Most Delicious Things to Eat in Ireland Right Now

Prior to visiting Ireland this summer, I had very little knowledge about Irish cuisine. The handful of Irish restaurants in Atlanta are known for their pub style atmosphere serving burgers, fried foods, potatoes and lots of beer. Though that is an integral part of the Irish culture, modern Irish cuisine has evolved quite a bit in the past couple of decades.

Over tea at the Burren Perfumerie, my new friends Birgitta Curtin (proprietor of Burrren Smokehouse, Roadside Tavern and speaker on Irish cuisine) and Sadie Chowen Doyle (perfume maker and owner at Burren Perfumerie) informed me that they have witnessed the evolution of Irish cuisine during their life in the Burren. “Just 10 years ago, the only cheese they could buy was imported from other parts of Europe. Now, there are so many cheese makers in Ireland and our cheese is so good!” says Doyle.

Ballycotton hake with mussels at Ballymaloe House

Back when resources were scant, hearty stews and meat pies went a long way to fill the family. But now, Ireland has progressed a lot as a nation. Tourism sector has expanded, trade is thriving and many Irish people earn a decent living.

Couple that with artisanal producers, innovative chefs, and world-class ingredients, you have the perfect recipe to create amazing food.

Fresh and Organic Ingredients

Practically every restaurant I went to in Ireland featured only fresh ingredients, many of them sourced from their own farms. Homemade Irish soda bread, Jersey cow butter, raspberry jam, honeycomb ice cream, dexter beef, curried parsnips, fresh beet salad…the list goes on!

Curtin smokes salmon from the northwest part of Ireland, which is organic and sustainable. Each fish is spaced out in clean waters and fed natural foods, so the salmon has three times more Omega 3 Fatty Acids than any other salmon. Her hot and cold smoked salmon can be found at many restaurants across the country and shipped all over the world. Of course, I tasted it throughout my trip!

Smoked salmon for breakfast at Park Hotel Kenmare

Other local seafood includes oysters, mussels, hand-dived scallops and hake. Most of the fish is caught that morning and served to the guests on the same day.

Local But International 

A common theme across my three dozen meals was internationally inspired recipes cooked with local Irish ingredients. French and Italian cooking techniques were used the most, offering homemade pasta, risotto, terrines, puff pastry and decadent cakes and tarts.

Barley and mushroom risotto at No 1 Perry Square
Banana, pecan and date pudding with fig ice cream at The Mews in Kenmare
Saffron and smoked knockanore herb cheese risotto at The Ice House

Michelin Star Dining

Ireland has over a dozen Michelin star restaurants. I ate at two former winners – Ballymaloe House in Shanagarry and Dromoland castle near Shannon. At both places, I met people who had come from all over Ireland just to eat at the restaurants. Set in idyllic atmosphere, offering personal service and mouth watering dishes, these were a rare treat!

Flourless chocolate cake at Earl of Thomond
Carrageen seaweed pudding at Ballymaloe House

Cooking Schools

The Ballymaloe Cookery School located on a 100 acre organic farm in County Cork is one of the most recognized cooking schools in Europe offering 3-month long residential programs. One can stay in the charming countryside and learn to cook Irish and international cuisines using farm ingredients. Students go beyond the kitchen to help milk cows, make yogurt, gather eggs, and tend to herb and vegetable gardens. The Belle Isle Cookery School  at Belle Isle Estate complete with 17th century castle on the shores of Lough Erne in County Fermanagh is another popular cooking school.

Greenhouse of Ballymaloe Cookery School

Fine Spirits Too

The Irish love their drinks. From triple distilled smooth whiskey to craft beers and homemade liquors, there was no shortage of spirits at every meal. As a good tourist, I took tours of the Guinness Storehouse and Jameson factory. I discovered that many French wines such as Château Lynch-Bages and Château Léoville-Barton are made by Irish descendants.

House brews at the Burren Storehouse

Good Food Everywhere

You don’t have to go to fancy restaurant in Ireland to taste good quality food, which can be quite expensive. Even roadside fish shacks, food courts and all-day cafes serve excellent dishes made fresh daily. The English Market Cafe in Cork City and O’Connors bar in the Ring of Beara were couple of my favorites.

Fish & chips at Skinny’s Diner

Have a favorite Irish dish or restaurant to recommend? Leave your comments below…

11 Fun Things To Do in Myrtle Beach

“Are you going to play a lot of mini golf?” smirked my boyfriend, as I told him about my planned trip to Myrtle Beach, sponsored by the tourism board.

And hey, it’s not a bad question. Actually, Myrtle Beach is known as the “Miniature Golf Capital of the World,” with over 50 courses to choose from.

But that’s not what I would be focusing on for my trip. Instead, my goal was to go beyond the guidebook to discover Myrtle Beach activities beyond the green. And while I did spend time around the “Grand Strand” — Myrtle Beach’s waterfront strip showcasing 60+ miles of beaches — I added other atypical experiences to my itinerary.

Stay: North Beach Plantation

This luxury resort sits on the Atlantic Ocean in North Myrtle Beach. Onsite you’ll find pretty much everything you could need: beach access, free Wi-Fi, restaurants, a 2.5-acre waterpark, multiple indoor and outdoor pools, a hot tub, a fitness center and incredible spa (tip: get the Fijian Ritual!) and more.

Along with two towers full of various sized condos, they have standalone villas and vacation rentals with shops dotting the blocks, giving it a suburban neighborhood feel. It’s large, and there’s a free shuttle that can help you get around if needed.

Tip: Spring for the waterfront views, especially as even the one-bedroom condos have balconies. They’re actually pretty budget-friendly for what you get, especially if you go in September (about $200 or less per night!).

Airbnb also offers a slew of great Myrtle Beach options! Click here to snag $40 off your first Airbnb stay!

So what kinds of Myrtle Beach activities exist beyond mini golf? Check out the video above. Then, scroll down to read my trip highlights (so you can add them to your itinerary, too!).

  1. Savor Local Wine Culture

While typically vineyards in the US grow grapes like chardonnay, merlot and pinot grigio, in South Carolina there’s only one variety that flourishes: the muscadine. There are over 300 varieties of muscadine, many of which you can try at La Belle Amie Vineyard in Myrtle Beach.

I never expected Myrtle Beach to have a vineyard and winery. A tasting room maybe, but actual rows of grape vines next to olive bushes? I felt like I was in Italy.

Or France, as they also sell wine from their family vineyard in the South of France. You can read the full (and inspiring) story of how that partnership came to be here.

Vicki Weigle, La Belle Amie Vineyard’s owner, believes you only need to know two things about wine: if you like it or if you don’t. This fun philosophy can be felt throughout the property, including Wine Wednesday’s live outdoor music and the creative wines with fun names offered at the tasting bar. How about a glass of “What Was I Thinking?” or an “Ice Queen” ice wine made without freezing the grapes?

By the way, it’s just $5 for six tastings + surprises like mulled wine and wine slushies. Yum!

  1. Learn A New Water Sport

There are so many water sports to choose from in Myrtle Beach! Two on my itinerary were new to me: wakeboarding and surfing.

While inclement weather cancelled the wakeboarding, I did visit Shark Wake Park to see what the course looked like. It’s a controlled pool with ramps if you’re up for doing tricks. Cables pull you as you try to stand on what looks like a snowboard. Sitting back and watching the advanced wakeboarders is also an option.

I did get to try surfing near Springmade Pier at the softest beach I’ve ever stepped on with Jack’s Surf Lessons.

Wow, was surfing hard! The waves were pretty high — about three feet — so it definitely presented a fun and exciting challenge for a newbie.

Actually, here’s me (below) standing for 0.3 seconds until I came crashing down so hard I lost my GoPro to the Atlantic Ocean despite it being on a headstrap tied into my hair. I just hope a school of fish has found it and is putting it to good use. Sigh.

