The Three Perfect Travel Films to End the Summer

It’s officially September, which means summer is nearly over. But, while the weather is still hot — take advantage of those last lazy days when you need to stay inside in order to beat the heat. Here are three summer movies to help you escape the hot weather to adventures in far off lands.

L’Auberge Espagnole

L’Auberge Espagnole or The Spanish Apartment is a film anyone who studied abroad can relate to. The film follows Xavier (Romain Duris), a French economics student who goes to study in Barcelona for a year with the hopes of impressing a financial firm he wishes to work for upon graduation. Leaving behind his quirky girlfriend (played by Audrey Tautou), Xavier finds himself living in a flat with seven other people from countries all over Europe. Despite their different languages and backgrounds, the housemates bond over their misadventures and excitement of life in Barcelona. These events include watching Xavier learn to “speak like a true Spaniard,” embark on an affair with a married woman and ultimately discover his passion for writing. The film is full of nostalgia and the impressive sights of Barcelona.  In true international fashion, L’Auberge Espagnole incorporates French, Spanish, Catalan and English throughout the dialogue of the film. This film is also currently available on Netflix so take advantage while you can!

Copenhagen

The Danish capital makes an impressive backdrop for this coming of age story and plays as major of a role in the film as any of its characters. William (Gethin Anthony), a jaded 28-year-old New Yorker is drinking and sleeping his way through Europe until he makes his way to Copenhagen. As an immature and mean-spirited man, William proves at first to be an unsympathetic character, who goes to Copenhagen to deliver a letter from his deceased father to the grandfather that abandoned the family decades before. To guide him in his search for his grandfather, William enlists the help of Effy a local who works at the hotel he is staying. As the story unravels Effy and William begin to fall for each other with Effy seeming to have a stabilizing influence on William. But, the audience soon learns that the relationship would be impossible. Copenhagen is a modern story that shows us in a new way when it is time to grow up. The film is different than anything else I have seen before and one of the best movies I have seen in a long time.

Stealing Beauty

                       Please excuse the cheesy twenty-year-old movie trailer!

When I was 19 years-old there were two movies that made me want to see Italy more than anything — Under the Tuscan Sun and Stealing Beauty. Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci and starring Liv Tyler, Stealing Beauty is set in a villa in the hills of Siena.The movie follows Lucy Harmon who goes to Italy to have her portrait done by an old family friend, following the suicide of her mother.  Lucy’s arrival sparks intrigue among the villa’s ex-pat residents whom were all old friends of her mother and who live in this secluded part of the Tuscan countryside. In a case of art imitating life, Lucy also seeks to learn who her biological father is after finding a poem her mother had written about Lucy’s conception after visiting the same villa twenty years earlier.  The movies colorful character as well as the breathtaking Italian countryside create an incredible setting as Lucy seeks to discover the truth about her parentage and her own ideas of love.

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A guide to self defense for travelers

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Traveling is a thrilling experience. It takes you to new places, allows you to meet new people and in some instances gives you a sense of adventure. But, sadly when traveling tourists can be easy targets for small crimes such as pick-pocketing/muggings and sometimes crimes even more grisly. That is why everyone (especially travelers) should know how to defend themselves. Self-defense skills are not limited to physical contact. In fact, much of self-defense is how to AVOID getting into a situation where there is physical confrontation and how to deter would-be predators. Below, are a few lessons that have served me well in my own travels.

Walk with purpose

Have you ever been walking along and someone comes up to you asking for money? Perhaps canvassers trying to get you to sign a petition? Or in some cases maybe you got the impression someone wanted to lift your pocket? Either way — all of these people were trying to engage you in some way or another to achieve their ends. However, when you walk with purpose and at a faster pace (as if you are determined not to be late somewhere) — it becomes much more difficult for you to be approached by someone on the street. People with more nefarious intentions are going to be on the look out for someone who seems a little lost, distracted or not getting anywhere fast. Walking with purpose will make you appear focused and act as a deterrent to anyone wishing to approach you.

Look alert

When you’re by yourself and it’s after dark, constantly be scanning the area. This should entail doing a 180 degree scan of the area in front of you so that you’re swiveling your head slowly from right to left. Keep looking ahead and at your peripherals as you walk somewhere.  Obviously, you are trying to be alert and keep away from anyone or any place that might look suspicious. But, the fact that you appear alert is going to make you immediately less attractive to someone hoping take advantage. Do NOT be listening to music, trying to read a map or talking on your phone. People often think there is security when speaking to someone on the phone, but it actually serves as a distraction and might not deter a would-be attacker.

Don’t be afraid to be rude

Someone comes up and asks you for directions on the street, you perhaps provide them with instructions on how to reach their destination or explain that you’re not from around there and sadly can’t help them. Then, they start asking you other questions like where you’re from, who are you with and where you’re headed. Suddenly, you start to feel a little uncomfortable but you keep finding yourself answering these questions because you feel trapped by being polite.

