Travel

Sure, running out of milk for your cereal, hangnails, and single-spaced papers are terrible, but is there anything truly worse than a poorly planned trip? The one you envisioned flawlessly in your mind, but everything that could have gone wrong seemed to? I have been there. Organizing an enjoyable trip or vacation takes serious inspiration and, more importantly, useful planning resources. In attempts to avoid fake tours, dirty hotels, and wasted days, I want to share a few of my favorite travel-related websites that aid in creating the adventure you crave and deserve.

1. Student Universe 

For those looking to save some money, Student Universe is your site. This travel company caters to students and provides discounted rates on flights, trains, hotels, and tours. While most people use the website for their flights, make sure to check out their “Tours” and “Activities” tabs to help in creating a fun itinerary. To get access to these perks from Student Universe, all you have to do is create an account and verify you are a student.

It’s easy! Now that you’ve grabbed cheaply priced tickets, it’s time for the nitty gritty details.

2. Airbnb

When I traveled to Panama I stayed in the heart of Panama City in a beautiful apartment in the artsy and historic Casco Viejo neighborhood. The home was stunning with 2-stories, ceramic tile, a balcony with a view, and impeccable decorating. Staying in an apartment was much more economical and enjoyable than staying in a hotel. Using Airbnb prospective travelers can search through various styles and sizes of houses, apartments, and bedrooms to rent from locals during their trip. The spaces belong to owners who have been thoroughly screened and reviews are posted on the site for each owner.

I highly recommend browsing Airbnb’s housing options before looking for hotels because they are cheaper and provide you with an authentic feel during your vacation. If you want to save some money and cook food, you can do that. If you want to stay in for a night and listen to the sounds of the street, you can do that, too!

3. National Geographic Travel 

When planning my next journey, I also check by National Geographic’s online travel section. Aside from the awe-inspiring photography covering every inch of the website, the travel section has a huge database of itineraries, destinations, restaurant recommendations, and so much more. You can search by trip type, country, city, and even theme.

If you are choosing between destinations, I would recommend using the photographs and articles written on this website to narrow your options. It’s National Geographic, so you’ll inevitably feel your wanderlust increase ten-fold.

4. Jet Lag Rooster 

Finally, a messed up sleep schedule can surely disrupt a vacation, so try using this website to learn how to avoid it! Just type in your departures and arrival cities, and the Rooster will give you suggestion times of when to sleep during your flight and the few days after. No longer will you be wide awake at 4:30 am and ready to pass out at 3pm, thanks to this neat site!

Image: Flickr

TravelVolunteerism

“Where am I?” is all that crossed my mind when I was volunteering in South Africa the summer before my freshman year of college. In honor of my high school graduation, my family and I decided to break out of our comfort zone and stray from our usual lounging vacations and plan one that exposed us to a different world. With an organization I would recommend to everyone – Global Vision International (GVI) –  I lived in a town outside of Cape Town called Gordon’s Bay to teach basic English and Math to children at a devastatingly poor, but dedicated school called A.C.J. Phakade Primary. It wasn’t until this remarkable experience that I realized how moving and important giving back, especially in a country as dynamic as South Africa, truly is.

Here are three main reasons you should highly consider “The Rainbow Nation” for your next volunteering venture.

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The children need your help.

Many primary schools around Cape Town require its students to take an entrance exam into high school. While this may seem easy enough, trouble arises for native Xhosa-speaking – one of the country’s 11 official languages, spoken primarily by the black population surrounding Cape Town – students when they have to take the English-only exam. English is not part of school curriculums, so the only way a student knows English is if their parents taught them or they picked it up from American movies. For many of the eager students, an English volunteer is the only chance they have to learn the language well enough to get into high school. If they don’t pass, sadly they are stuck in primary school until they get it right.

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Put your own problems into perspective.

In college, getting a D on a midterm, getting into arguments with friends, and not living in your preferred dorm might seem like the end of the world, but once you explore a slum you begin to see life differently. Surrounding Cape Town are “townships,” poor, rag-tag neighborhoods mainly inhabited by black South Africans who were kicked out of the city during Apartheid. After seeing children come to school wearing no shoes and a school with a rat problem and gaping holes in its walls, you’re bound to realize how fortunate you are.

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Meet people from all over the world.

