Day 14: Belgrade-Gritty Perfection

The train ride here was a life test.

I generally find that the longer your trip- albeit on a bus, train or airplane, your propensity for wanting to kill someone goes up exponentially as time marches on. Leaving the city of ‘Bar’ on coastal Montenegro at 9:00 am on the local train started as a Bordain or Brysonesque affair, but as the hours marched on, we got more squeamish and impatient. This happens on a long plane ride across the pacific too; the first hour or two are filled with excitement and longing but by the 8th and 10th hour (3rd or 4th movie in), you’re ready to throw up or commit hari-kari.

Don’t get me wrong, the morning of chugging through the Balkan mountain range was breathtaking. We brought some salami, crackers and cheese and nibbled on them the whole way through. At 4:00 pm however, the train came to one of its many stops, and didn’t go anywhere for 45 minutes until we took notice. The air conditioning died and passengers amassed on the platform to keep cool, have a smoke break, drink cold beer and to circulate boozy information. I don’t know if it was the tiredness of being on a train for almost 8 hours, but the conversations sounded comically asinine:

The engine is dead.” One passenger said.

Yes, the workers said that they are changing the engine.” said another.

The engine that was pulling the train?” One asked.

Yes, that one.” Replied another.

Sure enough, our old engine had been detached and taken out of sight, like a relieved baseball pitcher, while it’s younger looking replacement was brought in to finish the game. The passengers were assured that the conductor would drop the hammer and cut our remaining 4 hours down to 3 to get us into Belgrade by 9:00 pm. By the time we arrived at 9:30, anything that anyone said to me sounded reasonable. I had no local currency (Serbian Dinars), nor knew the local exchange rate, and was not in the mood to negotiate further than anything to get our family to our hotel for the night as soon as possible.

You have a meter taxi, right?” I asked the taxi driver.

Yes, no problem, meter.” He replied.

When he hit me with the butchers bill upon arrival with the local currency, I didn’t bat an eye, or offer much of an argument.

Will you take euros?” I asked. “How much?

8 kilometers…..that’s about….30 euros“.

Here you go.” I said handing him the money not even questioning the number on the meter.

Belgrade: An Old Capital for New Times

At the confluence of the great Danube and Sava rivers sits Belgrade, one of the oldest cities in Europe. If you listen closely, you just might hear the crumbling buildings whisper tales about the tumultuous history of this bohemian city. Immediately after arriving, you catch glimpses of its checkered past. It’s covered in graffiti. Abandoned buildings are everywhere. Things are dirt cheap. We staggered, zombie-like, into a restaurant around the corner from our hotel upon on arrival and before the waitress could even finish telling me about the local dishes, I interrupted her spiel and said “I’ll take it.” pointing at a menu item. Ava fell asleep on the table midway through dinner and I got the check for 3 entrees and three beers. 22 euros. Cheap.

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The next morning we checked into the Hilton Belgrade for the remainder of our stay. I’ve written about this hotel loyalty program of ours before, but this check-in took the cake. With our diamond status, they upgraded us to a two bedroom, two bathroom suite with complimentary executive lounge access that served as our free dinner during the second night. The gym was one of the best I’ve seen and the spa had a Turkish hamam, jacuzzi, and sauna. Even when you’re a long term budget traveller, it’s nice to get pampered every once in a while.

Hilton Hotels

Top Things to Do in Belgrade

  • Belgrade Fortress – This fortress sits on a ridge where the two great rivers meet and used to contain the entire city for over 2000 years. Now kids and families walk around the walls and ramparts, using the angled aeroslits as a place to play hide and seek, where young Ottomans once stood to protect their precious lands. The ruins range from Roman to medieval, and every nook and cranny is filled with history. With street vendors selling snacks and souvenirs, there is enough to keep a family busy for the day.
  • Church of Saint Sava – Against the backdrop of the cerulean sky sits the shiny white marble stones of the Church of Saint Sava, the largest Othodox church in the balkans., The cross that sits at the top of the enormous central dome is central beacon not for the devoted, but for the entire city. It is currently still under construction, however beneath the heavy floors the gilded ceilings of the enormous crypt serves as a cool respite from the hot summer sun.
  • Knez Mihailova Pedestrian Street – Iron gas lights line the streets, music echos from the city’s bohemian troubadours, cafes spill onto the cobbled streets and vestiges of the new shiny glass storefronts and old neoclassical mansions meet on the street corners. Lined with upmarket boutiques and restaurants,  this pedestrian street is a lovely place to stroll, sit and relax your feet after a tour around the city.
  • Nikola Tesla Museum – This museum is a collection of artifacts and reproductions of Tesla’s inventions. There are tours given on the hour and demonstrations of the copper Tesla coils are the highlight. Ava had the electrifying experience to hold on to a light bulb as the free ions filled the air and her body acted as a conductor and lit up the bulb.
STEM colelection

