Planning a Family Trip to Big Bend

Vacationing together really brings family members closer to one another by offering shared experiences that tighten the bonds and are simply fun for everyone. Of course, the usual haunts such as Disneyworld, Myrtle Beach, and Washington, D.C. are fine, but when planning a family trip, why not step outside of the norm and consider something a little more off the beaten path? Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas definitely fits the bill of a road less traveled and is the perfect place for the entire family to get back to nature and explore a land that is simultaneously unforgiving and unexpectedly gorgeous. In Big Bend, the glitz and glare of neon signs are left far behind in lieu of a rugged serenity that can only be experienced in this region of the United States. It is a place where the entire family is reminded that Mother Nature still rules supreme and that mankind is merely a very tiny piece of a much larger puzzle.

To the uninformed, Big Bend National Park may seem as though it is simply a long stretch of desert with nothing but rocks and shrubbery to be seen for miles on end. Though this may be true to an extent in certain sections of the park, when the desert terrain is contrasted with the sun-splashed walls of the surrounding canyons and the crystalline waters of the Rio Grande, a picture is painted that is sure to awe children and adults equally. If you wish to take in the scenery from the comfort of your vehicle rather than with a backpack weighing you down, there are plenty of roads that will guide you around the essential portions of the park. Guides can be purchased at Panther Junction that illustrate roads suitable for automobile traffic and points of interest along the way. Primitive roads also exist that delve deeper into the unique plants, animals, and history of the region, but they are not to be traveled on a whim. Proper planning must be made because not only are some rather remote, but there are a number that can only be navigated via a four-wheel drive vehicle.

If the children are a little bit older and the family truly wishes to encounter Big Bend National Park in its purest state, then there is no substitute for hiking into the wilderness. Countless nooks and crannies are nestled away among the mountains and down by the Rio Grande that are absolutely inaccessible to motor vehicles. There are plenty of walking trips available that are less strenuous as well as hikes that are more demanding. Whichever you choose, it is of the utmost importance that you stay on the marked trail. Wandering off is dangerous and potentially life-threatening. The trails have been established and indicated by experts who are looking out for visitor safety, so stick to them.

For a touch of history and to experience the park from the cowboy perspective, there are several saddle horse tours to be found in Big Bend. Horses suitable for family members of all ages are available and guides will take riders on a trip around old mining towns, down by the Rio Grande, and up into the mountains and lava flows that make up so much of the terrain.

Naturalist programs are offered that teach the values of the flora, fauna, and natural features found in Big Bend National Park. Naturalists and rangers are there to help your family identify and explain the geology and life forms that will be found in your travels around the park. Take the time to do some birding as well and watch the kids (as well as yourself) smile upon happening upon the summer tanager, painted bunting, and belted kingfisher to name a few.

Once the day is done and it’s time to turn in for the night and get ready for the next day, lodging can be found at the Chisos Mountains Lodge or at various camp grounds and trailer parks scattered throughout Big Bend National Park. The campgrounds do not offer electricity and fuel, but charcoal may be purchased.

Big Bend National Park is packed with adventures and sights that the entire family will enjoy. The photographs taken and memories made will last a lifetime. Parents and children will simply love the experience, so much so that a trip to the park may become an annual event.

For more info on Big Bend National Park, visit http://www.visitbigbend.com/site09/en/news/big-bend-blog/495-planning-a-family-trip-to-big-bend.html

The K2 Tent Dedication

The K2 Mountain is well known around the world as the second highest mountain behind Mount Everest, tipping the global skies at 8,611 meters. The number two mountain is located in south Asia on the border between China and Pakistan. K2 is known to many as the savage mountain, because it has the second highest fatality rate among the thousands who climb it year after year. This tough opponent has never been climbed in the winter due to obvious reasons.

It was first formed when the Indian subcontinent collided with the central-Asian landmass. The K2 first became known to the western world of its height and presence, when it was surveyed in 1856 by a European survey team. Thomas Montgomerie was the member of the team who named it ‘K2’, after it was the second peak in the Karakoram mountain range. The rest of the peaks have now been renamed.

It took a very long time for its first climbers, almost 100 years after the survey. Thousands of climbers have succeeded in reaching the top of Everest, while only roughly 300 have made K2, among an upsetting average off 66 people dying in the process to reach the infamous top. One of the most recent attempts was in august 2008. A group of climbers set out to reach the top, but an avalanche occurred taking out the fixed ropes, four climbers were rescued and sadly eleven were confirmed dead.

