Christmas in Guadeloupe

Believe it nor, Christmas is just around the corner again (for those who celebrate it). For me that has traditionally meant one of two things: either I’m in my native Finland for Christmas, or I’m skipping the holiday altogether in favor of traveling.

Well, last year I assumed I would be skipping Christmas as I was spending the winter in the tropics, on my new adopted Caribbean home island of Guadeloupe. Being far from snow and Santa’s homeland (which is the Finnish Lapland of course), I figured there wouldn’t be a whole lot going on in terms of the festive season’s celebrations. But boy was I wrong! It turns out that Gwada folks love Christmas more than I ever could have imagined, and I ended up getting totally swept up by the celebrations, whether it was massive Chanté Nwel concerts or traditional Christmas markets. I loved it!

That said, here’s my article from the latest Blue Wings magazine on what to expect if you find yourself in the French Caribbean for Christmas (also available here in an online version when you scroll to pages 45-46):

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If you are interested in hearing what that “fast reggae-style” version of Silent Night sounds like, check out this video from a small Chanté Nwel concert in Guadeloupe. (The music starts after the 40-second a cappella part.) Catchy, eh?

What about you – have you ever gotten into the Christmas mood in an unlikely place? What’s your favorite Christmas destination?

Get ready: Dirt cheap flights to the French Caribbean are comiiiiiiiing!

Last week I received an email from The Points Guy that said Norwegian Air was starting cheap flights from New York to the Caribbean in December.

“Hmm, that probably won’t impact my life in any major way,” I thought automatically. After all, the only Caribbean island that I fly regularly to is Guadeloupe, a relatively obscure and little-known island in the French West Indies. It seems to be the destination that all major airlines forgot even exists, and it can cost upwards of $700 to fly there from New York. Not cool, especially for me: I currently split my time between New York, Guadeloupe and Finland, as my work, love and family are in these three places, respectively – one of the dilemmas of being a globetrotter! 🙂

Here’s a picture from Gosier Island, off the coast of the “continent” of Guadeloupe (which is actually composed of two big islands together). You can be athletic and swim out to Ile du Gosier from the mainland in about 20 minutes, or take a quick boat for $3 roundtrip. Love that place!

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Sooooooo…. I opened The Points Guy’s chain email without much fanfare. You can only imagine how I felt when I read the blurb about these up-coming Caribbean flights.

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EEEEEEEEKKKKKKK!!!! I COULDN’T BELIEVE MY EYES!!! GUADELOUPE IS ON THAT SCHEDULE!!!

The thrice-weekly flights from NYC to Gwada are starting at just $79-$99 one-way, an incredible deal even from the world’s leading low-fare airline. This means Guadeloupe will go overnight from being just about the most expensive Caribbean destination to get to, to the being the cheapest. Whooooooooa!!! MAJOR NEWS!!

It turns out Norwegian chose Guadeloupe and Martinique because the airline can fly unlimited between the USA and the EU under the Open Skies agreement, and these new Caribbean destinations are officially part of the EU. Sneaky sneaky! As for now the flights are a winter trial, and the airline will see how they go before expanding their Caribbean service.

So get yourself over to Norwegian‘s website and grab some bargain fares to escape up-coming gloomy winter! The price doesn’t include checked-in luggage, so check out my tips for packing light.

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Aren’t those prices just crazyyyyy?? And those are for direct service! The flight only takes 4.5 hrs from NY to Pointe-a-Pitre. Incroyable! Being used to the $700-1000 roundtrips that require changing in Montreal, Miami or St. Martin and take all day (and sometimes require an overnight layover), this is pretty unbelievable.

Here are some more scenes from Ilet du Gosier to motivate you to book a trip before all those cheap fares are snatched:

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See you in the French West Indies! Let me know if you are interested in a tour of the islands – I’m thinking of starting small-group tours that show you the best of Guadeloupe within a few days for those on a tight schedule.

Au revoir!

My Big Russian Media Debut!

Check this out – I’m famous in Russia! Woohoo!

