Air Travel & Style

Travel for us today continues to become cheaper and more frequent. Whether you are constantly flying for work or just enjoy taking weekend trips, you have probably noticed that many people are at their worst style-wise in an airport terminal. Oversized sweatpants, sweatshirts and slip-on shoes abound to make travel a thing of comfort and ease for passengers. However, you don’t have to succumb to the oversized fleece outfits of your fellow man. If you put a bit of thought into your outfit when you are packing your suitcase for your flight you can save yourself a bit of trouble and you might end up rejoicing that put in some effort as you find yourself seated next to a cute girl or guy. While it’s no guarantee, the likelihood of getting a free upgrade certainly goes up when you look a bit more put together.

 photo david-beckhamAIRPORT.jpg

Layer Up

While you may be no Beckham, you can certainly take some style tips from him. Airports, airplanes and your destination will all most likely have different climates and weather forecasts from each other. Your plane may be cold, the airport may be hot and it might even be snowing by the time you get off the plane. The best way to keep a lean suitcase while being prepared for multiple climates is to layer up for the plane. Things like casual button ups and cardigans can work for a range of temperatures and in the worst case can be thrown on your shoulder or stowed in your carryon; layer the two with a t-shirt underneath and you have just covered a huge range of climates with one outfit.

A button-up and a sweater can also work well with a light rain jacket, scarf or hat to make them work in nearly any climate. For a more formal look opt for a button-up and a blazer, that same scarf and hat will work with the combo and you will be one of the best looking guys on the whole plane. Layering up will save you room in your suitcase and mean that you can give yourself a go-to airport outfit for a variety of seasons and destinations.

jittery joes.


Another pain point during air travel is all of the security that you have to go through. Shoes are one place where you can take inspiration from your more slovenly air travelers and opt for shoes that don’t require a lot of time. While your crocced out dads and relatives may make you cringe at the airport they do have the right idea. Instead go for things like a chelsea boot, espadrilles, loafers, or boots that zip up for comfortable and stylish options that will have the TSA loving you. If you are going to be going to colder climates wearing things like boots on the plane will free up a surprising amount of space in your luggage for more important things while keeping you from needing to make any tough decisions.

Traveling With Your Phone

It used to be that traveling was your escape. When you went abroad or simply on a trip somewhere not too long ago you just about left your life and your worries behind. You could maybe check your email somewhere along the way or call your relatives or the office if you wanted, but it was very understandable that you would not be in communication with people. However now we live on our smartphones more than ever and for some being out of communication just isn’t a possibility. Some of us are on call 24/7 or simply need to be in communication with people at all times and so things like a stop at a Starbucks for wifi or an extra long stay at the hostel to book tomorrow’s tour just become the way you travel. If you are an Urban Traveler these sorts of hot spots often aren’t too hard to find.

With the world becoming increasingly (or would it be decreasingly) smaller and the number of things we do with apps or on the internet increasing more and more things using our phones while we travel is starting to be necessary. There are a number of ways to use your phone while overseas and so I will go through a few of them quickly with a bit of commentary on which strategy would work best for which situation.

No Plan

The first way to get away with a cheap phone bill when you get back is to, like I said earlier, stick to areas with wifi and make sure to turn your phone on airplane mode for the most of your trip. Make sure that you turn off data roaming or the usage of 3G and you can just use wifi when it is available. One thing to remember about this strategy is that your gps location will still work without data on most if not all phones and that you can save maps in apps like google maps. This means that you can still use your phone to find things and places, but you lose all of the spontaneity that a data plan would afford you.

If you have got the bulk of your trip planned out already and have a job that will let you shirk responsibility for days at a time then this strategy might just be for you. Finding free wifi can be easy in some countries and nearly nonexistent in others, so do your homework beforehand. If you can’t see yourself absolutely needing internet for your whole trip and you think you’ll just use it for things like Facebook and email, then going without is certainly the way to go.

Keep Your Carrier & Plan

Nearly all the carriers in your home country have realized that people travel and use their phones while they do. This means that they will often still provide service while you are abroad but at an increased cost. The European Union has been pushing for roaming charges to be done away with within their member states, but for now they are just restricted to (somewhat) reasonable prices. However, for carriers from other countries like the states, Canada and Australia your carriers will be charging you a pretty large sum per MB as soon as your data starts up. Using your phone while abroad without looking at international plans is probably the worst way to use your phone while traveling.

You’ll incur different charges in different countries, but unless you are going to send one email your whole trip while away from wifi this strategy just doesn’t make sense. You will most likely be welcomed home with a larger than expected bill from most carriers and will have really just saved yourself from doing minimal research on your carrier’s plans.