As a climber myself one day I would love to climb this to tell my grand children, that I was one of the very small percentage who achieved this very exhausting and thrilling task. I wrote this article to show the power and strength of Mount K2, and how deadly this can be. If your ever thinking of taking this extreme challenge please be very careful and well prepared.

Holidays in Britain – Your Guide

As the credit crunch continues to bite its way through our disposable income, more and more people are making the decision to holiday in Britain. Britain as a holiday destination has not only become, perhaps by default the preferred location for the Brits, but it continues to attract ever increasing numbers of European holidaymakers due mainly to the weak pound.

Holidays in Britain lost there popularity, particularly during the last decade, when it was perceived to be cheaper to go abroad where the British pound gave more buying power. Consequently the Brits in droves flocked to the Spanish costas, Greek Islands and turkey to name but a few destinations. Summer 2009 will inevitably become one of change as people are forced for economic reasons to put aside fears of the unreliable weather and look for ways of enjoying a family holiday in less sunny climes.

Why not take a look at my survival kit,  maximise your fun without going over budget. Plan to start your holiday the moment you lock the front door behind you. With no lengthy check -in queues and stuffy departure lounges to contend with, you are free to relax and enjoy the journey from the offset. Travelling time can be used productively, particularly if you go by public transport.  There are bargains to be found for train and coach journeys you just have to look around:  

National Express Funfares.

Travel to selected destinations for as little as £1 per person, one way. Available on 180 routes to towns, countryside and seaside resorts, the length and breadth of the UK. Subject to availability and only available online.   

Train Operating Companies.    

The groupsave offer allows three or four adults to travel together for the price of two adults. In addition up to four young persons aged between  five and fifteen can travel for as little as a £1 per person single or return. 

Family and Friends Railcard

Costs just £24 and up to 4 adults and 4 children can travel. Saving 1/3 off adult fares and 60% off children’s fares. 

 Advanced Saver Tickets offered by most train operating companies, offer exciting discounts providing you book in advance. Discounted tickets become available from 12 weeks before the date of travel and with Trainline you can sign up for alerts when the discounted ticket prices become available.   Before you buy your rail tickets it is advisable to check out the destination station. If a taxi is required then it may be cost effective and ultimately quicker to get a train to the nearest largest town and pick up a taxi there. Chances are if you are in a location that does not have a taxi service you will have to pay for the journey from the town to where you are and then onward to your final destination.  

Accommodation.

Always check your prospective accommodation on trip advisor to find out how others rate it. This often proves invaluable.    Make your hard earned cash go further by holidaying in Britain this year. Britain 2009 has become the preferred holiday destination for hundreds of thousands of holiday makers. Here at OPH we have devised a general guide to holidays in Britain and we trust this shared experience will not only give you alternative ideas but also prevent you from falling into some of the pitfalls and make your British holiday experience more enjoyable.  

Endorse the British weather.

We all know the British weather can be unpredictable to say the least,especially during the summer months. If you plan your holiday around hours of sunshine you may be disappointed. Simply by endorsing the British weather and planning your holiday around weather defying activities will set you in good stead to have an enjoyable time.  

Do Your Homework Before You Go

Its never been so easy to find out about your holiday location. Look on the internet or contact tourist information for events and activities, particularly freebies and those held indoors. Take time out to discuss which events you would like to attend. This way you’ve got your party onboard from the outset  

All Weather Attire

Sunglasses and swimwear are all well and good but remember to pack wellies and a rainmac. Chances are if you have to start buying such clothing from the local gift shops you will have to pay well over the odds. It can actually be fun jumping into puddles and walking in the rain when you are dressed for the occasion. It surely beats huddling in shop doorways and moaning about the weather.  

Accommodation

Choose accommodation wisely. Cheap b&b’s are all well and good but not if you feel obliged to leave the property immediately after breakfast and not return until the evening. Communal rooms such as TV room, games room and lounge are a must particularly if you are travelling with children. Hotels are usually less restrictive and may therefore afford better value for money in terms of having more facilities onsite. Check out Trip Advisor before you book, that way you can learn form other peoples mistakes without risking your hard earned cash. Hotel websites are after all meant to be enticing.  

Travelodge offers cheap rooms for as little as £9 for basic, clean accommodation. Up to 3 adults can share or two adults and two children. Many are in town locations so if you are using public transport it,s not a problem and you needn’t be far from the action.

