Life of Luxury Above 30,000 Feet

 

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For the economically challenged people out there, like myself, whose biggest desire in life is to travel, this is the biggest tip and best information you will ever get in your life. Are you ready for it? Befriend a flight attendant or a pilot!

I cannot stress enough to you how this will change your life. Obviously, I am not advocating that you go out and try to befriend someone in the field merely to use them, because that is clearly not friendship. However, if a friend does come along in this profession…..hold on for dear life!!!!!!

I recently got a glimpse into the alluring life of flight crews when I had the privilege of accompanying a friend (who is a flight attendant) on a trip to Namibia. I got to see the other side of the flight experience which is, in my opinion, a very intriguing lifestyle, and these are the three insights I have gained.

  1. First things first, when you are a pilot or flight attendant, your friends and family can travel with you at an incredibly discounted price and get spoiled rotten!

When you are traveling with the flight crew, everything is different. I was given a ‘jump seat’ ticket, which really is just permission to come along on the flight and grab whatever seat is open. On the flight to Namibia, however, I was extremely privileged to get a business class seat and was spoiled rotten! White sparkling wine before takeoff and all that I desired to drink and eat throughout the entire 10 hour flight. Not to mention an extremely comfortable seat that completely reclined. I enjoyed it thoroughly and even though I can never usually sleep on planes, in business class I was able to sleep for the majority of the flight. The crew actually made fun of me when I woke up, saying they had to keep checking on me to see if I was still alive.

And the food!!!! I cannot emphasize enough how good the food was. The food in economy is normally just edible and you eat it simply because your body requires some sort of sustenance. However, the food in business class was real food that I could actually enjoy. Good enough actually that I would order it in an actual restaurant out of choice as opposed to accepting it out of necessity. The only downside to this experience is that now I will never feel satisfied in economy again. Oh first world issues.

Finally, there is an air of freedom involved when you aren’t just another passenger. I could move through the cabin with ease, lingering in the kitchen to talk to my new flight attendant friends without someone asking “can I help you.” I even got chocolate and candy brought to my seat, and a whole bunch of other preferential treatment. Yes, I realize that this makes me a shallow child, reveling in the fact that I got a whole bunch of extras and perks, but honestly, tell me you wouldn’t feel good about that too?

  1. Although they may work hard on the plane, they get to play hard on the ground.

When we arrived at our destination we were shuttled to our hotel, one of the most gorgeous hotels that I have ever stayed at, and it was of course free of cost since layover accommodations are covered by the airline. The crew assured me that it isn’t always this nice, but I choose to believe that their life is an endless string of exotic locations and fancy hotels. Which, let’s be honest, it mostly is.

I spent the next 3 days in one of the most beautiful and exotic countries I have ever been to, essentially just playing, like grown up children. Our time was filled with wild safari and sand dune adventures, exceptionally good meals, and a lot of hanging out, talking, eating, drinking, and laughing. It was the most fun that I’ve had in a very long time…and with complete strangers! There is a sort of comradery within a flight crew that is very compelling. Of course, again, I was assured by the flight crew that this is not always the case, but again I choose to believe it is always a fantastic experience full of fun and making new friends. Please don’t tell me differently, I prefer to keep this blissful bubble alive and not let it burst!

  1. Hard work comes with its own perks.

Now this is the part that I was very shocked and excited about. Cockpit access! Perhaps the biggest perk, and this is not allowed on all airlines, but I was allowed into the cockpit to talk with the pilots and get a feeling of what the job entails – most pilots seem to enjoy the interest and intrigue others show in their work and relish the ability to show you exactly what it’s all about. And why not? We all feel that way about our passions.

On the flight over I merely joined the cockpit crew for an hour or so, since I was so comfortable in my business class seat and spent many hours sleeping like a rock. On the way back, though, I was privileged to be able to be in the cockpit for takeoff and landing, and could stay and hangout for as long as I wanted. Experiencing the flight from the cockpit is an incredibly unique and educational experience. There is really nothing like seeing a plane take off or land, essentially right from the driver’s seat. And again, to be honest and a little childish, it was just seriously cool! Not that I was ever a nervous flier before, but I actually feel even more secure flying now knowing what I know about the whole procedure.