Roaming Plans

The carrier you use for your monthly mobile plan should have an option to add international roaming to your plan for a limited amount of time, if not multiple plans depending on your usage.  T-Mobile has integrated international roaming into some of their plans letting you use your data block, texts and call local numbers at surprisingly good rates. If you aren’t with T-Mobile however this won’t be an option for you and so it is best to look into what countries your carrier covers and how much these plans cost. Usually minimal data usage won’t end up costing you too much money and you will just need to make sure that you remember to remove international roaming from your plan when you are done traveling.

If you do your homework you should look to see if you will need to use your phone as a hot spot, as this is often something that carriers block with these sorts of plans. The total cost of using this type of plan shouldn’t be over $25 in addition to your usual plan and will give you a lot of peace of mind while traveling. This strategy is best for those who are planning to visit a number of countries and won’t to be able to go without the use of their phone for that long.

Global/Regional Plans

Sadly there is no one carrier that provides cheap service for every country, but there are some carriers that provide relatively good services to a variety of countries or regions at a relatively reasonable rate. These rates won’t be as cheap as local carriers, and the coverage may not be as consistent, but what you are paying for with these companies is the ease of having one phone number that will work in a multitude of countries. There are a number of providers of this type of service and for the most part you will most likely only really care about the data plans and to make sure that you can use them for mobile hot spots but they still do require some research. These plans may cover a lot of countries but it is important that they cover the right countries for you.

This type of strategy is for those that are near constant travelers for their jobs or business. If your work takes you to a group of countries relatively regularly this can be a worthwhile investment to make sure that you are connected whenever you need to be with minimal hassle. These plans can be costly, but for someone who is hopping between countries often it is the only way to save yourself from massive charges or having to cary around a bag full of sim cards.

Local SIM

When in Rome do as the Romans do, or in this case it’d be just Italians in general, but regardless. Local carriers in other countries should provide the best value for you while traveling and should also have the best coverage. Getting a local sim card means that you may need to ask fellow travelers or locals for recommendations, but this shouldn’t require too much research. Most countries have a handful of main carriers that can give you reasonable rates, just make sure that you choose plan that is month to month or go with prepaid. Using a local carrier will also give you a local phone number allowing you to communicate with locals more easily, but also requires you to go into a store and physically get a sim.

The local sim option is best for those who are going to be traveling in a single country for an extended period of time. If you aren’t spending at least a week in a single country the countless sim cards and phone plans can really get quite complex and costly. If you do your research before entering a country you should be able to go directly to a local store, grab a sim card and get on with your travels with a working phone. It is best to research what carrier you should get before arriving as you may not have full command of the language, or may not be able to get a sim card without certain things having been taken care of beforehand in order to get the best rates and coverage.

Proud lock

Unlock Your Phone

As carriers begin to move away from buying your phone for you this will hopefully become less of a problem, but for now it is important to make sure that your phone can be unlocked or is already unlocked if you go for a global sim or a local sim when traveling. Most carriers will be reasonably understanding if you have been with them for a while and will unlock your phone with a call as to why you need to do so. Others will try and charge you if you are trying to get out of your plan so this may need to be factored into the cost of your international phone plan.

There’s no one sim card or carrier that is gonna serve you best, but ignorance isn’t going to serve you too well when you’ve got a work project you need to upload and the nearest wifi hotspot was in the last town 20 miles ago. If you need your phone or want to be able to use your phone to make traveling easier for you then have a think about what option might be best for you and do some research. Feel free to comment below about your experiences with local carriers, data saving apps, or huge roaming charges.

Business Spotlight: Fresh Off The Plane

Fresh Off The Plane

As someone who has moved to new cities in new countries a number of times now under all sorts of circumstances I always find that moving to a new place comes with a host of tasks that are hard to truly enumerate until you’ve gone through the experience.  Whether you are moving for a few short months or plan on staying for good, there are a lot of things that you take for granted as a local that can become harder in a new place, especially if you are using a new language. From finding accommodations to things as seemingly simple as finding a local dry cleaner, a new city in a new country poses a host of challenges that otherwise might go unnoticed in a more familiar place. Without a local willing to help you find the neighborhood and the things in that neighborhood to make the most out of your time in a new city you risk feeling that you might be wasting your precious time as an expat in a new land.

Those at Fresh Off The Plane know this struggle all to well. The founder arrived in Hong kong a number of years back without the intimate knowledge of a local and saw that expats from all over must be feeling how they did when they first arrived. While their real estate agents settled them into a fine home it became apparent that they had found a place to sleep, but none of the other things that make a place home. Things like organizing utilities, a new bank account, and which grocery store or market you are going to frequent are all things that have a cultural or linguistic component to them, one that often goes unnoticed until you are stuck with the prospect of doing them in an entirely new environment.

