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Why I Started a Travel Blog During Coronavirus
The world has been reshaped by the onset of COVID-19. Destinations are closed and all international movement has been put on hold. Travel seems to be the last thing on people's mind right now. So why have I chosen this moment to start up a travel blog? There's a great song by the unforgettable Dionne Warwick, and it goes like this: "all we need now, is love, sweet love..". Everyone knows the tune, and it comes to mind every time we are in a state of mutual grief, or when we need an extra bit of love and comfort. Now is definitely one of those moments. The onset of Coronavirus has changed so many things across the globe. The places we've dreamed about visiting have been altered by illness, fear and, in the down curve of COVID-19, economic hardship. Dream destinations have become ghost towns, national landmarks are locked tight. The world is unrecognizable from what it was three months ago. In spite of all this, there are a lot of beautiful stories that have come out of this epidemic too. In the last few months, we have seen so many actions of love worldwide; urbanites singing cheerful tunes on balconies; drive by birthday and wedding celebrations; heroic deeds of volunteers distributing food to those in need; and ever-present noble actions of healthcare workers on the front lines of the madness. No matter how bad things have gotten, we support one another. Just as we need love, we need travel too, and we need it now more than ever. No, I'm not suggesting we get up and move from place to place while we are self-isolating; quarantine rules exist for good reason, after all. I'm talking about maintaining a global perspective even while we stay at home, about maintaining our interest in and our care about the world outside our own. During times of hardship, we tend to focus on our immediate surroundings. Like turtles, we shrink inside our shells, in hopes that this will protect us; it's only natural. However, the danger of doing this is that we lose focus on the fact that there is a beautiful world outside our own, with an amazing rich history and a diverse series of wonders. Fear, especially fear of one another and fear of the unknown, distances us more from one another and makes us more vulnerable. Don't lose sight of the fact that even though we aren't able to travel right now, the world is filled with beautiful areas to explore and remarkable peoples to learn about, each to be respected for their own history and traditions. To maintain a focus on the global picture is to realize that no matter how worried or scared we may feel right now, we are not alone; we have an incredible world filled with people who support one another. Yes, the places we wish to visit are currently closed, and they will need time to recover. But rest assured that they will always be there. Italy has seen incredibly hard times, but Coronavirus hasn't changed the beauty of the spirit of the Italian people. It didn't change the culture of love and camaraderie when Italians were standing on their balconies, singing to one another to spread love and joy even while trapped in their apartments. The Italy - and the world - we know and love will recover, and the amazing characteristics that make each culture unique will always be there for us to enjoy. Right now, it's important to reach beyond our immediate surroundings. Participate in a digital experience, discover fun facts about places on your bucket list, use tools to explore destinations from your living room, and formulate travel plans for when the Coronavirus era passes. We will get through this together, and when we do, amazing opportunities for exploration will be there waiting for us.
Get Your Cultural Fix: Five Fantastic Museums to Visit During COVID-19
Clearly, the world knows we need a cultural boost right now. We are all suffering from the effects of COVID-19, whether directly or indirectly, and no country has been left untouched. Fortunately, with the amazing abilities of technology and the ingenuity of designers, developers and programmers all over the world, we can experience spectacular museums and sate our cultural appetite all while we follow social distancing restrictions. Here are five fantastic museums to explore while you're staying safe at home. Grab your coffee, put on some cozy slippers, and get inspired. Happy travels! #1: The Louvre Museum | Paris We begin our morning with a trip to Paris, to see some amazing exhibits at the great Louvre Museum. If you're not super familiar with the Louvre, it's considered the world's largest art museum, and it deserves its title. Located near the Arc de Triomphe in the heart of the Paris, the Louvre plays h ost to an enormous collection of art, sculpture and antiquities. The Venus de Milo , Liberty Leading the People and the Mona Lisa are just a few of the famous works of art that live here. The Museum is housed in the Louvre Palace (built back in the 12th and 13th centuries), and has an ever-r ecognizable glass pyramid entrance. Waiting times here are usually insane and visitors must reserve tickets well in advance. Fortunately for us, we have no line during our visit to the Louvre today. We rub elbows with no tourists, and we're able to spend as long as we want looking at the exhibits. Like many museums around the world, the Louvre has shut its doors, and instead welcomes visitors through a series of digital experiences in the form of videos, panoramic photos and 360° gallery tours. BEGIN WITH A VIRTUAL TOUR Start your visit with a quick scan of the museum map , and gain appreciation for just how much talent these walls hold. Take your pick from four virtual tour s * (or participate in all of them); you can pause your visit or go back and revisit a gallery at any time. Begin in the Louvre's Petite Galerie and see the 'Advent of the Artist' exhibit. Use the series of arrows to navigate the exhibit space, and click on the magnifying glass and question mark icons on either side of an artwork to see it up close and read information about the artist. Next, cruise over to the Egyptian Antiquities wing and hang out with the pharaohs . Finally, enjoy the delicate architecture of the Rotonde , which leads to a series of rooms presenting the history of the Louvre as a palace and museum. Finish your tour by gawking at the incredible painted ceiling of the Galerie d'Apollon , which was destroyed by a fire in 1661 and rebuilt. Use the orange navigation bars at the top of the window to see highlights of the impressive stucco work, paintings, restoration projects and, to top if all off, an up-close view of the gilded restored masterpiece.
*Enable Flash player on your web browser to experience the virtual content at the Louvre. EXPLORE MORE WITH A VIDEO Take advantage of the Louvre's video library, both on their website video page , and also on their Youtube channel . You can watch short films about sculpture, metalworking and paintings in one of 70+ videos on the website, and the Youtube channel hosts a nice mix of presentations on exhibits, discussions with museum conservators and video shorts on art techniques. I've created my own Louvre playlist on Youtube that will give you many additional walk-through gallery views and insight into the Louvre's marvelous collections. IMMERSE YOURSELF IN A 360 ° VISIT WITH THE MONA LISA To commemorate the 500-year anniversary of the death of Leonard da Vinci, the Louvre gathered an array of the artist's paintings to create a retrospective of his career, and highlight the importance he placed on the science behind painting. You can get a great overview of the exhibit in video form here , or page through the booklet from the exhibit here . Take advantage of the Louvre's virtual reality experience, and get up close and personal with Da Vinci's most famous masterpiece, the Mona Lisa . Download and install the free app on your Android or iOs (search for "Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass" in your app store), and enjoy the experience, which will give you a quick background on the Louvre, and show you the famous work of art up close. BONUS: ENJOY A CONCERT The Louvre Museum has provided a selection of concerts filmed at the Louvre Auditorium for you to enjoy throughout the COVID-19 lockdown. Grab your headphones or reach for the remote and turn up the volume. Enjoy the music here .
