What is the real value of five dollars?

Che Everyone knows that five dollars in your pocket in New York has a vastly differing real value compared to if you were in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The value of a dollar varies impressively throughout world economies, and has a powerful effect on entire continents.

The value of a currency is a powerful representation of the inequality and disparities in purchasing power across the world. It not only highlights the abstract notion of money itself through its huge variability in value but also underlines the struggle for developing countries with weak currencies to receive imports essential for development and growth.

One of the most illuminating sectors to look at in terms of economic disparities, is technology. A mobile phone or laptop has the same essential utility, be it to a hot shot banker in the US or to a local business in Latin America in terms of how it can assist and improve productivity. However, due to the economic disparities within the world such luxuries are as of yet only cheaply accessible to those in the western world and hinder development in less advanced economies.

the five dollars1

Think about the basic question, what can you buy for five dollars? When posed to people all around the world is an eloquent way of stimulating debate and highlighting how variations in cultures and economies affect the opportunities available to its inhabitants. Five Dollar Comparison has started asking exactly that, by asking the world to send in photos of their five dollar purchases. It has created a great visualisation of these differences.

As expected, the variation of exactly what you can buy for your five dollars is impressive and ranges from seemingly nothing at all, all the way up to full meals, beds for the night or even live animals!

For five dollars you could have 0.2 ml less than a sniff of the $17,000 bottle of the 1990 Cristal Brut champagne from France, one of the most expensive bottles of champagne that money can buy. This is about as close to nothing as it gets, hardly life changing. Whereas in parts of Africa, the five dollar medicine to cure a child infected with a parasite, truly is.

In Uganda, you can sit down and have you hair washed, curled treated and dyed. If that doesn’t seem like a good buy, perhaps purchase a living creature such as a chicken for your five dollars!

On the more expensive end, in Montreal, you can leave your bicycle against a post for two hours for your five dollars, it is strange how the value of even a street post changes so drastically from corner to corner. Or, if you fancy travelling in the centre of London, try jumping into a Taxi and for your five dollars, you can travel a good 10 meters before your meter would run dry.

The cheapest country in the world according to a cost of living survey is Paraguay, where rent will set you back around $150 USD monthly; let’s not even begin to compare that to the average rent in Manhattan, New York. Your five dollars down in Paraguay will even stretch to get you a clean, good hotel for the whole night. In Argentina (rated as the third cheapest country), you can find some of the best prices in the world to send yourself to a Spanish school in Buenos Aires or for your 5 dollars take an take a whole dance class.

The powerful difference in purchasing power of currencies is responsible for population shifts, tourism trends and even the rise and fall of countries and empires.

As a traveller in Latin America, this fact becomes all the more apparent. Through travel you really begin to appreciate these disparities as they are presented to you on a daily basis. It´s a poignant realisation to see the common imports that you consider essential to be way outside of the income of those earning in a weaker currency. You can’t help but feel a strange sense of guilt creep over you as you look back at all that junk you have bought in your life, I am sure it is a common guilt among travellers from more fortunate countries, but I think that it is one that should be realised by all the more fortunate in the world.

Gretchen for TravelBlogs 2010|


The Road of Life with Lainie and Miro

Big Snow Ball 3 

The Road of Life: Interviews with Lainie & Miro

Delves into their expectations of each other, their commitment to activism, creative endeavors and snowballs – the white frozen rain kind. Again, there are Miro’s remaining “Bonus Questions”. He even comments to something about his Mother’s quirky remarks… Enjoy the read!

Miro: Thus far your travels have been to relatively warm countries. Are you looking forward to seeing cold and snow? (More than that found in the mountains of California, that is.)

Yeah. Can’t wait to hit my mom with a snowball!

Lainie: Same question – cold and snow?

I’m not so much a cold weather kind of person, but Miro wants to hit me with a snowball, so…. gotta do it!

Miro: All parents can be a little difficult at times – have there been occasions when you really had to motivate your mom to do something you thought was important?

Everything I think she needs to do is not important. So ,to answer that question, “no”. Things I’d like for her to do are: 1.) Play monopoly with me, because she always refuses. 2.) Play video games (RPG’s) with me. 3.) Stop cheating at fooseball.

Lainie: All children can be a little difficult at times – have there been occasions when you really had to motivate Miro to do something you thought was important?

I know that’s a revolutionary thing for parent to say, but I have so much respect for this human being called my “son”.

We have had our moments, but my greatest teacher has always been Miro since the moment he came into my life. He is an extraordinary human being, and all those that have met him, will tell you so. I do not know of other children so much, I know of this child, and even though I have been blessed with the honor of being his guardian and protector during his childhood, he is my equal. I know that’s a revolutionary thing for parent to say, but I have so much respect for this human being called my “son”.

