Notes from the Road: NYC

One would think that if we left for Lima, Peru on Saturday at 8 a.m. we would be there by now. I should be on my third cup of coca tea by now and surrounded by my own herd of tiny llamas.

But I am not tucked in among loving alpacas. I am tucked amongst investment bankers and trophy wives at a swanky, swishy hotel in New Jersey. We landed in New Jersey after the first leg of our trip from Minneapolis, only to find our flight overbooked by six people. Which seeeeeems like it would be awful, but when you’ve got three months of wandering ahead of you, what’s one less day? Especially, when they give you each a $500 voucher for future airfare, a first class upgrade for our flight tomorrow, a room at a fancy place and heaps of food vouchers so I can indulge my cheese addiction in a new state? YES PLEASE!

After retiring to our giant room to inspect the complimentary toiletries and jump on the bed, we headed into Manhattan for an impromptu meet up with my favorite New Yorker and college roomie. We drove through Times Square, ate some yummo Mexican food, drank a bit too much bubbly red wine (who knew such a thing existed?) and cuddled Lulu the French Bulldog. We caught the train back to New Joisey at 1 am and have now slept in and lolled in bed watching cable on the giant TV.

Soon we’ll head back to the airport in the same clothes we wore yesterday. And we’ll be those people who get to load first when they say “We are now boarding all rich and fancy people.”

And it will be a lot of rich and fancy people and then us. The Mister in his zip-off hiking pants and me wearing skinny jeans and Eu du Bulldog.

Okay, see you in Peru! This time for real!

4 Fun, Themed Food Parties

Looking for a new theme for your next dinner party? Here are 4 to start!

 

We’ve established that we love theme parties, yes? But what is even better, I think, are parties in the theme of food!

1. Fondue Party

Our parents were on to something with these parties. A group of friends, cuddled around the table dipping delicious nibblets into delicious sauces? Yes please! Even better, you can surely find an entire shelf devoted to fondue pots at your local Salvation Army. There are heaps of different yummy fondues you can make – blackberry! butterscotch! chocolate! cheese, cheese, cheese! What you choose to dip is up to you, but traditional choices include angel food cake cubes, fruit, bread and roasted vegetables. Bee Gees soundtrack is optional.

2. Cheese tasting Party

I actually threw one of these in November and, lordy, but it was fun. And delicious. Here’s the deal: buy six or seven cheeses, the more obscure the better. Look up descriptions of the cheese online and make a worksheet of sorts listing all the descriptions. (If you’re sneaky like me, you’ll also include several bogus descriptions of similar cheeses to throw your guests off the scent.) Unwrap the cheeses (so there are no identifying labels) and serve each cheese with some sort of yummy pairing. You know, blue cheese with pears, Gouda with almonds, etc. Then your friends taste the cheese and try to match it to the appropriate description. Whoever matches the most cheeses/descriptions wins! Perhaps you could give them a can of squeeze cheese as a prize.

3. Miracle Berry Party

Have you guys heard of this amazing little fruit? It’s a tiny red berry from Africa that contains a specific and rare molecule that makes sour food taste sweet. What?! You can get the effect from eating just one berry and holding the pulp on your tongue for about a minute. Then you have the next hour or so to tuck into lemon wedges, pickles, vinegar, radishes, brussel sprouts – the more bitter and sour, the better. The berries are available online, though they are a bit spendy. Willy Wonka, eat your heart out!

4. 32 Flavors Party

Are you in love with Cold Stone Creamery? The ice cream shop that custom mixes the ice cream flavour of your choice, before your very eyes? Well, friends, there’s no reason you can’t do this at home – alls you is a chilled marble cutting board, several gallons of vanilla ice cream, some formidable forearms and 32 different kinds of mix-ins. Of course you can go the traditional route of Oreo chunks or strawberries or chocolate chips. But how about cinnamon? or pineapple/basil? or earl grey? or ginger? You’ve got 32 opportunities to go crazy! Have your friends bring mix-ins of their own choosing and vote on the best and weirdest flavours.