#2: The Metropolitan Museum of Art | New York City Our next stop is to New York's famed Metropolitan Museum of Art, located on the upper east side of Manhattan. With its iconic marble column exterior and grand entrance hall, the Met has an incredible collection of Greek and Roman sculpture, Egyptian art (including an entire Egyptian temple), Near Eastern and European statuary, contemporary and medieval paintings and an impressive arms and armor gallery. Though not as large as the Louvre, The Met is big enough and houses enough artifacts that it's impossible to see everything in one go. Believe me when I say that I tried (and failed) to do so during repeated research visits while studying ancient history at one of New York's great universities. I can honestly say that no matter how many times you visit this great museum, you'll always see and learn something new. The Met has also been the subject of several great heist films, including The Thomas Crown Affair and most recently the all-female addition to the Ocean's franchise. GET AN OVERVIEW Start your visit with a glance at the museum's nifty interactive map . Understand that the Met Museum system actually encompasses three museums -- the Metropolitan Museum of Art (located on Fifth Avenue), the Cloisters (located in the Bronx) and the Breuer Galleries (located on Madison Avenue). You can get a quick glimpse of the Cloisters in this 360 ° video that has views of the galleries (with beautiful stained glass windows), the cloister courtyard, and the herb gardens outside. You can also get an overview of the Met Breuer (home to modern and contemporary art) in this short 360° video . I hope you enjoy the typical New York traffic jam at the beginning of the video (rotate the view behind you to see it). TAKE A WALK THROUGH THE MUSEUM WITH THE 'MET 360° PROJECT' At times like these, when all three of the Met's locations are closed due to COVID-19, the Met is proud of their award-winning series of short videos that allow viewers to see some of their most iconic exhibits. Head to the Met 360° Project page on their website, and start with the video of the Great Hall; the main entrance of the Fifth Avenue Museum was designed by Architect Richard Morris in 1902. You'll get a feel for what this place is like on a normal day (with tourists pouring in through the columned entrance). The Met sees an impressive six million plus visitors a year, and they all file through this entrance. Don't forget to pan around within the video to look left and right, up and down and behind you; you may even notice some anxious museum guards making sure you don't touch the artwork.
Next, skip down to the Temple of Dendur video (direct link here ) to see the amazing Egyptian Temple that, dating from 15 B.C. and originally located in Nubia, was removed and relocated (brick by brick) to its current home inside the Museum. An amazing feat of archaeological reconstruction and engineering, the architecture of the room was designed specifically to look like the Temple's original surroundings in Nubia. You may also recognize this room as the setting of the Met Gala dinner in the Ocean's 8 film -- it's the scene where the famous necklace is "rediscovered" by Sarah Paulson. Learn more about the collections of Egyptian art located in this part of the Museum; they include statues, cartouches, manuscripts and even a few mummies. (If you want to have a tad more control as to where exactly within this room you can walk around, head over to Google's street view and glide around the Temple of Dendur.)
If you're a fan of American art and sculpture, check out the Charles Engelhard Court video (it's just below the Met Breuer on the same page; direct link here ). The American Wing of the Met has 20,000 works of art ranging from the colonial to early-modern periods; you can learn more about the collections here . There's a gilded sculpture of Diana on a pedestal, Tiffany stained-glass windows and fabulous mosaics. Can you see the two artists at work on their easels? That's a pretty typical things to see here at the Met. Finally, head over to the Arms and Armor galleries of the Met (the last video on the page; direct link here ). Who doesn't love to see knights in shining armor (literally) especially when they're riding through the room on horseback? (I've always loved this part of the Museum, but since it's usually the thing I see at the end of the day, I'm used to getting kicked out by the guards. Not today!) Check out the collection of swords, pistols, and gilded crests from Europe, the Middle East, Asia and America as you glide around the exhibit. Learn more about the collection and what's on view here . DELVE DEEPER WITH THE 'PRIMER', VIDEO CLIPS & AUDIO TOURS Explore specific exhibits and installations at the Met with the Met Primer . The primer gives you behind-the-scenes info and views of the new British galleries, paintings from the Dutch Golden Age and a discussion on why we paint by contemporary artist Gerhard Richter. Still not satisfied? The Met has provided over 1,500 videos ranging in topic from drawing the Met's iconic exterior using perspective to conserving Degas's famous ballerina sculpture (did you know the original sculpture that was displayed in 1881 had a fabric skirt and a human-hair wig?) If it's a treat for the ears you're after, listen to an audio tour of one of a number of exhibits and areas in Museum.
CHECK OUT AN ONLINE EXHIBIT WITH GOOGLE ARTS & CULTURE Google has partnered with the Metropolitan Museum of Art to create online exhibits and digital archives for a number of subject matter. Exhibits include costumes and fashion, music through time and Dutch painters. Visual archives contain images of paintings and drawings, statuary and embroidery, engravings, pottery and metalworking. Check out the Met Museum on Google . BONUS: ENJOY A CONCERT As the icing on the cake for our visit, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is planning to host their Balcony Bar concert series from home. The concerts, normally taking place on a second-floor balcony overlooking the Great Hall in the Museum, will (for the time being) be hosted online, and will take place every Friday night from 5-5:30pm EST. Fix yourself a drink, and enjoy the music. There's no need to register, just check this link for information.
