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Traveling the World with Anxiety

1 Jun

No, Anxiety is not the name of my spouse, best friend or significant other.  This is not the story of how Anxiety and I quit our corporate jobs and headed off happily into the sunset to see the world together.  But, in its own way, Anxiety has been a faithful companion.  When I first shared the idea of traveling the world, Anxiety was… well…hesitant to say the least.  Nevertheless, I put a few belonging in storage, packed up my bags, and Anxiety and I began an adventure together.

“Free spirits” come in all shapes, sizes and colors.  For me, my desire to have adventures and see the world is saddled with my own challenges with anxiety.  At its worst it’s been paralyzing, but in the daily rhythm and play of life it typically ranges from light to moderate.  Frequently present.  Notably there.  Anxiety.

The point is Anxiety (or fill in the blank with your personal flavor of challenge) doesn’t have to be the death sentence or curtain call on a life of travel and adventure.  I am not your typical traveler and I have learned to more peacefully make my way as I weave my life with new experiences, cultures, people, surroundings.  I take things more slowly, I plan things more carefully, and I allow plenty of time to be on my own.  I also make things like spiritual practice and healthy eating a priority no matter where I am in the world.

In truth takings risks and having experiences in new cultures is in itself an antidote for anxiety.  There is something healing about getting out of familiar waters and swimming in a world with a different syncopation from your own.  New and more liberating patterns begin to develop. The more I stretch myself, the more healthy risks I take and new successful experiences I have, the more peaceful this life with Anxiety becomes.

I can still remember my first major breakthrough I had traveling with Anxiety.  I was working and living at a seminar house in Germany.  Every weekend the house was filled with participants attending the workshop of the week.  Being surrounded by so many people on a daily basis sent Anxiety shooting through my spine.  Just the sound of their voices in the morning typically sent my body into intense nervous positioning.  Until one day.  One day I was lying in bed and when I heard the voices of the participants coming down the stairs, rather than be tangled with Anxiety I found I was… excited to hear them.  Glad they were there.  And so began the unfolding of transforming my life traveling with Anxiety.

Still today, four years later, Anxiety and I haven’t yet parted ways.  Anxiety hasn’t willfully gone its own way, packing its bags and going off to India or perhaps returning to the States. It’s still there, sharing my morning cup of tea, questioning my decision-making, planning the events for the week.  Undoubtedly our relationship has softened.  Life with Anxiety is easier, way easier than when we first left the States together four years ago.

There are some things I have learned to count on to soften the daily cry of Anxiety while I am roaming the world.  They are the first things that I pack and have become some of my new companions, ushering in more peace and comfort no matter where I am in the world.

1.  Reiki.  Reiki is one of my daily spiritual practices.  It is something I first discovered over ten years ago on a flier at a yoga studio in New Orleans.  Reiki is a very simple practice of connecting with a healing energy that is deeply relaxing and healing.  I am so grateful that after a nervous or challenging day or moment, I can simply lay my hands on myself and receive Reiki and much of that nervousness is just washed away.  If you’d like to know more about Reiki, you can visit my Reiki page or feel free to contact me.

2.  Art of Living Practices.  Ten years ago in New Orleans I took a class from an organization called the Art of Living founded by Indian Guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.  The organization came to New Orleans to assist the people with getting back to life after the impact of Hurricane Katrina.  I learned their foundational spiritual tool, the Sudarshan Kriya.  This is now a daily practice and how I nearly always start my day.  It melts away pain, discomfort and anxiety and puts me in a softer, better place.  Recently I attended their second course, The Art of Silence.  The course deepened my understanding and appreciation of their practices and also deepened my own spiritual reservoir creating a space for greater inner, unshakable peace.

3.  Healthy Eating.  It is a priority for me to eat healthy and balanced meals no matter where I am in the world.  I have learned that for me life with Anxiety is exponentially better WITHOUT SUGAR AND CAFFEINE.  Additionally, I find I feel better without eating any added preservatives or chemicals.  I also eat Gluten Free.  This is not easy on the international road, but it makes a big difference and truly is part of what makes this international life “doable” for me.  When arriving to a new country, I do my best to get the lowdown on the food contents there, to sniff out a few healthy restaurants and groceries where I can shop, and then begin to build a healthy food base for myself.

4.  Taking time for myself.  There is so much pressure in life to go, go, go.  But the truth is I feel so much better when I have time for myself.  So I do my best to create and allow for generous portions of time on my own without much on the agenda.

5. Yoga.  I first began practicing yoga in New Orleans almost 15 years ago.  It was my first step in using spiritual practices to soften and heal my personal and physical challenges.  It is something I have taken on the road and try to work into my daily life.  Even just ten or 15 minutes on the mat makes a difference.  Whether I am doing yoga in the fields of France, or in my room in Thailand, yoga is a constant companion and a place I can always come home to. Yoga classes have not always been available on my journey, so I have relied on my own personal yoga practice.  I check out local studios when available.  From time to time, I have also done a yoga class on the web from sites like doyogawithme.com.  My friend Miss Amanda at Inner Lift Yoga also has a great online video.

6.  Chanting with SGI Buddhism.  I began chanting with SGI Buddhism about four years ago.  I was invited to a meeting and couldn’t help but notice the powerful current generated from their chanting.  I was encouraged to try chanting for myself and chant for things I wanted in my life.  Surprisingly they easily flowed into being.  I began a regular chanting practice and it’s as if the current of my life is flowing more abundantly and heartily.  My daily chanting practice brings positive attention to those thing that are on my mind or that I am concerned about.  It softens the edges of my fears and anxiety.  And often it connects me with powerful community as SGI Buddhism meets all over the world.  Whether I am living in Vienna, Austria or visiting family in small town Missouri, I have access to the much appreciated community and support of SGI Buddhism.

