Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Trust In Your Travel: 5 Reasons Travel Programs Are A Sham

After returning home from a  year long expedition and adventure throughout Australia and Thailand I'm still getting accommodated to being back stateside. As anyone who's traveled for an extended period will tell you, it's hard being back home. Granted Australia is pretty Westernized, but the subtleties in culture and general philosophy are still pretty drastic.

Having been back for a little over a month now, I've had some time to reacclimatize and get myself back in a U.S. mindset. I've also had some time to reflect on my year abroad and realize the biggest mistake I made when traveling. Actually that's not right, I made it before I even started traveling, when I was still super anxious and worried that I would be homeless in the streets after just a few weeks. You see before I left for Australia I signed up for a work and travel program. If you're not familiar with this term and thinking about traveling abroad at some point during your research you will most likely come across a derivative of this idea.

Basically work and travel programs, promise a sense of security to interested young travelers in exchange for a fee. Some promise pre-lined up jobs before you even leave your home country, others promise a extensive database of companies they work with, basically guaranteeing you a job within a few weeks of landing. Here's the thing... it's a sham. They know people get anxious when they are getting ready to make such a life altering decision, and by offering a sense of security they bushwhack you into paying for services you will either never get, or don't need. If you're thinking about traveling to Australia or anywhere else and you're considering using a work and travel program, here are five reasons you should reconsider:



The main reason I joined with the company I did (Greenheart Travel) is because I was scared. I had traveled outside of the country before and I have a massive amount of work experience, but I was still worried that I would be stuck without a job, without a place to live, and my savings would burn up faster than jet fuel. When I found Greenheart, it seemed like the perfect solution. They had two options at the time, but have since cut down to just a single option, called the "Freestyle". For a mere $950 you can have access to their entire support system for the length of your stay. This includes access to job placement services, housing support services, and 24/7 customer support. In retrospect I can't believe I was this naive, but unfortunately for me I was. I didn't take a moment to consider that pretty much all the things they were offering were available for free with an internet connection. There are hundreds if not thousands of free job sites, and just the same amount if not more offering housing availability. But instead of using that thousand dollars as a cushion to get setup when I got there and find these things on my own, I spent it hoping someone else would do it for me, big mistake.


The next thing I realized upon arrival and receiving new emails from a different company was that Greenheart Travel is a 3rd party travel service. Many of these companies are based out of the U.S. and act as 3rd party sign-up services for the actual companies who will be taking over those duties upon arrival. This was something I should have also figured out sooner, seeing that Greenheart is actually based out of Chicago (so how the heck could they help me in Australia). Essentially these companies act as a sign-up service for the actual companies overseas. I don't know what the exact figures are but I would have to assume this means they receive a portion of your sign-up fee then pass the rest off to the next company you will be involved with, mine being WTC (The Work Travel Company). So all the correspondence and rapport I had built with my Greenheart rep was now traded for someone totally new, that I didn't know, with a different company in Australia.


What I did get for my money was a 3-night stay in a fairly decent hostel upon my arrival in Sydney with transport from the airport and help setting up my new bank account. All things that eased the transition coming to a new country, but worth $950? On the second day after my arrival we went to an orientation with the new company who would now be taking over our services. Aside from getting slightly acquainted with Australian culture and some general guidelines, basically this "orientation" was just a time-share pitch. They continued to try and get us to purchase additional services (once again playing into our fears) and they even had a representative from a surf camp come in and try to sell everyone on spending another $500 to learn how to surf (it was the middle of winter at this point).

Aside from helping in setting up our bank accounts we learned that everything we had been promised was all "almost" true. They did have an extensive list of clients and job opportunities, but it was up to us to scroll through and find them they wouldn't be actively sending out applications on our behalf. And they did have some recommend housing options available, but they were all with companies and residencies that would receive a kick back should we sign with them. The biggest blow here however, was when I found out that jobs available and the "full service" was only available in the city limits. This means 95% of the jobs they had access to were within Sydney, and if you were to travel outside of Sydney, you were pretty much on your own in securing work. Some people may be different, but I didn't go all the way to Australia to stay in one city the whole freaking time.


Australia is SUPER expensive, like ridiculously expensive. Now is a great time to go because the American dollar is so strong, but at the time of my arrival is was pretty much even. The estimates I received when initially talking with Greenheart, was to expect to spend around $40 a day, except a single one room apartment in Sydney (and not even a nice one at that) can go for upwards of roughly $300/week (they charge by the week not the month). According to those estimates I'm already in about a -$3/day hole without even eating, drinking, or shopping yet. What they don't tell you, but what you quickly find out on your own is that most backpackers do something called "shared housing". Basically cramming as many people as they can into a single room or apartment. Still expensive for what you're actually getting, but much cheaper than attempting to get a place on your own. For example I had a friend from Holland who was paying about $150/week to stay in a three-bedroom apartment, with 11 other people!

