Italy

Meet our new guest blogger

My name is Dr. Donato Soranno (otherwise known as Dr. Dan) and I have known Jenna for a long time as a patient and friend. She has visited my office monthly and I would tell her of my world travels.

I have been to the top of Machu Picchu, swam with sharks around Bora Bora and the Great Whites off the tip of Africa. I have been on the Amazon River to observe pink dolphins.  I am very fond of Italy swell as many other European countries.

Elephants along the Chobe River in Africa. (Photography by Dan Soranno)

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Lubrano’s celebrates 10 years of homemade pizza

For the past 10 years, Lubrano’s Pizzeria and Restaurant at 1830 Easton Ave. in the Somerset section of Franklin has gotten used to being Central Jerseyans go-to for fresh, homemade pizzas.

The family-run Italian eatery opened on Nov. 14, 2006. Its most popular pies include a spaghetti and meatball pie, a vegetable pie and the stuffed pizza special, which includes ricotta, mozzarella, sausage, ham, salami and prosciutto. Angie Lubrano, co-owner of Lubrano’s Pizzeria and Restaurant alongside Joe Lubrano, says that their secret to success is quite simple.

“It’s all about the ingredients. People think it’s about the water, but it’s much more than that,” she said. “This is the real deal. It isn’t little Caesar’s — it’s made from scratch with homemade sauce.”

Angie Lubrano said that the restaurant, which makes 200 pizzas a day, heavily focuses on the quality of their pizza, opting for more expensive and high-quality ingredients. “Cheese recently went up 21 cents a pound, but we aren’t going to go somewhere else to save,” she said. “We don’t take shortcuts.”

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Italy lands in Bernardsville kitchen with pasta-making classes

Back in the day, if you knew the best recipe to make your own Jamaican jerk chicken, Polish pierogis or Creole red beans and rice, it was because your grandmother taught you.

However, thanks to the exploding popularity of the Food Network, food knowledge isn’t limited to family history — which has led for a search for cooking knowledge like never before.

“We are so surrounded and saturated with food and we always want to know more,” said chef Kevin Knevals, of Raritan Borough, who has worked at Osteria Morini, a northern Italian restaurant in Bernardsville, for five years (since it opened) and with the Altamarea Group, which owns the restaurant, for nine years. “People are not just wanting to cook — they want to cook great things and get involved in the process.”

It was because of this demand of knowledge that Osteria Morini began offering pasta making classes led by Knevals about one year ago. The restaurant that had been housed in the space before it — Due Terre — held the popular classes, and after the restaurant was replaced with Osteria Morini, guests continue to come in and ask for them.

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Take a bite out of Italy at the Grape Escape

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 2/3/15

The Grape Escape in the Dayton section of South Brunswick is known as the place where locals find an excuse to socialize as they gather to make their own wines, but it has also become a spot for them to eat, too.

Besides offering four winemaking classes over a 10-month period to make wines from California, Amador, Napa Valley, Washington, Chile and South Africa, the Grape Escape also hosts a wide array of cuisine-based classes, including olive oil and balsamic vinegar bottling and make your own mozzarella, chocolate and Sunday gravy and pasta.

Ed Ventura, who co-manages the Grape Escape alongside his wife, Phyllis Heller, said the Grape Escape offers a wider array of food classes than most other local wineries.

Grape Escape culinary classes quickly fill to capacity.

Grape Escape culinary classes quickly fill to capacity. (Courtesy of the Grape Escape)

“These classes really take off,” said Ventura. “Our Jan. 10 olive oil class had 40 people, which is pretty much at capacity.”

Coming in February will be the olive oil and balsamic vinegar class on Feb. 17 and the mozzarella class on Feb. 12, both from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. All of the classes run throughout the year and the dates will be released on TheGrapeEscape.net as they become available.