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing: Book Review

Since Ava finished her first book of the summer: ‘Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing‘, we decided to do a video short highlighting important passages, text based evidence, inferences and summarizing key details on our last night in Belgrade. I taught Ava how to use ‘iMovie’ and we recorded 4 videos through the webcam addressing document based questions that related to standards in this literature study.

Adapted from ‘Reading and Comprehension Habits’ Jeff Zwiers

We used a google drawing as a graphic organizer to organize her thoughts before the recordings and went through her readers notebook to make her summaries more succinct. The only ‘cool’ feedback I gave in my evaluation of her work was to bolster transitions more for her audience as she tends to jump from detail to detail in her summarizing without much contextual reference or segues which may be confusing to the listener/reader.

She is only 9 after all.

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Day 12: Top Ten Things to do in Montenegro as a Family

About a week before taking off for our big trip, a colleague of mine stopped to chit chat, he had heard from Ava that the first stop on our itinerary was Montenegro. I confirmed that it was, the rest of our conversation went something like this.

Casey: “Ugh, my family and I visited there a few years ago, we were in “Buuudfa” said a bit pettishly in his Canadian Dainty accent.

Me: “Nice, we are going there as well”

Casey: “We stayed in an apartment that was 100m from the beach, which happened to be down a steep hill and it was filled with a lot of loud Russian tourists. Have fun.”

Needless to say that short conversation left me wondering how our visit would unfold. Fast forward a week and any apprehension I had about our first destination melted away before we even touched down in the small town of Tivat, as we flew over the small balkan country I could see why Montenegro is on all of the current travel “it” lists.

Brimming with majestic mountains that jut sharply up from crystal clear opalescent waters, minuscule Montenegro is not even 300km from tip to toe, proving that good things come in tiny packages. The small towns, with their quaint plazas and steepled churches are postcard perfect, are strung along the coast like an exquisite pearl necklace. Even our courtyard outside our apartment below was picturesque:

Historically, Kotor has been at the crossroads of commercial trade and the influence of Venice is visible in the narrow cobbled streets and the medieval maze of museums, churches, palaces and cafe strewn squares.  The town is surrounded by mountains and an ancient city walls that snakes impossibly up the surrounding slopes. We were lucky to stay in a little AirBnB apartment that sat in the shadows of St. John’s Fortress which has served as the city’s sentry since the Byzantine Empire. Out or window, lines of laundry fluttered from wrought-iron balconies and we were kept company by the resident Kotor cats, no doubt the descendants of seafaring felines, that were expert in lounging in the shadowy, flower filled lanes. Here are some ways to enjoy Kotor:

  • 1.) St. Johns Fortress – Gary climbed the “Ladder of Kotor” and made his way up the 1200m ascent via 1350 steps to visit the fortification. At 260m above sea level, the views from St John’s Fortress are glorious. 
  • 2.) Kotor Bay Tour – Kotor lies in the bend of one of Southern Europe’s deepest fjords and beyond the walled city lies a magnificent bay, sprinkled with small islands and quaint villages. We took a boat trip across the vibrant blue-green waters of the Adriatic. The highlights were a swim in the famous Blue Grotto, a visit to the island home of Our Lady of the Rocks and stopping for gelato in the picturesque village of Perast, known for its unique architecture and beautiful stone palaces and cruising by other walled towns that cling to the rocks and dip their toes into the sea.
  • 3.) Explore the Old Town – Take time to explore the narrow alleys and cobbled streets that sit inside the protective walls. There are plenty of shops, galleries and museums to explore. There are a variety of quaint bars and restaurants that serve up delicious meals and on hot days, ice cream can be found around every corner.
  • 4.) Shopping – Nestled in the shade of the city walls you will find vendors selling local handicrafts, with a small farmers market set up just outside the main gate. The vendors are happy to give free tastes of the local cheeses, meats, fruits and veggies from the region. Don’t miss out on the locally made olive oil and fresh breads for a real treat.