Fraud In English Language Education – Keep Your Money Safe From Criminals

FRAUD used by SCHOOLS

Students want to attend high quality established schools. Schools will use fraud to attract students to their school or attempt to appear more established to qualify for government programs or association membership. Schools that claim to have specific affiliations, qualifications, assets, programs, staff or history that are untrue are committing fraud. Schools have also used fraudulent statistics to show jobs or salary upon graduation.

A favorite trick is to name a language school as a “college”. The word college in Canada is not an official use name and anyone can name any building, house or barn as a college. Students should not choose a school simply because it has college in the name. College in the name does not mean anything in Canada.

Another trick is to use the same name or almost identical name of a famous school in the USA, UK, Asia, or Europe. If the famous school has not registered the name in Canada then anyone else can register the name without any affiliation with the original school at all. Students should not pick a school because it has a famous name in their country as it may have no affiliation at all and is designed to trick students.

Schools will appoint international agents or representatives to promote and market the school to potential students then not pay for the advertising or not pay the agency fees. Fraud schools will defraud agents by stating students did not register.

Some of the schools are owned by agents. When an independent agent presents the school with a potential student that student will be contacted by the head office agency and re-registered in the name of that agent thus defrauding the original hardworking agent.

FRAUD used by AGENTS

Students looking for foreign schools and teachers looking for overseas employment use agents to simplify   travel  and registration arrangements that are usually made in a foreign language.

Agents have used a number of practices to deceive students, teachers, schools and immigration officials.

Agents committing fraud sell fake medical reports, fake police reports, fake bank deposits records, fake identities and  travel  documents. These illegal practices include access to student visas, illegal access to free medical services and illegal jobs.

There was a famous case in Toronto where fraud agents just sat in a coffee shop outside a language school. They approached Asian students and spoke in Korean or Japanese only. They asked students if they had signed up for the ajoining language school. They were also asked if the students had used an agent. If the students had signed directly they were made an offer that if they went back to the school and placed the fraudsters name as agent they would get a 10 or 15% refund from the fraudsters.

Agents have promised teachers overseas jobs that do not exist. Agents have promised facilities or accommodation or teaching resources that do not exist. Wages that are not paid, work visas that never appear and host of other problems.

One agent operated a fake teachers “blacklist”. He placed a few known criminal schools then a few of the legitimate schools on the list. This agent was charging fees to the honest schools to be removed.

There were a couple of agents that were promising  backpackers  jobs as English conversation teachers. They told the  backpackers  that no visa or degree was required. They told the English school that they had a teacher with a work visa, degree and plane expenses. The school usually paid the agent upfront for the plane ticket, recruiting fee and expenses. On the second or third day the school would realize the “teacher” was not suitable and try to call the agent. The agent would call his friend in immigration who would arrest the  backpacker  and fine or close the school for using an illegal worker. This scam would net the agent half a years regular office salary. With 5,000 small language schools – there were plenty of uninformed new victims. That is also why these agents they use a different name or company name every six months.

FRAUD used by STUDENTS

The most prevalent fraud is to use the student visa as an entry into Canada to work. These fraud students take away jobs from Canadian immigrant newcomers and jobs for Canadian students. If one really looked at the reasons for Canadian student, youth and newcomer unemployment in Canada – significant culprits are the employers who use illegal workers.

Students have hired imposters to take tests for them, paid exam proctors to complete exams, bought essays from “experts” to submit as their own and bribed school officials to change their marks in the official records. The victims of this student fraud are all the honest hardworking students that were denied admission into restricted programs because their marks were not as good as the fraud students who were admitted.

FRAUD used by TEACHERS

The most used frauds are fake degrees, diplomas or fabricated resumes. Because the demand is high for qualified ESL teachers overseas and these schools have few or no resources to check credentials many fakes go undetected. There have been estimates that 30% of the teachers in Korea used fake degrees to get jobs, and over 60 % of the teachers in China have absolutely no qualifications or fake certificates.

The most common “Teacher Fraud” is  traveling  to overseas countries on a visitor visa and then teaching illegally.

FRAUD used by Homestay Providers

Homestay can be a wonderful experience for international students when the host family is honest, provides all the contracted services and quality time with the students.

Fraud by homestay providers occurs when the family cannot speak English or there is no food, heat, water, toilets or electricity in the house. Some fraud homestay providers jam 5 or 6 students into an illegal basement apartment and some homestay families work at their 3 jobs spending no time at home with the students. The dangerous homestay providers are the sex predators looking for new victims.

FRAUD used by DEGREE MILLS

A degree mill is any organization that issues fake credentials. There are fraud schools that offer degrees for life experience and claim this is the equivalent of an academic degree from an accredited university. Sorry but many believe this is fraud.

