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Fika: A Delicious Swedish Tradition

Traditionally, fika is similar to the English afternoon tea, but with a Scandinavian ‘working class simplicity’.

My grandparents would brew a big pot of black coffee and serve a tray of seven or more different homemade biscuits and cakes. The fika happened anytime a neighbor decided to pop over after dinner, or at least once or twice a day in the garden during the summer. In this case the children, too young to have coffee, would drink my grandma’s homemade raspberry juice.

These days, fika happens much more in cafes than in houses, and has lost its original spontaneous culture (and the home baked cookies)! Today, fika is a socializing event, with an agreement of place and time, of girlfriends catching up, of groups of friends getting together, or of casual dates. Sweden, ever fast to pick up trends, has definitely taken coffee snobbery to the next level. Hipster barista bars are found everywhere in the big cities, especially in Stockholm.

In fact, the latest trend is back-to-basic fika with black brewed coffee (although without grandma’s coffee grounds at the bottom of the cup), and traditional biscuits and bread. Swedes love to be ahead of things, so whenever something becomes too mainstream, there will surely be a counter-movement.



Cardamom Bun Recipe from Kokblog

The cinnamon bun, or kanelbullen, is a traditional fika treat. Swedes call these types of buns Vetebullar, or wheat buns, which refers to the sweet yeast dough that can be baked plain or filled with different types of fillings such as cinnamon, almond paste, vanilla, or cardamom.

This cardamom bun, or kardemummabullen, recipe includes ground almonds in the filling. The buns are topped with cardamom sugar to make them super cardamom rich. To minimize the sugar intake, top the buns with slivered almonds instead.

Kardemummbullar (Cardamom Buns)
Adapted from the recipe in the book Fika – The Art of Swedish Coffee Break by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall.

(Makes 30 buns)
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1½ cups milk
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 4½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup natural cane sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons whole cardamom seeds, crushed with mortar & pestle
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup blanched almonds
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ½ cup natural cane sugar
  • 4 teaspoons whole cardamom seeds, crushed with mortar & pestle
  • 4½ teaspoons sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon cardamom powder (for cardamom sugar)
  • Or slivered almonds
  • 1 egg, beaten

Melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the milk. Heat until it’s warm to the touch (about 110°F). In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in 3 tablespoons of the butter and milk mixture. Mix and let sit for a few minutes until bubbles form.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, cardamom, and salt. Add the yeast along with the remaining butter and milk. Work together with a dough whisk or with your hands until you can shape the dough into a ball. Transfer dough to your countertop and knead for about 3–5 minutes until smooth and elastic. The dough should feel moist. If the dough feels sticky, add a little bit more flour.

You can check if you are done kneading by making a slice into the dough with a sharp knife. If you see even small air bubbles throughout, you are done. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a bowl. Cover with a tea towel and let it rise in a warm and draft-free place until almost double in size, about 1 hour.

Grease a baking sheet or place medium paper liners on the sheet. For the filling, grind the blanched almonds in a food processor together with the sugar until just slightly coarse. Add the butter in small portions at the time. Lastly, add the crushed cardamom. Mix until an even spreadable paste.

When the dough has finished rising, take half of the dough and place it on a flat surface. Roll it out with a rolling pin to an 11 x 17 inch (28 x 43 cm) rectangle. Spread half of the filling on top of the rolled-out dough so that it covers the whole area (see diagram). Grab one of the edges of one of the long sides, fold it over so it meets the other side (like folding a paper on the middle, see illustrated diagram above).

Slice the folded dough into 15 equal stripes. Stretch & twist every stripe and swirl them up to a nice bun. Place each of them on a greased baking sheet or in a paper liner. Repeat with the second half of the dough. Cover the buns with a clean tea towel and let rise for about 45–60 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 435°F. When the buns have risen and you are ready to bake the buns, brush every bun with beaten egg and sprinkle each with cardamom sugar.

Bake for 8–10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cover with a tea towel to cool. Serve freshly baked or freeze when they are completely cooled.


About Johanna

d77646_7869ede55edf4771a6909c8c7604d134Johanna is an illustrator who divides her time between Brooklyn and south Sweden. In 2005, she started her illustrated cooking blog kokblog where she shares her own recipes that are mostly inspired by the Nordic cuisine. Her first cookbook, Fika – The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break, is a collaboration with Anna Brones and published by Ten Speed Press, 2015. Johanna has illustrated articles in magazines (e.g. Art of Eating) and several books (“The Fabulous Baker Brothers” by Tom & Henry Herbert, Headline UK, 2012). She just finished animating 60 wildlife stories for Walczak & Heiss public art installation at the Berry Biodiversity Center in Laramie, Wyoming.