I am very thankful that I got this little glimpse into the working life of a flight crew. Although I know I experienced the best of it, not the worst, I still think that for the most part it is a very compelling lifestyle and I am very thankful for all of the work that goes into making our flights safe and comfortable.

 

Published in Fusia magazine, April 2015

It’s Time for Africa

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I was recently given the opportunity of a lifetime. I have always wanted to travel to Africa and go on a safari tour, but it has never been in the budget. The destination was always so far away and required a lot of planning and saving. Recently, however, I was asked if I would like to go along on a trip to Namibia with my brother’s sister-in-law, who is a flight attendant for Condor. I was so excited and obviously jumped on the opportunity. A trip of a lifetime for a fraction of the cost; how does anyone say no to that? Of course the only set back is that layovers are short: we were to fly in Monday night and fly back out Thursday evening, but 3 days in Africa are better than no days in Africa. So naturally I said “absolutely!” and for only €280 I was on my way to my dream vacation.

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When we landed in Windhoek, we were greeted at the runway with a warm breeze and by the biggest grasshoppers I have ever seen in my life! They flew around the tarmac like planes taking off and landing, and I found them to be quite intriguing. Once we passed through customs and baggage claim, we were shuttled to the hotel in a van that was arranged by the airline.

Lesson #1, in Namibia they drive on the left side of the road.

I admit that I was quite happy to sit back and let everyone else drive, because I felt very disoriented cruising down what felt like the wrong side of the road to me at a high speed. Nevertheless, we arrived safely at the Hilton Hotel in Windhoek where we were greeted by an incredibly friendly staff. The hotel was absolutely gorgeous and I would recommend it to anyone who may be visiting the city.

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After a fantastic sleep in our luxurious suits, we woke up to a sunny +26 day and were ready for some fun! We decided to consult a tour guide who planned an action packed schedule for us which included a tour of the sand dunes as well as a safari tour for an incredibly reasonable price.

Although it was around a 4 hour drive out to the Namibia dessert, it was well worth it. The scenery changed from lusciously green and mountainous to soft drifts of sand with hardly any vegetation. And the vegetation that we did see was incredibly impressive and completely exotic and foreign.

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To consider how drastically the landscape changed in only a matter of hours was baffling to me.

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The sand dunes were incredibly beautiful all on their own. We walked through massive ranges of sandy peaks and were able to appreciate the vastness of this dessert. It is a little difficult to describe, but the way the sand glistens in the sun is unbelievably breathtaking.

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We then ended our sand dune experience with a little bit of fun. The rest of the crew decided to go quad riding and tried sand boarding, but I decided to enjoy a nice leisurely ride through the dunes with my furry friend Naftali.

Lesson #2, Namibia has camels!

I was shocked for some reason to find out that Namibia had camels and was very excited to partake in my very first camel riding experience. It was a bumpy and rather uncomfortable ride, but it was incredibly fun and a great way to experience the dunes. Plus Naftali seemed to like me and was incredibly sweet. I’m still convinced that she was smiling for the camera.

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We then left the dunes and drove for another 4 hours to embark on a safari tour.

Lesson #3, expect to drive for extended periods of time if you want to experience the wonders of Namibia.

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Obviously a safari tour is the quintessential activity to participate in when on a trip to Africa and was what I was looking forward to the most. Again our weather was fantastic and we were able to enjoy our ride through the landscape. We saw countless different kinds of wild game, including antelopes, springbok, a wilder beast, impalas, and various other kinds of game that I can’t even remember the names of now. We also saw zebras, wild boars, giraffes, rhinos, and crocodiles, and had the fortune to see an entire family of monkeys run across the road in front of our cars while we were still driving out to our destination.