If you want even a remote amount of your own space, you usually have to get out of the cities, but to get work you have to be within the city limits or deal with transit. But here's the thing, there are soooooo many places available for much cheaper if you can get a little outside the city limits. Australia is filled with travelers and housing is super accommodating to that life style (part of the reason rent is weekly). There are also numerous websites, the main being GumTree (think Aussie Craigslist) that have thousands of postings for anything from rooms to bikes. I ended up not staying in Sydney, which meant I didn't use WTC's housing services, but I did download the free GumTree app and had no problem finding places to stay wherever I went.


Are you a highly functioning, intelligent, outgoing individual? Heck, are you even slightly articulate and speak english? If so, you will have ZERO problems finding work overseas. My biggest fear when leaving was that I would blow through my savings because I couldn't find a place to work. The reality was, without any assistance from WTC I was able to find work within two days in every city I went to. Granted, I'm in hospitality and have been for a long time, and it's easier to find something in serving or bar tending than any other profession, but if you have ANY real life work experience and you're not completely incompetent, you can get a job without much effort at all.

I wanted to meet people, go out, and have fun, and for me working in bars was the perfect way to do that. But even if you don't have hospitality experience you can find jobs everywhere. GumTree again, is a great resource for this, but even walking around town handing out resumes at any place that looks cool will almost certainly get you an interview or two. The other thing plays back into the travel culture overseas, most people don't expect you to stay very long, especially if your on a work/travel visa. So you can simply get a job, any job, to make some money (minimum wage is like $14/hour but most places pay more), and in your spare time find something else you wanna do more. The problem with the WTC jobs is that aside from one or two cool event jobs, most of what they offered was physical labor based, and only part-time (or one-time only). Now there's nothing wrong with physical labor, but their are super strict regulations for working in Australia, which means you have to take a course (offered through your travel company), and buy certain work clothes/equipment (which costs a pretty penny) and even if you work a job it's not guaranteed. I've heard a few stories of people getting qualifications and appropriate clothing, that actually ended up spending more money on getting the job then they made from the job itself.

The point is if you want to travel, you should save up, sell your shit, and go. And if you're brave enough to make such a life altering decision, then you should trust yourself to hit the ground running when you get wherever it is you want to go. By simply saving money, doing your research, and being smart about how you travel, you can rest assured that the only person you need to depend on to get you a job and housing overseas... is you.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Jack Warner

Cocktail of the Week: 7th Edition
I love making drinks that are inspired by people, places, or things, basically if you're a noun, I wanna make a drink for you. This weeks drinks is inspired by a gentlemen who was all threw the media over the last couple of months. If you don't follow soccer, or football, or whatever you wanna call it, then you may have no idea who Jack Warner is. However, if you have heard anything about the FIFA scandal that has been ridiculous, to say the least, you have probably heard this fellas name mentioned once or twice. Warner is a prominent politician in Trinidad and Tobago, former FIFA Vice-President, and among a myriad of idiots who has recently dared to get in a social media war with English Comedian, John Oliver. Long story short, Oliver destroyed Warner (multiple times) and basically made him look like one of the world's foremost jackasses, but in doing so inspired me to put a twist on a new-classic in his honor. This week's Taylor Made Cocktail is all things Trinidad, and I can already assume 1000 times more likable than it's namesake. This is TAYLOR MADE: THE JACK WARNER.
The first time I was introduced to a Trinidad Sour I didn't know what to think. As I saw the recipe and noticed that it called for a full ounce of Angostura, I assumed I was reading it wrong. However, pushing my apprehension to the side and actually trying the finished product, what I tasted was something amazing. If you know anything about bitters you know they are, well, strong, pungent, not something you would normally want to consume more than a few dashes of (which is why most recipes call for just that). After my initial introduction and my new found fascination with this FIFA villain I decided my own recipe would have to be tweaked and made into an homage of a great country, with a terrible dude in charge. The Jack Warner is a sour, so like most sours, it's pretty straight forward, not too many ingredients, not too complicated to make. Here's what you'll need:
  • Angostura Bitters
  • Angostura 7 year Rum (or another nice dark Caribbean rum)
  • Some fresh lime juice and limes for slicing
  • Orgeat Sugar Syrup
  • Some egg whites
  • Get all your ingredients laid out and ready, juice pre-squeezed (an ounce per drink), egg whites pre-um... whited
  • You'll want some fancy martini glasses for this that hold at least six fluid ounces
  • You'll need all your normal bar tools for this as well (shakers, strainers, etc.)
MIXING: one drink at a time or just multiply for however many you're making
Add the following to your shaker:
  • 1 oz Angostura Bitters
  • 1 oz Angostura 7-year
  • 1 oz Fresh Squeezed lime juice
  • 1 oz Orgeat Syrup
  • 1 egg white per drink
Once everything is in the shaker, proceed to dry shake (without ice) for about 20-30 seconds. This allows the egg white to pulverized and makes your sour extra fluffy.
Add your ice and shake again for another 20-30 seconds and double strain into a martini glass.
Cut a super thin lime wheel (cut of about a 1/3 of the tip of the lime and cut horizontally) and drop into the martini glass. To give you an idea it should be so thin that the actual wheel floats.
Finally, adjust to the fact of how dark and intimidating this drink is, take your first sip, follow that with two more giant gulps after realizing how delicious it is, make a new one, and repeat until soccer becomes entertaining.
This is a great, fun drink that I think you will all enjoy, and the perfect rum based concoction to compliment this transition to winter.