Okay, well maybe not that famous, but at least a little bit – a translated version of my article about travel writing was published today in a Russian travel website called Arrivo. Apparently the website gets about one million unique visitors a month, so not too shabby! I would guess that’s just a few more than what my blog gets. 😉

You can get a general idea of the gist of the article if you read it with Google Chrome, as the browser does an automatic translation.

Or better yet, you can read the original English-language version here, as the article was first published by 219 Magazine, a publication of my alma mater, the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

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For those of you that can read Russian, you’ll notice that the English version is organized slightly differently. In the words of the translator, Ivan Kuznetsov, “It’s not a word-to-word translation, but that way it sounds better in Russian. We changed it a bit: made it shorter, mixed myths and truths and your personal story, which was originally in the beginning, as your quotes.”

And how did I get to be published in Russia? Easy. All I did was host Ivan, a Russian guy, through Couchsurfing.com in Finland for one night back in the summer of 2012.

Ivan recently emailed me that he was on the path to becoming a travel writer himself, partly due to being inspired by my example! And he asked if he could translate this article of mine for Arrivo, one of his clients.

Those of you that speak Russian can learn more about Ivan from his traveler profile, also published on Arrivo. He also has a personal blog that is partly in English: www.kunavithewriter.com.

And here’s a picture of me and some friends with Ivan (who is wearing glasses) from his trip to Finland in 2012, when we went to visit the eco-village of Livonsaari near Turku. That was a fun day and we definitely saw some alternative ways of living – including a family with young kids that was happy to have no running water. They just bathed with buckets in order to save water and eventually the planet. That sounds all fine and dandy in the summer time, but the Finnish winters can be pretty harsh! Brrrr. But of course they had a sauna that makes it slightly better…

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SAM_8893There was another woman building a giant wooden house for herself in the forest, after being tired of living in a “kota” for three summers – kota is a Finnish teepee of sorts. And there was another lady building a house with huge windows that allow in as much sunlight as possible.

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Speaking of alternative life choices: It turns out that Ivan’s life totally turned around after this visit to Turku and the eco-village!  Though not in the way you would expect (nope, he didn’t move to the woods to be a hippie). Instead Ivan met a Polish guy at the eco-village who told him about the European Voluntary Service (EVS) program and he decided to apply for the program himself.

Here’s what Ivan wrote to me a year later from Italy:

“I would like to thank you very much for this unexpected tour to this village.I mean, this day in Turku with you and your friends really changed my life. My main goal was Stockholm, it was cool, but nothing amazing happened there. Turku was on the way to Helsinki, but many things happened.

The story behind is that after this day in Turku I thought about my life for the rest of the summer. I decided to quit my office job, my rental apartment in Saint Petersburg which I never really liked, and go for traveling. While applying for the EVS I discovered many new things and possibilities for budget travels, like Help Exchange and WWOOF, and many others.

Now I am a volunteer in an environmental education center in a small city or better to say a village – Lamon, in Dolomites mountains, about 100 km from Venice. We do workshops for kids, learn local nature, meet local people, learn Italian and just have a lot of fun. The place is very beautiful. Mountains around. I have never been in such a nice place. I love Italy very much. We already visited south of the country – Napoli (which is just a crazy city, in some ways even more crazy than New York!) and we are planning to go to Toscana the next weekend.

After the EVS I am planning to go to South America for at least one more year to travel, to learn Spanish and to collect material for my new book. Actually, my new book is writing itself just here in Italy. But this is only the beginning! Okay, it going to be a long letter. I just want to wish you good luck, to send a picture from my window now and to say that I miss Finland, north, nature and people very much.”

Here’s the picture he sent me. Not a bad outcome for a night of Couchsurfing in Turku! And cool that it lead to my Russian media debut as well. Life can be pretty surprising sometimes. 🙂

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Want to be a travel writer?

Are you an aspiring travel writer or would you just like to know what life is like when the whole world is your office? Click here to read the article I wrote about the ins and outs of travel writing for 219 Magazine, published by my alma mater CUNY (The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism).

The article can also be read in a different format on Medium.com.

Hope you like it and find it useful!