Despite the technical issues, I had a lot of fun trying something new. Plus, Jack is such a cool, laid-back dude he had the group laughing the whole time.

Just leave the GoPro on the beach unless it’s really affixed.

  1. Indulge In Some Boozy Brunch

You know those beautiful wood accented spaces with high ceilings and lots of natural light flowing in? And maybe a case of colorful macarons beckoning you to stay a while? That’s Croissants Bistro & Bakery.

And while they do make some incredible baked goods (salted caramel brownie, anyone?), you also won’t want to miss their savory fare. Of course, shrimp and grits is a local favorite, especially as these grits are laced with pimento cheese. Make it a boozy brunch by adding on a mimosa or Bloody Mary with your choice of vodka!

  1. Get High (Literally)

Myrtle Beach’s boardwalk stretches for 1.2 miles along the waterfront, showcasing quirky restaurants (some jokingly claiming to be the “8th Wonder of the World”), arcades, various Ripley’s Believe It Or Not attractions, rides and more.

While a walk down this wooden stretch is a must on a list of Myrtle Beach activities, another way to take it all in is with a ride on the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel.

The giant enclosed Ferris wheel takes you 200 feet high for an aerial perspective of the beach and boardwalk.

While I rode the SkyWheel during the day, I was told by many locals it’s actually best at night when it’s all lit up.

Tickets are $14 per person.

  1. Stretch It Out (On The Beach)

A true highlight of my trip was doing a morning yoga class on the beach with Dawn Yager, owner of Shanti Yoga. I love yoga anywhere, anytime; but there’s something truly therapeutic about going through Sun Salutations while actually being washed in the sun’s loving glow.

I must have felt inspired, because I held Crow Pose for my longest time ever! Just a few simple shifts like moving my gaze beyond my hands and digging my fingers into the ground helped so much.

Tip: If you’re visiting during September, Shanti Yoga offers discounts on classes at their Myrtle Beach studio for National Yoga Month.

  1. Photograph The Gorgeous Live Oaks

You can see Live Oaks draped in Spanish Moss all over Myrtle Beach; however, in historic Conway — a city founded in 1732 located about 25 minutes from the coast — you can take a tour of them.

They’re so whimsical; the gnarled branches adding a gothic beauty to the area. In Myrtle Beach they’re prevalent and protected. You can wander the very walkable neighborhood yourself using the free Historic Trail guide (pick it up free at the Conway Visitor Center). Additionally, here is a link to a self-guided Conway tour using a map and/or QR codes.

Tip: After seeing the gorgeous trees, take a walk along the Waccamaw River on the 1.5-mile River Walk.

  1. Savor The Local Craft Beer

While Myrtle Beach isn’t a craft beer hub, it does have some quality beer offerings. Hop heads can check out New South Brewing, featuring a large tasting room with plenty of space to chill with some board games and a nut brown ale, or talk suds with the brewmasters.

While they don’t have flights, 6-ounce pours are only $3. Plus if you book a tour in advance ($7) there are tastings included.

If you try one beer only, make it their famous “White Ale.” The brew is a take on a classic Belgian wheat ale, with notes of coriander and citrus.

They’re also known for their canned beers; in fact, their slogan is “The beer from here. Hand crafted. Hand canned. Hands on.” You can purchase a 6-pack to-go ($9) or create a mixed case ($30).

Tip: The local grocery chain, Lowes Foods, features a Beer Den with craft beers on tap and a growler program!

  1. Wander Brookgreen Gardens

I love wandering without a plan, especially when that wandering involves being immersed in lovely live oaks, inspiring sculptures and gorgeous gardens. Brookgreen Gardens is that place, a sculpture garden (the country’s largest) and wildlife preserve featuring thousands of acres of nature.

Take a pontoon ride on the onsite creek to see alligators and osprey while learning about the property’s rice farming heritage (cultivated by past African and Indian slaves). Made up of four former plantations, one pre-Brookgreen Gardens homestead was actually home to Aaron Burr’s daughter, Theodosia.

While the tour was interesting, my favorite part of the visit was just wandering the gardens without a plan, taking moments to regroup and admire Mother Nature.

  1. Bird Watch In Huntington Beach State Park

Nearby is another natural beauty: Huntington Beach State Park. The two main attractions in this 2500-acre park are the beach and the trails, including a nature walk and a boardwalk over the marsh.

Oh, the Marsh Boardwalk! One of the most peaceful places I’ve ever seen and one of my favorite Myrtle Beach activities. I spotted so many birds — egrets, herons, cormorants — as well as a variety of crabs dancing in the mud. I stood in silence and awe for a good 30 minutes just taking it all in.

Here’s a printable birding checklist for the park if you want to create a fun challenge for yourself! According to the park, a full day of bird watching could very well get you 100 different species sightings.

  1. Try Hook-To-Plate At Wicked Tuna

You’ve probably heard of farm-to-table; but what about hook-to-plate?

Murrells Inlet is where many locals — especially local restaurants — claim the freshest seafood in South Carolina comes from. At The Wicked Tuna they make use of their uber fresh location, employing their own fleet of fishing boats to head out each day and catch what’s served on your plate.

Fresh catch, lobster tails and sushi rolls are all part of the fun, typically with a twist. While the pan-seared scallops might be dressed in a cauliflower puree and tamarind brown butter, a soft shell crab might be topped with cilantro oil and sweet potato flakes.

I was obsessed with my “Dragon Egg” appetizer: a halvedavocado filled with cream cheese, smoked salmon, blue crab, king crab and spicy crab and gowned in tempura sweet potato, spicy mayo and sweet glaze. Paired with my wasabi- and basil-laced “Wicked Lemonade” (pictured above), my taste buds were certainly dancing.

Everything was superb, complimented by a prime waterfront view from the patio!

  1. Indulge Your Inner Carnivore

The name River City Cafe may sound simple; but actually, this meat-focused eatery has a dizzying list of delicious burgers you must try.

While I was tempted to try their Short Rib Cheeseburger featuring short rib meat mixed with prime beef, I had to savor the “Kitchen Sink Burger.” This enormous sandwich showcases two patties topped with chili, hickory-smoked bacon, grilled onions, spicy jalapeños, mushrooms, Swiss and cheddar cheeses, lettuce, tomato, pickles, mustard and mayo. And that’s not all. That setup is then placed neatly (yea right) between two grilled cheeses, accompanied by fries, onion rings and coleslaw.

Luckily this was a trip full of active Myrtle Beach activities!

Turkey, chicken and veggie burgers are also available for those seeking a healthier meal.

What are your favorite Myrtle Beach activities beyond golf? Have a travel question? Please share in the comments below!

~ By New York city based award-winning travel blogger, Jessica Festa. Find her at Jessie on a JourneyFacebookTwitterGoogle+ and Pinterest. This post originally appeared on her blog

Each One Teach One – Volunteer Abroad With Kids

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” ― Nelson Mandela.

What is ‘Education’?

This might sound like a very easy question and everyone is well versed with how the Oxford Dictionary defines the term – “The process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university”.

But in reality, the word has a much deeper sense associated with it – ‘Education’ is not just about what Oxford Dictionary tells us. It is the means of understanding life, and knowing what we want. It is the tool to polish our thoughts and turning them into actions. It is an art of choosing between right and wrong, good and evil, truth and lies. Great people like Rabindranath Tagore never went to school, but he was one of the most learned men that the world has ever seen.

Generally, when we talk about education, what we majorly mean is schooling and knowing the basics of reading and writing. The parameter of literacy is judged by an individual’s capacity or write his/her name in any language, preferably in the mother tongue.

What statistics have to say?

According to the UNESCO data, more than 17% of the total world population is still illiterate, of which 2/3rd are women. Undoubtedly, this makes gender equality more difficult to be attained.