7.  Supporting Others.  Finally, I have learned that it’s healthy to take time daily to focus my attention on others.  I mostly do this through my spiritual practices including sending Reiki to others needs or chanting for others.  I also enjoy taking action to support friends and acquaintances on their own personal journeys and adventures in ways that work in my life.  Supporting others rounds out the well-being of my life.

Anxiety and I, we’re not perfect.  We still have our challenges and ups and downs.  But I am so grateful that I “took the leap” and was willing to say “yes” to my sense of adventure rather than just “yes” to Anxiety.  With the support of family, friends and mentors, I followed my delight and inspiration.  It’s not always the easy road.  Often the challenging road.  But traveling the world with Anxiety…well… it has made all the difference.

 

 

Spring Flight Fever

1 Mar
Signs of Spring

A sign of spring – outdoor tables at a local cafe.

I just took a stroll around my familiar but still impressive Vienna neighborhood. While there is still a chill in the air, there is a new fresh feeling and it seems possible… just possible… that spring is not far away. The cafés are putting their tables back outside and there is a new feeling of vitality as the heaviness of winter begins to lift.

The possibility of spring has me dreaming of new explorations… both here in Vienna and beyond. It’s always a pleasure for me to do a little flight treasure hunting, excavating flight possibilities with affordable potential.

While I have my “goto” search engines to easily give me a glimpse of what might be possible, sometimes, you have to dig deeper. Flight search engines are not created equal, and while there are many good ones out there, they each have their own unique set of benefits and characteristics.

skyscanner logoRecently I have come to appreciate the breadth and flexibility of the search engine Skyscanner.com. Typically, you can count on them for finding some of the lowest fairs on flights all around the world. But they also have a few distinct search options that have me singing their praises. Here they are:

Broad Departure and Destination Location Options.  With Skyscanner, you don’t have to choose just one city for your arrival or departure when digging for buried flight treasure. Perhaps you are looking for the cheapest flight to a region and are flexible about where you land. Or maybe you’re ready to have an adventure, but are open to where you go. Skyscanner is a great tool for you.

With Skyscanner you can select the country of your possible departure and/or destination rather than just a city. The gives way to a great deal of flight-searching ease and opens up a whole new world of affordable flight options.

Wide Flexible Date Search Options.  Looking for the best price on your flight but don’t have a specific date? No problem with Skyscanner! You can search for best prices on flights for a specific week, month, even year. With a little date flexibility, flight costs don’t have to be a limitation or deal breaker. There are some AMAZING prices out there that can easily light a fire under your next adventure.

Here are a few examples to wet your traveling appetite. All of these great priced flights were quickly found using the flexible departure and return date option on Skyscanner:

  • USA to London, roundtrip, $485
  • London to Tokyo, roundtrip, $451
  • USA (San Jose) to Costa Rica, roundtrip, $248

While some of these cheapest flights may not exactly fit your date or travel preferences, they can also be a good clue for budget airlines where you can investigate further. Also, when looking for amazing flight deals, don’t forget to check neighboring airports and locations that are just a quick cheap fight away.

Looking for more flight finding tips? Check out my earlier blog Save Money on Flights with a bit more on some of my “goto” flight search engines.

Well, do you have a little pre-spring flight fever? Once you see how affordable flights can be, it can open up a whole new door of travel possibility.

My easy Sunday afternoon continues here in Vienna. My hostess has just returned from her most recent work journey in the States. She and her family are happily reunited. Things are pretty quiet at the house as she wades through the deep sea of her jet lag. Never a fun process.

Good-bye for now from Vienna where I am hopeful for spring and enjoying my (not quite yet…) spring flight fever.

 

 

5 Affordable Ways to Take the Travel Leap

11 Jan

TRAVEL LEAPFour years ago I took the travel leap with very little money in my bank account relying mostly on a work exchange arrangement in Germany to make my way. As my initial 6 week journey expanded and grew, I began to discover new and useful resources that make it possible to continue to travel on a modest budget.

The point here is simple.  If you want to travel, internationally or even within your own country or continent, it is truly possible.  Money doesn’t have to be the thing the keeps you saddled at home.  Here are some viable travel resources that can help set free your travel dreams and make them a reality.

Helpx.net
This is my favorite travel resource and the one I have relied on most heavily in my travels.  The concept here is simple:  connecting hosts offering room and board in exchange for work with travelers. For a modest yearly subscription (20 Euros, about $24 USD, for 2 years) you literally get access to the world.

The membership gives you access to hundreds of hosts supplying detailed information and photos about their exchange opportunity. There is also a rating system allowing travelers to rate and offer input about hosts they have visited. This is very helpful and increases your confidence about a decision to stay with a host. There are even family friendly destinations so you can pack up the kids and go!

I have written in more detail about helpx on an earlier post, Travel the World with Helpx.

Workaway
This site is similar to helpx, offering work opportunities in exchange for room and board.  I have found many listings are the same on Workaway and Helpx… however there are still some differences and distinctions.  You can check out the listings for free.  If you find an opportunity that is calling you, membership and access to contact information is just 23 Euros (about $25 USD) for a two-year subscription.

Servas
Servas International is an international, non-profit encompassing an international network of hosts and travelers. They are founded on the premise that hospitality and cultural interaction are the essential tools for achieving conditions for people to live in peace and unity.  Members around the world offer homestay opportunities to member travelers.  If you’d like to learn more visit servas.org.