About Helen


Helen Light is a Holistic Health & Happiness Coach who inspires people to live with more Lightness, Ease and Trust. She has created a life that allows her to travel and make amazing connections all over the world, by keeping a flexible and open mindset, seeing and seizing opportunities. Her travel blog, dating back to 2008 with more than 1000 posts on subjects like happiness, letting go and courage, echoes the feeling that it really is about the journey, not the destination.

March 1, 2016
Find Your Courage Through Solo Travel: Jackie’s Story
This is possibly the most important interview that Jackie Norse of The Budget-Minded Traveler has published to date.
Together with Nathaniel Boyle from Holocene, the three of us explore solo travel as a tool for personal growth and healing, by sharing Jackie’s own personal story on the heels of her divorce.
Through a number of hard questions and deep topics, and based around a piece she wrote recently: 5 Beautiful Lessons I Learned From Making the Hardest Decision of My Life, we discuss the unparalleled power of change, transformation, and strength that comes with traveling solo.

Listen below, or download the episode and listen on the go.

And please, do reach out if you’re going through a break-up or divorce and want to heal and feel like yourself again. As Jackie says, “If you think there’s nothing waiting for you on the other side of the world, you’re wrong,” and we would be honored to support you in your journey.


About Jackie
Latina by heart, Californian by birth, and Montanan by choice, although currently traveling the world with her office in her backpack. At age 18, she chose travel as a lifestyle and never went back to “normal” as she knew it. Over a decade later, travel is her full-time profession, and home is (once again) where the toothbrush is. Connect with Jackie at Traveling Jackie or The Budget-Minded Traveler.
February 24, 2016
Finding Help in Dark Times: How Trusting My Intuition Makes Travel Magical

I wake up to the sound of distant roosters and chirping birds.

Sunlight seeps through the thin, mosquito-netted bed curtains. As I pull them gently aside, I catch a glimpse of the lush, well-kept garden outside.

I am in Bali.
I am also in a stranger’s home.

A stranger who I met on a flight to Singapore about a week earlier. A stranger who, two hours into the conversation, had turned into a friend. A friend who happened to be heading on a three week vacation, leaving his house by the rice fields of Ubud completely empty.

Unless, of course, I wanted to stay and look after the house?

It took trust for this man to open up his house to a complete stranger. It also took guts for me to accept a good offer when it was right in front of me.

Luckily, I have learned that these are moments when the Universe simply provides an opportunity for me to say “YES,” and that I shouldn’t let my head get in the way.

I have been a solo female traveler for fifteen years.

I have studied Italian in Rome, backpacked the east coast of Australia, lived and worked in Cape Town, traveled on local buses in Mozambique, sky dived in Namibia, taken a leap for love in Texas, stayed at ashrams in India, and spent a summer north of the Arctic Circle in Norway.

I have also gotten mugged more times than the average person, and lost at least three credit cards, two cameras, numerous phones, and handbags. I have gotten food poisoning many times in Asia, fainted on the street in Africa, missed flights, been stranded on dark streets, had flat tires, and slept at airports.

But even in my darkest hours, I have known deep down that I was safe.

Simply because for every misfortunate event, there have been a hundred ones more fortunate.

And every time I have needed help, it has been provided.

People have created many layers of doubt around this topic, but a recent experience of mine has once again strengthened my belief in it.


After my encounter with the stranger on the flight, I lost my wallet and credit card while in Singapore. I was standing in the downtown financial district, gazing up towards the towering skyscrapers and having a reflective, rambling conversation with myself.

These structures, I thought, are built on fear.

Fear that we don’t have enough as it is.
Fear that there won’t be enough later.
Fear that later might never come.

And just as I was reaching for my camera to capture this moment of great insight, I realized my wallet was gone.

Suddenly, my perfect conceptual epiphany had turned into an actual, practical matter. I was face to face with my thesis.

I only had so little time to laugh at the synchronicity of the situation before getting my act together and blocking my credit card. It was midday and swelteringly hot, and I had no money to buy food or drinks or a public transport ride back to Little India. So I walked for an hour, sweating and swearing at the situation.

Once back at my hostel, I was ‘hangry’, tired, and stressed. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, especially the Indonesian guy who had been trying to get my attention for days. But somehow he overheard me explaining the situation to the receptionist and came up to me.

“Here, have this,” he said, and handed me an MRT public transport card and 30 dollars.

I was close to politely rejecting his offer with the comment that I was fine by myself, that I didn’t need any help, thank you.

But there was that voice again. Just say YES.

I would later pass this MRT card and the 30 dollars on to another girl at the hostel when I found out that she had lost so much more than I could have ever imagined, and needed the money much more than I did.

