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1 Uncommon Way To Find Out Who You Really Are

Yesterday I met with a friend who recently returned from about 3 months of solo traveling in Southeast Asia. As we sat down together for the first time since before she left, I asked her, “Who do I have the pleasure of dining with today?”

I knew that the person across from me was not the same person I knew from before. She had gone through her own trials and transformations, dissolved and rebuilt parts of herself. (On a concrete level, within three months many of the cells in her body were literally new…)

She smiled, and started to share with me who she is now.

She embodied a new level of confidence, a grounded assertiveness, trusting herself in a deeper way than before.

Later that evening I wondered to myself, “Why don’t we allow everyone in our lives to show up newly each time we meet them? To discover who they’ve become since the last time we saw them? Why do we assume they’re the same person, who will predictably act the same way, and remain as we “know” them to be? And doesn’t that trap them into being the same…?”

Once, it would have been easy to assume that my boyfriend, my best friends, or my parents would be the same people day in and day out.

Now, I show up to most interactions with that question subconsciously in mind: “Who do I have the pleasure of spending time with today?” (*and yes, I still sometimes assume they’ll be exactly the same people as they were yesterday…*)

It may seem obvious to rediscover who someone is after we haven’t seen them in months or years… like meeting an old friend from high school and having the thought, “Wow, I wonder what they’re like nowadays!” automatically cross your mind.

A subtler trick though is to allow ourselves to continuously rediscover who the people we see everyday of our lives are.

It gets fun pretty fast. And what I’ve noticed is that people enjoy the space that opens up when they realize you don’t expect them to be a certain way…

If you’re really feeling bold, try applying this mindset to yourself. Allow yourself to find out who YOU really are, each day, newly. Play around with creating yourself as someone new, each day. Perhaps you’ll choose to emphasize playfulness, or curiosity, or unstoppable action, or generosity that particular day…and something new the next day.

My invitation to you is to try this out. And if you want, let me know how it goes for you. Do you notice a difference in the quality of your conversations or depth of connection with the people around you? Do you notice a difference when you allow yourself to discover who you are each new day?

I’m curious. Let me know in the comments below 🙂


August 27, 2016

Written by Dylan Livingston

Volunteering abroad is a fulfilling cause, especially when you go to support a volunteer organization that is responsible, sustainable, and has an amazing long-term relationship with the community it aims to support and help.

Many good volunteer programs recognize the virtue it takes to volunteer abroad, and can sometimes offer to cover the expenses of your trip in return for your hard work. There are many options for affordable volunteer placements, and there are programs that even fund your expenses. However you are able to find a way to volunteer abroad for free with a reputable, responsible organization, your work is sure to be both appreciated and rewarded further down the road.

1. Find a Trustworthy Organization for your Volunteer Experience

There are not many programs that offer meals and a place to stay for free, but if you do stumble on what looks like a free volunteer program, it’s important to do extensive research on the company. If a volunteer program is accommodating you for your visit, it’s important to know how the money is being distributed amongst the organization vs. amongst its impact projects.

There are, however, many volunteer programs that ask for small fees that help their cause, that can be as low as $200 or less and typically go towards the cause you are working for.

It’s important to first inquire what your costs are going towards before paying them, and any reliable organization will be more than happy to share specifics with you if their cost breakdown is not already listed on their website. As a general rule of thumb, most nonprofit organizations are worth looking into closely; stay away from most for-profit volunteer organizations, where dollars often don’t reach the people you actually want to help most.


2. Apply to Join the Peace Corps

Have the chance to travel around the world, working in a variety of specialized fields, by volunteering with the Peace Corps. While joining the Peace Corps is a 27-month commitment, you will be paid a monthly allowance during the duration of your volunteership that is intended to cover average living expenses in the community you work in.

The majority of Peace Corps work is done in Africa, but there are also programs in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands.


3. Cultural Exchange Programs

The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs offers scholarships in return for the completion of tasks, such as housing an international exchange student or volunteer. After hosting an international student or volunteer, you will then have access to a host family free of charge when you travel abroad. You may also qualify for scholarships by making presentations to local youth clubs or schools.

By sharing your intentions and goals for your volunteer abroad experience with a community, you may inspire the youth to take a similar path for their future. Making meaningful presentations can lead to private donations towards your cause, which can lead to further networking and opportunities for fundraising.


4. Crowdfunding

The world of crowdfunding is on the rise, which means there has never been a better time to start a travel fundraising campaign. You will be surprised to find the amount of enthusiasm and support people will give you if you outline the purpose of your trip in a meaningful, educational and inspirational way!

You might make a video or start a travel blog (for example, this site is built on WordPress, hosted by BlueHost for $4.95/month). It also helps if you offer people something in return for their donations, such as an exclusive look at your trip through photos, videos, or journals. FundMyTravel is an excellent site for creating a crowdfunding campaign for purposeful travel!


5. Creative Fundraising

There are lots of ways to fundraise offline too. One method is to organize a community walk, half marathon, or 5K run to bring your community together for a cause you care about. You can request that people pledge X amount of money for every mile that you walk or run. Another option is to host a dinner or cookout series for donations.