Growing up, many Italians can recall Sunday as the day filled with fine foods and aromas alongside family. The Grape Escape brings that tradition back to life with their Sunday pasta and gravy class for $80. Guests make their own fresh pasta dough and convert it into fettuccine before simmering red San Marzano tomatoes to create a homemade gravy, or tomato sauce.

The Grape Escape offers more culinary classes than other nearby winemaking establishments. (Courtesy of the Grape Escape)

The Grape Escape offers more culinary classes than other nearby winemaking establishments. (Courtesy of the Grape Escape)

As the pasta dough rests, guests snack on antipasto or items such as cured meats, mushrooms, anchovies, artichoke hearts and cheeses in oil or vinegar, before cooking the pasta to take home and then eating salad tossed with the house olive oil and balsamic vinegar, a traditional ending to a large Italian meal.

At the Grape Escape’s $95 olive oil and balsamic vinegar bottling event, guests learn that price can’t compensate for quality. They start by taste-testing expensive store-bought olive oils, such as that of Filippo Berio and Colavita, and compare them to the Grape Escape’s supplier, which has been producing and distributing extra virgin olive oil from Kalamata, Greece for 300 years. They also try the Grape Escape’s 12-year-aged balsamic vinegar from Modena, Italy.

Then, guests bottle their two 375-milliliter bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, infusing them with fresh herbs if they choose to do so, and customize with personalized labels. Finally, they enjoy a meal that features the products, such as balsamic cream chicken over penne pasta with salad and balsamic berries over ice cream, which was made for the Jan. 10 class.

The Grape Escape is currently gearing up for winemaking season. (Courtesy of the Grape Escape)

The Grape Escape is currently gearing up for winemaking season. (Courtesy of the Grape Escape)

Mozzarella is another Italian favorite that many find fit to infuse into Sunday dinners. In the $85 Grape Escape class, guests go home with four to eight large mozzarella balls that they create themselves from curd, salt and hot water with hands-on instructions from staffers.

The make-your-own chocolate class is a new addition to the Grape Escape, released with David Bradley of Manalapan, who has years of experience in creating gourmet chocolate. At the $85 event, guests taste dark, white and milk chocolate, bring home a box of chocolates that they created, learn about the history of chocolate making and get an overview of chocolate types.

Although the Grape Escape currently is focusing on their food classes, the winemaking season is nearing with open houses being conducted on Feb. 25 and 27 as well as March 5 and 10. At these free open houses, which are open to anyone over 21-year-old and run from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., potential winemakers receive tours of the Grape Escape while sampling wine and snacks alongside live music.

Culinary classes at the Grape Escape are offered at a discount to couples. (Courtesy of the Grape Escape)

Culinary classes at the Grape Escape are offered at a discount to couples. (Courtesy of the Grape Escape)

Winemakers can also take their love of wineries and Italian cuisine to another continent by attending “Italy with the Winemaker,” an eight-day all-inclusive trip for $2,600 hosted by the Grape Escape and departing on July 26. Starting in Venice, winemakers will travel throughout Tuscany with the Grape Escape and end their journey in Rome, stopping each day at wineries and for walking tours of various Italian cities.

Winemaking quickly has become a hobby for many, where people with no previous experience in winemaking can attend classes to make their own and share with friends and family. Clearly, that interest in an age-old process has extended to Italian cuisine as well, going as far as to entice winemakers to travel back to the practice’s roots in Italy.

New Jerseyans debunk study abroad myths

“We just can’t afford it,” Darlene says, citing her daughter, Erin’s, fervent interest in studying abroad.

This feels like the end of the argument, much to Erin’s disappointment. Darlene knew that her daughter would have fun, make friends and visit remarkable places, as all parents want for their children. However, the sensible factors prevailed — if it wasn’t the finances, it was the danger in being abroad, the absence of lasting benefits or the lack of academic vigor, that led to her decision.

Clearly, there are some misconceptions brewing, because none of these things are true. With semester-abroad application deadlines coming up at the end of December and into early 2015, this is worrisome.

