» Our Travel Tales ...ideas from the road Wed, 13 May 2015 21:16:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Carnival of Aalst, Belgium Sat, 21 Feb 2015 16:47:52 +0000 The carnival of Aalst is a yearly three-day event in the Belgian city of Aalst.

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Carnival of Aalst, Belgium

The carnival of Aalst or Aalst Carnaval how they call it in Belgium, is a yearly three-day event in the Belgian city of Aalst. The carnival has a long and rich history and was rewarded the status of UNESCO intangible World Heritage in 2010.

The Aalst carnival has its origin in the Middle Ages but the official count of the event started in 1923 when the Aalst city counsel started to organise the parade, and so this year was the 87th edition.



Everything goes!


Young and old, everybody celebrates together

Exuberant and satirical, the celebration features a Prince Carnaval, who symbolically becomes mayor and receives the key to the city for 3 days. A big parade crosses the city on Sunday, with 79 groups this year. Groups of costumed volunteers and parade cars.


You will see a lot of men, dressed up like women ;-)


In addition to the carefully-prepared floats of official entrants, informal groups join the festivities to offer mocking interpretations of local and world events of the past year.


No political or religious themes are evaded.


When it gets dark, the lights on the floats and costumes come on


After 3 days of festivities, the carnival of Aalst ends when the Stoet van de Voil Jeanetten (Aalst dialect for “Parade of the Dirty Sissies”) goes through the streets on Tuesday. In this parade, men walk around in women’s clothes with as attributes a bird cage, a herring, fake breasts, corsets, a fur coat, a worn umbrella and a stroller.

This tradition originates from the history of Aalst: the lower class was too poor to buy or make a beautiful carnival costume, and for that reason the men put on the old and worn clothes of their wives.


Aalst carnaval is one big party!


Beatutiful costumes and floats


Aalst carnival is one big party where everyone can be what he/she wants to be, where everything is allowed and everything goes!

Wil we see you in Aalst next year?!


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A to Z of a USA road trip Wed, 28 Jan 2015 16:37:34 +0000 The story of a one-month long trip across the USA, covering 18 states by car.

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Jessica Zoo and Lars Christensen embarked on a one-month long trip to scout out the USA stretching from Texas to Massachusetts covering 18 states by car. This is their story from the road from A to Z

A quick hello to all our friends and family accross the pond(s)

A quick hello to all our friends and family accross the pond(s)

For those of you that have been following our travels, you will know that Lars and I have spent the past month traveling the USA Gulf and East Coast in the search of new horizons, discoveries and opportunities for the near future (we also had a shorter trip in November from Orlando to Dallas). Discovering America by road trip was not only mine and Lars’s dream since the beginning of time, but it was extremely valuable to get a good understanding of the work ethic and culture of the USA, as well as giving us a crash-course on how to effectively juggle our lives as “digital nomads” for the future of our blended business and personal lives.

Whether you are interested in finding out how to effectively keep your work going whilst on the go, you are planning your very own USA Road Trip or you are simply curious about what we got up to, we want to share some gems we picked up along the way.

Guesthouses in Tybee Island, Savannah, Georgia

Guesthouses in Tybee Island, Savannah, Georgia

Accommodation – When you’re on a road trip, one of the more important things is to find a place to stay. The main things we discovered is that while on the road, it is better to be flexible and book rooms last-minute. This is for three reasons:

  1. Trying to book 25 hotels in one go may be overwhelming as well as charging your credit card all at once
  2. It will reduce your flexibility of deciding to change route due to weather or unexpected plans and meetings
  3. It will end up being more expensive.

To find great accommodation at great prices, even though consulting TripAdvisor can always be helpful, we found that’s “TONIGHT” mobile app was the most hassle-free way to find hotels as well as offering you up to 70% discounts on last-minute deals for the same night. This in not just for more generic chains, but also for more high-end resorts and 5 star hotels.

Consistently, we found that the best value to quality hotels were Red Roof Inns and Super 8 Motels (with a rating of 7.0+) whilst you are on the road. For peak dates and weekends, however, using a week or 4 days in advance will be a better option if you want to be sure to find a good location before they get booked out.

Breakfast at Cafe du Monde, New Orleans

Breakfast at Cafe du Monde, New Orleans

Breakfast – When you see “breakfast included” don’t get over-excited. This means there is a coffee machine, apple and orange juice from a carton, some apples, muffins and a waffle-making machine which could also double up as excellent insulating material.

Equally if you go to iHop or Waffle House you may get drowned in whipped butter, maple syrup and pancakes. As delicious as they are, having a full “American” breakfast every day for a month or more may result in having to go clothes-shopping half way through.

We did, however – find a great healthy and delicious option if you want a great filling, healthy breakfast: iHop does a range of delicious fluffy omelets packed only with vegetables. As long as you stay clear of the “egg-substitute” low-fat option, something like the garden omelette with added spinach will make a tasty, healthy breakfast!

If you’re in a rush, another great hack we used was to buy an icebox ($10) which we topped up with ice machines we found for free in almost every hotel, and wend breakfast shopping once a week to keep any fruit, snacks and yoghurts handy!

You won't get bigger cars than in Texas (supersized in San Antonio)

You won’t get bigger cars than in Texas (supersized in San Antonio)

Car Hire – When you look for car hire options, comparison sites will lure you into “cheapest car hire” deals. Having used a handful of companies in the past, we can confidently say to stay clear of the cheaper options as they have a RIDICULOUS amount on hidden costs (such as usage per mile, tax, one-way fees and additional deposits) which more expensive car hire companies are more upfront about.

Companies such as Alamo and Enterprise may seem more expensive at first, but their fees are more transparent and the final bill will be significantly lower that their “cheaper” competitors. Plus, they are much more likely to give you an upgrade at the counter as they have more available cars, and offer much better service if you have any problems.

On the road, somewhere in Alabama!

On the road, somewhere in Alabama!

Driving – Driving in the USA can be a mixed experience. At first, the wide roads and large cars will give you a liberating feeling from your previous claustrophobic european driving experience. Things to note about driving in the USA which will save you from a few panic situations (we’ve suffered so that we can warn you!)

  • Anyone can overtake left or right, and americans love playing “fill the gap”. Be aware that you may be in the situation where the two people next to you may try to overtake you AT THE SAME TIME. We have never seen so many overturned or that have come off the road. The further away you can stay from having any cars around you. the better
  • You can turn right at a red light in most states, just as long as you stop for pedestrians. This can be unnerving and confusing at times. A red light to turn right basically means: “You can turn right as long as you’re not in anyone’s way”
  • Parking facing the wrong way will land you a fine. Just make sure that when you park your car is facing the direction of traffic at all times.
Friends and Fitness: leading a Cheeroibcs masterclass at StudioZ Abilene, TX

Friends and Fitness: leading a Cheeroibcs masterclass at StudioZ Abilene, TX

Exercise – Keeping fit whilst on the road may be a challenge: unlike Europe, it is much harder to walk places as the roads are not always pedestrian-friendly so you will find yourself sitting for most of the time. The more economic hotels will not have a gym, however most of the slightly more upscale chains will have a gym and a pool. 3 great ideas to keep fit while you’re on the go are:

  • Every 4 days book yourself in a slightly more expensive Hotel ($80.00 per night will be enough to get you a nice hotel with a gym) .
  • Get an online subscription to websites such as with live streaming classes or you could also go on Youtube for some great at-home workouts for both men and women.
  • If you’re feeling cheeky but have no solution, you can also get a free 3 or 7 day pass to a local gym chain if you tell them you’re considering moving to the area.The top nationwide chains are Golds Gym and Anytime Fitness.
Making new friends is the best part of the roadtrip! Here with Robert, our favourite Cowboy!

Making new friends is the best part of the roadtrip! Here with Robert, our favourite Cowboy!

Friends – Making friends in the USA is probably the easiest thing you can do, especially in the South. The north tends to be slightly more reserved, so depending on your preference and need for privacy you need to be prepared. When being waited on in restaurants and bars in Southern states, expect to be welcomed with a beaming smile and genuine interest in who you are, what you are doing, and pretty much ask about your life-story. This is not meant in an intrusion to the privacy or coy to leave a larger tip: it’s simply the Southern way and they take great pride in their jobs and customer service. We found that it was incredibly easy to go out and meet easy-going and interesting people wherever we went, in some states more than others. If this is not your “cup of tea” then smiling politely will go a long way – being snobbish down South will not give you along way!

Keeping the distance in Orlando highways

Keeping the distance in Orlando highways

Gas – (or fuel, never “Petrol) will be much cheaper along the gulf and will get more expensive the more you drive North. In order to make gas consumption more effective, it’s important to know a little bit about your vehicle. If it’s a 3 – 5 Liter V6 or V8 it’s best to keep the revs below 3000rpm. This drastically keep your fuel cost down and keep your vehicle healthy. Large American vehicles need to be driven in a relaxed manner so that you don’t accelerate too much and consume excessive fuel as a result.

Also when driving in higher altitudes use a higher octane fuel (mid-level one not premium necessarily). The other recommendations would be to stick to more known brands of gas stations (smaller ones may give you less fuel that the meter says!) and with UK debit or credit cards you have to prepay in store for gas, you can’t pay on the pump.

Under all costs try and avoid to buy gas in the states of New York, Connecticut and Maryland its very expensive, almost $0.50 more per gallon than the Gulf states. When up North try refuel either in Virginia or Pennsylvania & New Jersery, and Massachusetts, the states up North are small so it’s quite easy to do.

Taking smaller routes and enjoying beautiful scenery (cutting out the highway)

Taking smaller routes and enjoying beautiful scenery (cutting out the highway)

Health – Traveling lots and getting used to different environments on a day-to-day basis will most certainly put a strain on your immune system.

Firstly, it’s worth remembering that air in airplanes during flights is dryer than the Sahara, which makes it all much easier for you to catch all those wonderful bugs and germs that infest the aircrafts and airports. Washing hands on board and in general when traveling (especially after using Gas pumps which get manipulated hundreds of times a day with questionable levels of hygiene) – or keeping germ-kill detergent will make it a lot easier to stay in top condition.

