After ringing in the new year with the ball dropping in Times Square, the new year celebration continued in NYC on January 12th, but this time at the French Institute:Alliance Française (FI:AF) on the Upper East Side. A traditional French pastry, la Galette Des Rois (Three Kings Cake), is the center of the Epiphany celebration that the French (and francophiles alike, like me!) look forward to every January. Good company, food, wine and a delicious cake — what’s not to love?!

The evening was hosted in their beautiful Skyroom (top floor of the building with a beautiful glass accented wall that doubles as part of the roof). Wine and cider, along with a delicious spread from Le District (found near Battery Park) hit the palette of those in attendance, along with the king of desserts itself, provided by Financier Patisserie, la Galette Des Rois.

galette french fiaf

Truly massive, it was the center of attention and we even learned from the pastry chef himself that the first Galette Des Rois was actually filled with almond paste and mashed potatoes! Today, it is filled with delicious almond paste- simple but still oh-so-delicious! The added fun in this is ‘la fève’ (or ‘lucky charm’) that can be found inside select pieces of cake! Find one and you are crowned king for the night– those gold crowns are highly covetable, you know ;). The rest of the evening included a photo booth station where you were entered to win tickets to a comedy show, complimented with great networking opportunities and fun conversations with friends. If you ever wanted to put your French language skills to the test (no matter your level), this is the place to be! This was just one of the many exciting cultural events that FI:AF holds throughout the year. Want to try your own slice of galette heaven? Head on over to your local Financier Patisserie, but hurry(!), this cake is gone after January!

FI:AF is a non-profit organization that was founded back in the late 1800s to help educate and spread the French culture to the community. Also worth mentioning is that FIAF holds the largest French library in the whole USA- how cool is that? For more information on workshops, classes (I actually just ended a semester of French courses here myself!), or events (art viewings, theatre, etc.), you can visit www.fiaf.org.

Thank you to FIAF for hosting me at this event. All opinions are my own.

xx,
signalorenii

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Brooklyn native, Latina, and founder of Enlightened by Bravery, an adventure/travel and wellness blog that focuses on drawing inspiration from adventures around the world back into your life // iPhoneographer // Francophile

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9.

9 Ways to Help Ease Anxiety on Long Flights

Seeing the world is a beautiful experience and I vowed to myself, even when I suddenly became afraid of flying from my first panic attack years ago, that the fear and anxiety would never stop me from exploring this beautiful, blue planet of ours. With some self-work and self-education, I was able to overcome my fear of flying and started with small 2-hour flights and grew to our most recent (total) 24-hour flight to New Zealand! Yay!

The key is to try new things and feel yourself out, all while moving forward. Throughout the years, I’ve experimented with ways to help soothe my nerves while in the skies and have found my own recipe for the tried-and-true. Check out my must-list below and don’t forget to comment what you think/your own ways of coping in the skies!

1. Get Excited

I know, I know. You may be thinking “what the –, I’m more nervous than anything!” Yes. I know. But hear me out: by replacing the word “nervous” with “excited” whenever you think it, your brain will ease up on the anxiety and move into the ‘joyful anticipation’ bucket. Say it out loud: “I’m excited!” with a big smile on your face and notice the difference. Try it right now! Repeat after me with a big smile: “I’m SO excited!!”

Sure, there is always going to be a little nervousness in the background, but let’s be honest, you’re getting on a plane to a destination you don’t get to go to every day– that’s pretty exciting! Put some photos of the destination you’re headed to on your phone and flip through them, imagining yourself there and think about something you are most looking forward to. Always wanted to see the Eiffel Tower in Paris? Have a cool reservation at that “must” restaurant in Cabo? Getting a close look at the Niagra Falls in Canada? Think about that special, cool thing you’re going to do and let that propel you into excitement versus nervousness! Traveling is amazing and you’re doing it — woohoo!!

2. Carry Essential Oils

After my first panic attack, I went through a cleanse to rid my body of toxins and, with it, went any and all over-the-counter drugs that I have ever taken. Since then, I’ve turned to essential oils and I always make sure to take them with me as I swear by them. The two essential oils that I always carry with me are lavender and peppermint; they come in small bottles that are perfect to fit inside your clear plastic bag when going through TSA at the airport.

Lavender oil helps calm nerves with its soothing properties and can soothe you into a peaceful state of mind, maybe even helping you catch a few Z’s on the plane. Before takeoff, I like to apply one drop on the inside of each of my wrists, rub them together and then place my wrists up to my nose, inhaling for three, deep and relaxed breaths. Ahhh.