The 52-week challenge is also an effective way of saving money that has been gaining popularity amongst international travelers. All you have to do is commit a year to saving up for your trip. Here’s how it works:

During the first week you set aside $1 into a free savings account (many online banks let you open a checking or savings account for free), and for each following week you increase the savings by a dollar. The second week, you save $2, and the twentieth week, you set aside $20. On the 52nd week, you’ll deposit $52 into your savings account, totaling $1,378.

$1,000 or so will usually be more than enough to cover the costs of most short-term volunteer programs and can even cover part of your flight cost. No matter what way you choose to raise money for your volunteer trip abroad, be creative and have fun with it!


6. Social Media

Social media is a great way to share your volunteer goals and get feedback from past international volunteers. Posting regularly about your trip is more likely to get attention and will generate awareness to your cause. (You can also follow popular travel pages like BBC World, GoAbroad, and Lonely Planet to see what different types of posts get the most engagement, and put your own spin on things with original posts that promote your trip, your fundraiser, or any travel blog posts or videos you create.)

All three of these popular pages host regular forums and discussion boards related to affordable travel. Don’t be shy! Post your question and someone will answer you. Social media has made networking within the travel world more accessible than ever.


When you take the time and make the commitment by setting a travel goal for yourself, you have already done half of the work.

The rest of the journey unfolds from making your goal known to the world, and putting in the time that is necessary to achieve that goal. Purposeful work with positive impact so valuable, and by volunteering for a responsible, sustainable organization without expecting anything in return, you’ll gain a fulfilling and enriching experience that is worth more than what money can buy.

About Dylan

HS-Dylan LivingstonDylan Livingston is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder, and he hopes to work in the entertainment industry some day so he can share his passions with the world. A passionate writer, filmmaker, and musician, Dylan enjoys traveling because it helps broaden his perspective of the world.

August 23, 2016
Solo Female Travel: Women in the Wilderness

Written by Karo Wieczorek

Despite the fact that women have been successfully traveling and having adventures alone in nature for centuries, the solo woman who announces she’s going on a back-country adventure still seems to be a topic that gets people’s emotions going. The majority of support for solo female activities outdoors goes to the women on the billboards – the extreme sports heroines, the pioneers reaching for the ultimate heights.

But what about the rest of us? What about all other women who want to get out there and live their own small adventures?

For us, the situation can look a little different. Our dreams and plans come up against a wall of doubt, distrust, fear and disbelief. We face it not only from the people around us (“Are you sure you’re ready for this kind of trip?”), but also the doubts that live inside our own minds (“Can I really do this?”).

If you’re a woman who wants to take a solo trip into the wilderness, but is having a hard time dealing with the reactions from the people around you (not to mention the doubts coming up in your own head), this post is for you.

Karo - women in the wilderness

Social Stigma

You have great dreams, you make plans, you test your gear, and you’re happy to go out and embrace the wilderness. Excited, you announce your plans to your family and friends and the moment you do, you face an irritating reality – no one shares your feelings of excitement. Instead, you get the opposite reactions:

You’re Going Alone!?

One of the first things that can come up when the adventurous woman shares her travel and adventure plans with people who care about her is shock and difficulty comprehending why she would want to risk going alone.

And not just going anywhere…but going alone into the woods, mountains, desert. For people around her, it’s unimaginable. They might not believe that a woman would be courageous enough to do such a thing. No boyfriend going with her? No other girlfriends? No hiking buddy?

The underlying question they’re asking is why? Why would she ever want to go alone?

The need to be constantly surrounded by people is embedded into our society. It’s how humans have survived as long as we have. Being alone used to mean certain death.

Nowadays, being alone is not a death sentence, but it does mean having to have to deal with yourself. It means having to confront your own deepest thoughts and emotions, your inner shadows you would rather not think about. Being alone, you might even hear your heartbeat for the first time, and confront your own humanity…your own mortality.

For many of us, being alone is something to avoid.

But for the courageous ones, we have our reasons to wander into wilderness alone.

It’s up to us if we try to make others understand. The thing to remember is not to get discouraged — just stick to your decision and trust yourself.

Almora India forest

But You Don’t Know Anything About [insert outdoor activity/location here]!

The next thing that the adventurous woman has to deal with is the denial of her skills, often wrapped in the form of “concerned questions” that downplay what she is capable of on her own.

Will you manage to set up camp?

Do you really know how to make a fire?

How will you stay safe?

How could you possibly be able to do all that on your own?

All the time she has spent reading, educating herself, taking courses and practicing wilderness survival skills seems to be irrelevant compared to the fact that she’s still a woman.

People may believe that outdoor skills are difficult to master, something out of reach of the average person working a desk job in a city.

That of course is not true, and the wild woman knows that. She’s also confident and aware of her skills and has no problems facing obstacles and conquering them.


But…The World “Out There” Is A Dangerous Place!

This is one of most common fears, the argument the adventurous woman hears the most when people are trying to persuade her away from the idea of a solo wilderness trip.

There are so many dangers out there!

Opinions that if you go “out there”, every human will try to harm you, every animal will try to eat you, and you will fall in every possible hole are common. They’re created by a general fear of the unknown.