The sugar-rich foods and change in climate will also make it very easy to get migraines: drinking lots of water and taking a daily Echinacea tablet will help you to feel better on a daily basis.

America doesn't so things by half measures - really feeling the patriotism here in Tampa

America doesn’t so things by half measures – really feeling the patriotism here in Tampa

International Calls – Receiving or making calls from the USA (and sending texts) can be extortionate unless you have an international contract on extra charge (FYI there should be no extra charge for 3 customers, just check your contract).

If you don’t want to come back from your trip with lots of zeros at the end of your phone bill, there is one hack that will work perfectly well: Skype. This wonderful app that you can have on your iPhone or laptop has a lot more functions than just calling t another Skype account. The three best functions that you can add are:

1) Having your own number, so you can get a UK landline for people to call you on without you or them costing them anything.

2) With Skype credit you can call any mobile and landline worldwide. With an average of 2 calls a day (about 5min each) I managed to survive with £18 of Skype credit only and no extra charges on my phone

3) Answering machine – if anyone calls you whilst you’re offline (through Skype or your temporary number) they can leave you a message which you will pick up as soon as you’re online.

The last suggestion we will give you is to record a temporary message on your mobile’s voicemail saying that whilst you are abroad you will not be taking voicemails (listening to voicemails while abroad can cost up to £1.00 per minute), and ask people to either text you or call your Skype number if you want to give it. Then turn off the ability for people to leave messages so that you won’t return home with a load of unanswered messages.

Beautiful skies in Charleson, South Carolina

Beautiful skies in Charleson, South Carolina

JetLag – Jetlag on your way to the USA can be a very good thing as it will put you at exactly the right speed for USA schedules. Even though they may be 5-7 hours behind, it is worth noting that over there, the average American’s day starts and ends about 2-3 hours that the average European’s. For instance: do not be surprised if you are refused dinner service after 9:30pm.

Most of the USA wakes up between 5am, eat lunch before 12, dinner around 6 and bed-time is never later than 11! Obviously this differs on the weekend, but if you use your jet lag (especially if you are usually a night-owl like us) to your advantage, it makes it very, very easy to adapt to American living. Plus you will find that your day almost doubles in time!!

The same thing cannot be said for the way back: this is where Jetlag can be brutal especially in the morning. It is strongly suggested that you do not plan an early-morning start on your return before your 3rd day back to Europe.

Finding top spots for a drink and meal: PRICELESS!! Here at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond

Finding top spots for a drink and meal: PRICELESS!! Here at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond

Kicking Back – The USA is great country for kicking back, having cold one at beer o’clock. There is myth in the UK that American beer is terrorble. This as true as the British drink luke warm beer and only eat boiled vegetables. Every town has an interesting brewery, when you are in a bar or restaurant simply ask the barmen or waiter whats ‘Local on Tap’ and you will be surprised every time.

Not only do the Americans make some of the best beers I’ve ever had, they also produce of very good wines on both the east coast and the west coast. And for those of you like something stronger, in the South you will find many variety’s of American whiskey and not to forget the mind blowing Margaritas in the kicking back capital of the USA Texas. Nothing like watching the sun go down over Lake Travis near Austin, Eating fresh Taco’s and washing it down with a margarita or cold Shiner Bock.

Monuments of gargantuan dimensions in Washington DC

Monuments of gargantuan dimensions in Washington DC

Laundry – When you’re constantly on the go you might find that you run out of clothes very quickly. Even though you packed 25 shirts and shorts, you could be faced with rotating the same 5 over and over again as they simply suit your travels better. No panic: there is always a washer/dryer in most of the budget hotels (NOT in the higher-end hotels) so chains such as Super 8, Motel 6, Days Inn and RedRoof Inn should have one: just check on the app or call ahead of time.

Money – Money can go a long way if you use it wisely in the USA. You can easily budget around $200 for two people including accommodation in a well-rated inn, two meals and fuel for two people.

The trick is to spend 5minutes on TripAdvisor and to find a good option for Hotels ($60-90 per night will get you a very decent option especially outside downtown areas) and on TripAdvisor look out for the $$ filter (options are: $, $$, $$$, $$$$) as this will give you the local’s choice for great quality at local’s prices. $ option will most likely bring you to a shack or self-service, whilst $$$ and $$$$ tends to attract more touristy or extravagant diners.

Another note about money is that you can use credit and debit cards in most places, but having some cash is very useful for smaller purchases such as parking etc..

Use InRoute App to track your roadtrip and favourite stops

Use InRoute App to track your roadtrip and favourite stops

Navigating – Navigating in a new city can be very daunting, and it’s worth noting that most cities have a very brutal one-way system that will keep you going round and round (special mention to Boston who kept us going round in circles for about 2 hours before we could escape it’s tunnel Maze of Mayhem).

You will also find that unless your GPS is connected to the Internet, you are very likely to be stuck in a traffic Jam. If you thought traffic jams were bad in the UK, you have not yet been prepared for the US.

Plus if you get stuck in a jam on a one-way system there is little hope for getting off it. The best things to do is either have two people navigating and using Google Maps navigator on your phone to warn you of heavy traffic and find an alternative, and carefully study the structure of the city before you enter it.

Another point worth mentioning that each street may have a WEST and EAST or NORTH and SOUTH section. So for instance You may need to go to 300 International Drive West, and if for any reason you select East on the GPS it will take you to the other side of the CITY!! Or, a city may have 7 streets named in the same and you might end up in the sticks. Take it from us, and check the post code or you might get some serious GPS rage!

Washington DC, HUGE city but with very little parking! Only option: Valet!

Washington DC, HUGE city but with very little parking! Only option: Valet!

Parking – USA loves Valet parking (especially in major cities and in the North) This can be a bit more expensive and if you have valuables in your car you may not be happy with leaving your car keys to a stranger. Parking may be free in some areas, or can cost $5-15 per day depending on location if you do not use Valet. Meters are often restricted by time so it’s better not to park there if you want to take your time. Evenings and weekends may have street parking, just be careful not to park next to a fire hydrant, check street cleaning times to avoid towing and always park in the same direction of the traffic to avoid a hefty fine.

Questions – If you’re stuck for directions, suggestions or simply how things work in your new town there are three places you can ask. The first place to look would be TripAdvisor: you just put the name of your location or select ‘Near Me Now’ and it will come up with a profile of your town, what it’s known for and suggested places to visit. If you get to an area which is a bit confusing or you want some indication, best people to ask are cops. They know the area well and will be very very helpful (unless they are busy raiding the building next door).

Eclectic, delicious food at CowFish restaurant, Charlotte North Carolina

Eclectic, delicious food at CowFish restaurant, Charlotte North Carolina

Restaurants – Food an travel go hand in hand: you can truly discover the culture of your surroundings by discovering the local culinary delights (plus waiters will love to fill you in about their beautiful town and give you lots of great ideas and pointers too!).

We found TripAdvisor unbeatable when it comes to selecting a good local spot. The trick is to select the top ranked restaurants within the $ or $$ sign (unless you want to splurge on $$$ and $$$$ ones too!). TripAdvisor will allow you to filter by price range and rank by popularity.

We had no trouble finding great places to eat by following these criteria, and it’s always useful to quickly look at photos, read the short intro and also check the website for opening times (most restaurants outside cities may stop serving between 9:30-10:00pm and some steakhouses may not open for lunch).

If in doubt: try and find a local Texas Roadhouse for a juicy Rib Eye steak – you can’t go wrong! If you drive late and past the 10pm kitchen curfew, you can always try to find your local Chinatown as they serve well into the night!

Lunch at the original "Fried Green Tomatoes" Whistestop Cafe, Irondale Alabama

Lunch at the original “Fried Green Tomatoes” Whistestop Cafe, Irondale Alabama

Sugar – Especially when you travel south, you will find sugar in everything. And yes, I mean everything: especially vegetables. And in large quantities. If you are not accustomed to an over-sweet tooth (and if you want to avoid making an extra hole in your belt after a week) an easy way to opt out of this is to ask clearly that your food comes with only your specified condiments, and if in doubt ask them for them on the side.

Similarly with drinks such as sweet tea, frappuccinos etc, they will have 2 or 3 times more sugar than you’re used to – so it’s better to ask for plain or unsweet, and add the sugar or a sweetener yourself to your taste.

The presence of Abraham Lincoln is palpable in his sombre monument at Washington DC

The presence of Abraham Lincoln is palpable in his sombre monument at Washington DC

Tax – Remember that when you make a purchase (especially for hotels, shopping etc) You will be asked to pay sales Tax. This varies around 15% depending where you are so keep this in mind! You do not have to pay Tax in restaurants however remember that waiters are paid less than minimum wage (just enough to make it legal for them to work!) and their salary comes 80% from tips so it is customary to leave 15-20%. On a serious note, if you leave less than 10% you better not return to that restaurant unless you want a sneeze-muffin or worse!

A storm stopes just quickly enough for us to see the windscreen in Alabama

A storm stopes just quickly enough for us to see the windscreen in Alabama

Umbrella – If you think you have escaped the curse of the British rain, think again and multiply by 10. If you’re traveling East in the summer, be prepared for regular heavy rain, especially in the afternoon and evening.

We’re not talking drizzle, we’re talking full-on power shower and you may not even be able to walk out with an umbrella. These heavy showers tend to come and go in waves, with an initial downpour followed by lighter drops and then settling back to heavy for a few hours.

If you’re looking to make an escape to your car, the best thing to do is wait for that initial break and make your way unless you want to swim through the streets. If you are driving on the Interstate when a down pour like this comes, Switch on your hazards lights so that other vehicles can see you. Reduce speed but not by breaking hard, just slowly lift your foot off the gas & if you have rented an SUV switch the vehicle into 4×4 or off road mode.