This happens more often than you think. People who are looking to take advantage of you might start with a seemingly innocent question about how to get some place and then start to ask a lot of other unnecessary questions or seem intent to keep you talking. My rule of thumb is that I’ll answer the first question and then if things seem a bit odd, promptly excuse myself. If they keep talking, just walk away from them fast. Obviously, there are times when people are trying to be friendly but that’s a judgement call you have to make in that instance. At the end of the day, if things feel out of sorts it’s better to be rude and safe.

Shout “fire!” instead of “help!”

Believe it or not, shouting “help” will not necessarily get people running to your aid. My taekwondo instructor explained this in a self-defense seminar. It’s been shown that if bystanders hear someone shouting help, they might hesitate to get involved for their own safety. But, if you shout “fire!” people will tend to come running because as far as they know it’s their house on fire. Bottom line, if you’re trying to get people out onto the street where you and a would be attacker are alone —learn how to say fire in the local language and shout it at the top of your lungs.

Follow your instincts

I can’t stress this enough. If something doesn’t feel right then don’t ignore it — act on it and get to a place you feel safe.

If you are forced to physically engage with someone as a matter of self defense, I recommend to always keep your keys in your hand — they can be used as a weapon especially in terms of gauging at someone’s eyes. Additionally, the throat, solar plexus and groin (both men and women) are always targets you should aim for as they can be debilitating. However, I highly recommend you go to a self-defense seminar or practical martial arts class where you can learn how to defend yourself correctly. If you have been to a seminar once, then go again. The more you practice these skills, the more likely you will be able to use them should you ever be in need. As always, safe travels!

Traveler’s Takeaways: Madrid

Once you have visited several cities in Western Europe — you start to notice a certain “Europeaness” about the places you go. Despite that the city will have it’s own language and it’s own culture, there is a distinct unifying quality that makes it similar to other European cities. Madrid is no exception to this rule. However, unlike most major European cities — there aren’t many main landmarks here which attract visitors. The architecture of the city is beautiful and there are some fantastic sights such as the Palacio Royal (Royal Palace). But, what seems to be the big draw for travelers is the attitude of the city which is distinctly and completely Spanish.

The rhythm of Madrid is much slower and more relaxed than anywhere else I have ever been. People wake up at 10 or 11 in the morning and have a cafe con leche and churros with a cup of bitter-sweet chocolate for breakfast. Lunch is about 2 p.m. and is no mere meal. It is a long feast which might be enjoyed over two hours with tapas and Tinto de Verano (red wine and Sprite) . Even business professionals are given two hours for lunch every day. Then dinner is at 10:30 and can go until midnight. There are plazas all over Madrid where bars have outdoor seating and customers can sit, enjoy their food and drink until 2 a.m. Even people who aren’t sitting at the tables and chairs provided by the bars may still enjoy the plaza by buying cerveza from vendors in the square and sit on the ground in small groups to chat and relax once the sun has begun to set.

The locals, the tourists and the ex-pats all co-exist relatively well in this diverse place. Everyone seems to have a dog and it’s not uncommon to see unleashed canines following behind their masters or playing with other canines on small brick roads. Flamboyant gay men walk about — dressed to the nines. Middle-aged prostitutes stand on street corners smoking cigarettes looking tired and weather worn. Overall, it’s a unique yet unremarkable city. It’s not a place I have found myself falling in love with (unlike Edinburgh or Nice). I don’t feel the need to go unearth any secret amazing bars or monuments. Yet, I appreciate why this place would be an ideal city to live in for a few years. The idea of living in one of the beautiful old style apartments with their balconies and French windows in a city that doesn’t wind down until 4 a.m. is a pretty enticing thought. Madrid provides a vivid and laid back charm that is impossible not to appreciate.

Life is What Happens When You’re In Transit — In flight between Dublin and Nice

When I travel there is never a shortage of things to see and discover. But, over the years I have noticed that a lot of the stories I bring back from my travels actually happen when i’m in between
destinations. Whether it’s in an airport, on a train or waiting for a taxi. Here is but one of those tales…

We have all heard the phrase “It’s a small world.” But, when you start actually seeing more of the world — and realizing you will never be able to truly see it all, you really don’t believe it to be so small. Until…you start to meet other people along the way. My Mom famously recounts how her and my Dad ran into an old high school classmate of his after not seeing him for twenty years — in a bar in Hong Kong. I have gone off to graduate school and met people from Seattle who shared a mutual friend. Or, in Prague I befriended a fellow traveler who grew up down the road from where I worked in Washington state. But, nothing quite tops the true exemplification of “small world” like the fateful 4 a.m. flight I took in December 2007 from Dublin to Nice after a weekend of touring Dublin pubs and very little sleep…

I had been in Ireland for two days with some friends after finishing finals during my semester abroad. I was going back to the U.S. in two weeks and this was my last hurrah. At the end of our two days in Ireland our group was splitting up with two going to Amsterdam and three of us to Nice. I was part of the trio and our flight was at 4 a.m. In a very irresponsible decision, rather than get some rest — we all decided to stay up throughout the night and make one last lap of the Irish pubs in the Temple District of Dublin. So, by the time we arrived at the airport we were all thoroughly dazed with exhaustion and copious amounts of Guinness and Irish whiskey. The idea of sleeping for the three hour flight to the south of France was a met with huge anticipation.