#3: The British Museum | London Our third stop to get our cultural fix takes us back across the pond, this time to the great city of London. The British Museum is somewhere I've longed to go, and so I was particularly excited to see the content they had available for a digital visit. Known for being the world's oldest national public museum, The British Museum was founded in 1753 to house the collection of Sir Hans Sloane, and today includes treasures from Egypt, Greece, Rome, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas. Some of the Museum's most famous residents include sculptures from the Parthenon, an original Easter Island statue, and of course the famous Rosetta Stone, but there is so much to see here, that the list goes on and on. GET AN OVERVIEW & LISTEN TO AN AUDIO TOUR OR PODCAST Begin with a quick view of the Museum map . The British Museum contains three floors, and houses over eight million works of art. Collections are split into sections corresponding to areas and time periods. You can check out an audio tour that highlights artifacts from specific rooms in the museum, available for a small fee on Apple Music or Google Play , or listen in to one of the Museum's free podcasts. They range in topic, and are available on Soundcloud and Apple . WALK THROUGH THE MUSEUM WITH A 360 ° GOOGLE STREET VIEW If there's a contest for the most spaces within a museum you can visit virtually, then the British Museum wins hands down. With the Google Street View, you can take your pick of more than 60 galleries that are available to walk through at your leisure. Stand tall next to winged sculptures from the Assyrian capital at Nimrud (they used to decorate the palace of King Tiglath-Pileser III, who reigned from 744-727 BC), check out the Lewis Chessmen (a series of walrus ivory-carved chessmen from 1150-1175), be impressed by the intricacy of the double-headed serpent mosaic from Mexico (it was carved from one piece of cedar before being decorated with turquoise, coral and shell) and pay homage to the Museum's most famous resident, the Rosetta Stone (its inscriptions in Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic and Greek served as the key to deciphering and understanding Egyptian hieroglyphics for the first time). Want to see some mummies? The Museum has a collection of 140 mummies and sarcophagi, many of which are on display in the Egyptian wing. With so much to see here, you will not be disappointed. And the best part is - as the Museum's blog puts it - the virtual walk gives you the advantage of seeing the collection when the Museum is "blissfully quiet". Start at the main entrance on Great Russell Street, and walk through to the Great Court, admiring the columned entryway and the painted ceilings of the foyer on the way. The Great Court was originally designed to be a garden, but the building of book stacks in 1852 led to the this spot eventually becoming home of the Museum's library department. The Court 's iconic glass and steel roof is made from 3,212 panes of glass, and its construction began in 1999, during a redesign of the space. Hang a left around the round Reading Room (keeping it on your right) and across from the collections shop, you'll come to the entrance of the Ancient Egyptian Art wing . This is the home of the Rosetta Stone , and it's the first thing you'll see when you enter the room. Have a look left or right and gain appreciation for just how much Egyptian sculpture is here; the gallery actually continues far behind the Rosetta Stone. From this spot, you can roam about freestyle, or use any of the tour spots on the strip on the bottom of the Street View to quickly navigate to a specific spot in the Museum. Jump over to the Greek galleries and see the fantastic collection of friezes from the Parthenon in Greece (eighth image in the strip), or use the navigation arrow all the way on the right edge of the strip to see more options. There are over 30 different access points you can jump to, and all of them will allow you to roam about the galleries in 360°. Click on any "X" you see on the ground to be taken to that spot in the room, or look for navigation arrows on the floor that will tell you in which direction(s) you can move. (You may want to keep a copy of the museum map nearby, just in case you get lost while you roam.) TAKE A VIRTUAL TOUR OF THE GALLERIES Pair your Street View walk through the Museum with a more in-depth look at the galleries you're roaming around. The British Museum has created virtual tours for specific rooms, each with an overview of the gallery's contents and in-depth highlights of certain works of art. Visit the main gallery page, and then scroll down to choose which gallery you want to visit; they are organized by floor. EXPLORE DEEPER WITH A 3-D MODEL The British Museum goes a level beyond by offering a collection of 3-dimensional models of select works of art on view in the Museum. Zoom in and pan completely around 257 different works of art from all over the world. See the crisp curls of hair on a bust of Antonius, admire the intricate etchings on the back of one of the Lewis chessmen, and zoom into the fine details of the Egyptian, Demotic and Greek inscriptions on the front of the Rosetta stone. Click on a 3D model to open it, then click and drag to pan around the image. To move up or down within an image, hold Shift, then click and drag. BONUS: THE 'MUSEUM OF THE WORLD' PROJECT As a bonus for our visit to the British Museum, take advantage of the 'Museum of the World' , an interactive experience through time that is made possible thanks to a partnership between the British Museum and the Google Cultural Institute. Discover objects from the Museum's collection from prehistory through the present using an advanced web graphics library, and see links between objects from different moments in time. Scroll up or down to move forward or backward through history, and click on a color-coded dot to bring up a work of art. Each dot indicates a different piece from the Museum's collection, and they are organized by region of the world; lines that connect dots show how one artwork is connected to another. Hit the "find out more" button to bring up information about the object, which includes an audio introduction from one of the British Museum's curators, and a map showing the object's provenience.
#4: The Uffizi Gallery | Florence Next on our list is the world-renowned Uffizi Gallery, home to one of the largest collections of Renaissance art in the world. Situated in the heart of historic Florence, the U-shaped galleries of the Uffizi boast about 1.9 million visitors each year, who flock to see incredible works by Botticelli, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci. The buildings that make up the Gallery were originally designed by Giorgio Vasari in 1560 to house the "Uffizi", the administrative and legal offices of Florence. Due to its location on the edge of the Arno River, the Uffizi has been damaged by several floods over the years, and a particularly severe flood in 1966 caused serious damage to most of the art collections in the museum; they were saved by locals and tourists who were lovingly labelled "mud angels". With its famous sculptures and paintings and unique corridor design, the Uffizi is notoriously difficult to visit in person. In peak season, it's not unheard of for visitors to wait five hours just to get in the doors. VISIT AN ONLINE EXHIBIT Let's begin with a visit to one of the Uffizi's splendid online exhibits . You have twenty to choose from, and each exhibit ranges in narrative and artists works. The beauty of these online exhibits lies in the details of the artwork that we are given the opportunity to zoom in and really focus on. The range of topics between each exhibit allows us to make connections between the narratives and symbolism that flow through these paintings. Would we be able to recognize it on our own? Perhaps. But one thing's for sure: we would never be able to get close enough to see the details. TAKE A VIRTUAL TOUR OF THE UFFIZI'S NEW HALLS To take it a step further, the Uffizi has created a virtual tour in 360° that allows us to walk around the Hall of the Dynasties and the Galleries of Sixteenth-Century Venetian Painting. Take advantage of the fantastically crisp visual experience by clicking on any outlined circle on the ground to navigate around the rooms; click the smaller white circles to pull up information on a particular painting. I recommend making your tour full screen so you feel like you're standing right next to the masters. (To get your bearings at any time, look at the bottom left part of the tour screen; two different icons will allow you to view the floor plan of this exhibit, and jump to a spot of your choosing. WALK AROUND THE CORRIDORS & GALLERIES WITH GOOGLE STREET VIEW Head to the Google's Street View of the Uffizi Gallery to get the full walk around experience. Here you can move freely through the corridors and galleries, and see phenomenal sculptures and paintings with a completely unhindered view -- a nearly impossible feat during an in-person visit. Give yourself an overview of the Uffizi Gallery by checking out a floor plan of the museum. The Gallery is spread out on two floors, and contains one of the longest corridors in museum history; the Vasari