This rain shower could last for over half and hour so you will have to keep driving, keep the vehicle at 50 mph and do not unnecessarily change lanes and do any sudden breaking.

Rusty Tacos (TX chain) wins ALL the points when it comes to fresh, delicious and affordable lunch

Rusty Tacos (TX chain) wins ALL the points when it comes to fresh, delicious and affordable lunch

Vitamins – Even though the american countryside is home to vast fields of vegetation, it can be tricky to get enough fresh fruit and veg on a daily basis if you rely on restaurants, unless you want them smothered in butter, fried or topped with sugar. Fortunately we managed to find a few ways to sneak some extra vitamins into our diet by figuring out a few things. 1) Taco lunch can be very healthy if you stick to your leaner options. These include sides of Guacamole and Pico de Gallo, as well as doing for a lovely taco such as the Brisket taco which is beyond delicious and packed with lean protein. 2) Packing fruit in the car and keeping them in the ice-box will ensure you have extra fresh source of vitamins on the go. 3) Starbucks in the USA have an excellent range of blended vegetable and fruit juices with no added sugar, in many different tastes (these are sold in a plastic bottle where the soft drinks are). Not to say that this is the only way to rely for your daily intake of vitamins, but a quick and easy fix if you need an extra boost.

Upscale-beauty everywhere in Charlotte, North Carolina

Upscale-beauty everywhere in Charlotte, North Carolina

Wifi – Getting online can be a problem. If you want to be a true “Digital Nomad” and be able to work on the go and be around at all times may be a bit more difficult than you think if you’re unprepared. Using data on your phone (unless you have free data abroad) will only result in extortionate bills upon your return. There are two things that you can rely on:

1) Hotel Wifi – most budget hotels will have wifi but let us warn you that dependability is hit-and miss. You are very likely to be able to check your emails but you can forget Netflix streaming and Skype most of the time. If you know you will be in need of good internet, the best option is to either go to Starbucks or book a night in a slightly more up-scale Hotel to be sure to have high speed internet.

2) Purchase a Jet Pack from Verizon – this will cost $100 for the device and $100 per 10GB of data (which should last you the whole month unless you start streaming videos). Even though this may seem pricey at first, it will give you full independence to always be connected to your world and not miss important emails or calls when you’re on the go.

Plus it will give you a backup plan in case your Hotel wifi has issues (and trust me, it WILL happen!) Just a note that some of the devices’ battery may be temperamental. Check in the store that the device does not behave erratically and if it does, press the ‘RESET’ button on the side.

Lobsters big enough to give you nightmares in Boston. Massachusetts

Lobsters big enough to give you nightmares in Boston. Massachusetts

Xtra Large – When they say that everything is bigger in America, they are not just talking about the space. This really is true and especially in the South you can expect gargantuan servings of food, plus most meals will come with an obligatory loaf of hot bread and whipped butter. Before you start ordering everything on the menu, it may be worth ordering just one main dish unless you want to be carried out in a wheelbarrow.

Getting deep into the Texan Culture in San Antonio, Texas

Getting deep into the Texan Culture in San Antonio, Texas

Yankees VS Rednecks – Every state has its own identity and strong personalities. Most also have very strong stereotypes of the other neighboring state too.. mostly based on sports rivalry and characterized depictions. Yes it is true that the South and the North are two worlds apart, but it’s also true that that within each state there are many shades of gray, just like anywhere else.

Most people assume, for example, that Texas is populated mostly by trigger-friendly cowboys driving big trucks or that Alabama is mostly inhabited by river-rats. Let us tell you that this is far from the truth and that we immensely enjoyed immersing ourselves fully in each state’s culture by meeting wonderful people from all around.

For example we loved to discover that South Carolina must be one of the most up-scale, clean and prim states we have ever seen in our lives. The University of Charleston and the surrounding city are one of the most beautiful locations we have ever seen, immaculate, historic, and full of intellectual, well-to do Southerners.

Gulf Shores Alabama also has one of the most beautiful beaches we have ever seen, and our favorite so far in the USA. Like anywhere else, each state and each city will have some great areas, lots of surprises and of course, a few stereotypes too!

On a photographic Squirrel hunt for 3 months: finally found a poser in Washington DC

On a photographic Squirrel hunt for 3 months: finally found a poser in Washington DC

Zoology – The USA is home to many different creatures (tamed and wild) that you may never see. We were also gobsmacked to learn that for example in the state of Alabama, it is illegal to have a pet pig but you are very welcome to have a tiger in your home (no, this is not a joke). Most states keep their fauna under control, but it is worth noting not to wonder around in marshy areas especially in the dark (Alligators are not so friendly), and if you are traveling with pets they may run around chasing many of the squirrels that roam freely in the parks.

The main animals to watch out for will be snakes in the shrubbery (an extra excuse to buy yourself a pair of cowboy boots if you’re planning to spend time outdoors in arid areas), and dusting yourself in a cloud of insect repellent unless you want to get devoured by mosquitoes when you’re horse-riding.

BIO: Jessica Zoo and Lars Christensen are the founders of Social Media Mentors digital marketing agency based in London, they are a group of young, dynamic professionals with unique backgrounds in social media marketing & SEO offering a wide variety of services. After numerous visits to Austin TX they fell in love with this exciting diverse city, throughout 2015 Social Media Mentors will be setting up shop in Austin opening their first office outside the UK. Find out more about SOCIAL MEDIA MENTORS. Get in touch with them on Twitter: @UKbeSocial

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Januari Brussels Travel Massive Tue, 20 Jan 2015 15:59:17 +0000 Last week, the 3rd Brussels Travel Massive took me to a part of Brussels that I rarely visit: Elsene

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Last week, the 3rd Brussels Travel Massive took me to a part of Brussels that I rarely visit: Elsene (in Dutch or Ixelles in French)
Most travellers that visit Brussels, visit the center of town and never get to see all the beautiful suburbs around it, like Elsene.

For the people that don’t know what Travel massive is, Travel Massive connects thousands of travel insiders to meet, learn and collaborate at free events all around the world. They are a world-wide community of locally organised meet ups for travel & tourism companies, travel bloggers, startups, and travel media to connect and share globally.

The Januari Brussels Massive event started off in the Brussels version of an American diner, L’Amour Fou.

L'Amour Fou

L’Amour Fou

I was welcomed by Yvonne from Under the Yew Tree and offered a free spicy rum cocktail with some finger food, Nice!

Nachos & Guacamole @ L'Amour Fou

Nachos & Guacamole @ L’Amour Fou

After some speed dating between all the different Travel Massive Members, we headed off to the bar next door: De Haus

The first thing I noticed, was the special interior:

interior De Haus

De Haus, Brussels

De Haus: Bar & Interior

De Haus: Bar & Interior

De Haus (that’s not a spelling mistake by the way, it’s derived from a Dutch word) opened only a year ago, but it’s the place to be in Elsene these days.

We were there on a weekday and the place was pretty full and in the weekends, they told me, it’s always packed! De Haus is famous for it’s offering of Gin & Tonic, but you can also drink wine or beer and enjoy some finger food.

Fingerfood @ De Haus

Fingerfood @ De Haus

The idea is that you can enjoy great local food and drinks, in a homely environment where most things you see, are also for sale! Check their amazing site for more info:

Gins @ De Haus

Gins @ De Haus

Spicy Gin & tonic

Spicy Gin & tonic

After a warm welcome by the owner, we were given a quick introduction into the fascinating world of Gins & Tonics.

It seems there are more Gins then you would expect, each with their own typical flavours. De Haus also serves some authentic Belgian Gins that have a more spicy character. Definitely something to try!

After the quick introduction, it was time to start the tasting! We finished with the speciality of De Haus, and my favourite of the evening, a flambéed Gin & Tonic!

Learning all there is to know about Gin & Tonic

Learning all there is to know about Gin & Tonic


Specialty of De Haus: flambéed Gin & Tonic

If you ever visit Brussels, I can certainly recommend a visit to De Haus!
While some Gin & Tonic’s aren’t cheap, the food and drinks are all high quality and you can enjoy them at your own tempo and in a great atmosphere.

As you probably noticed, I had a great time and I would like to thank all the interesting people that were there @ #BXLTravelMassive

Till the next Brussels Travel Massive event!


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Abismo de Anhumas, Bonito Sat, 03 Jan 2015 18:34:13 +0000 Let's start off the new year with an incredible journey to Middle Earth in Bonito, Brazil

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Let’s start off the new year with an incredible journey to Middle Earth in Bonito, Brazil: The Abismo de Anhumas Tour


Abismo de Anhumas

When I was searching for things to do on my trip to Brazil, I came across the town of Bonito in the southwestern corner of Mato Grosso do Sul.

Bonito itself is a very small town and has only one main street but the natural resources of the surrounding area, the 76-sq-km Serra da Bodoquena national park, are spectacular! There are caves with lakes, beautiful waterfalls and incredibly clear rivers surrounded by lush forest where it’s possible for divers and snorkelers to swim eyeball to eyeball with hundreds of colorful fish.

Like Queenstown in New Zealand, Bonito also offers more adventurous tours that I couldn’t pass up on. Bonito’s most unforgettable attraction by a landslide is Abismo de Anhumas , 20km west of Bonito, it’s a 72m abyss culminating in an underground lake, home to incredible stalactite formations. The tour involves rappelling down to the bottom and snorkeling in the lake (visibility in the water is 30m).

The tour is limited to 18 visitors per day, but I managed to book the tour directly after I arrived in town, the night of the training, without any reservation. The rappelling training center is in town and you must successfully complete your training before 6pm on the day before your visit. The necessary abseiling techniques are learned the day before the tour with the help of specialized instructors, trained to guarantee the safety of the operation.

Training for the rappel

Training for the rappel

The training is done the night before because they want to make sure you are able to climb up again at the end of the tour, the next day. People that can’t climb up 10 meters in the training center can’t do the tour because you are expected to climb up 72m by yourself, the next day.