Couchsurfing
I am not an expert couchsurfer, but I am glad the option exists.  If you are not familiar with couchsurfing, it is similar in its mission of servas seeking to build connections and foster understanding across cultures.  Many members offer a “free couch” or bed for a few nights.  Profiles are quite descriptive and there is again the opportunity for feedback from other members allowing you to travel and make plans with greater confidence.

I look to couchsurfing when I want to take a quick getaway, perhaps for just a few nights, and would like to stay with someone local and also keep my budget low.  It is definitely an option to consider when navigating the globe, or just looking for some new scenery for a few days.

Trusted Housesitters
Have you considered house sitting?  I have… and while I don’t have much experience with it on the international scene, I just became a member at trustedhousesitters.com.  This is the largest site on the web and the fastest growing with the best functionality.  With a New Years deal, I received an annual membership for about 60 Euros ($70 USD).

I imagine this site, much like other online opportunities, begins with a well completed profile.  They provide the opportunity to file a police check as well as external personal and professional references.  It might be the ticket to your next international adventure.

What are you waiting for?
Whether you are seeking to change your life and travel full-time or simply for a way to temporarily launch beyond the boundaries of your current location, these are some great ways to do so.  With some common sense, a bit of preparation, and attention to details — these are all safe, viable and accessible ways to take the travel leap. Why not check them out?

And if hitting the road (or the airways) is not your destiny at the moment, remember with many of these organizations you can also be a host.  Helpx and Workaway may be a great way to get that gardening project underway or whatever it is you have been putting off around the house… and be of service to a traveler and bring a little international flavor into your life.

Do you have any travel plans on the horizon?  Or experience to share with any of these organizations?  It’s always great to hear from you!

 

Inner Voice – Never Leave Home Without It

17 Sep

In the world of travel and conquering the great unknown, there is an abundance of information available to assist us on our way. Where to go, what to do, what to pack.  But one important yet seldom discussed item essential for any international escapade or other noble descent into uncertainty is… your inner voice.

You know what I am talking about.  It’s that voice… that one Kermit the frog (and Jason Mraz!) sing about in the Rainbow Connection. We have all experienced it.  That moment or moments when we KNEW that something was true but we had no logical explanation for how we knew that. Perhaps it was something simple like thinking of someone we haven’t spoken to in years just before we ran into them in a shopping mall.  Or maybe it was just a gut feeling that something wasn’t right for us… and we passed on it only to learn later it was a disaster. Whatever your inner voice moment(s) may be, it’s a handy companion to have on any journey.

In my life of uncertainty, staying tuned to my inner voice has served me well.  It has directed me towards concrete ways to immediately bring in money in times of emergency.  It has gently nudged me in new directions or connections that were of benefit to me.  It has encouraged me to take fruitful leaps that my intellect wanted to discard.

Whether you are roaming the globe or facing your own flavor of uncertainty, it is helpful to nurture and cultivate your inner voice. Here are a few tips to begin to add your inner voice to your repertoire.

Tips for Tuning into Your Inner Voice

1.  Take time to be quiet and explore stillness. It’s hard to listen to your inner voice when there is a barrage of noise and distractions around you or in your own head.  You don’t have to sell all of your personal belongings and sit on a mountain to begin to cultivate some quiet in your life.  If you don’t already, find simple ways to bring some quiet and joy into your life on a daily basis.  Maybe it’s a quiet walk in the park, or finding a serene spot outside to just sit and breath.  You could walk barefoot in your back yard or listen to a meditation CD.  Take a bath. Little steps every day to find quiet help cultivate a fertile ground where our inner voice can “show up.”

2.  Take your inner voice out for a test drive.  The best way to explore listening to your inner voice is to simply try it.  Pay attention to your inner world a bit and see what you notice.  Now don’t be confused, this isn’t the worrying voice in your head that starts shouting out distractions or going through your “to do list” for the day. It is a quieter voice.  Sometimes it’s like a whisper or a thought that enters your head, except it’s not your thought. You could start by trying something simple like asking your inner voice, what should I eat for dinner?  And see if you get a reply… a thought or idea that pops into your head.  If you get an answer and it isn’t something that sound totally awful, give it a try and see what happens.

3.  Inner Voice Discernment.  Even for experienced inner voice listeners, it is not always clear what is the wisdom of your inner voice and what is… something else.  So here is my general rule in negotiating the landscape of inner voice wisdom.  If you believe your inner voice is telling you something but you are not 100% sure, and it’s innocent with no negative impact if you try it, give it a whirl.  Perhaps it is reaching out to an old friend, pursuing a new job lead, or even simply trying a new restaurant.  Often, simply trying out innocent instincts can help to validate your inner voice. If, however, your inner voice is serving up life altering advice, seek outside guidance before proceeding.  Whether it’s your mom’s best friend who always has a good sense about things or a professional intuitive, it never hurts to get a second opinion.

Do You Want to Dig Deeper?

In my experience, the more we cultivate the quietness within the easier it is to hear and discern our inner voice. There are many spiritual practices that support this well and perhaps there are one or two that you’d like to explore. Here are a few suggestions and some of my favorites.

1.  Get a Reiki Treatment or Take a Reiki Class.  Reiki is a gentle Japanese healing art and does wonders for quieting the mind and easing the spirit.  It is also a great way to support and nurture listening to your inner voice.  After practicing reiki for over ten years, there are countless times where reiki has ushered in a strong knowing about something specific and useful, sometimes life altering, in my life.

