Research has proven that travel is good for your health and well being. While you may be on a staycation right now, this is the best time to spark your wanderlust and start planning your next trip. Here are a few ways you can keep learning about the world, get ideas for your next destination, and support the community.
Take a Virtual Trip
Many museums, concert halls, aquariums, and zoos are offering free virtual visits so you can enjoy the best views from your living room. You can also live-stream events that are canceled to the public, such as Heritage Malta Spring Equinox Live Stream. This event marks the special relationship between the temples and the seasons. You can witness the spring equinox online as the first rays of the sun project themselves through the main doorway of the southern Mnajdra temples. Isn’t that cool?
Earnings from The Tour Guy’s new Interactive Virtual Tours go directly towards keeping the passionate tour guides working, and making a living doing what they love the most.
Try different Cuisines
Another great way to learn about a country you plan to visit is through its cuisine. Order contact-free take out or delivery, from neighborhood restaurants serving ethnic food. Try new dishes that you may have not tasted before. Often times, these are mom and pop eateries that survive with very little cash flow, so they will welcome any patronage. You can also buy gift cards from restaurants to support small businesses, satisfying your wanderlust, and supporting the community at the same time.
Get Wine to Your Doorstep
You can’t walk around vineyards, but you can still do a wine tour. Cheers on virtual happy hours with carefully selected international wines from family-run wineries. Many wine clubs (including Macy’s Cellar) and vineyards deliver handpicked selection of finest wines from all over the world right to your door. They also include descriptions so you can sound like a real wine connoisseur at your next party!
If you have a backyard or patio, camp out, and create a sense of adventure. Play the guitar, roast s’ mores on the fire, and cookout on the grill. Set up your travel atmosphere with background music, such as waterfalls or chirping bird sounds. You can also download an astronomy app to see the night sky where you’re at. Or you can fall asleep to the sounds of travel stories here.
Watch and Learn
If you are going to be in front of the screen, use this time to watch movies and tv shows based in different countries. I just watched ‘Top End Wedding’ and added a few places to my list for my next visit to Australia!
Watch this 360-degree virtual reality movie experience of Japan, featuring scenes throughout the country. You can see the sculptures of Naoshima, breathtaking bamboo forests, Geisha performances, sumo wrestling and sushi making.
Read and Listen
If you have an iTunes account, you can download hundreds of free podcasts on destinations, travel hacks, trends and more. Personally, I enjoy listening to stories of locals, of how they live and what they believe in. For example “Life in Australia” podcast explores the lives of young refugees living in Australia.
Reading also helps curve my wanderlust, by just imagining what it’s like to live in or travel to other countries. I always pick up an interesting fiction or non-fiction book (not guidebook) about a country I am going to visit, because it gets me totally immersed in my new atmosphere.
You can visualize places through the colorful illustrations in ‘Beato Goes To‘ series of children’s books, authored by me, and based on actual photos I have taken during my trips.
Have a Laugh
One of my favorite things to watch on YouTube is videos of people talking in different accents. It gives me a chance to learn a new phrase or slang, and helps me understand people better when I go visit that country. Plus, it is really fun to practice out loud!
In the midst of global pandemic, I say this – Keep Calm and Keep Traveling! I am sure if you are watching the news or are on social media, you are overwhelmed with all so much information about coronavirus thrown at you constantly. How do you make a decision to keep your travel plans or stay home?
Think about this… After 9/11, did people stop going to New York?
There are knife, shooting and bombing attacks in Paris almost every year. Does the city appeal to you any less?
Has there been any decline in travelers to Mumbai after a series of attacks over 4 days in 2008?
Do you know about the SARS coronavirus that lasted 2002-2004 in China and Hong Kong (which was an epidemic, not a pandemic)?
Has the cholera that killed over 4,000 people in Zimbabwe in 2008-2009, or the swine flu in India that took over 2,000 lives in 2015, altered your travel plans?
I am sure all of these events did bring attention to a particular place and you may wisely chose not to travel there during the chaos, but eventually things normalize.
Here are some reasons you must keep traveling…
Keep Your Jobs
Most major airlines and hotel chains have reduced 15% or more capacity, which also leads to internal cost cuts. This may not mean much to you as a traveler, but if you have anyone working in the travel industry – directly or indirectly – they could get affected by lower wages, hiring freezes, and potential layoffs.
Where are recent graduates and college students going to work?