In most of the developing countries, the situation is worse compared to the First World Countries. An estimated number of 122 million youths and nearly 67.4 million children are currently uneducated and dwell in some of the most poverty-stricken lands of the World.

While Europe and America are at a much better position, countries in Africa and Asia are the most affected. Several government and non-government organizations have taken up the issue of education, and thousands of youth who believe in the proverb – ‘Each One Teach One’ – have stepped forward to make a difference.

How can you contribute for eradication of illiteracy?

It is always easy to talk about a problem from outside, but if you are really concerned about this grave matter then try to be a part of the solution, and contribute in whichever manner you can.

While many people initially chose to donate money for the cause, it was later seen that half of that amount wasn’t properly utilized. Therefore, it is more advisable to give time to the kids and get involved with them so that there’s some real difference.

One of the best ways that most of the millennials are opting is to volunteer for the cause of education. Thousands of University students, gap year travellers and even professionals are traveling abroad to spend time with underprivileged kids, and spreading love and knowledge among them.

Volunteer Abroad With Kids
Volunteer Abroad With Kids

Being a volunteer myself, I’ve stayed in a tribal village in Rajasthan, India, where I taught kids in a government school. In spite of a huge enrollment in the school, only a handful of students turned up, and my main aim was to get all the kids to the school. It was a challenging task, but not an impossible one – and in nearly 5 months time, I was able to get them all to the school. The moment of satisfaction was when they said they love to come to school because of me.

Once you’ll take up the cause of spreading the light of education, you’ll see that people will eventually come under the rays.

Volunteer Abroad With Kids
Volunteer Abroad With Kids

In countries like Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, India and Vietnam, most kids dwelling in the slums never get the opportunity to visit a school. Even if they do, those schools suffer from a lot of inadequacies like lack of staff, poor method of teaching etc. The infrastructural facilities aren’t proper, and many kids stop going as they don’t find the process of learning interesting.

What is necessary in this case to focus more on activity based learning – where kids can be involved in the process of teaching, so that it’s more of a communicative procedure than a boring class.

You don’t need to be a teacher to teach these kids – all you need is patience and perseverance to deal with them, and make them learn something that would help them in later years of their life. If you are good in singing, dancing, painting or origami, you can teach that as well – because every step counts!

If you are thinking of how to be a part of the change, then take the first step of volunteering. Travel to a new country, and spend some time with the kids who need you. From my personal experience of volunteering in a tribal school of India, I can assure that it’ll be one of the most satisfying chapters of your life.

And not only will you make a difference to someone else’s life, but you’ll also inspire other people to think about the cause and doing something for it.

If we want to have a better tomorrow, then we have to spread the light of education – as that is key to make this world a better place to live.

Here are a few organizations which have specially curated volunteering programs for people who really care for the cause: PeaceCorpsVolunteering Solutions, and GoAbroad.

~ By guest blogger Riyanka Roy in India. Riyanka is a self proclaimed die-hard traveler and has explored India through its length and breadth – from Himachal in the North to Kanyakumari in the South, and from Kutch in the West to Gangtok in the East. She currently lives in Gurgaon, Haryana. She loves to binge on local food from the places where she travels to. She has previously written for Tripoto, Youth Ki Awaaz, Your Story and Huffington Post. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

A Guide To NYC’s Best Subway Art

Whether you’re a native New Yorker or a tourist looking to explore the wonders of the city, you’ll no doubt find yourself taking the subway. While there are certainly crazy NYC subway stories that’ll make you crave a cab, venturing into New York’s underground can be unforgettable for good reasons, too. This is especially true is you’re into colorful creativity, as art in the subway abounds!

NYC takes its title as one of the world’s art capitals seriously, so expect to come across some of the finest art in the city just taking the subway. Keep your eyes peeled for the various gems you’re sure to come across —  especially when it comes to the five installations listed below!

1. Life Underground

Where: 14 St @ Eighth Avenue station

art in the subway

STOP BY THE 14TH ST/EIGHT AVENUE STATION TO SEE LIFE UNDERGROUND! PHOTO VIA TOM OTTERNESS

This 16-year-old installation, meant to capture “life in New York,” is one of the city’s best pieces of art in the subway. Artist Tom Otterness used over a dozen bronze sculptures to depict everything from the homeless being watched over by police to New York’s famous sewer gators chomping on the head of a wealthy citizen. It’s easy to rush through the city when it comes to a commute, but these playful figures are worth slowing down for!

2. Happy World

Where: Flushing/Main Street

art in the subway

PHOTO VIA IK-JOONG KANG.

Flushing is often noted as one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city — a fact that Ik-Joong Kang made a point of celebrating with this art piece. Happy World uses over two thousand hand-painted ceramic tiles to depict various aspects of the large world Kang saw in Flushing and beyond. This includes many different people, events and views of NYC. With so much happening all at once, it can be comforting to see it condensed into a single installation (even if condensed refers to over two-thousand tiles!).

3. REACH

Where: 34th St/Herald Square

art in the subway

PHOTO VIA CHRISTOPHER JANNEY @ JANNEYSOUND

Suspended above the N/R platforms of this station, there is a green bar with sensors that run along its side. While this horizontal rack has a tendency to go unnoticed by commuters, it’s actually a brilliant piece of interactive art in the subway that encourages New Yorkers to communicate with one another, even at their busiest. Waving your hands in front of the sensors causes a light to flicker on, and a sound to come from the rack on the opposite platform.With this unique musical instrument, those on the downtown and uptown platforms can interact without a single word!

4. My Coney Island Baby

Where: Coney Island/Stillwell Avenue

art in the subway

PHOTO VIA MTA

There are a number of creative reasons to make your way down to Brooklyn’s Coney Island. NYC street art is one, while the other is the artwork of Robert Wilson. This installation features a wall of glass bricks showcasing silkscreened images. The format of this unusual exhibit makes the pictures — like Nathan’s Hot Dog stand and Coney Island’s famous carousel — especially alluring on sunny days when light streams in, illuminating the images. Just one reason to plan your Coney Island trip for a sunny day!

5. Elevated

Where: Lexington Avenue/63rd St

art in the subway

PHOTO VIA MTA FLICKR

With the Second Avenue Station nearly a decade in the making, artist Jean Shin had to pull out all the stops when planning her contribution. Sure enough, her mural “Elevated” is a standout even among the world class art of this brand new subway line. This piece spans over three levels of the station, depicting the construction done to dismantle the Second and Third Avenue line, along with stills of commuters — all of which are composed of ceramic tile, glass mosaic and laminated glass. This piece works to connect the past of New York to the present. And this is something you can be a part of for yourself, now that this new subway line is open!

~ By guest blogger, Shania Russell, a senior at Bronx Academy of Letters with a passion for writing. She has used programs such as Young Playwrights Inc., The Moth and Girls Write Now to channel these passions, and has done her best to help others do the same as managing editor of her school’s literary magazine, One Pen. When not busied with her tendency to overextend herself with various projects, she can be found with her nose in a book or humming the tune of whatever musical soundtrack she is obsessed with that week. THIS POST ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON NYC TOURS & PHOTO SAFARIS

Why Volunteering Abroad Leads To Happier Travel Experiences

We all know that staying happy and joyous can improve one’s lifestyle immensely. But it doesn’t just end there. It also helps in a lot of ways to keep your health in check and (might even) increase your lifespan as well.

As an individual, we must always look for reasons, occasions, and ways to stay happy and content. There is no fix scientific formula to attain happiness. It’s as simple as you want it to be.

All you have to do is to seek for it in whatever you do; and that includes traveling abroad.

Talking about finding happiness in overseas trips, volunteer vacations have proved to be a great channel to acquire this state. Travelers and backpackers from around the world do volunteer work abroad to see the world differently. College and high school students have started taking volunteer trips during their gap year time.