The people at Fresh Off The Plane have taken their experiences as strangers in a foreign land to help others make the most out of their time in Hong Kong by helping them set up their new life with the intimate knowledge of those who have gone through all the same experiences before. The company strives to be more than your average real estate agency by helping you find all the creature comforts that you are used to in a new place, leaving you to explore the exciting parts of your new city.

Living in a new place you quickly realize that in order to make the most out of the experience you need to keep going after new experiences in your new home. This can be hard to keep up when you have obstacles like, not knowing any locals or expats to travel with, or having to continually research each new thing about your new city. A company like this will definitely let you make the most out of an opportunity like living in Hong Kong for 2 years. A company like this is great for expats and long stay travelers alike who are hoping to make the most out of their stay in a new and exciting place.

The Faces of the Business


The CEO/Founder: Tristan is a working airline pilot from France and South Africa. He speaks both French and English in his everyday life and also enjoys learning conversational Cantonese as well as it culture. From a young age, flying was his main passion. He earned his pilot’s commercial license at 18 and was soon after working full-time as a pilot in West Africa. Tristan was promoted to Captain at the age of 23 whilst flying with DHL throughout Africa. He joined Cathay Pacific in 2012 and moved to Hong Kong.  Having a keen interest in business management, he is completing a Masters of Science in Airline Management in London during his downtime from flying. Tristan also loves to travel and knows the region well, having travelled numerous times on his motorbike or 4×4 all over Asia. He now calls Hong Kong his home and is also always keen to return to it after flying or travelling. When he first moved to Hong Kong, Tristan saw a gap in the real estate industry and over the years grew the idea and concept of his company.

Mary-WallPortrait_optCustomer Services Manager: Mary Yu

If you’d like to learn more about this sort of business or are maybe even moving to Hong Kong in the near future, head to

Karnival in Köln

The festival of Carnival is one that is celebrated in many parts of the world with links to both Christianity and the winter solstice. Carnival in the city of Cologne(Köln) has been going on for nearly as long as there has been a Cologne, but the festival as it exists now has undergone many changes. The official festival committee was founded in 1823, which started the era of the festival being celebrated in the current fashion (2000 years of Carnival). Seeing as the season starts every year at 11:11 on 11/11, two friends and I decided we had to take part after hearing about it from nearly every coworker and German from the area. The festival is a long standing tradition within the region that has morphed to become a celebration of the region more than anything else. The city appoints a committee every year to organize the event, and thousands of tourists and regional residents make their way into the city for the day (11th November).

The carnival takes place over many days, starting on the 11th of November and continuing into February with a suspension through advent and the Christmas season. We were told that the main festivities would be taking place at Heumarkt, an open square in the older city which is bordered mainly by bars and restaurants. However, the festival couldn’t be missed from all the way at the train station. Festival goers were all dressed in a variety of costumes from funny to fabulous all over the city. One thing that could quickly be noticed was that there was an increase of police presence in the city as a result of the festival. Being a festival that encourages all day drinking, the police were making themselves very visible, however most festival goers seemed not to notice and under control. Despite this, drinking, dancing and costumes seemed to definitely be the main focus of the day’s event. Having only recognized one song all day it was a bit difficult to feel a part of the festivities, although this did not stop Germans from singing along with them. At the festival we were clearly tourists, only myself speaking german of the group, but were nevertheless welcomed by nearly everyone nearby. It was also interesting to hear the numerous languages that were being spoken at the festival, it seemed that regardless if you had been living in the region for a week or your family had been there for centuries, everyone was welcomed at the festival.

As far back as history can tell us, Carnival has been a celebration of the individuality of the city. Whether Cologne was under French or Prussian rule, Cologne worked to celebrate uniqueness of the city with it’s deep rooted traditions (Brophy 43). The festival, like the region, has a long history of Catholicism that still exists today. However, it is tough to see how this relates at all to Christianity other than it’s timing within the Catholic calendar. In this way, and many others, it is very similar to Mardi Gras in that it celebrates the time leading up to Lent. Cologne and the festival have both changed amazing amounts over their history’s, and now the festival seems more about simply celebrating those who come to it no matter who they might be, as well as Cologne itself (DeWaal 498).

All of this change can be seen in the welcome of all sorts of cultures into the festival. While most of the foods and drinks at the event were typically german and more specifically from the region, there were also things that showed the influence of other cultures. There were many who were in full costumes but with religious head coverings, a number of food vendors offering Turkish food and Dutch food, two of the city’s influential immigrant populations. Cologne having one of the largest homosexual populations for a German city was also evident in the numerous pride flags around. All sorts of cultures could be seen wherever you looked at the festival, which really showed the truth in the city’s claim to a cosmopolitan and tolerant attitude. The festival is even now starting to be seen as a way for homosexuals to demonstrate their pride and contributions to the city.