For the adventurous woman, the unknown is something exciting. For others, the unknown only brings trouble and danger. These fears that loved ones or friends have are the hardest to explain away. Realistically, it will take the adventurous woman a couple expeditions and just as many safe returns to convince the people who care about her that she can actually thrive “out there”. Even then, there will likely be resistance to each new trip she plans to take.


Build a Strong Inner Mindset

The fact that people around us doubt our skills and abilities can always be expected. What is much harder to overcome is the doubt and distrust that dwells within us.

No matter how hard she tries, the adventurous woman will face a point where she starts to feel the seeds of fear within her.

Can I really do this?

Are my skills really good enough?

What if they were right…What if I don’t make it?

All these questions and many more will race through her mind. She will experience moments of discouragement and doubt. The key to her success will be to stay strong and cultivate her self-awareness and self-confidence.

But the adventurous woman travels prepared. She will remind herself that she knows exactly what she’s capable of. She knows her gear and the place she will travel to. Trusting herself is her main asset. In the end, she will be on her own out there and she will be the only person she can rely on, so she prepares herself and trusts herself to tackle challenges, one by one.


Be Prepared

The key to a successful outdoor adventure is preparedness. There are a couple of important things the adventurous woman needs to think about before going into the wild:

Manage Your Risks

It’s probably one of the most important aspects of your preparations. Knowing exactly what to expect and mitigating any possible risks should be one of your core skills.

The wilderness is unpredictable, yes, but you can and should make sure you have as much information as possible in advance about the following…

  • Weather conditions: what can you expect during your trip?

Knowing your forecast will allow you to prepare your gear accordingly and prepare for quickly changing weather.

  • Trail conditions: is your trail open at this time of year?

Make sure you check if the trail you have chosen is open to the public and if any other difficulties or obstacles will be in your path.

  • Day length: how much daylight will you have during your hike?

This will allow you to plan and time your trek, especially if it’s a long stretch.

  • Wild animals: what wildlife activity can you expect in the area you chose?

This especially applies to regions where bear and/or mountain lions live, where you should be extra cautious with carrying and storing food and other smelly products like sunscreen and lotion!


Skills and Education

You’ll acquire both skills and knowledge over time, mostly through experience. However there’s a good chunk of knowledge you can get before your adventures.

Educate yourself by reading books and articles (like this onethis one, and this one), listening to podcasts like The First 40 Miles, DirtBag Diaries, and Sounds of the Trail, and watching some wilderness survival videos (like “Magnetic Declination Demystified“, “How to Tie the Simplest (But Also The Most Useful) Knot in the World” and the “Ultimate Hiking Gear & Skills Clinic“. Whenever possible, attend trainings and get first-hand experience in a safe, controlled setting.

Try and test things out yourself as well! Trying to start a fire for the first time on the trail is not a good idea. Put effort in acquiring as much knowledge as possible in advance; it will pay off once you’re out there in the wild!

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 2.26.38 PM


The gear you carry is everything you will have to survive on your own in the wild. Make sure you know how to use it, make sure you can rely on each and every piece in your backpack.

To do that you MUST test out ALL of your gear in advance. Every part of your equipment should be checked long before you take your first steps on the trail. Go walking or hiking in your shoes for several miles, wear your backpack while doing so, try cooking something on your small camp stove.

The very best way to prepare your gear is to embark on smaller hikes and walks where you can test most of it before you take your big wilderness trip!


You need to be able to trust your body as much as your gear.

Knowing your abilities and limits is important because it lets you set boundaries and manage your own expectations. How much weight can you carry for a couple of hours? How many miles can you hike before you need to rest? How will your feet react to constant use?

These are the questions you need to know answers to before you start your adventure. I recommend starting a small training routine to strengthen your legs, core and back as well. This will make all your hikes much easier and allow you enjoy your adventures even more!


You Did It!

When you meet a woman in the wilderness, you know she’s special.

She has a particular energy about her, a kind of strength and power. That’s what solo adventures give you.

They empower you, give you self confidence, and build your trust in your skills and abilities. They make you realize that you can handle so much more than you thought you could.

The adventurous woman who travels, hikes, backpacks, or does any other kind of solo outdoor trip becomes a better version of herself. She is healthier, happier and more fulfilled — and she doesn’t leave that behind on the trail. She takes all those positive things back into her everyday life.

No challenge at work is comparable to that last stretch with no water and an aching body… No fight is as threatening as that terrible storm that almost blew her off the mountain. Her inner self gets stronger with every trip she takes. Now, she makes decisions with confidence; her mind is sharp and fast.

The truth is that the ability to survive in the wild on your own makes you a strong, confident and self-aware person. The energy you get on your adventure will influence others around you, too. You’ll inspire your friends to be more courageous. To trust themselves more. To take on challenges directly and not shy away from something that might stretch their comfort zone.

So follow your dreams, adventurous woman, and don’t get discouraged. Have respect for nature on your solo trip, but have no fear.

About Karo

Photo - KaroKaro is a passionate hiker with a true calling. Every trail is an adventure and every adventure is a lesson. When not hiking she’s either planning her next tattoo or writing to her blog where she shares her knowledge and experience with other outdoors-loving people. Connect with Karo at Trail Maiden.