If I am in your area, I am happy to be of service with a hands on reiki treatment.  I can also send long-distance reiki from anywhere in the world.  If you’d like to know more about reiki, visit the services section of my blog.  I am also happy to assist you in finding a qualified reiki practitioner in your area.  Simply write me through my contact page.

2.  Dive Deep Into Silence.  Vipassana is one of India’s oldest techniques of meditation.  Ten day silent Vipassana retreats are offered at no cost to participants all over the world.  These simple yet powerful retreats’ intent is simply to teach and offer practice in this style of meditation.  While not for the faint of heart, it’s a compelling journey into the silence and great support for your inner voice.  To learn more, visit their website at www.dhamma.org.

3.  Take a Yoga Class!  When I first began yoga, my mat was like a refuge.  It was a place where I could dive and surrender into something glorious and peaceful within myself.  It was also a tranquil treat for my inner voice.  Whether you are new or experienced in yoga, classes ranging from gentle to more vigorous flow await.

Do you have any tips or inner voice stories to share?  Perhaps a travel story or other time when listening to your inner voice really paid off?  Or maybe a time you were surprised by an inner voice encounter.  Feel free to write and share!  It’s always good to hear from you.

In the meantime, happy adventures into the unknown… whatever and wherever that may be for you!

Travel Tips for Freedom and Flexibility

26 Jun

When planning for a vacation, dream journey or family excursion, it never hurts to have a bit of flexibility.  In my past three years of wandering and international travel, flexibility has been a key theme.  Plans change.  Sometimes quickly or unexpectedly.  In my global escapades, I have found myself in France one day… and the next being offered a job in South Korea.  In a matter of weeks… I rerouted my life back to the United States and began the long process of acquiring a Korean Visa.  Ah, flexibility… a good partnership in the exploration of freedom.

No matter what your 5th grade teacher or high school boyfriend told you, it’s okay to change your plans or your mind.  It’s alright to be flexible.  In fact it is essential in the exploration of a created life.  For me personally, flexibility does not always come easy.  Despite the wide assortment of change in my life, I like to have my plan. This lesson for me often includes some growing pains.  But a dose of flexibility goes a long way.

Flexibility and travel plans might seem like an oxymoron.  In these days of cheap internet flights and travel deals, flexibility may seem like an antiquated story told by your old Aunt Nellie.  But it is possible and often optimal to build a little flexibility into the foundation of your travel plans.  Here are a few tips that will help put the flow back in your travels.


1.  Get the Facts on Your Flight.

Regardless of which search engine or budget travel site you use, before purchasing any airline ticket, take a little time to find out how refundable your flight is. What happens if you cancel? Does it make a difference if you cancel one day or a week before your flight?  If you cancel, can you get a full or partial refund?  Being informed with facts can put some swagger in your travel foundation should your plans change… for any reason.  A ticket that is slightly more expensive, but has a better refund policy may in the end be the better deal.

Money Back Guarantee?  Some flight search engines and travel sites offer extra insurance and money back guarantees for modest fees.  Before checking that purchase box, read the fine print to see be clear about the conditions of that guarantee.

Recently I purchased a ticket from Tripsta at an impressively affordable rate.  In an effort to support my travel flexibility I purchased the add-on Money Back Guarantees and Premium services.  When my plans changed and I wanted to cancel, I was disappointed to learn that the guarantee was only under certain circumstances (death, hospitalization, alien takeover…).  And so, while I did get a partial refund for my ticket, it would have served me well to get 100% clear about these services before making my purchase.

 

2. Know the Cancellation Policy of Your Accommodation.

When it comes to accommodation I am always looking for the best balance of affordability and quality.  I have only recently discovered how important a location’s cancellation policy is when weighing its pros and cons. Yes it may have everything I am looking for, but how much do I pay if I cancel one day or five days before my arrival.  In the spirit of flexibility, a more relaxed cancellation policy is a huge bonus and can be a deciding factor if choosing between a handful of places to stay.

Recently I booked two different accommodations for a vacation that, in the end,  I did not take.  As I often do, I booked through Airbnb.com and found a couple of places I was really excited about.  I checked their cancellation policies but unfortunately I looked at the information incorrectly and was misinformed.  When it came time to cancel…I waited too long and was out a little more money than I expected.

The best practice is to write your perspective host and ask specifically for the details of their cancellation policy to be sure you are correctly informed.  When you are clear and understand the terms of the agreement you can make your choices accordingly.  Then, if you need to fly the flag of flexibility, there won’t be any expensive surprises.

Do you have any tips on flexibility and travel?  Any great experiences or resources to share?

Thanks for reading. It’s always good to hear from you!

 

Travel the World with Helpx

22 May

It’s a typical Thursday afternoon at English Village in Paju South Korea.  It is my “weekend” and I am busy sifting through plans and possibilities for myself and my life.  Spring is here and while it is finally lovely it is also a sad little season.  Here in Paju it seems bossy summer starts to fight its way in before Spring has even had a chance to settle.

Yesterday was a refreshing break from the land of Paju as I met with a young Korean friend from my SGI Buddhist group in the nearby city of Ilsan.  It is near by car I should say, as the meandering local bus is more than a short journey.  But it was worth it to connect with her and her friend visiting from Malaysia.  Both went to university in the States with very agreeable English and inspiring dreams and attitudes.  It is fun and fresh to spend time with both of them.