How Star Wars Ruined Cinema

With the impending release of the new trilogy of films coming this Christmas, I thought it would be appropriate to write about the greatest sci-fi odyssey of all time, Star Wars. I sat down and thought about it for a while, I looked into the depths of what I remembered from my years minoring in film (which basically equated to watching old movies, in a dark room with a crazy teacher and writing a one page paper about it... yay college!). The more I examined this cinematic masterpiece, the more I realized something as deep, dark, and twisted as the empire itself, the implications Star Wars had on the entire film industry...

Even the idea of this subject matter pains me to think about. I love Star Wars! It's one of the first films I remember seeing as a child and it's one of the few movies from an era of great films that had CGI that to this day refrains from looking corny and hokey. However, the more I've thought about it, the more I realize that Star Wars was the beginning of the end to cinema as we used to know it.

If you're a film buff the way that I am you know that the late 60's, through the end of the 70's, is pretty much regarded as the "Golden-Era" of film making. This was a time when writers and directors had such creative freedom that they gave us one countless masterpiece after another. Without the worry of budgeting or commercial appeal, directors and writers were free to do exactly what making films is all about, telling stories, and getting us lost in a world different from our own. This was truley an era of "Movie Magic". I've seen thousands of films, that's not an exaggeration, thousands. Between Netfilx and a childhood filled with cinema along with a minor in Film from college I've collected a rather large sample size. If you ask any movie buff you're hard pressed to find someone who truely adores film, that would argue against the following assumption. In today's film industry there are a few dozen films a year released that are true to what film was originally all about, and that's probably on the high end. The majority of the films released today and for about the last 30 years are simply a way for studios to make money, the once great art form is now simply industry. 

If you look at any list of the 100 greatest movies of all-time, I'd say at minimum 70% were made on or before the year 1985 (80% according to this imdb list... http://www.imdb.com/list/ls055592025/), this is simply when directors and writers started losing their creative freedom. They got greedy and started making movies other directors and writers would want to see. They spent enormous budgets and created 4 and 5 hour monstracities (at least in the eyes of the viewing public), and basically they pissed away all the credibility they had worked so hard to gain. Although a lot of the blame for this can be placed on the directors for pushing the limits of their creative "leashes" if you will; a lot of the blame also falls on a series of films I dearly love, Star Wars. 

Before Star Wars, CGI was a joke, and movies were meant to tell a story with great dialouge and even better story telling. Movies that were popular were also thought provoking (which is rarely the case anymore), and they touched on matters that were important to the social climate. Star Wars changed all of this. It showed producers that a big box office Sci-Fi fantasy could create astronomical sales revenue by telling a mediocre story, but also by dazzling audiences visually. And since the demise of directoral freedom, and the rise of Star Wars coincided so closely, it is my point to argue that Star Wars in fact doomed cinema... as we used to know it. 

When you see a box office smash hit today it usually involves two things, a huge budget, and a shit load of CGI, characters and story are many times secondary, if even relevant at all. If you were to look at a list of the biggest box office successes of the last 10 years, you would be hard pressed to find a dozen movies  that didn't start out with enormous budgets. Combine that with huge amounts of CGI, or at least crazy amounts of stunts and action sequences and you have the "modern" box office smash. This isn't to say that there are not exceptions to the rule (paranormal activity, the purge) but the rule is pretty much law. This is why we've seen so many production companies turn to superheroes for an easy buck. It's got everything you'd want in a summer smash already built in, and all you have to do is adapt these characters that were written 40-plus years ago to today. 

