Instead of a honeymoon… Acts of Kindness!

StayUNITEDPlenty of people are fantasizing about their dream wedding. It has to be unique, lavish, over-the-top, big, bigger, biggest! And of course this will cost a lot of money. But some couples decide to do it differently. They decide to elope and spend their money on a big honeymoon or round-the-world-trip. Or you have couples like Mark and Ismini Svensson from Orangeburg, New York, who decided on a small wedding, forego an expensive reception and decide to make their honeymoon a special trip through the United States and perform acts of kindness, one in each state.

Their ’50 Acts of Giving Back’, as they call it, has taken them for the past two years all over the United States. The Svenssons were inspired to start this acts of kindness trip by Ismini’s father. He passed away unexpectedly after attending a charity event he organized. ‘We realized my father wouldn’t be at our wedding, ‘ Ismani told NBC News. ‘So we’re trying to figure out ways we make it so somehow in his memory, we do something he maybe would love to see us do.’ Their decision was a simple one. ‘We both realized that what makes us happiest is helping people in need.’

In every state they do an act of kindness, however large or small, but always meaningful:
– In New Jersey they donated clothes in an effort to support the Rescue Mission of Trenton;
New Jersey clothes donation– In Rhode Island they spoke about the importance of being kind at the Rhode Island School for the Deaf;
– They gave out meals for homeless people in Missouri;
– In Louisiana they gave gifts to underprivileged children and local citizens in need;
– In Texas they supported the elderly by providing flowers, gifts and helping with grocery shopping;
– They made a donation to the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter in Colorado in an effort to help protect, preserve, and improve the quality of the environment;
– In Oklahoma they met and provided support to veterans and their families;
– They traveled to California where they helped furnish a home for two former homeless mothers and their children through the House of Ruth. They also provided financial and emotional support to a homeless man;
– In Nevada, Mark and Ismani donated new books to children and participated in a Storytime Reading for young children and their parents to promote the importance of early childhood literacy;
Florida Humane Society– In Florida they showed rescued animals their love with support to the Humane Society where animals are provided food, shelter, medical care and love.

While they are paying their own way, during their State-wide trip they have received a lot of donations and started their own non-profit organization, StayUNITED. Their mission is to improve the quality of life in local communities by creating a brighter future for children and youth.

‘The message is everyone can do something to make a difference, even in their own communities, even if it’s a compliment to someone,’ Mark said. ‘You never know the impact it may have on another person.’

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Diary of a tourguide 2014 – Part 1

IMG_1476Also this year I had a lot of fun working as a tourguide in the beautiful Bavarian Alps with Neuschwanstein Castle as the main focus. And also this year I wrote down some funnies about my days as a tourguide. Here’s part 1 for the Diary of a tourguide 2014!

Diary of a Tourguide, April 21st:
Dear Diary, first working day of the season, and it went great. It was a fun group of people and I had a little 6-year-old girl and her 3-year-old brother from Abu Dhabi as my first fans of the year. High fives and holding my hand all day long and enormous hugs as we had to say goodbye at the end of the day. The girl said she wanted to stay with me, because else she would miss me so much… Awwww……

Diary of a Tourguide, May 12th:
Dear Diary, today we had an awesome group. Lots of smiling faces throughout the day. And I just can’t believe how lucky we were with the weather today! The bus was going to be a bit late due to construction on the road, and as I was waiting for it to arrive, there was a complete downpour! I quickly went to grab some ponchos to sell and didn’t look forward to the upcoming bike ride in this rain. But, as fate would have it, the bus was just delayed enough until the rain stopped and the sun came out! It turned out to be a gorgeous day! Enjoying those sunny days as much as I can, since apparently there is snow predicted for later in this week… yikes!

Diary of a Tourguide, May 22nd:
Dear Diary, sometimes, when you think you’ve had all the curveballs in the book, the work throws some new ones. People changing their minds a couple of times, do they want to do one castle, or two, or no, just one please, it’s not easy getting it right when you need to get the castle tickets ahead of time… A chain flipping off the bike so weirdly, that I had no idea how to put it back on… Then, as I did the waterfall gorge hike today and was almost at the beginning of the beautiful part of the hike, I bumped into a few schoolkids, telling me the hike was closed. Yeah right, nice try kiddo, but I won’t fall for that… 1 minute later, oh, yes, the hike is indeed closed…. apologized to the group, but we had to turn around, take a different, more steep route after a detour (no people, don’t worry, the regular hike is just as steep… really…). (Anyway, apparently some rocks had come falling down, good that it didn’t happen as we walked there!) But, then at the end of the day, the group surprises me by tipping so well!!! Made the curveballs worth it…

Diary of a Tourguide, May 30th:
Dear Diary, today we had a couple on our tour, both in their late sixties. They just sold their house in Australia, bought a new smaller one and decided to go traveling around Europe with the extra money they have now, a life long dream. They did the full bike ride, the walk up to the castle and the tour inside, and had a great day, despite the rainy weather. Such an inspiration: It’s never too late to live the life of your dreams!