Those that have known us before our travels often commented on the extraordinary bond we seem to have and it’s true. We have spent almost every single day of the last year and a half together and the strategy we use is complete transparency on every level. We talk about our feelings, frustrations, fears and joys. We also make sure we laugh a lot and have a lot of fun. This is the biggest gift a parent could have, cherishing the moments we have together, because I know sometime soon, he’ll be out in the world on his own, as an adult. For now, the greatest joy in all of this, is the knowing that Miro experiences the world as a safe place and that is my gift to him.

Miro Human Rights 

Human Rights Courtesy of Miro & Lainie

Miro: As the two of you have traveled, you’ve been activists on both the environmental and human rights levels. What have you gained from these involvements?

I see the world for what it is. I don’t like to see people or animals suffering and I know I can do things to help out and when I can, I do. I don’t like watching the news because I recognize all they show is negative stuff which is usually highlighting people suffering and that doesn’t make me feel good.

Lainie: Same question. (Activism, environmentalism and human rights.)

I have always been moved to act on the issues of peace, human rights, equality, and the environment. (My parents were hippies, after all.) Therefore, these passions have become a natural part of my parenting. Teaching Miro to be active and use his voice for the things he believes in, teaches accountability as well as compassion . I have seen Miro develop into a compassionate person who is ripe with empathy for other people and their “life situations”, and for that, I could not be more proud.

Miro: I hear you’re learning to play guitar – any favorite style of music so far? (Permission to be Creative article reference.)

Our friend, Julia, was visiting Guatemala, who had the guitar. She gave me a few lessons, but when she left, the guitar went with her. That’s ok, it was really a lot of work and my fingers hurt after my lesson. I do other creative things though, like draw, write stories, design virtual worlds and stories for RPGs (role playing games).

Lainie sketching 

Lainie Sketches Courtesy of Miro & Lainie

Lainie: How is the artwork coming along? (Permission to be Creative article reference.)

I wish it was so romantic or mysterious or technologically smart. Our locations are determined by a few simple things – where we physically are at the point of the decision, how much money we have, and if I have work.

My artwork has been put on the back burner, once again.. for a little while at least. I work large, and with messy, messy charcoals, which is difficult while we are traveling. I am toting around a sketch book with me though, and have doodled on a few occasions since Guatemala. On a totally unrelated subject, I learned how to surf, tried for the first time at 44!

Bonus Q&As from Miro:

Bonus 5. What place are you really dying to see?

I would LOVE to see Japan. I just can’t wait to see the culture!

Bonus 6. How do you feel about not knowing where you’ll be next? Does that ever bother you?

Not really. Unless we heard about frightening things happening in that country, then I get a little nervous.

Bonus 7. What is the best part about traveling with your mom?

I would say the best part about traveling with my mom would is hearing her quirky remarks and how we interact together.

Bonus 8. How do you and your mom make decisions about where you are going and how long you will stay in a place?

We don’t, we just play it by ear.

Bonus 9. What have you learned about the world so far that you didn’t know before you left on your trip?

I have learned that the world is such a vast place. I have also learned a little Spanish and Central American geography.

Gretchen for TravelBlogs, 2010.


Book Review: On the Other Guy’s Dime

DIMES imageryoftheimagination 

I have always liked the idea of a working holiday. Especially if it’s a paid (working) holiday and I’m not the one “flitting (most if any) of the bill”. Okay, maybe not so keen on the working part, but it comes with the territory. If you want to visit other countries – such as the United Kingdom, Israel, Bhutan, Turkey and Kenya – then the working holiday idea just may be your ticket to exotic locations. Professor Michael Schneider has done just that for several years and has authored his most recent book, sharing his secrets, upsides and pitfalls. Yup, there have been those too.

Michael Schneider, Ph.D. spent 33 years in the teaching profession. (He retired in 2007.) He has taught at both the University of Minnesota and Malcalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. He has also taught in several locations around the world on “the other guy’s dime”. He holds a Visiting Professorship at New York City’s Columbia College and continues to travel world. Michael has now taken up learning the Japanese language, playing guitar and a few other “fanciful” endeavors. (Retirement does have it’s perks!)

Other Guys Dime

The Review:

I received this book prior to publication. It would be unfair to say I read it thoroughly at that time. I’m afraid “life” got in the way, as did finishing a few back-burner items. But, I have now finished Michael’s book and found it innovative, imaginative and down-to-earth.