Save Your Investments
If you have investments, retirement funds or savings, they will be impacted too. Not just the travel industry, everyone has an impact from a slowing down economy. We are already seeing worst stock market crashes since 2008.
Don’t Waste Resources
Over the past few weeks, I have heard from countless restaurants, farmers markets and growers from Seattle to Italy about how they have beautiful, fresh spring vegetables and fruits going to waste. We are throwing away perfectly good food, while some are starving.
Think about how much the food industry relies on travelers (as well as locals dining out) to consume produce.
Care About The People
Almost 15 million Americans work in tourism and hospitality—in hotels, amusement parks, art museums, and restaurants—making it the fifth largest industry in the country. Canceling travel and events has a trickle-down effect that harms economies, from locally owned hotels, restaurants, travel advisors and tour operators to the service and frontline employees who make up the backbone of the travel industry and the global economy.
Currently, the WHO has no travel or trade restrictions to international destinations. CDC recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to China, Iran, South Korea and Italy. Airlines and hotels are offering a flexible cancellation policy. Travel insurance companies are willing to work with this new threat.
It is important to realize that our actions and their impact are connected to our own homes, communities and the world. While it’s important to remain vigilant, it’s equally important to make calm, rational, and fact-based decisions. My recommendations include traveling to closer to home destinations, taking shorter trips, opting for refundable bookings, and maintaining proper hygiene at all times (even when not traveling).
Go on road trips.
Explore national parks and outdoor recreation areas.
Rent a camper.
Take shorter flights.
Wipe down airplane seats and tray tables with alcohol sanitizers.
Limit movement on the plane. Wash hands after touching overheads and visiting restrooms.
Avoid touching your face and contact with coughing passengers by whatever means possible.
Cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing.
Wear a face mask only if you are showing symptoms.
Maintain food hygiene.
Get screened after every trip or whenever possible.
Don’t cancel your summer vacations or winter breaks. In fact, use this time to read more about the places you want to visit, choose responsible tour operators, and take advantage of discounts. Use travel agents to make your bookings as they have more leverage on making changes and cancellations, without much hassle to you.
Go Eat Give offers customized itineraries and bookings through our connections with hundreds of small tour operators worldwide. Contact us at info at goeatgive dot com to book your next cultural, culinary or sustainable trip.
According to a recent study, only 42% of U.S. citizens currently have a passport (as oppose to 4% in 1990). More Americans are traveling abroad than ever. If you are someone who is leaving the country for the first time, it is good to do your homework. You are probably getting excited to go on a vacation or work trip, and may have certain expectations about your visit. Perhaps you are anxious about traveling. Following some of my tried and tested travel tips will make your trip more enjoyable, prepare for unexpected situations, have a more positive travel experience.
Find out the Visa Rules. Here’s a web site where you can quickly check if the country you are traveling to requires a visa for your nationality. You may nee to apple for an evisa, apply for a visa on arrival, or get one from the embassy in your home country. Depending on the requirements, allow for a few weeks to collect paperwork and apply, so you can have your visas before your trip. Note: some countries may require a visa even if you are not visiting, but transiting through the airport.
Get Vaccinated. If your last vaccination was when you started school, you may need to obtain records or get booster shots before you travel. Certain countries, like Kenya, require you to show your Yellow Fever vaccination papers to enter, while others will give you a list of recommend shots and medication you need. CDC’s website is a good source to check the vaccination requirements by country.
Obtain Records. Most of us get our prescriptions refilled through the pharmacy without seeing the original paperwork. You cannot get a prescription transferred to a pharmacy overseas, so keep a printed copy of all the prescriptions you are currently taking, so you could get refills if needed. Also, carry extra medications with you so you don’t run out.
Get Travel Insurance. Most travelers oversee this, thinking “nothing bad is going to happen.” But when you travel, there are several risks involved, some bigger than others. Travel insurance covers things like a delayed or lost luggage (happened to me countless times), missed connections, delays, trip cancellations, accidents, or a medical emergency overseas. I carry an annual policy to cover all my domestic and international trips.
Know What You Booked. Many people who book their own travels search for best deals online and often miss the fine print. When you book through 3rd party sites (such as Expedia, Orbits), may sure to check what is included. Booking your flights directly through the airline directly may save you extra fees for seat selection, check in baggage, priority boarding, and flight changes. Chances of delayed or lost luggage goes up with connecting flights. Similarly, booking directly through the hotel’s website may qualify for complimentary upgrades and free cancellations.