This situation, as simple as it was, had a distinct ripple effect. It not only provided the necessary funds when I needed them, but also provided an opportunity for the man who gave me the money feel abundant and generous, but also for me to feel the same when I gave it away later on.

This is how skyscrapers come crumbling down. In these moments, we see that we are all just human: each of us has the same needs, and we experience them at different times.
All we have to do is keep our hands outstretched to receive, so that we have something to give in return.


About Helen

d77646_e82d2c55463e435b83b64dfcf84665d6Helen Light is a Holistic Health & Happiness Coach who inspires people to live with more Lightness, Ease and Trust. She has created a life that allows her to travel and make amazing connections all over the world, by keeping a flexible and open mindset, seeing and seizing opportunities. Her travel blog, dating back to 2008 with more than 1000 posts on subjects like happiness, letting go and courage, echoes the feeling that it really is about the journey, not the destination.

February 17, 2016
A Taste of Japanese Food Philosophy, And A Donburi Recipe Too

People tend to think of sushi and teriyaki when thinking of Japanese food, but there is in fact a lot more to the cuisine than what we are exposed to abroad!

Japanese food philosophy is so unique, emphasizing care and consideration with every detail, that it really reflects a beautiful mindset towards how we view food. Understanding Japan’s food philosophy goes a long way in understanding the other nuances of the culture. I truly believe that the best way to help spread Japanese culture is by sharing the food.

While it is impossible to pick a favorite Japanese dish, one dish that I love to introduce is donburi, since it’s different enough to be exciting, but not too different from what people already love about Japanese food.

In Japanese, donburi literally means bowl, but it also refers to the dish that’s served in the bowl. Sometimes shortened to don, the dish consists of an oversized bowl of rice, served with a variety of toppings simmered in a savory sauce. While the ingredients can vary, donburi are usually seasoned with three essential Japanese seasonings: soy sauce, mirin (a rice wine), and dashi (fish stock), which are what make it so delicious and so distinctly Japanese! To finish the dish, an egg is often added to the top in the last minute of cooking, but you can always leave it out.

The first donburi was topped with eel, like the picture above, and appeared during the Edo era. Serving the rice and the main dish in the same bowl was efficient and practical—it was a Japanese version of fast food.

The dish fit perfectly with the ever-bustling Tokyo culture (just as busy back then as it is today), so it quickly caught on and variations soon appeared. The variations include Oyakodon, which is served with chicken; Tendon, which is served with a fried pork cutlet; and my all time favorite, Gyudon, which is served with beef.

There are a lot of restaurants that specialize in donburi, and every region has its own distinct type of the dish. What’s great about donburi is that they’re cheap and flavorful, which makes for a great, affordable meal while traveling in Japan!

d77646_d650026a438e48eb8d8a43d9611cea6aBeef Rice Bowl – Gyudon
Difficulty: Easy
Prep Time: 5 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Yields: 2 servings
Calories: 600

  • ½ pound beef
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sake
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • 2 tablespoons dashi stock
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 eggs (optional)
  • 2 cups cooked Japanese Rice
  • 1 green onion
  • pickled ginger
  • Knife
  • Cutting Board
  • Small Mixing Bowl
  • Wide Skillet
  • Spatula
Quick Directions:
  1. Cut the onions and beef into thin slices.
  2. Heat the oil in wide skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions are tender, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the beef cook until browned.
  4. Add the sugar, sake, mirin, dashi and soy sauce. Reduce heat to low and simmer until most of the liquid is gone.
  5. Scramble the eggs in a small bowl. Add the egg to the pan. Cook for a few minutes until the egg is just cooked.
  6. Place the beef and egg on top of steamed rice and pour desired amount of sauce. Top with pickled red ginger and green onion, and enjoy!

About Dani


A foodie at heart, Dani Baghernejad is especially eager to share Japanese cuisine. While she’s always been curious about Asian cultures, she first fell in love with Japan after taking a Japanese class in college. She was first introduced to Japanese cooking by reading Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji, and fell in love with the food because of its unique style. She launched Otaku Food to make Japanese cuisine more accessible, emphasizing, recipes that are simple, yet true to form, in the hopes that everyone can have a little taste of Japan, no matter where they live.

February 12, 2016
Tips & Reflections From 3 Months In Japan

Why did you travel to Japan and what do you think are the typical reasons people choose to travel there?

My biggest reason for traveling was that I was feeling lost with the life I was living at home. I was feeling very burnt out and I asked myself, “What would 10 year old Jiran want?” And the answer was go to Japan.
I think a lot of people see Japan as an exotic, far-away land full of samurais, ninjas and characters from all the cartoons we watched growing up… I was there for about 3 months and am hoping to go back soon to experience even more of “real life” in Japan.