Budva’s Old Town, the Stari Grad, lies on a small peninsula and looks like a mini Dubrovnik with criss crossed marble streets and Venetian style walls that rise out from the clear waters that surround it. There are several ‘local’ beaches that can be reached through low arched exits that spill right onto the pebbly shores. The modern town of Budva sits along a crescent shaped string of beaches that are connected by a long promenade. The Budva coast is 21 km long and has 17 beaches that are breathtakingly beautiful. Here our our tips for visiting Budva:

  • 5.) Eat Dessert at ‘Hotel Astoria’ – When you are looking for something sweet, head to the restaurant sunk right into the sands of Richard’s Head (nyuk nyuk) beach near the entrance of the old city walls. Find a comfy sofa overlooking the azure waters of the Adriatic and dip your spoon into the rich, fluffy chocolate Soufflé for a decadent experience.
  • 6.) Spend Days Exploring Beaches – The entire west coast of Montenegro is peppered with sublime beaches, each with its own unique character. My advice to visit them all to find the one that fits your vibe for the day. You will be spoilt for choices and wish you could extend your time to experience them all. As our host in Budva said “abundance is all around us, everywhere and it is absolutely free.” 
  • 7.) Party at Ploče Beach – Budva is known as the place where the young, rich and beautiful people go to party. If you are looking for a ‘wet disco,’ hop on a water taxi and find your way to the sparkling waters around Ploče Beach. With two swimming pools, a swim up bar serving killer cocktails, a live DJ playing an endless flow of dance music and a frolicking foam party, you are in for a truly exalted experience.  
  • 8.) Eat Seafood at ‘Porto’ – Along the promenade you will find a variety of restaurants to suit every taste and budget. The Restaurant Porto was our favorite dining experience during our Montenegro stay. With its prime location near the marina, jovial waiters, linen set tables along the promenade and seafood to die for, you may find yourself making reservations for every night you are in town.
  • 9.) Enjoy Water-sports – If you are feeling like adding a little adventure, there are a variety of water-sports on offer in Budva. For those that are looking for a more peaceful activity you can rent a SUP or kayak and head out to explore the surrounding cliffs and caves on your own. If you are looking for more of an adrenaline rush, you can strap on a parachute and jump off the cliffs and paraglide your way back into town. Finally, there are boats to rent for picnics, fishing, sunset cruises and tours of the bay. 
  • 10.) Talk to the Locals – To fully get to know a country and culture you need to take time to talk to the locals. From the cheery waiters, to the knowledgeable guides to our local hosts, everyone we met in Montenegro went out of their way to ensure we had an amazing experience.
Little Passports

As a final thought I will leave you with parting works from Ivanka, our beautiful host in Budva, “Find new paths that will enrich your life, and do it at your own pace, it is up to you to decide where your next adventure takes you.”

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Day 10: Making a Monster in Budva, Montenegro

Today was one of those ‘magic’ days.

It started out with me taking a deep sea fishing trip in the morning off the coast of Budva, Montenegro. We didn’t catch many fish, but it was enough to make into a tasty ceviche for dinner that evening. At lunch, we ate at the Astoria Beach Hotel and had one of the best deserts of our lives. Lisa and Ava had an ice cream, (caramel crunch sundae) and I had a chocolate soufflé, with milk chocolate, cream, and ice cream on the side that was so decadent, we had to layout on the beach and rest for 30 minutes afterwards as we were so relaxed and couldn’t do anything else. Ava fulfilled her dream of ‘flying’ by taking a 10 minute paragliding trip around the bay which she said was one of the most amazing experiences of her life. You should have heard her:

“That….was….so fun!” She exclaimed.

“Were you scared tootie?” I asked.

“No! Even when we got really high up. Can I go paragliding one day?”

“WHAT?!?!”

“Well daddy….” she went on. “What if I want to skydive one day, or be a pilot?” as if to make a point.

Fazed by the realization that I may have led her down a dangerous path with a gateway activity, I knew then my little girl would not remain little forever.

“I think we’ve created a monster.” I told Lisa.

“But she’s our monster.” She cooed back to me.

It’s been unseasonably hot here; the new normal of global warming. When we arrived here in Budva a few days ago, a massive heatwave hit Europe and sent temperatures into 40 celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Like most people here, we’ve been spending our days at the beach, eating gelato to keep cool followed by a dive in the surf. Holiday goers from Russia, Serbia and other parts of Europe lounged around in their speedos and thongs, working off their hangovers from last night’s shaving cream party, smoking, and eying the next watering hole.