Corridor is a kilometer in length, and is actually part of a separate museum that requires a guided tour. For the quintessential Uffizi experience, start your visit in the First Corridor , and stride among the beautiful sculptures and painted ceilings. Look up and appreciate Alessandro Allori's detailed frescoes from 1580-81. It's a beautiful day here in Florence, and sun in streaming in the windows; have a look outside and see if you can recognize some iconic landmarks, including the Palazzo Vecchio and the Ponte Vecchio . Wander through the well-known corridors, and dip into the gallery rooms. Want to see Leonardo da Vinci's famous Annunciation ; no problem. How about portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino by Piero della Francesca?; you can see them too. There are over 30 different access points you can click into (locate them in the strip on the bottom of the Street View window); some are associated with the most famous works of art here at the Uffizi. Click an access point to beam to that location in the Gallery, and have a look around. Use the directional navigation arrows on the floor to move about the rooms. LEARN MORE ABOUT SPECIFIC ARTWORK If you want more information on a work of art as you're standing in front of it, check out the Uffizi's nicely organized index of artworks . This index catalogs paintings, sculpture, drawings and architecture from the Uffizi Gallery, as well as the nearby Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens. Learn more about Botticelli's Birth of Venus and how she's connected to the Medici family, and have an up-close look at the mixture of modeling sketch and finished painted figures that make up Leonardo da Vinci's Adoration of the Magi San Donato . BONUS: GET UP CLOSE WITH SCULPTURES IN 3D With the Uffizi Digitization Project, you have the ability to see certain sculptures as 3-D models. Visit the artworks page, and click on the "Sculpture" filter to see the sculptures in the Uffizi Gallery. Sculptures that have a 3D model will showcase a link at the bottom of the description text. You can also access the Uffizi Digitization Project directly, and scroll through the many fantastic sculptures in their library. Once you click on a work of art, hit the play button to open the model, then enjoy the technology. Zoom in or out with your mouse to get close to the details of the sculpture, click and drag to rotate, and hold shift to move around. Get up close to the curly hair of a wild boar from Rome, and be impressed by the chiseled musculature of wrestlers from the first century B.C.; there are so many sculptures to appreciate here. Do you have a favorite? Mine might be the Sleeping Ariadne. #5: The Rijksmuseum | Amsterdam For our final stop of the day, we head north to the Netherlands. The Rijksmuseum is one of the prides of the Dutch, and was originally founded in The Hague in 1800. Later moved to Amsterdam, it was first located in the Royal Palace, and then moved to the Trippenhuis (a neoclassical mansion in the center of the city) before being relocated once again to its current home at Museum Square in the Amsterdam South borough of the city. The main building was designed by Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers in the Dutch neo-Renaissance style, and opened its doors in 1885. After an extensive ten-year renovation project that cost €375 million ($489M) and saw the refurbishment and reorganization of the galleries (only Rembrandt's Night Watch remains in the same spot), the Museum was reopened with pomp and circumstance in 2013. GET ORIENTED WITH A MUSEUM OVERVIEW The Rijksmuseum's website gives us a nice overview of the layout , with specifics on the famous halls and rooms pertaining to different centuries of art. Check out the design of the Atrium with its glass roof and polished Portuguese stone floors. Links on each page allow you to jump off to learn about the history of the building and galleries, and you can see an orientation map that pinpoints where you are in the Museum. You can even get some nice visuals of the exterior of this beautiful establishment, showcasing flowering tulip beds and neatly trimmed hedges. WALK AROUND THE HALLS WITH GOOGLE STREET VIEW & AN AUDIO TOUR The Rijksmuseum (like most of the museum on this list) has partnered with Google to allow visitors to walk around the Museum with Google Street View. There are five floors available for you to roam about, and they include everything from famous works by Rembrandt and Vermeer to a full size airplane from the 20th century. Get your bearings by starting out in the Atrium , and appreciate the spacious and luminous design of the room; look up to see the famous glass roof and cage-like lighting structures. The strip on the bottom of your window will allow you to pop into specific galleries and check out the most famous works of art that are housed here. You can jump over to see Vermeer's Milkmaid , or pop into the Gallery of Honour and see Rembrandt's Jewish Bride . While you roam about the galleries, take full advantage of the Rijksmuseum's free app , which contains a plethora of great audio tours. It's available to download from the App Store or Google Play. Once you've got the app, simply open it to access catalog content for the Museum's art, or choose the "at the museum?" option to access a series of tours and highlights. Want to hear an audio clip about a specific work of art? Type in the catalog number associated with that work of art to bring up the audio guide. Thanks to the crisp quality of the Google Street View, you can easily see these numbers posted on the wall next to each artwork in the gallery (they're just below the artwork description). While standing in front of Vermeer's Milkmaid , I typed in the artwork number (#575) on the app, and listened to the audio clip about the focus on detail and symbolism within the painting. Learn about the inspiration for the setting in Aelbert Cuyp's River Landscape (#538), or listen to the story behind the painting of Jan Steen's Feast of St Nicholas (#562). CHECK OUT 'MASTERPIECES UP CLOSE' The Rijksmuseum has created a virtual experience of the Great Hall, which contains some of the largest and most famous works of art on exhibit in the Museum. The Masterpieces Up Close exhibit includes moving visual tours of particular works of art with audio guides that focus on specific details within each artwork. Walk to the end of the hall to see the glassed in restoration project on Rembrandt's famous Night Watch painting (more on that later). Click on any of the headphone icons to pull up audio clips with descriptions of the painting and a focus on specific stories in the work of art. Click on Rembrandt's Night Watch and explore a particularly cool arrangement of details about the painting; learn about who the figures represent, and spot the self-portrait that's been "smuggled" into the scene. FOLLOW 'OPERATION NIGHT WATCH' If you're interested in the details of the Rijksmuseum's current restoration project of Rembrandt's Night Watch , you won't want to miss the highlights about the project , which began in July 2019. You may have noticed (while walking around the Great Hall in the Masterpieces Up Close exhibit) that Rembrandt's famous painting is currently contained in an enormous glass chamber. That's because the Rijksmuseum will carry out the restoration of the 3.79m x 4.53m painting with the world watching, literally. To do this, they had to move the 337kg painting to a temporary position, build the glass chamber exhibit space, and then move the painting back into its position at the end of the Great Hall. It's an incredible feat, and you can watch videos of the entire thing on the highlights page. Use the timeline just under the 'Follow Operation Night Watch' headline to access video clips on the announcement of the project, time lapse videos of the Night Watch 's move and relocation, construction of the glass chamber, and the first millimeter by millimeter scans of the painting using a macro X-ray fluorescence scanner. LEARN MORE ABOUT THE ART IN THE RIJKS STUDIO Visit the Rijks Studio, the Rijksmuseum's online database of artwork that contains over 527,000 works of art to get in-depth information on some of the Museum's most famous residents. Zoom into the brush strokes of paintings, explore the details on porcelain and metal masterpieces, and dive into incredible engravings. The Rijks Studio gives you detailed information about the artwork you select, right down to the colors used in its creation. You also have the option to listen to audio fragments from multimedia tours and download images to use in artwork of your own; you can even order poster or canvas prints of your favorite pieces. BONUS: PLAY THE RIJKSMUSEUM PUB QUIZ As a bonus to our visit, the Rijksmuseum has created a takeaway game that you can play with your friends or family. The Rijksmuseum Pub Quiz is free to download, and easy to play. Download the PDFs (there's no need to print anything out) and choose a quizmaster or gamekeeper. You'll be tested on trivia about Dutch art and history in three different game rounds: Royalty, Curiosities, and Food & Drink. Each round has an associated intro video, so click on the link in the PDF to get fun tips from the Museum staff and see what it's all about. Happy playing!
