REPOST: What I Learned From Quitting My Job and Traveling Around the World

If you are given a once in a lifetime chance to travel around the world, will you grab it and risk your job? Patrick Mathieson tells his experiences on the article below:

people-sitting-elephant

Image Source: time.com

This past April I quit my job at Dell, crammed some stuff into a backpack, and went to Southeast Asia (and a few other places) for about six weeks. Not exactly “traveling the world” as I only went to a few countries, but it was more of a backpacker/adventure travel experience than I had ever had previously. (Last month I did another 2.5 week trip with a backpack to Australia and New Zealand, so this has gotten a lot less scary since then.)

The trip was modest, so I won’t act like it was some kind of transformative experience or anything. That said, I did learn a few things.

1. I don’t need that much “stuff” to exist. My travel clothes consisted of two pairs of shorts, three pairs each of underwear and socks, about six t-shirts, and a sweater. That’s it. Whereas back in the U.S. I had amassed closet and a dresser full of clothes, most of which I never wore. Why did I accumulate so much stuff when a backpack’s worth of clothes could sustain me perpetually? Sure, I didn’t need a winter coat or a sports jacket on my trip, so those deserve some shelf space. But why did I own 6 different suits and 35 different dress shirts?
2. I vastly underrated “home” while I was living there. Adventure travel is a tempting siren when you’re sitting at your desk job and dreaming of grand adventures at Mt. Everest or the Great Barrier Reef. I think this caused me to pine for the future and underrate the present. Home is awesome. I live in a country where I can freely travel and live in any of 50 states, where all of my friends and family are easy to see and contact, and where I’m relatively unscathed by the police/government/taxman/whatever (I’ll grant that this doesn’t describe everybody’s experience in the USA, and that I’m luckier than most in this regard.). For some reason, at the beginning of my trips I always think I’ll never want to come back home, but each and every time I’m mistaken. It’s made me a little more thankful and observant in my regular life in the States.
3. People are people are people. No matter what country you go to, people put their pants on one leg at a time, so to speak. Even though different cultures can be vastly different from one another, most humans share quite a few common experiences. I suspect that the media caricatures of the daily live of people in North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. are somewhat overstated. Not to understate the horrors of political tyranny, but most humans go to work in the morning and tuck their kids into bed at night just like the rest of us.
4. There’s nothing “special” about backpacking culture. Some people describe backpacker/hostel culture as more “authentic” than traditional tourist/hotel/hospitality culture, like there’s something more “real” about sharing a room in a dirty hostel instead of staying at the Hilton. And sure, I’ll grant that you are less likely to grasp local culture if you spend your trips at five-star resorts. But if you go to any hostel in the world you’ll see the same scene: A bunch of 19-year-old British/German/French/Dutch/Australian backpackers in tank tops smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. Is that any more unique or authentic than middle-aged Americans in Brooks Brothers oxfords drinking rum and Cokes in every Ritz-Carlton on the planet?
5. But…. it’s still awesome. I think everybody should take at least one backpacking trip, even just for the opportunity to have a really bad time and learn a lot from the experience. There’s a lot to see out there.

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Iconic and tall: American monuments that honor the past

Since 1906, national monuments in the United States have validated how culturally and historically rich the country is. They serve as landmarks that have progressed to become national symbols. To date, there are 100 official national monuments administered by the U.S. National Park Service. While some of them are less popular, many are famous among tourists and locals not only for their significance, but also for their dominating structure.

 

One very tall monument is the Gateway Arch situated in Saint Louis, Missouri. This prominent 630-foot tall and 630-foot wide from base to base architectural marvel symbolizes the westward expansion of the United States. It boasts of 200 years of American history. Also known as the Gateway to the West, visitors can do city sightseeing and running in the area.

Image Source: allparenting.com

Another architectural wonder is the 555-foot tall Washington Monument in Washington, DC. Completed in 1884, this structure used to be the tallest building in the world until the Eiffel Tower was built. Today, it is now the third tallest monument in the U.S. and the tallest in the capital city. By way of an elevator, tourists can go to the top to enjoy scenic views of the city.