On The Other Guy’s Dime: A Professional’s Guide To Traveling Without Paying has Michael sharing his experiences in being able secure “timed” teaching positions and still allow for family travel. Having children has not always been made things easy either, but they have almost always found solutions to those hiccups. Some assignments have worked, others have not. Regardless, Michael covers all of those issues in his writings.

If you own a home or even rent, the information in this book explains what it takes to find the right caretakers during your “working vacation”. It also covers this other little things such as expenses, paying bills, child education and what to do when a family member is bored. First up – throw an American-style Fourth of July BBQ!!

Whether you are a teacher or engaged in any other profession, the information in this book will help you decide if you can qualify for a paid working vacation. It takes a bit of work, but it is not an impossible task. Follow your dream.

It is available now on Amazon.

By Gretchen TravelBlogs, 2010.


Oops – Blackout!

candle light - blackout!

Many of you earn your living through your websites and blogs. Others of you earn enough to finance your travels while a few more (such as myself) work for online businesses. Almost all of us rely on the internet, cell phones and other devices to stay connected. What happens if…

A massive solar flare. Numerous communication satellites are blinded or taken out completely which in turn causes a major, if not a total breakdown in the communication systems. You’re on the road. You now have zero access to the things that generate your income, keep you doing your job and/or your staying connected in general.

How do you see yourself responding to this situation?

Jasmine Stephenson

Jasmine Wanders

I would chop up my laptop and use it as firewood, eat wild berries and grass, and write my blog posts in the sand with a stick.

Ant Stone

Trail of Ants

Solar flare? No problem. It wouldn’t phase me at all; when I travel, I often find myself in places that don’t have internet (although this is getting harder) for long stretches. In many ways, I see travel and travel blogging as separate entities. The latter is purely a way of communicating the former to a mass audience, much like a phone call or even a text message. Travel is at the heart of travel blogging, and only one can survive without the other.

I don’t earn a living or finance my travels from blogging, or own a smart phone, so perhaps it’s easier for me to take this point of view, and to be honest I like it that way. The day I depend on the internet to travel — or even sustain my travels — will be a really sad day. It won’t happen. Travelling with the internet is like the autobahn, it’s appealing, but the real treats are off the slip road. That said, my travel indubitably benefits from my online presence, and at the very least it fuels my passion when I’m not on the road/autobahn.

Jason Baraski

Locationless Living

Fortunately I have saved years worth of living/travel expenses that would continue to fund my travels and life abroad. I am currently living in an apartment in Colombia and would continue to do so following my regular routine with the same activities such as tennis and salsa lessons. I think I would ride out the disaster for years while I continue my life abroad and travels. I would appreciate the opportunity to live abroad and travel without work obligations for the first time in my life. As long as I was to keep myself occupied with friends and activities I don’t see myself doing much differently. Maybe I’d even venture into the offline business world for the first time!

Erik Gauger

Notes from the Road

We live in the most fascinating age that a travel writer could ever live in. We live in an age of six billion people, in a global society that has chosen to connect itself together through technology. We live in a world where our species has become hyper-successful. It is this world that is so fascinating to write about as a travel writer, because all of that success puts us teetering uncomfortably on the edge of Dystopia. As travel writers, we often get a glimpse into this nearby future – we see hurricane damage, melting icebergs, fallen economies, polluted towns. A communication blackout might help illustrate that possible future a little better.

I would be enthralled to be out on the road when such an early Dystopian event happens. It would reveal something about us, it would make people more raw and alive, and so we could see a part of them that the age of communication keeps hidden in the dark. The point is, that as travelers, we would by definition have no problem circumnavigating the blackout. As travelers, we know how to adapt, saving our accounts until the moment we can broadcast again. And if the solar flare even affects our cameras, our video-recorders, our voice-capture machines, we can always pick up a pencil and write, or even sketch, our account.

Gary Arndt


I’m not sure if you are assuming a temporary or permanent collapse of the internet. Either way, there isn’t much you can do about it. Matters are beyond your control. You can probably keep taking photos and writing, as personal electronics would probably be ok. If/when things get back to normal, you’ll have a bunch of content to upload. If things don’t get back to normal, then you need to either find new work or stop traveling.

That being said, I’m not sure a solar flare would take down the entire Internet. Half of the Earth would be shielded and most internet communications do not rely on satellites. The greater damage would be to the electrical grid.


The Longest Way Home

I would smile a huge sigh of relief!
In the strange world of traveling outside of tourist destinations, I’ve come across this on many an occasion.

West Africa – whereby you’d be without communication for days or weeks. Cell phone providers would overload and the internet was satellite based, and often go out. You’d also have to balance this with no electricity for random periods of 10 minutes to 10 hours to several days without. Likewise in Pakistan a few years ago (I hear it’s better now), Nepal during dry season, and in the south of The Philippines or more remote areas.