With GVI, I had the opportunity to meet likeminded young people from all over Europe, Africa, and Australia. It turns out that South Africa is a hot destination for the millennial generation because of its stunning landscapes and Cape Town’s stylish appeal. Even about four years later, I keep in touch with the friends I made and now always have a couch to sleep on in case I visit any of their home countries!

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I urge you to consider all of these points if you are seriously thinking about doing a volunteer trip. Remember, as responsible citizens of the world and Carpe Juvenis enthusiasts, it is up to us to make a better tomorrow!

Image: Photos courtesy of Aysia Woods

Skills

Asking for help can be hard when you’re going through a hard time. At times it can be a case of pride. You don’t want to show how much something is bothering you or how much it is hurting. Perhaps you don’t want to burden someone with your problems. Whatever the reason, I can say it is always a good idea to ask for help when you need it.

I have never regretted asking for help. Have you ever not raised your hand in class because you were worried about asking a dumb question? We’ve always been told that there is no such thing as a stupid question. Even if there were, you could either have an answer right away or you could just agonize on your own for however long it takes for you to figure things out. When you speak up, you get answers.

I admit that this is a lesson I have had to learn more than once. I once missed a day of school while sick. I didn’t ask for anyone’s math notes because I was sure I was smart enough to piece together the information on my own. A week later, not only had I not figured out what I missed, but I didn’t understand anything that came after it. Instead of letting my confusion grow, I finally asked my teacher for help. Guess what? Everything began to make sense.

If someone can’t or won’t help you, it’s not the end. It just means you can move on to someone who can help you with your problem. This idea is not limited to class lessons. The holidays in particular can be troubling times for people. Some feel overwhelmed about spending so much money or the need to make a holiday perfect. Some people feel like they have to spend the holiday alone. Like the fear of asking for help, this pressure we put on ourselves tends to all be in our heads. Reach out to friends or family if you want to spend the holiday with someone. If you need space from your loved ones, you can volunteer somewhere. Don’t suffer because you’re afraid to reach out.

If you’re scared or confused in life, it never hurts to ask for help. You may want to prove you can do things on your own, which is valid. However, if you are slowing yourself down because you don’t want to admit that you need help or because you’re scared others will see you differently, don’t worry so much. Everyone has problems. No one was born knowing everything or being able to do everything. We all learn as we grow. Even in adult life we are still learning. The very problem you are struggling with may be just the thing that someone else is struggling with. You just have to be brave enough to talk about it. Not asking for help just wastes time that you could use to move forward. So don’t waste anymore time. Just ask.

Image: CollegeDegrees360

CultureEducation

Dear Writer’s Block,

Welcome back, my friend. I haven’t seen you in quite a while. How have you been?

As you know, the first round of papers and projects have come (and for some, has gone). There is nothing more satisfying in the world than finishing that last sentence, adding that last period, doing that one last save and export as PDF. But sometimes, those finishing touch moments don’t come, all thanks to you.

What do you mean, you ask? Well, Writer’s Block, you’re well aware of your talent for showing up during this time of the semester. Especially for people who have Capstone or Thesis papers to write, you’ve made yourself comfortable, haven’t you? Visiting in the middle of the night just as I’ve gathered my textbooks and novels and highlighters and post­its. You’ve come just as I set down my cold coffee and popped open my glowing laptop.

Ah, yes, the Writers Block. There are things that happen when one feels a Writer’s Block come around. Every moment in the shower, on the bus, on the train, is devoted to trying to resolve a problem.

How do I start this paper?

What should my proposal be about?

This proposal isn’t working!

Is this due next Tuesday? Monday? Friday?

Aaaaaaaaaaah!

Buzzfeed quiz.

I have no idea what I want to write about.

What am I gonna do?

I guess I should do an outline.

Maybe I’ll do the outline later.

I’m just going to go browse Forever21.com now…

This idea isn’t that great, but I can’t think of anything else.

I’m 2 pages short.

I’m a paragraph short.

I’m literally a sentence short of hitting the minimum page requirement.

I’m just going to go internet shopping because I don’t know what else to do.

Help.

It’s about time that finals comes upon us, the rush of assignments before Thanksgiving and the dump of exams after it. Writer’s Block… why?