To understand why volunteering abroad is a factor for happy travel abroad experience, here are some verified reasons for it:

You’re Not Just Traveling

The opportunity to work for the welfare and development of the poor and underprivileged, providing support in conserving our ecosystem, and creating a difference in misfortunate lives – All these, put together, provides unparallel satisfaction and contentment in life.

Seeing all those happy and smiling faces around brings a smile to your own face in no time. Knowing that your efforts have helped make many futures better, gives a feeling of your own worth.

While volunteering abroad, you don’t just travel and click photos like any other tourist, but make a huge difference by giving back to the society.

You Get To Learn A Lot

Of course, you get to learn about the Whens, Whys, and Hows of heritage sites and cultural places of a destination you travel to. But, the same can be found anywhere over the internet as well; isn’t it!? (Hail Google!).

However, that, it’s liver (and not the heart) which is considered to be the symbol of love in Morocco, is a fact you would only get to learn when you get to interact with the locals: volunteering abroad helps doing that.

And, then, there are many other things your get to learn, which, at the end of the day, will bring happiness and satisfaction to you.

It’s A Great Mix Of Travel And Volunteering

So, just in case you have started to get a feeling that a volunteer trip will bind you completely to the project, leaving you with no time to have some fun, explore the city and take excursion; wait till you read ahead.

Most of the volunteer projects would require you to work for 5 days a week, leaving the weekends open for adventure trips and fun activities. Do all the touristy things during your free time. Even on weekdays, you can make the most of your evenings by exploring the places that are in close proximity.

If you are volunteering through a placement organization (highly recommended), you can always ask for the weekend trips they provide and leave the entire itinerary planning to them.

Great Travel Expedition Well Within Your Budget

Let’s face it. Everybody in this world looks forward to save money and get the best of the experiences for a minimum budget; every penny counts!

Volunteer trips are not only budget friendly, but are also highly cost effective. The number of experiences you get during your expedition and the quality of them are extraordinary.

As mentioned earlier, if you are volunteering through a placement agency, all you have to do is to pay the ‘one-time’ program fee, which will cover your accommodation, meals, in-country support, pre-departure information booklet, airport pickup, travel insurance support, weekend getaway offers, and much more. Go Eat Give offers such programs!

Of course, money can’t buy you happiness, but it can certainly make ways for you to be happy. Happiness is said to be the key to success, and volunteering abroad is the key to happy travel experiences; eventually, making your trip a success, every single time!

~ By guest blogger Riyanka Roy in India. Riyanka is a self proclaimed die-hard traveler and has explored India through its length and breadth – from Himachal in the North to Kanyakumari in the South, and from Kutch in the West to Gangtok in the East. She currently lives in Gurgaon, Haryana. She loves to binge on local food from the places where she travels to. She has previously written for Tripoto, Youth Ki Awaaz, Your Story and Huffington Post. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram

Mexico City – Your Food and Culture Guide

I know, I know. Some of you are angered by that title.

No avocados?! How could I go to Mexico and not eat copious amounts of avocados?!

You totally should! My point is there’s more to Mexico City than guacamole. I got to explore this recently when the Le Meridien Mexico City invited me to come shadow the brand’s James Beard award-winning pastry chef, Johnny Iuzzini. He would be visiting from Brooklyn, searching the city for inspiration for his locally-inspired Le Meridien eclair recipe, part of Le Meridien’s Eclair Diaries series. Also in tow was world-renowned coffee connoisseur Esther Maasdam, in charge of training Le Meridien’s food and beverage staff on the art of coffee making and turning them all into Master Baristas (a program by Le Meridien).

Basically, I was in good hands to explore cuisine, coffee and culture in Mexico City.

The Stay Experience

The first thing I noticed when entering the Le Meridien Mexico City was the festive holiday decor (my stay was in December). A winding staircase allowed for fun shots of a giant Christmas tree accented by bulbous lights, not to mention a holiday tree crafted from books near the open bar.

My 13th floor room was even more spectacular, with aerial city views, free Wi-Fi, a full mini bar, unique Malin + Goetz bath products (cilantro conditioner, anyone?), and a big comfortable bed showcasing a plush robe which I lived in for my stay. Being a Starwood rewards member — Starwood owns Le Meridien — I also got a free drink in the bar, which I sipped in the deep soaking tub while reading a book (a simple luxury I never seem to have the time for at home).

Expert Tip: Signing up for loyalty programs is one of many ways to save money and earn travel points. Here are 34 more.

LE MÉRIDIEN MEXICO CITY MOMENTS

A Delectable Mission: Mexico City Market Exploration

I didn’t spend all my time in the hotel room, though. Remember, one reason I was there was to explore Mexico City flavors with Chef Iuzzini, and see how the destination influenced his latest eclair recipe.

The eclair is a traditional French pastry typically filled with chocolate or fresh cream and gowned in chocolate icing; until Iuzzini gets his creative hands on it. We headed to Central de Abasto, the world’s largest wholesale market with over 2,000 vendors and 500,000 visitors per day, to look for ingredients and inspiration. We also brought along husband and wife chef duo Jared Reardon and Sonia Arias of Mexico City’s Jaso Restaurant to help give context to what we were looking at and negotiate with vendors.

Love Mexican cuisine? Check out these amazing #food & drink experiences in #Mexico City. CLICK TO TWEET

Still, it was up to Iuzzini to craft a dessert that provides guests with a traditional taste of Mexico that’s also atypical. Explained Iuzzini on the way to the market, “Picture a traveler that comes to the Le Meridien and wants to experience all the flavors and textures of Mexico without leaving the hotel. I also want to get away from the typical ingredients like avocado. Maybe we can’t get every Mexican state in the eclair, but maybe five very special ingredients, including vegetables and spices.”

As we wandered through the market’s 16 kilometers of walking areas, we smelled, touched and tasted an array of ingredients. These ranged from tangy Oaxaca cheese to produce I’d never heard of before, like zapote negro and mamey sapote. There were also giant barrels of mole powders from various regions, which Chef Iuzzini thought would work well on the shell, the spice tamed by a cooling fruit filling. Each time our senses interacted with a new local ingredient, Iuzzini scribbled into his notebook like a hungry mad scientist.

CHEF JOHNNY IUZZINI HAVING A COCONUT BREAK AT CENTRAL DE ABASTO

A Traditional Mexican Meal

After four hours exploring the market, I couldn’t wait to see what Iuzzini had come up with, though the final recipe wouldn’t be unveiled for a few days. In the meantime, we had hungry stomachs to fill. And so we headed to a late lunch/early dinner at Restaurante Nicos. Sonia described the Claverai neighborhood venue as “casual, but the food is extraordinary,” while Jared commented that “it’s all in the sauce, and Nicos has great sauce”.

As soon as our waiter came over to prepare our table-side guacamole — okay, so there’s a few avocados in this travelogue —I was immediately hooked. And my palate’s happiness only continued with dishes like river fish steamed in a corn husk followed by tender barbecue rabbit. There was also delectable plates of organic pork and organic turkey — each topped with different mole sauces. I’ve had mole before, though never realized you could travel Mexico through the palate sampling all the regional moles.

A DELICIOUS LATE LUNCH AT RESTAURANTE NICOS

Desserts ranged from the traditional Mexican Buñuelos to a quirkier bowl of popcorn gowned in pumpkin gelato and zapote negro sauce, spiced with anise, mandarin and cinnamon. Table-side Mexican coffee was the perfect ending, and watching our server use his entire body to stir the natural cane sugar-laced java in a clay pot was like seeing a Broadway show. Like mole, the spices added depend on the Mexican region you’re in, ranging from sugar and cinnamon to cacao.

I went to bed fat and happy.