When talking to people on the crowded train to the city, as well as at the festival they all seemed excited to have Americans visiting and celebrating with them. It also surprised me to see many people who were not originally German taking part in the festival, and seeming to enjoy celebrating the culture of Germany much like I did. It did not seem out of character at all for a man to be wearing typical Bavarian style clothing, drinking a beer from Cologne, and all the while speaking Italian to his wife or girlfriend. The festival grounds seemed to be a melting pot of many cultures coming together for the celebration of a distinctly German city.

The only people who seemed to be looked down upon by the festival goers were those were not participating in the festivities. Many times those who were not in a semblance of a costume, or displaying some sort of Cologne pride were called out. It seemed that because nobody, but those who worked in the restaurants and bars, had to work so nobody had an excuse not to be celebrating the holiday. Even the train attendants had scarves and hats specifically for the day. This sort of exclusion reminded me of the St. Patricks day tradition of animosity to those who are not wearing green or displaying some sort of Irish pride.

This being only the second German festival that I’ve participated in, I think the Germans definitely enjoy the prospect of drinking all day instead of work regardless of the reason. I think this sort of festival belies the usual stereotypical workaholic German that is exhibited in a lot of the media especially within the European Union. Talking to my friends that accompanied me, to their first holiday festival, they agreed that this certainly broke some of the stereotypes they had heard about Germans. They felt that despite the inherent “Germanicness” of the whole event that Germans were excited to share what the festival was to those unfamiliar in English. In fact they were excited to share their culture and its celebration with those had recently immigrated, showing what could be seen as the opposite of nativism almost.

In the current economic climate in Germany immigrants are coming from all over to find jobs that seem to be diminishing in their own countries. This however has been coupled with overall economic growth in Germany, which I believe allows for immigrants to be welcomed into the country, especially those who are interested in assimilating. Germany’s history, of what could be put very lightly as xenophobia, may be haunting those who now live here as they celebrate and share the culture of the region.

The costumes that many of the festival goers were wearing were those that would be seen at any American halloween party. Aside from a few simply colorful and flamboyant costumes nothing seemed to out of the ordinary, or even inherent to the festival other than a few hats with Cologne’s crest. However one thing we did notice to be a common costume was one from the American movie starring Tom Cruise, “Top Gun” pilots seemed to be one of the most common costumes of the festival. This struck me as a symptom of the globalization that is ubiquitous at this point in most developed nations. A movie like this being adopted by a culture so much that you can see multiple Germans singing along to traditional songs with their jumpsuits and sunglasses on really showed me how easy it is for some things to cross cultures so easily. It also showed how something that has been largely forgotten like that, at least in the realm of costume ideas, can be such a staple for a different nation where it may have been more popular or longer lasting than its country of origin.

Off Season Travel

Pretty much everyone always could use a vacation. Whether you are a high powered executive working 80 hours a week or a bartender working six nights a week, either way you probably wouldn’t mind a few days off. The problem is for many of us getting together the money to make a trip worthwhile is just as hard as getting time away from work. However, there are some who have found ways to make their dollars go further and make the most of their time by looking at where they go and when they go there. Two of the ways people have figured out in order to travel on the cheap are, traveling to lesser known destinations and traveling when others aren’t. Off season travel is the type of thing that lets people without children or a traditional job go to all of the places that they might not be able to get to at its usual price point.

The most important thing about traveling in the off season is to do some research about where you want to go, otherwise how would you know when the off season is in the first place? Travelers often hear very polarizing stories about off season travel and that is usually because of the amount of research that went into the trip or knowledge somebody had going into a trip. In any case there is also just a bit of luck that goes into traveling in the off season, because the peak season is usually the peak season for a reason. Peak seasons are usually when most people interested in visiting a destination have off from work and school, and when the weather is the most palatable. The most important things to look at when looking to travel off season are the weather and the crowds.

Palm trees in the snow!


One of the big reasons that we go to the places we do when we do is to escape the weather we are experiencing at home. People travel more often in the summer because the probability is that you will have sunnier days than any other time of the year, meaning that you won’t have to waste any days of your trip inside because the weather is too bad. However, we all know somebody who just couldn’t enjoy the trip they went on because the weather was unbearably hot or rainy. The trick then is to look at destinations that don’t necessarily hinge on good weather, something that is usually true for traveling to cities or relatively temperate places.

Traveling during the off season can save you money and give you an entirely different experience from most tourists if you can put up with the weather not being perfect. The best way to do this is to check what the weather looks like typically in the off peak months and see if you can hack it. You should also plan for a few sites or activities that aren’t necessarily weather specific that you can fallback on if you get a particularly “weather-filled” day. One thing to keep in mind when dealing with the weather out of tourist season is to check if places have a stormy or monsoon season, because travel and many attractions may not be operating fully in certain regions if they experience severe weather regularly.