Introducing the ‘Travel With Your Ears’ Music Series
Quarantined during COVID-19? Planning your next vacation and trying to figure out what to see? Intent on a moment of escapism for a stressful day? Allow me to serve up a cure for all ills: a music series that will transport you around the globe from anywhere to anywhere, at any time of day or night. What Is It? The 'Travel With Your Ears' music series is an ongoing series of music playlists that will bring you traditional sounds from different countries and continents around the world. Stretch your ears and travel to the distant sands of the Sahara, visit the crystal blue waters of the Greek isles, and sit in a quintessential café in Paris. Hear folk songs from Sweden, and journey back to France during the Middle Ages. Visit the wildlife parks of South Africa, and then dip into a spice market in Tunisia. You can do it all. The Story Behind ‘Travel With Your Ears’ Much of travel is about setting foot in a foreign land, and seeing a destination in person. But the travel experience goes far beyond just the physical act. Travel is a cultural act, and a philosophical discussion. What are the traditions of a culture in a land far from my own? Music is a big part of cultural tradition, from wandering lute players in the Middle Ages to artists performing in pubs on stages today. It bring us together, and allows us to communicate with one another across borders, in a language all its own. Music can highlight complex social issues, create comfort at times of grief, and pay homage to ancestors who came before us. Music can also inspire us to see the similarities we have to one another, no matter how different we may appear. As a music lover and faithful supporter of inspiring travel and cultural awareness and understanding in those around me, a thought formed in my mind. Why not create a system that would allow people to experience cultures far from their own while embracing one of the world's most amazing offerings, music. Since I wanted this experience to be available to everyone, I decided to create it using Spotify. After all, like the Spotify platform, travel and cultural understanding should be free to all. How Do I “Travel With My Ears”? It's easy, only takes a second, and you can do this one of two ways: ON THE BLOG If you're on my blog website, simply look for the the 'Travel With Your Ears' block on any page - it has an easily recognizable headphone icon. You'll see plenty of these blocks floating around the site, and blog pages featuring a specific destination will have a tailored playlist that allows you to explore the destination's musical highlights. Simply click on a playlist cover to be taken to the playlist on Spotify. ON SPOTIFY / WITH SPOTIFY APP You can also find me directly on Spotify, and access all of the playlists from there. If you like a playlist, you can "follow" it. This will save it to your Library, so you can access it quickly for easy listening. Click on the 'follow' button with The Expat Dreamer icon at the bottom of this post to follow me on Spotify. Listen to the music and be transported whether you're in an office, walking down the street, or relaxing at home. Music has always inspired me, and I hope this music series will inspire you too. Go seek out new corners of the globe, plan journeys and create new experiences, and (at the very least) gain appreciation for the diversity of the world around us. Happy traveling!
La Baguette Royale: Tips for Finding the Best French Bread
You've probably tasted many a bread loaf in your time on this earth, but in France, eating bread is like a religion. The act of finding the perfect baguette is a daily ritual, to be accomplished in the most French way possible, with a particular set of rules. Few acts are more exciting (or more French) while traveling through the country of Napoléon Bonaparte than choosing a good baguette. Since the famous loaves are eaten with most meals in France and are thus one of the staples of French cuisine, their importance can not be understated. In the decades that I've traveled to France, I've learned firsthand how a baguette can make or break an impression. I've been privy to discussions about which boulanger 's goods are the best and which are not worth exploring. I can imagine that over the centuries towns have been split in opinion and generations of bakers have either succeeded or failed based on their comprehension of the subject. I've also seen that [disappointingly] the new generation of Français has slowly started to lose the ability to choose between quality and quantity, as the notion of " baguettes offertes " (free baguettes) grips the country. For the older generations who grew up without hypermarkets or mass production, the reality of this new development can be unsettling, and has resulted in more discussion and debate on the subject. But for the younger generations, of which I am a part, let's hope that the ability to know the difference between good and bad hasn't entirely gone by the wayside. In my many years of scientific experiments and dégustations , and of absorbing carbs and calories that were [mostly] worth it, this is what I've learned and been taught about the golden rules of choosing the perfect baguette. 1. Nothing Beats the Handmade Baguette All around France, one can easily find mass-produced baguettes. They fill supermarket shelves, clog stands in small grocers and are even found these days wrapped in plastic and " prêts a cuire " or ready to cook. Quelle horreur , as my friend Michelle would say! Nothing (and I mean nothing) beats bread made by a human being. Boulangers have been making bread in France for centuries, so naturally they would know best how to prep the materials and execute the precious task best. Why mess with perfection? 2. It's All About the Crust In the United States, we always had hundreds of breads to choose from. White bread with no discernible crust, breads with wheat inside, breads with seeds outside, breads with fruit and cinnamon and nowadays other weird and wacky ingredients embedded in the dough or stuck to the outside. In France, the famous baguette has remained the same for centuries, mainly because once again, why mess with perfection? Rather than add extra ingredients to change the flavor, and make bread taste like something other than bread, the secret to the French baguette is the crust. The rule has always been "if the crust is crunchy, it's worth it. If not, it's not even worth your time". In a supermarket, for example, it's not unusual to see a Frenchman walk up to a stack of bread and start pressing on the loaves to check for a crust that crackles. That's just the way it is. 3. The Color The perfect French baguette is neither light nor dark. It's color is a golden hue, with variations of lighter dough and darker crisped areas on the center slits of the loaf. You should be able to see the stretch and pull of the dough on the top of the loaf, and imagine it rising and then cooking. While one can specifically ask for a lighter or undercooked baguette at a boulangerie , or a bien cuite or well-cooked loaf, the baguette traditionelle has a beautiful balance that lands right in the middle, and would make Goldilocks proud. Perfection. 4. The Smell Yes, I'm serious. If you know anything about French bread, you know that the smell of a baguette is also key. A baguette should smell slightly sour, with a hint of yeast. Putting your nasal sensors up to a real French baguette should make you feel like you're standing in a bakery, surrounded by a stack of rising dough, standing next to a wood-fired oven. In the mass-produced supermarket breads, you won't get that same sensation.