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Before heading out for our day, we use the 4 hour gap between breakfast and lunch for our ‘learning journey’ comprised of our literature study, math practice, foreign languages and typing work. The amount of apps and platforms that exist today have made remote learning a breeze.

Literature Study of ‘Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing’

I thought we would wait longer to start ‘Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing‘, but we jumped in as soon as summer started. Ava has always enjoyed reading and although we’ve read to her (and vice versa) as a family a lot over the years, this is the first robust literature study that we’ve done as her teachers. Common core reading focuses more on text based evidence than the whimsical ‘Text to self, text to text” connections of yesteryear that may not end up citing any text based examples at all. Our reading format is as follows:

  • Start by summarizing what has transpired in the story so far.
  • Sharing key details from her reader’s notebook.
  • Reading and adding key details, important passages and unfamiliar words into her reader’s notebook.
The ‘Readers Notebook’ in action

Although we’re only in the second week of our trip, we are nearly through Judy Bloom’s heralded classic, reading two chapters per sitting and laughing the whole time. I’ve been trying to help Ava formulate key questions which may help her answer the ‘main idea’ of the text when she’s finished.

10 Books for Early Readers

Math Practice with Khan Academy

As our first project in math is very Geometry dependent, we’re focusing on Geometry and factors first rather than multiplication and division in Khan Academy. I first started using ‘Khan Academy’ as a math teacher years ago when it first landed on the scene and it’s only gotten more robust over time. In the years since it’s debut it’s made better use of formative assessment and even integrating end of course chapter tests which aren’t so easily passable unless the child has really learned it. It’s also come to support manipulatives such as rulers and protractors that can be moved around with the apple pencil. Our math practice sessions usually go as follows:

  • Reviewing multiplication tables for 10 minutes. When Ava started learning her multiplication tables, I originally used ‘Multiplication.com‘ which has a number of games that kids can play to help them with math facts. The ‘timer’ was causing her stress, so we migrated to ‘Mathisfun.com‘ which has a multiplication table trainer that you can set on a day limit, giving the child plenty of time to answer without the stress of a clock.
  • Khan Academy practice. We’ve been tearing through the dashboard and at our current pace, we will probably finish by early spring. My applied learning goal is that she’ll use her skills to solve some real-world math problems along the way in a project-based learning approach. Project based learning in math (and well, any subject for that matter) is not merely ‘tacking on’ a project at the end of a unit, but using a unit and its multiple lessons to incrementally solve a problem over time. Opponents of project-based learned argue that it doesn’t allow for higher frequency of ‘skill and drill’ type scenarios of guided and independent practice and that the inevitable project ends up being a differentiated monstrosity which is more a product of the child’s interests rather than intended learning objectives.
Khan Academy practice left and the dashboard right.

The thing I don’t really like about Khan Academy is having to retake entire unit tests if there is one section or part that a child struggled with. Of the 21 sections encompassing ‘Geometry’, Ava passed all of them save 1 and could not ‘level up’ until that particular skill was reflected in the unit test.

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Typing Practice with Typing Club

I learned to type on a classical secretary’s typewriter back in middle school. ‘Typingclub.com’ is a free program that takes learners through basic keystrokes and graduates to higher and higher keystrokes.

The ‘f’ and ‘j’ lesson in “Typingclub.com”

Foreign Languages with Dualingo

Dualingo gives foreign language speaking and writing practice in an easy to use platform. When I turned my back, I learned that Ava was taking ‘Klingon’ which would serve her well in a trekkie group at ‘Comic Con’ so we’re focusing on French (which she’d learned for 2 years at school) and Swahili which might come in handy in east Africa in August and September.

Dualingo’s interface

That night, we watched ‘The Goonies’ which was a childhood favorite of mine that Ava had never seen. I told the girls that I knew it a little ‘too’ well and could recite the lines verbatim, which I did for the whole start of the movie. You should have heard the girls:

“STOP DADDY!” That’s so annoying!

“Geez, even when you’re married to a someone for over 10 years, you learn something new about them!”

I’m scary like that.

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Day 5: Killing Jetlag in Kotor, Montenegro

We arrived at Tivat airport in Montenegro at 9:50 am last Tuesday morning. The elation of arriving in eastern Europe was subdued by the baggage claim which spit out only 2 of our 3 bags. Since this wasn’t the first time a checked bag didn’t meet us at the destination, I approached the lost and found desk with a sanguine strut. “Be nice” Lisa advised me. The guest in front of me, however, was not.

What you mean, you don’t have my f*#%ing bag!” The man barked at the manager named Marija.