 

The third example is the Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial in Ohio. Standing 352 feet tall, this memorial is located in South Bass Island, Lake Erie in Put-in-Bay town where the Battle of Lake Erie was fought and won by the U.S. Navy against Great Britain in 1812. To commemorate this victory and the U.S.-Great Britain relations, the monument was built in 1912. An observation deck for views of Lake Erie is open for public enjoyment.

 

Monuments serve as gateways to the past. Visiting them means celebrating and understanding what America is today.

 

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Rediscovering the historical greatness of New Orleans

A travel to New Orleans goes beyond the tradition of Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday. Within the city is a wealth of historical sites that are worth visiting to the delight of those who are craving the city’s rich historical culture.

Although morbid for some tastes, part of New Orleans’ must-see attractions are its cemeteries. Dubbed the “cities of the dead,” the cemeteries show a lot about a city’s past, as evidenced by ornate designs inspired by French and Spanish architecture. Their ghostly atmospheres are perfect for trips that aim for excitement and adventure.

Monuments, statues, and memorials are also fair game in New Orleans. In a list found at commercial genealogy and social networking website, Geni.com, Louisiana’s most beloved monuments are said to be found in New Orleans, including the Equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson that is one of the most recognizable in the state.

Image Source: fineartamerica.com

Other notable structures are the Bienville Monument in Bienville Place, Margaret Haughery Statue, Robert E. Lee Monument, Winston Churchill Statue, Benjamin Franklin Statue, and the Spanish-American War Monument located at Loyola Avenue.

For those who want to experience New Orleans at its very best, U.S. News advises tourists to tour the city’s French Quarter, which is described as “the heart and soul of the city.” Recognized as a “National Historic Landmark,” the Quarter, otherwise known as Vieux Carré, gives people a taste of the original New Orleans colony in the 1700’s.

Indeed, New Orleans is more than about festivities and celebrations. It’s home to some of the country’s richest historical sites that know no season for visits.

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REPOST: 10 Surprisingly Affordable Vacation Hotspots

People are always looking for the best travel deals, especially for the holiday season. Ryan Rudnansky of Travel Pulse enumerates ten destinations you didn’t know were affordable.

PHOTO: Bali, Indonesia | Image Source: travepulse.com

PHOTO: Bali, Indonesia | Image Source: travelpulse.com

Looking for an affordable top tourist destination this holiday season and beyond?

Well, it just so happens that room search engine AllTheRooms.com recently compiled a list of the top 10 budget destinations around the world.

These destinations range from the United States to Indonesia to Greece, giving travelers plenty of options that offer luxury for a cheap.

The 10 destinations AllTheRooms.com chose are: Bali, Shanghai, Mexico, South Africa, Turkey, Corfu, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Myrtle Beach and Orlando.

In Bali, which continues to grow in popularity, you can stay at beachfront hostels for as little as $10 per night. And no need to go emptying your piggy bank if you want to rest in luxury. Luxury resorts in the Indonesia hotspot offer rates for as little as $25 per night.

Shanghai has always been a great place to wander around, but you won’t need to wander far to find great deals in this exotic Chinese city, from accommodation to entertainment and meals. Many four-star hotels in Shanghai offer rates for around $35 per night.
Mexico is a regular vacation destination for Americans. While the beach resorts can cost a pretty peso, you’d be surprised what you can find just a couple blocks inland. As long as you don’t need to stay right on the beach, you can find rates as cheap as $45 per night for four-star hotels. Meals and drinks are also relatively inexpensive.

If you are looking for a great spot for both wildlife safaris and ocean activities, look no further than South Arica. The currency exchange rate in this warm destination is fantastic, and Cape Town and Johannesburg offer four-star accommodations starting at $40 per night.

Turkey has been growing as a prime holiday destination for a while now, given its wide array of Mediterranean beaches, historic ruins and scenic views of nearby Istanbul. A U.S. dollar is currently worth over $2.25 Turkish Lira, and it’s common to stay at a deluxe hotel for $30-$50, even on the Riviera.