Check Luggage Rules. I did not know that a carry-on bag size is different traveling within Europe, than it is in then US. Check the airline’s luggage policy, because it can differ based on the type of ticket you purchased as well. Pack and weigh your luggage accordingly. I carry a small luggage scale when traveling to make sure I never pay excess bag fees.
Make Copies. If you lose your passport when traveling abroad, it can take a few days and lots of anxiety to get a new one. To make things easier, make sure to have a copy of the ID page of your passport, tickets, and drivers license. Carry 1 copy of your passport in your backpack (preferably secured with an RFID cover), and leave the original in your hotel’s locker room. Also, it’s good to leave another set of copies of travel documents with a family member back home.
Pack Strategically. Yes, you are going to pack your clothes, shoes, personal items, etc in your check in bag. But I also recommend to always have a carry on with a spare set (in case of flight delays). Keep a change of clothes and a few necessities.
Do not check in valuables such as cameras, laptops, designer handbags or jewelry. These should always be in your carry on.
Unless you are flying business class, you won’t get many amenities on the plane. Some of my must include are – noise cancellation headphones, phone charges, ear plugs, eye mask, mouthwash or mint, hand towel, hand lotion, warm blanket, and neck pillow. I also carry a refillable water bottle and a few healthy snacks since most airplane food doesn’t appeal to my palate.
Dress Appropriately. Depending on your destination, you may have to dress according to local customs. I recommend blending in rather than standing out. Find out what is commonly worn (casual, conservative), and pack accordingly. For long flights, you want to dress comfortably in layers. Long flights often get too cold, noisy and dry. I prefer a t-shirt, warm hoodie, yoga pants and sneakers.
Check Your Finances. Before you leave for your trip, make sure to inform your bank of your travel dates and countries visiting, so they don’t put a fraud alert when you try to use your card in another country. Most businesses around the world now accept credit cards, but some still don’t take American Express, so always have 2-3 different kinds on hand (Visa, MasterCard, etc).
ATMs work well most of the time, but check how much your bank charges for oversees withdrawal and transactions. As a backup, carry some cash because. There have been times when all the ATM’s are down and no one takes credit cards!
Ask your local bank branch for foreign currency. They can order Euros, Pounds or whatever you need at the current market rate, without extra fees.
Keep An Eye At Home. You may be so focused on planning your trip, that you may forget about managing things at home. If there will be no one to receive your mail and packages while you are away, sign up for the USPS Mail Hold program. I also have Ring security camera and home monitoring system that alerts me when someone is at my front door.
Stay Connected. Check with your cell phone provider about international roaming rates. If the price is too high, you can always connect to WiFi hot spots (usually free at hotels, restaurants and cafes) to make phone calls and send texts through WhatsApp. You may also want to download apps for currency conversion, weather, google translate and maps before you leave home.
T-Mobile has the best plans withs no roaming charges, free unlimited data, and reasonable calling rates (around $0.20-.25/ minute).
Protect Your Devices. There will be times where you leave something behind or have an expensive gadget stolen from you. Minimize the risk of losing your personal data by creating a password to access all of the electronic devices that you will be carrying with you, such as phones, tablets and laptops. Turn on their location setting and “find my phone,” so its relatively easier to recover it.
Be a Mindful Traveler. First time travelers often have bad experiences because they are victims of small crimes. To avoid such situations, just be more guarded than you are back home. Watch where you keep your belongings in public places, don’t carry big cameras and lots of cash, tuck your wallet into an inner pocket, watch your surroundings, and don’t attract too much attention.
Stay Healthy. The second most common reason for having a negative travel experience is getting sick in a foreign country. You are in a confided space with other travelers for a number of hours while flying. When you land, hygiene standards may be different or your belly is simply not accustomed to different foods. Give yourself some time by drinking bottled water, and eating at credible outlets. Proactively take Airborne, Vitamin C or multi vitamins to build your immunity.
Keep An Open Mind. If this is your first time traveling to a foreign country, know that things are going to be very different than what you are use to back home. Don’t assume everyone speaks English. Learn a few words in the local language to help you navigate.
Follow gender rules, meal times, local etiquettes. Don’t make fun of things or foods that you may find strange. Remember, you are a guest in their country.
It’s always good to read up on the country you are visiting. I find it watching a movie or reading a book about a place also helps me get in the mood and learn about a new place. Make sure these are currently relevant though not historical or fiction.