As one of the .7 percent of New Jersey students to study abroad in 2012, I found that the ideas parents nurse concerning study abroad tend to be distorted, not to their own oversight but instead to the widely accepted notions on the international programs.

For families struggling to meet rising tuition deadlines each year, the idea of spending thousands of dollars for their child to meander across Europe for a few weeks seems unfathomable.

However, most colleges allow students to transfer their financial aid packages, scholarships and merit awards to an approved study-abroad program, including Rutgers University, possibly making living costs comparable to if the student stayed at their home college for the semester, especially if housing costs are included in the international program or the program is hosted in a less-developed country.

Through my program at Monmouth University to Florence, Italy, I paid $300 in fees on top of my normal tuition to study abroad. Robyn Asaro, assistant director of Study Abroad at Monmouth, said that she recommends that students looking to travel frequently on the weekends should bring an additional $4,000 to $6,000 for a semester program. But that’s only for students who want to spend their semester that way — it’s not a necessity.

Photography Jenna Intersimone

Students also can take advantage of their college’s specific scholarships, such as these offered for Rutgers University students, as well as these national study abroad scholarships that can be utilized by all students.

The thought of a child traveling internationally unsupervised can lead to severe parental anxiety. But Americans are 20 times more likely to die from a violent crime in the United States than are citizens of other developed countries in their nations, according to a 2013 report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Throughout Asaro’s 14-year career in study abroad, she said that the extent of dangerous outcomes has been “a very minor injuries.” To prepare students for their time abroad, Monmouth coordinates four mandated safety meetings and works closely with affiliated international institutes to coordinate any issues.

Kyle O’Grady of Edison, who studied abroad in Florence as a Marketing and Finance major in 2013, said that she never felt unsafe abroad.

“Our group looked out for each other and it was a built-in support system,” she said. “Our study-abroad coordinator also kept in touch with us, and we also had an outlet at our Florence university to stay in contact.”

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In my experience, students who keep safe during their international studies utilize common sense, such as sticking to well-lit streets, traveling with at least one other person and keeping a low profile — no extreme safety precautions required.

It’s no surprise that 46 percent of all New Jersey post-graduates under 25 were unemployed or underemployed in 2012, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Parents may be surprised to know that time abroad may help their child not become a statistic.

Global Human Resources News conducted a study in which 73 percent of human resources executives cited study abroad as an important factor when evaluating job candidates for junior positions.

O’Grady said that she often finds herself talking about her study abroad experience on interviews, which, in one case, provided a connection with her interviewer that later landed her an offer. The venture also has also helped her develop an idea of her future career.

“Whereas before I felt a little lost, it definitely gave me direction on what I want to build my life around,” she said. “I want to work with a travel company or find a job in a new city.”

Plus, according to a 2012 Rutgers University report, 95 percent of study-abroad students found a job within one year of graduation, compared to 49 percent of the general population of graduates.

Megan Holt of Bridgewater, who studied abroad in Aix en Provence, France, as an International Business major in 2012, thinks that her study-abroad experience was the key to her current job with a French luxury brand that she landed within two months of graduation.

“Being able to tell my interviewer about my experience living with a French family helped assure them that I was accustomed to the culture,” she said. “Because I was applying to work for a French company, they valued my language skills and the fact that I was able to adapt and form relationships despite cultural barriers.”

Megan

Parents often worry that they could end up contributing to an expensive semester devoted to partying. However, being immersed in a new culture is the best way to learn a language and pursue other academic endeavors, plus most international schools offer exclusive classes.

Holt said, “I lived in a small French village where very few people spoke English. My French teacher herself spoke only a few words of English and taught entirely in French. I was essentially forced to learn the language.”

During my semester abroad, I took three hours of an Italian language course four days a week — not a possibility at my home school for reasons of time, availability or pure interest. I also met many art or fashion students receiving an unmatched experience, as Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance and has been named one of the 50 fashion capitals of the world.