Corfu may not be an ideal destination for the winter holidays, but travelers may want to keep the Greek island in mind come the summer months. While Santorini and Mykonos are well-known tourist destinations, Corfu is a gorgeous seaside location that oftentimes gets overlooked. You can rent a deluxe apartment set on the Mediterranean for $50 per night if you opt for this coastal beauty.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Costa Rica makes the list, especially if you have traveled to the Central American adventure land. A popular hotspot for Americans (North, Central and South), Costa Rica offers just about everything, from ziplining through a rainforest to scuba diving and snorkeling the picturesque reefs to touring the local cities. On top of that, it’s cheap, too. Stay in a four-star hotel in tropical beach town Tamarindo or rent a two-bedroom villa near the beach…all for as little as $75 per night.

Puerto Rico has become a popular Caribbean destination not only because of its tropical weather and sweeping beaches, but also for its prices and convenience. U.S. citizens don’t need a passport to travel to the island and the currency is the U.S. dollar. You can land a luxurious vacation rental near the ocean for as little as $55 per night.

Myrtle Beach in South Carolina has long been a popular summer destination among U.S. travelers, as well as international visitors. The scenic city features miles of beaches, a vibrant nightlife and boardwalk, and plenty of spectacular golf courses to wander around in awe.

While an upscale beachfront resort will charge more than $100 per night in peak season at this top tourist destination, you can nab a deluxe condo overlooking the ocean for as little as $50 per night.

It’s also not a surprise that Orlando made the list. The home of Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Florida, SeaWorld Orlando and LEGOLAND Florida (just to name a few), the theme park capital of the world makes sure to add plenty of rooms to accommodate tourists…which means hotels need to fill these rooms, oftentimes at cheap prices.

Brave the heat in the summer and receive even better deals, as the parks tend to offer package discounts. Four-star Downtown Disney hotels start at $60 per night. Deluxe four-bedroom homes minutes from the park can cost as little as $50 per night.

Find out where to get the most affordable travel deals by visiting this Pete Scamardo blog.

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REPOST: Divided by a Windfall: Affordable Housing in New York City Sparks Debate

Southbridge Towers, as seen from the Brooklyn Bridge, has four high-rises and additional low-rise buildings. | Image Source: nytimes.com

Most New Yorkers would look upon the good fortune of the residents of Southbridge Towers with envy. They paid, on average, $17,500 for their Lower Manhattan apartments, many with stunning East River views. The average maintenance fee in the middle-income development in the financial district near South Street Seaport is $620 a month. And soon, their fortunes could soar even higher.

In late September, after a contentious eight-year debate, shareholders voted to leave Mitchell-Lama, the affordable housing program that has provided them with decades of low-cost housing. The decision paves the way for residents to sell their apartments at market rate and reap profits in the high six figures.

“People of modest means now have an asset worth hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Wallace Dimson, 68, the president of the Southbridge Towers co-op board.

If the offering plan clears all hurdles, the 1,651-unit complex near the Brooklyn Bridge would be the largest Mitchell-Lama co-op in Manhattan to privatize at a time when the city is struggling to hold onto its dwindling stock of affordable housing. Mitchell-Lama, a program created in 1955, added thousands of units of affordable housing — both limited-equity co-ops and rentals — for middle-class New Yorkers during a period of urban renewal that lasted through the 1970s. Hailed as among the most successful such programs in the country, it frequently allowed residents to remain in their homes for decades, bringing stability and growth to neighborhoods that were once desolate.

Southbridge Towers, a nine-building complex bounded by Fulton, Gold, Frankfort and Pearl Streets, opened in 1971. Generous property tax exemptions and low-interest loans have helped Southbridge and other Mitchell-Lama projects keep housing costs well below market rate to this day. Prospective tenants frequently wait years for their names to be drawn in a lottery and must meet strict income guidelines, paying a monthly surcharge if their earnings subsequently pass the threshold. Co-op residents pay a lump sum when they move in. When they move out, they get back their initial investment, plus interest.