Sir, please calm down” she replied, keeping it professional.

I come here on holiday and you lose my bag! How come this?

I decided to give them some space and time to sort things out. Through the window into their office, many sweeping arm gestures caught my eye but the tone emanating from the room eventually became more cordial and the patron left Marija with the closing before walking out: “Don’t worry, be happy“. Some consolation after ripping someone a new asshole.

Customer service people have it rough. They’re dealing with people who are at their worst, most pissed off and seeing only red. Working a few similar gigs like this back in my 20’s, I learned that people in this situation are generally more helpful when shown a little kindness and empathy. When it was my turn, I tried my best to not seem overly pedantic, but it came out all wrong. I blamed the jet lag.

Hello, how are you today? You look nice!” I asked Marija.

Vat do you vant?” She replied coldly.

Yes, well, my bag didn’t show up and I was wondering if you could help me.” I started. “I have the baggage number right here.” After a few keystrokes, Marija tracked down its whereabouts.

Eet is een Moscow” She told me with the same joy and ebullience of a doctor diagnosing a benign tumor. “Eet will be brought on an afternoon flight and brought to you in Kotor tonight. No charge.”

Marija and the good people from Aeroflot eventually lived up to her promise by delivering my Osprey Sojourn later that evening, but not before we settled into our apartment in the heart of Kotor’s old town and started exploring. Kotor seems like the lovechild of Dubrovnik and Venice with beleagured city walls, and tchotchke selling souvenir shops peppering the labyrinth of winding alley ways. Locals are always smoking. And drinking. Then smoking some more.

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Getting over jet lag sucks, but after traveling back and forth over the pacific from Asia to the States for 17 years, we’ve gotten used to it. Our time in Kotor was no different and our internal clocks woke us up at 2:30 am on the first day and then later and later as the week progressed. Getting up early has its advantages though. My morning stroll through the city at 6:00 am to my cardio site on the bay yielded a city that seemed abandoned save a few bakers delivering their loaves to hotels and fishermen hauling their catch to shore. We stocked up on groceries at the local produce market and supermarket soon after arriving, and soon after had a fridge stocked with an assortment of pasta, borek, wine, cheese, prosciutto, olives, cherries, strawberries and water.

Kotor has had a lot to offer. We’ve made multiple trips to the local beach and the girls took a photographic scavenger hunt while daddy hiked the old fortress overlooking the city. We took a boat ride around the bay, swimming in the blue grotto and even boating into an abandoned submarine storage bunker. Most importantly, we were setting the routine of our trip. It looks something like this:

The morning starts with an exercise circuit of 30 minutes. Then, Ava and I read a chapter of her book taking notes on key details with every chapter around common core standards. Ava then sits down to the keyboard and works on typing through ‘Typing Club’ and then we work on ‘Khan Academy’ after breakfast. Overall, we spend about an hour to an hour and a half on school work but that will stretch out to be longer when we really ramp up schooling in the late summer.

After that, we’ve been free to do what we want as a family. We write, photograph, sketch (something I haven’t done in years) and read. We’ve fallen back into the European style siesta of a nap from 3:00 to 6:00 in the afternoon and have most dinners in. Staying at Airbnbs, we typically have breakfast in, eat lunch out at a nearby restaurant and take the leftovers home for dinner, all under 100 euros a day excluding accommodation. At night, the adults cozy up on the couch with a cheap bottle of wine, using the chromecast we brought to stream shows and movies from netflix or our emby site. Currently, we’ve been watching ‘Chernobyl’- heavy, but fascinating.

The best thing however, is spending so much quality time as a family. Tickle tortures (or ‘gets’ as we call them) on the couch and inane arguments about trivial matters are what have made for the best stories. Just this morning, Lisa tried to convince me that Bosnia and Herzegovina was north of Montenegro. I argued that it was west. After 30 minutes of debate, the issue was unsettled despite the evidence pictured above so I decided to add an addendum to my will stating that the line “It was West!” be added as an epitaph to my gravestone. Lisa will counter by adding “No, it was North!” to hers and our burial plots will continue to argue the point throughout eternity.

It is west. Anyone can see that.

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Day 1: So It Begins- In South Korea

Today began like a normal day for most people in South Korea.