The usual price for a fake degree or tesl certificate is $100 in Asia. Many of the schools are attempting to eliminate the frauds by asking for university telephone contacts or the university transcript marks sent directly to the school. The more aggressive fraud degree mills are now selling “the package” degree, tesl, transcript and hotline university contact # for the fake university for $600. The frauds are faster than the police.

There are many ESL teachers who have taken a 10 or maybe 20 hour program in a hotel room somewhere or completed some internet reading program and suddenly claim to be a certified TESOL, TESL or TEFL teacher. Many of these “certified teachers” have never been in a classroom. Sorry but many believe that this is fraud.

ESL in Canada has conducted several tours of ESL schools across Canada and the USA. Our fieldwork to collect information for the webpage directory has uncovered frauds, misrepresentations and some very bad situations.

For additional English Language Education info: http://www.eslincanada.com/articles.html

Coffee Hand Grinder Reviews

Being a coffee drinker, you will agree with me that in order for a cup of coffee to taste fresh, you will need a coffee hand grinder to grind the coffee seeds so that the coffee’s aroma and the bean oils can be released even before you get to brew the coffee. However, if you head off to your local shopping mall right away to purchase a hand coffee grinder, you will very likely be overwhelmed by the numerous choices available. So how do you know which brand or model should you buy? Here are some coffee hand grinder reviews to help you make up your mind.

White Ceramic Hand Coffee Grinder

You will absolutely love this beautiful White Ceramic Hand Coffee Grinder that you can buy at less than $50 USD. Being made of ceramic pottery style and standing at over 10 inches in height, it can blend in nicely with any kitchen decoration you may have. It will even make a very good gift for any occasion.

The plus point of this hand grinder is that you can easily adjust the grinding mechanism to get your desired end result. If you use the default grinder, it is already good enough for most coffee lovers but if you prefer the coffee powder to be super-fine, then all you have to do is to loosen the nut that you can find on the shaft and adjust the star wheel to taste. Just experiment with the grinder till you get the preferred taste.

Danesco Manual Coffee Grinder

If you are not someone who goes for wooden products, this very affordable Danesco Manual Coffee Grinder will very likely suit your taste. This small manual grinder is made of stainless steel with silicone seal and stands at just 9.5 inches tall. It can fit easily on any countertop in your kitchen. Besides, you can even store the grinds in the clip canister attached if you prefer to grind more coffee beans at each grinding session.

With this manual grinder, you will be able to enjoy your freshly brewed cup of coffee every morning. You can adjust the handle of the grinder to get the right taste of coffee powder you desire. Unlike, the electrical coffee hander whereby the motor might get burned out due to overuse and age, this hand coffee grinder will not give you such problems as it is 100% manually operated.

GSI Outdoors Java Grinder

Being a coffee lover, I am positive you will not want to leave home for long period of time knowing that you will have to go without coffee throughout the whole period. So what if you are planning on camping out? You can’t possibly bring along your electric or big manual grinder along and you definitely cannot survive without a cup of freshly brewed coffee to start off your day with!

The GSI Outdoors Java Grinder is your answer to the one big problem. All you have to do is to bring along this very small grinder and you can have your usual perk in the morning. It can even hold your coffee beans when you are traveling so you are saved the hassle of having to store your coffee beans in another container. The best part is that you can easily packed it away in your backpack when you are traveling, plus you don’t have to worry about it getting dirtied since it has a protective dust cap and locking cover to keep the device clean.

This hand grinder comes with burr mechanism so you can get to taste better grind coffee than grinders that use blade mechanism. When you are using it, just ensure that you sit it on top on a round container to hold the device in place as you grind the coffee seeds. However, keep in mind that you should not grip the machine too hard or you might break it.

Peugeot Nostalgie Hand Coffee Mill, Walnut

This coffee burr-type grinder, the Peugeot Nostalgie Hand Coffee Mill, Walnut, is of a higher quality and therefore you can expect a higher price tag that comes with it. However, it is very durable, reliable and innovative. This manual grinder is able to give you the aromatic grind coffee powder very quickly and one of the reasons why it is so well liked is that it can easily stand on its own when you are grinding the coffee beans because it has a stable wide base. Another plus point is its classic look which adds elegance to your kitchen, especially if you have a country style kitchen. In addition, you can get to enjoy very fine coffee without having to endure the loud noises of electrical coffee grinders.

Are You Interested in Visiting Australia?