The transport to the entrance of the cave isn’t included in the tour, which I found a bit stupid. So you need to arrange the transport yourself! Luckily I met some nice people during the training who already booked a car and I could come along.

Since they only allow a few people into the cave at any time, you are assigned a certain timeframe to be there. When we arrived, the people in front of us were climbing back up again, with the girl shouting at the guy to “Slide up and PUSH, PUSH!” Apparently the guy got tired in the middle (remember, it’s 72m straight up), and because 2 people climb up together, for safety reasons, the girl needed to wait until the guy could climb further and they were hanging there for more than 30 minutes already! Haha!

This is them, making it to the finish:

So, after gearing up, my adventure began with a rappel of 72 meters inside the cavern, toward an immense inside lake with crystal clear water.

Entrance of the cave

Entrance of the cave

Ready to rappel 72m down !

Ready to rappel 72m down !

The wonder of the abyss is attributed to the diversity of its formations, both in and out of the water. You will float among formations of more than 10 meters high, giving the impression that you floating through a submerged city. It will be a surreal experience! It is also possible to dive in this cave, but divers need to obtain a cave diving license and book the dive in advance. The limit is 4 divers a day! When I was there it wasn’t even allowed because the level of the water was too low.

The dive platform at the bottom of the cave

The dive platform at the bottom of the cave

What you see when you go swimming

What you see when you go swimming


Incredible formations

Ready for the climb back up

Me and my guide, ready for the climb back up


It’s a long way to the top …


A long ….



I suggest wearing long sleeves, trousers and tennis shoes with long socks (I know! It’s not a fashionable look 😉 but it helps to protect your legs from the ropes while climbing up) for this activity. It’s cold inside the cavern, but you get a wetsuit for the snorkeling. Bring some water and some food and lots of energy for the climb back up! ENJOY!


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How to conquer your fears and start traveling Thu, 18 Dec 2014 14:56:41 +0000 How fears can hold us back from seeing the world and what you can do to eliminate them.

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Today Casey Dugas from the Simple Travel Life talks about how sometimes our own fears can hold us back from seeing the world and what you can do to eliminate them.

Does it terrify you too?

You’re sitting there, minding your own business and planning your trip, when you glance down at your to-do list…

That’s when the panic sets in.

So many things could go wrong when travel is involved.

You have no idea what you’re doing—you don’t even know where to start! There’s too much to do and not enough money! Abort! Abort!


Deep breaths people.

Don’t let your fears get the better of you. You can conquer them and finally start planning that trip you’ve been postponing for ages.

The real reason most people never travel

Everyone assumes the hard part of travel is getting on the plane, but really, the hard part is planning the trip.

No one talks about how terrified and doubtful they were when they were planning their first trip.

And that’s where most people give up.

You have to overcome the doubts and fears that bubble up during the planning phase if you ever hope to get on that plane.

When people start to have these feelings about travel, the usual strategy is to do more research. They want to find all their answers by reading different websites and books.

But you know what the problem is with that strategy?

Why you should never do research first

Never do Research First

When people first start planning for travel, their research is all over the place.

They’ll read just about anything related to travel—including things that they weren’t originally worried about (but they are now).

The problem with this type of research is that you’ll come away with more questions than answers.

This is because travel is almost entirely built off the unknown, which is one of the most nerve-wracking things travelers must deal with.

The unknown really shows up in your what-if questions. These are the questions that you’ll never be able to fully answer.

  • What if I run out of money?
  • What if I get pickpocketed?
  • What if I hate the food?
  • What if I can’t make any friends?
  • What if I ruin my career path by traveling?
  • What if I get homesick?

The list can go on forever and usually ends with a resounding, “I can’t do this!

Traveling can feel somewhat pointless once you start thinking of all the things that could go wrong.

After all that research, most of your “answers” will just be large question marks.

Those question marks will start to convince you that you’re not ready to travel—I mean, you’re not even sure how much money you’ll need!

How can you leave now?

Clearly, you must put off travel until you’re ready—when you have more time, more money, and more answers.

But, that time will never come—the problem isn’t that you need more.

The problem is that you’re scared.

You need to understand the fears that keep you from moving forward with your travel plans.

The real first step to conquering your travel fears

The Real First Step

Fears can have a huge impact on how we live our lives, and half the time we don’t even realize what we’re scared of.

This is especially true of travel fears. We all know that travel can be scary, but what, specifically, about travel scares you?

The first thing you must do is make a list of your travel fears.

Spend some time writing down everything you’ve ever worried about while travel planning. And don’t just say “I’m scared.” That’s not enough. You need to go deeper than that and be specific.

Our what-if questions would be a good place to start—your list could include the fear of running out of money or the fear of being pickpocketed.

Try to get as many on paper as you can. Got it? Alright, now let’s take a closer look at those fears.

How to eliminate irrational fears one by one

How to Eliminate

All of those what-if questions can send us into a panic, which leads us to thinking irrationally and turning simple things into insurmountable fears.

The worst part is that we don’t even realize we’re thinking irrationally—everything seems legitimate.

Most of the fears on your list are blown out of proportion.

Take a look at one of the fears on your list. Is it really good enough to keep you from traveling?

For example, should the fear of possibly being pickpocketed keep you from traveling?

This was something I worried about all the time before I moved to Peru. What if they got my phone? Or my wallet?! I need those things!

But then I realized that having my phone or wallet stolen really wouldn’t be that bad. I mean, sure, it would be upsetting, but I would survive.

It’s the same way I feel about running out of money. I would be upset and have to cut my trip short—but I still got to see a new country, didn’t I?

Isn’t seeing a different part of the world worth the risk?

I think so.

I had to accept that it’s a little scary, but it didn’t matter—I was going anyway.

As you go through your list of fears, decide whether or not it’s really enough to keep you from traveling.

If not, stop using it as an excuse to stop planning.

How to minimize the chances of your fears coming true

Minimize Chances

Now that we’ve looked at all of our fears logically, we know that they’re not as scary as they seemed.

But some of them are still at least a little scary.

This is where our beloved research comes in.

You’re going to use research to tackle each one of your fears. This gives your research a focus.

Now there is one important mind-shift that you need to make regarding travel research.

You’re not looking for answers—those what-if questions will never have answers, remember?

What you’re looking for are prevention strategies—things that will decrease the chances of your fears coming true.

I can never be 100% certain I won’t be pickpocketed.

But you know what? I bought a really nice anti-theft bag that makes me a less-likely target for pickpockets.

And that makes me feel better.

Same thing goes for the fear of running out of money.

I researched how much my trip would cost, added a little more as a cushion, and then created a daily budget for my time abroad. I knew exactly how much I could spend each day to ensure that I had enough to complete my trip.

At the end of the day, all you can do is be as prepared as possible for your fears. And that makes them less likely to happen.

So, are you ready to start traveling?

Ready to Travel

Maybe your fears are still keeping you from chasing your travel dreams, but you know what?

Traveling will always involve some risk—everything important does. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be fulfilling.

The only true way to get yourself to travel is to have faith in yourself and your abilities.

Faith that you’ve done enough research and have made the right decisions.

Faith that you will survive—even if everything doesn’t go according to plan.

If you continue to let every little fear keep you from travel, you’ll never visit that place you’ve always dreamed of seeing.

But if you look over your fears and realize that you still want to travel—no matter what—you really only have one choice.

You must gather your courage and start traveling.

So brush your fears aside and take the leap.

You’ve got a plane to catch!

Bio: Casey Dugas is a world traveler who will help you fulfill your travel dreams. Check out her blog: Simple Travel Life.

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A new design and a fresh start Thu, 27 Nov 2014 15:31:13 +0000 has been redesigned!

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“Hi, my name is Geert, I’m a travel blogger …”

.. that’s how I introduced myself last Saturday, when I went to my first TravelMagic Meetup.

But It didn’t feel like I was a real travel blogger, it felt … like I was a phoney, a poster … a fraud. And I guess, in a way, I am!
Instead of gradually building out a reader audience of my own, I cheated my way into the world of travel bloggers by taking over a well established travel blog without having to proof myself as a great travel writer.

So far, I haven’t published any stories of my own yet since the passing of the torch last month ( has it really been a month already?!) but I’ve been thinking really hard about what I want to achieve with this blog.

Having said that, I felt that a redesign for Inspiring Travellers could give me the fresh start I needed to be able to really call this blog my own.


Farewell to the old look…

So instead of focussing on new content the past month, I focussed on a new design, which I’m thrilled to officially launch today:


Welcome to the new look …

I tried to give a more modern feel while keeping in mind that a blog needs to be responsive these days.

So far, not all the pages have been completely transformed to the new design and there is still a lot of things that can be approved on (If anyone has a good idea for a logo, let me know!) but I really like how it turned out.
Hopefully, you like it too!

About me

I thought this might be a good time to also share with you a little more about myself and what’s been going on in my live.

This year has pretty much been a transformational year for me, both on a professional and personal level.

Professionally, I got fired from my job as a hosting manager at the marketing agency that I worked for the last 12 years and personally that provided me with some time to think about what I really want to do with the rest of my life.

These days you hear a lot about people suffering from burnouts and not being happy with what they do professionally and perhaps it sounds like a big cliché to say that getting fired was the best thing that could have happened to me, but in hindsight it certainly was!

Since then I made some really important breakthroughs in my life. I started my own business as a freelance online marketing consultant and made room to pursue the things that really make me happy, like travelling the world, singing in a band and photography.

So on that note, I want to go ahead and put it out there that I plan on travelling more in 2015 and try to inspire you with in-depth articles on destinations, tales about my ‘off the beaten track’ adventures, beer from around the world and plenty of photos each month to go along with that. Giving you as much ideas and inspiration you can handle!

You can actually help me out by voting for me on the Kerala Blog Express so that you can travel with me to India thru my blogs next year, when I win. So your vote would be much appreciated!

In the meantime, I would love to hear what you would like to see from me in 2015 and thanks again for your support of this website and for sticking with me while I learn how to become a real travel blogger.