Flying love by Fugleunge

Flying love by Fugleunge

Diary of a Tourguide, June 3rd:
Dear Diary, today we had a woman on the tour who went paragliding. I asked her afterwards how it was and she answered: it was… spiritual…. And then she smiled. I was a bit puzzled, since most reactions are: awesome, best thing ever! Later I heard that she had lost a son, and it made me realize that she probably felt close to him, while floating around, high up in the sky…. ♥

Next week part 2 will follow. Want to read some more diary entries of this Tourguide? Click here for last year’s Diary of a Tourguide.

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Time to travel…!

travel-quote-go-somewhereAs our working season as tour guides is done, it’s time to think about where to go this winter. I know a lot of people travel in the summer months, but it’s always nice to dream away and plan new trips, right? Here are a few quotes on traveling that make your mind wander, and I hope that you will follow your wandering mind soon.

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” ~ Augustine of Hippo

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” ~ Lao Tzu

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” ~ Terry Pratchett

IMG_3640-001-e1366220365548“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.” ~ Anita Desai

“Travel brings power and love back into your life.” ~ Rumi

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” ~ Anaïs Nin

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you’ve never been to, perhaps more homesick than for familiar ground.” ~ Judith Thurman

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” ~ Gustave Flaubert

travel-quotes-7“…because he had no place he could stay in without getting tired of it and because there was nowhere to go but everywhere, keep rolling under the stars…” ~ Jack Kerouac

“I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there.” ~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“There is a kind of magicness about going far away and then coming back all changed.” ~ Kate Douglas Wiggin

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” ~ Henry Miller

travel quote

“I wandered everywhere, through cities and countries wide. And everywhere I went, the world was on my side.” ~ Roman Payne

“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” ~ Pat Conroy

“It’s funny. When you leave your home and wander really far, you always think, ‘I want to go home.’ But then you come home, and of course it’s not the same. You can’t live with it, you can’t live away from it. And it seems like from then on there’s always this yearning for some place that doesn’t exist. I felt that. Still do. I’m never completely at home anywhere.” ~ Danzy Senna

“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.” ~ Hans Christian Andersen

quotetravel5“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” ~ Christopher McCandless

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” ~ Jawaharlal Nehru

“Once the travel bug bites there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life” ~ Michael Palin

travel-is-the-only-thing“She is free in her wildness, she is a wanderess, a drop of free water. She knows nothing of borders and cares nothing for rules or customs. ‘Time’ for her isn’t something to fight against. Her life flows clean, with passion, like fresh water.” ~ Roman Payne

So, whether it’s a beach holiday, or some far away backpacking: where is your next trip taking you? Where was your last trip to? What is your favorite travel memory?

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Don’t take life for granted…

It’s so easy getting caught up in life and all its aspects, that we forget to sit back and be grateful for what we have. Every day I see a pretty castle, in front of majestic mountains, and even though I know that it is special, I find it a normal everyday sight. But last week we had a woman on the tour who was originally from South Africa, but now lives in London. She told us that she just sold her house in Cape Town. She went up to the picturesque view from Mary’s Bridge to take a photo of Neuschwanstein, and as she came back, she walked straight to me and my colleague. She started speaking, thoughtfully and with beautiful aristocratic accent: “You should know, that being born in South Africa in a poor family and having the wrong skin color at the wrong time, I could never ever… *she choked up a little before continuing* …dream about seeing this beautiful castle. Never in a million years could I even dare to think I would be visiting this castle that I have read about. I am so very grateful right now… ” Okay, I choked up too and gave her a big hug. It was so great to see that, even though she has money now to go and travel wherever she wants to go, she still is in awe of the special things life shows her.