Deep down, we’re all looking for that “authentic” travel experience. We don’t want The Hilton Australia. No, we want to stay with an Australian aboriginal family in the bush. We don’t want to eat at McDonald’s Australia; we want to eat a vegemite sandwich or an emu burger.

We don’t want to visit the Queensland Australia zoo; we want to take a 4-wheel-drive vehicle right out into the Australian outback where we can catch a glimpse of wild dingoes and red kangaroos in their natural habitat. To visit Australia is to peer into a rich cultural heritage and experience a more laid-back beach lifestyle, if only for a week or two.

Australia has wildlife! It is one of twelve “megadiverse” countries that accounts for 75% of the world’s biodiversity, says the Department of Environment and Climate Change. The existence of Australian animals on the island fascinates biologists, who attribute the tremendous biodiversity to being allowed to proliferate without human interference for so many years. Remember, Australia wasn’t even officially declared a country until 1901.

It’s not every day that you can see 45 species of kangaroo hopping through the brush, an enormous emu running with its gangly ostrich-like legs, or hear a laughing kookaburra in the tree. Some animals can only be found down under. The Tasmanian devil, for instance, is only found in Australia.

To Australian guides, it may be nothing to see a playful platypus, 100 varieties of poisonous snakes, 56 species of parrots, a koala or a wild dingo, but travelers are always somewhat bewildered by the sudden emergence of animals they had only previously seen on TV or at the zoo. The bush and the Australian outback are unique experiences, so try to arrange a four-wheel-drive tour to catch the wildlife in their natural habitats!

Visit Australia to see natural wonders. The Great Barrier Reef next to the party town of Carins is the best place to dive in the world. Backpackers can take an “introductory dive” with a tour company for $75 AUD per trip. For a more in-depth view that’s off-the-beaten-path, you’ll need your scuba license or a fair amount of cash to get on a private boat.

Another amazing natural wonder is Uluru, which is also called “Ayers Rock.” The Anangu Australian aboriginal people believe this 348-meter, color-changing rock holds sacred power and it is situated right in Kata Tjuta National Park, where you can traverse many different hiking trails. Thirdly, at Monkey Mia you’ll have the chance to feed wild dolphins in Shark Bay, a protected World Heritage area.

Also, Queensland’s Daintree Rainforest (the oldest in the world) is home to 30% of the nation’s frog, marsupial and reptile species, 65% of the bat and butterfly species, and 20% of the country’s birds. These are just a few of the natural wonders you will be privy to on an Australian vacation. Australia also boasts some of the best hiking, road trips and a “Little Sahara” desert region.

Visit Australia to experience music. In addition to having thriving jazz and country scenes, Australians love a whole host of rock, but offer up certain distinctive styles. For instance, The Atlantics played surf-oriented rockabilly, much like what was happening in California during the 1950s – 1980s too. The Bee Gees, The Loved Ones, Olivia Newton-John showcased some of the diversity found down under.

Australia is also home to many “pub rock” bands like: Mental As Anything, Midnight Oil, The Angels, Cold Chisel, Icehouse, INXS and Men at Work. In the 90s, AC/DC, Savage Garden, The Living End and Silverchair brought notoriety to sleepy beach towns of Australia.

Today, “pub rock” still thrives as the traditional Aussie sound, with bands like The Vines, Jet, Airbourne and Wolfmother. Australian music is a great reason for any young artist type to embark on an Australian adventure.

Difficulties in Learning a Foreign Language

I failed Spanish but can speak 4 languages now: If you have ever tried to learn a foreign language in school or through language books you buy at the book store, then you understand the great difficulties that exist in learning a new language this way. I took two years of Spanish in school, and at the end of the two years I could barely say “the book is on the table.” The best grade I ever got from 8 terms of Spanish was a C-. It seemed like learning a foreign language was just not my thing. After high school graduation and five years later, I was able to speak four different languages and understand five. The languages I now speak: English, Chinese, Portuguese, French, and I can understand Spanish (because of Portuguese). I don’t mean to say that all of the languages I speak are perfectly fluent, some are and some not, but I am able to make conversation, and get around in each of them. During the five years I did a lot of   traveling  and met a lot of people trying to learn other languages as well. This is what I learned which I hope can help those struggling to master another language.