Many of these travel tips apply to first time international travelers, and domestic travelers too. Perhaps you are a seasoned traveler and would like to share another helpful tip with us? Tag us with your comment on social media @GoEatGive.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, I want to especially recognize women in travel.
Travel is a powerful tool that helps women become independent, gain self-confidence, empower, be economically and socially impactful. Over the years, I have met countless women who worked in the tourism ministry, as travel agents, tour guides, and more. Here are some inspiring women that I met who are successful travel entrepreneurs.
Kelly Campbell, Kenya
Kelly Campbell is a native of Indiana and founder of The Village Experience, a responsible tourism company. Kelly travels year-round taking groups of people to fund projects in Kenya, India, Egypt, Morocco and Guatemala, improving the lives of women and children, and providing water to remote villages.
I stayed with Kelly at her charming house in Lamu, Kenya, where she has been living since 2016. After spending a few days with Kelly, I really feel she spends every single waking minute thinking about other people. Her tour guides, personal chef, dow boat operator, hotel owners – everyone seems to have been impacted by Kelly at some point.
Veselka and I bonded instantly when we first met at a travel show in New York. But it was over a glass (or few glasses) of Dalmatian wine and delicious pasta in Split, Croatia, that we shared more personal details about our lives.
Like me, Veselka quit her corporate job so she could be her own boss and spend time doing what she was passionate about. Veselka founded an adventure tour company – AndAdventure Croatia, which focuses on biking, water sports, wine and culinary travel across Croatia.
In her 30’s, Ramona was tired of her desk job. She enjoyed being outdoors, hiking through Romani’s countryside, chatting with locals, and introducing travelers to her native country. Her ability to speak many languages since she was a kid helped her create MyRomania, a tour company that specializes in creating authentic family-friendly experiences.
Soon, Ramona’s husband quit his job too and joined the business. They moved into their parent’s home in one of the villages, where they bring up their 2 kids. Ramona is one of the friendliest people I met during my travels and it seemed that everyone knew her wherever we went in Romania.
Justa Lujwangana is from Tanzania and lives in New York. She worked in the healthcare business before pursuing her passion for dance and travel. Starting with just a Meetup group she called Curious on Tanzania (COT), she went on to form an experiential travel company offering tours to Tanzania.
During the trip, you will stay at Justa’s family home in Dar es Salaam, eating home cooked meals, attending Sunday mass in her neighborhood, meeting her friends, and learning the Tanzanian way of life.
Read more about my experience in Tanzania with COT.V
Khishigjargal Dorjderem, Mongolia
Khishigjargal has lived and studied abroad, speaks multiple languages, and runs Voyage Unique Mongolie, a customized travel company operating in Mongolia. As her personal guest, Khishigjargal and her husband drove me around the country for a week, making me feel as if I was on a trip with friends, rather than tour guides. We would drive through the barren Mongolian countryside for 8 hours a day and still have so much to talk about!
If you are looking to experience a nomadic life, walk in the Gobi Desert, or witness the historic Naadam Festival, Khishigjargal is your gal!
I met Divya Pahwa through friends of friends, as I was looking for a partner agency to organize Go Eat Give trip to India. Divya grew up traveling all over India and was always interested in travel. She worked in a Delhi based tour agency before starting her own travel agency – Explorer’s Travel Boutique. She has a team that oversees everything from Indian weddings and corporate travel to individual and group travels all over the world. Her entire business is based on word of mouth referrals.
While traveling with Divya (we were recently in Kashmir), I could see that Divya works non-stop, answering her phone at every hour of the day, and addressing to the smallest client request herself.
Veronika Vermeulen, New Zealand
Born and raised in Germany, Veronika fell in love with everything about New Zealand, so much that she moved there and opened a luxury tour company – Aroha Tours. She loves the Māori culture, landscapes, nature, culture, wine and all that the country offers. She is married to a dairy farmer and lives on a 600 hector farm with 1200 milking cows.
Veronika and I have not met in person as yet, but I’m looking forward to traveling with her around New Zealand this November.
Go Eat Give will often refer to or partner with these women to book your customized tours to the countries they specialize in. By supporting other women in travel, we commit to have a long lasting impact in the communities we visit, and show you the very best of the local hospitality.
As you are headed out to party with your family, friends or colleagues this holiday season, be an informed not a mediocre guest. Yes, as an adult, there are a few rules that you should know if you don’t already. Make sure you are not just a good friend, but an amazing guest to ensure that your host invites you back next season!