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There is something completely amazing about seeing these animals in their natural environment. It was an utterly fascinating experience unlike anything I have ever had before. There are so few moments in your daily life when you are amazed by what you see right in front of you, so I consider these moments to be priceless. Seeing rhinos walking together, feeling a thrilling rush when they started to charge at the jeep, or seeing a mother giraffe with her baby; these are sights that many people will never get to experience first-hand.

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Forgive me for being repetitive, but it is absolutely amazing; there is no other word that can adequately describe experiencing something firsthand that is so awe-inspiring. I know as a travel writer I am supposed to be able to portray these experiences in wonderfully descriptive words, but the experience has left me relatively speechless. The pictures, however, will hopefully be able to covey the thousands of words just out of my reach that can describe this experience.

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Unfortunately we didn’t see any elephants or big cats, but that is the nature of a safari…with such a vast amount of space to cover, you won’t always get to see everything that you want to. All in all though, it was a fantastic time and I feel incredibly privileged to have been able to partake in it.

Our last day in Namibia we decided to do a little souvenir shopping in the city and then relax poolside in the sun before our evening flight out.

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Of course it is ideal to have a little more time to really be able to take in everything that the country has to offer. I would very much like to go back and spend more time there; however, I feel exceedingly fortunate to have had those 3 days to experience such an impressive country and to have made incredible memories that will last a lifetime.

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Published in Fusia magazine, April 2015

Meditations on Prague

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There are very few moments in your life or places that you visit that actually change you. I had one of these moments in a very special place that I have and will continue to hold dear for my entire life when I visited Paris 10 years ago. There was something about that city that made me feel like I was coming home. I absolutely fell in love with it and it continues to be my favorite place on earth. Granted I haven’t seen the whole world yet, so my list of comparisons is quite short, but so far, in the past 10 years, nothing else has come close to its beauty or has been able to rival it in any way. No other city has touched me so deeply and moved me: nothing has changed me.

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That is…until now! Fortune once again smiled my way as I had the wonderful opportunity to spend this past week in Prague. This week was a dream come true, as I have been wanting to visit Prague for many years now. I knew that it was beautiful from my own research into the city, but there was nothing that could actually prepare me for the way the place would move me. Although unlike Paris I didn’t feel like I was coming home, I felt more like I had fallen into this wonderful, beautiful, fairytale-like world that at moments left me completely breathless.

Prague has existed in all its glory for 1,100 years. It is a place of exceedingly great history and has been walked by some of the most impressive historical icons. It is the birthplace of Franz Kafka, the ground of Bohemia, and the declared resting place of the mythical Golem who protected the city’s Jews from violence. The architecture and the history tell such complex and interwoven stories that are simply not found in North America. It gives one the feeling of being immersed in a story, of walking the streets and being a part of something that is eternal: it existed long before you got there and will continue to exist long after you are gone. It’s a feeling that I can’t quite accurately explain, but it mirrors the sentiment that Shakespeare expressed in his sonnet 18:

 

“But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,

Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,

When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”

 

Although Shakespeare was writing about immortalizing a person he loved by giving this person life within the lines of his poetry, I feel the same can be said about a city, particularly when that city has not only been written about and immortalized in verse, but is also the birthplace of the creative works within which it has been immortalized. The city has a life and history or story all of its own, to which we can become observers, but it exists without us and despite our being there to experience it. And yet, because we experience it, we add to its life…we ‘eternalize’ the story and history by being witness to it.

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This is perhaps too complex of a concept for this type of travel article, and I apologize for that. I guess my inner nerd is showing. However, being a literary scholar, there is something that amazes me about inhabiting the same space that some of my literary heroes not only inhabited before me, but that is the very space in which the works that I have studied and loved were created. As I toured through the Jewish Quarters I remembered stories of Golem and the myth came to life: for a brief moment I could believe in the mythical creature and the stories surrounding him that I learned so much about. When I walked past the Old Town Square and the Astronomical Clock, I could retrace Franz Kafka’s steps as he walked the streets of Prague contemplating his frenzy of thoughts that became The Metamorphosis and The Trial.