July 18, 2016
9 Things You Must Know Before Traveling Outside the U.S.

1. In the majority of the world, you will be safe and sound. The media (and your mother) likes to make you think that leaving the country will end in death (or kidnapping). In most places, this is both statistically unlikely and just plain inaccurate. Travel will actually enrich your life instead.

read maps

2. Learn how to read train, metro and bus schedules and maps. Much of the world outside the USA has extensive public transportation systems. They’re often reliable and inexpensive – take advantage while you can! (You can learn how in our very own Travel Savvy eCourse, along with 29 other must-knows for new international travelers.)


3. Asking for help, early and often, makes travel easier. You might not speak the language, but if you pick up a Lonely Planet Phrasebook for the country you’re visiting, asking for help becomes as easy as pointing to a phrase on a page.


4. Knowing even 5 words or phrases in the language of each country you travel in basically means that you can get all your major needs met. The most useful ones to look up in advance are: “hello”, “how much?”, “yes/no”, “thank you”, #1-#10, and “good”. Need to order something? Say “hello”, point to the object you want, say the number (or hold up your fingers), ask “how much?” and say “thank you”. Easy peasy.


5. Staying in hostels, though budget-friendly and probably inside your comfort zone, is not the best way to have an authentic travel experience. Alternatives that are friendlier on the wallet, with the added bonus of a local’s perspective? CouchSurfing and Airbnb.


6. 99% of people have good intentions and want to help if you are in trouble, even if they don’t understand what the problem is. People are generally kind, everywhere, especially if you begin the interaction with a smile!

clubbing in helsinki, finland

7. You can create a sense of home wherever you are. All you have to do is bring a hobby of yours from the USA with you. For example, dancing salsa: whenever you get to a new city, look up the salsa clubs or find a Meetup.com dance group and head out for a night. You’ll end up meeting local people and evade homesickness too!


8. Street smarts serve you everywhere in the world. You have personal boundaries, and you are allowed to assert them and stand your ground or leave a situation whenever your gut tells you to. (No idea how to set a clear boundary, especially when you don’t speak their language? You can learn this in the Travel Savvy eCourse, too.)


9. You don’t need a TON of money to travel outside the USA and have the time of your life. Google “travel hacking” or “credit card hacking” to learn how to use points and frequent flyer miles to pay for travel. Use a fare alert site like AirfareWatchdog to tell you when prices drop. Join a volunteer organization that covers your travel expenses, apply for grants and scholarships that sponsor you to be in a foreign country, or get a working holiday visa and take your time to explore countries like Australia and New Zealand while earning normal income.

P.S. #6 is my favorite 😉

What do you believe everyone MUST know before traveling outside the U.S. for the first time? Share your ideas in the comments below!
July 2, 2016
How To Persuade Your Kid To Study Abroad

by Danielle DeSimonetravel-map-of-europe

Hey parents – it might be hard to believe that there are kids out there who are reluctant to study abroad, but they do exist. If your child is one of them, but you’d like them to experience the wonders of study abroad, we have a few tips for you to convince them that yes, they should absolutely take that chance, get out of their comfort zone, and study abroad.

World Explorer

What young person hasn’t dreamed of exploring the world, Carmen Sandiego-style? When talking to your child about studying abroad, be sure to remind them that studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get out of their home culture and explore a culture entirely different than their own. Travel is one of the grandest adventures anyone can have, and experiencing a global learning environment at such a young age is a major opportunity.

Academic Advantage

Explain to your kid that studying abroad will set them apart from all of their fellow classmates. Are they studying French? Obsessed with marine biology? Studying abroad immerses any student completely in the subjects they are studying, so that their textbooks come to life. Speaking French every day in (and out of) the classroom in France or monitoring sea turtle nests as a volunteer in Costa Rica will give your student incomparable academic experiences that aren’t possible if they stay at home.


Independence Day

Have a teenager at home? They are probably vying for their independence from you on a daily basis anyway. When discussing study abroad with your child, be sure to point out that going to another country will give them the ultimate sense of independence and seriously develop their confidence.

Of course, as their parents, you’ll always be just one Skype call away. But, a summer or year abroad will give your child the skills and experiences they need to become truly independent and capable of handling themselves not just in day-to-day life at home, but in a foreign country.

Listening Is Key

In your enthusiasm to convince your child to study abroad, be sure to listen to them as well; tune into their interests and their goals. Although your support is obviously crucial to your child being able to study abroad, and opinions matter, remember that this is their adventure. Their interests are what are important, and they won’t have a rewarding study abroad experience if it isn’t the right program or country for them.


Financial Concerns

You and your child might have concerns about the price tag of going abroad, but studying abroad can be affordable. GoAbroad’s Scholarship Directory is an excellent start to learning about financial aid that is available to students. The Traveler’s Mindset guide to funding opportunities like grants, fellowships, and scholarships is also a great resource.

Your student you could also explore crowdfunding options such as Fund My Travel, which would allow your student to tell their story to the world on why they want to study abroad, and accept donations from people in your community and from kind strangers to help them get there.