Respond to Invitations on Time
Most people send digital invitations through email, Evite, facebook events, or paperless post type website. Ensure these are not getting to your junkbox and RSVP right away! As a general rule of thumb, you should reply to an invitation within a day or two. Even if you are not sure if you will be able to make it, thank your host and let them know why you may or may not be able to attend. If it’s a definite no, tell them why. Notify them as soon as your plans finalize, but please do not wait till the day before the party! There is nothing worse for a host to find out to buy more food and drink at the last minute.
Who Do You Want to Bring Along?
If you have a significant other, it will likely be them. Some invitations are extended to kids and entire families, others are restricted to couples or maybe just a +1. When picking a friend to bring along, select someone who you think the host would enjoy meeting. Perhaps they have common interest and would benefit from the connection.
When you RSVP, let your host know not only how many people you will be bringing with you, but their names and relationship. If you are bringing someone they haven’t met before, specify what’s cool about them.
Read the Invitation Carefully
This is a no brainer but I see it happening all the time! People don’t read the entire invitation and keep sending emails or text with redundant questions – What time does it start? What should I bring? What’s the address?
Be sure to check notes the host may have already have about food or drinks to bring, where to park, etc. Please don’t annoy your hosts as they may be busy prepping and cleaning up before your arrival!
Arrive on Time
Unless it’s a rolling party, arrive at your destination on time, especially if it’s a sit down event. You definitely don’t want to barge in during special announcements or in the middle of dinner. If you have other commitments and will be late, notify your host a day before. Don’t be calling during the party as they may be busy talking to other guests.
Bring a Hostess Gift
In my invitations, I generally ask guests to make a donation to Go Eat Give instead of bringing cards or gifts. (Evite has a nice feature that allows you to pick a charity and have a direct link to make donations). Still, I do appreciate if you bring a nice bottle of wine for the bar (something that you yourself enjoy drinking or know that your host would). I don’t care for food gifts or prepared foods with a short expiration date, because I usually have leftovers and would end up with more. A nice bottle of olive oil, a rare spice or gourmet chocolates are always appreciated though.
Offer to Clean Up
If you are one of the last people to leave, help your host pick up glasses and plates off the table, put the food in the kitchen and offer to clean the dishes. They are probably tired from preparing and hosting, so a few helping hands would be appreciated. Plus, as a group you can get it done faster and share some memories from the party.
Say Goodbye Before You Leave
I have seen this happen as well and it is rather rude when guests come, eat, drink, enjoy themselves and leave without a thank-you or a goodbye. Even if it becomes crazy crowded, do locate your host and say a quick greeting.
Send a Thank You Message
I love receiving messages from attendees about how they enjoyed a particular dish I cooked, the company, or catching up after a long time. Send a quick text or email the day after, a picture if you happen to take one and thank them again for their hospitality.
Reciprocate the Invitation
After 20+ years of living in the US, I am surprised to see how few people reciprocate home hospitality in our society. Sure not everyone is into throwing lavish parties, but if someone has invited you say, a couple of times, it’s time to pay back. Note – pot luck parties and Dutch dinners don’t count as reciprocation.
If you are not a good cook, take your host out for a meal or oder in. A good friend of mine who doesn’t have a big space buys food and wine and brings it over to my place for a special treat. Another friend cooks my favorite Persian dish and comes over to my house. You may even send your host a gift card to a restaurant in their neighborhood!
I hope you will create wonderful memories with good food and friends this holiday season. But most of all, you will take a moment to reflect on what went on behind the scenes – who shopped for groceries, cooked the delicious meal, cleaned the space, decorated the table, took the time to put it all together – and be appreciative for having being included.
As you can imagine, having your travel canceled, interrupted or simply not go as planned is never ideal. When you have travel insurance, however, you can feel better knowing that at least some of your travel expenses will be reimbursed. Hurricane season starts one month from today, and after last’s year’s record storms, many are ensuring they are covered if something does arise this year. This brings light making sure you have your home insurance up to date too just in case a storm does come and you are away from your home whilst it is being damaged. You need to review your insurance policy to see if there is anything that needs to be changed so you are fully covered. Check on your declaration to see what exactly you are covered with, you can also view other declarations to know what you are looking for, you can click to view the page from Simply Insurance who have laid it out clearly.
But what if you file your claim, and it comes back denied?