What are a couple of the top spots you’d recommend, and what’s the best way to get around?

Tokyo – for experiencing what one of the world’s biggest cities feels like. Getting to explore this huge city of 13+ million people by foot and subway is really fun!
Kyoto – to slow down from the chaos and see more of the culture and art of Japan.
Osaka – for all the incredible food!
Japan is all about trains. Bullet trains get you from city to city, fast. Inside the city there are a lot of local metro and subway lines to get you around. Be sure to purchase a JR Pass for the first three weeks of travel, which allows you to see the entire country with an unlimited use train pass for the bullet trains and some metro lines. If you want to stay longer you can use those three weeks to decide which city best fits the experience you want to have.

Did you have a favorite dish or drink?

Everything is delicious!
I ate a lot of ramen — but if you get an opportunity to eat at a fish market be sure to take it! Drinks I fell in love with were green tea, matcha lattes and Yebisu beer.

Let’s go deeper…

What surprised you most about Japanese culture (in a good way or bad way)?

What really shocked me is how shy many Japanese people are. The country felt eerily quiet when I first arrived. Everyone has incredibly big hearts, but sometimes it is challenging to have conversations and make friends. My advice? Just keep smiling and say hello whenever you can, and eventually you will get to meet some incredible people.
The most important thing is to share what’s unique about yourself. Share your passions. Talk about things like music, animes you’ve watched, things you like to do for fun. It will be a lot easier to connect with people there through the activities you do.

How were you treated as a foreigner in Japan?

Personally I was treated incredibly well. Everyone goes out of their way to help you even if they don’t speak much English. Just be friendly and don’t be afraid to ask for help! There are also police stations (called Kobans) everywhere, so if you are ever lost just pull up the address on Google Maps, ask the police, and they will help you out.
For newbie travelers in Japan, what’s one thing you wish you had known in advance that would have made your travels easier, your life less stressful, or your time there more enjoyable?
First, learn Hiragana and Katakana. These are two of the four Japanese alphabets and they are immensely helpful in reading things and getting around trains. Textfugu.com is a wonderful resource to pick up some Japanese. (I believe the first chapter is free and teaches you Hiragana.)
When you arrive, pick up a portable WiFi device or a SIM card from the airport! They are near impossible to find outside of the airports and there is very limited WiFi in Japan. It will be much less stressful trying to navigate and ask questions with access to online translation apps.
Last, be careful with Google maps. Try to find someone to help you translate addresses into the correct Japanese format or you may end up on the wrong side of town when looking for things like Airbnb or hostels.


About Jiran
d77646_45730af494624e5986a8332ab8a209b6Jiran Dowlati is a car guy, traveler, web designer and programmer. Find him on Instagram @kvrvs41.
February 12, 2016
What Teaching English in Japan Is Really Like

1. Can you tell us about the program you went on to teach English in Japan?

I was on the JET programme, short for the “Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme”, which is aimed at promoting grass-roots international exchange between Japan and other nations. I worked for two years as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) at a mid-level academics high school in the suburbs of Fukuoka City on Kyushu. ALTs would work with the main teacher of the class to help the students gain insight into a native English speaker’s accent and culture.

At the high school I worked in, I was responsible for the freshman level conversational English lessons, which met a once a week. I was given full liberty in designing the lessons, and could assign homework if I liked. I definitely was given a lot more independence than many ALTs!

2. What was the most rewarding thing about teaching English in Japan? What were some challenges you faced?

It was challenging for me to be put into the position of lead teacher without having studied how to teach before. This led to many failed lesson plans. Another challenge was that each class had around 40 students, making it difficult to monitor who was engaged, who was bored, or who was exhausted.

At the end of the day, the students were required to spend around 20 minutes cleaning the school. These were mainly simple things, like sweeping, or airing out the chalkboard erasers. I would wander around and chat with the students during this time, and if the students used English I would give them a sticker that they could redeem for prizes later on. Besides the hilarious things they said, their looks of success and pride when they managed to say something correctly were absolutely heartwarming!


3. What did you learn from the students that you taught?

I learned that I speak very quickly, and have “curly” hair (thanks to the humidity, my hair was a little wavy, a rarity in Japan). I also learned that enthusiasm and making an effort were often more appreciated than a flawless execution. The lessons that I was more devoted to were better received, and I was always more pleased by the students who tried hard in return.

4. In what ways are Japanese classrooms different from American classrooms (what students are taught, how they learn, their behavior, etc.)?

Japanese students are taught to memorize. In the US, the majority of classes involve essays or short answer exams, which test students’ understanding of the materials. Japanese high school exams mostly test students’ ability to remember.