Summer Camp, but Better

Summer camp friendships are legendary, bonds forged over s’mores and archery contests… Now imagine these kind of friendships built while teaching English to children in Peru, navigating the busy streets of Hong Kong, or learning to speak Italian in Italy by deciphering the restaurant menu together.

Remind your kid that these sorts of experiences will bring incredible people into their lives, not just through their fellow students, but their host families who welcome them into their country simply by opening their home to your child.

Call In The Professionals

Despite your enthusiasm for study abroad, sometimes it’s helpful to bring in the professionals. Speak to your child’s high school counselors or with a representative of a study abroad program, as many of them will know how to answer questions better than you can on how this decision will affect your child, both academically and personally.

Telling Their Story

Does your kid have a fierce creative streak running through them? Explore the endless opportunities for personal expression that travel allows: photography, creative writing, video-blogging, musical inspiration, even an Instagram-blog! Travel and studying abroad are experiences that can help your child to explore new artistic ventures and express themselves in ways they never before thought possible. Plus they’ll get, like, at least 100 more followers on Insta.


Flying The Coop

Although many students are ready to jump blindly into a study abroad program, some might have a few more reservations about the idea of going to a foreign country by themselves. It can be a scary thing for first-time solo travelers, no matter how old they are!

When discussing study abroad with your child, highlight the support systems that exist within many study abroad programs, like on-site staff to assist with emergencies and transitioning into a new culture, pre-arranged housing, or host families who look forward to welcoming your child into their home.

Celebrity Inspiration

High school students are inspired by their peers and the celebrities they admire. Google celebrities or role models that your kid admires and see how many of them have studied or lived abroad. When having a conversation with your child about study abroad, mentioning “You know who else studied abroad and lived in other countries? Gandhi and JK Rowling!” might just be your ticket in.

Resume Booster

With college admissions being so competitive, study abroad experience is becoming an increasingly valued resume bullet point. Very few high school students study abroad, which will make your child’s college application (or job application) stand out from the crowd.

Explain that by studying abroad, they will gain invaluable skills, a more globalized view of the world, and will demonstrate to future colleges that they are valuable potential candidates that should be accepted. Plus, study abroad revelations make a killer topic for application essays!


Cultural Crash Course

Express to your child the amazing cultural education they’ll receive while abroad. Being in another country will open their minds to entirely new way of living, and can completely change their perspective of the world. This might seem scary, but the payoffs are worth it, and this adventure will probably lead to even more travel in their future!

Although all of these tips might help you “sell” your kid on studying abroad, it’s important to remember that they are your child and you know them best. Be open and honest about why you think studying abroad would be such an amazing opportunity for them. They’ll catch that travel bug and will be boarding a plane in no time!

About Danielle

After graduating from the University of Mary Washington with a degree in English, creative writing, and Italian, Danielle decided to leap across the Atlantic and move to southern Italy! Five years have passed and Danielle has traveled to over a dozen countries since making the big move abroad, and she doesn’t have plans of stopping anytime soon. Danielle currently works for the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) as a social media manager and assistant editor, and also works as a freelance travel writer for GoAbroad.com.

July 1, 2016
How I learned real Spanish online

“But everyone is taking Spanish! I just want to learn French,” my fifth-grade self decided obstinately one day. I couldn’t bear to do what everyone else was doing.

So I didn’t.

Looking back on the next four years that followed my decision to decline having Spanish in my life, the little rebel in me grew to regret her choice at times. I chose French in middle school and learned approximately three verbs in four years, all in the present tense. This was followed by a short-lived and painful year of high school Latin, another three years of learning French at university, two years of Italian and seven years of German, mein Gott.

Yet Spanish remained in the back of my mind, an alluring and most practical Romance language. The native tongue of famous revolutionaries and artists, served up in its many flavors, accents, and nuances. It overwhelmed me to think about learning the language where the standard textbook Castilian is only spoken in one country, Spain, yet dozens of varieties of Spanish remain the majority language in 20 additional sovereign states around the world.

And yet, with all my years of language learning, I knew it had to be done. Spanish speakers total well over 400 million people, which qualifies it as second on the lists of languages by number of native speakers.

Finally, when I booked a trip to Spain in 2011, pragmatism won out.

Guggenheim Bilbao Spain
I had been dancing salsa, merengue, and bachata while I was living in Germany for over a year by that point. My past courses meant that I already understood the grammar of Romance languages.

Yet, I wanted to learn Spanish in a distinct way. I wanted a native speaker for a tutor, and I only wanted to learn what was absolutely necessary to communicate clearly and efficiently as a tourist.

I placed an ad for a language tandem partner in the online classifieds, offering English conversation with a native speaker (me) for Spanish conversation with a native speaker.

Hugo, a Mexican man living in Germany, reached out. We met for coffee, spoke for a half hour in English (his was near-perfect already), and then the fun began.

Madrid street scene

Luckily, he had been trained in teaching Spanish as a second language. He offered simple phrases at first, ones I should know as tourist. Things like, “Could you please help me?”, “How much does this cost?”, and “Where is the bathroom/bus stop/metro stop?”.I fumbled my pronunciation badly, treating the words like Italian as it was the closest thing I knew, but felt confident in my ability to recognize and understand the words themselves.