Undoubtedly, studying internationally is a large undertaking. But hopefully, with the dissolution of these myths, more than 1 percent of American students will be able to enjoy what could be the most rewarding experience of their lives.

Be Your Inner Crazy Grandmother Dentist

When I asked my 75-year-old grandmother if she wanted to visit me in Florence, Italy for the weekend, I didn’t really think she was going to say yes.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want her to visit – hell, the more the merrier when you’re running around Europe armed with only a reusable water bottle and a Wal-Mart backpack – but realistically, why would someone choose to fly 5,000 miles and spend around $1,000 for one weekend, especially at an age when most are packing their bags for the nursing homes?

But she did say yes, and even better, she flew to Bergen, Norway first to spend some time with the fam before hopping on the next flight to Florence where we visited the Perugia Chocolate Festival and bought obscene amounts of Baci, hung out at the Boboli Gardens and basked in the sun, and spent our (few) evenings at local trattorias, drinking fine wines on the house with the friendly owners.

Perugia

I can’t say I’m really surprised at the fact that my grandmother wore me out, a freshly energized 21-year-old, when after being divorced from her husband and house-wifery around 40, she headed back to school to become a nurse, moved to Florida, and still works as a nurse today as she takes her time off to hop around Europe and skiing in the West.

I won’t lie – I don’t see or speak to the lady very often and when birthday cards come around, they’re regularly empty. Even though I have family members who are spiteful of her absence, I have to hand it to her – she’s living the dream at 75. Missing out on it at 25 was never a reason to mope.

When people are young, they make a lot of excuses not to travel. When I was in school, students I knew made studying abroad to be this huge endeavor, when really all it took was a summer of extra shifts at the diner, some responsible saving and papers to fill out. Even though it’s these kids who have the real opportunity sitting right under their suitcases, I’m beginning to see it’s the more seasoned citizens who take advantage of their time by spending it all where it counts.

My friendly neighborhood dentist is also in his 70’s, yet he spent the last weekend before Good Friday in New Orleans, dressed to impress and rummaging the streets for Mardi Gras. It’s actually pretty difficult to get an appointment with him because he’s always away in the Galapagos Islands, Venice, or Thailand, armed with his camera so that he can print out his professional-quality photographs and hang them all over his office ceiling (for patients staring up at it from the dentist’s chair). I actually feel pretty guilty when he asks me “What’s up?” and I have nothing to say yet he responds that he spent last week in Aspen or visiting his son in Hawaii where he works as a scuba instructor. Oh, and he also runs a Christmas tree farm…. in his spare time.

It may be because they feel they’ve deserved this time after a lifetime of raising their bratty kids, it may be because they finally have the cash, or it may be because they’re realizing they spent too much time sitting at a desk under florescent lighting and it’s time to make up for those years. Whatever the reason, if my 75-year-old grandmother can hop on an international flight for some stellar pizza, so can you. Learn from your elders and take the time to do what you want now instead of making up a new excuse for every decade of your life. Be your inner crazy grandmother dentist.

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Why I Love Being Poor

“Jen, I could seriously hook you up in a heartbeat,” says my father. “Why the hell wouldn’t you want to work on Wall Street?!”

Like everybody else who has ever existed, I would love to dine with millionaires on two-hour lunches, drive a red Ferrari, and wear $2,000 shoes… from nine to five, Monday through Friday. As Jordan Belfort so kindly pointed out in The Wolf of Wall Street, “I’ve been a rich man and a poor man, and I choose rich every time.” I, too, have been a rich woman and a poor one (although not quite as rich as Belfort) and although I relish extensive shopping trips and boat outings, there is one occupation that I feel is better off experienced as a nomadic, dirty being – and that is of a traveler.