Basically, every Japanese test was like a math exam: do you know the formulas well enough to produce the correct answer? This is particularly frustrating for languages, as it discourages students from experimenting.

One other noticeable difference was that girls and boys never chose to partner together, and both genders roamed in packs. They were also very respectful of the teachers. The baseball boys actually stopped and bowed to teachers in the hallway.

The high school students also had a grueling schedule. Many arrived as early as 7:00 AM (after 30 to 60 minutes of commute time) and went to extra classes after school, often going to bed after midnight. Because my class was just once per week, this meant that tired students usually preferred to sleep through my class.


5. What was your favorite pastime while living in Japan?

I actually got into dungeons and dragons while I was there! I also ate everything. Japanese food is amazing, and my friends and I would try a new restaurant at least once a week.

I also liked to go window-shopping. The way things are displayed in Japan is fascinating, and it was interesting to see how the Japanese aesthetic could be applied to something like making a crepe.

6. What would you tell someone interested in teaching English in Asia to help them get their start?

Research the country you’re interested in going to. Many have government run programs (like JET), which are the safest and most financially stable, but also the most competitive.

If you can’t go with a government program, there is almost always an organization in the country that acts as a recruiter for local language schools. These organizations can help with the immigration process and help to secure paid work before you arrive there, but again, research the organization thoroughly!

7. What should a person look for, exactly?

Well, the company should have an established internet presence with former employees discussing the company itself. If you can’t find anything about the company, it would better to avoid it. If you do find reviews, read them carefully and ask yourself, do they seem genuine? If a review is exclusively raving, it may have been a paid review.

Amity, for example, is a legitimate company that provides high quality English teaching to children in Japan that pays well, helps its teachers relocate, and provides housing and support setting up their new life in Japan, too.


About Kara

d77646_b0fbe77093af4c5c805a1cdb5c7bfef4Kara Payne is a 27 year old American currently living in Berlin, working in the video game industry. She has taught English in Japan, traveled to 27 countries (and counting!) and lived overseas for over 4 years. In her spare time she loves to swing dance and explore dungeons with her role-playing group.

February 11, 2016
6 Ways To Deal With Sticky Situations When You’re Traveling

We all find ourselves in trouble from time to time, especially when traveling abroad. On the road, any negative incidents can seem extra difficult — we are out of our comfort zone and without our usual support network. Sometimes we don’t even know how to contact the police (or if the police will help us).

Giving up and heading home might seem like the best decision when stuff hits the proverbial fan. But, life is going to happen wherever we find ourselves. You can conjure great strength in the midst of adversity that you didn’t even know was possible. Here are a few tips for how to avoid sticky situations, and what to do if it is already too late.

To Avoid Trouble

1. Choose Your Travel Mates Wisely

In 2009 I was a part of a film crew driving trucks around the globe. One member of the crew was always looking for a party and was also a magnet for unseemly company.

When he would describe his experiences to us after being out all night I often wondered how he managed to survive unscathed and thought it was only a matter of time before something happened.

In Puerta Vallarta, Mexico our luck ran out as I came upon him losing a fight in the street. My instant reaction was to intervene and before I knew it, the police were involved and we all risked a night in the local jail. Luckily, I talked us all out of it and Axel wasn’t hurt badly either. I resigned to be more selective with travel partners from then on.


2. Wait Until The Morning To Decide

One of my favorite activities in the world is swimming, which I love doing at night. However, the types of creatures that inhabit the waterways change with location and elevation.

On this particular trip, we had just descended from a cold mountain lake in Guatemala where I had taken refreshing dips at each opportunity. A few hours down the road we arrived at a new destination with another lake. It was a dark night already and we were now in more of a jungle environment, so I decided to wait until morning for my dip.

In the light of the new day, I put on my swimsuit and headed down to the lake, where to my dismay I saw multiple signs of caimans (essentially alligators), which eat humans.

I couldn’t see them at night and I probably shouldn’t have even come as close to the water as I did. Thankfully, I had decided to wait until morning and likely saved my own life that day.


3. Beware Of Mother Nature

I was staying at a nature retreat in Costa Rica during a massive flooding. When we arrived at our destination, the bridge across the river was nearly submerged. Reports were coming in of multiple deaths and some villages destroyed nearby. I was fascinated by the sheer power of the water as humongous trees floated by like toothpicks. I could tell the river bank had moved substantially since my arrival the day before, and yet out of curiosity, I approached the raging water to take a video.

As I began filming and narrating a section of the bank dropped away right in front of me and I was left standing with my toes on the edge of certain death. I quickly retreated and learned a valuable lesson about the fragility of my own life. I won’t make the same mistake again.