Exploring Mexico City Culture & Coffee

The next day, while Iuzzini was holed up in the kitchen to experiment, I met up with the lovely Esther Maasdam, Le Méridien’s coffee connoisseur extraordinaire visiting from the Netherlands. Together we spent the day partaking in Le Meridien’s Destination Unlocked program. In each city they operate in, Le Méridien partners with a local cultural institution to provide free entry to their guests.

In Mexico City that partner is Museo Tamayo, located within the expansive Chapultepec Park. The leafy green attraction is home to picnicking, paddle boating, splash pads, cycle paths, a free botanical garden, outdoor movies and really interesting al fresco cultural performances. I mean, check out this Danza de los Voladores (Dance of the Flyers) performance below, which includes grown men falling from a 30-meter pole and flying through the air attached to bungee cords. A fifth man stays at the top playing the flute and drum.

DANZA DE LOS VOLADORES

The park is also home to 17 museums and galleries, including the Museo Tamayo contemporary art museum. Here art ranges from Oaxaca-born Rufino Tamayo’s well-known painting of watermelons (an ode to his childhood selling fruit) to multi-media works and even a peaceful vacant pink room with bird sounds playing.

While I loved perusing the pieces, my favorite experience was playing on the modern outdoor playground.

Gringo Tip: Adults are apparently not supposed to climb the jungle gym below, as was shouted to me in Spanish by a security guard.

CLIMBING MUSEO TAMAYO’S “JUNGLE GYM”

Actually, my favorite museum experience may have been lunch at their eatery, Restaurante Tamayo. While the previous day introduced me to traditional Mexican cuisine, this exquisite venue provided a modern take. A few playful dishes on the menu included hibiscus flower and cream cheese tacos, chicken stuffed with cuitlacoche and goat cheese over pinto beans, and a ribeye with a four chilies crust.

Oh, and I can’t forget the huauzontle cakes — batter fried huazontle (like quinoa) with Chihuahua cheese in a black Oaxaca mole sauce and green tomatillo salsa. The dish was also laced with chipilin, an edible legume typically used as a spice. I saw huauzontle cakes on a few menus in Mexico City, so if you see it during your stay definitely order it.

RESTAURANTE TAMAYO.

Within the park we also visited Castillo de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Castle), the very place where Mexico City started. If you’re into history make sure to hire a guide to really understand what you’re looking at as you tour the many 19th-century furnished rooms of Emperor Maximilian I and his wife Empress Carlota. Here you’ll also get excellent aerial views of the city from 2,325 meters (7,628 feet) above sea level.

An Elevated Coffee Break

When we finished with the park it was 3pm, and neither Esther nor I had had a coffee since 8am. For me this wasn’t ideal, but for Esther this was plain madness. I mean, the girl lived for coffee. And because I was with the queen of coffee we weren’t settling for just any java.

That day we’d learned an amazing local tip. Some of you may have heard of Pujol, a trendy restaurant in the Polanco neighborhood with a waiting list of over six months. Getting into this eatery was Esther’s #1 goal in Mexico City, though she couldn’t land a reservation; however, what we could do was head to Eno Petrarca, their attached counter culture coffee shop.

SIPPING JAVA CONCOCTIONS AT ENO PETRARCA

If I didn’t think Esther was a celebrity before, the fact that she was recognized from her Facebook page by the barista in Eno Petrarca — who came up to our table and eagerly asked her to do an impromptu guest barista session — proved it. We were also provided a few extra speciality coffee beverages along with our latte art-adorned orders. The most interesting drink was an iced Infusion Fria de Cafe with almond milk and lemon. They also offered everything from frozen lattes to atole with amaranto, a boiled Mexican drink featuring  milk, amaranth seeds, cinnamon and sugar.

Wandering Mexico City’s Roma Neighborhood

With caffeine flowing through our veins, we happily headed to Mexico City’s hip Roma neighborhood, located next to the also trendy neighborhoods of Juárez (where the Le Méridien is located) and Condesa. In Roma, we simply wandered without a plan, making fun and delicious discoveries along the way.

ARCHITECTURE IN MEXICO CITY’S ROMA NEIGHBORHOOD

A few of our favorites stops included:

  • Libreria Atico: A cozy weathered store that looks like a professor’s dusty attic. A cute black cat roamed the venue as we perused everything from The History of Man in comic book form to business help books (in Spanish). Prices ranged from about 15-60 pesos (~$0.75 to $3 USD).
  • Aurora: I’m obsessed with single spirit focused bars, and Aurora offers a ultimate gin experience. Pair your gin cocktail with a tasty pizza and live music.
  • Folk Diseno Artesenal: This fun artisan market allowed us to practice our Spanish and learn about Mexican products from mescal and coffee to hand-woven ponchos.
  • Alvaro Obregon & Insurgentes Sur Cross Streets: There’s an entire block off these cross streets (on Alvaro Obregon) showcasing numerous street vendors and locals eating at makeshift sidewalk bars. Local Tip: Esther and I were shown the proper way to eat a street stall taco. You’ll get double shells to catch any spillage, and as you bite you should stick your butt out to avoid splatter on your shirt. If you can picture a high class Brit drinking a cup of tea, you should also keep your pinky out to maneuver the taco as it gets smaller.

STREET FOOD IN ROMA

  • Bizarro Cafe: We didn’t drink at this fun-looking dive bar, but one of the bartenders noticed us gringos and excitedly pulled us inside to show us the decor. The table tops and walls are covered in classic rock posters, while the wall behind the live music stage showcases fake skulls.
  • Licoreria Limantour: After consulting with a number of Esther’s local contacts in the food and beverage industry about where to go for cocktails, it was an unanimous Limantour. Aside for upscale restaurants, Mexico City apparently doesn’t have many craft cocktail bars, though this place is a standout. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, almost every drink on the menu comes with a beautiful photo and recipe card. You can also order a custom creation. Gringo Tip: Don’t use the word “caliente” to mean “spicy” or you’ll be given something akin to a hot toddy. Lesson learned.

A “VICUNA” COCKTAIL AT LICORERIA LIMANTOUR

  • La Bodega: This restaurant is actually in Mexico City’s Condesa neighborhood, though from Limantour we walked there in 15 minutes. Along with fantastic Mexican food and superior service, the super quirky decor turned the eatery into a maze of fun exploration. What To Get: Anything with mole Poblano sauce, as well as any of the seafood. The “camarones gigantes” are not lying when they say gigantic shrimp! Afterwards, dance it off to their live music.

Turning Food & Drink Into Art, Literally

On my final day in Mexico City, Chef Iuzzini unveiled his final Mexico City eclair recipe.

Explaining the concept, he said, “You don’t have to speak the same language to understand the food. All the flavors in the eclair will be those you understand, but the combination is what makes it different. These ingredients were all unfamiliar to me, so I experimented with different combinations and forms. I wanted to deliver something unexpected, and you may think I’m a bit loco with this recipe.”

What Iuzzini said next did sound loco, but also absolutely delicious. Picture this: A hollow Pate a Choux dough base flavored with Oaxaca mole powder, which gets injected with a filling of mamey and Veracruz vanilla, then gowned in a tamarind and lime glaze. This is garnished with sweet and crunchy crystallized huitlacoche, creamy red banana, and a Mexican-inspired peanut brittle caramelized with local piloncillo sugar and spiced with mole powder.

Not only is the unexpected flavor combination a work of art, but so is the presentation. I love a dessert that’s so beautiful you feel bad eating it (but hey, that’s what Instagram is for).

Washing down the sweet masterpiece was an equally artistic latte made by Esther. Not surprisingly, her grandfather was an artist, so she grew up drawing and painting. Since she wanted to practically apply her creative skills, she was educated in graphic design; but when she became tired of sitting behind a computer, Esther decided to apply her skills to her passion for coffee through latte art.