Although developments are allowed to eventually leave the program, few of the co-ops have. Of the city’s 97 Mitchell-Lama co-ops, encompassing more than 70,000 units, only seven have privatized. Southbridge would be the eighth, according to New York University Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy.

The largest Mitchell-Lama co-op, Co-op City in the Bronx, with 15,372 units and about 50,000 residents, refinanced its debt in 2012, committing to another 35 years in the program. As for the city’s Mitchell-Lama rentals, about half of the 69,755 units have privatized, often delivering windfalls to the landlords and steep rent increases to tenants.

The state’s Homes and Community Renewal agency is reviewing the Southbridge vote for accuracy, but has no authority to override a shareholder decision or block privatization.

For supporters of Mitchell-Lama, the Southbridge vote delivers a painful blow.

“It’s a sad day for affordable housing in New York,” said John Fratta, 61, the only member of the 15-member Southbridge Towers co-op board to oppose the decision. “It’s really a tragedy.”

The city and state have made efforts to preserve Mitchell-Lama housing over the years. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s housing plan even suggests reaching out to former Mitchell-Lama developments to see if residents would consider returning to the fold. And Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s housing plan has refinanced loans for several Mitchell-Lamas.

The decision to stay or go is fraught, causing deep rifts among shareholders who have often lived together for decades. The debate pits those who would like to see their complexes remain affordable in perpetuity against those who would like to benefit from the rising housing market.

In a neighborhood like the financial district, where the average sales price is $1.1 million, according to CityRealty, the temptation to cash in is hard to resist. With so much money at stake, tensions flare. The Southbridge offering plan anticipates that a shareholder selling a one-bedroom apartment for $550,000 could walk away with $325,000 cash after paying substantial fees and taxes. The largest unit, a three-bedroom with a terrace, could sell for nearly $1 million.

“It’s really torn the community up,” said Charles Chawalko, 26, who moved to Southbridge as a child. “People think that you’re taking money out of their pockets if you want to support Mitchell-Lama.”

“If you saw what’s been going on here, the acrimony, this place will never be the same,” said Paul Hovitz, 68, a retired special education teacher who has lived in Southbridge for 30 years with his wife, Denise, 61.

Privatizing assumes financial risk, particularly for the type of tenant the program was designed to serve — someone who can barely afford the current costs. No longer eligible for tax abatements, Southbridge would have to pay at least $8.1 million a year in real estate taxes, significantly more than the $1.64 million it now pays. The development could also be on the hook for a $27.77 million transfer tax if the New York State Court of Appeals rules in favor of the city in an ongoing case involving a former Mitchell-Lama development in Coney Island that privatized in 2007.

If privatization goes through, and “you want to sell, then there is this incredible opportunity to cash out and get a windfall,” said Max Weselcouch, the director of the Moelis Institute for Affordable Housing Policy at the Furman Center. “If you don’t want to sell, then you are locked into paying higher maintenance and taxes. Your living expenses rise.”

To cover the increased costs, original shareholders would pay the co-op a flip tax as high as 33 percent when they sell. Future shareholders would pay a 2.5 percent flip tax. But the Southbridge shareholders who voted in favor of the measure were clearly willing to take the risk.

“If you have an opportunity to have ownership of a piece of Manhattan real estate in one of the fastest growing areas, does that outweigh any of these negatives?” Mr. Dimson said. “I think most people will tell you yes.”

The Southbridge vote required support from two-thirds of the shareholders. If no irregularities are found in the voting process, shareholders then must choose one of three options. They can agree to participate, which means they become shareholders in a market-rate development; they can relinquish their shares to the co-op, get their equity back and leave; or they can relinquish their shares and stay on as rental tenants with annual rent increases of no more than 5 percent a year. As renters, they would lose their stature as shareholders, but they would not risk paying steep maintenance increases should costs rise.

In order for the plan to become final, two-thirds of the shareholders must agree to become market-rate shareholders. If this occurs, residents could begin selling their apartments by next summer.

