My daughter Dawn and I knew Cuba would play with our expectations as soon as we landed. The female personnel at the Havana airport were dressed in conventional style uniforms but where their skirt hems ended they had on fishnet or other patterned stockings. Continue reading “The best time to visit Cuba is NOW”
Whether you are going to New York City or Nairobi, it is important to be a responsible traveler. Often times, tourists fall into traps due to their own lack of awareness and failure of judgment. True there are many incidents you cannot avoid, but for the most part, a good traveler can take certain measure to ensure his/her own safety.
Traveling abroad to a foreign country where you don’t know the language or the culture can be quite daunting. You are probably going to ask your friends or read a few travel books before you hop on the plane. But no matter where you go, here are five tips I recommend you follow and keep for life. Continue reading “Five Tips for having a positive travel experience”
My dear friend Gina wrote on her blog today to just get out there and do it because “none of us is guaranteed a next time.” That made me think about my own philosophy of life.
I hardly ever talk about religion publicly, but here’s my story. My great-grand mother was a Hindu, she converted to Christianity to save herself from being sacrificed on her husband’s funeral pyre (a tradition known as sati at the time). My grandfather was Muslim. He use to attend Church with his best friend and fell in love with my grandmother there. My father, a Hindu (again, a love marriage) who later took on a Sikh second wife. So, I had practically all religions represented in my family which gave me the opportunity to learn about all of them from a very young age.
After learning about many religions and philosophies, I decided that my personal philosophies as an individual reflect those of a Buddhist. I believe in the act of karma – that you reap what you sow. All of our thoughts, words and actions become energies that reflect out into the universe and bring us back something – good or bad. We may see the results right away or next year or even in another life. But every action has a reaction, this I believe.
Subconsciously I have been living with these believes all my life. I never been afraid to take a risk, to lend a hand or to jump into sometime new. If an opportunity presents itself before me, I embrace it like a special gift. That probably explains why I have dabbled into multiple careers and enjoyed every one of them. I tell my friends constantly “Say what you mean. If you say you want to do it, just do it.”
There are two things I want you to take away from this. One, before you react to another person or a situation, take a moment to reflect how this will impact your own karma. Would you chose to go out and work in the soup kitchen on a Sunday afternoon or stay home and watch a game on TV? If a friend calls you to talk and vent, would you make an excuse that you are busy or pick up the phone? When your co-worker yells at you, would you shout back or give her a hug?
Two, if there is anything you are waiting to do in your life, do it right now. Although many philosophies believe in after-life, they also state the important of improving each life, overcoming pain bodies and trying to attempt nirvana (or enlightenment). That’s a state of eternal peace all humans are striving to attain, whether consciously or subconsciously. So, if you want to start a business, do it! If you dream to see the world, do it! If you want to volunteer in Africa, do it! There is never going to be a “right time” so do it now.
It’s summer time already. The temperature is rising, the economy is still tight and the kids are out of school. It’s time to go to the pool, watch movies and have sleep-overs. But after a few days, you will get tired of all that. If you are scratching your heads on how to keep yourself and your kids entertained this summer without breaking your budget, I have a few ideas for you that involve food, travel and volunteerism.
Plan a road trip to a nearby destination. Although, don’t worry if the drive is a bit further as you can keep your children entertained with Kid Learning Songs on YouTube. They won’t mind a longer drive if they’ve got something fun to watch! Pack everyone into your car and head to a lake or beach. Rent a summer home for the week where you can cook your own food and play games. Even if you don’t have anything planned, here are some ideas for last minute trips.
Travel exchange programs are also a great way to stay for free in another city, or even country. Families can exchange homes, stay on farms, or be guests at no charge.
If you have decided to stay put this summer, you are in for a staycation. Which means you can be a tourist in your city and plan to do activities that you would otherwise do while travelling. Lodging and travel costs excluded of course. If your children love to stay active, have new experiences and make new friends, perhaps a sleepaway camp in Maine would be a great way for them to see somewhere new and enjoy the outdoors.
Take a break from the regular summer camps and enrolls in a cooking camp. Learn to be a Food Network star or improve your awareness of food and nutrition. Kids and teens would also learn to work in teams and cooperate with one another.
Cooking with family at home can also be a lot of fun. Get the kids together for a fun day of making pasta, gelato, sushi or chocolate from scratch. It can be a rewarding learning experience that will bring the family together.
There is no shortage of volunteering opportunities in every city. Enroll in a project or associate yourself with a cause. Make it a daily/ weekly schedule to visit an old home, children’s hospital or women’s shelter. Some of these can be quite entertaining as well, such as leading arts and crafts, sporting activities for other kids. Many charities are looking for interns during the summer who can help them with day-to-day administrative things, organizing events, etc.
By the end of summer, you would have used your time effectively to impact the lives of people and feel good about yourself.
If you have any ideas of your own to share, please leave a comment below.