Happy Thanksgiving!



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A sacred pool reserved for Mayan Gods Wed, 29 Oct 2014 19:55:14 +0000 Why I want to revisit Yucatán, Mexico

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Why I want to revisit Yucatán, Mexico

Last night I came across the video below, about inspiring places from the Yucatán region in Mexico.

Even if you don’t like authentic Mexican food (trust me, it’s a lot different from what you get at Chipotle!), you can’t be but inspired by the gorgeous scenery and beauty of these images:

The Yucatán Peninsula captivates visitors with its endless offerings of natural wonders and an ancient Mayan Culture that’s still very much alive today. Watching the different videos reminded me of my own trip to Mexico 2 years ago and the one thing that eluded me: Scuba Diving a cenote.

Cenote diving, Mexico

Cenote diving, Mexico

A cenote is a natural sinkhole resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that got filled up with cristal clear groundwater. A lot of the times these sinkholes are connected creating a stunning underwater cave system that you can explore by scuba diving.

I was planning on visiting the Dos Ojos Cenote during my last week in Mexico, but unfortunately I got really sick that week. I came down with a bad case of the flew and I couldn’t clear my nose and ears, which is really necessary if you want to go diving.

Confined to bed, I had to abandon my plans completely and return to Belgium without this amazing experience:

Especially associated with the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, cenotes were sometimes used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings. They are a sacred pool reserved for Mayan Gods, an experience on my bucket list that stays unchecked. FOR NOW!

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Why Traveling With Your Children Is Important Tue, 16 Sep 2014 17:40:05 +0000 James Lowell shares his thoughts on why travel with kids is important.

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Today’s guest post is a fun one because it has to do with children’s travel. I think most die-hard adventurers would agree that kids should be exposed to new experiences and lots of new places. James Lowell shares how he and his wife have started their son off on this path.

My son has traveled more during his first two years of life than most children. My wife and I love to travel and decided early on that we wanted our children to know the joy of travel. We will do everything we can to transfer our love and enthusiasm on to him.

We lived in Warren, Michigan when my son was born, a city located just across the Detroit border. Shortly after, we were forced to move and we ended up jumping from place to place for the first year and a half of his life. But because we were not tied down to one place, my son was able to experience many things that my wife didn’t experience until well into her 20s. We got to take him to Ohio to see his Aunt, to Frankenmuth, Michigan to experience some faux German culture and to many other fun-filled locations.

Mt Diablo State Park

Augie on a rock on Mt Diablo State Park

Here are just some of the reasons I think it’s important to travel with your children:

1. It teaches them patience.

For a two year old, my son is incredibly patient. When he was around a year old we took a three-day cross country train trip. He loved the train. We spent our time walking up and down the hall on the train, reading books and playing with toys. Sometimes he would just sit in his mother’s lap and watch the world fly by out the window. He was surprisingly well behaved, as he also was during his second long distance train ride a few months later. Recently we took a six-hour trip by car to Los Angeles to see family and, for the most part, he was incredibly patient the entire time. Sometimes he enjoys simply watching cars pass by out the window.

Monterrey Bay Aquarium

Watching a fish and Monterrey Bay Aquarium

2. Learning new languages is important.

Children learn very fast, even if they don’t seem to like it sometimes. My wife and I started learning German recently and while she was playing around with some language learning software my son started watching. Then he began to participate during the questions and corrected my wife on some of her choices. Something I always regretted was not learning a new language in high school (it was too boring and too hard). It wasn’t required so I brushed it off, but if you are somewhere for an extended period of time you are bound to learn at least the basics of that language. I lived in California until I was 12 years old so I did learn some basic Spanish, but never enough to be conversational. It is a rare quality these days to be able to communicate in multiple languages and could give an extra boost in future endeavors.

child at beach

On the beach

3. It helps eliminate prejudice and racism.

Growing up with family that liked to travel meant that I met tons of really nice people of all ethnicities. As a result I never judge people on their ethnicity. I never really knew that being of a different ethnicity could be viewed as any more than having a different hair or eye color, and for a long time I thought that everyone else felt the same. I want my son to be the same way. How can you have hate in your heart when you have met people from around the world and heard their stories?

Bravo Farms

At Bravo Farms with a lot of Tractors

4. Think outside the box.

Exploring new cultures and meeting new people will help children realize that they have no limits and that the whole world is open to them. Too many people end up becoming so used to the familiar and what they are “supposed to do” thanks to the media and the society around them. We often forget that there is a whole world outside of our borders. You might not be able to see it from our shores but it is out there. I have spent my last 12 years trying to decide what I am supposed to do with my life, where I’m supposed to live and how to make everyone around me happy because this is what was programmed into me. Then one day I decided, no more. I know what I want to do and where I want to go, and as a parent I want my son to be free to do whatever it is that makes him happy.

angel island

Our family on Angel Island

5. It’s fun!

Whether it’s a hike in the mountains, a day at the beach or exploring a museum, zoo or cave, every time I take my son somewhere he has a blast. Not everywhere we go will be a winner, of course, but you will never know unless you try. Children get ridiculously excited about small things and you would be surprised at what they enjoy doing. I want to nurture that excitement and foster a love of new experiences.

These are reasons why I travel with my son and will continue to do so. I hope that others will be inspired by this list and do the same.

Henry Cowell State Park

observing a Banana Slug at Henry Cowell State Park

Bio: James Lowell was born in Santa Cruz, California. At the age of 12 he moved Michigan and met his wife there when they were 18. Since then they have traveled to most of the continental United States and some of Canada. In 2012 their wonderful son was born. James currently lives in California with his wife and son, and is working hard to pass on his love of travel. The family blogs at and you can also find them on Facebook and YouTube.

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Flying Private: The New Galaxy FBO Facility In Conroe, TX Thu, 07 Aug 2014 16:46:39 +0000 Welcome to the world of private aviation at this new facility.

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Next time you’re juggling your laptop and carry-on bag in a crowded airport security line or trying to find a comfortable place to sit during a layover, try not to get too down about what we’re about to show you. Yes, not everyone travels the same way. Some passengers drive right up to where their plane is parked, stroll through the doors of the airport and take off shortly after with no crowds or hassles. Welcome to the world of private aviation.

galaxy fbo private airport

galaxy FBO waiting area

We recently had the opportunity to tour the brand new Galaxy FBO facility at the Lone Star Executive Airport in Conroe, TX, about a 15 minute drive north of The Woodlands. This corporate and general aviation facility features two 50,000 sq ft hangars, VIP lounges, conference rooms, offices and the Black Walnut Cafe, where we were treated to a delicious lunch during our visit.

black walnut cafe conroe

black walnut cafe chicken fingers

tarmac lone star executive airport conroe

As we relaxed with some beverages (we highly recommend the Apricot Peach iced tea), it was fun to watch some small planes take off and land. John enjoyed the BWC Chicken Tenders Basket with cayenne ranch and honey mustard dipping sauces while Andrea had the delicious Grilled Chicken Croissant sandwich with peppered bacon and spicy avocado ranch.

private jets galaxy fbo

After lunch, Galaxy FBO owner Dirk Laukien gave us a personal tour of the facilities, which includes the world’s largest FBO arrival/departure canopy. This provides comfort for passengers and crew alike in the soaring temperatures of Texas. Private aviation travellers can enjoy a party in a VIP lounge or make it a day of work in one of the conference rooms. Private parking is available as well so they can leave their vehicles there in confidence, including a charger port for Tesla vehicles.

galaxy fbo facilities conroe lone_star_executive_airport-243

We also climbed aboard one of the private jets:

private jet

private jet cockpit

private jets

These passengers have their every whim catered to, both on the ground and in the air. According to Vice-President and pilot, Jeremy Gee, this might include blueberry muffins at 3 am. Talk about having friends in high places!

control room galaxy fbo

Have you ever flown on a private jet?

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Woodlands Weekend At Hyatt Market Street Wed, 30 Jul 2014 23:28:34 +0000 Just 30 minutes north of Houston, The Woodlands offers wonderful dining, shopping and entertainment options and the Hyatt Market Street is the perfect place to stay.

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Nestled among 28,000 acres of forest preserve, The Woodlands is a beautiful suburb just 30 minutes north of Houston. While it is home to many local residents and companies of all sizes, The Woodlands has also become a getaway destination as a result of its excellent shopping, dining, nightlife, golf and entertainment options. For Houston dwellers looking for a close getaway, Hyatt Market Street offers the perfect place to stay for experiencing all of this.

hyatt market street woodlands lobby hyatt_market_street_woodlands-086

What stood out to me the most about this boutique luxury property was the energetic, enthusiastic staff who greeted us warmly everywhere we turned. I also loved the dramatic lobby area with its natural trees and cascading chandelier. Our king room was both comfortable and inviting, featuring amenities like a 42-inch flat screen TV, MP3 docking station, complimentary internet, waterfall shower head, Cuisinart coffeemaker and views of Market Street below.

king room at hyatt market street

hyatt market street woodlands king room hyatt_market_street_woodlands-034 hyatt_market_street_woodlands-038

market street from room


hyatt_market_street_woodlands-046 hyatt_market_street_woodlands-074

As we unwound in our room after check-in we were delighted by a generous gift bag of goodies from the surrounding shops. Market Street is the premier upscale shopping and dining center in the Woodlands, with green open areas and a comfortable layout for walking around. Pedestrian areas are in short supply in Houston so it’s always nice to find somewhere to get out and stretch your legs. If the streets in the photos look a bit quiet it’s because it was about 100 degrees F the weekend we visited. But as we don’t get up to this area much we decided to brave the heat ourselves and check things out.

market street the woodlands shopping hyatt_market_street_woodlands-104 hyatt_market_street_woodlands-106 hyatt_market_street_woodlands-112

We poked in and out of shops for an hour or so until we finally needed to get out of the sun. Heading back to the Hyatt we were eager to get to dinner to experience a special tasting from chef Andrew Kramer in the bar and restaurant area.

