Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Top 10 Unique Things About Living in the Pacific Northwest

Can you see the mountains in the distance?
I have lived in lots of places around the world, and each one had its own quirks and personality. For the past five months I have been living in Washington State on the Olympic Peninsula, and I can honestly say that it is one of the most unexpected and beautiful places I have ever been. This will be the first of several posts about this somewhat hidden gem of a region.

Here are some of the uniquely wonderful things I have discovered about living west of the Puget Sound.

1. Wearing things from Patagonia and REI and carrying a backpack wherever I go are everyday occurrences.

They are practically domesticated.
2. Embracing the healthy living culture: green smoothies every morning and an influx of things like quinoa, almond butter and chia seeds into my everyday diet.

3. I know what a marmot is, but I haven't seen one yet. The wildlife here is amazing. It's easy to get up close to a seal while kayaking or watch a deer leisurely cross a very busy road in the middle of the day.

4. There are always views of mountains wherever I go whether it is the Cascades, the Olympics, Mt. Baker or Mt. Rainier.

5. Pine forest goes right up to the ocean, and it's stunning.

6. There is a ferry just 30 minutes away that goes to Canada.

7. The women don't wear makeup, and sometimes they have a bit of tree in their hair. I haven't determined yet if it's an intentional fashion choice or not.

8. The lifestyle is laid back but in a productive way, and people smile because it's a great place to live.

9. People are seriously into the outdoors at every age. I could get smoked by an old guy on a bike here any day.

10. Nature! I never considered myself to be an outdoorsy kind of girl, but it's hard not to when you are surrounded with some of the most picturesque vistas in the country. Hiking is everywhere: up a mountain, around a lake, past a lagoon, to the beach- there are so many places to go.

Bonus: an abundant selection of local craft beer. I can think of two places in my tiny little town alone who brew their own, and it's delicious.

Ferry terminal with the Cascade Mountains in the background.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Greatest Collaborative Music Cafe & Boutique for Positive Impact

I always love to hear about new ideas that bring art and people together, and what I love even more is when I know the people involved in making it happen. This particular project is a Collaborative Music Cafe & Boutique for Positive Impact in Bagamoyo, Tanzania. If you have read some of my earlier posts, this place holds a special spot in my heart because of my former travels and volunteer work there. There are lots of organizations in action there because of the volunteers, but this one is something quite different.

This cafe and boutique will be bringing together a couple of the local organizations, APF which supports local arts initiatives in Bagamoyo and naSuma, the local clothing line that I have written about in the past.

"Our vision is to create a collaborative space in Bagamoyo that features all the different expressions of art present in the community from painting to music, tailoring to batik, and carving to cooking. We aim to attract local and foreign clients interested in sharing experiences, relaxing, and learning about Tanzanian culture. The aim of the cafĂ© is to create a space that is welcoming for tourists to relax or locals to come for work, a meeting, or a cup of coffee with a friend. We hope to host local musicians for concerts and to screen films and documentaries to raise awareness about relevant issues. Clothing created through the naSuma program will be on sale along with hand-made traditional music instruments, carvings, and paintings, all created by local artisans. The proceeds from all of the programs will continue to support the community and the arts through APF’s ongoing programs and women’s empowerment through Inua fund."

This project is not off the ground yet and is still in the crowd funding stages, so they still need some financial help. Bagamoyo is an artistic town with many talented artists and craftsmen. Streets are lined with people selling their work, but there is no central location to celebrate the arts. This project will not only do that but will add a necessary piece to further bring the community and its visitors together.

This is just a snapshot of all of the plans ahead for this initiative. To read more and donate, check out their fundraising page HERE.

I wish Hannah and all involved the best in this project, and I can't wait to write more about the progress in the coming months!

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Average Person's Guide to Airline Miles

Andes Mountains
Let me start out by saying that I don't have any sort of elite status with any network of airlines. I don't have a fancy gold card that gets me into airport clubs. I don't have a company who flies me business class to rack up a ton of miles along the way. I always fly coach with strong aspirations to some day be able to fly with the big boys. I am an average person with a less than average income who just so happens to travel more than the average person.

There are tons of blogs out there that tell you the best ways to "hack" airline miles for free trips and hotel stays. But I can't help but read them and think about how most people just wouldn't take a trip with 3 layovers over a weekend just to amass miles because of an airline deal. I love to travel, but I don't think I would do it. As with anything if it takes up too much time or is too complicated, it's just not worth doing for most people.

Here's how I have managed to go on a couple of free trips and get a few nice benefits due to miles accumulation.

How do I earn miles?

I am a member of any frequent flyer program I can get my hands on. Most of them never pan out, and the miles go by the wayside. I think that's true for a lot of people. Maybe you take a flight with American one time, Delta another and you may find a deal with Jet Blue at some point. The miles or points will never add up, never. But I still keep the accounts active because sometimes the miles don't expire, and I can accrue them over time.
The way they really do add up, however, is if you get yourself a credit card that will help you accumulate miles without changing your spending habits at all.

What credit card should I get?

There are credit cards that are affiliated directly with airlines, and there are credit cards that will help you earn points or miles that can be transferred to any airline or hotel chain for travel use. There are a couple of things to consider when thinking about the credit card to choose. If you always fly United or a Star Alliance partner and very rarely take a flight on another airline, then perhaps the United Miles Plus card is for you. All of your miles earned from purchases will go directly to your United account, and you will get a miles bonus every time you book flights through United. All of the airlines have their own cards, so if you are loyal, you can get some big benefits. If you seem to fly with a different airline every time you go on a trip, then perhaps it's best to look into a card that will allow miles to transfer to any airline of your choosing. There are a lot out there so compare all of the features like annual fees, foreign transaction fees, how long it would take you to build up enough miles to travel, airline partners, bonus miles when you sign up* and if there are any black out dates. An easy way to do this all in one shot is through Credit Cards.com.