We continued to meet for two months prior to my first two-week foray into a Spanish-speaking country. Hugo’s lessons focused only on speaking, not on grammar or writing, and prioritized the most useful words and phrases for getting around.

I was traveling with a friend who, despite having majored in Spanish in college, was afraid to make mistakes. He hesitated to speak in most initial conversations. I fumbled grammar, but the words came out of my mouth somehow and in the end, we always got the information or food that we needed.

Park Guell Barcelona Spain
So in 2015, when it was nearly time for another trip to a Spanish-speaking country, I knew I had to step up my game.

Enter: BaseLang

Again, I wanted a private tutor. I also wanted to skip the fluff and useless phrases taught in textbooks, like learning to say “the butterfly lands on the flower” before learning “Please drive as fast as you can, my flight leaves soon” or “I’m allergic to penicillin”.

I had planned a two-week trip to Medellín, Colombia, a city that has written a new, innovative narrative for itself since its violent, drug-ridden past.

By chance, or by Facebook ad smarts, I happened upon the website of BaseLang, a language startup coincidentally based out of Medellin. As I scrolled, I saw that they had only native speakers as tutors, and that I could have unlimited online lessons each month, via Skype.

I was in.

It seemed simple enough. All I had to do was sign up (BaseLang’s service costs $1 for a trial week, and $99 for a month of unlimited lessons), set up my first Skype tutoring session through their simple online calendar, and have one “diagnostics” class, where a teacher determined my level of Spanish.

After that, it was up to me to schedule whatever 30-minute chunks worked for my schedule, and I could schedule multiple sessions in a row. (It’s unlimited, remember?)

hillside Medellin Colombia

From December through February leading up to my trip to Colombia I worked with BaseLang’s teachers several times per week, just enough to familiarize myself with the present tense, the most useful irregular verbs to know, and of course, all the tourist phrases I’d need.

Each teacher had a different style, but of the ten people I worked with, all of them were extremely friendly and warm. I appreciated how they adjusted to my needs as soon as they noticed I wasn’t comprehending something, or if I interrupted them gently to ask them to please only speak Spanish to me.

While I took private lessons with BaseLang’s native teachers, I also used Duolingo and Memrise to keep my brain focused on basic vocabulary when I had downtime, usually right before I went to bed. Since high school, I’d found that way was the best way to let my brain process and memorize the words or conjugation tables while I slept — no extra effort required.

colorful door Guatape ColombiaTo top it off with some entertainment, I listened to salsa and reggaeton lyrics and watched a couple of films (Y Tu Mamá También and El desconocido) in Spanish with English subtitles, trying not to read them unless I absolutely had to.

When the end of February 2016 rolled around, I felt confident in my Spanish-speaking ability. In fact, I felt much more confident than ever before, excited and a bit nervous to test out my new skills with native speakers in-country rather than just via Skype.

Using my traveler’s mindset I had thought to reach out to BaseLang’s American co-founder, Connor Grooms, and see if I could stop by the startup while I was in town. Connor is the guy who learned Spanish to intermediate level within 1 month (and made a documentary about it) prior to founding BaseLang.

I let him know that I’d be down in Medellín soon and asked if I could meet the team in person, including the startup’s co-founder Adrian Castaneda. The team was all for it.

Fast-forward a few weeks and I was there, with another idea: why not take some time to share my experience with them, and film a video about BaseLang and my experience with it to share with others looking to learn Spanish online, real Spanish.

So, on the 19th floor of a swanky building with a view of Poblado and the mountains beyond the valley below us, we filmed this interview for you.

As you can probably tell, I only take the time to spread the word about ideas, products and services that I actually use and really love. There was just such a difference in how my spoken Spanish improved, even in the short few months I used BaseLang, that I could tell if I wanted to continue and really dig into the language, I’d be at intermediate level in no time!

For the meantime, I’m content to travel around the Spanish-speaking world with a little more ease and peace of mind. I can hail a taxi and explain where I need to go. I can order food, even if I have allergies. I can make small talk with a kind stranger who becomes a friend or change a person’s perception of what people from the U.S. are like.

And the next level, for me? Total immersion. I’d like to move to a Spanish speaking country to enjoy all the experiences that come with learning a new language — the food, the sights, the sounds and the smells of a new culture. And you can be sure there will be plenty more articles on The Traveler’s Mindset when that happens.

About Ginger

d77646_230e1634c7d646198beada6bf4487463Ginger Kern is a transformational coach and the founder of The Traveler’s Mindset. After working in Europe for over three years and traveling to 25 countries around the world by the age of 25, Ginger wanted to bring the ‘traveler’s mindset’ back to the United States. Through coaching, The Traveler’s Mindset, and speaking at universities and organizations across the U.S., Ginger turns people into adventurers who are confident and powerful on the road and in their everyday lives.

April 5, 2016
Life In Nicaragua: The Ins And Outs Of Moving Abroad

Why did you choose to move to Nicaragua?

My wife and I vacationed in both Costa Rica and Nicaragua on multiple occasions. When it came time to choose a place to live, the decision was easy. We currently live in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. It reminds us of our favorite beach town in Costa Rica, but the decade old version.

