Photo of the day: Halloween

In conjunction with my traveling lifestyle, it seemed only right to be a pilot for Halloween. I make a pretty good Amelia Earhart! Happy Halloween everybody!

I even disappeared and was never seen again.

The Longest Taxi Ride

I wake up at 8 a.m. in a panic. My landlord is due over at 9 a.m. and I have exactly 60 minutes to gather two cats and a dog and get them out of the house before I face eviction for squatting past my move-out date.
I swing my legs out of bed and remove the hot pink ear plugs from my ears, a tell-tale sign that it’s morning. Instead of shuffling around, reluctant to get my day started, I spring out of my too-small twin bed and search for my glasses. I now stand in my room in my underwear, topless, with glasses on. I am a far cry from presentable and pleading my case to my landlord looking like this will surely mean eviction. I run a comb through my hair, put on a bra and a sweatshirt, slip into some leggings.
I make it downstairs and realize the time: It’s 8:15 a.m. I have 45 minutes to figure out how I am going to hide all evidence of animals in my house before the end of the hour.  I knock on my roommate’s door in a sleepy stupor, reminding him that we need to get rid of the animals for the day. While he groans for a few more minutes, I head downstairs and begin to gather all of the pets’ belongings: two litter boxes, 2 bags of pet food, 3 feeding bowls and a pet taxi. I set them down on the counter, surveying the stinky mess. What am I going to do with two cat boxes half filled with shit?
My roommate wakes up, comes down stairs, sleepily pulling himself together. I struggle to get my rescue cat, Tigerlily, into the pet taxi. She is clearly traumatized from the last time she was forced to take a ride in the carrier.
A year ago I moved across country from Chicago to Philadelphia. In one straight shot my sister, myself and Tigerlily drove 670 miles to this house. Tigerlily, a strange cat with a finicky attitude, sat complacent in the taxi for the first leg of the trip but became agitated and feral-like near the end of our 15 hour trek.  She moaned, wet herself and bit my sister’s boyfriend when we removed her from her traveling jail cell upon arriving to our new home.
It’s 8:30 now. Just 30 minutes until the landlord arrives, and I am faced with getting the reluctant Tigerlily to forgive me for such a hellish ride a year ago. I need her to get in the taxi to save me from the infractions I will soon face from my landlord for getting caught with pets I’m not supposed to have.
“Please, please, pretty kitty,” I’m begging her. She moves forward to sniff the hinged metal grate, the same one she gnawed on for 15 hours.  
Meanwhile, Marley, the Pitbull boxer mix wags her tail eagerly as if to say “I’m ready!” Jingy, the more cheerful and pliable feline in the family stalks the door eagerly, excited for the opportunity for a quick trip outside. 
My roommate gets the other two pets into the car. Just when I think it’s hopeless, Tigerlily struts into the taxi, looking behind her as if to remind me, “Just this once.”
I silently praise the pet gods, start the car and drive off wondering if this means Tigerlily has forgiven me for the 15 hour cross-country taxi ride.

Breaking Free: Expanding beyond domestic travel

Growing up I was fortunate to see a lot of my country. My family and I enjoyed one, and if we were lucky, two family vacations a year. While some of my closest friends and family members stayed nearby for a break from their everyday lives, my parents treated us to the likes of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, the beautiful cliffs and landscapes of Southern California and the rolling waves of South Carolina’s beaches. But where have I been outside of the United States? While I traveled my country all 25 years of my life, I am hard-pressed to say I’ve been many other places. The standard North American tip-toe across the border to Canada and Mexico is basically all I have.

It wasn’t until I moved to the East Coast from the Midwest last year that I had even conceived of international travel. I was ashamed and pitied by friends who had toured through Europe, grew up in South America and traveled through Africa. I’ve been asked time and again, “What is Americans’ aversion to traveling?”

Though I am a novice to international travel (I have come to terms with this, but it still hurts), I have decided to dedicate my life to seeing as much of the world as I can. Although a lot of people in the traveling community have been to or lived on many continents, I am a bit shamed to say I have not. For those of you out there who had not yet considered traveling beyond your comfort zone, below are some essential Dos and Don’ts of delving into international travel head on:

DO research: When is the last time you sat down and really thought about where in the world you like to go? Make a list! Ever dream of taking an Arabian horse ride through the deserts of Egypt at dusk? Are you dying to discover what inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution in the Galapagos Islands? Unable to shake the urge to daydream about the rain forest canopies of Costa Rica? Now you’re getting somewhere. Looking back on the list should get you excited about seeing the world and should be a push in the right direction of actually planning a trip.

DON’T let finances stop you: Something is always going to pop up so as to discourage you from saving money for an overseas excursion. Don’t let routine bills, car maintenance and other day-to-day expenses stop you from a trip of a lifetime. If you’re afraid you can’t afford a hotel, consider staying in a hostel. It’s not only a great way to meet people and get a local perspective on a different country, but also an affordable lodging option. You can also visit countries where exchange rates to the U.S. dollar are remarkably lower and enjoy stretching your dollar to the limit.