It is important for all of us to keep this in mind. To stay amazed by nature, beautiful old monuments you’ve always wanted to see, kindness of people, because we never know when it is gone. Life is precious, we never know when it is over. We never know what turn it will take. We never know where will be our final destination…

Live life to its fullest, love life to its fullest.

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*** In memory of the passengers and crew of flight MH17 ***

 

On the beaten track: Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand

IMG_2951Going off the beaten track while traveling around is great, but don’t forget to see some of the tracks that have been regularly walked on too. One of my favorite tracks is the Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand. Located on the North Island, Tongariro is a National Park that has been gifted in 1887 by the Paramount Chief (Te Heuheu Tukino IV) of the Tuwharetoa (indigenous tribe) to the nation of New Zealand. In the park a trail of about 20 km is sign posted, which takes between 5,5 and 8 hours to complete. With 6 different landscapes to see in about 6 hours, the Tongariro Crossing is a great one day hike and a definite must-do when you’re in the area.

When I traveled in New Zealand on my world trip, I stayed in Ohakune, a small town near Tongariro National Park. For a mere NZ$ 25 (nowadays it’s probably around NZ$ 30) I took a shuttle bus to the start of the Crossing at Mangatepopo. Starting from a wide flat valley with little shrubs left and right, I walked behind a woman from Germany. She turned around and asked with a grin: ‘Are you following me?’ ‘Yes,’ I replied smiling, ‘And I’ll do that for the next 6 hours!’ We laughed and decided to do the hike together.

IMG_2954After the flat valley with a little stream meandering through it, the landscape changed dramatically with a steep climb. Huffing and puffing we made it to the top and enjoyed the views over the park from there next to red and black vulcanic rocks and steamy craters (yes, there is thermic activity there). A sign indicated a side trip to Mount Ngauruhoe, which we skipped, but can be an interesting addition to the trek for Lord of the Rings fans. This mountain is the famous Mount Doom from the movie trilogy. Continuing on the regular trail we hiked past more craters, smelled the sulphur of the still active Red Crater, and saw some snow on the ground next to the path. Over here you can do another little side trip, to the top of Mount Tongariro, but we were more intent on getting to the end of the track on time to make sure we would not miss our shuttle there.

IMG_2973From the Red Crater, a pebble path led down to the Emerald Lakes, beautiful bright colored lakes in the middle of the vulcanic terrain. Going down the pebbles was not easy, since the little rocks slid down slightly with every step, making the descent wobbly. But my hiking buddy and I quickly got the hang of walking down it: digging our heels in and go in a steady pace down the slope. As I was almost down, I wanted to warn some people who were about to walk up, and as I was saying it, I almost tripped… Yeah, that’s me: warning people and then almost going flat on my face myself. Anyway, after some nice photos at the Emerald Lakes, the road went downward again along the sacred Blue Lake into green and yellow grassy hills. IMG_2986Towards the bottom the vegetation got higher and more dense until we walked in a forest with a little creek and some waterfalls. At the parking of Ketetahi we reached the end of the Crossing and found various shuttle buses waiting for the hikers who finished the track. I completed it in about 6 hours, including some stops to take in the beautiful surroundings and have something to eat and drink. Afterwards we realised we could have taken the side trips to the two Mounts too, but there’s always next time.

A few side notes before embarking on the Tongariro Crossing:
Check the weather and forecasts for the day, the weather can change very quickly, from dry and sunny to cold and foggy. I was lucky the weather stayed chilly but sunny that day, but it can be different. Be prepared.IMG_2970
You have to be reasonably fit and able to hike up mountains and continue to walk the whole track, since your pick up is at the end of the track.
The best direction is from Mangatepopo to Ketetahi, since you start higher, so there is more downhill walking. If you do the Crossing in the opposite direction, be aware it could take you an extra hour.

And what is your favorite On The Beaten Track?

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Inspiring speech from Jim Carrey

Jim CarreyActor Jim Carrey held a speech at Maharishi University of Management. It was only one minute long, but what he said was very inspirational:

‘You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts or worrying about the pathway to the future. But all there’ll ever be is what’s happening here and the decisions we make in this moment, which are based in either love or fear.

So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the universe for it. I’m saying, I’m the proof you can ask the universe for it.

My father could’ve been a great comedian but he didn’t believe that was possible for him and so he made a conservative choice. Instead he got a safe job as an accountant and when I was 12 years old, he was let go from that safe job and our family had to do whatever we could to survive. I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which, was that you can fail at what you don’t want.

So you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.’

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