Stan Sandberg, travel expert and co-Founder of TravelInsurance.com, is a respected authority on travel insurance in the U.S. has provided some information below on reasons a claim could be denied, and how to ensure it isn’t. Given tropical storms could start hitting as soon as next month, having this knowledge could hopefully come in handy when, not if, storms affect travel this year.
You didn’t purchase the right kind of insurance for your needs: A common mistake that those filing claims make is not taking the time to fully understand their travel insurance policy and the coverage that it provides, before making the purchase. For example, if a traveler is going heli-skiing and gets injured. If he or she did not purchase Adventure Travel coverage, the medical expenses likely won’t be covered. Many travelers submit claims for coverage that they do not even have because they assume that travel insurance will cover just about anything.
Take the time to read your policy, and if you haven’t purchased one yet, look at a few quotes online to get a general idea of how travel insurance works. If you need to submit a claim, a solid understanding of your policy will be the best tool at your disposal. Most policies will have glossaries of the terms, or you can review one online. Click here for the one on TravelInsurance.com.
You misunderstand what is needed when submitting: Some travelers may think they understand everything they need to submit when filing a claim, but they may miss important details. This can hold things up at best, or cause the claim to be denied altogether.
We recommend always calling the insurance company prior to submitting a claim. Read up on your plan so you have a basic understanding. From there, you can ask what documents are needed specifically, the correct steps to file a claim and the best route to send in the claim. The process is usually straightforward for filling out forms and submitting them with the right documentation, but the more complete everything is, the faster the claim will be filed and the payments made.
You failed to provide proof: Documentation is key when it comes to receiving a payout for covered situations. Even if travelers are fully entitled to the benefits of a travel insurance claim, they can wind up with a claim denial if they do not provide the documentation to back their claim up. An insurer will want proof of a trip delay, cancellation or event that causes a policyholder to file a claim, along with receipts that pertain to the purchases made.
Before anything goes wrong, it is always important to keep track of your purchases related to your trip — receipts and credit card statements showing that you actually paid for the flights, hotels and other trip-related costs that you are claiming against. When you submit your claim, make sure you have all the documentation you can think of. For instance, for ticket compensation, you will need to produce receipts for the tickets. For lost luggage, you will have to provide the list of items inside the luggage as well and so on. Without this information, the insurer has no way to verify that you actually paid for the trip costs. If you are filing a claim for a stolen personal effect during your travels, you should make sure to save the documentation provided by the local police (when you reported the theft) so the insurer can validate that the event actually happened. You might also want to take pictures of all of the items you are bringing on your trip just before you pack them.
You waited too long: Most insurance providers require consumers to file a claim within a specific period from the event of loss. Some insurance providers may offer a period of a few weeks while others may offer a period of one month to file a claim.
Travelers should review their policy or call the insurance company to know about the exact period. If a claim is filed after the due date, most insurance providers will reject the application without any consideration. Most modern travel insurance companies have websites that allow claims to be digitally submitted and processed. This is a great way to get the process rolling and helps save time to meet the deadlines.
You take no for a final answer: Travel insurance claims usually take a few weeks to process. However, complicated claims take longer. For some, if their claim is denied they may fume, but do little to change the outcome.
If your claim is denied, contact the company or agent that sold you the travel insurance plan right away. They will often help with filing an appeal. The good news is that about 50 percent of appeals are honored, so taking this extra step is not a wasted effort, especially if you feel strongly that your claim is valid. When a company will not honor an appeal, the next step is to contact the state insurance commissioner and the Better Business Bureau and see if they can assist.
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…
What 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…
People love to move house. Sometimes people move for a job or to live closer to family. Often it is because they have outgrown their current home, and sometimes people move just for that feeling of a fresh start. Just last week, one of my friends contacted the top real estate agent Winston Salem citizens can use and informed us that he was looking to move. It happens all of the time. However, usually people just move to a new city, or perhaps a new state. However, it appears more and more people are actually looking to move countries.
Last night, the immigration website for Canada crashed due to too much traffic. Apparently, that is the first country Americans think of moving to (almost every 4 years) especially during election time. Most of them do not end up making the jump across the border though.
This time it’s different. A lot of my friends started planning their move few months ago, getting disenchanted by everything happening in America – the quality of education & healthcare, lack of job growth, frequent shooting incidents, divided political system, etc. I am referring to people who are born and brought up in the U.S., not immigrants. Some are looking for a better place to live, some for adventure, and others just want to get away from the hatred they see around them. Some people prefer the look of more progressive countries such as Denmark, a nation that makes it easy for you to find an Escort side i Danmark med piger, as much of the Danish population would say.