With no communication I can relax off the grid. I can still write offline, process photos etc. In regards to income, this one is easy. I’d pack up, head to a previous destination and work from there on the ground.

In this day and age whereby I have to keep resending emails because the person reading them doesn’t have an attention span over 140 characters. I’d be glad of some old school communication. People actually take the time and effort in business or online to actually care about their product or service. And, build a one on one relationship. Likewise with travel blogs or the like. With a communication black out, we might suddenly see less generic 300 word rehashes, and begin to see some quality, original content emerge again. Less time online, can mean better communication.

Sarah Gonski,

Love & Paella

Okay, first off, I would put on sunglasses with extra special UV protection and sunscreen with the highest SPF I can find (must protect the alabaster skin). Then I would consider, but most likely reject, the option of wrapping myself in tin foil. I mean, I’m just being practical here. Email shmemail. Finally, I will take a siesta. I live in Spain, after all. Once I wake up, well rested and even paler than when I started, I will get down to business. First up: TURN OFF ALL ELECTRONIC DEVICES. I’m not sure why I would feel the need to save the batteries – for what, exactly? But it would feel like the right thing to do. Then I would get out a pad of paper, a number two pencil, some postcards and my camera and carry on as normal as I could. The Facebook withdrawals might set in after a day or two, and I’d need to brew some herbal tea to get past the shakes and the sweats – don’t get me started on email. But I wouldn’t mind living the old fashioned way for a little bit, as long as I can still eat paella.

Nora Dunn

The Professional Hobo

Whack! Ouch. Sorry – I just hit the floor from the palpitations and dizziness that accompany such a thought as losing all connectivity on the road. (Jeez – my head hurts now).

In all seriousness, the above reaction wouldn’t initially be far off for me if a solar flare bereft me of my ability to stay in touch and earn an income from the road. However if something like that happened, I wouldn’t be the only person in strife; the world’s collective reliance on the air waves is such that I believe we’d have a global crisis on our hands; one that would affect just about everything we do, whether or not we travel and earn a living online.

With trepidation, I’ve considered my reliance on my laptop and the internet to stay in touch, earn an income, and research/book my travel plans. Nothing is infallible, and there may well come a time when things get ugly. But until it happens, I don’t think there’s much we can do, save for having enough money in the bank to get through an emergency that could leave us “stranded” – in the physical or cyber world.

Carl Beien

Two Stops Past Siberia

As a Peace Corps volunteer, my job is first and foremost to be in my community, 100%. If there was a great failure in communications (and Uncle Sam didn’t pull me out), I would likely be able to focus more on this local community, and in that way, such an event might prove a boon to my time here.

On the other hand, however, technology not only allows me to share my stories with others, it also provides me with support. Whenever I have been ill or suffered other setbacks, it is often people from home, the ones who know me best, who are a major source of inspiration to keep chugging along.

As much fun as tooling around the developing world can be, it is not without its challenges. While this work does not necessarily require access to modern communication technologies (after all, Peace Corps has been around since 1961), the simple act of keeping in touch sure makes it easier.

Julie Falconer

A Lady In London

I would take stock of what I had with me in terms of money, food, and basic necessities. If I were in a city with access to my country’s embassy or consulate, I would check in with them regularly for any news or updates they could share with me, and any options for assistance. If I were at a hotel, I would ask to be updated on the situation as soon as the ability to communicate returned. Then I would sit back and enjoy the freedom of being unplugged until I ran out of money.

Dana Newman

Well, I guess I said I wanted an Adventure….

Total devastation and paralyzing fear would shiver through my body upon hearing the news. I would drop dramatically to the floor and weep all day and all night at the awful reality of not being able to reach my family, friends, and the 80 devoted readers of my travel blog. For several nightmarish days I would probably feel like my life might as well be finished.

But, once I’m done wallowing in my sorrow, as I lay in bed on the morning of the third day, half conscious, half asleep, a faint tingle of relief and exhilaration will slowly start to wiggle its way through the dread.

I’m a writer. All I want to do is write. Technology makes putting my work out into the world easier, but for me it also makes writing harder because I am constantly bombarded with outside opinions and judgments. Being shut off from the rest of the world would have the same effect on me as putting blinders onto a horse running a race; I would finally be able to fully concentrate on running my own race to the best of my ability without being distracted by the screaming fans in the stands or the other runners.