When Trouble Has Already Found You


4. “Stay The Course”

In 2005 I was living in Fremantle, Western Australia when my girlfriend at the time got in a car accident and broke her hip. I had not yet found work and was running low on cash.

I called my parents during a breakdown moment and they were sure that I was going to call it quits and head home. Instead, I buckled down and got a job. I had to cook all the meals, run errands, go to work (not to mention carry her up and down the stairs of the loft we were renting).

I also managed to find us another inexpensive car. She healed up eventually and we took advantage of our temporary home, going to the amazing local beaches regularly and exploring further into the outback with our vehicle.

We saved enough money to drive west to east across the entire continent, having a blast along the way before continuing our journey to New Zealand. Today, I am so happy I chose to stay the course in the face of adversity.


5. Breathe & Don’t Panic

In 2010, while living in rural New Zealand, I was hiking up a mountain with two young Swedes and a stray hunting dog. We were tramping off trail through thick brush when one of us stirred up an entire hive of wasps.

I found myself at the edge of a 20-foot cliff with jagged rocks below, and above me was a thicket of thorny bushes. The only way out was through the wasps or the thorns, as jumping of the cliff would most certainly cause broken bones or even death.

For a few seconds that seemed like hours I took a few deep breaths and steadied myself for the unavoidable trauma. As the wasps began to attack I dived into the bushes and crawled through them and then ran up the mountain out of their range.

Scratched, bloody, and very badly stung, I hiked down the mountain and went to the nearest hospital 1.5 hours away. I am grateful that I didn’t panic as I survived and even returned back to the woods shortly thereafter, much the wiser.


6. Chalk It Up To Experience & Laugh

The film crew I mentioned above needed to get from Colombia to Panama and there are no passable roads, so it required sending our vehicles on container ships from Cartagena to Panama City.

As for the crew, we decided to take the journey via sailboat. I was feeling uneasy about the captain we hired, as he resembled an actual pirate in both looks and demeanor. The Colombian Coast Guard flagged our boat and highly recommended that we postpone the trip for a day or two as a monstrous storm was coming. The captain shrugged and we continued on while he began to drink alcohol.


By the time it was my turn to take the helm, the storm was raging and he was drunk. He pointed to a heading on the compass, and then disappeared into the cabin for the night. The rest of the crew also decided stayed below and for over three hours I was alone in the pitch black.

I stared at the compass, desperately trying to stay on course as the waves tossed the boat around like a rag doll. I yelled for someone to relieve me, but no one came. I began to scream curses at the storm like Lt. Dan in the movie Forrest Gump. Finally, I laughed hysterically at the absurdity of my situation, relieving the tension of my deliriousness.

There are some common themes to the incidents above, like using common sense. Nature can be dangerous whether in the form of a storm at sea, river flood, caimans in the jungle, or wasps in the forest.

When you are abroad, the constant stimulation can be exciting and you may forget to keep your wits about you. Trust your instincts. If someone or something seems like a bad idea, then he/she/it probably is.

In most of the situations described above, I had a thought that something or someone wasn’t right, and I either didn’t honor it or couldn’t. Simply asking questions if something is safe, like whether or not swimming in the lake is ok, can save your life too.

The statistical truth is, most of you won’t find yourselves in extreme life or death scenarios when you travel abroad. However, if you do get into a sticky situation, stay in the moment, don’t panic and you’ll likely end up with a fantastic story to tell.


About Craig

d77646_f58fa61e8bf04d2fbd393b9186d33c30Craig Arthur Johnson is a humble student of life where there are no degrees, and a seeker of truth even when it challenges his current worldview. Part troubadour, part monk, and part shaman, he is a burgeoning writer and speaker, connoisseur, gastronaut, explorer, adventurer, martial artist, and yogi. Craig has never enjoyed the inside of “the box”. He can be located outdoors communing with nature, breathing mindfully, drinking spring water, soaking up the sun, and walking barefoot on hallowed soil. Connect with him at www.craigarthurjohnson.com.


February 10, 2016
7 Delicious Exotic Fruits To Try In Colombia
One of my absolute favorite parts about traveling is to dive into the cuisine of the country I’m in. Food is revealing: regional dishes and the way people eat can give you, fellow traveler, a look into a people’s values. What ingredients are most commonly used? When do people eat? Who do they typically eat with?
(For a delicious and inspiring look into the cuisine of dozens of countries around the world, I highly recommend Jodi Ettenberg’s food/travel blog, Legal Nomads.)
Taking a page from Jodi’s traveler playbook, I’ve been exploring the food here in Medellin, Colombia for the past two weeks, and I’ve loved the opportunity to try everything from the very heavy dish called “bandeja paisa”, pictured below, to the lightest and brightest of exotic fruits from the Amazon.

