What’s In Your Candy Bowl?

Mike and I grew up in the United States, and we both participated in walking younger children around on Halloween. When we began to travel, we were in foreign countries for this day.

One of the years we were in Chile. Because we were in a cabin in the small town of Bahia Inglesa, and I knew that there were children around, I went shopping to find Halloween candy. There wasn’t a chocolate bar in sight. The only thing they were selling were bags of hard candy, mints or gumballs. I finally asked the sales clerk and she said they didn’t traditionally give their children chocolate for Halloween. Also, the costumes they had for sale were not as flashy or as costly as they are here in the United States, so even buying a costume or dressing up isn’t as big a deal.

Mike and I had never heard of such a thing, and because chocolate was so cheap in Chile by our standards, we proceeded to buy chocolate bars for Halloween.

On that night our doorbell rang and it was a single lone child. He lived in the complex where we were staying, and I had seen him around before. He always looked sad and lonely. The little guy broke my heart every time I saw him. He most likely expected to find the same hard candy in our candy dish that everyone else had so when we produced a pretty good sized chocolate bar his face lit up, and he smiled like I had never seen him smile before.

Within half an hour he was back with three friends and they each got a candy bar. Smiles and choruses of ‘gracias’ brightened the night air. We were making friends. Thirty minutes after that he brought back another group of friends and they too got chocolate bars. More smiles and more thanks. This continued until we had exhausted the fifty bars of chocolate we had to give, many of them to the same kids because they came to the door over and over again.

I remember crying that night because a simple bar of chocolate made a difference to those children that night. They were smiling and happy and sharing a memory with each other. So many of the children here in the United States take what gets put into their Halloween sack for granted. It was nice to be someplace where what we gave away on Halloween was so special.

The next day when we were out walking around, the same children saw us and pointed and smiled and said hello and we heard them say to their parents, ‘They are the ones! They are from the United States!’ And even their parents smiled and said hello and waved at us.

Building relationships has to start somewhere. You just never know as a traveler how or when that relationship will begin. Every act we do while traveling speaks volumes to people about us as Americans. I try to remember when I travel I’m not just sightseeing; I’m an ambassador for my country.

May everyone have a safe and happy Halloween.

Florence Lince

About.me/florencelince

True Blog Costs

Because the economy is so bad I see more and more bogus news stories on how to make tons of money a month blogging or how to become a fabulous money making travel blogger and travel the world for free all while blogging.

As with most industries if one began their travel blog when the blog thing was new (like 1983 or so) you most likely had a shot at making a living blogging. If you figured out how to get sponsors, affiliate links and how to use blog aggregators properly you could have learned how to make money blogging because you would have more than 25,000 views on every story you posted and perhaps one or some of those 25,000 people would click on one of the ads on your blog site and you made a little extra money.

In order to make any serious money and to control your income you have to own your blog name, address and the servers they reside on. You cannot have a free blog service. If you have a free blog (such as on wordpress.com) you cannot do google analytics or ad sense and without this you can pretty much kiss making any serious money goodbye.

In the old days companies raced to hire bloggers and to pay them to acquire their followers. What all these companies soon realized was that they did not have to pay anyone to place an ad on these blogs; they just had to allow them to have an affiliate link. All those side bar links that so many blogs have are available to anyone, even you.

On our official website we had an affiliate link (now gone) for SendMyBag. You clicked on it and if someone purchased or booked their service we made a small commission (but only if they actually made a purchase). Some blogs will actually disclose this information to you before you click on the link. We had many of the visitors from our website click on the link to learn more. What they soon realized was that they too could sign up and become an affiliate so we made nothing. What SendMyBag got was a free website to advertise on. Good deal for them. When I realized I was being used, and gaining nothing, I removed their link.

You can only put affiliate links on a paid blog subscription or on an official website, both of which will cost you money to set up, own and to keep, year, after year. The old saying, you can’t make money without spending money still applies. Your conundrum is to figure out if spending this money is worth it in the end.

Before anyone runs off to set up a money making blog I suggest you add up the costs first and then realize that writing a blog is a serious amount of work and takes dedication. You should also expect to spend up to 12 hours a day advertising your blog and making your audience grow and in finding the best aggregators to place your blog on. Oh, and take an SEO course, you are going to need it.