Steven Shoppman

The World By Road

I honestly see it as a nice break. During our expedition, we were often weeks without access to any real communications. Too often bloggers and the new age of media production makes for short and often useless content. Instead of being able to post every day or multiple times per day, perhaps this would bring us back to a time when people sat down and wrote something really thoughtful and compelling, worrying more about quality instead of quantity. Everyone could then be proud of themselves for the one article they actually took more time than an afternoon to write…then it would all get turned back on and ADHD would carry on as usual.

Kris Kalav

The Beerman Chronicles

Out of communication with the rest of the world… gee, sounds more like an opportunity than a hindrance. Build and launch my own satellite? Not too many bamboo rockets out there, so that would be tough, even with a supply of liquid oxygen. If I had no money, or access to it, I suppose there’s always male prostitution or fan dancing at the local bar. Perhaps not. Maybe barter my skills with the locals for food and shelter, at least until communications come back. My Visa bill would go unpaid… not exactly a shame there. Being disconnected from technology would not be the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. The old standby of paper and pencil could be handy, as I could still chronicle what’s going on around me and eventually relay those writings into an electronic form. My biggest worry would be about the potential chaos and panic amongst the people around me. Communication is the life-blood, and without it, people tend to be completely lost. I think I would wind up trying to be a calming voice for those that are lost, helping people to come to grips with being out of touch with the rest of the world. Information technology doesn’t plant crops (in the general sense), or cook, or light a fire to keep warm. You can’t eat your laptop or smart phone, so the basics of human survival are the most necessary.

Greg Wesson

Greg Wesson’s Esoteric Globe

Cave Men

De-Evolution drawing by Greg Wesson

Wade Shepard

Vagabond Journey

What would I do if the global communications systems, upon which I depend for running VagabondJourney.com and bringing in my income, were to crash I burn tomorrow? Well, that is simple: I would go back to making up my bean money as I did before I began this web publishing fiasco. Given that the global social and municipal infrastructure is still standing (probably doubtful in reality) I would return to my old traveling trades of doing farm work, gardening, teaching, archaeology, and return to publishing in print.

But, if the infrastructure that holds much of the developed world together also collapses with the internet, I must say that I would go back to the most underdeveloped of places that I have ever been to — maybe Haiti, the sticks of Patagonia, the north of Iraq, the west of China — and strike up a living there in a profession that is essential and, more or less, locally derived. Maybe I will begin working leather, start making boots, or engage upon learning another trade where the skills that I learn will be timeless and not end up being obsolete in a couple of years (as they are in the world of web publishing haha). In such a scenario, I can’t help but to believe that the global backwaters, which are now mocked as being impoverished and backward, would truly prove to be far more functional than any of the advanced and developed parts of the world — as we go back to square one again.

Gretchen L. Wilson-Kalav

Our Two Cents Worth…

I cannot lie – I have had fun reading all of the above replies. Most everyone agreed, though such a situation would cramp their style, they would look upon it as an opportunity as well. What I found most interesting were the references to money which brought up a very large question in my mind… “How will you access your funds? ATMs? Not likely. Go to a bank? Since you are on the road, how does that bank communicate with the one housing your money to verify you even have funds? Also, banks only have X amount in true cash on hand. With so much of today’s banking taking place online, there goes the fund transfers. Just a thought… But, I digress…

Gary (Arndt) pointed out, this was a highly unlikely scenario – and it was. But, the question was posed as a game of hypothetical “what ifs” as way to make everyone think about extreme circumstances. Our power goes down regularly for hours at a time – one of the hiccups of rural living – and the one that spawned the topic. I hope we won’t need to deal with such a happening anytime soon. If we do, I’m stealing Jasmine’s stick so I can write in the sand. Now to find some sand… Guess I’ll be writing in the snow instead as it’s bound to fall before too long.

Editor’s Note: As always, thank you to everyone who has been a willing participant! I would also like to thank everyone who has contributed to past panel discussions as well. The responses have been numerous, enlightening and much more than I anticipated when I accepted this position. I applaude you all. G.

Gretchen TravelBlogs, 2010


Accepting Whatever Comes

“Where you headed?” the taxi driver asked.

“Water taxi for Caye Caulker,” I said, handing him my backpack. “How much?”

“6 Belize,” he said, putting my backpack in the trunk of his dented and dusty Toyota.

Six Belize dollars equalled three US dollars. Not bad. I had no idea how far the water taxi dock was, but even if it was only a few blocks, three dollars didn’t seem that much of a rip off. Heck, it would cost me that much to go one stop on the tube in London. Besides, less was likely to go wrong if I took a taxi than if I try and walk when I had no idea the route.

“What could go wrong taking a taxi?” I thought to myself as the taxi driver slammed his trunk shut and pointed me to the passenger side door. Neither of us noticed as a small black cord slipped into the trunk.