Some destinations are simply seasonal destinations, people go to them during a certain time of year for a festival, for the skiing, the beaches, animal populations, etc. These things can’t be helped and if they are the sole reason that a destination is calling you then you should probably look to go during their big season or at least close to it. Remember though that many of these places still have plenty to see and do that you might not know about during their off season.

The crowds


People from the same areas seem to always be on similar schedules and also tend to have similar ideas for destinations. It seems that during the month of August all of Europe is on vacation while the rest of the world flocks there. However, holidays and school schedules also play a role in when everybody seems to be traveling and so going somewhere outside of these times during the off season means that you get to miss the bulk of the crowds. Off season crowds are usually smaller which means more intimate tours and sight seeing experiences as well as fewer people competing for reservations and lodging spots.

Off season travel means that you will usually find deals on the activities in the area and on things like hotels and B&Bs. You might even end up finding that your 12 room mixed dorm at the hostel turns into your very own private room during the off season. On the downside however, because of the lack of people many activities may not be operating at full throttle or even at all. If you are planning to do some real touristy stuff make sure to check that they don’t close down for a certain time of the year.

If you have ever lived in a seasonal town then you know that tourists can get old pretty quickly. They are fun that first month of the season maybe, but things quickly blur into you not being able to move around the town as easily as you used to. Sure they are bringing in money and its probably great for the town, but you get personally inconvenienced so they aren’t gonna be your best friend. Traveling in the off season means that you are one of very few non-locals in the town at any given time. This means you get to meet far more locals and see how places actually operate on a slightly less touristy level.

There are a whole bunch of reasons to travel in the off season, and if you plan well off season travel can be cheaper and more fulfilling than traveling during the peak season. You can do a whole lot of research online about when the best time for you to travel some place is, but the easiest way to figure it out is to always ask a local. Asking, “I’m looking to go to X specifically for Y, when should I visit?” will hopefully get you an answer along with other things you can do during that season. If you are short on cash but long on destinations on your “to-go” list then try going in a time you hadn’t thought of. You may just see a side of a place you didn’t know existed.

Public Transport, Public Transit, Subway

The Merits of Public Transit

As someone who enjoys Urban Traveling public transit is usually the way that I find myself getting around in cities that I am new to if I find that I can’t walk somewhere. Now obviously for travelers the merits of public transit are easy to see, it is local, affordable, and gives you a certain experience that you wouldn’t otherwise get from taking cabs or renting a car. In places like New York and London the public transportation systems have even become tourist attractions for some, which can be seen in the thousands of subway maps and t-shirts using the public transit fonts’ and slogans’ to sell them. It would seem that these cities have certainly tried extremely hard to make owning a car or using a car in the city a luxury instead of a necessity and encouraged public transport use.

After living in Germany however it can be seen quite easily that the city of New York is easily outdone by most urban areas in Germany. The prices of the ticket being the main difference which allows for nearly every resident to get a hold of a long term ticket at a price that makes the idea of owning a second car or even a car at all in many respects laughable. This is exactly what the city of Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, found to be one of the biggest obstacles to people using public transit more often. In 2013 Tallinn became the “capital of free-transit” by doing away with public transport fares for residents of the city. The environmental impacts and economic impacts are still being measured as it was rather recent, however it seems to have been a success at first glance. The air is getting cleaner and as traffic congestion continues to fall and cleaner public transit is introduced this trend will only continue. In addition to the environmental benefits the economic benefits also work in theory by offering more literal mobility to citizens who cannot afford a car or the transportation costs that may go with a new job.

Two countries that I have lived in for a while now, but obviously am no expert on would be the United States and Australia, which both have a stigma in many areas about public transit. The idea is usually that public transit is for those who can’t afford to drive around places. When the prices of tickets are so high and the infrastructure is lacking in many places the few dollars that are saved by taking public transit as opposed to a cab or taking your own car are cancelled out by the time it takes to get to your destination. This means that as soon as you don’t depend on public transit there is really no incentive for you to use it. On top of that America has always been the land of the automobile and will certainly need some convincing when it comes to giving up that second household car and embracing public transit, but the numbers certainly make sense if we were to start putting in the work on the infrastructure. With the shift towards more urban areas in America and Australia’s history of being extremely concentrated population wise these two countries could certainly do with an increase in the importance of public transit.

According to the American Public Transportation Association the average two car household can save around 10,000 dollars a year by replacing one of those cars with public transit and that for every dollar spent on public transit infrastructure in the United States it generates nearly four times that in economic benefits. On top of this of course there are the jobs that are created as well as the environmental benefits that go along with an increase in public transit use.