What’s the best food theme party you’ve been to?

photo (without text on top) can be found here

For the Love of Books!

My addictions are many, friends. Cheese, travel, furry animals. And books. I love them so hard! I have been known to read Dickens on the beach, to periodically gasp audibly while reading, to judge harshly anyone who doesn’t pick up on a Pride and Prejudice reference.

I am also a social networking nerd. So you can imagine my joy when I heard about Goodreads. It’s like facebook for bibliophiles! You can showcase all of the books you’ve read, rate them and even write reviews. You can befriend people you know in real life or people who seem to have the same taste as you. Then you can peruse their virtual bookshelves so you know what to queue up on that long inter-library loan list. So fun!

Are you keen to join in the book nerdery? It’s easy to sign up and we can be friends! Just search ‘Sarah von Bargen’ and I should pop up. FYI: my favorite books involve cinnamon peelers, heart broken families and a boy named Fish.

What about you?

How To Have A (Nearly) Stress-free Trip

tips for stress-free travel

 

Something that a lot of people don’t talk about is the fact that travel can be stressful.
Wicked stressful. Navigating an unknown city, often in a different language and culture, while carrying a 25 pound bag on your back? And all while trying to have The Best Time Possible? Because this is what you’ve been planning and saving for over the past six months and you are going to have a great time if it kills you.
Annnnd cue the meltdown in line to the Louvre.
Because most of us have a very limited number of vacation days, we put pressure on ourselves to squeeze joy out of every minute that we’re in another country. When I did my round the world ticket, I remember being haunted by the feeling that I ‘wasn’t doing it right’ because I was having an awesome time, yes, but I also got lost a lot, got hit by a scooter, overslept on the train and missed my stop, had a former mental patient for a roommate and got a rash from the overnight bus in Vietnam. Seriously.

How to Make Travel Stress-Free

So please allow me to share some of the tricks I’ve learned to help one chill the eff out and enjoy the ride. Reducing travel stress is an art more of a science and takes changing your perspective while you’re traveling! Yes, you can travel with less stress!

Realize that everything is going to take longer and cost more than you thought

One of the biggest stresses when traveling is money. When reading about the prices of food and lodging in a country, it’s easy to add those two numbers together and assume that’s how much money you’ll spend in a given day. But then you get lost have to take a taxi back to your friend’s house. And you lose your return bus ticket. And the only restaurant that’s open has $17 entrees. It’s also possible (especially if you’re traveling outside of the western world) that your bus will break down, your captain will run on island time, or the roads have washed out now that it’s rainy season.
Of course these things are all hugely frustrating, but often unavoidable. You’ll be a lot happier and more relaxed during your travels if you leave some wiggle room in your schedule and budget.

Everything is just a matter of time and money

Oooh, that sounds rather ominous doesn’t it? I mean, isn’t everything in life just a matter of time and money? But especially when traveling, I think it’s worth remembering this. Putting your travel stress into perspective helps a whole lot. Snags in your plan are not a matter of life and death, nor do they have to ruin your trip. Your flight is delayed and you’re going to get in to Edinburgh two hours late? Just buy the phone card, call your friend and tell her you’ll get in at 11 pm, and take a taxi to her house. Whenever I encountered these problems I would repeat this mantra in my head “Everything is just a matter or time and money. I have all the time in the world and a credit card with a high limit.”

That $3 means a lot more to them than it does to you

You don’t need to create stress by bartering to get the absolute best deal when you don’t need it. Bartering is par for the course in many cultures and it’s something that turns many of us westerners inside out with embarrassment. Negotiation + confrontation = nightmare scenario for most women I know, myself included. I have two settings: “Please, overcharge me! I implore you!” or “You want $99? How about $3? No? You are dead to me.”
Of course, as foreigners we are surely being offered extremely inflated prices and shouldn’t accept the first number offered. However, I have seen westerners joyfully embrace the bartering system and spend 20 minutes haggling over a difference of 20 American cents. It’s worth remembering that the four dollars that you’re saving means a lot more to these vendors than it does to you.
The average yearly income in Bolivia is nine hundred American dollars. Just sayin.