The highlight of our easy afternoon was a visit to Ilsan Lake Park featuring a stunning rose garden.  I had flashbacks of the many hours I spent in my favorite parks in New Orleans, playing among the live oaks dripping with spanish moss.  Ilsan’s park seems like a distant cousin to the parks of New Orleans as Korea does parks differently from the sultry ways of the South.  In Ilsan the park was open and spacious but complete with tidy boxes of flowers and neatly laid paths. The rose garden, however, was unexpected and off the charts.  To me it seemed like everything Korean.  Colorful.  Neat and tidy.  And utterly lovely in its never-ending patterns and displays of roses of all colors.

As I am poking away at my own travel plans, it has me thinking once again of helpful travel tips to pass on to you – tips that might open doors, ignite some excitement or stir up a dream or two.  In my past three years of unfolding international adventures, one of the best tips I received was being turned on to the website Helpx.net.

What is helpx.net?  Quite simply it is a network of people in locations around the world willing to provide travelers with room and board in exchange for work.  It is one of the best inventions in travel and can open up the world to people who have ruled it out because they “don’t have enough money.”  It can also be an economical way to “getaway” or have a change of scenery even in your own country.

Who are the hosts?  Helpx hosts are business owners, farmers and private people and families who want to open their doors to travelers.  Businesses may include bed and breakfasts, resorts, hotels, or farms.  I once stayed with a helpx family who ran their own business from home and were looking for a graphic designer.  You never know what you may find that is a match for your skills and interests!

How does it work?  It is quite simple really.  You can view the website without becoming a member, but if you want to contact a host you must pay the modest fee to join.  Once you are a member, contact a host or hosts that are interesting to you.  If they feel the same way, they will get back to you.  The length of stay can vary greatly.  Once an agreement is reached between you and the host, all you have to do is make your plans and show up!

How many hours do I work and what do I do?  This will vary by host.  Some hosts are laid back and are mostly interested in meeting people from other parts of the world.  Others really rely on the helpx work for the vitality of their business.  I would say average expectation is 5 hours a day, 5 days a week.  But some hosts will ask for 6 hours a day, 6 days a week with one day off.  And others may not set hours and just ask that you help as needed through out the day.

Work varies widely as well.  In my experience I have cooked, cleaned, mowed lawns, painted ceilings, chopped wood, taken care of children.  Some people need help with construction, caring for their farm in some way or teaching a language.  There are also unexpected little pockets or work needed that are best found through exploring the site.

How to choose a host.  I found it helps to be clear about what matters to you and screen hosts for those things.  How many hours do you want to work?  Do you want to be in a city or out in the country?  What kind of work are you willing to do?  Do you want to be around a lot of other people or do you like solitude.  Can you go with the flow with whatever your hosts cooks or do you have diet requirements?  How long do you want to stay?  Do you want to share a room with others or do you prefer privacy… the clearer you get, the easier it is to choose and shorten your list and start making contacts.

You will have more options if you plan at least a few months ahead of time as there is less “last-minute” availability. Additionally, I found it useful to contact more than one host for the same time period as some people don’t get back in touch or have changed plans.

Is it safe?  With all of my helpx experiences I always felt very safe.  There is a place for reviews on all helpx hosts and reading those is very helpful.  Once when I still had more questions, I contacted previous helpxers to get more information. If you’re still unsure if a host is right for you, its never a bad idea to get a second opinion from a wise and trusted friend.

Is it worth it?  Absolutely!  It provides intimate experience into a different life and sometimes different culture.  New experiences, new people, new skills.  Don’t get me wrong, sometimes there is some hard work to do or relationships to be managed.  But that is all the depth and color of the experience!

Daytime is melting away on this quiet almost summer day in Paju. I am listening to English Village top 40 leaking through my window from the speaker outside.  Ah the sounds of life at English Village.

If you have any questions about Helpx, feel free to write!  Always happy to share my experience!

Photo at top. A bright array of flowers neatly displayed at Ilsan Lake Park.

Save Money on Flights

12 Mar

Another few weeks have slipped by in Paju, South Korea.  Mostly it’s life as usual in the unusual world of Gyeonggi English Village. This week the ROK Military joins us for a break in their busy routine and a big dip in the pools of the English language.

The winter freeze is slowly melting away no thanks to an unexpected snow shower earlier this week. Nevertheless, Spring is still on the horizon.  As many of us are finding our way out of winter hibernation, it seems like an appropriate time to share some money saving travel tips.

Let’s begin with the basics for any good journey – an affordable flight.  Finding the cheapest rate and best flight schedule is paramount for me in creating my trip itinerary.  Tenacity is often your best friend when looking for the most suitable rate and flight.  But here are a few shortcuts I’ve discovered to save you some time and money.

Flight Search Engines
Not all search engines are created equal.  In the mission to find the best flight, I find it never hurts to peruse the gamut.  There are, however, a few search engines that are my go-to sites in the adventures of flight finding.  Let’s begin.

kayak

Kayak.  Kayak is a reliable search engine and a great starting point for a flight inquiry.  They offer a wide array of airlines with a good selection of budget-friendly flights.  You can choose a three-day date flexibility in their searching parameters allowing you to see rates and times on a variety of days.  This is a great way to find the best prices as they can vary daily.

whichbudget

Which Budget.  I learned of this search engine while living in Europe.  If you are on the hunt for the lowest price ticket, you should definitely check this out.  On Which Budget you can glimpse prices for a wide range of dates and easily investigate the cheapest flights over a period of time.  They include a broad spectrum of budget airlines making it a good source for finding the best priced flights. (Note:  For some reason, I have had less success using this search engine in Asia.)

cheapflights

Insanely Cheap Flights.   I think the name says it all.  I used this search engine to purchase my flight from the US to South Korea.  On several occasions I have found them to offer the cheapest flight I could find.  My flight to Korea was purchased and redeemed with no problems.  I easily bought the ticket, was able to speak to a real customer service person when I had a question, and arrived in South Korea at a price I could afford.