So upon arrival at the water taxi dock, when the taxi driver tried to open his trunk to retrieve my backpack and said, “Oh mon, where is the string? I can’t open the trunk without the string!”, I wasn’t phased.

It transpired that the latch on his trunk was broken, and he had rigged a string to pull open the latch from the inside. By hanging the string out, he could tug on it, which would unlatch the trunk and pop it open. Without the string, no way into the trunk.

“Whatever,” I said. “We’ll figure out a way to get it out.”

For the next twenty minutes, the taxi driver, myself and one of the workers at the water taxi company casually discussed options to get my backpack out of the car. Finally, the taxi driver pulled apart the back seat of his Toyota to get into the trunk and retrieve my back.

“Thanks,” I said, handing over my fare.

“Sorry about the trunk,” he said.

I shrugged. “No worries,” I said. I had come to Belize to relax and get away from my stressful life, and as long as I get there in the end, that is all that matters.

Greg Wesson

Book Review: 100 Sporting Events You Must See Live

World Cup 

When I received the offer to review this guide book, I thought “Uh-uh, not for me”. I’m not a big fan of sporting events. But, I took time to read down the list of things covered and discovered – I was a fan in a roundabout way. I love racing, whether it be cars or horses or camels. I have reconnected with golf as I’ve gotten older and I fully believe in the Special Olympics. What really captured my attention were the unusual items – such as the Westminster Dog Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City and the Calgary Stampede in Canada. I love dogs and rodeos too. Obviously, I decided to check this guide out for myself. I was pleasantly surprised at the contents.

About The Author:

Robert Tuchman has spent his career in the sports industry. With a degree in broadcast journalism, he began by working for Sports Phone. A mere three years later, he became founder and president of TSE Sports & Entertainment based out of New York. He has spent a great deal of his time sitting in old bleacher seats, watching almost every sporting event imaginable and compiling information for this guidebook.

The Review:

If you are into any type of sports then 100 Sporting Events You Must See Live is the guide book for you. The list includes the basics – The World Cup (soccer), Ryder Cup (golf), French Open (tennis), along with a host of others. But, it also includes the unique – Nathan’s Annual International Hot Dog Eating Contest in New York City (hot dogs), the Iditarod Dogsled Race in Alaska (real dogs), the Running With The Bulls in Spain (no dogs, just big angry pot roasts on four legs) and the Beanpot Hockey Tournament (no dogs or angry pot roasts but lots of ice).


Typical of any guide book, each event is broken down into sections. Mr. Tuchman gives a brief description of the event’s significance. He then moves on to the type of person who attends, ticket information, available accommodations, eateries and travel packages. He ends each one with “Notable quotes” and related website links. A quote example: “Until you go to Kentucky and with your own eyes behold the Derby, you ain’t never been nowhere and you ain’t seen nothin’!” – Irvin S. Cobb (American author and columnist) commenting on the Kentucky Derby. I think Mr. Cobb may be right. I know the Kentucky Derby is on my “bucket list” and has been for years. But, back to the book… The sections concerning each sport’s significance are also filled with historical information and interesting factoids. Many of them unknown to even the most avid of sports connoisseurs, who, unlike myself, usually know a lot about sports – or at least particular sports.

Again, this is a great book for any enthusiast or as a gift to that friend/family member who is glued to every sports channel out there. I do think the World Series of Poker should have been included. But, then it would have been the 101 Sporting Events. Guess there has to be a cut-off point somewhere. Maybe it’ll show up in the “sequel”. Finger’s crossed.

This book is available now on Amazon

Gretchen TravelBlogs, 2010


Passports with Purpose in India

Women crossing lake on bamboo scaffolding. 

Women crossing lake on bamboo scaffolding by HepzOliver


I sit here in my little “home office” staring at 3 monitors most every day. As I do, I also think about the world around ME. The things that I would like to have repaired – my sagging porch, my leaky garage roof, my leaky laundry room roof and replacing a 13 year old Neon with 230,000 miles on it. But, when it comes to the “bigger picture”, all of that is trivial. Though my roofs may leak, I have one (well, more than one). Though my car is old, I have one. I live a life of luxury compared to so many others. That statement alone brings me back to reality and…

I had not been aware of Passports With Purpose until earlier this year. Okay, I still was not aware of it until a couple of months ago. Though I have been very involved with another organization – Kiva.org – PwP was new to me. Not any more.

This year, they are building a village in Tamil Nadu, India – but need your help. The goal – $50,000 and I know they will succeed.