For headaches, I use peppermint oil, topically, one drop on each of my temples; it works so well that I haven’t popped a single Advil nor Tylenol in my mouth in years. Also, once you get to your destination, why try to deal with buying something for headaches in another country that could be in another language and may come with different pharmaceutical standards? Avoid the hassle and bring your own natural oils!

3. Browse the Airport Village

At least, that’s what I like to call that part of the airport after security where stores and restaurants await you. Go ham just bouncing in and out, checking out what the latest at the airport is. I find that the bookstores have some of the best selections, especially at international terminals. You can even sit down for a meal at a restaurant, just like you would any other day outside of the airport. I find that this helps me ease into the “traveling” way of life and helps me deem flying as just a normal part of the day; we may catch trains, busses or drive our own cars, and while a plane may be less frequent, it’s still a mode of trusted transport. You got this :).

4. Skip the Alcoholic Drinks

I know, it may seem better to numb the nerves, but I’ve personally found that alcohol up in the air can make me feel disoriented and dehydrating. It’s important, with anxiety, that you go through the waves of your feelings and meet them with acknowledgement, rather than suppressing them and making them worse later on. This leads me to what I do love to drink:

5. Drink Herbal Teas

Herbal teas contain no caffeine and do not give way to shaky hands and a faster heart rate. By removing caffeine, which is also dehydrating, you can rid yourself of ‘anxiety triggers’ and travel in more peace. I’ve eliminated coffee and caffeinated teas (like black, green and matcha) from my diet for years now and I’ve seen a huge difference. Next time you want a hot drink, ask for an herbal tea such as: peppermint, chamomile or lemon. The way I like to do it? Bringing my own tea bags and asking the attendant for a cup of hot water.

Ron Teeguarden’s Dragon Herbs are caffeine-free with a slightly sweet and super yummy taste; each teabag can yield two cups of tea and it works in a way that if you drink it in the morning, it gives you a revitalized boost of natural energy and, if drunk at night, can wind you down. I love my dragon herb teas and always travel with them! 

Another tea that I love is an oldie but a goodie: Celestial’s Sleepy Time Tea. I know some people may take sleeping pills for flights, but as I mentioned before, I avoid OTC drugs and try to do things the more natural way. I love drinking Sleepy Time Tea when I want to get some rest on a flight, though you will catch me drinking these when at home, too! It just makes your night’s rest that much more peaceful :).  As you’re winding down, make sure you are comfortable with my next tip:

6. Bring Comfort Up With You

Feeling comfortable is important, even 30k miles up on the air. I’ve been on a very uncomfortable 8-hour flight and a very comfortable 12-hour flight; the difference wasn’t the time, but how cozy I was during the flight.

If you have a favorite travel pillow, headphone set, warm socks, hat, whatever, bring it with you. As humans, we love the feeling of comfort, and it does make the difference. My favorite must-have on planes?

  1. My Cocoon CoolMax BlanketI LOVE this blanket. Not only does it keep you warm on the plane, you can use it for road trips, train rides or around a campfire on a cold night! It comes in a little black cloth carrying case and is super packable. I highly recommend it!
  2. My Slip Silk Eyemask. It’s so super soft and gentle for your eyes. I’ve tried a couple of different ones ranging in prices from low to high and honestly prefer this one the best. My husband actually loved it so much when he tried it on for kicks, that we ended up getting him one, too! When it’s time for a snooze, you go down feeling like a million bucks in the air.

7. Stay Hydrated

Water, water, water. So super important and can help keep some jet lag effects at bay. Not only will you be doing your body good by taking it in, but every time you need to relieve yourself at the loo, you’ll be adding in some steps, sneaking in that extra few minutes of stretching your legs to keep that blood flowing. For an extra boost in electrolytes, I always carry Recover Ors packets with me when traveling. I like to add in a packet every five hours of flying to some water and find that I don’t get any dehydration headaches when in air nor when I land!

8. Keep Snacks Handy

Especially if you have any dietary restrictions. Last thing you want to do is feel helpless and hungry so high up in the skies. I always make sure to grab some goodies for my flight after I pass security (as they won’t let you bring *outside food* inside). You can browse around the ‘airport village’ (you’ll be saying it, too, in no time- haha) or, if in a sincere pinch, head to Starbucks (almost every airport has them I feel!). Here is my list of goodies that I grab: bottle of water, banana, dark chocolate and a protein box (usually comes with apples, peanut butter, boiled egg, slice of cheese and a little piece of sweet bread). It’s my fave in-flight combo and I don’t feel anxious trying to get someone’s attention constantly for every little hankering :).