ESTHER’S AMAZING LATTE ART

Not only can Esther time your espresso and craft your foam to perfection, but she can make intricate designs — sometimes even using food coloring — to bring the drink to life. While visiting the Le Méridien Mexico City, she used local inspiration to etch cactuses, wrestling masks and even the national emblem onto delicious java drinks.

A foodie guide to exploring #Mexico City & local #culture – check it out! CLICK TO TWEET

Farewell For Now; But I’ll Be Back

I left for the airport with tight pants, as well as a desire to return. By hanging out with Chef Iuzzini and Esther Massdam in Mexico City, I was able to explore cuisine from the traditional to the modern, and really see how local culture can influence what we eat and drink.

If you enjoy culinary and cultural travel, Mexico City should be on your list. Sure, there are safety issues to think about (more on that below), but it’s not as dangerous as it once was. And if you use common sense you can have a really great time; on a budget, too, as even a ribeye at a nicer place like Restaurante Tamayo costs only $15 (and that’s on the high end of what you’ll pay for food!).

PINK TAXIS FOR WOMEN IN MEXICO CITY

Logistics:

Le Meridien: Starting rate is $120 per night.

Currency: Mexico Peso. As of January 2017 the exchange rate was about $1 USD to $20.74 Pesos.

Airport Transfers To/From The City Center: Along with taxis, you can book a round-trip airport shuttle for $19.99 (recommended). There’s also a metro station at the airport, though this only makes sense if you’re traveling with little luggage.

Airport Tips:

  • Coming in, customs lines can be very long (it took me over an hour). Just be patient and bring a book. Also, do not lose your customs card or you’ll have to pay $42. Your airline will collect this when leaving Mexico.
  • Leaving was much quicker — you don’t even need to take off your shoes at security. To maximize comfort and budget, I highly recommend Priority Pass (10% off with this link). Even at the lowest tier, you’ll pay $99 per year and $29 per lounge visit (plus $29 for a guest if you have one) to have access to Wi-Fi, free food and booze, comfortable seating, showers and sometimes even spa treatments. It’s accepted at over 1,000 airports around the world, so you won’t have any issues finding a lounge that accepts your pass.

Public Transport: Public transport in Mexico City isn’t the best, and Mexico City is huge and spread out. Other than renting a car or hiring a driver guide (you can contact the tourism board for this), Mexico City has Uber (get a free ride with this link) and a bike share program called EcoBici (90 Pesos/~$4.42 USD per day; here’s a map)

Of course, you can also walk. Neighborhoods like Roma, Condesa and Juaraz, the neighborhood of Le Méridien Mexico City, are easy to explore on foot.

Safety (For Women): Along with recommended safety gear like a ROBOCOPP Personal Alarm ($6 with code “JOURNEY10”) and Clever Travel Companion Pickpocket-Proof Garments, Mexico City has a number of women’s safety initiatives in place. There are myriad pink taxis for ladies driving the city, women-only cars on the subways and front seats on buses reserved for women, disabled and seniors. My guide also told me that men with feminist ideals wear pink to show women their support.

~ By New York city based award-winning travel blogger, Jessica Festa. Find her at Jessie on a JourneyFacebookTwitterGoogle+ and Pinterest

Cookies That Do You Good

I recently discovered Sweet Loren’s, a brand of cookie dough available in most grocery stores. What caught my attention was that these were whole grain, dairy-fee, with no artificial flavors, trans fats and high fructose corn syrup. Finally, a cookie that won’t weigh you down and feels good to the tastebuds! What’s more unique is the story of Loren Brill, Founder & CEO of Sweet Loren’s, an enterprising young woman who herself survived cancer and wanted to make a change in how people eat. Read my interview with Brill below…

loren-with-package2What inspired you to start Sweet Loren’s?

I was inspired to start Sweet Loren’s after overcoming cancer at a young age, searching for ways to satisfy my sweet tooth with ingredients I felt good about. When I couldn’t find any delicious cookies in stores that had tasted great and had the ingredients I wanted, I realized I was going to have to make my own. So, I started to make my own recipes like a crazy scientist. Soon, my younger sister, who was my taste tester, agreed that these were the best cookies she’d ever had. Neighbors and friends started to order them, and that’s when I realized that the world was starving for better-for-you sweets and snacks. I knew we were in a different world than when I was a kid, a world where we are much more educated about how important food is to our health & well-being. I became inspired to find a way to share these recipes with as many people as possible, and making it easy for anyone to bake fresh cookies in their own homes. I started Sweet Loren’s with a mission to Change the Way America Bakes.

Did you have any background in baking/ food business?

I worked at Levain Bakery in NYC for several years and that is where I fell in love with baking and the way delicious baked goods make people feel. I was also a waitress for a long time to make money in the summers and that’s where I learned a lot about customer service. I attended classes at The Natural Gourmet Institute and completed The New School’s Master Class in Cooking before starting Sweet Loren’s. Mainly though, I just tweaked recipes until they tasted homemade and decadent, but were only made from real, whole food ingredients.

How did you start?

In 2010 I was managing a small restaurant in NYC, and was miserable. I knew I was an entrepreneur who wanted to change the world and make it better in some way. I entered a baking contest because my friends kept pushing me to and I had binders of recipes that I wanted people to try. I won the contest and the judge came up to me and said “You have to do something with this.” That’s when a light bulb went off in my head and I knew that I was meant to start Sweet Loren’s. So, I quit my job the next month. I lived at home at the age of 26 and emailed anyone and everyone I knew. I took a business writing course to figure out how I wanted to start Sweet Loren’s — a bakery? baking mix company? cookie dough? the possibilities were endless. A guy named Cory in my class worked at Whole Foods. He set me up with a meeting with the buyer before I had an actual packaged product. I took the meeting to understand the needs of Whole Foods, and they put in an order the next day for cookie dough. I remember crying on the call because that’s when I knew I had a real business. I immediately started calling factories nearby that could help me make the cookie dough so I could be the only one to sell it and run the rest of the business. I found the factory, and a month after launching in Whole Foods, I won a contest and the people’s choice award for The Next Big Small Brand for Culinary Genius. I got national press because of winning that contest and that’s when I started to get emails from people around the country, in every state, saying they were pressed for time but wanted homemade tasting, all natural, delicious cookies at home and would buy Sweet Loren’s if it was sold near them. That’s when I realized that I had a lot of work to do in order to make as many people happy with our products to make sure there was a natural option for them.

What are some of the challenges you faced?

How to get our story and product out there! We now are sold in over 4,000 supermarkets. This is very exciting but we are still small compared to the big brand names on the shelf. We need as many people as possible to be part of our community and help us figure out what other products they would like to see. Our goal is to unify as many people as possible that have a sweet tooth but want to have clean ingredients in their food. We want to keep you happy and healthy with our products!

Do you have a proud moment you want to share with our readers?

A proud moment was when Hoda Kotb of the Today Show picked Sweet Loren’s as one of her favorite things. She brought me on the show and interviewed me. Plus, she and Kathy couldn’t stop eating the cookies. It was so adorable and amazing that I almost had to catch myself from smiling too much. I feel very lucky that we’ve had support from amazing people – it has shown me that your wildest dreams can come true if you work hard and stay passionate.

How is Sweet Loren’s different from other cookies/ sweets found in health food stores?

Sweet Loren’s is very different than any other dough! It is the only better-for-you cookie dough on the shelf that is 100% whole grain, non-dairy, and made with no artificial flavors/colors, corn syrup or trans fat. We are award winning and have tons of delicious recipes on our website that you can make using our cookie dough too. Nothing is better than a warm cookie – and now you can make just one or two with our convenient place & bake packaging!

Where can consumers purchase Sweet Loren’s? 