My Top Picks: 20 Free Apps for Traveling Anywhere
Getting ready to pack a bag and head out of town for a few days? Check out these great apps, and keep them in your back pocket while you explore. Based on The State of the American Traveler tourism research, travelers are more and more heavily using their mobile devices throughout the travel process. That means that we not only use our devices to start planning a trip, but also use them as we travel. Apps on our devices exist for every kind of need, from predicting traffic conditions to sharing selfies, and are popping up everywhere, allowing us to be ever more connected to the people and places around us. In tourism-related apps, today you can even buy an international flight and set up an entire itinerary with the use of an app. Imagine what our grandmothers would think if they heard that! Can I go so far as to say that travel apps have become essential to people’s lives? To find my favorite travel apps, I started with a list of the most useful things one needs while traveling. Then I tested a large group of apps, and found the best fit for traveler needs. I’ve gathered some that will help you plan your trip and find cheap gas during your drive, and others that will give you tips and day-trip ideas for the places you’re visiting. I’ve also made a special note of apps that can be used internationally (marked with “ International use ” at the end of the description, or the globe icon on our accompanying graphic) or are more geared towards international travel, such as currency and language translation (towards the end of the list). I hope you find these apps as useful as I have and, as always, happy travels! Apps for Before You Go Momondo – Find flights and hotels, compare times and costs with the app’s “cheapest,” “quickest” and “best” categories and be directed to various websites on which you can purchase airfare and hotel itineraries. ★★★★☆ for ease of use, nice visuals and overall feel. ✔ International use SeatGuru (by Trip Advisor) – Going on a flight and want to know the skinny on the seating situation? SeatGuru gives you layouts of specific jets and reviews of certain seats, plus photos of the cabin so you’ll know exactly what to expect. Know which seats to avoid, and which will give you that blissful calm you’re looking for during your flight. ★★★★☆ for clarity, readability and helpfulness of reviews. ✔ International use Wanderu – If you’re going on a trip, but taking buses and trains versus planes, this app has you covered. Add a start and end destination and discover multiple options based on cost, duration and time of travel. Then be directed to the Amtrak, Greyhound or other public transportation service website to book your trip. ★★★★☆ for ease of use, details on pickup locations and visuals depicting wifi and plug outlets on the bus or train. PackPoint – Do you always stress about forgetting to pack socks like I do? This app will help prep your suitcase based on where you’re going, what activities you’re looking to do and even what the weather will be like at your destination. Create your packing list by choosing from a multitude of activity options, then check off items in the app, or email the list to yourself. The app will give you the expected weather for your destination, and will create a URL so you can access your packing list from anywhere. ★★★★☆ for convenience, nice visuals and options for using on multiple platforms. ✔ International use Hotel Tonight – For those looking for hotel options early or last minute, this app is geared towards helping you quickly choose a hotel based on location, amenities and reviews. Once you find an option, you can review the “why we like it” and “what guests think” sections, then book your stay through the app. ★★★★☆ for readability, photos, maps, reviews and through-app booking. ✔ International use Airbnb – Want to go the cheaper route and still find a great stay in your destination? The Airbnb app helps you quickly identify reasonably priced bed and breakfast options, read reviews of your host and easily book your stay. ★★★★★ for ease of use, range of B&Bs, photos and ability to communicate with the host through the app. International use. TripIt – Now that you’re set up with your hotel and itinerary, there’s an easy way to keep track of your entire trip. Simply forward any flight, hotel, tour or meeting confirmation email to the specific TripIt email, and then watching as the app creates a thorough itinerary list for your trip. ★★★★☆ for concept, ease of use and the ability to view itinerary offline. ✔ International use Apps for the Journey Google Maps – After trying both Google Maps and Apple Maps, I recommend Google Maps because of its accuracy, ease of use and links to other Google products. If you’re traveling abroad, you can even take an interactive snapshot of the map and save it for later use. ★★★★★ for ease of use, accuracy and functionality . ✔ International use GasBuddy – On the road, and need to get gas? Simply open the app and you’ll be able to see a detailed list of the gas stations closest to you listed by gas price. Down to the quarter mile, GasBuddy gives you the location and name of each gas station so you know how best to save your dollars. The app is constantly updated by users to reflect the most current gas prices. ★★★★★ for helpfulness, ease of use and accuracy. Apps for While You’re There Citymapper – When you’re visiting a city, the first thing you need to know about is the transit system, so you can find your way around. With this app, you can pull up real-time transit maps, get details on delays and closures for metro stops, plan a route and estimate distance to specific attractions. Maps are available for over 30 cities from New York to Singapore. ★★★☆☆ for visuals, information and ease of use. ✔ International use The Weather Channel App – If you’re like me, the first thing you check in the morning when you wake up is the weather forecast for the day, so you can plan your outfit accordingly. Now you can get average temperatures, daily and weekly forecasts and road conditions with a single swipe. Simply open the app and swipe down. As a bonus, if you’re worried about too much sun, the app provides the expected UV index count for the day. ★★★★★ for ease of use, fluidity and design. ✔ International use Yonder – If you’re into outdoor adventures, this app is for you. Yonder gives you a list of parks and outdoor preserves based on either your satellite location or a handy search option. Learn about the environment around you, check out what’s trending and find maps and photos to plan your excursion. ★★★★★ for information, design, ease of use and the ability to upload photos and add comments. Roadtrippers – Want ideas for a road trip? Or just want to explore the area, grab some grub and see what there is to do? Through the use of twelve different “layers,” the app allows you to search for hotels, dining options and local points of interest. My favorite part of the app is the themed road trip section. Tap on “Trip Guides” and explore trips from tours of the national parks to 48 hours in a given city. There’s even a specific “Filmtrippers” section, with tours that let you explore the filming locations of hit movies and TV shows, including the 1993 hit “Hocus Pocus” and the TV show “The Walking Dead.” ★★★★★ for information, trip content, design and ease of use. International use, but limited. Detour – An up-and-coming app, Detour provides you with location-based cinematic stories and walking tours. Taking the more personal approach, the app focuses on the experiences of individuals and introduces you to the city you are visiting via their personal stories about the place. So far the app only has seven cities available to tour, but they are continuously adding content, including Chicago and Los Angeles, which will be available later on this year. Each tour page has an overview of what you’ll see, the duration of the trip and what the recommended hours are for your walk. There are also tips for what to avoid and how to prepare, and extra maps so you know where you’re going ahead of time. ★★★★★ for information and setup, design and ease of use. ✔ International use Apps for Sharing Your Memories Snapseed (by Google) – What better way is there to document your trip than to take photos? With Snapseed you can edit your pics with over 20 different tools, filters, blurs and design elements. After you edit, it’s easy to save and export your shots to Facebook, Instagram and other social media accounts. ★★★★★ for wide range of photo editing options, ease of use and ability to export to other apps. ✔ International use Instagram – This photo-sharing app needs no introduction, and you may already be taking advantage of what it has to offer. After trying several others, Instagram is still my favorite for ease of use, fast uploads and links to social media applications and a handy geo-tagging feature. ★★★★★ for concept, ease of use and photo filters . ✔ International use Apps for Traveling Overseas GlobeConvert – When you travel abroad, the easiest thing to get overwhelmed by is the difference in currency. GlobeConvert has the ability to convert your currency to anything from the Euro to Russian rubles or Nigerian naira. You also have the option to convert things other than currency – there are ten different options