(From left to right: arepa, chorizo, carne molida (ground meat), potato, avocado and salad, white rice, fried egg, plantain (patacones), red beans cooked with pork, chicharrón)

Despite the tendency of most traditional Colombian foods to be deep-fried and/or full of gluten, dairy, corn, and red meat, there are plenty of light, healthy options available in any supermarket or farmer’s market too.
But what to do when the fruits you so want to try seem almost too exotic to try?
I found myself a little overwhelmed and giddy with all the options of delicious fresh fruit in front of me, so I thought I’d make a guide to 7 of the most common exotic fruits you’ll find in Colombia as well as the proper way to prepare them into delicious juices and smoothies that will energize you while you travel.
The list below isn’t comprehensive, so if you come across a fruit that’s intriguing to you (or intimidating, as was the case for me upon seeing a spiky, green guanabana for the first time), my advice would be to buy it, note its Spanish name, take it home, and search online for the best way to enjoy the fruit inside.

7 Delicious Exotic Fruits To Try In Colombia

Lulo (Naranjilla or “little orange”)
This little orange fruit contains a truly beautiful surprise inside, if you cut it open the right way. Take a sharp knife and cut the lulo in half, widthwise around the middle.
The fruit inside will taste reminiscient of kiwi, but you’ll notice that it’s softer and sweeter.
You can use lulo for its juice or mix it with other fruits and water, as in the recipe below:
4 lulo
1 cup water
1 tbsp sugar
Cut each lulo in half (widthwise for the pretty effect). Scoop out the fruit with a spoon. Blend the fruit with water and sugar. Strain out seeds and serve chilled.
Tomate de arbol (Tamarillo)
This fruit tastes like a sweet tomato and is usually drank as a juice mixed with maracuja (passionfruit) and water, and there’s even a candy made out of it.
4 tomatoes
1 maracuja
1/2-1 cup water
1 tbsp. sugar (optional)

To prepare the juice, cut off the stems of all 4 tomatoes and cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and meat of the fruit, pop them into a blender, add the maracuja (see below), water, and sugar if you like. Serve chilled, after lunch, if you really want to be traditional.

Maracuja (Passionfruit)
You may know this fruit already in its small, purple variety (pronounced ma-ra-ku-dja). The Colombian ones I’ve seen are larger and light yellow-green in color. Their taste is very sweet and sour, and its seeds are crunchy and edible.
Cut the maracuja in half, and scoop out the seeds and juice inside. Place both the juices and meat of each fruit into a blender and add water and sugar (optional). Blend until smooth, strain through a sieve, and serve room temperature or chilled.
Mix with tomate de arbol for a traditional juice packed with Vitamin C. Bonus points: it’ll help you get over jetlag fast!
Granadilla (Sweet granadilla)
I heard that the granadilla (pronounced gra-na-di-dja) looks like some sort of alien egg and tastes vaguely like passionfruit. But any written description wouldn’t do the fruit justice, so I decided to make a video instead.


Guayaba (Guava)


Pronounced wha-dja-ba, this fruit’s texture is a bit sandy, but the flavor is sweet and delicious. Guayaba is used for marmelades, candies, and more. You can eat it raw, scooping out the seeds and eating the meat of the fruit, or blend the fruit with other juices and water and drink it, after straining out the seeds and pulp.
Guanabana (Soursop)
This spiky green fruit is a lot softer on the inside than you would expect. Its white meat is used to make smoothies, juice, and even ice cream. Don’t try to eat the large, dark brown seeds; scoop them out before you cut away the rest of the meaty, white fruit and blend it with water or almond milk and sugar. Serve chilled for a sweet and creamy treat.
Moral of the story? The stranger a fruit looks, the more pressing the need to try it! Whether it’s spiky or smooth, sour or sweet, Colombian fruits are worth the few thousand pesos you’ll invest in your own exotic culinary journey.
February 6, 2016
3 Reasons To Move Your Life (And Business) Abroad

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to live a life full of travel and experiences.

Today, I can happily say that I am living the life that I always dreamed of.

In the last three years alone:

  • I’ve lived in three different countries for a period of six months or more (Korea, Sri Lanka, and Colombia).
  • I have learned to speak two languages (I am fluent in Spanish and conversationally proficient in Korean).
  • I’ve volunteered doing marine conservation work in West Papua, Indonesia.
  • I’ve taken hallucinogenic drugs in the middle of the Colombian jungle.
  • I’ve made more friends and had more experiences around the globe than I ever thought possible.
  • And I’ve even managed to start my own remote business. 


But none of what I have achieved has come easy for me and in fact, all of it almost never happened at all.