9. Journal Your Feelings

Notebook and pen: I owe my road to recovery with anxiety to journaling. There is something about getting your thoughts that keep running around in your head OUT and down on paper. Taking the time to form sentences means that you are putting your thoughts together, cohesively, and it helps you see things clearer in front of you. Not only that, but if I am flying above a beautiful mountain range of fluffy white clouds, I feel nothing short of grateful and take the time to write down those positive things. Plus, my notes will be memories for when I look back at it weeks/months from then! <3.

Let me know in the comments below if you found these helpful!
Happy Travels! xoxo

G.

Gap Year Abroad: How to Choose a Country & Visa Type

Days of day-dreaming finally giving you the itch to take a gap year/break from your routine and jump into another experience? And abroad, too?! You little dare-devil you.

I get it. I’ve been thinking of taking a break from New York for a while— a few years, actually, but was never able to convince myself to just peel away and ‘go.’ After attending the  Tony Robbins seminar, though, it gave me the validation I needed for my soul and just knew that we just had to make the move sooner rather than later. If I didn’t, it would be something I would regret.

But the question was: where?

I mean, it seemed very much like a first-world problem at the time: we could go anywhere in the world, but we didn’t know where to go. Portugal? France? Spain? All of these countries brought me so many questions. This wasn’t just a vacation that would end in two-weeks you know; this was our life for a year. We would stay there and not come back for a while. I needed to think about: the cost of living, quality of life, health insurance requirements, ease of getting a job, what the job market was like (a lot of countries require employers to prove that none of their citizens who applied were capable of doing the job so they, last resort, offered it to you), the occupations that the country needed, safety, transportation, etc.!

In an effort to hopefully help make your road-to-country discovery smoother and less overwhelming, I’ve laid some steps below from my own learnings!

1. SEEK TRADITIONAL RESOURCES:

To be honest, searching online was overwhelming. While the World Wide Web is amazing, there is just so much information and from everywhere. I’d be up until 3am every day trying to put together a document with pros & cons; and, even then, I feared missing a piece of information. I couldn’t handle it anymore as my options were constantly changing– every day was a new country! Monday, Indonesia. Tuesday, Portugal. Wednesday, Denmark. I knew that if I kept down this path, I would be 100 years old, sitting at my computer and still be confused.

So, I turned to Amazon and searched for books to help. Traditional, printed books are good for this because you can’t really get too distracted and “click another link;” it forces you to get into the “what you see is what you get” mentality, making your search efforts a bit more narrowed down and more easily digestible.

I ended up buying “Getting Out: Your Guide to Leaving America” and loved that it gave such great information. Not only is it very resourceful in terms of providing advice on things like health insurance, visas, etc., it also gives you some good stats to consider about each country: crime rates, population, etc. The book speaks to countries in which it has received expat testimonials with the testimonials included!

After reading every single page, I dog-eared my picks and then started looking into the thing that would essentially allow me to go: visas.

 

2. CHECK VISA TYPES & ELIGIBILITY:

With your countries now narrowed down, it’s time to look into their offerings & requirements. Some things to keep in mind when looking at government websites for visas are: time of the year you are applying for a visa (is the enrollment period open? If not, when does it open?), length of time to process (some take days, some take weeks), amount of visas available for US citizens (each country is different, can range from 10 to unlimited), occupation (can you get a specialized visa?) and age (age-specific visas are available— one size may not always fit all).

Each country has their own set of visas and looking into them all will help narrow down which ones match closest to what you’re going for and if you qualify.

Since we were looking for New Zealand, here are some we came across as an example (for a full list, click here):

Work Visas: available if you have a company “sponsor” you, meaning you land in a different country and you already have a set job with a business that, pretty much, vouched for you and brought you over. You can look at off-shoring companies/jobs for these in which you can enter a contract for your stay; this option also opens up many more countries you can choose from because you are committing to staying for at least 1-year with the employer, typically.

Residential Visa: it’s a bit more of a commitment if you really have your heart set on staying somewhere for a very long time. Requirements can have you invest in property to staying for an extended stay of years; this one is more popular with people seeking to retire to other countries.

Skilled Migrant Visa: if you have an specialized skill/occupation that the country is in need of due to shortage (such as nursing or construction), you can come over with this “specialized skill” to work and stay.