Despite the stigma against public transit these countries seem ready for public transit to play a larger role in their lives. Census figures and usage statistics show that their is steady growth year to year in urban areas. Prices need to be put down or at the very least stay put for a while and the services expanded so that patronage can rise. While we don’t yet know if the free fare model championed by Tallinn is working for sure, it can be seen that ease of use and lower prices means more riders and fewer cars which boosts growth and lowers many costs in other areas. My own city of Melbourne has recently introduced the free tram area and has plans to expand the public transport system in Victoria, so next time there is some local election about public transit or you have the option to take a car or train think a bit about the effect it may have.

For some of the information and statistics used in this post check these links out here, here, and here. And if you think I’m dead wrong or dead right feel free to share or comment.

The Wonderful World of Coffee Part 4: Cafe Culture

Cafe culture has always been one of the things that is simply a must experience for myself whenever traveling. Many cities and countries are well known for their particular quirks, like France’s cafes always being full of smokers, Coffeehouses in Vienna being full of intelligent elites, or Amsterdam’s coffeeshops for selling pot. Coffee shops are simultaneously synonymous with productivity and creativity while at the same time well known for their ability to waste away hours of your day. This all depends of course on the time of day, day of the week, region, and even just the cafe in particular. In the same vein while it can be said that coffee shops in a certain city or area are a certain way, these are by no means steadfast rules that every cafe in town abides by. If that was true you would be able to buy a pot brownie with your mochaccino at Starbucks in Amsterdam, which is most likely at least a few years off. However, that being said there are certainly a few places that I have visited or lived in where cafe culture is something you take notice of and is quite interesting to experience because of its uniqueness.

The first country I implore you to stop into a cafe in is Croatia. Probably not the first country you think of when you think of cafe culture, but the country has a great thing going as far as cafes go. The best part is, these place for the most part are coffeeshops and that is it. Meaning that you bring your own pastry, fruit, or yogurt whatever you are having for breakfast and leave the coffee to them. This means especially for frugal travelers you can save a few pennies and get fresh baked goods elsewhere. BYO breakfast coffee shops being the norm means that places like Starbucks and other chains have not gotten any sort of foothold in the country because they rely on the sale of food. This means the country is chock full of independent coffee shops where you can waste away your day for very little money as you wonder how anybody else in the country gets anything done if they are all hanging out with you drinking coffee.

France and more specifically Paris is world famous for its outdoor cafes full of smoking Frenchmen reading newspapers. While the smoking has been declining, and you are more likely to see everyone on their phones or laughing with friends the cafes are certainly worth visiting. The Parisian cafe is the perfect place to parley a late morning coffee into an early lunch and afternoon drink all while enjoying people watching passersby. The waiters are aloof so know what you want before they come and if you are in a rush to leave make sure you can simply leave the change on the table as you will already have the bill and they won’t really care to come check on you.

Swedes put up with an astonishing amount of cold, which is presumably why they have a word specifically for the event of getting a coffee. Fika is the Swedish word for meeting up with friends over coffee and perhaps a pastry and catching up or having a laugh. Honestly when it is that cold all the time I probably wouldn’t want to meet up with people too often if it didn’t involve a coffee and maybe a cinnamon pastry as well. The Swedish are known for being closed off, so definitely pop into an old coffeeshop or two and see how they open up when the scarves and what not come off. Unlike the previously mentioned Croatians a Swedish coffeeshop experience is not complete without getting a pastry, and unlike the French your English won’t cause anybody to skip a beat when you order your coffee.

The last one I will mention here is the typical Melbourne coffeeshop experience. Renowned for its hipness and its commitment to quality coffee there is practically a coffeeshop on every corner. What you will get there will vary in decor, but you will be almost guaranteed a a quick coffee replete with foamy art in a ceramic cup. The barista behind the counter will surely love to tell you all about where your coffee comes from if they aren’t too busy and you will probably end up learning more than you wanted to and agreeing to see his or her friend’s band play tonight at a place in Fitzroy. Outdoor seating and enclosed courtyards are extremely common if you aren’t in one of Melbourne’s famous laneways in which case get ready for some fast paced people watching.

These are probably my favorite places to go to any generic coffeeshop and experience a bit of their unique community, and if you are traveling in any of these spots definitely put away an hour or two for a coffee break. No coffeeshop is the same, but there are definitely some cool trends that get picked up from place to place. Feel free to comment about your favorite cafe culture experience.

The Wonderful World of Coffee pt. 3

We have gone through the simple stuff. Your everyday coffees like lattes, espressos and cappuccinos, as well as how to get good simple strong coffee in most of the world. If you are the type of guy that tries the thing they can’t pronounce on the menu, or are always trying to taste or try the things that people from the region really eat and drink you may not want any of these things. What you want is the regional favorite, the drink you hear the local order before you in the small amount of Finnish you picked up or the word on the menu that doesn’t look like it would belong in a Starbuck’s cafe.