The co-op anticipates that about 50 units will sell every year, bringing in enough revenue through the flip tax to cover any cost increases. “There is so much intrinsic value in the property that the increase in real estate taxes should be offset by the sale of apartments,” said Stuart M. Saft, the lawyer who helped Southbridge develop the offering plan.

The apartments at Southbridge Towers, a hulking brick complex of low-rise and high-rise towers, might be showing their age, but for buyers looking for a discount, they could provide a rare opportunity to buy a reasonably priced apartment in Manhattan. Many units have terraces and, with the option to combine existing apartments, a resident could create a large space.

There is little like the complex in the area. Of the 383 apartments that sold in the financial district in the first three quarters of the year, only 35 were co-ops, according to CityRealty. The average price for a co-op in the financial district is $859,000, substantially lower than the average price for a condo, $1.121 million.

“Bring it on,” said Jonathan J. Miller, the president of the appraisal firm Miller Samuel. “More reasonably priced units in Manhattan is what Manhattan desperately needs.”

Besides interior gardens, a playground and a community room, Southbridge Towers has several commercial tenants, including a Key Foods, parking, a bakery and a restaurant.

“The complex itself is pleasing and some of the views are remarkable,” said Neal Young, a salesman at Halstead Property. “There’s a modernity to it that I think is quite nice.”

To gauge how well Southbridge apartments might sell, brokers point to the Seward Park Cooperative, a midcentury Lower East Side development that was once part of the sprawling affordable housing complex known as Cooperative Village. Seward Park, built by the United Housing Federation, was privatized in 1995. Of the 54 units that sold in the first three quarters of the year, the average sales price was $664,000, according to CityRealty.

“Anything in Seward Park is really selling in the first one to two weeks on the market,” said Jeremy Bolger, a salesman for Halstead Property.

Seward Park has endured its own growing pains in the years since privatization, with older or original residents often resisting costly improvements favored by newer shareholders, some of whom paid substantial sums for their apartments. Nevertheless, maintenance has held relatively steady over the years, helped by a substantial flip tax, according to Mr. Young, who has lived in Seward Park since 2001. For example, the maintenance for a one-bedroom listed for $600,000 on Streeteasy.com was $523 a month.

The area near the South Street Seaport was not always a desirable market. When Southbridge Towers opened in 1971, the neighborhood was pretty much without shops or restaurants. The Fulton Fish Market made its odoriferous presence known. Battery Park City did not exist. Schoolchildren had to walk many blocks to get to the nearest public school.

Southbridge residents — a mix of teachers, government workers and artists — spent decades improving their apartments and volunteering in the neighborhood at a time when few wanted to venture to the eastern end of Fulton Street. Yet while the area has blossomed around them, many residents believe they have not profited from the change.

“We and our friends built that community, we built the Little Leagues, we demanded the schools,” said David Feiner, 55, a resident. “What we helped create was a 24-hour community that now everybody wants to live in, and the city has made a fortune on that.”

Mr. Feiner, a cabinetmaker who moved to Southbridge Towers in 1981 with his wife, Susan, 53, supports privatization. “If the city wants more affordable housing, they should build it.”

Mr. Feiner renovated the couple’s three-bedroom apartment, installing Brazilian hardwood floors throughout, custom cabinets in the kitchen and whirlpool bathtubs in the two bathrooms. If the apartment stays in Mitchell-Lama, Mr. Feiner says he will never recoup his $60,000 investment. If it leaves the program, he could sublet his apartment and travel once he retires. Eventually, he could sell or leave it to his children, who are grown.

Critics of privatization argue that the residents have already enjoyed the financial rewards that come with living in affordable housing. By selling their apartments, they are denying other New Yorkers the very opportunity that enriched their own lives. It seems wrong, they say, for a handful of people who were lucky enough to win a housing lottery to pocket profits from a public investment.

“To say that you have sacrificed for downtown is ridiculous,” Mr. Hovitz said. “Do the math: You hit the lottery when you came in here.”

“I do think that there should be outrage,” said Christine Fowley, the president of the board of Cooperators United for Mitchell-Lama, an organization with members from Mitchell-Lama co-ops throughout the city. “People who’ve been long subsidized are able to walk away with a profit while pulling up the ladder. It’s just so wrong. It’s just not O.K.”

