Monthly Archives: May 2014

Catch & Release Your Summertime Reading.

SuitcaseofbooksAnyone who’s ever discovered a book along the way while traveling knows what a treat it can be.  In addition to other forgotten things, travelers often leave behind books when they head home or on to other places. Some do it to free up real estate in their luggage, others do it intentionally so another soul can enjoy the literature. Reaching for a book in the common space of a hotel, B&B, hostel, or cruise ship creates a subtle connection with the previous owner. Sometimes a bookmark is left inside, or maybe some notations alongside the margin, leaving behind hints of the previous reader like perfume that lingers long after someone has left a room.

This passing along of literature is kind of like a universal kinship. We may never meet the previous reader but some type of intimacy has been exchanged as the book passes from traveler to travel, along to parts unknown. It’s not about ownership. It’s all about sharing.

For anyone who appreciates finding a good book, or open to the mystery of discovering a book, check out Launched in 2001, it’s a celebration of literature based on creating a world library through a social networking structure. Their mission is to connect people through books and their model is “catch and release.” After signing onto their site, readers can start leaving books in their travel wake and, if interested, can track these books and connect with other readers. To date, it has 1,204,991 Bookcrossers (booklovers!) and 10,331,054 books traveling through 132 countries. Pretty cool.

The clever thing about is that you can leave books anywhere, which means you can do it in your own backyard. This makes life a bit more fun for those down times when you’re not traveling. No matter where you live, you’re bound to have tourists or travelers passing through your village, town, city, or countryside. You can leave a book anywhere—restaurants, a park bench, a monument, a subway. Imagine the surprise, and delight, when someone comes across this treasure and discovers it was meant for them!

If you’re the sort of reader who’s been meaning to clear out any books you may have around the house but who has trouble parting with your old favorites, this offers a great alternative. The best part is you can follow the books you set free as they make their way around the world and discover who might appreciate them as much as you do.

Happy reading and happy travels!


Stepping Into America’s Big Backyard.

APR-Yurts-03Summer’s soft opening happens this weekend with the Memorial Day holiday. Backyard barbeques will be heating up and gas will be pumping to move folks along the highways and skyways. After a long winter of wicked weather across the country, and strange climate conditions happening around the planet, it’s a great time to contemplate how you’ll spend your summer and maybe consider some new experiences and destinations.

Summer offers the perfect excuse to eek out a long weekend—at least once a month—to get out of town, or even to stay in town and finally see and do all of the things you keep meaning to experience. Summer let’s us off the hook. No matter how old you are, there’s something about dreamy summer that awakens our inner child…if we let it. In an age of always being shackled to some device, listen up and heed the call to disconnect and enjoy all of the great opportunities summer sends your way. From simply enjoying a slurpy slice of watermelon to learning something new like stand-up paddle boarding, there’s loads of great stuff waiting for you.

Montana buffalo in their own backyard.

Montana buffalo in their own backyard.

Maybe this is the summer you go big when it comes to travel, in which case I’d like to throw a suggestion your way. Go on safari.

Before you say, “Yeah, right!”— hear me out. Everyone always thinks Africa when they hear safari and, yes, many of the countries on that continent will expose you to incredible, life-changing experiences. But the reality for many folks is that for whatever reason they can’t cross the breach in their mind to even contemplate that kind trip as a reality. The distance, the flight, the cost—these are common roadblocks I often hear people talk about. So how about an American safari? There are some pretty unique experiences lurking in this big backyard.

Did someone say road trip? On the Great Plains of northeastern Montana, the American Prairie Reserve (APR) is 273,000-acres of protected wild grassland teeming with wildlife. This place is the perfect excuse to grab your best friend, or family, pack up the car with snacks, unplug, and shake up the brain with word games. If being on the road for a long stretch of time isn’t your thing, you can fly or take Amtrak to reach the APR and book a rental car from that point. The part I really like about this place is you can go highbrow or lowbrow.

If you’re into cushy digs and aren’t one to skimp on comfort, then Kestrel Camp is the best of both worlds. Opened in 2013, the five luxury yurts here are individual sanctuaries that rival some of the camp accommodations you’d find in African countries. The plush beds, hot showers, and a panoramic view to top it all off makes these climate-controlled, safari-style tent bungalows one sweet treat. You’ll dig into your wallet a little bit on this one but with the money you’ll save on flights, transfers, hotels, and all of the little add-ons, it’s a smart choice. The chance to spend time in one of the few untouched reaches of wilderness in the U.S. and experience it alongside biologists and naturalists is all part of the adventure. I love that APR saw the light and created this experience. They even have sundowners!