The best way to get a handle on these drinks is of course to ask the barista at the coffee shop by your hostel or the friend you’re staying with, etc. However, when all also fails the internet provides. So if you are an adventurous coffee lover who becomes timid when asking questions in a foreign language, is afraid of being an ignorant tourist, or simply don’t want to hold up the line look no further. We have got a few regional favorites and what they entail to let you be adventurous and informed all at the same time, or if you’d like try ordering a few of these at your local cafe and see what happens. You may find that your barista knows them well, or you may be given a dirty look for using syllables they don’t recognize and making them ask you how to make a drink.

Certain countries in the world are just known for their coffees. They may not produce coffee themselves, but they have gotten quite the handle on how to prepare and drink it. One of such countries is New Zealand, where the flat white is said to have been invented. The flat white has a great deal of mystery surrounding it and has been growing in popularity so much that many coffee chains even have the flat white offered on their menus. The drink first took off in New Zealand, and while the kiwis are known for a preference of tea the flat white might just make up for that. The drink is easily found in the Commonwealth and is becoming more popular in other countries as well.

To many a flat white is similar to other milky coffees, and really nothing more than a mixture of a cappuccino and a latte. If you ordered it from a less than exemplary coffeeshop that may indeed be what you are getting, but the real flat white is more than a middle ground between the latte and the cappuccino. In reality a flat white is velvety smooth milk steamed with “microfoam” which means it cannot get as hot without the milk separating into froth and foam. While this lends it self to beautiful latte art it also means that many complain that it is not hot enough, in comparison to other coffees. This microfilm is poured over either one or two shots into a cappuccino mug and that’s it. Most will have a nice flower or heart in them, but otherwise they are all the same. It is not that complicated, but it is rather delicious so enjoy one the next time you see it and ask an ozzie or kiwi about their thoughts on it and prepare for an earful.

The second regional coffee that has gotten around is the Ca phe sua da, or the Vietnamese Iced Coffee. It is one of the most refreshing things on a hot day, after a long day of traveling or just anytime really. But what is the sweet concoction? If you can’t guess from the anglicized name, it contains vietnamese coffee typically brewed with a french press and there is some ice in the glass as well. The last ingredient is sweetened condensed milk, basically making it no different than a sugared and creamed iced coffee you might get from Dunkin Donuts aside from the coffee. The coffee is meant to be extremely strong and flavorful to offset the sweetness and still come through the cold. So next time you find yourself in Vietnam do your best to order a ca phe us da, but don’t be insulted if they don’t understand you because I still don’t know how to pronounce it.

Lastly, for this edition, is the turkish coffee. Less Turkish and more indicative of the Ottomans it can be found pretty much anywhere they have had an influence and further. Turkish coffee is another sweetened and strong coffee but has a bit more ritual to it. If you are lucky you might get a turkish delight served with it, but it certainly isn’t something to count on. The coffee is similar to stovetop espresso with the addition of sugar and spices to the finely ground coffee. The grounds eventually settle and the coffee is ready and should have a crema similar to espresso. I usually end up eating the spicy sweet grounds at the bottom of the cup, but it certainly isn’t mandatory.

So there are a few of them, I feel like I might be talking about coffee a bit too much, but it is pretty damn important. Traveling without coffee is definitely something I would never hope to do, so I might just continue to revisit the topic if I find enough to talk about. Until then have a few cups and anxiously wait for the next part of the series.

The Wonderful World of Coffee Part 2

So here we are at part two of how to drink coffee, beyond the simple instructions of sip and lift. If you haven’t checked out the first installment you can do so here otherwise just keep on reading and blame yourself if you get lost. We last covered the “luxury” coffees you can find nearly anywhere, but there are some drinks that become extremely common in some regions and fail to make a dent into others. These could be given the title of “regional favorites” if I was the type to label things, so here are some regional favorites:

If you are an American or Canadian and reading this post in the early morning hours you most likely are doing so with a generic “coffee” in your hand. In America “coffee” is the moniker given to a few different brewing styles, but simply put the drink is made with a slower process than espresso. Whether using a percolator, french press, or filtered drip machine the ground coffee beans sit while the water absorbs the coffee. This style of coffee in America is synonymous with coffee and served nearly anywhere, while in other countries it is seen as inferior or even a rare delicacy. As an American myself I will always see this as the simplest form of coffee and crave it every so often on the road. But when you ask for a “coffee” in a cafe somewhere halfway across the world and are met with a blank look what is a man to do?