Customers can find our products in supermarkets across the country in the refrigerated dairy aisle. We can be found in bright pink packaging in all Kroger’s, Publix, Harris Teeter, The Fresh Market, Wegman’s, Hannaford, Whole Foods (northeast and south pacific), and many more. Just put your zip code in our easy store locator on our website and you can find the closest store to you!

What advice would you give to someone who is an aspiring food entrepreneur?

The advice I would give is to find a need in the marketplace and then focus on creating a really great product to fill that need – make your product the best out there. Surround yourself with the best A players and advisors so that you have a team to help fight this fight with you. It is not easy! So, you need a smart business plan, pricing plan, and great factory to help you make the product. Sweet Loren’s is proof that the next generation is looking for higher quality products they feel great about eating themselves and feeding their kids. Passion, hard work, and focus have been keys to success. If you’re passionate about food, it’s hard to find something else that makes you as happy. Lots of opportunity to build a great business, make progress in the food industry, and make a lot of people happy with a brand they can trust.

Do you have an idea for a food product or just started a food related business? If yes, share your story below…

Why Volunteering In Thailand Can Be The Best Travel Experience

Thailand is one destination that does not really needs a reason to visit. Being regularly featured in most of the “Top Destinations to Visit” lists, its popularity in travel fraternity is not unknown. Then why should you be thinking about volunteering in Thailand? You might wonder.

Volunteering abroad is a form of traveling overseas that allows a traveler to gain experiences that are not possible on a regular holiday visit. There are things one gets to do, see, and feel that are unlikely during a regular trip.

So, what exactly are these differences? What makes a volunteer trip to Thailand better than a regular travel expedition? Here’s the answer to it all…

Living

One of the primary things that differentiates a volunteer trip to Thailand from a regular trip is the living arrangements. It varies drastically in many aspects; including style, area, facilities, and most importantly, the budget.

guest house thailandVolunteer in Thailand

  • Accommodation provided in a volunteer house placement.
  • Meals are provided at the accommodation itself.
  • Rooms allotted on same gender sharing basis.
  • Day starts fresh and early.

Regular Travel Experience

  • Living in a hotel room.
  • Have to arrange and pay for each and every meal of the day.
  • Day starts when you want it to (could be at noon as well).

While for a regular trip to Thailand, one need to do all the bookings in advance and pay for each meal and facility; for a volunteer trip, it’s a one time payment done in the form of program fee. It’s more like living in a home away from home, literally.

Networking

This is one of the most interesting differences between a volunteer travel and a regular trip to Thailand. It is known that Thailand is also denoted as The City Of Smiles, and that is for a reason. Volunteering in Thailand lets you discover that reason in its most genuine form.

Volunteer in Thailand

  • Get to interact with the natives on a much closer and personal level.
  • Get to make friends with people from across the globe while living together.
  • Get to learn a word or two of the local language.
  • Get to understand and immerse in the local culture.

Regular Travel Experience

  • Little to no interaction with the locals (unless you to stop to ask for directions).
  • Friends/family/partner (or whoever came along) are the only travel companions.
  • Get to witness the local traditions and culture, but without any insights to its roots; let alone getting to immerse yourself in it.
  • The only opportunity to learn something of the local language is either from the menu card of a local restaurant or billboards.

Local Guidance

This is a key aspect of volunteering abroad that makes the entire trip a great success. A regular holiday would certainly take you to some of the best places that your guidebook has mentioned. However, a guidebook is the result of a traveler’s findings and can provide only limited information and insights.

Volunteer in Thailand

  • A dedicated local coordinator appointed throughout the tour.
  • Recommended places to visit that one won’t find in guidebooks.
  • No need to hire a tour guide.
  • Help in making arrangements for weekend tours.
  • First point of contact in case of any problem or emergency.
  • Support and guidance throughout the sojourn.

Regular Travel Experience

  • Have to hire a local guide for each monument or tourist site.
  • Have to book your own tours and visits to tourist sites.
  • Have to rely on guidebooks for exploring.
  • Embassy is the only point of contact in case of any problem or emergency.

volunteer in thailand
Overall Experience

There are some travelers who crave for adventure, some like to explore the heritage and culture, while others just want to post those selfies to burn their friends back home. Volunteering in Thailand provides you an opportunity to experience all these things along with a few more, unmatched experiences, especially the experience of making new friends.

Volunteer in Thailand

  • Give happiness while making a difference.
  • Experience local living.
  • Learn to cook Pad Thai the authentic way.
  • Make friends with elephants.
  • Gain international work experience.

Regular Travel Experience

  • Limited adventures
  • Visiting heritage sites mentioned in the guidebooks.
  • Little to no interaction with the natives.

One volunteer travel abroad experience for me, gave me a new perceptive on life, and made me realize that this is the way I want to travel. I haven’t looked back ever since.

Dave in ThailandIf you have been to Thailand before and are planning another visit, try making it a volunteer trip this time and experience the difference yourself. And, if you haven’t been to this paradise ever, plan your visit now.

Resources for volunteering in Thailand:

Volunteering Solutions

A Comprehensive Guidebook

~ By guest blogger, Dave Dronacharya. Dave is a full time travel writer/blogger. His passion for traveling got him into the habit of writing, which soon turned into a profession. He writes and shares his personal experiences and facts in his articles with only one objective in mind; motivating others as well to travel as much as they can. His work is published on The Huffington Post, SocialEarth, VolunteersMagazine, and Cultural Trip. Follow Dave on Twitter

10 Financial Tips Every Gap Year Traveler Should Know

Today’s young adults are faced with many pressures that make the transition between important life stages overwhelming. From juggling a packed schedule of classes, sports and extracurricular activities in high school to graduating college with unmanageable debt and an uncertain job market, it’s no wonder more students than ever are taking a break to travel, explore and recharge during what’s called a “gap year.”

Taking a year off between high school and college or college and a first job to travel has become increasingly popular with an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 young adults doing so these days, according to the American Gap Association. If you or your child are considering a gap year during this back-to-school season, follow these financial tips to make this dream a reasonable reality.

1. Budget wisely.
Before you figure out how you’re going to fund your gap year, you need a plan and a rough budget to determine how much money you will actually need. Take into consideration living expenses, transportation, food and entertainment when working up your expenses. If your parents decided to chip in, find out how much they are willing to give toward your trip and factor this into your estimate.

2. Select a destination thoughtfully.
Certain destinations offer incredible value for young travelers on a budget, whereas others can be extremely costly and limit a student’s time away. In Thailand, for instance, you can expect to pay as little as $5 per day on food, while one meal in Australia alone will cost anywhere from $15 to $20. Details like these are incredibly important when planning your gap year and estimated budget! For more help, review PriceofTravel.com for a list of the world’s cheapest cities along with exchange rates to find a destination that fits your needs and budget.

3. Apply for a scholarship.
Most people don’t realize that financial aid opportunities are available for students looking to take some time off from school and the real world. The American Gap Association provides a list of available scholarships and grants, some of which require college credit to qualify. Even though a gap year is intended as a break from your academic track, getting some extra credit while traveling ensures you graduate on time and get the funds you need for the trip of a lifetime! You’re not limited to only one scholarship, so apply for as many as you can and begin your research early.

4. Fundraise.
Think outside the box and consider making money by fundraising. For those who are planning to volunteer during their gap year, use VolunteerForever.com to launch a fundraising campaign to share your mission and collect donations for your trip. You can also use sites like Kickstarter or GoFundMe, or go the old-fashion route by calling organizations in your area for support. Gap Year also has a great list of creative fundraising ideas.

5. Stash away cash gifts.
Once you begin thinking about taking a gap year, it’s important to start saving. Open a separate account where you can stash away cash gifts you receive for birthdays, holidays and graduation. When loved ones ask you what you want as a gift for a celebratory occasion, be honest about your desire to travel and that you’d appreciate support towards your gap year. At Tendr.com, you can create a cash registry for your trip as an alternative to a graduation or birthday gift wish list and share it with loved ones eager to help make your dream a reality.