The lounge at Kestrel.

The lounge at Kestrel.

Anyone who camps knows there’s nothing like slipping your sleeping bag out of your tent to soak up a starry, starry night. If going back to basics is your thing then Buffalo Camp is the perfect spot. Made up of 4 tents and 7 camper sites, there may be no potable water but at $10 a night in this rustic stretch of paradise you’ll be stealing heaven. Situated near this campsite are hiking trails, biking options, and a prairie dog town. For anyone who likes an unstructured vacation, appreciates nature, and wants to be unencumbered of their “stuff,” the simplicity and stillness that you’ll find here makes this campsite pure bliss.  There’s no cellphone coverage here (which will hopefully enhance the feeling that you’ve left it all behind), and service is also limited in other parts of APR, which might have you shouting yippee!

A low impact platform awaits your home away from at Buffalo Camp.

A low impact platform awaits your home away from home at Buffalo Camp.

Regional campgrounds are also available in the nearby Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge but no matter which accommodation you choose, it’s all about conservation and that’s one of APR’s best experiences. For anyone with kids, it’s a great way to introduce the little ones to nature on a different scale and stoke their interest in animals and travel. If you’ve never been on safari than indulging in one closer to home may inspire you to make the leap next year to Africa. It’s closer than you think.

Summer’s calling. The older you get the quicker it goes, so don’t let the season fly by without indulging in a different kind of travel. Your younger heart and soul will thank you.

Of Nigerian Schoolgirls & Landays.

(Photo credit: Drew Brown)

(Photo credit: Drew Brown)

Climb to the brow of the hill and sight
where my darling’s caravan will sleep tonight.
–A landay, author unknown

When it comes to travel we don’t mind investing our time, money, and spirit into a destination. The reasons we travel are endless. We go, we enjoy, and we return home, hopefully sated and, if we’re lucky, having made some new friends. The good times we have are provided in some measure by the people who live there.

In light of the 276 Nigerian schoolgirls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram, a militant group, 4 weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about what we bring and what we take away from a place. And what gets taken for granted.

“Those poor girls.” “Their poor parents.” These are two thoughts I’ve heard the most over the past few weeks. I’ve thought them myself. Most of us take our education and the access to it for granted. We don’t worry about extremist groups freaked out by the idea of educating women.

Any place on the planet that has a good standard of living for its citizens is a place where women have the right to an education, contribute to the work force and are empowered. It raises the bar for everyone, and it contributes to a country’s tourism dollars. If there’s a country you have a desire to visit but are skittish about traveling to because it might fall somewhere on the danger zone, chances are its female citizens are marginalized or uneducated.

(Photo credit: David Levene)

(Photo credit: David Levene)

Being here on the other side of the world from Nigeria, it may be easy to just pray for these girls and hope for the best because you can’t see any way to help them. But for anyone interested there is a way. The Campaign for Female Education (Camfed) is a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating poverty in Africa by investing in the education of girls. It doesn’t cost a fortune and a few bucks go a long way. I could give you the lowdown on it all but Nicholas Kristof’s recent op-ed article What’s So Scary About Smart Girls opens the book on why educating girls in this part of the world matters so much. He does an excellent job explaining why books are more powerful than bombs and drones.

This is a travel blog, my intention is not to get wrapped up in politics but the situation involving the girls who were kidnapped doesn’t begin and end in Nigeria. I’m not traveling there any time soon but one day I might. I don’t mind investing a few dollars to enhance the future of someone who could contribute to making her country a more inviting and progressive environment for the women who live there and for anyone visiting. To quote Kristof, “To stick it to Boko Haram, help educate a girl.”

India makes a plea for the girls.

India makes a plea for the girls.

Journalist Eliza Griswold has been traveling to Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2001. In 2012 she returned to the Pashtun area, a border region and Taliban stronghold between these two countries, to collect landays, an oral tradition of folk poetry that’s been around since 3400 B.C. The landay is two lines of 22 syllables and named for a poisonous snake because it is sharp and to the point. While poetry is revered in Afghanistan, these poems are a clandestine activity and a secret way into the lives of these women. Another country where women are marginalized, in this region over 20 million Pashtun women live a hard life surrounded by violence and suffering. Many of them are illiterate but despite the societal traditions, laws, violence and suffering, these women aren’t passive. Their voices find expression through the landay. For the women who write them down, discovery of this poetry can cost them their lives.