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I’ve stayed in fancy chain hotels in Budapest and hairy hostels in Milan. Although I kind of remember laying in that Budapest Marriott and watching some Disney movie on TV, I can vividly recall the off-green Italian hostel with pubic hairs littered on the itchy twin bed next to the barred window. I remember sitting up at night, wrapped in my sweats, trying not to touch anything as I listened to the drunken tourists stumbling home from outside. I remember spending the day being dirty, wandering Milan with a backpack strapped on wondering where I could pee. At the chance of sounding like your mom, being a poor traveler makes you interesting, resourceful, and perhaps most appealing, the most captivating storyteller on this side of the Atlantic. 

I’ve purchased overpriced designer dresses in Madrid and lost my shoes at the airport. That navy blue dress still sits like-new in my closet from four years ago, a little too European and expensive for anything casual here in the States. However, my $20 brown boots from Kohl’s ventured Italy years later, stomping the cobblestone streets during the night many times over before eventually falling to pieces at the Amsterdam Shiphol Airport. It’s the cheap items that become priceless; living out their days being worn and being useful before dying a noble death most likely outside of the confines of your closet.

I’ve met rich Columbians with closets as big as my room and dirty Australians who spend their days wandering shirtless. When we think of the rich and powerful, our minds default to thinking of their exciting lives jet setting the world, eating the finest food, and rubbing elbows with the coolest people. In reality, it’s the nomad travelers that do this without ever having to fake one sentiment. I’ve met countless backpackers who spend their days with smiles on their faces picking fruit, bar tending, and food running as they see countries that others don’t even consider as destinations. It’s these behind-the-scenes people that live the real adventures, not the ones who have never had to leave their comfort zone.

I’ve eaten “top-notch” food at the finest restaurants in the world and home-cooked stews on grandmother’s porches. It’s undeniable that $100 steaks and the rarest wines aren’t scrumptious, but when you leave, what else do you have to say but Wow that was a great steak but now I’m out $200? When I think back to my most memorable meals, I don’t think of these gourmet pastas at tourist spots but instead I remember the nights I spent on Norwegian porches sampling home-cooked elk and whale with a view of the fjords below. Food needs a story – something you won’t find for many restaurants in the guidebook.

Being rich is great when you’re a shopper, great when you’re a businessperson, and great when you’re trying to impress the flavor of the month. But when that time comes around when it’s my turn to see the world once again, I prefer to revert back to the filthy nomad I am at heart.

Keeping the World in Your Kitchen

I’ve never been a foodie. I can’t tell you the difference between cooking with vegetable oil or olive oil, I rarely use measuring cups, and I’m still not sure how much pasta to throw in the pot for two people. However, I can tell you that nobody appreciates a gourmet meal quite like a kid who grew up on TV dinners.

When I was little and I would go to the grocery store with my mother, it seemed normal to just point out what microwave meals I wanted for the week. When I would eat them at the end of a long day, I would always feel empty, a little gross, and always hungry, hungry for something with a taste; with flavor.

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Turkish lunch from Istanbul 

Getting invited to other people’s homes for dinner was always a real treat, which was why I made it a point to get in the good graces of fat Italian mothers who made it all from scratch. In my head, they spent the day poring over cookbooks, stewing pots of homemade pastas and beating down tomatoes with their bare hands. At the end of the day they would emerge from their lairs, beautiful again, eager to present finely laid out meals to their happy families and their kid’s weird friend who may or may not have lived in a car.

However, living on your own finally gives you the opportunity to live life the way you imagined it from your pink bedroom. Besides learning how to pay bills, scream at conniving gas companies, and fix leaky roofs, I finally learned how to boil water and thus began my gourmet chefdom and eventual progression into the closest to adulthood that I will ever wander.

When I went to Italy for a few months when I was 21, my newfound obsession with cooking and creating was brought to a new level when I realized I wasn’t the only one. Unlike in America, when every Internet recipe screams “easy” and “quick,” Italian recipes whispered for dutiful chefs, qualitative cooking, rich spices, and savory, dark flavors.