Debbie Dubrow, Pam Mandel, Beth Whitman and Michelle Duffy are the driving forces behind this charity. It was started in 2008 when they connected with Heifer International. The goal was to help alleviate hunger and poverty worldwide. Passports With Purpose raised $7,800 for the project. In 2009, PwP teamed up with American Assistance for Cambodia, raised $30,000 and helped build a school equipped with much-needed amenities. This year, they are assisting LAFTI in building a village in Tamil Nadu, India – but need your help. The goal – $50,000 and I know they will succeed.


When most of us in the “first world” nations (yes, those with money) think of India, our thoughts usually conjure up images of the photo to the left. The Taj Mahal, large Buddhas and any number of iconic sites and landmarks we’ve read about or visited ourselves. Rarely do we envision the photo to the right and below – unless we’ve been on that train traveling past the non-existent villages along the rail’s route. I see the questioning of “non-existent” villages – if someone lives there, it is a village. No, it is not. Any number of inadequate living quarters, even in close proximity, do not make a true village, only something remotely considered shelter. With that thought in mind…

In the first 24 hours following the kick-off, PwP had already raised approximately $30,000!! Do not let this dissuade you from contributing. The more contributions, the more real housing that will be built. That’s a fact. Taken from the PwP website: “…we will build a village in India, providing homes for those that had never hoped to have a roof over their heads!” As mentioned earlier, I have a roof but so many do not. This is the time to rectify that situation for (at least) a small population of people. If everyone pulls together we can become “One Nation” and make a difference. To reiterate, this year, Passports with Purpose is working with LAFTI, an NPO, to make a difference for the disenfranchised Dalit caste.

Gretchen for TravelBlogs, 2010


The Lunatic Express – Discovering the World… via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains, and Planes

India Train 

About the Reviewer:

This book has been reviewed, for your reading pleasure, by Steve Skabrat of Escape from Cube Land. As described in his blog feature, Steve admits he’s a “meat & potatoes” kind of guy. He’s also one who is ready to give up the “meat & potatoes” cube life for something more exciting. Hmmm… Could be travel… Well, only if he can find tasty food, figure out directions and how to leave the very large iguana statue to fend for itself. Now we know he also likes to read (maybe to the iguana).

Lunatic Express

The Review:

Some people might think Carl Hoffman is a lunatic. Hoffman is a veteran contributing editor to various magazines. I’m not sure what his agent and editor thought when he pitched them on his latest idea, traveling around the world on the most dangerous modes of transportation. Whatever they thought, they bought it and Hoffman took off from New York City in a bus to Canada. That doesn’t sound too dangerous, depending on the time of year. However, it got worse from there, as Hoffman takes notoriously dangerous rides in South America, Africa, and Asia. I hope he had his life insurance policy fully paid up.

The trains in Mumbai are death traps for some riders on a daily basis. They even have morticians whose job is to handle the train casualties.

A few of the conveyances were fascinating. Hoffman’s day spent with a taxi called a matatu in Nairobi was the most interesting. The efforts the taxi drivers go through every day to survive are simply amazing. He rode an overloaded ferry in Senegal along the same route where a ferry had sunk some years before, taking 1,800 lives. A multi-day ferry ride in Indonesia made me shudder at the lack of comfort for the passengers. My back hurt just thinking about sleeping night after night on a linoleum covered wooden bench. Yet thousands of Indonesians ride these old ferries to move between islands. The trains in Mumbai are death traps for some riders on a daily basis. They even have morticians whose job is to handle the train casualties. Hoffman’s craziest trip involved driving across Afghanistan in a war zone.

Hoffman’s narrative bogs down in a few places, but overall this is a compelling story that reminds us that many in the world are not fortunate enough to have safe transportation. Millions of people are on the move, using whatever transportation is available and affordable. In comparison, as westerners we’re spoiled with the modern transportation available to us.

Despite the dangers, everywhere Hoffman goes he meets friendly people. No matter what the circumstances, people around the world like to meet an American. It’s up to us to respond appropriately.

Broadway Books, published 2010, 286 pages.

Available now on Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions.

Gretchen TravelBlogs, 2010


Aggregator Sites Save Travellers Time and Money

Holidaymakers are pulling the wool off their eyes and turning their sights online, thanks to the popularity of aggregator sites – a new software search mechanism that is influencing buying behaviour.

Current affairs programs having been delivering a round-about way of comparing products for years, however the online version puts the consumer in control through fetching & filtering requested information. The aggregator’s Google-like nature has seen been welcomed with open arms buy online consumers who are well versed in the search game.

Airline and hotel comparison sites got the wheels in motion, educating travellers about the various products and prices on the market. And now the sphere has expanded with compare sites popping up for car hire, tour bookings and travel insurance online. Industry experts have gone as far as saying that the role of the travel agent will more than likely become completely redundant. Why?  Consumers know where to go to find the best deal.