DO change the way you vacation: Americans typically work hard all year to afford nice things. Vacations are often equated with luxury getaways. While the all-inclusive island getaway to the Carribean sounds nice, packages are often lofty and expensive, your money going more toward marketers and timeshare companies than your own happiness. What about a more authentic trip? Home stay options are becoming more and more popular as people crave to immerse themselves in the local culture. Don’t be afraid to stay with a family, learn a new language and see how they live. Oftentimes the more unspoiled the environment, the more genuine fun you’re likely to have.

DON’T let haters hate: Xenophobia is a real phenomenon and one you should combat when the opportunity presents itself. A few months ago while explaining to my friend that I’d like to backpack through Central and South America, he looked as if he has swallowed a spoon full of castor oil, his face contorting into a display of utter dismay and disgust. He heard it’s dangerous down there and would never give his blessing for such a trip. It’s in situations like these that you must remind the “haters” of what different wonders other worlds hold and that you absolutely ready to discover them, regardless of their perceived notions of what SHOULD be holding you back.

DO develop an international mindset: “Is it outrageous to proclaim that I WILL be a worldly person?” I wondered one day. Absolutely not! In fact, I actively seek that title and make strides toward achieving it. To ready yourself for the jump from savvy-domestic traveler to first time international traveler, arm yourself with as much know-how as you can. Start by setting your bookmarked CNN webpage to “International Edition.” Don’t just pretend to read the New York Times, do it! Follow international media coverage (Al Jazeera and Reuters are some of the most reputable in the world.) Begin to seek out and eat foreign cuisine in and around your city. All of these small steps will add up to help you make the transition from American citizen to American citizen with worldly interests. Sounds much more erudite, doesn’t it?

Tips on Interviewing

I have been a journalist essentially my whole life. As soon as you’re old enough to gain cognizance of the questions you ask and what people’s reactions will be, you’ve learned the most valuable lesson of interviewing. As a professional journalist, there are certain things you can do to make the process go smoothly, yielding the answers you seek to craft your perfect story. Below are a few tips on interviewing:

1. Always be on time: Being on time is probably the most important thing to strive for, if nothing else. If interviewing someone in person, leave ample time for navigation (if meeting at an unknown spot) and have a backup plan if you get lost. This goes for if you are the interviewer OR the interviewee. I had a rather bad experience with a job interview this past summer. I was lost, late and nervous. When I called the my interviewer for directions, she verbally abused me for being late. While she was unreasonably harsh, that taught me a valuable lesson: In order to be taken seriously like a professional, you absolutely must be on time. It’s that simple.

2. Know your boundaries: This of course depends on who you are interviewing. Are you having a sit-down with a Catholic priest in the church’s sitting room? Or are you tasting tequilas with the owner of the new Mexican restaurant you’re doing a write-up on? Gage the situation accordingly. I always tend to work up a rapport with my interviewee before asking the “hard’ questions. Don’t be afraid to ask them! People generally like to feel important and showing that you are interesting in hearing their answers to profound questions is a great way to score some juicy bits for your story. Try not to be pushy, though. You don’t want to offend anyone.

3. If possible, interview in person: I like to meet with people one-on-one when conducting an interview. That way I can get the person’s general vibe and feed off of their persona. Due to time constraints and availability issues, I have had to resort to phone interviews (and much less often and worse, email interviews. Luckily I haven’t tried to pull that since college). Typically phone interviews are a little dodgier only because you can’t read the person’s body language and incorporate their essence of character into the story as seamlessly. Try to be flexible in meeting your interviewee at their convenience. It’s always great to shake hands and sit down one on one with someone. It’s an engaging real conversation. And that conversation is the one you are trying to have with your audience. Make it real. Make it count.

4. Stay focused: People tend to let their lives run away with them a little bit. Sometimes a runaway thought becomes a runaway story and before you know it, 45 minutes have gone by, none of which is relative to your beat. If you feel like your interviewee is getting the best of your time together, gently stir them back into the direction of the original piece. “It’s really interesting that you spent time building a community church in Trinidad, but I’d love to hear more about your time growing up in Fishtown.” It’s easy to let people talk and even easier to let them take the reigns during the interview. Remember to have respect that they’re opening up to you at all and try not to get irritated when you aren’t getting the answers you’re looking for. Perhaps it’s simply because you are not asking the right questions!

5. Research, research, research: There’s nothing worse than going into an interview blindly. Chances are you have never met the person you are interviewing with before. If you want to impress, know a little bit about them or something about the position you are interviewing for (if it’s a job interview). It never hurts to equip yourself with some talking points. “I read that your company raised $1.3 million last year. That’s so impressive for a start-up media company!” Just showing that you took the initiative to learn a thing or two shows that you are serious and well-prepared. Same goes for if you are holding an interview of course. People become flattered and touched that you are interested in them and have taken time out of your busy life to learn a little bit more about them. You already have a good thing going with them – don’t squash your lead by walking in ill-prepared on your subject matter. You’ll be doing yourself and the person you’re interviewing a favor when you can intelligently banter about whatever your subject is. This will lead to asking better questions and ultimately make for a great interview and a nicely developed piece.