Over the past few weeks, a lot of people have asked me “What is the idea behind Go Eat Give?” “Is it just a web site or more?” “What do you hope to achieve through it?” and “How can people get involved?”
I started the Go Eat Give web site as an outlet to my stories. I have been writing about food and travel for different magazines, but this gives me a constant medium to express my passions. The “Go” stands for travels, “Eat” for food and “Give” for community service.
As I talked more about the site and what I was doing, it became the start of a movement. The Go Eat Give movement is about exploring the world through food and community service. I am encouraging people to travel (just as they would do for a vacation) but to a different part of the world, experience the local culture (not as a tourist) by working alongside the locals in the community. This can be done by doing volunteer work for as little as two hours a day. And lastly, explore the cultures the rest of the year while at home, through food. “Why food?” you may ask. Because food is one thing that brings us together. When people come together for a brief meeting or a special occasion, we always gather around food. We are social animals that want to be in a community and take pleasure in what we eat. Think about how exposure to international cuisines had broadened our horizons about different cultures.
Everyone talks about how the world is becoming a smaller place. We are more connected than ever because of the internet, media, transportation, etc. There is also much discussion about the human race entering a new era of enlightenment. It is expected that if we abandon our recent habits of competition and consumption, and tap into our inner spirits, the world will become a better place. In order to get there, either we hope lightning strikes on 12.21.2012 that raises collective consciousness or we make an effort to love and understand our brothers and sisters around the world.
This is where the Go Eat Give movement comes into play. It is here to enhance the evolution process, create mutual understand and raise awareness of who we are. I am not asking you to abandon your lifestyle, move abroad or make a huge commitment. All I am pronouncing is that stop being a tourist in your own world and start paying attention to your global community. Go Eat Give is about connecting people, places and palates!
I have heard numerous stories over the years about how people have returned from a vacation with sour stories of stolen passport, money or expensive items. And then there are others that fall victims to con artists and willingly fall into the trap of giving it away free willing. In fact, some people have a business of scamming tourists and are pretty good at what they do. If you have watched the movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, you know what I am talking about.
If you want to avoid a travel scam, the first rule is to be smart and alert at all times. You are relaxed, on vacation, want to make friends, talk to strangers, so it’s easy to let your guard down. But this is when you can get into trouble! Never leave your luggage unattended, even in a taxi or a bus. If I have to go to the facilities, I look for a family or a large group that I have observed for a while, then politely ask them to watch my bag. Don’t ever hand over your passport or important documents to anyone. If they need to make a photocopy (for whatever reason) demand that you go with them.
When I went to Morocco, I was forewarned by numerous people about the famous con artists I would encounter there. I would say I managed to stay away from all but one. While on the train from Rabat to Fes, one of my girlfriends was approached by a young man who pretended to be affiliated with a tour guide company. He offered us a train station pick up, a tour of the city and return transportation, all arranged before we reached our destination. After much discussion and contemplation, we decided to not take a chance of being stranded in the Sahara! Follow your instincts at all times.
Other signs of a scam in progress are when someone approached you from nowhere, is making an extra effort to convince you, or is offering a really good deal that is hard to refuse. Scam artists will never give you (even if they promise they would) receipts, addresses or brochures that have a price on them. It would always be a verbal contract, tailor-made especially for you. When in doubt, don’t do it.
Another time, while walking down the shopping area in Hong Kong, a shopkeeper saw me admiring the high-end watched in the showcase. He asked me to come inside so he could show me his sale items. Next thing I realized, I was walking through alleys and stairs, walking into a tiny office in one of the buildings. As soon as we reached this place, I walked out without taking a look at the items. If your gut tells you something, listen to it.
Scams during shopping are the most common. You may enter a store and pay the full asking price for an item, only to realize that the person before you paid a fraction of that. Do your research by asking locals, checking in different shops and parts of town and bargaining when the culture demands. Having some knowledge of the local language and not coming across as a complete tourist also helps.
As mentioned in my earlier post about the Global Health & Humanitarin Summit, I presented a session on “Volunteering Abroad – from a writer’s perspective” at the summit. My 20 minutes session focused on trends in volunteer vacationing, my personal experiences from my volunteer trips to Morocco and Russia and a perspective on some things I learned.
Watch the video What I’ve learned from volunteering abroad
I also tried to include some resources and Q&A that people can take back.
The presentation was very well accepted and the audience was very engaged with my stories and pictures. They asked questions and wanted to know how to sign up for their next trip. I had several people come up to me after the event and tell me that I inpsired them to volunteer abroad.
“Thanks you for your EXCELLENT presentation. It was inspirational and filled with practical tips as well. Hope to see you next year or on one of our vacations!” – Susanne
“Thanks for your presentation, Sucheta. Your talk was very inspiring.” – Tom
“The Summit was amazing – and so glad that you were a part of it. Your presentation was very insightful, thought-provoking and left me inspired to check out this opportunity for myself. LOVE the Go Eat Give Movement!!” – Mitzi