For most people, alarm clocks stirred families awake one member at a time and into their familiar routine of starting their day. Moms and dads prepared for work and children rejoiced only slightly about summer break knowing that much of their much deserved time off will be taken up by hagwons (learning academies) as parents insist they have an ‘academic edge’ against their peers. This ‘keeping up with the Kims‘ gambit is well known here in the peninsula and continues into adulthood where even young professionals forgo even dating for night classes to add lines to their resume in the hopes of standing out to potential employers to prove that they have the gristle to survive the maw of the business world. Still, what Koreans have done since the war ended in 1953 is nothing short of remarkable, turning a bombed out wasteland into a juggernaut of an economy with global titans such as Samsung, Hyundai and Kia now being household names. All that hard work has paid off.

Amidst the rigamarole of business as usual, a little known family of 3 in the Hyundai Hometown apartment block #209 complex began their journey of a million steps. The apartment that has been theirs for the last 4 years has been slowly gutted of its contents through clothing drives, weekend moving dates and the final dagger which was last Saturday’s moving company that boxed up the essentials for a long hibernation in a shipping container crypt that wouldn’t see light for at least 12 months.

Korea has been our home, and a good one. With it’s Confucianist history, Koreans respect their elders, show kindness to others and are quick to acknowledge what is right for the greater good. Teachers are revered. There is an underlying order of things. It’s safe. It’s clean. It offers beautiful spring time temperatures with cherry blossoms and lilacs perfuming walkways with skiing and snowboarding opportunities in the wintertime that drew the olympics here two years ago. As a tourist, you’ll come to embrace the quintessential trappings of Frommer’s and Lonely Planet guidebooks such as Insadong, Gyeongbokgung Palace, and the Hanoks of Bukchon. As a local you’ll eventually come to accept ‘Makgeolli’ or rice wine, ‘Gangnam Style’ or showing off, and Jimjilbangs, naked saunas with strangers, which, by the way, would be a great name for a rock band. Like Graham Green said about Vietnam: “You come to Vietnam and you understand a lot in a few minutes, but the rest has got to be lived.”, the same applies to Korea. Well, that applies to everywhere you live in life.

A westerner trying to change the far East is an exercise in futility. However, after living here for 4 years, we’re left trying to make sense of our time here. Did we leave our community in better shape than we found it? Were we a positive change? We’ve helped build a school through experiential education and technology training programs. We befriended many locals who we call good friends. Just before leaving, we had dinner with a Korean family that we’ve been friends with for 13 years. Their son and daughter were in my class back in Vietnam and have now gone on to college and points beyond. How time sure flies.

The start of a big trip is always exciting but there is calming joy that builds near its end and the growing prospect of coming home. Swapping stories with best friends. Reconnecting after a long hiatus. That warm embrace. However, leaving forever is hard, and the excitement of what lies ahead has been tempered by melancholy of an uncertain future and not knowing when we’ll see our closest confidants from here, or if we ever will again.

So our great trip finally begins. In the meantime, look for ‘Naked Saunas with Strangers‘ coming to a town near you.

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Part 4-The Travel Gear Diaries: Clothes for a Year of Travel

From now on, we’ll be living out of our backpacks.

At 8:30 yesterday morning a small group of movers paid Hyundai Hometown building #209, apartment #1703 a visit and boxed up 15 square meters of life’s belongings for a restful hibernation in long term storage. We knew this day would come, but it’s a tad discomforting to sleep on a camping mattress in our own bedrooms for the last week of school.

Some of the basic premises of our clothes:

  • They had to be functional and comfortable.
  • We are packing only neutral colors that don’t draw attention to us in areas where we want to keep a low profile (like Nairobi).
  • The color schemes could easily matched with everything in the bag.

Here is a link to a spreadsheet that we’ve made to organize our clothes for a year of travel. Feel free to make a copy and start your own trip planning!

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My Favorite Social Media Strategies to Raise Website Traffic

As our trip departure is less than two weeks away, I’ve been ramping up social media over the last few weeks which has exploded traffic to our family’s travel site. Although I started this blog just under a year ago, I’ve spent the last 10 months focusing on writing core content which has resulted in roughly 40 posts on travel, education and technology. I’ve tinkered with different word press themes and now get to apply what I learned as a digital learning coach to share our story with a larger audience before we take off, literally.

Social media networks have massive potential to drive web traffic to you with its core features.

This is the sobering reality: we live in an age of ‘brain hacking’. With the amount of web content doubling every few years, anyone that starts a campaign, sells a product or who has a story to tell is competing with a deluge of information for views and site clicks which can be monetized with affiliated ads. It’s not just enough to make content worth reading, we need the curb-side adversing of clickable headlines as recommended by SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and writing transformed into ‘List-acles’ entitled “10 best things to do whenever and wherever”

How tech companies hack your brain. Your must see video of the day.