We made it to our gate with little trouble and out of the corner of my eye I saw a tall boy ahead of us with close cropped reddish blonde hair and a thick black sweater talking to two girls. I blinked and looked again. The boy was so familiar. He looked just like an old friend from high school whom I hadn’t seen in four years. My two traveling companions asked me if something was wrong. I told them about the shock of familiarity and that there was a slight possibility it could be the same friend. We hadn’t spoken in quite some time but we were Facebook friends and I had noted that he was doing a study abroad program in France at the same time I was in the U.K. But, it was still so unlikely.

My friends’ response to this was to start saying the guys name aloud (in true mature fashion) to see if he turned around in response. Nothing. This was obviously not the same person — just someone who looked a lot like him.

We finally boarded the flight and as we entered the plane, we were asked for our boarding pass stubs (RyanAirs odd policy). I suddenly realized I couldn’t remember which pocket of the many pockets I had put my stub. My two friends went ahead to find their seats while I apologized to the flight attendant and scrambled around in my bag for a few minutes until I located the scrap of paper. The plane was mostly empty and the few people in it had apparently noticed my fumbling around at the entrance. As I gave my stub to the flight attendant and made my way to the back of the plane I heard a surprised, “KEELI?!”

There — now in full view of me was the same guy I had glimpsed earlier now staring at me in surprise. I had been right. It had been the same friend I hadn’t seen since I was 16 from a small town in Washington state. Now, here we both were 20-years-old and meeting on an empty RyanAir flight from Dublin to the south of France at 4 a.m.

Coincidentally, he had seen me earlier as well and wasn’t sure if it was me. Only when I was fumbling around for my boarding pass (at a total loss) was he certain that it could only be me.

I would not get the much needed sleep that I was hoping for. My friend as it turned out had no time to spare when he got back to France as he had finals. We spent the whole three hours of the flight catching up (while my travel companions luckily got sleep). Hours later after bidding farewell to my friend at the airport and continuing onto Nice; I would literally begin to fall asleep mid-stride as I was walking the streets near the Mediterranean. It is still the most exhausted I have ever been to date.

In life and especially in travel — there are so many moments we get to experience. These gems that you never would have found had you stayed in one place. One such moment is that very isolated time of being on a plane in-transit on the other side of the world and talking to someone you hadn’t seen in years. That moment gave me a real sense of how small the world really is.

Photo Credit: By Jacob Axford (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

How I Learned to Travel

 

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Traveling is a whole brand of education unto itself and it’s one that never ceases. What we learn from our experiences becomes a type of blue-print we follow for future travels.With my upcoming trip to Lithuania and Hungary in the fall, I thought I would share some of the travel lessons I’ve learned over the years.

1.) You don’t have to learn a whole new language

It’s impractical to try and learn an entire language before you go on a trip. If in a pinch, the best thing to do is learn the basic phrases of the native language in whatever country you’re traveling to such as; hello, thank you, please, and good-bye. However, I always make a point to know how to order beer and coffee in the local language. This is helpful as bars and cafes can be loud and busy, so this saves everyone a lot of translation trouble.

Lastly, always be able to ask someone if they speak English. More on that in the next rule.

2.) The first words you speak to a local should be in their native language

Never assume that someone speaks English if you’re in a non-English speaking country. While it’s true that many people all over the world (especially in Europe) do speak English,  it’s impolite to jump to that conclusion. Imagine if someone in your home country walked up to you and started speaking a foreign language. It’s off putting and out of place. Show a little effort and greet them in the native tongue then ask (again in their native language) if they speak English.

3.) Make friends with the bar tender 

Bar tenders are always a guaranteed source of knowledge. If you’re interested in finding out where the best local hangouts are or what tourist traps to avoid, a bar tender can usually clue you in. Additionally, if you treat your bar tender well, they to treat you well. When I was in Dublin with some friends we went to a Temple District bar where we chatted with the bar tenders the whole time. They let us stay past last call and we didn’t get charged for probably half of what we drank.