Those beggars might actually need your money

One of the most unnerving and often frustrating things about traveling through developing countries is all of the poverty you will see. Being constantly hounded for money can really stress you out when traveling when you know you can’t fix everything. You will inevitably be asked for money several times a day – by women with crying babies, blind men, people handicapped by landmines. It’s really, really sad and really overwhelming. It’s also really easy to become immune to. Many developing countries have little in the way of social welfare programs so these people may have no other way of getting money.
A friend developed a method for dealing with this while traveling through Cambodia. Every day he would carry around the equivalent to 10 American dollars in really small bills. He would give out one bill to every beggar he saw until they were all gone.
Note: you have to be a little careful in an area with lots of beggars in one place. If they see you giving out money to one person, they will swarm you.

It’s easier to make money than it is to make memories

Money is a constant stressor while traveling for most people. But remember the reasons why you’re traveling in the first place! Now that you’re three weeks into your trip, maybe funds are getting a bit low. You find yourself eating a lot of bread and cheese and sleeping in the dorm room at the hostel instead of the double. When your friend suggests the $80 rappelling/black-water rafting/rock climbing trip you balk. That’s, like, four nights of hostel!
Dude, do it. Put that shit on your credit card. If you were at home, you would not think twice about buying a cute sweater from Target and then getting dinner with your BFF – and that would probably run you the same amount. If you’re getting too wound up about money while your traveling, just think about what this money would translate to in your life back at home. New pair of Frye boots or sky diving? Swim with dolphins or one new tire for your car? Not such a difficult choice.

When in doubt, cry

When travel stress and things just get to be too much, sometimes you just need to let your emotions speak for you. Just as a smile is universal, so is crying. There are few people in the world who can look into the crumpled, messy face of a overwhelmed lady and not feel inclined to help. Or to let you off with a warning.
I really believe that everyone, the world over, is good at heart. You will be amazed at the things that people will do to help you when they can see that you need it.

Are you dead? Are you hurt? No? Then it’s not the end of the world

Travel stress can mount if you let it. It totally sucks to lose your passport or have your wallet stolen or for your luggage to get lost in transit. No arguments there. But all these things are temporary and repairable. They will make for excellent stories later on in which you will be featured as The Intrepid Traveler Who Went Through So Much But Still Had a Good Time.
How do you stay zen when you’re traveling?

photo by Volker Stetter // cc

Web time wasters

You might not know this about me, but I am huge proponent for both manners and karma – thank you notes, holding doors, helping friends move, the whole nine. Which is why I love Operation Nice. The website chronicles helpful, lovely interactions that people have had, suggestions on how to make someone’s day, and things that are generally awesome. Nice indeed!

Did you hate dissecting stuff in eighth grade science? The inside of cats not really your thing? Eric Boker decided, instead, to dissect tubes of toothpaste – and the result is oddly artistic.

Mystery is sexy, right? If your not sure exactly how to be mysterious, this poster will point you in the right direction. I particularly like the tip about wearing a skeleton key on a necklace. “When you have an ornate, probably gold, probably vaguely skull shaped dangling around your neck, people will be going insane imagining what it opens!”

What would happen if Jemaine from Flight of the Conchords had a website where he pretended to be a Sci-Fi writer named Ronald Chevalier? Awesomeness would ensue. Obviously.

A lovely blog about random acts of kindness. (Thanks Annie!)

Lovely photos using the moon as a prop.

If you live in Minnesota (or are just passive aggressive) confrontation might be beyond your can. If so, you can use Hello! You there! to get your point across. You write up a letter, include a postal address and a written letter will be sent anonymously. I would say that I don’t condone such an epic level of weeniness, but come on! We can all admit it’s pretty genius.

Children’s sketches of monsters re-created by graphic designers. Slightly unnerving!