How much work is a blog? I followed one blogger who sat in a different coffee house and chatted with people and then he wrote about that encounter. He was posting daily at the time. He was expected to travel for a year (he had sponsors) and to visit a new coffee house in a different city all over the United States writing about these encounters. Sounds like fun, right? He didn’t even make it through the first five months when his health began to deteriorate and his doctor told him to cut back or else.

Traveling non-stop, meeting with people in a new place, then spending hours writing and posting, no wonder he was sick. He even set up a pod-cast with another blogger during this time which also takes hours to write for and to record. This is the side of making money while blogging that people do not talk about; that blogging to make a serious amount of money is also a serious amount of work.

This blogger is no longer blogging daily; he’s down to once a week. Because he was no longer able to travel he also changed what he blogged about and it was no longer compelling reading. I stopped following.

I guess what I want to say here is that if you think you are going to make a ton of money blogging you had better have something to say first. If your blog is just a series of affiliate links you won’t have many viewers.

As for all those affiliate links I see everywhere; no thanks. I won’t be clicking on any of them anytime soon. I am tired of social media being used to make me an advertising target. Mike and I have adblocker software on every internet browser we use.

Because we are in a ‘jobless’ economic recovery everyone is scrambling to figure out how to make money. Only a few of the lucky ones will actually make a decent living at blogging. I realized early on that I just wanted to blog to have an outlet for my thoughts. I didn’t want to expend so much energy trying to make this a business that I didn’t have the time or the energy to travel. Paying to own my blog in the hopes of making money is like spinning the wheel at a craps table in Vegas. I try to remember that all those fancy casinos didn’t get built because the house loses…

Florence Lince

About.me/florencelince

Do You Remember Your First Birthday?

I started this blog on October 24, 2013.  Almost exactly one year ago.  I have now posted over 100 stories which in some ways surprises even me.  I didn’t know I had so much that I wanted to say.

I  did learn quickly however that blogs are not one size fits all and I began two other blogs; The Expat Cafe and Lean, Mean and Vegan, mostly because I felt that I had different audiences I wanted to speak too and I wanted an avenue to do just that.

I only post two blog entries a week on each blog and while that might seem like a lot to some of you I follow blogs that post not only once a day but several times in that day.  Wow!  Where do they find the time to be creative or in staying motivated?

While I do have a list of story ideas on my calendar that take me well into 2015 on this blog, and I’m adding new story ideas all the time, I do not contemplate ending this blog anytime soon.

I will be blowing out a candle this week to celebrate my first birthday.  Now that I’ve learned to do the blog walk, let’s see how far I can run…

Happy Birthday to me.  © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Happy Birthday to me. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Florence Lince

about.me/florencelince

 

What is Your cell phone number?

Before heading off for what would be three years of travel, Mike and I had to decide if we were going to keep our American cell phone number. In order to do that we had to pay for minutes and then we had to leave the phone with someone here in the US who had to use the phone at least once in every three month period. If a cell phone number is not used for an extended period of time the phone company deactivates it and the phone number can be assigned to someone else. We knew we were not going to take the silly thing with us and pay the roaming fees for using the phone internationally, so our American cell phone was history.

You might wonder if you even need a cell phone while traveling. We needed one to contact landlords and rental agencies since we were looking for a place to live. We weren’t using it to find the closest restaurants, read the latest news or find out what time the local bar opened. In the three years we traveled and lived abroad, we may have used a cell phone only a handful of times to connect with friends who happened to be in the country that we were in. Having a cell phone was simply not a necessity.

In every Latin American and European country the cost of a phone is minimal, like $5 minimal. Getting minutes was often as cheap as $5 or $10 for 200 minutes. Often the cell phone sat in a drawer and was turned off.

Not all the phones were usable in the next country but they were all unlocked and if the chip from the next country was compatible we just changed the SIM card and bought more minutes and used the phone wherever we were. There are two types of SIM cards that travelers can get; an International SIM and a country specific SIM. We had both while traveling.

While we were away traveling the US started offering ‘go’ phones. We had kept our original phone in a box here in the US so we now pay $10 a month for cell phone minutes. You see we have an old fashioned landline in our home with an answering machine. This is the only phone number we give out.

Mike and I are not quite sure what the whole smartphone thing is about. What is so important that we need to know about it immediately? Do we need to know that someone had a fight with someone else, or have someone call us to see if we saw the latest episode of a TV show, and do I honestly need to know that someone is calling some government agency to talk about their benefits not having arrived because they are homeless? (This was an actual phone call I had to listen too while on a bus recently.)