Reading Comics and Watching Cartoons: Immediately after high school graduation I moved to Brazil for six months. Before I went I couldn’t speak any Portuguese. To get around, I carried a phrase book and read from it. I made some Brazilian friends who all spoke English, so I didn’t learn a lot of Portuguese from them. Instead what I did to learn was go to the book store and buy comic books. The ones I read were the “Cascao” comics (the most popular ones in Brazil). Also, every morning I would watch a TV program called “Bom dia e Cia.” During the day I would go around and practice the phrases that I learned. After four months I was making friends that didn’t speak English, only Portuguese, and having conversations with them. As my Portuguese improved, I would read more difficult books, and watch more difficult TV programs.

A vivid turning point for me during my Brazil trip: I was on my way to visit a beautiful waterfall called “Foz do Iguacu” via Curitiba. When I got to the city of Curitiba I had to change planes, but my transfer was at another airport. In short, I missed my plane and was stuck in this unknown city until the next day. I called my friend back in the town I was staying. She had a friend I could meet up with. When I met her, she was very cordial and asked me if I wanted to speak in English or Portuguese. I told her I wanted to practice Portuguese. She began talking to me non-stop. I didn’t have any clue what she was saying because she was speaking so fast. A few minutes later she asked me if I couldn’t understand what she was saying. I said “Not really, but it is okay you can keep talking.” She did just that, and as far as I remember she never stopped talking for the remainder of that day. I spent the entire day with this girl, and by the end of the day I was actually able to understand what she was saying to me. It seemed like a miracle, but I was able to get accustomed to her accent and rate of speech during those several hours of non-stop talking.

Learning French: To learn French I spent two months in a language training school. French came to me quickly because I could already speak Portuguese, which there are many similarities between the two languages. I learned French in a little bit different way than Portuguese. I did do a lot of reading in French, but also, I had a roommate who was from France. Like with the Brazilian girl, we only spoke in French. After two months of living with my French roommate, I could speak pretty good French.

French vs. Portuguese: I don’t get to speak either language very often now, because I live in the United States. But if I had to say which language I speak better, I would have to say Portuguese. Even though I have had a lot more conversational experience with French than with Portuguese. I even would teach lessons in French to French people. But I will have to admit that my Portuguese is better than my French. The reason is because I listen to a lot of Brazilian music.

Six months of studying Chinese from a language book= I still can’t speak Chinese: When I lived in Canada, I tried to learn Chinese. I tried all different kinds of learning materials: Colloquial Chinese, Barrons, Teach Yourself Chinese, Read and Write Chinese, I have a whole book shelf dedicated to these type of books. After going through all of these books I could barely speak even the simplest Chinese. I felt a little embarrassed at this. I was supposed to be a language genius. But Chinese is a whole different kind of language. For me, the most difficult thing about the language was that the writing system is not phonetic. Up until that point, I had relied heavily on reading comics or novels to improve my language skill. Since the Chinese language is entirely based on symbols, there was no way for me to learn the language this way.

Help from a friend: I had a friend that had lived in Taiwan and spoke great Chinese. He moved to Canada while I was staying there. It was through him that I was able to find the key to learning Chinese. Most important, keep it simple. Don’t try to make to language more complicated than it already is. We began by learning the basic grammar structure. From there I learned the most common words and phrases to fill in the blanks of the sentence structure I learned. (I won’t go into any more details about this, because it is not the purpose of the article) I practiced what I learned by talking to Chinese people that I met on the streets. Within three months I had all of the introductory Chinese stuff covered: how are you, where are you from, how long have you been here, how do you like it here, and so on.

Back to basics: I got to a point where I wanted to learn faster than I was at that moment. I felt that the only way to do this was to be able to read Chinese. I sat down with a list of 500 common Chinese characters and started to memorize them. By the end of the first week, I was able to read simple reading material. (That is the great thing about languages, the range of vocabulary words used is very small). From that point on I felt a lot more comfortable with my Chinese, and improved at a greater rate. From there, I started listening to Chinese music and watching movies and cartoons in Chinese, just like how I had done with Portuguese. I have continued to learn Chinese in this way and now Chinese, although the most difficult to learn, is my most fluent language.

Lessons Learned: The most important thing when learning a language is exposure. Create for yourself an immersion-like atmosphere that gives you constant opportunities to pick up the language. This can be done in a variety of ways, which variety is also an important tool to learning. The methods I used to learn the languages I know being: making conversation with people (which is not always possible if you don’t live abroad), reading books, listening to music, and watching TV or movies. These are things that everybody does everyday anyways, why not take the opportunity to make these activities a time to learn another language?