Sincerely,
Stressed College Student

P.S. I’m going to figure out what to do with you, Writer’s Block. Just you wait…

Image: Rennett Stowe

Culture

There is a quote by Aesop which says, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” I have never seen that statement disproved. I am sure you have seen those articles on the Internet claiming to restore your faith in humanity by mentioning a few random acts of kindness. A random act of kindness is simply helping others without being asked. Reading about these wonderful moments can be pleasant, but being a part of them can be even more enjoyable. Many people like accepting gifts from others, but doing nice things for others can be just as rewarding.

You never know when a simple act can brighten someone’s day. It can be easy. My father will sometimes surprise me by buying me breakfast, just because he’s thinking of me. Kindness can mean just as much coming from a stranger. All people deserve to be cared for. Thinking of someone else’s happiness for even a moment can make them feel cared for.

Doing a random act of kindness can actually make you feel better, as well. It is hard to see anyone suffering. If you are able to help anyone, it could lift you up. Helping someone could be as easy as giving someone a milkshake on a bad day, giving someone your seat on the bus, or donating your hair to Locks of Love. Even something as little as buying a sandwich for someone who is starving will cost you very little, but will help someone else a lot. Through my experiences and stories from others, I know that whenever you help someone out, it stays with you. Giving joy and seeing joy can make you happy. It’s as much a gift to you as it is to someone else.

Take the time to help someone else. Don’t wait for someone to ask you to step up when you see someone in need. A kind act can be uplifting for everyone involved. Find your way to help and do it. There is a website called The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation which carries ideas to help others. It also features stories of when people were helped or when they helped others. It just might inspire you in time for World Kindness Day on November 13. So, why wait? You can’t lose. Just remember that even the smallest act can have a grand effect on someone.

When have you done a random act of kindness?

Image: Jennifer

CultureLearnSkills

One of the main lessons we learn growing up is that it is always okay to ask for help. That is very true. Yet, people have trouble receiving help in this new era. People who post their feelings on sites like Facebook are often accused of whining and needing attention. If you need advice, you need to ask for it directly. Your true friends will be there for you.

What do you do when you get bad advice? Trust your instincts. (If your instincts disagree with this statement, feel free to disregard it). If you think someone does not have your best interests at heart, you do not have to listen. Peer pressure is a good example of this. If someone wants you to have a drink and it’s legal, it is fine to indulge. However, if you have already had enough, then you do not have to drink to be cool. You know yourself better than anyone else does. You probably also have developed some sense of right and wrong. Even if you are lost and confused on issues and you ask for advice, it is not rude not to take it. The important thing is to respect that person who tried to help you.

Here are some tips to make sure that happens:

  1. Listen. Listen to someone’s advice even if it is not what you want to hear. It may be what you need to hear.
  2. Think about it for yourself. It may make you see things in a new light even if it does not solve your problem immediately. As I noted before, trust your instincts.
  3. Say thank you. Say it in words or a gesture such as buying them coffee. Even if what they said did not work out, at least they tried.

Giving advice can also be hard because you do not want to be responsible for leading someone down the wrong path. Sometimes you have not gone through what someone else is going though. The best you can do is just be there. If someone is coming to you for help, it makes them brave but vulnerable. Do not betray that trust. You are giving the gift of your experience. This could save someone from making a mistake that you have made yourself. You are also giving someone the benefit of your friendship, which will last much longer than any problem. The most important note is that in giving advice, it is not about you. It is about helping someone else. 

Here are some tips to make sure that happens:

  1. Make sure the person is ready for the information. If someone does not want to be helped, they will not accept any help. Specifically, see if they ask to know what you think. Sometimes people just want to be heard.
  2. Think about what you do know about the situation. Do your best to make an informed statement even if you feel out of your depth. If you have no idea what they are going through, it is okay to admit that. It gives them the chance to see if they still want your opinion.
  3. Be honest but be kind. The truth is important but it is not worth making the person you are helping feel judged. If they feel like you are against them, they might not accept your help. Try to see things from their perspective.

No matter what, you have to trust that what you’re doing is right. You have to be kind. You can always ask for help if you need it.   

Image: morguefile

EducationSkills

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” – Lao Tzu

As someone who has both led and been led, I have found this quote to be true in every situation.

The thing is, many leaders believe their job is to “tell” their team what to do, and to create and stick to their vision.