menu hyatt market street woodlands

jalapeno watermelon margarita

Jalapeno Watermelon Margarita – just one of the many signature cocktails on offer at Hyatt Market Street

We started off with a sampling of appetizers from the menu. The Avocado Mash featured charred tomato salsa, crispy tortilla chips and wontons while the Smoked Gouda Pimento showcased its main ingredient perfectly atop delicious Kraftsmen Bakery ciabatta wedges. This was followed by delectable Pork Tostadas, the succulent pork shining atop blue corn tortillas. We also indulged in the BBQ Chicken Flatbread with its chipotle BBQ sauce, smoked gouda, pineapple salsa and fried onions; a delightful medley of flavors!

hyatt market street appetizers hyatt_market_street_woodlands-144 hyatt_market_street_woodlands-152

Of course, we were unable to finish all of that, leaving room for the main courses. The cheerful waitstaff talked us into having a meal each instead of sharing something, although we were already quite full. We were glad we did when John’s perfectly cooked and seasoned 12 oz Ribeye and my tasty Shrimp & Grits came out. The steak featured herb-roasted potatoes, mushroom ragout, sweet baby peppers and chimichurri sauce, while my dish featured a creole Gristmill grit cake, spicy crawfish etouffee and fried gulf shrimp.

hyatt market street main dishes hyatt_market_street_woodlands-162


After such tasty main courses we felt like we couldn’t resist trying at least one dessert. The Ancho Spiced Chocolate Cake featured melting chocolate ganache, raspberry puree and ice cream on the side – the perfect ending to a delicious meal.


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Living And Working In The United States: An Outsider’s View Wed, 02 Jul 2014 16:41:37 +0000 John takes a look at what it’s like being an outsider in the USA.

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I’ve been living in the USA for a little over a year now, so it’s a good time to reflect on being a foreigner in this great land. I’m a ‘true blue’ Aussie, so please bear that in mind while reading through my observations.

usa flags

The first thing I noticed was the trucks that barely fit in car lanes. The highways are chaotic too and although I got my driver’s license early on, I’ve only recently been willing to take them on.

Being Australian, you have to get used to people assuming that you’re from England, which isn’t particularly new as it often happens when I’m in Europe. It’s always fun to figure out the differences in the language too. “I’m looking for a carton of beer?” you might ask at the beer store. When met with a blank stare, you adjust your question to “Pardon me, case of beer.”

I knew that the US is a religious place, but I didn’t realize how ‘in your face’ religion would be. I’m not going to go into details, because I’m not political at all and stay away from the news channels.

As for friendliness, people in the US are usually willing to have a chat and help you out. However, I’ll never get used to being called “Sir” or calling others “Sir” or “Ma’am”. It’s just too weird. When we bought our car, the salesman called me that at the end of every sentence. Here’s an example of the cultural differences:

Aussie phrase: “Hey mate, there’s a bloke over there who needs something.”

US translation: “Excuse me Ma’am, that gentleman over there is asking for help.”

Gentleman, really? I used it once and felt dirty straightaway. These formalities are just a form of politeness and it’s actually kind of nice.

In some countries, the customer isn’t always right and is treated with disdain. At a gift shop once in Switzerland, we bought a fragile souvenir and asked the cashier if they had any wrapping paper. He looked at us with such utter contempt and bewilderment, before casually reaching under the counter for said wrapping paper. Thanks for the effort, buddy!

Anyway, in the US the customer IS ALWAYS right. Broadly speaking, if you buy something and want to return it, no questions asked. If something you bought a year ago is faulty, you can still return it and get a replacement. Now that’s service indeed!

Real cable television. For most of my life, I never had any such thing in Australia. Cable (or satellite) TV and fast internet in the US leaves Australia’s pale imitation in the dirt. And my beloved sports…oh so many sports. It sure helps for conversation around the office and football season is crazy. Not just the NFL, but college football too. Why doesn’t the NFL schedule Friday night or Saturday games, I hear you ask. Well Friday night is reserved for high school football and you guessed it, Saturday is college day. In fact, every other car you see driving around will have their college emblem on the back windscreen or bumper. Around our neighborhood, college flags with appear on front lawns during game time. Speaking of flags, when some public holidays roll around, US flags also appear in front of houses and commercial areas.

All in all, the USA is not that different to other places I’ve lived. It’s just a lot bigger and more diverse. My work life here is pretty good. Compared to Norway, people work longer hours and are definitely more helpful. And it’s always fun being the token Australian in the office. You may hear others as you walk the aisles and hallways, but dare not speak because there can be only one!

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Austin Snapshots: Cool Cars Mon, 05 May 2014 17:44:33 +0000 Check out the hot cars on Austin's streets.

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We weren’t in Austin very long before we started to notice some unusual cars cruising along the city streets. At first we just thought this was par for the course in hip Austin. But we soon realized something was going on. Like a hot rod and classic car show. Perhaps some kind of preview weekend for the Lonestar Rod & Kustom Round Up. It’s always awesome to be in town when something like this is going on.

austin hot rod sign

austin hot rods and custom cars

austin custom car


austin-296 austin-083

austin cool bikes

austin custom car

austin hot rods austin-300

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Austin Snapshots: Hilton Garden Inn Downtown/Convention Center Wed, 30 Apr 2014 13:20:47 +0000 A comfortable, convenient place to stay in the heart of the nightlife in the Live Music Capital of the World?

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Situated in a perfect location where the Red River and Warehouse districts meet East Austin, the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown/Convention Center is the place to stay if you want to be among the nightlife while having easy access to the rest of the city.

hilton garden inn austin

Every room features complimentary WiFi, Hilton’s comfortable “Garden Sleep System” bed, a 42-inch television, a refrigerator and a microwave. We loved our view of the city and being just steps away from the city’s most exciting restaurants and bars.

hilton garden inn austin room austin-007 austin-011 austin-041

Excellent in-room coffee is a must for us, so we were excited that the room featured a convenient Keurig single-cup coffee brewer. Last year Hilton Garden Inn partnered with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters to provide this service in its 73,000 guest rooms across the United States and Canada. We were able to linger in bed with a nice hot cup of coffee before starting each day.

hilton garden inn keurig

This is definitely a hotel to check out if you’re looking for affordable convenience during your stay in Austin.



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Austin Snapshots: Around Town 2 Mon, 21 Apr 2014 21:51:14 +0000 Austin's plentiful nightlife and unique shopping won't disappoint the visitor.

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Austin is called the “Live Music Capital of the World,” with around 250 venues, most of them open every night. Most of the action can be found along Sixth and Fourth Streets, East Riverside Drive and in the Red River and Warehouse Districts. You can find just about any kind of music here and a thriving nightlife (or daylife as these pictures show) scene to go along with it.

austin live music club

sixth street t-shirt austin

rooftop bar austin

austin live music and dancing

he who eats alone sign Austin

austin street art

texas flag

There’s also great shopping, especially along South Congress Avenue.

uncommon objects austin

uncoomon objects austin inside

roadhouse relics

local artists shop austin

shopping austin tx austin-183 austin-344

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Austin Snapshots: Around Town 1 Thu, 17 Apr 2014 18:42:17 +0000 Photos from our weekend in Austin, capturing the energy of the city.

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The quirky little capital of Texas kept us busy for a couple of days this month. This very walkable city boasts world-class dining, culture and nightlife with plenty of shopping too.

austn rock n roll mural

austin city from congress ave

austin rooftop bars

austin cowboy boots in store

austin art gallery sign

austin building downtown

austin state theater

At 308 feet tall, the Texas State Capitol building is taller than the United States Capitol in Washington D.C.

texas state capitol

continental club austin

austin kungfu saloon

austin market

waterloo records

Waterloo Records

live a great story sticker

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Exploring Spain (Photo Essay) Fri, 11 Apr 2014 11:07:32 +0000 Six incredible destinations in Spain through the lens of Kristyn Assise.

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Spain is such an incredible country. It’s been far too long since we’ve explored its varied cities (and we’ve never seen them together) but these photos from today’s guest post ignited a reminder that we should make plans to return soon…

It started with the love of a language. What began as a secretive, solitary study, trying to roll my r’s while staring at myself in the mirror of my bedroom, has led me to be living and learning on the streets of Spain. The following photos are snapshots of my memories, moments I’ve had in six different cities in Spain. Each is depicted differently, for some I defined by the grandness and beauty of building, others by the sincere smiles of the people who call these places home.

segovia spain Segovia2 Segovia3

Segovia, Spain

My current place of residence; it is small but the culture is rich and the landscapes are breathtaking. Featured above are the cathedral and castle, taken from the perspective of a hiking trail just above the local monastery. The castle in Segovia is said to be one of two castles that inspired the image of the Walt Disney world castle.

barcelona spain Barcelona2 Barcelona3

Barcelona, Spain

The city itself is filled with the hustle and bustle of any main area of commerce, but the architecture lining the streets and filling the spaces is absolutely incredible. La Sagrada Familia is one of the most popular tourist spots in the city and in the country for a reason. Designed by Antoni Gaudí, the church has been under construction since 1915 and is still in progress of being built. Standing in front of the church, looking up at the spindles spiraling above my head, I felt engulfed in the enormity. La Sagrada Familia was not overrated in the least bit; it is a marvel that I believe can only be fully appreciated in person.

granada spain Granada2 Granada3 Granada4

Granada, Spain

The main attraction was without a doubt the Alhambra, an Islamic palace reflecting a variety of architectural styles. When I entered the gates of the Alhambra I felt completely and totally inferior; I was drenched in rain from head to toe and resembled a wet dog at best. The Alhambra is more than a singular building; it is a complex of gardens, grand archways, and elaborately designed buildings fit for the nobility it once held. The ceilings and walls are built in accordance to classic Islamic style, a current monument showcasing the occupants of the past. An Arabic inscription borders many of the walls, reading in translation “Only God is victorious.”