including temperature, length, speed and weight. Note that the free version of the app has some ads, but for $1 you can have an ad-free layout. ★★★★☆ for ease of use, good readability and variety of conversion options. ✔ International use Google Translate – No doubt you’ve heard of it, and may have even used it before, but do you know about the latest feature of Google Translate? First off, you can hold your device up to a piece of text in a foreign language and watch magic happen, but now you can also scribble text with your finger and the app will transliterate it to written text, and then translate it. Note that as with all translation apps, the translations sometimes can be too literal or a little off, but you’ll still get a base understanding. ★★★★★ for design, ease of use and multiple translation options. ✔ International use Duolingo – Want to learn a few words in the language of the country you’re traveling to? Simply choose a language, select a level of proficiency and decide how long you want to spend practicing grammar and vocabulary (from 5-20 min per day). The app will give you a quick overview of new words, and create a fun lesson with images, pronunciation and positive encouragement. ★★★★★ for creativity, ease of use, visuals and effectiveness. ✔ International use Skype – My go-to when traveling abroad, Skype allows you to make free calls from virtually anywhere. Chat with family and friends, and keep them up to speed on your travel adventures. If you’re out of WIFI zone, Skype still allows you to call phones outside of the Skype system for a small fee. ★★★★☆ for ease of use, wide range of service and multiple platform usage. ✔ International use
Destination Highlight: 48 Hours in Copenhagen
The draw of Copenhagen is evident thirty seconds after you step (or glide, depending on your mode of transport) into its city limits. People walk around cheerfully, the air is clear, the streets and canals clean, and the sights are beautiful and modern. Considering Copenhagen is one of Europe’s oldest cities, you may be amazed by its efficiency and modernity, but you shouldn’t be surprised. Denmark has proudly sought to maintain a clean, efficient and friendly atmosphere in its capital city (and throughout the country), and because of continued efforts, it continuously receives top marks on lists of happy and most livable cities in the world. According to the World Happiness Report 2013 , a measure of happiness published by the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Copenhagen ranked as the happiest city in the world in 2013; this year it is a very close third, just behind Switzerland (which took the top slot) and Iceland. Copenhagen has also enjoyed the number-one spot in Monocle’s Quality of Life Survey in both 2013 and 2014, with Tokyo and Melbourne in second and third place in 2014. Copenhagen’s host country is situated in Northern Europe and almost completely surrounded by water. Denmark consists of the peninsula of Jutland (touching northern Germany), 406 islands (80 of which are inhabited) and 7,314 kilometers of coastline. Ranking 133rd on the list of world countries in terms of size, Denmark has a population of fewer than 6 million, about a quarter of which live in Copenhagen, located on the eastern shore of the island of Zealand, facing the Øresund strait that separates Denmark and Sweden. Aside from its happiness ratings, Denmark is known around the world for its Viking history, famous authors and novelists, fresh seafood and sleek modern design, visible in every corner of the country. The Grand Tour Being a tourist in a foreign city can feel a bit daunting at times, but have no fear. Copenhagen’s many harbor tour companies make excellent use of the city’s pristine canals and provide wonderful sights, witty stories and general overviews of the area. Sign up for a ride and get your bearings without having to move an inch. What you’ll see is well worth the money and the time, and while you float from one spot to the next, use your map to plan out where you want to revisit in more detail. According to the World Happiness Report 2013, Copenhagen ranked as the happiest city in the world. Nyhavn This is the locals’ playground, so take a seat and enjoy watching the city go by. Nyhavn (literally: New Harbor) was established by King Christian V in the 1600s as a gateway from the sea to the old inner city, and stands today as one of the more expensive placed to live in Copenhagen. It’s not surprising, as the buildings are beautiful and picturesque, the streets filled with restaurants and cafes, and the atmosphere lively. Check out the many houseboats moored here, and reminisce about Hans Christian Andersen, Nyhavn’s most famous resident and author of children’s fairy tales and stories. It was within the streets of Nyhavn that he wrote his very first stories, including “The Princess and the Pea.” The National Museum of Denmark Get to know Denmark’s history at this fabulous museum, located in the Prince’s Palace. Free to the public, the National Museum is actual a collection of museums all over the country, each featuring slightly different exhibits. This particular museum location has permanent collections featuring classical antiquities, Viking age treasures and other Danish prehistoric artifacts, Egyptian mummies, a royal collection of coins and medals, and even a children’s museum, where kids can play dress up and recreate history. Amalienborg Palace If you haven’t visited Denmark before, you may not realize that the country still has a sitting royal family, and they live (at least for part of the year) in the Amalienborg Palace , one of several around the country. If you don’t have time to visit the inside of this castle – made up of a series of buildings that include a museum of royal life past and present – then at least come for the changing of the Royal Guard, which takes place daily at noon. NOMA Restaurant To enjoy the experience of the World’s Best Restaurant 2014 (and the third best of 2015) is not so easy, but if you make a reservation several months ahead of time (yes, the waiting list is that long), you’ll have the ability to taste founder René Redzepi’s innovative masterpieces and New Nordic Cuisine. NOMA, housed in an unassuming 18th century warehouse facing Nyhavn, boasts two Michelin stars, the highest of any restaurant in the country. UPDATE: NOMA has moved locations from Copenhagen's Christianshavn neighborhood to a more spacious plot on artsy Refshalevej Island. Tivoli Gardens Located just a few minutes walk from City Hall, Tivoli Gardens is the perfect place for magic and amusement. Loved by Hans Christian Andersen, Walt Disney and many others, Tivoli boasts lovely gardens and lively thrill rides. Among Tivoli’s attractions are the Minen (a diamond mine where dragons come to life), the Golden Tower (that lifts you 63 meters over the city) and one of the oldest wooden roller coasters in the world, built in 1914. Tivoli also hosts concerts and open-air music events for the public throughout the year. The Little Mermaid One of Copenhagen’s most iconic symbols is the Little Mermaid statue (Den Lille Havfrue), sculpted by Edvard Eriksen and given as a gift to the city from Danish brewer Carl Jacobsen in 1913. Based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, the sculpture is made of bronze and granite, and has had her fair share of vandalism over the years. She has lost her arm once, her head has been cut off twice, and she has fallen prey to numerous paint attacks. Receiving more than a million visitors a year, this beautiful symbol of Copenhagen is worth the visit. The Royal Danish Playhouse With an outer structure made almost entirely of glass, the Royal Danish Playhouse shows off Danish ingenuity and design in a stunning way, and stands as a modern masterpiece among Copenhagen’s beautiful old style. On the edge of the Nyhavn district, the Playhouse is host to an opera, a ballet and an orchestra. The building also houses a delightful café and restaurant in which you can enjoy Nordic flavors and sip a Carlsberg beer (Copenhagen’s local beer) with a great view of the harbor and passerby. Frilandsmuseet – Copenhagen’s Open Air Museum Step into the past at the Open Air Museum in Lyngby , located about 16 kilometers north of Copenhagen’s center. A must-see for every explorer, you’ll enjoy learning about Danish, Swedish and Norwegian history by walking around the extensive grounds, covering over 86 acres and home to more than 100 farmhouses, mills, rural buildings and workmans’ shops. The museum is easy to get to by public transportation, and is free for all entrants. Frederiksborg Castle & Gardens Built in the Dutch Renaissance style by King Christian IV in the 17th century, Frederiksborg Castle (or “slot” in Danish) is the largest Renaissance Castle in Scandinavia. Situated to the north of Copenhagen in the town of Hillerød, the Castle houses elaborately decorated rooms with famous artwork, baroque style gardens, and – since 1878 – the Museum of National History. Visitors have the opportunity to see 500 years of Danish history through portraits, woodcuts, furniture and other decorative art. Frederiksborg sits on a castle lake, and is surrounded by glamorous Renaissance style gardens, which are open to the public free of charge and on their own are well worth the trip up here from the city.
