel Australia had 10+ years ago?

AND - most importantly, I closed the loop on my first opportunity to come here. I didn't realize my apartment is within walking distance from the University of Sydney campus.  So, I bought this ferocious lion t-shirt from the "Uni Store". If anybody asks me if I went to the University of Sydney, I can finally say, "Technically, yes...".


P.S. Doesn't the lion look like he's saying, "Are you coming to this school or what?"