While it is important as a leader to have a strong vision and communicate it clearly, it is also important to keep open ears and an open mind, allowing team members to creatively and collaboratively contribute their own thoughts to the group vision. Inflexibly telling everyone what to do is a waste of the unique mind power each team member possesses.

Instead, I’ve compiled, from my experiences, six ways to ensure open communication and creative collaboration, and they’re pretty easy:

1. Make your team a communication “safe space.”

Be sure to actively listen, encouraging input and questions. This means showing appreciation for ideas, even when they aren’t great. This will keep team members unafraid to contribute potentially stellar ideas and ask important questions. Never talk at, always talk with. Remember, your leadership position should never have you on a pedestal.

I was training as a host at a restaurant. During a weekend night when we were absolutely slammed, the manager welcomed all of my questions. Because of that, the next night when we were even busier, I was able to handle the finicky crowd gracefully on my own, much more so than if I’d been afraid to ask her questions in the moment the night before. As a result, she was able to pick up the slack for a brand new server, keeping the customers much happier. Be patient and welcome all communication from your group, even if you’re stressed. It will pay off.

2. Provide continuous feedback (positively).

Show your team members you hear them and see what they’re accomplishing. Sometimes, people can be blind to our own strengths. Pointing them out can give members the confidence to take those strengths and run (a win for you). Be sure to also share things you expect them to improve, letting them know you believe they can do it and providing suggestions as to how they can.

I worked at a PR agency under a great CEO. When I got strong media placement results, he would take the time to stop by my desk and let me know he saw I’d been getting good results that week, and to keep it up. It kept me intrinsically motivated to keep improving my results.

3. Ask for your own feedback.

Good leaders must not be afraid to hear criticism. Anonymous surveys are good for receiving candid answers about this. Ask questions that will lead to honest and productive answers.

Honestly taking feedback into consideration creates a level of trust and mutual respect between you and your team. It also allows you to improve yourself as a leader and a person.

The best professor I’ve ever had checked in several times throughout the semester with anonymous surveys, and also asked for feedback on the fly if he felt something was off. He used it to improve his teaching methods, resulting in higher student test scores and retained knowledge.

4. Hold everyone accountable (yourself included).

When people are assigned tasks, tell them their deadlines and when you will check in with them. Then, do it by asking about their current progress and next steps. I’ve liked doing this via email and during team meetings. Just be sure everyone knows they’ll be asked about it during meetings so they don’t feel put on the spot, and can address concerns with you beforehand.

Update everyone on your own activity, too, so that they also know you’re all in it together. Set examples by meeting your own deadlines.

As the director of my university’s Children’s Miracle Network dance marathon, I often met one on one with team members to discuss individual progress and determine where we could tweak or add things. I created Google docs with each member’s proposed timeline, which we edited together as the year progressed. I also set aside about five minutes to begin our meetings by providing updates on my own activity. It kept us on track in exceeding our main goals.

5. Remember your team members are humans.

This sounds obvious, but it’s important; people will make mistakes. They’ll encounter personal roadblocks that drain them. Be sure to show interest in these things. If someone’s performance has dropped, don’t assume anything. Ask if they’re ok and listen to their concerns. Be sure also to recognize what motivates or discourages your teammates individually, as different people respond to different things in different ways.

In high school, my basketball coaches saw I’d been playing poorly for several games in a row. Instead of getting harder on me, they pulled me into their office after practice to ask me what was going on. They came to find out a personal stressor had been weighing me down; they showed their constant support and understanding. I was back to normal within a few games. They recognized that, while other teammates responded better to tougher love, I responded well to more gentle feedback.

6. No micro-managing!

Offer your help and provide advice, but trust your team to complete their tasks. They may mess up, but it’s better than keeping them from improving and learning. They also may do things their own way, which could turn out to be better than yours!

As the director of our dance marathon, we ran into some roadblocks with corporate sponsorship. We needed about $6,000 in less than two weeks, which my faculty director could have easily secured on her own. Instead, she put the trust in me to do it. I ended up applying for and securing all of the funding and grants we needed, and gained tremendous confidence in the process. She likely had a plan B on hold, but she let me grow and learn through the process.

In the end, your and your teammates’ personal and professional growth should be just as important as the project results. Don’t forget that you’re all teammates, regardless of titles, and that happy people do the best work!

What tips do you have for quality leadership? Any stories about good or bad leaders you’ve encountered?

Image: D I, Flickr