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Blueberry steak from Acqua al due, Florence

Although it was an adjustment to learn how to walk slower and talk faster, catching onto the beauty of food was not difficult. Finally, not only could I enjoy these creamy and pungent foods on a daily basis, but I could also create them, following vague instructions in Italian I learned from Giancarlo in my Pairing Food with Wine class and mixing flavors and spices in pots in my tiny kitchen and hoping the oven would work that day. I could spend hours hunched over dishes, but more often than not, the time would fly by and before I knew it, it would unfortunately be the time to sweep up the flour and figure out what I was going to pack for lunch tomorrow.

Thankfully, it didn’t end there – in every country I went to, I would never balk at meats, tails, or goop staring back at me – instead, I would smile, dig in, and ask for seconds. Running around the world, I have yet to run into a dish I found truly disgusting, and instead, I jump at the chance to try whale at the local fish market in Bergen, eat bratwurst and roasted nuts at Oktoberfest, and dig away at fish heads in Brac.

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Seafood pasta dish from Split, Croatia

Back in America, I talk to people all day long who ate food for dinner that had already been cooked in a bag and they’re just grateful to have some time back in their lives; for themselves. But for me, cooking is for myself, whether I’m trying to recreate a Spanish paella, master the perfect bruschetta, or throw a bunch of stuff together that tastes strangely Creole.

Even if the world is keeping me at home, it will not keep the world out of my kitchen. By the time I finish cooking dinner and drinking wine it may be too late to do the laundry, clean my room, or watch some television, but I have yet to go to sleep hungry.

How To Haggle Like a Pro

One pretty cool part of traveling the world is that instead of wandering the mall on an otherwise boring Sunday, you can cruise the local markets of the world instead, whether it be the San Lorenzo Market of Florence, Italy, the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, Turkey, or the German Christmas Markets. However, unlike the mall, you need to learn how to haggle like a pro in order to score some cool stuff without accidentally spending your dinner money. And, you need to do it while having fun – there’s no reason to be nervous about wanting to pay a price you think is reasonable and not being afraid to ask for it.

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1. Make someone laugh. Everyone, even seemingly conniving shopkeepers, are looking for a laugh, especially at their day jobs. So while haggling, if you can get a little personal with the shopkeeper; talk to him about the cool stuff he’s got or entertain his lame pickup lines with a friendly smile, you’re golden. He will be more willing to entertain your offers if he sees you as a friend instead of just another tourist.

2. Never be the first to name a price. There’s been many times when I was willing to offer a much higher initial price but then I heard the shopkeeper’s price before I even said a word. For this reason, don’t be afraid to ask, in a non-desperate way, how much something costs. And if they ask you in return how much you want to pay, either go for a major low-ball or ask, “Well how much are you looking to sell it for?”

3. Don’t be afraid to walk away. The best move you can make, even for an item you’re absolutely in love with, is to walk away when a haggle is totally not going your way because the shopkeeper isn’t budging. There will be times you will walk away, seemingly without a care, and no one will call you back. Guess what? Come back around in ten minutes and no one is going to remember you anyway. However, more often than not, you’ll get a frantic Wait! Wait! Trust me, they want to sell that crap just as much as you want to buy it.

4. Enlist a partner. It’s always good to have someone on your side who is as awesome at haggling as you are to say, only to strengthen your case, “Come on, that’s too much money. It’s not worth it.” There’s strength in numbers. If a shopkeeper knows it’s going to be two against one he is more likely to compromise. Pick a code to signal to your partner when you’re in need of some help.

5. Don’t be stupid. In Canal Street, especially if you’re a dumb looking girl with a fancy bag, people are going to mob you and try to get you to follow them for blocks and blocks to come to their shop (one that most likely is hidden in a basement or behind a fake wall). Be careful with this kind of stuff. Never get too close to a van, no matter how cute those bags are, and never wander down those sketchy stairwells. It’s never going to be worth it.