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Perhaps Golem and Kafka aren’t as alluring to everyone as they are for me, so I assure you that simply being able to appreciate the architecture and culture that was the foundation of so many works of art is beauty enough to attract you to this city. Some of the “main attractions” that I was most impressed by were Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge, and St. Vitus Cathedral, but I have to say (and this is perhaps again the literary scholar in me) I was extremely impressed by the Strahov Monestery and its immense libraries. Although it is an exhausting and long walk up the mountain side to get there, it is incredibly worth it. There are two vast libraries, one theological that house nearly every translation and version of the bible, and the other is philosophical, housing works from some of the most important pilosophy scholars as well as works of natural science and history. The libraries hold around 280 000 titles and house some of the oldest manuscripts, the oldest of which dates back to 860. It also displays incredible and significant artwork, including beautiful painted ceilings by Viennese painter Anton Maulbertsch (1794).

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Ultimately the city is breathtaking and very easy and pleasant to walk (as long as you don’t wear high heels that get stuck in the cobble stone streets and walkways). There are so many things to see and do; we even took in an Opera on our last night there. If you love architecture and impressive historical and artistic history, then Prague is definitely a city that you should visit.

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All photos, except for Strahov Monastery, were taken by Sloveigh Treis.

 

Published in Fusia magazine, March 2015

Colouring Outside the Lines

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Right from the beginning, we are taught to think within confines. We need to colour within the lines, we need to go to school and get a degree or multiple degrees, and we need to get a good job. We are told that these are the things that are meaningful and lead to a happy and fulfilled life. However, for me, I have never been happier than when I am colouring outside of the lines and treading off of the beaten, traditional path.

As much of a free spirit as I’ve always felt I could be, I have tended to play things quite safe and practical throughout most of my life; always putting things off until later when it was more sensible. So when I decided to uproot my life and move halfway across the world with no certainties in hand, my friends who know me best were all shocked; they said “that’s so unlike you,” to which I replied “that’s the point.”

I realized that the old adage is true: “If you want something that you’ve never had before, you have to do something that you’ve never done before.” I’ve made all of the right steps practically speaking; I got all of the appropriate degrees, I’ve done all of the internships, and I’m advancing in my career, however slowly that may be. However, I realized that there is more to life and being happy than advancing in one’s career or chosen profession and there’s more to life than getting your ducks in a row and working towards the ‘married with kids, blissful little white picket fence life,’ as nice as that may be. There is something about flying free and going off of the ‘responsible’ path that is exhilarating and worthwhile. There are certain interludes or detours that you never regret taking in your life; indeed, some of these moments are the moments when you are actually living your life to the fullest.

So, I decided that this year I would continue to ‘seize the day’ by saying yes to all new and exciting opportunities, which includes doing the things that I’ve never done before. As a result, I have made some of the most worthwhile experiences in just a few months…all from saying yes to the unknown. I said yes to moving to Europe, I said yes to going on a trip to Prague with complete strangers, I said yes to flying to Namibia and going on a Safari with my brother’s sister-in-law – even though I don’t really know her all that well either. But in each circumstance, I’ve made amazing memories and experienced things that I otherwise never would have.

So, when some of my new Berlin friends asked me to partake in a Spartan Race in June, I naturally said yes. I have NEVER done anything like this before. It is going to push me to my absolute limit, both physically and mentally, but that is exactly why I want to do it. In agreeing to this I’ve said yes to running through mud, climbing over walls, crawling under barbed wire, and pushing myself to the brink of exhaustion and past it; all of it simply for the experience. I don’t care about winning or losing, I just care about actually doing it. And I know that it is going to be an incredible experience and I am extremely excited about it.

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Believe it or not, I have never been happier or more excited about things than in these past few months, and this is all from simply by saying yes. We tend to say no to too much in our lives, I think, but there should be a time for saying yes. Even something as simple as agreeing to go and play indoor volleyball and actually playing, regardless of how bad I am at volleyball, instead of sitting on the side lines has been liberating for me. It is small, but it is a big achievement for me, because I am actively participating in every aspect of my life instead of passively waiting for things to turn around. At a certain point, you need to stop playing it safe and you need to stop sitting on the sidelines of your own life. You need to make active decisions and you need to get in the game! Not every risk pays off, but some of the most rewarding experiences come from taking a chance, taking a leap of faith, and going outside of your comfort zone.