For the shareholders who support the plan, privatizing provides options they did not have before. They can take out home equity loans to pay for college for their children, purchase and combine existing units to create a larger home, or sell and move elsewhere in an expensive city.

“People say it’s closing the door and it’s true, but this helps generations to come for the people in Southbridge,” said Rachel Nash, 38, a lawyer who lives there with her husband and 7-year-old twins and supports privatization. “My children will have more financial security than they would have had otherwise. If it is helping me, it helps them even more so.”

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Weird and wonderful: Three unusual American monuments

Apart from the usual sculptures and fountains paying tribute to heroes and historical events, odd monuments and attractions that commemorate the strangest things are scattered throughout the country. The following are three unusual monuments for tourists who want to see something out of the ordinary.

Field of Corn (with Osage Oranges) in Dublin, OH

From a distance, the former corn field appears to have been converted into a gravesite. Upon closer inspection, however, visitors will discover that the tall white slabs of cement aren’t tombstones: they’re giant ears of corn.

This publicly-funded art installation is meant to commemorate the city’s agricultural heritage and to pay tribute to Sam Frantz, who invented several species of hybrid corn.
The installation consists of 109 giant ears of corn made of cement, arranged in realistic farming rows. Each ear of corn weighs 680 kg and stands six to eight feet tall.
Locals have dubbed it “Cornhenge.”

Fremont Troll in Seattle, WA

Underneath the north end of the Aurora Avenue bridge lies a giant sculpture of a troll. The troll, standing 18 feet tall and weighing 6,000 kilograms, was created by four sculptors for the Fremont Arts Council in 1990.

The troll appears to be crawling out of the shadows of the bridge, holding a real Volkswagen Beetle, complete with a California license plate.
The Fremont Troll was inspired by the Norwegian fairy tale, “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” and is considered by many as the town’s unofficial mascot.

Image Source: worldofstock.com

Boll Weevil Monument in Enterprise, AL

In 1919, the town of Enterprise, Alabama erected a monument to pay tribute to the boll weevil. The monument is the only one in the world to be erected in honor of an agricultural pest.

The boll weevil is a small beetle notorious for infesting cotton-growing areas in the United States in the early 20th century, nearly destroying the industry. The pest forced farmers to diversify. They transformed their cotton fields to peanut farms, a successful venture that allowed them to pay their debts and bring new money into their area.

The monument depicts a woman in a flowing gown, standing on a pedestal and holding aloft a giant boll weevil. Several theft attempts forced the local government to remove the original monument and to put a resin replica in its place. The original monument now resides in the Enterprise Depot Museum.

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US historical sites worth paying a visit

It can be hard for many people to appreciate historical events. Separated by long lengths of time from the here and now, events that happened in the past can seem too distant and insignificant to what people experience and to what direct affects them. One way to get beyond this disconnect is to visit historical sites to feel the presence of what occurred and to see just how much things have changed and have remained the same.

 

Here in the U.S., there are a number of historical sites worth visiting. The Yosemite National Park, for instance, is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It is not only a great valley to behold; it is also a testament to the value of “human foresight, the strength of granite, the power of glaciers, the persistence of life, and the tranquility of the High Sierra.” As a historical site, this national park played a key role in the nation’s attitude toward conservation. When the nation was young and it didn’t yet have any great cities or magnificent structures, it already had unparalleled natural beauty which was worth protecting for future generations.

Image Source: allmammoth.com

Speaking of great structures, the Brooklyn Bridge still exists as an engineering masterpiece that remains in use at present. Completed in 1883, it is one of the most iconic structures in New York City. It has been featured in many films, television shows, and other works, and it remains as a wonderful testament of the energy, the optimism, and the creativity of the 19th century. Walking across the bridge also allows visitors to have a stunning view of the Manhattan skyline.
Finally, there is the Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Drop by and go to the National Constitution Center for an interactive, multi-media museum and learn just how the nation’s founding fathers gathered at that very place to think of how to invent a government.

 

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