Working Holiday Visa: After tapping deeper into visas, I stumbled upon “working holiday visas.” Essentially, they are visas that allow you to vacation (or go on ‘holiday’), while also allowing you to legally work in that country for a certain amount of time.

Under this visa, as an American citizen, I soon learned that my options were the following: Canada, Ireland, England, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. The catch? You had to be at most 30 years of age at the time of application (I believe Australia is now 35 years of age). The work/holiday visa was exactly what I was looking for and, with being just one year short of the age limit, I knew this was my time to apply.

 

3. WEIGH YOUR TRAVEL INTENTION

So after reviewing visa requirements and seeing that some of the world is your oyster, you now have a shorter list of countries to choose from. Woohoo! You’ve narrowed it down!

Before deciding on one over the other, it is very important to think about your travel intention, A.K.A.: what are you seeking from this move that your current country isn’t quite giving you?

Have the conversation with yourself (and if you’re going with others, get them talking about this, too!). Last thing you want is to be drawn somewhere, arrive, and second-guess that country versus another!

Here was my thought process to help guide you:
Personally, I really wanted to remove myself from the constant hustle & bustle and get more in touch with my soul; I also wanted to be more outdoors than not. While Canada offered so many beautiful outdoor adventures, I wanted to be somewhere a bit warmer during the winter months. I also wanted to be somewhere that I felt was more “once in a lifetime” in terms of the travel time required. While I had Ireland and the UK as my options, I gently placed them to the side as I could always hop on a plane across the pond from NYC and be there in six/seven hours. Singapore intrigued me, but since I wasn’t a recent college graduate, I didn’t qualify. This left me with two last options: Australia and New Zealand.

Australia’s beaches were tempting, but I knew so many people that have been there. It seemed that Australia was more popular and, through pop-culture and Instagram, saw that the culture kind of resembled the USA a bit.

New Zealand on the other hand? Not so much. I could count with my two fingers all the people I ever knew who’ve travelled there on vacation. The little cousin of Australia, whose total country population is less than that of New York City’s, intrigued me so much. It wasn’t a quick flight (I needed to dedicate at least 24 hours to get there) and it looked like it offered a lot of hiking, space and nature. Countless adventures seemed to be had and, oh, according to what popped up on my Google image searches of ‘New Zealand,’ it seemed absolutely photoshopped and I just had to go confirm the validity of these locations. I mean, REALLY(?!), those perfectly snow-capped mountains and bazillion sheep wandering around green rolling hills just *happened?!*

It wasn’t somewhere many people I knew went, which made me want to go there even more.

My intention was set. I thought about it. I weighed my options. I was all about uncovering the beauty of “the underdog” and, so, New Zealand turned out to be my heart’s desire.

 

4. APPLY FOR YOUR VISA— OFFICIALLY:

With your intention set and country chosen, now it’s time to fill out your visa. Make sure to gather ALL necessary documents BEFORE applying (the government’s website will detail it all out for you). You will find that, if any info is missing, it will only give you more stress; best to do your homework beforehand! Note: some countries will ask you for your passport (if you don’t have one, you need to get one first!) and they require your passport to be valid for a length of time (if you do have one, and it’s going to expire in three to six months, best to renew it!).

I remember applying for my student visa at the French Embassy in NYC once and I missed a few pieces of information that it left me running around the city like a crazy person, stressed, frustrated and in tears. Day after day I returned, until I finally received my visa. Best bet is to gather EVERY PIECE OF DOCUMENT before starting the application— trust me!

Alternatively, if there is no embassy for the country you are interested in applying to in your current city, your host country may have the visa application available online! This was the case with New Zealand for us.

I made sure to have all information ready before applying on their government’s immigration website; yes, you can even come across delays online and it can become even more cumbersome due to back and forth emailing/phone calls that may need to be made.

Check out the fees required for the country, too. For Americans interested in New Zealand: the price for the visa application is zero dollars (yep, that’s right— who’s coming now? ;)— Australia is about $300), the turn-around time is lightening fast, and the immigration website is the best I have ever seen (there’s even a chart mapping your emotions throughout the year when acclimating to a new country based on previous immigrants as the survey!).

Now you sit and wait! Remember, it may take some time and government sites do let you know how long processing will take. If it says “six to eight weeks,” go into your calendar eight weeks from applying and put in a reminder that your visa should have arrived by then! :).

Hope this helps!
Got questions? Ask ’em below!

xx,