There is a time for responsibility and practicality, but sometimes you just need to think outside of the box and colour outside of the lines.

 

Published in Fusia magazine, April 2015

Passion over Practicality

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So, it’s tax time again, and that means going over everything from last year; all of your old transit receipts, charitable donations, etc. It has a similar effect for me as New Year’s day does: you relive the past year in a flurry of papers.

I looked back on this past year and saw a lot of ritual and routine. I spent this much on transit to get to work, this much on rent, so on and so forth. It looked….well….pretty boring. And you know what….it FELT boring. I am never one to discount any blessing or privilege in my life. I know that I had a relatively good job, meaning it was steady, dependable work, it was easy, and I was working with people who were all really nice and that I really liked. Yet, something felt like it was missing.

I’ve always been a bit of a restless person. Perhaps it’s because I am still growing constantly as a person, but when I am caged down in one thing for too long, I always tend to want to spread my wings and fly away. The fever for flight came to me again last year around this time. I had to fly to Germany because my twin brother was having a very serious brain surgery and I wasn’t about to let him go through that alone. The trip was great, the surgery was a huge success, and then I headed back home feeling thankful that everything went so well. But then, I began to be plagued by the realization that I had just used a week of my vacation time (which by the way wasn’t anything close to a vacation) and that I only had one week left. The year had barely started! And I knew that that last week should be reserved for spending time with family around Christmas time.

I know I know, first world problems, but I felt completely trapped. I suddenly began to feel the weight of the drudgery of my life – every single day the same – and I became exhausted and very unhappy. Logically I knew that I didn’t really have a right to feel so upset, too many people have it so much worse, but I couldn’t change the way I felt. I felt stuck in a point of my life where it didn’t seem like anything was going to change any time soon. And day-in-day-out I took the bus and train with miserable people heading to a job they hate, spending the greater part of their lives unhappy, because they have to pay bills and they have to meet other responsibilities.

So, I decided to make a plan. I decided that I wasn’t going to allow myself to end up like that. I decided that I needed to be the change that I wanted to see in my own life. I began to save as much from each paycheck as I could, applied for a German work and travel VISA, and by the end of the year I had quit my job and was flying off to spend the next year in Europe….or at least for however long I could until my money ran out.

Trust me. This decision was not arrived at easily. I spent a long time thinking “I can’t quit my job and flit off to Europe…that’s irresponsible, I still have a huge amount of student loans to pay back.” I gave myself a million reasons to stay in my prison, including the fact that I couldn’t afford it. But one day it sort of just hit me: I don’t have to get up and go to work today if I don’t want to. I don’t have to keep maintaining this same routine if I don’t want to. All of the “responsibilities” that tether us to a life that we really don’t want to live are merely excuses that we tell ourselves which ultimately keep us sheltered in a little secure (but miserable) bubble and keep us for achieving our dreams.

I wanted to head to Germany, not only because my brother and his family are here, but because all of my life I have wanted to travel. While in school I kept on putting it off, saying after this I will go or after that I will go. Then when I started working, the same thing. But the “after that” never really comes. I knew that the job I was in last year was always meant to be temporary, but I realized that if I did get into that permanent, career starting job (which starts at 2 weeks of vacation a year) then I was never going to be able to travel or live abroad.

Once I made the decision I noticed two things: 1. I was happier and I felt less miserable with my situation and less trapped. 2. The majority of people I told all said “that’s amazing, I’m so jealous, I wish I could have done the same thing.”

This response made me think of a very important concept that I want to live my life by: I never want to let “I want to” turn into “I wish I had.” I want my life to be extraordinary, not ordinary, and I want to live it with passion, not just with practicality. The safe road is safe for a reason, but anything worthwhile in life comes with a little bit of a risk.

 

Published in Fusia magazine, March 2015