So, has the thought of moving abroad crossed your mind? Do you know where you would like to go to?
Here are some criteria I would recommend considering when looking to move to a new country…
English Speaking – Language is no longer a barrier in today’s world, as many counties have English as their primary language, if not the language they do business in. These countries have 90% or more of the population English speaking – Ireland, Philippines, Caribbean (Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, Bermuda, Trinidad), New Zealand, UK, Australia, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, and Malta. Source: Wikipedia.
Economy – Where in the world are all the jobs? According to projected nominal GDP, the top economies in 2021 will be China, the U.S., India, Japan, Germany, Russia, Indonesia, Brazil, the U.K. and France.
Entrepreneurship – For millennials, this is an important factor as many choose to work for themselves in meaningful businesses. How entrepreneurial a country is based on how connected it is to the rest of the world, provides easy access to capital, skilled labor force, technological expertise, transparent business practices, well-developed infrastructure and well-developed legal framework. Germany, Japan, US, UK, Canada, Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, Singapore and Australia top the list.
Safety – Families with kids are looking to bring up their kids in a safe environment, with “gun free zones” and a relatively peaceful population. A country that is attracting more and more people to it is Montenegro; the country is said to be so safe that many expats are choosing to live there. Some other safe countries are Finland, Qatar, UAE, Iceland, Austria, Luxembourg, New Zealand and Singapore which are rated as the safest places to live in the world. Source: WEF
Education – Again, if you have kids, you want them to be able to receive a good quality education within the public school system. Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland spend the most money on education as a percentage of their gross domestic product, according to the World Bank.
Cost of Living – Clearly, you want to move to a place that is affordable. Perhaps you want to buy a home or maintain the same lifestyle. South and Central America have a good lifestyle/ cost balance and especially appeal to retiring Americans, while Scandinavia is the most expensive place to live. Note: cost of living is not the same as quality of life. Source: NUMBEO
Adventure – Research shows that a chance to break away from the normal rhythms of daily life reduces stress and improves health and well-being. Brazil, Italy, Spain, Thailand, New Zealand, Australia, Greece, Costa Rica, Portugal and Mexico top the list of countries that offer enough opportunities to explore. Source: U.S. News
Quality of Life – Each year, there are Best Places to Live rankings posted. Often times, you will find some of the same countries listed over and over again. Canada, Australia and 7 European countries including Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom and Luxembourg are rated in the top 10. Denmark is especially known for its high quality of life. Denmark’s ability to provide many great benefits ‘a kasse priser‘ is a huge reason why the quality of life is so great there. Source: U.S. News
Environment and pollution is a big factor for me. Here is a chart showing where you can still find clean air on planet Earth.
What is the single most important factor you would look for in your new home country? Leave a comment below...
Continued from Golf + Travel = Passion… Below 21-year old Alison Lee candidly shares how difficult it is to eat healthy and stay fit while on the road. She was ranked number 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking for 16 weeks in 2013–14. She is also named the “most beautiful women in golf” by Golf.com.
What do you enjoy most about travel?
At first it was hard to adjust to being away from home and friends, but it is fun to see new places and cities that I have never been to before. I love trying different types of food and doing activities off the golf course. For example, when we had our tournament in Vancouver, my Dad and I went to Stanley Park and rented a bicycle and circled all along the park by the water which was so beautiful. When my mom and I were in Hawaii last year, we went on hikes and went to a couple different beaches and tourist areas.
Do you get enough time to go out and explore the local culture?
It really depends on the week and where we are playing. Last year, I was able to explore cities and do fun and interesting things if I had missed the cut. Otherwise, I try and practice a little on Monday mornings and have the rest of the afternoon to explore. If I can’t really go sightseeing then the first priority is to try a good restaurant in the area. I either ask around to get local advice on popular spots or use Yelp.
What have been some of your most insightful moments of 2015?
I don’t think I had any one moment in particular that stood out to me, but overall it was the experience of being on Tour as a rookie in 2015. Everything was new and different and took time to adjust to. The golf, the players, being in the spotlight; it was very overwhelming and not as glam as a lot of people may think it is. It was very difficult and was a grind for sure, but it also made me appreciate the game of golf more.
When you are on Tour, how do you maintain a healthy lifestyle?
It was very hard for me to remain healthy. Since I was traveling and playing more golf than I ever had, it was difficult to keep track of what I was eating and make time to work out after long days on the course. It is definitely something I have to work on for 2016.