Costa Rican prices are similar to Canada, but prices in Nicaragua are seemingly rolled back to a decade ago. In San Juan del Sur I can still find a restaurant that serves lunch with a beer for under $5. Travel outside of my little tourist village prices drop considerably.

We love the raw authenticity Nicaragua has to offer. We didn’t want to live in a sea of American chain restaurants. There are some cruise ships that pull into our port, but most are whisked away to the Colonial City of Granada.


What were the hardest things to adjust to?

There were definitely a couple of things that were tricky to adjust to. The obvious one is language. We didn’t speak any Spanish when we moved to Nicaragua, but a month of lessons set us on the right track.

One thing we didn’t think about was shopping. We don’t have a Walmart on every corner, so instead we go to dozens of mom-and-pop shops to find all the things that most people are used to shopping for in one stop. We often drive two hours to the capital city of Managua to get variety in our items. Ordering from online shops like Amazon are not easy, as many items will be held to pay duty.


How did the people around you see you when you first moved? And now?

I’d guess the Nicas thought we were lost when we first moved to Nicaragua. We were living in a tiny beach village with vacation homes for wealthy Nicaraguans who only came for holidays.  Most of the time it was just us, and a town full of people whose language we didn’t speak.

I vividly remember Christmas Day. The town was packed full of vacationing Nicaraguans. The restaurants were all completely full and we had no real food in our kitchen. We thought our Christmas dinner was going to be rice and a can of tuna. We peeked into our favorite restaurant, and the owner told us to wait.

She dragged a table out of the kitchen, then went around the restaurant to find two empty chairs. She said she wanted to take care of the locals, as the tourists would be gone in a few days.

I found it amazing that after only a month she considered us locals, and all of the Nicaraguans just tourists. I felt lost in the beginning, but I think the Nicas knew we were where we belonged.

Since then, we have helped raise funds for children’s scholarships, started an animal outreach program, and physically helped neighbors build their homes. But it’s just as important to wave, smile, and stop to talk to everyone we know. We’ve felt accepted and welcomed since the beginning, but now I feel like we have earned our spot in the community.


What advice do you have for people who are thinking of moving abroad?

Anyone moving here should read everything they can find in books, Facebook groups, Google, and blogs.

They should then go on an exploration trip to test drive the country. Don’t stay in some swanky vacation home or hotel; stay somewhere closer to the area you might live in. Shop for food and cook some meals.

Most importantly, meet up with as many expats as you can. Gain their perspective, but more importantly, see if you are willing to fit into the community. Moving somewhere isn’t so much about living in a different country, but living in a different community. Get out there and meet your future neighbours to see if these are the people you want to spend your days with.


About Gordon & Elisha

d77646_a171190269d1472f8e24aca4bdf9ce39Gordon and Elisha are a Canadian couple who left their corporate jobs behind for a new life in Nicaragua. They decided possessions were far less important than experiences and quality time spent together. Now the couple helps new expats with home finder and relocation services to Nicaragua, and run the blog In Nica Now.

March 10, 2016
How to Get Your U.S. Passport in 3 Easy Steps

Applying for your American passport is a lot easier than you might think.

But before you actually apply, you’ll need to figure out what passport type works for your needs and when you’ll need it by.

Which passport type should I get?

In the U.S., we have two options: a passport card and a passport book. Passport cards cost $30, but are valid only for land crossings between Canada and Mexico, or by sea between Bermuda and the Caribbean.

If you really want to explore the world, you’ll need to get the passport book, which costs $110 and is valid for 10 years of international travel.

Alternatively, you’d also be able to get both the book and card for $140. Once you’ve decided on which passport type you need, it’s time to apply!

How soon do you need your passport?

In a rush to get your passport asap? The State Department provides a number of options:


  • Standard Processing: no additional cost, but it takes between 4-6 weeks to process.
  • Expedited Processing: an additional $60, and takes 2-3 weeks to process
  • Expedited at Agency Processing: an additional $60, and takes between 5 business days or less to process. This option is available only by appointment at one of the Passport Agencies around the U.S., and you must provide proof of travel within 2 weeks, or 4 weeks if you’re traveling to a country with a visa.

The State Department also gives you two delivery options: standard, which comes free of charge, and overnight, which costs an additional $14.95.

Three Easy Steps to Getting a Passport

Now that you’ve figured out how quickly you need your passport, it’s time to start putting your application together!

Step 1: Gather your documents

You’ll need three things when submitting your application for a passport: an original document that proves evidence of U.S. citizenship, photo identification, and a photocopy of your photo identification. Here’s what the State Department counts as a valid forms of evidence and identification:

Evidence of U.S. Citizenship

Any one of these documents would suffice as evidence of U.S. Citizenship:

  • Certified U.S. Birth Certificate (with the following requirements)
    • Issued by City, County or State of Birth
    • Your full name, date and place of birth
    • Your parents’ full names
    • The date has been filed with the registrar’s office within one year of birth
    • Has registrar’s signature
    • Has the seal of the registrar
  • Consular Report of Birth Abroad
  • Certificate of Naturalization / Citizenship

Photo Identification + 1 photocopy of the same ID

You can use any one of the following as proof of photo identification:

  • Valid Driver’s License (plus a second ID if your license is issued in a different state than where you apply)
  • Certificate of Naturalization
  • Valid Government ID at the city, state or federal level
  • Valid Military ID

Step 2: Get your picture taken

You’ll need one 2×2-inch color photo of yourself, which you can get at most retail stores (like CVS and Walgreens). The photo should be taken in normal street attire, and you cannot wear tinted glasses. Special exceptions on attire and glasses are made, but must be accompanied with a statement citing medical or religious reasons.