*The bonus miles feature at sign up is huge, and it can usually mean a round trip domestic flight.

Which program should I choose?

Sign up for all of them, but also look at the airlines that operate out of your nearest airport. Signing up is free, and many of the programs have a long shelf life before miles expire. This comes in handy when there are mergers. For example, US Airways and American are merging and so are the miles programs. I have accounts with both, so the accounts will combine making me one step closer to a free flight. My advice, sign up for the major U.S. airlines that represent the different global partnerships and claim the partner miles upon return from your trip. Click on the partner link to find out which airlines are in each network.

United- Star Alliance
Delta- Sky Team
American- One World

And if you fly often on airlines like JetBlue (they are partners with a lot of international airlines too) or Southwest, join them too.

How do I earn a free flight?

There are lots of ways to earn a free flight. Your regular credit card spending and flying are the most common ways. There are, however, a couple others that have helped me boost my totals. Mileage Plus Shopping is a site that you can sign up for which will give you miles for purchases. For example, if I want to send flowers to someone for a special occasion, I can go into this site and see if there are any offers. This Mother's Day, FTD was offering 30 miles per dollar spent. So spending $50 will yield 1,500 miles for something that you were going to order anyway. There are tons of vendors, and deals change all the time. It's worth looking into. There is also a new site called Rocketmiles where you can earn up to 5,000 miles per night for hotel stays all over the world.

Each airline is different when it comes to how many miles you will need to a trip. Take a look at the three major U.S. airlines to compare with the links below. Also note, the way you earn miles in each program is different, so even though American may post 12,000 for a round trip flight, it may take longer to earn those miles. Delta has recently changed their miles structure as well, so read the fine print.


What are the drawbacks?

Let's face it, miles programs are difficult to keep track of. There are passwords and pin numbers to remember and partner miles that you have to remember to claim (I have forgotten to do this many times). It can also take a really long time to build up enough miles to go where you want. On top of that, airlines may not have the flights available that you want, and miles expire sometimes without you knowing about it. There are drawbacks, but if you are willing to jump through the hoops and stick with some of the hassles, the rewards are definitely worth it. I have created a spreadsheet detailing my accounts, so with just a click I have all of my miles information at my fingertips.

What are the perks?

Travel of course! Airline miles have gotten me a round trip to Hawaii, a first class ticket to New Jersey (that's where my family lives) and a one way ticket from France to the U.S. I also have over 100,000 miles burning a hole in my United account waiting for me to book my next trip to anywhere I want to go. I have been able to earn them from using my United card for all of my day to day spending and flying with United and Star Alliance partners. Because of this card I also get two airport club passes each year, my first checked bag free and priority boarding on all United flights.

Like I said, I don't have an unlimited travel budget, and I don't travel for a living (though I would like to). I am an average person who has just learned a couple of tricks. The better I get, the greater the benefits!

If you have any other tips or lessons learned, please feel free to comment.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Teaching Abroad: Getting Started

I'm still mustering up the excitement and inspiration needed to write about airline miles, so today I'm posting about teaching internationally. This post originally appeared (with a couple changes) on my Amsterdowd blog that is no longer active.

There are a multitude of really excellent resources online dedicated to teaching abroad. Some are obviously better than others, and they offer very different services. I can only speak from my own experience, but what I will say is that taking the time to research is a must.

Teach Anywhere

I started with teachanywhere.com which is a free recruiting website. I was matched with a recruiter, and I was very impressed at the individual attention that I received. It was through this site that I interviewed for a school in Indonesia. It was a unique opportunity at a small school with lots of opportunity to really make a mark on the local education system. I was intrigued, but it wasn't the right time for me to make a move like that. I soon learned that any of the other job opportunities that came my way from this recruiting site were similar, small schools with development opportunities. It wasn't a good match for me because at this time I realized that I really wanted to pursue opportunities at IB World Schools.


This is when I found ISS (International School Services), and I realized that I had to make that critical decision: if I was going all in or not. ISS is pretty expensive to join, but once you pay the annual fee, you have access to hundreds of jobs at some of the best schools in the world. It's not enough to just join and search the postings though. The head's of these schools want to meet you in person, and one of the only ways to do this is through a job fair. The drawback is that if there isn't one in your area, cost of travel can be pricey. For the 2015 recruiting season there will be fairs starting in December 2014 in Atlanta and others in Bangkok, Boston, and San Francisco at the beginning of the year.  I opted for Boston because I was able to stay with my sister in her lovely North End apartment. It is always a bonus when you can work family into a job search.

Do Your Homework

Something else to note, and this may seem like common sense, you need to do your homework. It is important to research the schools and the areas that you are interested in. My list started with about thirty schools focused on Europe. I sent individual email cover letters and attached documents to each of them. I personalized the emails to highlight the aspects of the school that I liked and why I thought I was a good fit. Most of the responses I received were generic responses from the HR departments, but there were some that contacted me directly, and it helped me move to the top of some recruiters' lists at the job fair.

TIE (The International Educator) and CIS (Council of International Schools) are also great places to look. TIE has a significantly cheaper membership fee too if you are short on cash.

The best thing you can do is keep an open mind, and don't focus all of your attention on one country or one continent. Some places are easier to get jobs than others, and some schools require very specific experience and training. Most of all though, don't give up. If this is something you truly want, the right job will come your way.

If you have any questions about how to teach internationally, leave a comment or send an email. I'm happy to help.