This might seem like an obvious concept, but many people don’t understand this. That is why you have people who buy books like “Learn Chinese in 10 minutes a day” or “Speak in a Week.” If you want to learn a foreign language, you need to have exposure, immersion, you need to surround yourself with the language. For me, the best way to do this was to convert my everyday activities into another language. Read in Chinese, listen to Chinese music, watch Chinese TV or movies. At first it is difficult, but all that exposure will catch up to you. You learned your first language the same way.

Transportation Tips For Travelers

AIR  TRAVEL  TIPS:

Book at least a week in advance. For the best discount airfares make a reservation one, two or three weeks before the departure date.

Keep in mind that Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday flights are usually less expensive.

Night time departure flights are usually cheaper.

Try to choose the same airline for the entire trip.

Do not forget to reconfirm your flight times a day before your departure. Inquire about the check-in procedure and the luggage allowance.

Consider packing into transparent plastic zippered bags for easy inspection. Plan to arrive to an airport at least two hours prior to flight time. Do not leave your baggage alone at any time. You may be asked to turn on all of your electric and electronic appliances.

Save up to 65% when purchasing air tickets online through TravelMake, check out our airfare search form.

BUDGET FLIGHTS EXPLAINED:

Budget airlines offer cheap fares around the world. Reserve your flight on the web or by phone, using your credit card to pay.

Most discount airlines’ tickets are unchangeable and nonrefundable, some offer changes on the return dates for an extra fee. In the latter case you need to make changes at least 24 hours before your departure.

Most budget airlines offer one-way flights without a cost increase or penalty which provides an excellent way to connect cheap flights, to link flights with ground transportation. Plan to leave some extra time for the connection, the delay of one flight will cause you to miss another linked flight.

Every budget airline has its own luggage restrictions, make sure you learn them before booking. Many of them allow very limited check-in luggage for free, sometimes only 15 or 20 kg (33 or 44 lbs) charging up to $15 per kg (2.2 lbs) of extra weight.

Discount airlines quite often use obscure airports located far away from from the city center. It can cost you extra money and transfer time.

TRAIN  TRAVEL  TIPS:

Make sure you catch the right train at the right place. Cities often have more than one train station, so pay attention. If confused, ask for help.

Each car in a train is labeled separately, cars are usually added and dropped here and there along the journey. Be sure that the city on your car’s label is your destination.

Theft is quite common on trains, so stay alert and observant. Clip your backpack to the overhead rack for safety.

For overnight trips get a couchette — a sleeping berth in a compartment. Reserve it at least a day in advance from. Sheets, pillowa and blankets will cost you extra money.

For an average independent traveler planning to see lots of Europe, the best way to go is Eurailpass. Eurailpasses offer you unlimited first-class  travel  on all public railways in 17 European countries. Most passes can be purchased from six months in advance to one week ahead. After you buy a railpass, you have six months to validate it in Europe. You can validate your railpass at any European train station by presenting your railpass and passport to a railway official at a ticket window, who will write in the first and last dates of your  travel  period.

CRUISE TIPS:

We recommend you to book a cruise early, at least a month prior to the sail date.

Try to be flexible about your  travel  plans, off-season cruises are almost always cheaper.

By getting a four-day cruise in the middle of the week instead of the popular three-day weekend cruise you might get that extra day at a good rate.

Choosing the right cruise. It is totally up to your taste. The most populat destinations among first-time cruisers are the Caribbean or Mexican Riviera, where you float from one island paradise to the next. More experienced travelers choose Alaska or Canada where you’ll experience calving glaciers and magnificent whales. Cruises to Europe with a few days of trans-Atlantic voyage, culture shock and information-rich shore excursions are recommended for the most experienced cruisers.

Cruise length. Three-day weekend, four-day midweek, week and two-week cruises are the most popular.

Cabins are listed as inside (no windows) or outside (with windows, higher priced). If you plan to spend most of the time in your cabin, choose the biggest room you can afford. Standard cabins have twin beds, which can usually be converted into a queen-sized bed, while bunk beds in other rooms cannot be converted.

RENTAL CAR TIPS:

There are four types of car rental rates: a daily rate with a mileage charge; a daily rate with a limited number of free miles per day; a daily rate with unlimited mileage; and a rate that has free mileage over an extended period. Vehicles are economical when rented by the week with unlimited mileage. Daily rates are usually quite high, but there are some good 3-day deals. Rates vary from company to company, month to month, and country to country.