More Good Ideas

condor

Cheap Flights from Europe.  If you are in Europe looking to purchase a flight for the next leg of your journey, you must check out Condor Airline’s listing of their Longhaul Flights.   Condor is a German-based airline with a regular listing of discounted flights leaving from Frankfurt International to all over the world.  Cancun, Chiang Mai, San Jose, Lima… just to name a few.  No matter where you are in Europe, you can easily catch a cheap flight to Frankfurt and then save big bucks on your long distance flight.  I purchased my ticket from Europe to the States from Condor.  I saved some money and was happy with the flight and service.

travelzoo

Travelzoo.  Have you subscribed to Travelzoo?  If you haven’t you should!  They provide regular emails with travel deals for destinations all over the world and their offers often include flight sales.  I bought my first ticket from US to Europe through a flight deal I discovered through Travelzoo.  Worth checking out!

No matter where your next adventure may take you, some persistence and these resources will help you save some money and find that flight that best meets your needs.  Happy travels… wherever you are going!

Do you have any great flight finding tips to share?  It’s always good to hear from you!

Featured image a Spring snow shower at Gyeonggi English Village.

Meandering in Seoul

3 Feb

It is the last few days of a generous break inspired by the Lunar New Year. While Korean families were busy cooking up a storm for the holiday, I was grateful for an extended vacation.  I took myself on a little outing in Seoul and rented a studio for a few days.

A fresh little spot in Hongdae

A fresh little spot in Hongdae

First, I have to share my excitement at my accommodation find.  As hotel rates in Seoul are typically unfriendly to the budget traveler, I turned to airbnb.com.  It is one of my favorite sites for exploring affordable and interesting places to stay anywhere in the globe.  Airbnb is not your typical accommodation search.  Its listings range from the colorful and decadent to the intimate and affordable. Airbnb hosts are regular people and families from all over the world with some extra space to share with travelers. There are options for any price range plus plenty of personal reviews from past guests to guide you in the right direction.

Located on a quiet artsy street

Located on a quiet artsy street

After some persistent searching, I found a little studio apartment to rent in a charming neighborhood in Seoul called Hongdae.  It was perfect for me.  Private, clean and comfortable, small kitchen, moderate price, plus a great location and a secure building.

To make it even better, I got an amazing deal.  On top of the already fair pricing, I took a chance and did a google search for coupons for airbnb.  You know what I am talking about, the cryptic code you enter at checkout that saves you money. And guess what, I found one!  And even better, it worked! (as sometimes they do… and sometimes they don’t…)  With the coupon, I saved $100 on my three-night booking.  Quite a deal!Airbnb-logo

While the viability of that coupon has already come… and gone, I do want to pass on some airbnb saving to you.  Simply register for airbnb HERE  (at no charge) and on your first booking you will automatically receive $25 OFF your total cost. Not a bad deal!

As the Lunar New Year is a holiday that sends people out of the cities to be with their families, I enjoyed a few days of Seoul a bit more on the quiet side.  It was easier to get a seat on the subway and at least some streets afforded a casual leisurely pace.

Myeong-dong

Myeong-dong

While in Seoul I went to see the well-known and long running show, Nanta.  The theater was in Myeong-dong, a busy shopping district. I had heard good things about the show from friends, but in truth had no idea what to expect. I sat in the intimate theater excited to simply have the treat of a new experience.  As the lights dimmed and the show began, my heart leapt at the pleasure of the dramatic music and seeing bodies move and dance.

Nanta, in short, is a theatrical performance running since 1997 inspired by the art of traditional Korean drumming.  As Nanta is set in a comedic kitchen, rather than drums mostly, the performers use knives, and whatever else they can get their hands on for a spectacular drumming display.  The performers were engaging and entertaining as their bodies, faces and percussion lured us in.  It was a sold out show that evening and I’m glad I went to check it out.

I did my best to feed myself while meandering in Seoul for three days.  In earnest, it is not always easy.  I am a sensitive soul and that includes the foods I eat, most notably sugar, which is in most Korean foods. I began with a few favorites. Lunch at Gusto Taco in Sangsu with a friend.  Chicken curry at Khajuraho Indian Cuisine in Hongdae.

Bibimbap

Bibimbap

I was determined to eat some Korean food. I asked for a recommendation at a tourist information booth and made my way to a fresh Korean restaurant.  I tried something simple that I knew I could eat.  Bibimbap.  Traditionally, it’s veggies and an egg served over rice.  If I don’t use the chili paste served with it, filled with sugar, I am good to go.  When my food arrived, while the presentation was lovely, I was sad to see a plate filled with food I couldn’t eat.  Soup, kimchi, and marinated vegetables all filled with sugar and not for me.  What was left?  Some rice, greens and an egg.  While not a unpaletable meal, a bit less than what I had desired.  And so it goes.

I enjoyed my time in Seoul but afterwards was also content to get back to the quiet hills of Paju.  When I returned home I was distraught to discover that I left the charger for my computer at the apartment in Seoul.  I contacted the host of the studio and was relieved to hear it was there.  I needed this right away so I made the unwanted trek back to Seoul to claim my charger.

Korean Home Cookin'!

Korean Home Cookin’!