Social media use is mostly predicated by age, and Facebook still retains the lions share of percentage used by adults, especially for the older generation that are using it to rekindle old relationships and preserve new ones. Youtube is running strong, but microblogging platforms are creeping up and have their uses. For our big trip, we’d be using Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. In my word press site analytics, the statistics are pretty consistent with the graphic below as my referring sites with the exception of ‘youtube’, although our youtube channel is still in it’s infancy. Here are the strategies I’m using to help drive traffic to our site:

A Facebook Page: The Fuse Is Lit

My wife and I have been avid users of Facebook for over a decade, but use it to connect with friends (not students) and not push any sort of agenda on anyone. For our trip, I didn’t want to link to our own personal Facebook profiles, but rather create a facebook ‘page’ that is searchable and we could put trip updates on, and links to blog posts. I created a Facebook page called ‘Nomadic Edventures‘ and have started sharing blog posts, youtube videos from travel so far this year and it will end up serving like a digital journal.

Facebook pages allow you spend a little money on promotional ads to boost posts with specific audiences around the world.

If I had to describe my facebook strategy, I’d call it “reserved” and waiting for just the right time to share with all my 300+ friends who I’ll all invite when we start our trip. I’ve spent the equivalent of a Starbucks coffee on 2 ad campaigns and despite having a Facebook page for only a month, it’s my top referring site.

Pinterest Boards: Community Building Blocks

Pinterest is a news feed that changes based on your search history. I started some Pinterest boards only a month ago, and the growth has been exponential. For the first week, I had no monthly visitors. By week two: 75 monthly visitors. By week 3, I had a measly growth of up to 376 monthly visitor. However, by week 4 my average monthly visitors grew from 6,500 to now 21 thousand monthly viewers! Damn. Here is how I did it:

Our Pinterest profile. Make sure to have a good byline and site link.
  • Create and Join a Variety of Boards. Our trip will be focused on travel destinations, education and homeschooling resources, so I wanted to create enough variety to attract viewers to the myriad of topics. I joined some group boards from others that have given me ideas for travel, and even workout routines and cooking recipes.
  • Save Posts from Your Blog to Pinterest Boards. Since people may find you on Pinterest instead of your actual blog’s URL, you should save posts from your blog there which will direct visitors back to your site. I created a board called ‘Nomadic Edventures‘ and I’ve been pinning posts from my blog to it, which redirects users back to my site.
  • Use ‘Canva’ to Advertise What the Post is About. When you ‘pin’ articles to your pinterest board, you’ll have the choice of which image to showcase for the post. ‘Canva‘ is a super easy graphic design generator that can weave text with beautiful images to help ‘hook’ your readers rather than just with a pretty picture. (See mine at the bottom of this post)
  • Promote Your ‘Pillar’ Posts. My ‘pillar posts’ are the best posts on my subject matter and I’ve spent a small fee to promote them with keywords. You have to spend money to make money, and I’ve just about made back what I’ve spent.
  • Re-share Pins with ‘Tailwind’ and Tribes. Once you’ve made content, sharing and re-sharing it is essential, but can be time consuming. Tailwind creates the ability to share articles and whole Pinterest boards on a schedule, so you can set it up for a reoccurring schedule for the week ahead. Share to ‘Tribes’ who share similar interests.

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Instagram: Pictures Made Easy

Most of my photography work over the last decade has been underwater but I have started sharing 2-3 Instagram posts per day which has grown my Instagram following from 35 followers to about 300 in a couple weeks. Still modest by Kim Kardashian standards, but a 500% increase is still impressive. In fact, I started going through my hard drives and finding that I have about 2 decades worth of photos that I hadn’t shared with the world so I’ve been uploading my best stills to Google Photos and have been adjusting and cropping my favorite images from over the years and will have a boatload of media to share this year from all around the world no matter where we are.