While we were away, the craze became for everyone to have a smartphone (yes that is one word). A smartphone is defined as a cellular phone that performs many of the functions of a computer, typically having a touchscreen interface, Internet access, and an operating system capable of running downloaded applications.

What shocks me the most is the cost of even getting one of these phones and then making them do all the features mentioned above. Having a smartphone is not cheap. Since I have a computer at home and I am already paying for internet access why would I pay for all of those things twice? Do I need to be on a computer 24-7?

Mike and I researched getting a more modern cell phone when we returned to the US and when I saw the costs to even just buy the phone I was in shock. These same phones were so affordable in most other countries that every family member had one. Personally, I could use that money to buy airlines tickets to some fun place or to book a ships passage to Alaska or something way more enjoyable, so we left the sales counter laughing that anyone in the US would spend that kind of money on a phone.

Perhaps my life is not that exciting, because I do not feel the need to talk to someone immediately when they call. I can leave my home and run my errands and meet and talk to strangers face to face. I can build relationships with people. I can stop and smell the roses instead of walking with some contraption on my ear and not evening noticing my surroundings. I can keep all the money I would be wasting on a cell phone and use it to travel more.

In a nutshell if you want to chat with me, and you have my number, I will chat with you and give you my undivided attention. If I don’t answer my phone and you have to leave a message you know that I’m out of the house, enjoying whatever life has to send my way. You won’t find me on a smartphone calling someone to talk about the latest episode of Game of Thrones. I’ll be the one traveling to Croatia to see the country where they film the series instead.

Florence Lince

About.me/florencelince

Creative Outlets

When I was younger it was all the rage to have a diary. In fact, I was given a diary on my eleventh birthday and I remember being pretty excited about having a place to keep my personal thoughts, ideas and dreams.

I had no illusions that I would be able to write anything as compelling as Anne Frank did or even pen the outline for the great American novel in my diary. However, I did think I was destined to be a journalist when I grew up.

Perhaps it was my youth, perhaps it was my naivete, perhaps it was just not the right time for me, but when I did try to write in that diary I realized I had nothing to say. I was advised by the giver of the diary to write about my day, my dreams, my problems, even my life. I would have, except it was all downright boring.

I realized that I did not want to spend my time writing about the chores I completed, the books I read, the homework I needed to do, or the fights with family or friends I had that day. Writing it all down seemed like a colossal waste of time. I then decided that the diary would be for super special events in my life and I put it away in a drawer.

Fast forward to 2004 and the advent of Facebook, the whole world’s diary – a place where people share the chores they accomplished that day, the fights they had with family and friends, the books they read and what score they received on the latest on-line game.

My yearning to share and write went beyond Facebook and I needed an outlet to share my thoughts, and so my blogs were born. In the beginning I decided that I had something to say and I wanted an outlet to say it and so I became the journalist I wanted to be. Although I am not paid by some famous newspaper to share my thoughts, I do write about those things that mean something to me; I write about the people I meet when I travel internationally or even just when tootling around town. I write about what it feels like to be part of the human race. Mostly I write about things that mean the most to me in no particular order and in no particular rank of importance.

Everyone needs a creative outlet I suppose. I just wish so much of what gets shared on some of these outlets was really worthy of my time. I am pretty selective in what I read and even more so on what I respond to, which is why I dumped Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr. I just figured that reading someone’s private diary is not what I should be spending my time on.

I wish there were a way – gently – to tell people that they do not need to share their private diary entries with the whole world. There is a reason a diary came with a lock and a key; some things should just remain private.

I do not know what happened to that first diary I received all those years ago. I do know I never filled its pages with my hopes, my dreams, or the places I hoped to travel to. My blogs are now my creative writing outlet and I try to remember that blog posts are not a dumping ground for what should be a diary entry. Besides, I’m sure they have a Facebook app for that.

Florence Lince

About.me/florencelince

 

My How You’ve…Changed

Before Mike and I lived in any new city, on any continent, we researched the area as best we could on the internet. We tried to find other expats who lived in the area so that we could ask them pointed questions about life in that city. We located grocery stores, bakeries, fresh markets, the local library, banks, and transit centers on a city map. If possible we also tried to locate information on crime statistics in a certain city.