While filter coffee is becoming more ubiquitous, drinks like the Americano and Long Black have filled the void for travelers and espresso enjoyers alike for quite a while. Essentially, a long black and americano are similar drinks in every way but the order of construction. An american is an espresso of a varying amount of shots topped off with almost scalding water. This can mimic the strength and flavors of a filtered coffee in many ways but at times can also offer the nuanced tastes of an espresso to those who don’t enjoy the bitterness of one. Much like you would add a bit of water to a scotch to lengthen the experience and expand the palette, an americano offers americans abroad to try something between simple filtered coffee and the fancier drinks of cafes.

The Long Black however, is a staple of many countries as like the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, and Australian which often will not offer americanos. The difference? Espresso is added to the cup or mug after the hot water in a long black whereas it is added before in an americano. That’s it. The long black preserves the espressos crema unlike the americano but aside from that there is really no difference. Both drinks are similar to filtered coffee and strength but allow for slightly more flavor than many traditional filtered brewing methods.

One of the weirder things is, that at the cafe I worked at in America we were taught that a Long Black was an Americano. We made sure to maintain the crema and I didn’t learn for years afterward that I was essentially making a different drink the entire time. This all just goes to show that while drinks are different region to region they can also be vastly different cafe to cafe, so maybe see if you can catch what somebody is doing while they make your drink and see how it matches up to your cafe at home. And if you are in need of a taste of filtered coffee try out a long black or americano.

The Wonderful World of Coffee Part 1

Something I have found with my love of coffee and my love of travel is that coffee, cafes and cafe culture is different all over the world. Some cities and countries are well known for their coffee related quirks, others are simply in a country or region where coffee might be served or prepared in a different way than you’re used to. Coming from a country that is staunchly proud of their coffee consumption, but one that has only in recent years yielded to more than black filtered coffees it is always interesting to see the different ways people have chosen to add milk, coffee beans and water together. The great thing about travel is that it lends you a variety of opportunities to try out coffees allover the world. I find that I’m always chasing the hours and trying to get a handle on my jet lag, especially during short trips, which means that most of the time caffeine is your friend. When you are in need of a sit and a lift from some coffee in a new city it is good to know what you will be getting, or at least what you’re trying to order. So here are the “global mainstays”:

One of the most hotly debated drinks out there is the cappuccino. It is probably one of the first drinks anyone will order when venturing into the scary world of cafe coffees, mainly because it is just a drink that is mentioned often. What it entails simply is espresso, a small amount of steamed milk and then a larger amount of milk foam to top it all off. In countries like Australia and New Zealand however, I would be crucified for forgetting to mention the cocoa topping and many others say that cinnamon is the sign of a well made cap. I say hogwash, but that is really just my opinion. Cappuccinos are somewhat unique in the fact that you can order them “dry” or “wet” in a number of countries and it is understood that a dryer cappuccino is one with more of that light foam than usual and a wet cappuccino is one with less foam and so more steamed milk to make up for it. While you may often here people say that Italians wouldn’t dare having a cappuccino any time after breakfast, who cares? Enjoy those odd looks as you enjoy that cappuccino in a Milanese cafe, you deserve the coffee you want whenever it suits you.

The second most talked about and ordered drinks typical is the latte or cafe latte. Put simply it’s all the same stuff as the cappucino, a small amount of espresso, more steamed milk and less milk foam than a cappuccino. Because every cafe, barista, and customer are different all these ratios can change from drink to drink a bit but stay reasonably the same. The amount of espresso is and should be standard throughout these drinks and their respective sizes however, unless a double or “strong” is ordered. The latte has been flavored and co-opted by tea drinkers a million times over but the building blocks will always be the same no matter where you go and they are pretty damn great.

The last “standard” drink that you can get in any and every country pretty much is the simplest and in my opinion might just be the best there it is. The espresso. It is just a few grams of finely ground coffee beans packed together before pushing hot water through them and what you get is the brown liquid that goes into nearly all of the other things you can order from your local cafe. No matter if you are in an airport in Santa Fe, a cafe in Paris or a hotel in Lesotho if a place says they have coffee you should be able to get an espresso that is recognizable as such. Some places will supply you with sugar and cream, others a cup of sparkling or still water, but most just a simple small cup. An espresso is one of the best ways to test the grit of a coffee shop and if you are greeted with a good taste and long lasting crema you might want to stick around for a second. An espresso is the type of drink that in many cases is simply the fastest way to get caffeine into your body, but can be a much more enjoyable experience if done correctly.

So it is probably pretty obvious what my favorite would be, if you hadn’t guess it is the simple espresso, but these you can get pretty much anywhere that has coffee these days. These may be replace with some regional alternatives in rare cases, but if that is so, why not just try those? Next we can take a look at some more particular and harder to find coffee drinks and what they entail in most places.