Exhausted by the scope of my goals

Fellow travelers,
Have you come to a point in time where you face the future so uncertainly that the only refuge you can think of (and it’s somehow preferable) is a complete and utter meltdown? I seek advice and guidance from the community.

How do you go about making travel plans concrete? How do make a solid plan of action? When is an appropriate “jumping” off point?

Please share if you have any ideas or thoughts on how to solidify a plan and put it into action.

Happy Halloween Bitches!

Check out this video that took me hours to edit…A reminder that I need to get better at shooting/editing my own multimedia. Just thought I’d share some of my Halloween spirit with you all:


Hostel Review: Montreal Central

I have successfully stayed in my first hostel and Montreal Central was the one to take my virginity. It’ll be hard not to fall in love with you, MC, with all your cute, friendly French Canadian desk attendants and awesome company. Below find a short review of Montreal Central, 1586 Rue St. Hubert.

Location: Could I have asked for a better location? Situated literally RIGHT next door to a bus station and the Metro stop of Berri-UQAM, we were sitting pretty (Side note: Montreal’s Metro trains have rubber tires!). The first order of business should be (if you haven’t already) to convert your US dollars to Canadian dollars. I was able to hop right next door to the bus station’s exchange window and do it in a second’s time. A few blocks in one direction led me to Rue St. Catherine, a street adorned with hot pink balls. Literally! And rainbow flags. We were in the gayborhood…Score! Who could complain? That’s where the best cafes were, some of the best nightlife and definitely where some of the best people watching went down. Did I mention I was in town for a fetish convention? There was no shortage of men skimping around in leather-n-lace and dominatrix-style heels. A few blocks’ walk in the other direction led us to the Latin Quarter (the part of town our hostel was “technically” part of). Hookah bars, ice cream parlors, blues clubs, 24-hour McDonald’s, Mexican restaurants…oh my! So much night life, such little time!

Me, 8-person bunk, happy as a clam

Amenities:  My sister and I opted for the 8 person dorm, and I’m glad we did. Significantly cheaper than any single or double private room, the dorm is a great way to meet people. We had 4 sets of bunk beds, lockers to secure our personal items and one bathroom to share. We had a roommate Luca from France and Maxine from Belgium. We also had 4 friends in our room from Connecticut on vacation. We all became friends and went out together all weekend. It’s likely that you are staying in a hostel BECAUSE you want to travel and meet people. Why not go all out and opt for the dorm experience? Just bring earplugs because people will come and go, sometimes loaded with liquor, as they please. We also had a complimentary breakfast everyday, free coffee and tea throughout the day and an awesome common room to surf the internet, grab a drink, or just strike up conversation with fellow travelers.

Staff: The staff was comprised of the most flattering, cute French Canadian boys I’ve ever met. Genuinely nice and friendly, they fielded all of my perceived weird questions. One of them even directed us how to take the Metro to a private pool and gave us instructions on how to get in. We were given maps, directions, and most of all assurance. It can feel pretty daunting being in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. I was wrong in assuming Canada was not going to be that different from America. Montreal is radically different, as 60 percent of residents speak ONLY French. You can say getting around was difficult, but the staff at Montreal Central made it easy and fun!

Shopping at Tam-Tams Courtesy: Bree Kozak

Outings: I think the best part of Montreal Central were the planned trips they endorsed. For $20, my sister and I joined in on a pub crawl in the vibrant and crazy Mont Royal district. We visited four different pubs, including one that had $2 drinks of ANYTHING- your choice. We ended up at a place called Club Tokyo, paying outrageous prices for drinks, but gettin’ down to some of the best dance music out there. We returned home exhausted at 3 a.m. and paid for it dearly the next day. We also went to a recommended trip to Mount Royal Park. On the east side of the mountain, every Sunday in the summer, an event called the Tam-Tams take place. Essentially a days-long drum circle, any walk of life can be seen marching to the beat of their own drum. Marijuana and good times abound. I bought so many cool souvenirs, met tons of down to earth people, was able to witness live-action role players in the woods and danced to some of the best beats ever. Thanks Montreal Central!

Overall helpfulness: MC went above and beyond normal “customer service.” Staying there meant you were a friend. You could have sit and chatted with the front desk attendant all day if you wanted. They even provided REALLY cheap parking nearby for the duration of your stay. Not to mention, on check-in and check-out days, you can leave you luggage there while you are out sight-seeing. One of the best qualities about MC is the open door policy. From the moment you lay foot on the grounds, everyone is warm, helpful and open to you and your journey. The only drawback about Montreal Central is now I am going to be completely biased toward other hostels! I can’t wait to get started on staying at more.

Interested in hosteling? Check out this website for comprehensive reviews.