When I arrived the host was there preparing the room for the next guest.  A young Korean woman working full-time in marketing and running this as a side-business, she couldn’t have been friendlier.  She brought me some traditional Korean food that she and her mom had prepared to ease the pain of my unexpectd return journey.  It looked delicious and lucky for me, most of it was no sugar added. Connecting with her and receiving her gift made the trip back a bright spot in the day.

When I returned to Paju the second time I was surprised to see a parade of people and cars at the cemetery just up the street from English Village.  As is tradition for the Lunar New Year, they were there honoring their ancestors.  It was so crowded that there was a professional in the middle of the road directing traffic.

But I am home now, in my comfy English Village apartment. Soon I will be easing back into work life.  It’s been a great week.  Explorations in Seoul.  Connections with a few friends and new connections.  Plus some laid back time on my own.

How about you?  Any great travel stories, ideas or deals to share?  It’s always good to hear from you! Good-bye for now from the dwindling vacation days at Paju English Village.

Is It Summer Already?

9 Jun

It’s a Sunday morning here in Paju City, South Korea.  The weather is creeping into summer as the temperatures are tipping into the upper 80s.  That didn’t take long.  Yes, it is June, typically nearly summer weather in some parts of the world.  But it seems that winter just recently… ended.  I could swear it was just a few weeks ago that I confidently tucked away my winter coat for good and took an extra blanket off my bed.  It was not long ago that I finally unplugged and put away my room heater. And here we are greeted with summer weather.  I am told the heat and humidity here will give New Orleans, my former stomping grounds of 13 years, a run for its money.  We will see.  When I lived in New Orleans my last job was working at an outdoor farmers market.  During New Orleans summers the heat and humidity is like a wall.  At the market we would sit there with towels dipped in florida water, a cool refreshing cologne water, hung around our necks and try not to move while the sweat rolled down our foreheads.  Hopefully the summer in Paju is not that bad.

With summer weather comes summer wardrobe.  We have a pretty laid back dress code here at English Village and really we are quite lucky to have such a casual atmosphere.  We can wear shorts and tennis shoes and sandals that are at least a little dressy and have a back strap.  We cannot wear sleeveless shirts or tank tops which seems reasonable for work life.  I am still exploring what is appropriate summer dress in general in South Korea. Wearing tight tank tops that reveals shoulders and skin, a summer staple for me, may not be considered appropriate in regular public life.  I asked a fellow teacher about this and she suggested that some girls in the city wear tank tops but it’s still not all that common just yet.  You often see girls and women wearing a very light almost see through cropped cardigan over sleeveless dresses and shirts.  Still learning the nuances of culture.

It’s been a pretty light teaching week here at English Village, although myself and some other teachers are still busily preparing new lessons for the upcoming “semester”.  This week we have several different programs including a group of young Russian children here for two weeks.  I am not one of their “regular teachers” but did have the opportunity to teach them for one class last week.  They range in age from about 9 to about 13.  They are a great bunch of kids with spunky spirits.  But they can, as other teachers have noticed, push the boundaries.  They are fiestier than the Korean students we have in a way that is both inviting and challenging.  When I arrived in the building to teach them on Friday, four of them were downstairs making a train with rolling desk chairs pushing them around the room.  When I arrived in the classroom upstairs students were drawing pictures on the board during the break, some nice and some… not so nice.  It was quite a first impression.  We spent about an hour together playing a game and while the time did have some ups and downs, generally it went well.  I teach them a few more lessons on Monday and Tuesday.

We had an interesting staff experience on Friday afternoon…. Korean Village.  Yes, all of the English teachers at EV attended a class taught by a Korean teacher using Korean language only. The idea as you can imagine is to give us a sense of how some of our students may feel when in our classes taught only in English.  The question this rose for me was “Don’t our students have years of training in English when they come to us?”  That answer…some, yes, but as it turns out not all.  Undoubtedly we see a range of English-speaking skills here from practically fluent to barely any English at all.  But I had always assumed that their training had tucked away some English somewhere and perhaps they were just shy about speaking it or uninterested.  But apparently this may not be the case.  It seems that economic level does play a part in students English-speaking exposure and participation in quality English lessons outside of the “regular school day”.  Also I was told that some students in public schools take little interest in English and are allowed to slip through the cracks.  So its possible that we get students who really understand and speak almost no English.  This is new to me and certainly puts a slant on trying to teach English in English.

I spent my Saturday in Seoul.  I visited my chiropractor and am happy to report that after a fall in France a year ago, my ankle seems to be getting better.  I went to an area of Seoul called Hongdae, a lively neighborhood near Hongik University.  My favorite taco stand is there, Gusto Taco.  I grabbed two delicious fresh chicken tacos, complete with hand-made corn tortillas and soaked in a little of the international atmosphere.  There were customers from S. Korea and the US, a Spanish-speaking couple, an American owner, and French radio streamed over the internet. It was love.

While in Hongdae I also saught out one of the few thrift stores in Seoul and South Korea called The Beautiful Store.  As noted by other visitors and explorers of South Korea, Koreans aren’t really into buying used clothes.  And so the thift store scene is not too grand.  But The Beautiful Store, a local chain, has locations all over Seoul and their proceeds go to charity.  If it wasn’t for the help of a nearby friendly Korean-American, however, I would have never found the store.

I exited the subway, exit 8, and began to scan through my maps and information on my smart phone.  Seeing my lack of clarity with a friendly voice she introduced herself and asked if I needed any help.  Fortunately for me, she speaks Korean and is able to navigate her ways through the maze of symbols and words known as the Korean language.  With just a little misdirection, some guidance from her smart phone, and her knowledge of Korean we found the store just steps away from the train station.  The store sign is written in Korean so it wasn’t visible to my English reading eyes.