A recent global survey conducted by The Nielsen Company found that over 85 percent of the world’s online population has used the Internet to make a purchase, with more than half of them regular online shoppers, making a purchase at least once a month.  Jonathan Carson, the International President for Nielsen Online has previously said that the internet now belongs within mass media and is an utterly integral part of modern life for consumers wanting to avoid the clutter and fracture of their day-to-day schedule.

But the benefits aren’t just limited to convenience; consumers are also saving a lot of time and money. No shopfronts and no middlemen means that many businesses can now sell their product direct and pass on savings to the consumer. Such factors make aggregator sites an ideal ground from which consumers can hunt for the best deal.  For example, where travel insurance Australia is concerned, would-be holiday makers can jump online to find the best priced policy without having to worry about any third party agenda.

While not all businesses have been as pleased with aggregator software, particularly those who’ve hidden behind brand as opposed to bargain. Some companies have avoided involvement to date but have been unable to deny the online transition of buying behaviours .To miss the boat completely would see profit squashing consequences – that’s good news for consumers, who are likely to see a list of their favourite brands listed head to head comparing product/service value. Money saved on flights, hotels and travel insurance will be better spent on creating memorable holiday experiences.

Book Review: The Art of Non-Conformity


Individuality by Gretchen Wilson-Kalav

Who’s fooling who? Whether the question is (grammatically) correct or not doesn’t really matter. (That grammatically incorrect question worked very well for Eric Clapton so I stole it. Thank you, Eric.) What does matter is the essence behind the question. Are you happy with the life you lead or are you just fooling yourself into believing it’s all good? Do you like the 9:00-5:00 routine? Letting someone else write your playbook? Being a follower rather than a leader? Putting off what you really want to do for something you have been told needs doing?

If the answer to these questions are all “big fat yeses”, then it’s time to read The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want and Change the World by Chris Guillebeau. I’ll just leave it at that…

Art Of Non-Conformity

Chris Guillebeau is the author of the online manifesto A Brief Guide to World Domination. Besides running ChrisGuillebeau.com, he is a contributing author to several other publications, such as Business Week and Huffington Post. He is also on a mission to visit every country on the face of this earth – he’s closing in on the final stretch. Though he makes his home in Portland, Oregon, you’re more likely to see him on the streets of Hong Kong or Madrid. His other book titles include The Unconventional Guide to Discount Airfare and The Unconventional Guide to Working for Yourself among others.

The Review:

As I read the first few pages, I began to experience a mild case of deja vu.

Chris’ book came with me when I was called upon to care for a close friend over a few days. The thought of being able to read without my normal daily interruptions was a very agreeable one and I proceeded to open the front cover. As I read the first few pages, I began to experience a mild case of deja vu. The content was quite familiar – ideas and concepts I had encountered several years ago. In reflection, The Art of Non-Conformity was echoing the teachings of Werner H. Erhard (Erhard Seminars Training aka EST) and those of Kurt Goldstein who coined the term “self-actualization”. Abraham Maslow proceeded to expand on Goldstein’s “self-actualization” theory a few years later.

All three put forth the concepts of personal transformation and taking responsibility for one’s own life. By doing so, such actions would not only create positive personal changes but also generate positive changes in a larger population simultaneously. As I kept reading The Art of Non-Conformity, I thought “Come on Guillebeau, give me something new here”. (Sorry Chris.) This feeling continued through more than half the book. Not until my (above-mentioned) friend and I started discussing things we would love to do but probably would never do them, did I get something new. It wasn’t a new concept or idea – it was the realization that three generations have come into this world since my encounters with Goldstein and colleagues. Three generations have not necessarily gotten the self-fulfillment messages yet.

This revelation allowed me to view the book from a different perspective. Though Chris’ messages are similar to those mentioned above, he has taken them in a different direction – one which incorporates the modern day internet world, people’s wanderlust (for travel or other endeavors) and the generating of change across the globe.


Chris defines various techniques for breaking down the wall of conformity most of us bang our head against daily. It is a playbook that really says don’t play by me, rather play by the one you create for yourself.

Using his own personal experiences and those of people he has encountered along his many journeys, Chris defines various techniques for breaking down the wall of conformity most of us bang our head against daily. It is a playbook that really says don’t play by me, rather play by the one you create for yourself. Here is how I “wrote” mine – if it helps – wonderful, but if not, that’s okay too.

This book is for the individual who believes maintaining their individuality is paramount to living a full and fulfilling life. A life where everyone can hold the keys to the kingdom they have designed and built for themselves.

Gretchen TravelBlogs, 2010