salamanca spain Salamanca2 Salamanca3

Salamanca, Spain

Classified as a college town, Salamanca was a place of peace and positive experiences. It was a sunny day when I first ventured into the Plaza Mayor. Restaurants, ice-cream shops and other small vendors lined the square exterior of the plaza; the center was inhibited by a band of sun-seekers. People of all ages sat on the warm ground, reading, talking, laughing, and enjoying the company of one another. I was impressed with the plaza on the first day of my visit but brought to tears on the second. It was a stroke on luck that I walked into the Plaza Mayor at the peak of a demonstration for peace, people standing proudly hand in hand. The message was simple, intentions were pure and everyone was welcome. In a country of unfamiliarity it was touching to be reminded of the international push for peace.

sevilla spain Sevilla2 Sevilla4 Sevilla5

Sevilla, Spain

If pressed to choose a favorite place in Spain, Sevilla would be at the top of my list. The palm trees were a welcoming sight into the warm spring air. Castles and cathedrals are not exactly a novelty in Spain, which made me hesitant to let myself feel excited about the ones in Sevilla. After the experience, I would recommend both the castle and cathedral in Sevilla above almost any other city in the country. The cathedral is the largest of the gothic style in existence and the third largest church in the world. Competing for grandeur, the castle seemed to have an almost magical quality. I felt like I was in another world walking through the buildings of the castle into the garden. Peacocks roamed the paths and orange trees hung overhead. The sound of a man-made waterfall filled my ears as I got lost in the garden maze, not wanting to be found.

sevilla sunset Sevilla7

My day in Sevilla turned to night at the top of the Metropol Parasol, featured in the two photos above. This recent addition to the city was completed in 2011 and claims the title of the world’s largest wooden structure.  It was refreshing to see contemporary architecture contrasting the typical classic style that is so common in Spain. It costs 3 euro for admission to the top of the structure and includes a complimentary drink. It was well worth the money I would have otherwise spent on bus fare to have a drink with friends while watching the sunset.

toledo spain Toledo2 Toledo3

Toledo, Spain

My words to describe this city are scare because but my memories are full. This was the perfect place to spend only a night and feel like I had fully seen the town. Tourism is cultivated through the selling of swords and other steel products; one of Toledo’s claims to fame is having made the swords for Lord of the Rings. For me the most satisfying part of the trip was exploring the landscapes, which is where my friends and I came across an abandoned cave. The excitement of finding a broken down building was mixed with the adrenaline of being somewhere unfamiliar, possibly forbidden. If you find yourself in Toledo, take a walk across the bridge and by the river to find the building!

valencia spain Valencia2 Valencia3

Valencia, Spain

A beach town by nature, Valencia had me happy when I first spotted a palm tree and sand. The first photo was taken at the Lladró, a company that produces exquisite porcelain figures. The factory was not in the main part of the town, but by city bus it was easily accessible and well worth the trip. More well known in Valencia is the City of Arts and Sciences, featured above. The buildings were a marvel to look at, functioning art forms.

Although possibly and probably biased, given it is my current home, Spain is nothing short of incredible.

Bio: Kristyn is a student, traveler and photography fanatic. Her days are currently being spent in Spain, living the accident-prone life of a girl abroad. Through her work she aspires to capture the fleeting moments of ordinary people, whether it be through a photograph or written account. You can find out more about her journey at  

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A Spring Staycation In Houston (Part Two) Tue, 01 Apr 2014 16:04:49 +0000 A lovely Sunday morning at the Hotel Sorella + lunch at Grub Burger Bar = bliss!

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After a delicious gourmet evening at The Capital Grille, we pretty much fell into bed. Awaking the next day among the soft sheets and plush pillows of our luxurious bed at the Hotel Sorella, we were glad to be up a little early to enjoy our room. After all, it isn’t every Sunday that we have time to just lie in and watch television all morning with cups of Katz’s coffee.

katz coffee hotel sorella

We headed down to the lobby lounge for breakfast at some point. The complimentary spread offered tasty croissants, fresh fruit, yogurt, cereal and an array of hot beverages. Guests were enjoying their meals at various unique tables and chairs all around the lounge. We were particularly captivated by the green European Murano glass chandelier.

hotel sorella hallway

murano chandelier hotel sorella

lobby lounge hotel sorella

pool hotel sorella

After breakfast we got back into bed for a little while longer. Situated high above CityCentre, our room was quiet and peaceful, with the plaza just waking up below us as well. We had another great meal ahead of us at lunchtime to look forward to.

hotel sorella bathroom hotel-sorella-citycentre-075 hotel-sorella-citycentre-077

Grub Burger Bar is doing everything right. They bake their buns from scratch every hour, hand make their own sauces and dressings and provide a fun, friendly atmosphere for chowing down on some delicious burgers. John was particularly excited about their selection of draft craft beers.

grub sign

grub employee

craft beer grub

Grub serves burgers made from Certified Angus Beef, turkey, tuna, chickpea and eggplant, salmon and chicken. The combinations of ingredients are unique and exciting too. We started off with the spicy, unusual Crawfish Pistolettes, which feature a French bread roll stuffed with homemade étouffée and quick fried for a tasty appetizer, served with Mississippi Comeback Sauce. I loved how spicy these were – a nice set-up for the main course.

crawfish pistolettes

Then it was time for the burgers. Grub grinds its own signature brisket and chuck blend daily so the meat in the Guacapotle was very fresh. Every burger at Grub has interesting ingredients and a cool name, this one served with chipotle aioli, cheddar cheese and guacamole (we added the bacon). The burgers pictured were served on Grub’s gluten-free buns, which come from the Taylor Made Gluten Free Bakery in the Brazos Valley, but the regular buns have quite a different presentation. This is a truly tasty burger and you can taste the hand crafted love in each bite.

grub grinding room

guacapotle burger

We also tried the Jive Turkey burger, a 100% turkey breast patty topped with bacon, Swiss cheese, sprouts, avocado and chipotle aioli (the cage free fried egg was added on). This was the best turkey burger we’ve ever had, and perfectly seasoned. Sometimes turkey gets quite dry, never a good characteristic of burger meat, but that was not the case with the Jive.

jive turkey burger grub

Unfortunately we were too full after that to enjoy dessert, but the friendly manager was quick to invite us to sample Grub Burger Bar’s signature Hand Spun Shakes. John tried the Nutella shake while I enjoyed the refreshing Key Lime Pie shake. Heaven! These are also available in “Spiked” varieties with alcohol.

hand spun shakes grub

grub burger city centre

We love burgers and are always looking for places that make everything fresh (we live organic and hate preservatives and processed food). Grub Burger Bar definitely pleased both our palates and our proclivities. And to top it all off, their staff are super-friendly and serve everything up in an enjoyable environment.


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A Spring Staycation In Houston (Part One) Tue, 25 Mar 2014 20:29:07 +0000 Desperately in need of a mini-break, John and I headed to Houston’s CityCentre for 24 hours of fun.

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Desperately in need of a mini-break, John and I put our work aside last weekend for a change and headed to Houston’s CityCentre for 24 hours of fun. We were lucky guests at the chic Hotel Sorella, one of only two Houston hotels on the Conde Nast Traveler Gold List.

hotel sorella city centree houston staircase

Located in the CityCentre entertainment complex, which has an excellent location in the Energy Corridor, Hotel Sorella offers 244 guest rooms and suites and 11 luxury penthouse suite apartments. Rooms include complimentary wireless internet access and continental breakfast in the lobby lounge. The hotel amenities offered include a spa and fitness center, complimentary town car service within a five-mile radius, valet parking, in-room dining, complimentary newspapers, a restaurant and a lounge. Guests have access to the local walking trails and a plethora of dining and entertainment options at their doorstep.

hotel sorella city centre room

hotel sorella city centre room

After a friendly check-in we headed up to our room. We enjoyed the views for awhile and then decided to head down to the Monnalisa Bar for a drink. There is always something going on at CityCentre and this weekend we watched a gathering of people for a massive spin class to raise money for cancer research. Relaxing by the pool we had a nice vantage point for people-watching and checking out the action below.

hotel sorella hotel-sorella-citycentre-070

city centre cycling for cancer march 2014

Soon it was time to head to a dinner we’d been looking forward to for a while. The Capital Grille had just opened a location four months prior at CityCentre. We crossed the street and entered the rich interior of the restaurant where we were seated in a plush corner table. Red walls and abstract art surrounded us as we began to decide on the components of the feast we were about to enjoy.

capital grille city centre

capital grille stoli doli

The Capital Grille philosophy is to serve only fresh, hand-crafted ingredients, right down to the mozzarella on their Fresh Mozzarella, Tomato and Basil with 15-Year Aged Balsamic salad. Our knowledgeable server walked us through the menu and explained the dry aging process for their beef. Each restaurant has a dry aging room where the meat spends some time before making its way to a diner’s plate.

capital grille chandelier

crab and lobster cakes

We began with samples of their signature cocktail, the “Stoli Doli,” a refreshing Stolichnaya vodka martini infused with pineapple, chilled and served straight up. It was really refreshing and an excellent appetizer for what was to come. We decided on the Lobster and Crab Cakes and Fresh Oysters on the Half Shell to begin. Meanwhile, the bread basket arrived at the table and we hastily indulged in too many delicious slices of both the pumpernickel and rustic bread.

fresh oysters on the half shell

Crab cakes are quite common at steakhouses in Texas but the combination of both lobster and crab was heavenly. After downing my wonderful fresh oysters from Massachusetts I helped John with the cakes, the juicy, succulent meat masterfully seasoned with dry mustard and sweet red pepper spices.

steaks The Capital Grille capital-grille-citycentre-13955372600847209

Of course, when our steaks arrived we wished we had forgone eating for the past couple of days. I’d ordered the dry aged ribeye with butter poached lobster tails, a mouthwatering choice. John tucked into their signature Porcini Rubbed Delmonico with 15-Year Aged Balsamic to which he had added a juicy king crab leg on the side. Steaks at The Capital Grille are cooked under infrared broilers, which allow a really nice crust to form on the outside of the steak. On the inside they were cooked to our desired medium rare. As if that wasn’t enough, we’d ordered two delightful sides: the Lobster Mac ‘N’ Cheese and Creamed Corn with Smoked Bacon, both delicious and perfect accompaniments. We couldn’t believe how much lobster was in the macaroni and cheese!