Because we were heading back to Olympia, Washington, and we had only been away for seven years, we figured we knew enough about the area. Thus, we did no prior research. Before arriving we had planned to find something to rent in or near the downtown Olympia core.

Somehow, somewhere and without many people noticing, downtown Oly became a not-so-nice place to live. They even managed to turn my much-loved and often-visited Olympia Farmers Market into a tourist hot spot where the prices are now so outrageous that it is no longer a must-visit experience for many locals as it once was.

A walk through Sylvester Park in central downtown on a beautiful warm day had us walking through a maze of people, young and old, strewn all over the lawn, smoking and drinking. Many of the cities homeless now congregate on the lawns and under the trees. It was no longer a nice place to sit and enjoy a good conversation or a cup of coffee. When a city loses a place for families to play with their children, they have a problem.

Also, while walking around the city center Mike and I were shocked over the increased number of tattoo parlors we found spread throughout the city. When a city has more tattoo parlors than bookstores, they have a problem.

To better understand what happened here, I walked into several downtown businesses and chatted with the owners. I learned that over 80% of the downtown housing was now section 8 low income housing. Eighty percent is a major saturation. No one had been paying any attention to the housing infrastructure during the past seven years, and low income housing became the standard. When people run out of Section 8 assistance, they become homeless. Homeless people tend to remain where they are familiar and comfortable, and that equated to the downtown park.

We also noticed that there were no grocery stores to buy everyday staples in the city center. We wondered, where are people supposed to shop? We were told that they had to head out of the area to nearby Lacey or Tumwater to buy groceries or they had to pay the incredibly high end prices at the only grocery store in the area which is nearby but not located central to downtown.

Many of the businesses we had frequented and shopped in were no longer around. Many of the buildings are vacant and waiting for someone to come along and fill them. We learned that much of the turnaround was due to the type of people who fill the streets at night in Olympia because of the homeless situation and people no longer felt safe walking the streets at night. If people with money no longer want to dine at, shop in or even walk through your city center, how can one expect the restaurants and the businesses to thrive?

Is it too late for there to be a turnaround? Can something be done to lesson the number of section 8 housing options and to equal out the type of people they want to draw to downtown?   In a special three part report in The Olympian entitled Taking Back Downtown Olympia, several people are reportedly trying to do just that. Will they succeed? I hope so. Olympia is after all the state capitol of Washington, and it should be a bustling, vibrant, fun and safe place to live. I hope they can make it happen.

Until they do we will be living further north in Bellingham, Washington, where the statistics and our research indicate Bellingham is one of the best cities in not only Washington to live in but also in the United States. We therefore have learned our lesson. Just because we are American and just because we think we know our own country better does not mean we shouldn’t be doing our research on a city or a location with as much depth and clarity as when we researched for a safe place to live on four other continents. The mindset really does need to be; once an expat, always an expat.

Florence Lince

About.me/florencelince

 

An Expat Still Has The Right to Vote

I hope my blog story is not a surprise to the thousands of American’s living outside of the United States. Unless you have given up American citizenship you are still entitled to vote in every mid-term and Presidential election, even if you no longer live here full-time.

Mike and I haven’t been in the United States for the past three elections – be they mid-term or Presidential. That however has never stopped us from casting our vote. We were in the country of Panama in 2012 when we cast our vote in the Presidential election.

Many of the American embassies will forward your election ballet to the United States – free of charge. Each country has their own procedure for doing this and their own timeline but it is an option for expats. Allow at least three weeks lead time however for them to get your ballet on American soil before the deadline.

The last day to register to vote in these mid-term elections was October 6, 2014. Knowing this, one of the first things Mike and I did when we arrived back here in the US in July was to update our voter registration information so that we could vote in the mid-term elections.

Here are some helpful links in case you are an expat but you have never registered to vote:

Vote from Abroad.org

Democrats Abroad

Republicans Abroad

According to the Association of American Residents Overseas,

Many U.S. elections within the past ten years have been decided by a margin of victory of less than 0.1%.  All states are required to count every absentee ballot as long as it is valid and reaches local election officials by the absentee ballot receipt deadline which differs by state.

The right for US citizens who reside overseas to vote was not part of the election standards until 1986. That year the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) was put into law.

Seeing that someone went to all the trouble of giving me a law to use I think it only fair that I do so as much as possible.  I hope you will join me.

Florence Lince

About.me/florencelince