How is this Star Wars fault? Star Wars opened the flood gates, it made story telling secondary. Now I love the films, and the dialouge, and everything about all three of those films, but even die hard Star Wars fans must admit the whole trilogy is pretty caddy. It just happened to be perfectly caddy, with the right characters played by the right people, but there's no denying it's cheesiness. No one will be comparing the integrity of Star Wars as an altruistic art form next to the Godfather for instance, but then again, they represent two opposite ends of the spectrum. In a perfect world both could exist, but in reality, audiences in mass prefer to think less and be entertained more, or at least that's how big studios have come to view the public at large. They believe we want to leave the theater feeling comfortable, and knowing that everything worked out the way it should. Star Wars helped in conforming this belief that the audience must be fulfilled. With the exception of, "Empire Strikes Back" which ended on a rather glum note, but everyone knew the tables would eventually turn for good, they had to.

Now there is a rising segment of film makers who've basiclaly given the finger to this idea of complacency in cinema (Quentin Tarantino comes to mind). They've worked long and hard to create this niche, and it's not easy for new up and comers to break into that segment. But even though these films still exist, they are few and far between. I remember watching Guy Pierce in Momento for the first time and thinking "this is what film making should be". And by that I don't mean all stories told backwards, but something that engages the audience. If you've ever seen this cult favorite you know you can watch it a dozen times and still pick up a little subtlety you missed the first 11 times around. But for the most part we as a general public desire visual anesthetic from our cinema. Something that will entertain us but also numb the reality we have to go back to when we leave. We desire comfort, and George Lucas helped make us comfortable, and in doing so killed the film industry. 

When I was in college I remember watching many classic films, some I had watched as a kid but for the most part they were films you just heard about. Robert Dinero, "Oh ya Raging Bull, and Taxi Driver" but most people who consume media now have never seen either of those films. I remember watching both in class and leaving going, "What the fuck just happened?" In the hey day of directoral freedom, there didn't need to be any happy endings, and most times there weren't. Most films I've seen that were critically acclaimed from that era left me feeling uncomfortable as the lights came up in the auditorium classroom, but the more I watched, the more I realized that's why they were so valuable. When all we desire is complacency, and simplicity from the media we consume, we slowly allow that to become all we desire from our lives. This is not just in film but in all types of media. That's why Justin Beiber will always be more popular than Ray Lamontagne, Ray may be more critically acclaimed, but the masses don't want to hear songs that end up make you feeling more depressed than when you started listening. They want, "Oh Baby, baby baby, OH!" In the wise words of prophetic poet/comedian/Youtube sensation Bo Burham, "Repeat Stuff, Repeat Stuff, Repeat Stuff, Repeat Stuff, Repeat Stuff, Repeat Stuff." And that's exactly what popular music as well as popular cinema has done. In music the equation is Douchey Boy+Overexaggerated Love Song = Platinum Record. For film its similar Regurgitated Super Hero + CGI = Billion Dollar Box Office.

Now I can't go so far as to blame George Lucas for the Biebs, but I can definitely consider him a main contributing factor for why Michael Bay keeps getting 100 million dollars to make cars explode in the air. Or as South Park put it:

FBI Agent: "Mr. Bay those aren't storylines, those are just special effects."
Michael Bay: "I uh... I don't know the difference."

So what's the answer, the silver lining, the potential solution to return our lost art to the once great medium it was. Honestly, there probably is none. That may seem bleak, but unfortunately unless the masses decide they don't want to line up three days early to see ANOTHER TRANSFORMERS MOVIE then we are probably doomed to have an endless cycle of recirculated garbage. The truth is the studios own the movies now, the directors just point and yell action. But there is something you can do. You can choose to decide what you spend your money on, that's not to say that all indie movies are awesome but do some research and find some filmmakers you like and go see their next movie instead of Michael Bays. You can, not listen, to your friends when they say, "That new Batman movie was the greatest thing I've ever seen! You have to see it!" Let's be honest (Ben Affleck, are you KIDDING ME!) Michael Keaton is the best Batman, Christian Bale is the coolest Batman, and everyone else is just dressing up in a suit with hard nipples. Support your filmmakers who make films, not movies, there may not be many of them still out there, but there's a few and with our help we might not be able to turn this whole thing around, but we can at least make sure they don't get wiped out completely. And now if you'll excuse me, I have to go watch, the new Star Wars Trailer, again!