It was a tiny shop but a true thrift shop nonetheless.  My new companion for the moment joined me and we both found just a few clothing treasures for low prices.  If you are in South Korea and would like to go there yourself, here are basic directions:

  • Take the subway to Hongik University Station exit 8.  When you arrive at the top of the stairs, look to your right.  There is a building with a door at the corner of the street.  Enter that door and go downstairs.  The shop is on your right.

Today is a simple Sunday for me.  I intend to enjoy a little luxurious walking in the still fairly mellow summer heat, run a few errands, and do a little cooking for my upcoming work week.  I believe I have another lighter teaching schedule for the work week ahead, much needed after so many crazy weeks and more to come in the future.

Good-bye for now from the slowly becoming balmy land of Paju!

Photo at top a quiet evening at English Village at sunset.

A Taste of the Sweet Life

31 Mar

It’s a quiet weekend here at English Village in Paju, South Korea.  It’s Easter Sunday and as I am at work today… and in South Korea…its presence constantly escapes me. I am working my last weekend shift of a two month rotation. It is nearly April in Paju and I am still wearing my long winter coat and scarf.  I am longing for the days when Spring has fully arrived but I am reminded that the heat and humidity of Paju summers are not far behind… and then there’s monsoon season.

Lately conversations can turn to the threats of war from North Korea.  While teachers, myself included, are paying attention to North Korea’s headline making threats and actions, there seems to be a sense of concern but not a feeling of panic or urgency. Recently one of our head teachers at English Village, a Korean man, addressed the issue at a staff meeting.  He wants to help keep us informed and he shared his belief that North Korea is simply reacting and offering threats as is their history in the past.  So for now, I suppose I am like many other English teachers in Korea and South Koreans – paying attention to the situation, but also not getting lost in the fear of it.

Work this weekend is pretty simple for me.  The weekend teaching staff at English Village tends to any special camps or students visiting for the weekend as well as the general visiting public.  The last few weekends, today included, I have been teaching an English game for the general visiting public called “Compound Words”.  It is a simple game.  There are two pictures and each picture represents one word of a compound word.  The first team to guess the correct compound word gets a point and the team with the most correct answers wins.  I have found that children and adults alike enjoy it.  They stay for about 20 or 30 minutes or so and laugh and play and guess.  Sometimes the parents help the children answer in English and… sometimes the children help the parents.  It’s amazing to me sometimes to see a very young reserved Korean child come up with a correct answer much to my and often their parent’s surprise.

Last night I took my first try at gluten-free baking in my new to me Korean toaster/convection oven.  As I can’t eat refined sugar and do my best to stay away from gluten, but still love sweets… my last few months surrounded by the candy, sweets and baked goods among English Village staff and students has been challenging.  Finally an opportunity to make something a little sweet for me.  What was on the menu?  Brownies!  It couldn’t have been easier!  With a base of almond flour and sweetened with honey, they turned out sweet, moist and chocolatey.  Just what the doctor ordered!  Here is the recipe!

Earlier this week on my day off I made my way into Seoul.  The mission?  Yoga!  I have been practicing yoga both independently and in classes for over 8 years.  It has become a mainstay in my life and a practice I use to feel at home no matter where I am in the world.  After being in South Korea for over three months, I have found just a handful of yoga studios in Seoul that offer classes in English.  Much of the yoga in this area is what’s known as Hot Yoga, a series of yoga postures done in a heated room.  This type of yoga has not been my practice and does not appeal to me… and so the search continues for a yoga class.

After some persistent google searching and communicating with a studio via email, I finally decided to make the trek to a class this past week in Seoul.  Door to door it was about a two-hour journey.  The commute was longer than I expected and I arrived about 5 minutes late for class.  When I finally arrived I found a Korean teacher with a class full of Korean students.  I was surprised because I sought out this studio and class particularly because they offer classes in English.  Irregardless I made my way in and laid out my mat as I heard the Korean instruction.  The teacher was very friendly and asked me if I spoke Korean.  I shook my head no.  I thought perhaps I could make the best of it. “Perhaps I could follow along?” I asked hesitantly.  The kind teacher looked at me with a less than optimistic look.  She suggested I try another class taught by one of their English teachers.  Respectfully, I rolled up my mat and left the studio.  And so the search for yoga continues.

I am grateful to have my own personal practice of yoga that I can take with me no matter where I am.  Even here in English Village I have had the opportunity to share some basic yoga with the other English teachers.  I was even invited to create a simple yoga lesson that can be done with Korean students in classes at English Village.  Its a Powerpoint guided lesson that has a series of videos showing simple yoga moves that can easily be done in the classroom.  I received some positive feedback on it from a fellow teacher who tried it in his class.  They had some extra time and felt the students needed some physical activity.  He said the yoga lessons met the needs of something physical for the students without getting them too “excited”.  After the class he said they were in a better place to sit down and participate in the rest of the lesson.  That’s great!

And so as this day comes into full play, I find myself in unconventional Easter surroundings.  I will spend my Easter in South Korea teaching young and old alike about compound words.  And later tonight, a little sweet treat and a restful evening as I prepare for the busy work week ahead.  It’s a good Easter in my new surroundings, appreciating the little things that make life sweet.

How about you?  How did you spend your Easter Sunday?  Any sweet memories or recipes to share?

Top Photo – a taste of the sweet life.  Gluten-free honey sweetened brownies prepared in home-sweet-home in Paju City, South Korea.

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