Today at 30 years old, I could just as easily still be working the same job that I took when I graduated from college. I could have taken advice from family and friends at the time I left the United States and never moved abroad. I could have ignored the burning desire that I had inside to get more out of life and allowed my dreams to dissipate.

Thankfully at the age of 27, I followed my instincts and made the decision to start life in another country.

I didn’t think when I started this lifestyle that I’d still be “nomading” around the globe so many years later, but I am grateful that my life has gone in the direction it has.

Travel has done more for my life than I ever would have imagined. In particular, the first time that I moved abroad for a significant amount of time (teaching English in Korea for 17 months) transformed my life in some extreme ways.

My first extended abroad experience in Korea ended up being the catalyst for all of the amazing things that have happened to me since. Once I jumped over the initial hurdle that was holding me back from following my dreams (fear), it’s as if Pandora’s box was cracked wide open and rather than being struck by evil, all of life’s magic was hurled in my direction.

I believe that in order to really get everything that you want out of life, you need to posses three character traits:

  1. Confidence
  2. Humility
  3. Empathy

Some people spend a lifetime attending personal development seminars and reading self-help books in order to get these things and by the time of their death they have still fallen short.  In my opinion, by traveling and living abroad longer term, one can expedite and greatly reduce the time that it takes to acquire these attributes.


When I first graduated from college, I suffered from severe anxiety about what my future held and (a surprise to many) I was generally a nervous wreck in social situations. I was embarrassed about where I was at in my career and for the first time in my life, I lost all confidence in myself and my abilities.

It’s no question that moving abroad takes a tremendous amount of courage. When I landed in Korea, I spoke zero Korean, I had no friends, and I had just taken a job to teach English with zero experience having done anything similar in the past. I was presented with quite a challenge but I had no choice other than to take action.


By the time I left Korea, I was conversationally fluent in the language, I was the most popular foreign teacher amongst the locals in the city that I lived, and the way I looked at myself in the mirror had taken a drastic turn for the better.

The same confidence that I gained in Korea is what has helped propel me forward and given me the belief in myself to achieve everything I have to date, including starting my own business.


Throughout my younger years and in college I was an athlete. Because I played sports, I was always in great shape. I got good grades and always hung out with the popular kids.  I’m tall and fairly good looking so girls were never an issue. Life was pretty easy for me.

Though I never outwardly stated that I was better than anyone, there were certainly circumstances in my life as a young man that may have subconsciously led me to believe that I was superior in some way.


When I moved to Korea to teach English, I was greatly humbled. I spent a significant amount of time alone and was afforded time to think about my place in the world. I developed a modest view of my importance on Earth and overall, I became a more present human being.

I developed a consistent habit of meditation while I was in Korea that has continued to serve me well and keep me humble to this day. My meditation practice has helped me through many personal traumas, kept me grounded, and helped me keep my mind clear so I can run my business successfully.


Since I was a child, people have always told me that I am great at connecting with and understanding people. And with the exception of foolish drunken brawls in college, I like to think that’s true.

But connecting with people in your own country is one thing. Making the leap to a country like Korea and connecting deeply with people who have a cultural background entirely different from that of my own was quite difficult.


I met many different types of personalities in Korea and I had to manage everyone from my irrational boss at the English academy to the new students that entered my classes on a daily basis. Teaching everyone from the ages of 6 to my oldest student (age 85) taught me a great deal of patience.

Today, I manage a team of more than fifteen virtual contractors in order to run my business. The empathy and understanding that I developed in Korea has helped me out tremendously in resolving and preventing issues between team members. It has also made me a better leader, friend, boyfriend, and business partner.


As I write this post, I sit here in Medellin, Colombia – my “hometown” for the past couple years. Often times I still pinch myself to make sure that the life I am living is real. I’ve already achieved far more than I ever thought I would in a lifetime.

At 30 years old, the biggest problem I have today is figuring out what new goals I am going to set because I’ve already accomplished everything that I ever wanted to.

If you’re considering making a move abroad, I highly encourage you to do so. The benefits of doing so are far more than you can imagine. All it takes is one healthy step in the direction of your dreams. Making the move to another country can help you achieve the key ingredients that you need for a successful life; it certainly did for me.


About Tommy


Tommy is a full-time digital nomad and good friend to many. He enjoys diving into new cultures, meditation, hiking, organic food, and sunrises. His company Gingerbread Marketing provides premium blog content to founders who don’t have enough time to write and are interested in turning more of their site visitors into email subscribers. Tommy also loves helping other freelancers follow in his footsteps and turn their side business into a full-time income through Freelance Hustler. In addition, Tommy loves talking to people considering travel or living abroad for the first time and is launching a new book titled, “Teaching in East Asia” on March 1st, 2016.
February 2, 2016
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