4.) Go off the beaten path

When I visit a country, I like to feel like I’m actually in another country and not on a perpetual tour with other visitors. Whenever I travel, I usually get up early one morning (around 7 or so), get a cup of coffee, grab a map and walk all around the city/town i’m staying in. It’s a neat way to see the city wake up and the best time to go into a cafe or shop because it’s early and everyone is a lot more relaxed.

5.) Don’t mistake directness for rudeness

The Americans and Brits really love to make niceties in every conversation with lots of how are you’s, pleases and thank you’s. It’s part of our culture and how we speak, but just because another culture does not make all these niceties doesn’t mean their being rude. Some cultures and people — as I like to describe it —  don’t waste a lot of words. So if you sit down in a restaurant to order lunch and the waitress simply asks you what you would like without warmly saying hello and asking how you are — don’t take it personally.

6.) Don’t wear a backpack 

It’s fine to wear a backpack when you’re actually en route from the airport to your hotel/hostel. But, if you’re just out and around the town — leave the backpack! Backpacks are easy for someone to pick pocket you, especially in crowded areas and when you’re waiting in line somewhere. Additionally, backpacks are harder to control when walking through an indoor shop. On a trip to London years ago, my friend was wearing a big backpack and we walked into a crowded pub. Unfortunately, when she turned her backpack knocked a guys beer clean out of his hand. My recommendation, if you  need a bag then get a small-medium sized messenger bag that closes securely.

Got any worthwhile travel tips? Let me know!

I am embarking on the one-bag travel challenge!

After watching this video, it reminded me of the time I spent two weeks trekking around Europe in 2007 with literally nothing but a backpack. It was a pretty liberating experience being sans suitcase. In addition to being less hassle — only having one bag makes you less of a target for pick-pockets looking to take advantage of a tourist who is bogged down with luggage. Then of course if you have last minute flight or travel changes, you don’t have to worry about your checked bag ending up in another location.

Overall, I think Man Repeller gets it right; extra stuff clutters your trip and at the end of the day no one cares what your wearing except you. As I embark on my upcoming fall trip to Eastern Europe, I plan to pack only ONE carry-on bag for the entire trip. Keep an eye out for upcoming posts on the experience!

Six rules to consider when traveling with others

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There are certain stepping stones we come across as we transition from adolescence to adulthood. One in particular is the first time we set out and travel somewhere without our family. This is the point where we make our own journey (literally) and choose not just our road stops along the way but also who we travel with. I have been making these trips for the last seven years and over that time I have learned some rules to go by. These are based on my own experiences and the experiences of others.

1.) Five is the magic number

For those who are beginning to plan their first big trips with a group of friends — the more is not necessarily the merrier. The bigger the group of people you travel with, the more hectic it is to keep up with everyone. It is difficult to get places in a large group — you take up more space and you’re constantly looking around to make sure you don’t lose anyone.This can take away from the actual vacation and make the experience more exhausting.

2.) Voice your trip expectations

It is key to discuss what you want on this trip before you embark on your destination. People want different things when they go on holiday. Some want to sightsee, others want to relax, some want to be a tourist and others want to go as far off the beaten path as possible. Everyone can get what they desire out of the trip, just make sure you plan it out so that there is time for everyone to do what they want.

3.) There is a difference between someone who’s laid back and someone who is just along for the ride

Sometimes it’s not fun to have people who are too indecisive to make decisions or who are inactive in any decision making whatsoever. This can put pressure on one person to make all the decisions on the journey and that isn’t an ideal situation. Make sure you travel with people who are relatively decisive and maybe have some specific things they want to do or see (see above rule).

4.) Don’t bring someone who is just ticking a location off a map

What this means is that there are individuals who travel for status reasons — they feel they just need to go somewhere to say they went. That’s it. The entire point of traveling (at least in this bloggers opinion) is to experience a new place and a new culture. Therefore, bring someone who has a genuine desire to enjoy the place they’re traveling to.

5.) Bring someone on the trip who does well in a pinch

Sometimes when you’re traveling things happen…crazy and unexpected things. This can make what started out as a vacation into an adventure that would put the National Lampoon’s Vacation series to shame. Trust me…I have lived through some of these experiences. So you want to have someone on the trip (at least one person) who you know is good under pressure and who will not fall to pieces if things go wrong. This can be anything from missing a flight and having to figure out another connection to having your passport stolen.

6.) Don’t travel with anyone you don’t trust

This doesn’t just mean someone that you trust around you. It means don’t travel with someone who would pull a stupid stunt like trying to get through airport security with a stash of weed in their luggage. Don’t travel with someone who could potentially land themselves in jail for disobeying local laws or by just pissing off the wrong people. Only travel with those who aren’t going to hinder the trip for the rest of the group with some selfish antics.

Photo credit: Red Head Travelers http://redheadedtravels.com/wp-content/gallery/sideblogging/luggage.jpg