House Swap Dissection: The Nuts and Bolts of the Latest Travel Trend
Sure, you’ve heard of it, but don’t really understand it that well. Swapping your house with a total stranger? It may seem like a foreign or even scary concept, but it’s quickly become one of the latest trends in the tourism universe. How Does it Work? The house swap concept is actually quite simple. Basically, you choose a location you want to explore, get in touch with people living in that area, see if they are interested in visiting the area you live in, and if it’s a match, you’re ready to set up your trip. Easy, right? During the exchange process, house swappers tend to become friends, and if you know people who have exchanged their home, you’re likely to hear positive stories about their experience. A house exchange is a great way to immerse yourself in the place that you’re visiting, and observe the culture of the area from a local perspective. How do I know all this? I’m a house swapper myself, and have been participating in home exchanges for roughly a decade. Through exchanging, I’ve had the opportunity to visit many great places around the world that I would not otherwise have seen, and have discovered some great spots located off the beaten path, away from the throngs of tourists. Over the last ten years, my family and I have exchanged homes with other families from France, Ireland, Switzerland, Austria, Holland and, most recently, Denmark and Sweden. We have had exchange requests from other places around Europe, in Canada and even in parts of Asia, which goes to show just how global this concept has become. What are the Benefits? Aside from the ability to choose from many diverse destinations around the world, exchanging your house has one immediately noticeable plus – it’s free. The Huffington Post described home exchanging as a way to eliminate three of the four major cost offenders of a vacation: lodging, eating in restaurants, car rental and transportation. In 2015, the average vacationer paid about $120 per night for a hotel room, meaning that a single week of vacation costs upwards of $600 in lodging alone (and more if you consider a family of two or more people). With a house exchange, there are zero accommodation costs. It is for this reason that many of the people who participate in home exchanges are families. An added bonus is that many exchanges also include use of a vehicle, which removes the need for a rental car. Home exchanges have become quite common, and thanks to the abundance of house swap websites that exist, there are many options to choose from. Something people tend to overlook about vacations is that, while you’re away from home, your house is sitting empty, vulnerable to burglars. According to Safeguard The World, over 2 million home burglaries are reported each year in the United States. In an exchange, people stay in your house and act as a deterrent to intruders. If you’re worried about your exchange partners swiping some of your stuff during your swap, know that home exchanging is a safe way to arrange a stay. According to HomeLink, a site that has facilitated home exchanges for more than 60 years, theft and vandalism have never been an issue. They remind people that while exchange partners are in your home, you will be in theirs, and so there is a sense of mutual trust and respect. My favorite thing about exchanging is that I get to see firsthand how someone in another country lives his or her daily life. Perhaps this is the anthropologist in me coming out, but I find it fascinating. To live in another person’s home is eye opening. What books do they read? How have they designed their house? What do they eat, and what are their favorite local attractions to visit? Equally intriguing is the challenge of living in another language, for however short a time. Upon our arrival in Denmark for example, we learned that to buy simple ingredients like bread, butter and milk, we had to recognize the words on a supermarket shelf (they are, respectively brød , smør and mælk ). If we had stayed in a hotel rather than participated in an exchange, we likely would not have needed to visit a local supermarket, and so we would have missed out on this sometimes overlooked aspect of traveling. Are There Cons to Home Exchanging? Sure, like everything in life, home exchanging can have its downsides. Among them is the fact that you have to cook and clean for yourself while on vacation, and if you prefer a holiday getaway that doesn’t involve any work, this may not be the best choice for you. You may also hear the occasional story of a dirty house, a bizarre exchange partner or miscommunication during the exchange process. However, in the context of successful home exchanges that take place every year, those bad experiences are few. More common are the good experiences. Many times our exchange partners have invited us to dine with their family, or in their absence (if we can’t meet in person at the beginning of the exchange) have formed a connection for us with friends or family so that we felt welcomed upon our arrival, and had a person to turn to in case a problem arose. On a recent exchange in Denmark, our host family left us homemade rolls and jam as well as their bikes, so that we could enjoy a delicious snack and cycle around the backroads of their Copenhagen suburb. (See my blog post Destination Highlight: 48 Hours in Copenhagen for fun suggestions on things to do in the Copenhagen area.) Where do I Sign Up? Home exchanges have become quite common, and thanks to the abundance of house swap websites that exist, there are many options to choose from. Though they range in specifics, the general concept is the same. If you’re new to the process, Rick Steves recommends Home Exchange, HomeLink and Intervac Home Exchange as good places to start. We have pretty consistently used HomeLink and are pleased with both the destination options it offers (HomeLink currently has exchanges available in 80-plus countries) and the experience of the members. Something to note with a home exchange: if you are just starting out, it is helpful to partner with a more experienced exchange partner — they understand the routine, and their knowledge will make for an easier and more enjoyable trip for you. Many of the home exchange websites you will encounter charge a small membership fee, but it’s generally far less than a hotel rate, and it enables members to know that they are working in a safe and secure community of people who are committed and invested in their exchange. In the end, home exchanging is a fun and refreshing way to travel. The financial benefits of exchanging your house will allow you to visit destinations you never thought you could see, and the experience of living in another person’s home will allow you to make interesting connections with the people and places you visit. As always, wherever you travel, enjoy the trip!