lobster macaroni and cheese

We couldn’t dine at The Capital Grille without taking advantage of the restaurant’s award-winning wine list. The 2009 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley really stood out. Its dark red, velvety texture was amazing and complemented the steaks nicely. And, of course, there’s always room for dessert. We managed to squeeze in more than a few bites of their intoxicating Flourless Chocolate Espresso Cake with raspberries and whipped cream. Divine!

chocolate espresso cake

The Capital Grille is a fine dining establishment with impeccable service and sophisticated tastes and décor, but we loved that it wasn’t stuffy. Every member of the staff that we encountered was friendly and unpretentious, from our server, Roberto to Executive Chef Todd Williamson who stopped by to introduce himself. They even took our photo and gave us a copy in a lovely card. This is definitely a place for special occasions or just to treat yourself. After dinner we enjoyed a tour of the banquet and meeting areas as well as the beautiful bar where guests enjoyed drinks and bar snacks in a spacious area.

capital grille souvenir photo

We had planned all night to go and see the band at the Hotel Sorella’s Monnalisa bar that night but after a meal like that we wanted nothing more than to curl up in our plush, luxurious bed and relax. Luckily we only had to step outside and across to the hotel elevators and we were there. We wanted to get a good night’s sleep for the next day there was more deliciousness to be had…

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The World’s Worst Drivers Are In Houston Tue, 18 Mar 2014 15:21:31 +0000 You take your life in your hands when you head out on the roads in Houston every day. I often wonder if anyone here even knows what they are doing wrong.

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Dear Houston drivers,

Please head to your nearest department of motor vehicles and pick up a copy of the Texas Driver’s Handbook. Because for a bunch of people who must spend half of their waking lives in the car, ya’ll can’t drive for shit.

And before you blast me, I’m not alone in saying this. It’s been documented. And before your lazy, ignorant driving kills someone, I want you to take some notes.

houston worst drivers

I’m not sure what the worst offenses are. Between the constant texting instead of watching the road or your abuse of the left lane, I’m lucky I’m alive to write this post. A special hello to the lady who came to a complete stop in the middle of the road the other day because she needed to mess around with something in her passenger seat. There’s no respect for the motorway down here. Maybe it stems from the fact that the roads themselves are hazards. The lane lines on some of the freeways have been painted over so many times that you can’t really tell where you’re supposed to be. Maybe you swerved into my lane to avoid that giant hole in the pavement that could have knocked out your alignment or given you a flat tire. Okay, okay. I’ll give you that one.

If anyone from out of state is coming to brave it on our Texas roads, be aware of the way the rules change once you hit the Houston city limits:

Left is right and right is left.

The speeders are all in the two righthand lanes while the left lane is reserved for the elderly man going 45mph and looking like he accidentally wandered onto the freeway after about a decade hiatus. Or the lady just cruising along at 50mph with the parade behind her because, hey, it’s easier to hang out over there than brave the speeding, weaving mess going on over in the right lanes. Other people in the left lane may have shifted over so they can slow down to make that very important phone call. Or you’ve got the guy who’s just a jerk and does not want to let you pass, marshalling the road and giving you the finger when you give him a quick move over toot or flash of the high beams. All of this makes it very difficult and dangerous to effectively overcome the next rule.

Nobody knows who has the right of way.

In good-driver-land, traffic moving from the left lanes to the right lanes, or entering and exiting the freeway, has the right of way (pp. 23-24). This is for safety reasons, people, not because some of us decided that our way is just “better.” It would make sense that the people who need to exit the freeway should be able to easily do so, right? It goes like this: I’m in a left or middle lane and see my exit coming up. I put my turn signal on and attempt to change into the slower lanes to the right, eventually making it safely to my exit. The fact that I’m going faster in the left lane than those people to the right of way make this maneuver both safe and possible. Wrongo! Don’t forget rule #1: people are doing 80 in the right lanes. So when you’re stuck behind Mr. Jerk-Face, cruising along at 50 in the fast lane, it’s impossible to get over. Swear and honk all you like. Those bull’s balls hanging from the back of the guy’s bumper are a big old “f’ you…I’M THE MAN…YE-AH. No way you’re getting in front of ME. You just keep driving an exit or two out of the way and YOU LIKE IT!!!”

Nobody is paying attention.

Don’t take it personally. Mr. Jerk-face probably doesn’t even know you’re there. He’s either on the phone, texting or has his stereo cranked up so loud he’s oblivious to the world. It’s just him and his left lane. Vast. Free. Empty. Nobody else on the road. Same goes for that teenage girl who’s about to veer into your lane. She thinks she’s mastered the art of texting and driving at the tender age of 16. And that car in front of you that just slammed on its brakes for no reason? Don’t mind that either – the driver just needed to turn around and yell at his kids for a minute.

The biggest beast on the road wins.

You may have seen my post on little monster trucks. Yeah. Even those with SUVs have no chance against these guys. The only thing that can beat them are the Hummers. You can’t see around them, you can’t pass them and you can’t get away from them in this fair state. And if one mashes you it’s game over. So just steer clear as best as you can and try to find safety in the middle lanes.

Never, ever signal your intentions.

Of course you know you’re getting off at the next exit. And you’ve put your phone down and have three lanes to cross in a hurry. Signaling is for suckers. Just cut off the guy in the lane to your right at the last minute (hey, he was speeding anyway!). Then repeat until you get there. Yes, you definitely have room to squeeze in between the side rail and that car in the exit only lane. Just in the nick of time. Remember to go flying off the freeway and cut across the frontage road lanes quickly without looking. It’s the Texas way.

What’s your favorite place to drive?

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When We Can’t Wander As Much As We’d Like Fri, 07 Mar 2014 17:18:31 +0000 Are you building the life of your dreams or simply dreaming about it?

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When we become travellers, I think we become something else. Perhaps we are more liberated beings, suddenly aware of the great world beyond our doorsteps and more curious about all the things that we now know we’re clueless about. Maybe something within us changed on that first excursion to a foreign land and we want to become better acquainted with that self we met while we were away. We might have unfinished business with the world, whether that’s a destination list we want to get through or a culture we’re determined to learn more about. Some of us just know that there are other possibilities for our lives now, and that the ways we thought we had to live were out of date, not guaranteed or limited in some way.

location independent living

When we set off on our around the world (RTW) trip in 2011, we knew it wouldn’t be forever. We had no illusions that we would become permanent backpackers, trotting from city to city endlessly and living as perpetual nomads. That’s a fabulous lifestyle if it’s for you and you can happily sustain it. But by the end of the year we were exhausted. We still wanted to see the world but thought we’d try the expat life again for a while. We’d get to absorb a new culture and would still be able to travel quite a bit. And we did see a lot of places in 2012 and 2013: Finland, Estonia, France, London and the United States. Norway might be frighteningly expensive as a place to live, but at least the vacation days are numerous.

Then we moved back to the United States. Despite all its problems, I love my country. But I don’t love working 50-80+ hour weeks and having very little time off to travel. We also live in a city that’s pretty isolated from the rest of the country. Long weekends are great, but when you have to fly there’s not a lot of time to relax. We’ve been taking driving trips and checking out the local attractions, but if you’ve been a traveller you know the feeling of itchy feet. We have dreams of taking a few weeks to road trip out west this summer but right now with everything that’s going on with work, we’re not sure when or even if that’s going to happen. So we feel disillusioned and perhaps a little sad. Sure, we could take off again if we really wanted to, but that would be short-sighted.

Because what we’ve realized is that we need to get our freedom back. And the only way to do it is to put in the time and hours now and set ourselves up so our lives can go in the direction we want them to later. We miss travel. Our first RTW was a test – one that seems it was so long ago now – to see what we like and what we don’t. We’ll never travel that quickly again. In fact, all we want is the ability to pick up and go whenever we feel like it. To not have to turn down invitations to foreign countries because we have jobs that require our presence in the office every day (yes, we’ve had to say no to a few of those in the past six months – heartbreaking!) The term “location independent” living may be a little trite, but isn’t it still an exciting concept?

I believe that the old/current work and lifestyle model is dead. Every day people are getting laid off from their jobs, burdened with enough work for two or three employees or finding their performance goalposts moved back further and further. Human beings get stuck in old modalities, thinking that what worked for their parents will work for them. Right now somewhere, someone is plotting a way for a computer or a robot to do your job. Technology is wonderful and amazing, but it is also altering everything about the way we live and work. According to the linked Economist article, “no country is ready for it.” Think about that for a moment. Widespread changes in the way we create our incomes. Social upheaval on every level. A truly globalized workforce. If you haven’t been thinking about this it’s time to wake up and do so. Nothing has been more empowering for me to shun a corporate job and create my own ways of employing myself. Yes, it’s been a struggle, but most people have to struggle a little and make mistakes before they hit upon their golden idea.

I did not mean for this post to drift into ideas about how to change your job to change your life but I’m happy about where the stream of consciousness went. I miss travel. But most of all I miss not being tied to one place and being independent of things I can’t control. We want back in. Some have chosen to do this through their blogging or travel writing. I do enjoy that but I also don’t want to be working 75+ hours a week while I’m travelling. I do that now and as much as I love all the projects I’m involved in at the moment, I don’t want to be a slave to my boss-self either. Early retirement is more of what I had in mind. Which, of course, means that one has to either become rich or develop a form of residual income.

None of these are new ideas. I just want to put it out there that I’m reaching. Travel has made me discontented with the “standard American lifestyle.” Perhaps once you break out you can never return. How many of you are in the same spot? Let’s talk about what you’re doing today to make those dreams a reality…

When We Can’t Wander As Much As We’d Like is a post from: - Travel the World

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