6. Lie. Twenty bucks too much for that crappy bracelet? Yes, I agree. Because you saw it down the street for $10… except not really. Don’t be afraid to make up a little white lie to get the price you want. No one is ever gonna know that you haven’t even seen the item yet besides in this shop.

7. Don’t allow yourself to be charmed. Obviously, it’s OK to flirt – this goes hand-in-hand with haggling. However, don’t think you’re the only one who is trying to charm – usually these suave shopkeepers know their game just as well and will tell you anything you want to hear to get you to buy that $300 leather jacket. Keep in mind that yes, laugh, smile, and be friendly, but you’re also the 18th person today that they have told has beautiful eyes.

8. Take your time. If you feel like you may be getting too caught up in the fun and are going to make a regrettable purchase, you can always say you’re going to think about it and come back later. I particularly like doing this for huge, overwhelming markets, because I don’t want to spend a ton on one item only to see it ten minutes later being sported for half the price. Take your time. Trust me, it isn’t going anywhere, especially if they tell you that it is.

9. Keep those wandering hands at bay. It may seem easy enough to grab something off a table when the keeper isn’t looking, but this is a really bad idea. All of these shopkeepers are friends, people, and even if yours doesn’t spot you lifting, somebody else will, and trust me, you’re going to be wishing there was a cop around if you get mixed up in this kind of sketchy business.

10. Never be taken for a schlub. Especially when you’re a girl, people think that you have money to spend and it’s easy to be taken advantage of. Show them that this is not the case. Speak confidently, don’t be afraid to bargain or walk away, and hold tight to the price that you want.

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How To Pass The Time In the Skies

If you’re reading this, it’s because you have a thirst for the world. You have a need to try the oddest looking foods, ravage the most dangerous cities, run from the scariest thieves, and see the most stunning sights. However, getting to these places costs a high price. And that price; besides giving up the security of a 9 to 5 job and a cushy salary and any semblance of a normal life, would be that you have to spend a lot of hours stuck in a boring airport, complete with recycled air and screaming babies and freeze-wrapped food.

Passing all of these hours in the airport isn’t easy. Finding things to entertain you takes real effort and it’s hard to give up so much time accomplishing nothing. However, I have some answers to your woes. Read below for ways to pass the time in productive ways at the airport and on the plane.

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1. Pick up some books on tape before you go. Since I have the work commute from Hell, I have been spending a lot of time at the library scoring books on tape. Reading Steve Jobs may be a little boring to actually flip through, but listening to it in the relaxing voice of whoever got paid to read that is much easier to get through and enjoy while you zone out on the airplane and fall into another world. Some that I have been particularly enjoying recently are America by Jon Stewart, Tough Shit by Kevin Smith, and Dude, Where’s My Country? by Michael Moore.

2. Read your guidebook. Before you’re blindly wandering around your next destination wondering where you can find a bathroom, read through a guidebook beforehand so you have a grasp on the secrets of the city, the top destinations, and the top restaurants to hit. The airplane, a hole of a place where there isn’t much else to do anyway, is a perfect time and place to get this done.

3. Download some podcasts. In realm with grabbing your books on tape, downloading podcasts is a cool way to listen to some of your favorite radio stations, find some new material, and generally expand your horizons besides listening to the same albums over and over again.

4. Write down your thoughts. Especially if you are embarking on a true journey such as visiting a new continent for the first time, studying abroad, traveling with a new person, or maybe roaming alone for the first time, writing is a great way to get your thoughts down so that one day when you’re a worn traveler, you can look back and remember how you felt before it all even started. Plus, since you’re gonna be jammed on that plane for awhile, you have all the time in the world so you aren’t rushed to get it all down on paper without really feeling it through.

5. Get drunk. On European flights, wine is generally given out as lax (and free) as soda is, even it tastes like toilet water. However, beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to getting a little free buzz pre-adventure. Plus you’re gonna need a confidence boost before going to try to pick up that guy in the seat in front of you.