6. Pick up a part-time gig.
If funds are low, picking up a part-time gig is one of the best ways to ensure you have enough money for your time off. Beef up your savings by working on the weekends or evenings after school. You can find babysitting gigs through BabySitterExchange.com, dog sitting and walking jobs through Rover.com, or help people run various errands like grocery shopping at TaskRabbit.com. Otherwise, scope out jobs at a nearby retail shop, grocery store or bakery where you can pick up a few shifts per week.

7. Book early.
One of the most expensive parts of traveling is airfare and timing is everything when it comes to saving money on flights. Start tracking flight prices through Yapta and check SkyScanner.com, which specializes in finding the cheapest flight anywhere in the world. Also, websites like CouponSherpa.com offer great deals on travel expenses including discounts on hotels, airfare and travel agencies. For example, you can currently score a flight as cheap as $496 from Boston to Barcelona through Vayama, an online travel agency.

8. Think outside the box for lodging.
After airfare, finding a place to live will be your second biggest expense. Luckily, lodging alternatives like couch surfing, bedroom rentals and home swapping services make it more affordable. Use CouchSurfing.com to connect with a host and score free digs! This is a great way to experience a true cultural exchange and learn about a way of life unlike your own while making friends along the way. You can also swap your apartment or home with one in your desired destination through HomeExchange.com to live like a local and save big bucks.

9. Seek out student discounts.
Whether you’re graduating high school or just finished college, your student status can help you save money when traveling. Keep your I.D. handy and always ask if there are any student discounts available before you pay. Consider picking up an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) for student discounts in over 133 countries on travel, restaurants, and attractions worldwide. Use the ISIC global app to find and view thousands of benefits worldwide plus those nearby or at a location of your choice. Even if you’re not a student but under the age of 30, pick up a Youth Travel Card for similar benefits and discounts.

10. Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.
Credit cards will become an important financial tool when you’re traveling, but beware of foreign transaction fees. Around 90% of credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee for purchases made outside the U.S. and these fees can add up quickly. Capital One and Discover have eliminated foreign transaction fees and they offer more levels of fraud protection, so this would be a great alternative to help you overseas.

Andrea Woroch is a money-saving expert who transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers by sharing smart spending tips and personal finance advice. Check out Andrea’s demo reel or visit her website at AndreaWoroch.com. You can also follow her on Twitter or Facebook for daily money tips.

11 Ideas for Multi Generational Family Getaways

1. Galapagos – being so close to these animals and birds thrills people of all ages.

And there are great opportunities to charter small boats for large families (10-16 people). In addition to the Galapagos, staying on an Estancia in the highlands or going to an Amazon Lodge is a great add on to the Galapagos trip and fun for the whole family.

2. Patagonia – Thrilling beauty!

Tours can be as active as possible for the adventure folks, while the family members who like a more relaxed pace, can do more cultural or soft adventure activities. Everyone then meets back up for dinner for some great food, and great wine.

3. Safari South Africa


Explore great parks where you can see the big 5 – lion, elephant, cape buffalo, rhino and leopard. Many of these parks are Malaria free, so if taking malaria medication is a concern, we can pick a safari lodge in a Malaria Free zone.

In addition, some of the concessions we work with have small properties that a family can take over, with private guides and staff just for your family. In addition, Cape Town, Victoria Falls, and the Wine Route are great additions for the whole family.

4. Costa Rica 

Just about everyone would be thrilled to see a Toucan or a Macaw from their outdoor shower, or find squirrel monkeys in the trees right outside their rooms. During a small hike through a rain forest you might stumble upon a scorpion being devoured by an army of ants, and if you slow down, the adults will be thrilled to see the excitement of the kids in the group. From relaxing in the hot springs from Arenal Volcano, to walking along the sea, to dolphin watching in the Gulfo Dulce, the whole family will be happy here.

If time permits, we can plan a trip to a wildlife rescue center where you can get up close with the animals and see how these organizations are working hard to save the lives of these animals and working with communities to educate them on saving the environment.

5. Uruguay 

Stay on an Estancia or at the beach.

There are activities aplenty to choose from, and they can be tailored based on the different needs for each member of the group. Try cooking classes, Stand Up Paddle Boarding, canoeing, kite surfing, and horseback riding. Or for very active families we can do a biking tour for 4-5 days.

6. Cambodia and Thailand

One of Yampu’s favorite family itineraries combines Siem Reap in Cambodia with Chiang Mai and Phuket in Thailand. Go “Tomb Raider” style to the Angkor Archaeological Park. Depending on the interests of the younger members of the group choose to tour by bike, ATV, elephant, or van. Visit a school and a history museum as well as artisans. Then off to Chiang Mai, where we offer a flight of the Gibbons, giving alms with the monks, visiting local villages, and best of all cooking lessons.

In Bangkok and in Phuket, follow in James Bond’s footsteps to the floating villages of Bangkok, a tuktuk tour to temples, then to James Bond’s Island in Phang Nga Bay (except instead of hurling across a zip line like James Bond, we will take a long boat and a kayak).

Luxurize this trip with special experiences like a VIP picnic breakfast set up just in front of Sras Srang “Pool of Ablutions,” outside of Angkor Wat, once reserved for the King and his wives. Or take a Thai cooking class where a local well-known chef shares cooking secrets in a family atmosphere.

7. Peru Educational Trip

This may be our best family trip because it has everything. The bucket list Machu Picchu, learning Spanish, lots of activities like biking, hiking, pottery, weaving, a cultural visit to a family, and rafting (not very strenuous so okay for most family members)and finally a giving back day working in a school. Remember all of our tours can be customized so if any of this does not work for any members, we can change it.

8. Cruises! Our top cruises for families:

The Amazon River in Peru or Ecuador; the Mekong River, the lifeblood of South-East Asia; Halong Bay in Vietnam; or around Cape Horn of Chile and Argentina (penguins without the expense of Antarctica).

Glide through rainforests and wonder at the wildlife of the Amazon: hundreds of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and thousands of freshwater fish. Explore the floating villages and markets of the Mekong Delta or navigate the fantastical topography of Halong Bay in Vietnam.

9. Rainforest and Snorkeling Belize

Tropical forests rich with wildlife, majestic mountains, mysterious Mayan temples, and snorkeling in the longest barrier reef in the western hemisphere await you in Belize.

Take an unforgettable cave-tubing excursion in the “River of Caves” — seven miles long, and all of it underground. Go swimming in jungle-clad rivers, canoeing or crawling through mysterious caves, observing the birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

10. Tanzania and Zanzibar

There is something about game drives, lazy afternoons at the pool, sundowners and the cell phones and wifi either not working or very slow that brings families together. This can be done at different budgets, from amazing basic tented camps to luxury camps. While the options are limitless in Africa, Tanzania offers something for every age group. However, Botswana, Zambia, and Uganda, can also be amazing, depending on the ages and interests of the family.

11. Comfortable Trekking 

For families with adult kids we offer luxury trekking in many of our destinations. This is exciting because you can hike and see some fantastic scenery in the daytime and at night have a comfortable bed and a gourmet meal. Luxury options are available in Peru (enjoy a luxurious trek staying at unique Mountain Lodges as you follow paths from Cusco to Machu Picchu), Zambia, Chile, and Bhutan. Basic Options are available in Peru, Chile (trekking in Torres del Paine), Costa Rica, Tanzania (Kilimanjaro trekking), Nepal (Kathmandu valley), and Thailand.

~ Guest contribution by Yampu Tours, specializing in custom family tours around the world. Reach them at Toll-free at 888-YAMPU-01(926-7801) or info@yampu.com