The power of the pen.

The power of the pen.

Griswold’s recently published book of translated landays I Am The Beggar of the World gives anyone curious about the culture a way to connect with these women. It’s a way to take a fantastic journey and dispel any stereotypes or preconceived notions you might have about them. It’s a passageway towards a day when we can hopefully travel to this place and meet some of the women brave enough to share their enlightening and empowering words. If you’re interested in learning more about landays, check out the Poetry Foundation.

Travel opens doors and enriches us.

For the places we can’t visit, we may have to crawl through a window to contribute, connect and invest in a different kind of experience with the people who live there but chances are it’ll be well worth the effort.

Get Smart, Visit the World Science Festival 2014.


There’s something about to happen in New York City at the end of May that can truly be considered a backyard bonanza for those of us who live here. For anyone looking to start their spring to summer getaways, then it’s a brilliant reason to come and visit the Big Apple. (Ground Control to travel agents—it could win you major points among your customers for recommending this trip.)

The World Science Festival 2014, May 28-June 1, is an extraordinary and fantastic celebration of science held in and around New York City. Its mission: to make science compelling and accessible to everyone. It does this by taking science out of the laboratory and bringing it to life on a local level in unique and creative ways by some of the world’s leading scientific and artistic minds.  For fans of Breaking Bad, this may just be the place to get your rocks off. The World Science Festival blows the lid off science being out of reach for us lesser earthlings by holding intimate to large-scale festival events in museums, kitchens, theatres, parks, and in the streets. Last year, the five-day festival drew over 200,000 visitors and to date has attracted over 1 million attendees.

I’ve never considered myself much of science geek but with an offering like:  Alien Life: Will We Know It When We See It? , count me among the converted! For anyone else who might think science isn’t your thing, the World Science Festival may just change your mind, too. The program features day and evening events, from a MOTH science-themed StorySLAM in a nightclub, to urban stargazing and music with astronomers and physicists. The Scientific Kitchen Series cooks up workshops on the science behind such yummy stuff from beer, to butter, to pie, to…did someone say, chocolate? Mast Brothers, artisanal Brooklyn chocolatiers, will take you behind the scenes and inspire an altogether different passion when you discover the scientific process that goes into producing a bar of your favorite dark matter.

Speaking of addictions, ever wonder why some folks can have one drink and never touch the stuff again, while others can’t stop coming back for more? The Craving Brain: The Science of Uncontrollable Urges features a panel of leading researchers whose work focuses on how addiction changes the fabric of the brain and new breakthroughs that may one day change all that. Extracting DNA from your own spit, a debate on the latest discoveries of the big bang, a theatrical exploration of Einstein’s life, an Ultimate Science Street Fair in Washington Square Park…these are just a few events that will blow your curious mind. Oh, I forgot to mention robots—they’ll be there as well.

Genetics looms large throughout the Festival and the article Scientists Add Letters to DNA’s Alphabet, Raising Hope and Fear in today’s The New York Times, is a timely lead up.  One of its signature events is On The Shoulders of Giants, which features a leading figure in the science community. This year, geneticist and humanitarian Dr. Mary-Claire King, who discovered the breast cancer gene BRCA1, will give the special address.

With such an imaginative and incredible sampling of events, there’s not a smarter reason to visit New York City right now.  Click here for the full Festival lineup and ticket info.



Florence: Gelato 101

As if we needed another great reason to travel to the land of amazing food. Here’s a little lesson for anyone who hasn’t had a chance to visit Italy yet. Enjoy…

The ISA Journal

Danya Migdali is a student at California Lutheran University and an ISA Featured Blogger. Danya is currently studying abroad with ISA in Florence, Italy.

Gelato 2 Flavors for the Hungry

When I first talked about going to Italy, my friends and family mentioned that I would probably end up at a gelateria once or twice. Due to my excessive love of ice cream, I guessed it would be a bit more. Ladies and Gentlemen, I have some news to announce. I have become a gelato addict! It has turned into an almost daily habit for me, although I attempt to try new flavors and gelaterias each time I go!

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