As Instagram and microblogging is easier to do on the fly rather than sitting down and writing a lengthly blog post, Instagram is a time efficient way to share fresh content quickly and keep your followers engaged. I embedded a 3×3 grid on our blog’s sidebar widget from our instagram feed and it became our third highest referring site. Here are some tips:

  • Focus on Beautiful Images. The slideshow above shows some skills we teach our photography students such as how to compose along rule of third lines, and interesting compositions with framing, leading lines, symmetry and broken patterns. Edit and crop before posting either in the settings app, or if it’s really HD and you want to have fun, apply Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop. I started using ‘Pixeloop’ to animate images with water, fire and movement.
  • Talk About It! Rather than indiscriminately sharing pictures with no rhyme or reason, write a few sentences to evoke thought, humor, motivation, inspiration or the human condition. Be honest and colorful depending on your niche. People respond to stories.
  • Leave the ‘Look Ma!’ Pictures for Facebook My mother would love nothing more than to see pictures of Lisa, Ava and myself, but it’s not that interesting to others. Your mother is probably not on instagram anyways.
  • Interact with Your Followers I’ve been getting more and more comments from people and it’s been a joy to reply to commenters and forge positive digital friendships. They’ll know that their opinions are valued and appreciated.
  • User ‘Everliker’ for a Follower Boost! ‘Everliker’ is a chrome extension that automatically likes hashtags that you designate, so when anyone posts an Instagram with a certain hashtag, your bot will ‘like’ it and the user may be more inclined to follow you. Hey, if the Russians can use bots to influence an election, why can’t we?
  • Stretch Yourself. What has been the most interesting to me in working with social media over the years is when you ‘stretch yourself’ by posting something outside of your normal interests. Below is a collage I made with ‘Layout’ for instagram and got a bunch of followers from the macrophotography community. You should hear our gushing, geeky chats peppered with the scientific names of nudibranchs.

Twitter: My Travel Tribe

When I created a new twitter handle for our trip, I didn’t get our first followers until month 4. My edtech handle has over a thousand followers, and I use it frequently for community building dialogue with other professionals. It wasn’t just until last month that my twitter followers for ‘Nomadic Edventures’ got over a hundred follows and I’ve been getting about a dozen per week. Twitter is good for ‘banter’ and you can have discussions with individuals or groups of people that stretch out over days like a funny email from work. Here’s what I’ve learned:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Have an Inviting Profile. Have a nice image, header image and description to showcase your interests. If you have a website, include it in the website link next to your profile.

Share with Influencers, Not Just Hashtags. Mention influential people and and they may share your post to their followers. I wrote a post on ‘Staying Fit While Traveling‘ and included @ShaunT in my tweet and he retweeted it to his 280,000 devotees, giving me a follower boost. Use ‘Followerwonk‘ to learn who the top influencers are on twitter on your topic of interest.

Share and Reshare Posts to Multiple Hashtags. Moz reported that the average tweet has a lifespan of 18 minutes. Share old posts with images to direct new viewers to your material.

Participate! I’m in an ongoing discussion thread that’s been happening for about 2 weeks with a group of travel bloggers who are giving each other website advice. Step up and share with interested parties and include these users in your tweets.

Use ‘Tweetdeck’ To Organize Discussions. This is a chrome extension that allows you to organize hashtags, posts from specific users, messages and mentions into customizable columns so you can track the twitter sphere.

Share 3-7 Tweets Per Day. If users see you contributing content on a frequent basis and have interesting things to share, they’ll think you’re worth a follow. If you’re perusing articles on your iPad or reader, share them out!

Engage With Trending Hashtags. Post a travel video or picture on Tuesday for #traveltuesday, share an old photo on Thursday for #throwbackthursday and follow new people before the weekend on #followfriday

Have Links to Your Twitter Profile. On our website, we added icon links to Twitter (and all other social media) so each form of social media has the potential to direct users to platforms that they prefer.

Little Passports

Youtube: Visual Literacy

Making good quality videos is time consuming, but my goal is to make a video from every country we visit showcasing its attractions or the experience of homeschooling our daughter while there. I may do a 2 or 3 part series like I did from Mongolia last fall for some countries that we may do extensive stays in like Morocco and Tanzania. Our channel has a paltry 7 videos at the moment, but may have a hundred or more by next June. Here are some ways I’m leveraging it:

Having Multiple Playlists. Travel destination videos will require the most work, but will probably be the most interesting. The 360 theta camera will be nice for getting 360 degree videos to capture those magic moments that I’m calling ‘The Space Between’ which don’t require a lot of time spent on editing and Ava will eventually have a channel showing her digital creations.

Using Cards and End Screens. After making videos, going into the video editor and adding cards and end screens will redirect viewers to others videos on your channel. It’s a great way of easily keeping people engaged and links your videos effortlessly.

Incorporating High Quality Drone Footage. I’ve written about the power of using drones and the 4K shots and perspectives are pretty cool. See the opening shot for the Mongolia video above.

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