Your age may affect the rate. Younger renters (below 25 years of age) can get charged extra money, like being required to buymore expensive insurance. Some companies will not rent a car to a person under 21. There are also maximum age limits which vary from company to company. If you are beyond the lower and upper age limits, look into leasing a vehicle, which has less age restrictions. Leasing a car gets around many tax and insurance costs and is a great deal for people needing a car for three weeks or more. The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy are popular places to lease cars.

All car rental companies require a valid drivers license. Some car rental companies check the driver’s record and will deny a car to a customer with a poor driving record. In some foreign countries, an international drivers license may be required.

We wish you a successful and safe trip!

Geneva and Val D’Isere – Skiing and Sightseeing

It is probably doubtful if any skier eagerly anticipates their ski transfer – even including the picturesque one from Geneva to Val d’Isere.

Let’s face it, even if you have had only a relatively short flight, the chances are you were probably up at some ungodly hour to get ready and then had extensive travelling to do to reach the airport at the other end. Then there would have been the almost inevitable flight delays and queues to get through security at your departure airport. All things being equal, there is a fair chance that before you even arrive in Geneva you are tired and jaded and probably not looking forward to the Geneva to Val d’Isere transfer.

Being realistic, unless you are lucky enough to have your own private jet there is probably not much you can do to avoid many of the above potential frustrations that go hand in hand with travel these days.

Yet there are two things to bear in mind: Geneva is a great city with lots of things to do so you might want to break your journey by having a night or two there exploring its attractions; and Val d’Isere is worth getting to!

A brief stopover

The origins of the city go back to before the Roman period and the old town is a magnificent area to explore. Space does not permit a full description of all of the interesting sites and cultural attractions in this world famous international city but a trip on or around the lake is surely a must. Although the onward journey from Geneva to Val d’Isere is really no big deal, a day or two spent looking around the back streets of the city might just help you recharge your batteries ready for the slopes.

Val d’Isere

Barely three miles from the border with Italy, this ski resort is one of the most famous and beautiful in France. There are, of course, a wide variety of slopes and runs available for all levels of skier but experienced sportspeople regard the resort, on the whole, to be challenging. An interesting fact about this ski resort is that it is skiable in summer due to the local glacier. This, together with some use of snow cannons, means that it offers wintertime sports all year round.

The resort itself comprises a mixture of traditional alpine village type accommodation together with some more volume-oriented higher rise hotel type lodgings. A wide range of snow sports is provided to supplement the basic attractions of the ski slopes. Many skiers love this resort for its mixture of demanding slopes and French style. Certainly it is worth putting up with flights and the short Geneva to Val d’Isere transfer in order to get here!

The Financial Conduct Authority Gap Insurance Review Will Force Competition

The Financial Conduct Authority took over from the Financial Services Authority and made no secret of the fact they were not going to be afraid of ruffling the feathers of the financial institutions.

The Financial Conduct Authority’s main aim is to increase security and awareness in the financial markets. Also to make sure that when a consumer buys a financial product, the product that they buy is “fit for purpose” and will do the way the consumer anticipates throughout the lifetime of the policy or service.

A review from such a prestigious organisation is good news for the world of gap insurance. The findings however made interesting reading.

The review went into depth and had input from both providers and insurance companies. In brief, the Financial Conduct Authority agreed that their concept of gap insurance was sound and offered a good level of protection.

They however felt that in many circumstances the policy holder was paying far too much for their policy and that this did not represent good value for money.

So does this mean that gap insurance is expensive?

Does this mean that gap insurance is no longer a viable option for the consumer?

Absolutely not. The Financial Conduct Authority agreed that the concept of the cover was worthwhile but found that customers were simply not being offered a fair deal.

This is because in most cases gap insurance is only offered at the point of vehicle sale. This leaves little or no opportunity for consumers to compare levels of cover and price differentials.

At the moment, the review has given guidance and a list of potential reforms. The most wide-reaching is that dealerships and garages will be actively encouraged to offer gap insurance and then recommend that potential policy holders research and compare the market.

This consequently means that garages will potentially no longer have a captive audience. This compare and research mentality will ultimately lead to gap insurance suppliers having to concentrate on policy terms as well as value for money.

We predict that this will cause a massive shift in the market with consumers being able to source ever improving policies at ever improving rates.

Competition will mean that suppliers will have to take a fresh look at policy performance and rate the premiums so. This unfortunately may mean that some suppliers withdraw or are forced from the market, however those more forward thinking and proactive organisations will thrive.

In summary, the review is good news for both consumers and the market place as whole as competition will improve both policy performance as well as value for money. It will also encourage innovation and we for one cannot wait to see the new developments as they unfold.