Step 3: Fill out the Application

After you’ve gathered your documents and taken your photo, you’ll need to fill out the application. You have two options:

Step 4: Submit your application in person

Either way, you will need to submit your application in person at an Acceptance Facility. In addition to the Passport Agency’s, these acceptance facilities are places that accept passport applications. Some of these places include:

  • Post offices
  • Clerks of court
  • Public libraries
  • Other state, county, township, and municipal government offices

The Passport Acceptance Facility Search Page will help you figure out which is the closest facility near you.

Step 5: Wait (excitedly) for your passport 

Depending on if you’ve rushed your passport processing, it might take 4-6 weeks before you receive it. But fear not, so long as you completed your application correctly, you’ll get it.

What next?

So…what are you waiting for? Get started on applying for your passport TODAY!

If this is your first time getting one, let us know by using #gotmypassport and we’ll share your pictures on social media to celebrate with you!


About Jason

jason bilogJason Bilog is an avid globetrotter and travel hacker who loves to pay for travel through credit card points and frequent flyer mile programs. Jason is also a StartingBloc Fellow and a full-time Marketing Operations Manager.

October 8, 2015
Top 5 Reasons To Apply For Your U.S. Passport

Don’t have your passport yet?

Read on for 5 reasons that will convince you to apply for your passport today! 

by Jason Bilog

Reason #1: Take advantage of crazy affordable airfare deals

Tons of websites like TheFlightDeal or SecretFlying have popped up over the years that focus specifically on finding really cheap fares. How cheap, you might ask?

Here are some of the flight deals I’ve bought, all of which were round-trip tickets:

  • DC to Abu Dhabi for $215
  • DC to Mumbai for $330
  • DC to Beijing, in business class, for $430
  • New York to Sao Paulo, for $590
  • Philadelphia to Sydney, for $1,115

My confirmation to Abu Dhabi trip in November


Problem is, if you don’t have a passport, how will you be able to take advantage of these deals!? While these deals are centric to the U.S. Northeast, they frequently come up in most major cities. Simply ‘like’ these websites on Facebook and the power of geo-targeting will do its thing and show you the most relevant deals specific to your city.

Reason #2: Meet Truly Amazing People All Around The World

Face it, how many of us have felt that it requires more effort to meet new people once we graduate from school and are working full time? Moreover, if you’re fortunate enough to be in the same city your close circle of friends, it’s easy to stick within your social bubble and pass up the opportunity to branch out and meet new people.


Traveling to a foreign country, especially when you’re traveling solo like I tend to do, by default forces you to step out of your comfort zone. Not sure where to begin to meet new people? Website like Couchsurfing, Tripscout and other location-based apps make it super easy to meet locals that would happily show you around. In my experiences, when traveling solo I almost always stay at a hostel. Why? Because it’s super easy to meet like-minded travelers, many of whom are also traveling solo, that are eager to explore.

Reason #3: To explore and witness how majestic and amazingly beautiful our world truly is!

We’ve all seen images of some of the world’s most iconic places and landmarks: The Eiffel Tower, The Taj Mahal, The Pyramids, etc. While these landmarks likely aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, others such as the Great Barrier Reef, Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu continue to be affected by degradation due to global warming or visitor traffic. Get a passport and go explore these natural wonders before it’s too late!

Reason #4: To appreciate what you have going on in your life 

Clean (and hot!) running water, constant electricity and clean air are just a few things that I think we can easily overlook in our everyday life. In reality, many of these basic necessities don’t exist in many parts of the world. Traveling to a foreign country, particularly to a developing country, will open your eyes to just how fortunate you are, and just how many opportunities surround you right where you are!

Reason #5: To become self-reliant, resilient, and to thrive under uncertainty

More than anything, traveling to a foreign country teaches you a lot about how to be self-reliant, resilient, and to thrive under uncertainty. In life, we’ll always be faced with unexpected problems. Same goes for traveling. That flight might be delayed, your accommodations might be subpar, the weather might not be great, you might not speak the language, or you might even get pickpocketed. Rather than simply getting upset and throwing in the towel, traveling teaches you a lot about how to roll with the punches, and more importantly, to pick yourself back up. Websites like The Traveler’s Mindset are a great resource on finding like-minded individuals who do just this!


Fired up to get a passport? In this next post, I’ll explain how to get your passport in 3 easy steps!

About Jason

jason bilogJason Bilog is an avid globetrotter and travel hacker who loves to pay for travel through credit card points and frequent flyer mile programs. Jason is also a StartingBloc Fellow and a full-time Marketing Operations Manager.

September 30, 2015