What do you like most about golf?
Definitely the competition. I can get very competitive and set high goals for myself, and that is why I love the game. You can never practice enough and you can never be too good. There is so much that can be done to get to the next level and there is always room for improvement.
Besides golf, what are your other passions?
I have a lot of other passions that make me happy. I love everything UCLA, food, cupcakes, shopping, and just having a good time with friends. I feel like it’s so important to have other hobbies and joys outside of golf to help relieve stress.
Do you play for any charities?
I do not play for any in particular. I do have a passion for helping out foster children and hope to do something on a larger scale for them sometime in the near future. My mother works for DCFS and tells me the stories of a lot of kids and what they are going through just in the Los Angeles system. It really breaks my heart to see that people can forget or overlook this group.
Continued from Ladies Who Golf….Ryann O’Toole (age 29) talks about what she loves most about traveling and how she keeps focused on good and bad days.
Which countries did you play in during the past year (2015)?
I played in the Bahamas, Canada, France, Malaysia, China and Japan.
What do you enjoy most about travel?
The best thing about traveling is experiencing the vast variety of culture in each country. Being submerged into that country’s culture for a week is so much fun. I love meeting new people, trying different foods and exploring the reasons for what makes that place so special. Every destination seems to have a reason why people have chosen to live there and I love getting to see exactly what that is!
Do you get enough time to go out and explore the local culture?
I would never say we get enough time, but not many sports get to stay in a place for a week. I’ll take the time I can get and make the most of it. Aside from the obvious tourist destinations, I think exploring the local food and restaurants is the best way to view a culture.
What have been some of your most insightful moments of 2015?
Some of my most insightful moments of 2015 include understanding the real value of one golf shot at a time, learning to be happy with slow and steady growth, and that with each day comes with new feels, thoughts, challenges and outcomes. It is vital for a player to stay in the moment and keep the mind present and focused on the shot at hand. I see this as the key to scoring low rounds, or keeping bad days of play under control. I finally became content with this process and watching myself slowly get better week by week. What helped was seeing the consistency increase each day. Low rounds were happening more often, and on not-so-good days I kept under control. My coach Jorge Parada really helped me understand this process.
A good example is a moment from the 2015 CME Group Tour Championship. On hole 9 in my second round, I was five under and playing solid and very steady. I carded a nine on a par 4, costing me to go from five under to even par. All the great work I had done, all the momentum I was building was gone in one hole! This truly tested my ability to stay focused on the shot at hand. When I made the turn and teed up on hole 10, I knew in order to keep my round going I had to focus back into the moment. I managed to stay focused and was able to shoot two under on the back nine. Although I was not happy with the overall score of the round, I was able to recover and keep myself in the race.
I also found in 2015 that each event your body feels different, not only each event, but each day. Not every day is going to be perfect and with that comes acceptance. The best players are the ones who can go out on the course and make the most of the playing ability they have that day. They find a way to get the job done, regardless of how they feel. This is the true test of any athlete who competes day in and day out and wants to win.
When you are on Tour, how do you maintain a healthy lifestyle?
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle really boils down to self-discipline and asking yourself how badly you want to become the best. On the road it is easy to look at a menu and pick the less healthy choice, or say yes to dessert. I work hard in the gym and enjoy the feeling of being healthy, so for me it isn’t hard to stay healthy on the road. The LPGA makes sure to provide us with healthy breakfast and lunch options each week as well. The LPGA is also great with providing a gym trailer that follows us around from week to week. It just takes time to create a routine and keep up healthy habits when you travel on the road.
What do you like most about golf?
I love golf for everything it gives me. The Competition, camaraderie, ability to travel and see the world and meeting people everywhere we go is an amazing experience. It is a lifelong sport that I can play until the day I stop walking. There is nothing about golf that I don’t like.
Besides golf, what are your other passions?
When I am not golfing, you can find me at the beach. I love to surf so when I take vacations, it is to places I can surf. Golfing is my passion, but surfing is my hobby. It is the one place where I can mentally check out and allow myself to get fully consumed with that current moment. Alone in the water, it is a place where I have absolutely no control and that feeling is euphoric.
Do you play for any charities? If so which ones, and why?
Yes, I play for PHIT America. It is an organization that’s setup to bring awareness to the obesity problem we have in the United States. The goal is to main provide knowledge and information for the public to learn what is good and bad for their bodies.