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Favela Life in Brazil

With the World Cup mania going on full speed, everyone’s eyes are now on Brazil. This has gotten me to think about my most recent trip to the sunny country and about one of my most memorable experiences there – the week I spent staying in the favela of Pavao near the Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro.

While I was immersed in the colorful life of the favela – a slum for lack of a better word in English – I was bombarded with questions from foreigners and Brazilians alike: what’s it like to stay in a favela? Is it dangerous? Scary? How do you move around there? How do the locals react when they see you?

That’s why I decided to do this video that shows me making my way from our home on top of the favela down to the street level and back – a full 400 steps each way, navigating the narrow labyrinth-like pathways. The round trip generally takes about 15 minutes. Imagine if you had to climb up 400 steps just to get home! Insanity. But it definitely keeps the residents in good shape.

If you are still wondering what exactly a favela is, check out this good article that explains why no English-language word really characterizes it perfectly:

Why We Should Call them Favelas

And if this video convinced you that you really want to stay in a favela yourself on your next Rio trip, that’s easily done. Just book a room from Fiona, Pavao’s lone Brit: https://www.airbnb.com.br/rooms/841135

 

 

 

 

10 weird things to know about Brazil

Happy New Year everyone! I know, I know, I’m a little late to the game but this is my first post in 2014. Yikes! Here’s a picture from the wild NYE celebrations I took part in Tel Aviv. That place can party! My friend and I danced at this underground club The Cat and Dog until 7 a.m., but turned down all the offers of drugs and bathroom hook-ups. 😛

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What a crazy year it has been so far, and we are only in mid-February. Over the last seven weeks I’ve taken nine flights and set foot on eight countries on three continents. I’ve gone from dark wintery Finland to spring-like Israel, made pit stops in Istanbul and Berlin, and taken a painful 18-hour train ride through Bulgaria. In late January I got into a car crash with a motorcycle in the Dominican Republic and yet danced bachata afterward for a week in a beach festival. I suffered through a few New York snowstorms in February but escaped to Brazil just before the 14th one. I’m now under the hot Brazilian sun in Rio de Janeiro and loving it! And this was supposed to be my year of taking it easy and not traveling as much… only a few months ago I was happy to be living a somewhat stable life in NYC and was trying to convince more digital nomads to move there.

But alas, such is a traveler’s life. It changes in a New York minute. 🙂

So now that I’ve suddenly found myself back in the only Portuguese-speaking country on the South American continent, it might be a good time to share some of my thoughts about this land that’s known for samba, sun, beaches, favela shantytowns (one of which I’m currently staying in – and the view is lovely!) and of course the impending World Cup. These oddities appeared in my old blog, written in 2008 during my first trip to Brazil, but I’ve found that they still hold true.

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10 WEIRD THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT BRAZIL

1) Brazilians LOOOOOOVE meat!! There’s always a barbeque party (or a churrascu, as it’s called in Portuguese) coming up, and nope, they do not grill any tofu or tomatoes or tofu sausages here. It’s all about meat: steaks, ribs, chicken wings, chicken hearts (yep!), sausages…. maybe a bit of fish, too.

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2) Salt is DEFINITELY a favorite among the Brazilians…. they use so much of it on everything that I’m surprised they aren’t having tons of heart attacks (or maybe they are… not sure about the stats..).

3) This is definitely the promised land of all-you-can-eat buffets, and “food by the kilo” buffets (where you pay according to the weight of your plate). They’ve even got this cool thing called “rodizio,” a buffet that comes to you! All you need to do is sit down at a table, and the meat/pizza/sushi just appears on your plate. The waiters bring the food around every few minutes, and you can choose what you want and have as much as you’d like. Yummy!

4) Brazilian houses (the upper-class ones anyway) tend to have several toilets. One for each room is not uncommon, I hear. Therefore a medium-size house can even have six toilets. Wow! No more waiting for your turn outside the door 🙂

5) Many of the bathrooms have a bidet bowl next to the toilet. It kind of looks like a cross between a sink and a men’s urinal. No one seems to know what to do with it. It’s just tradition to have one. I guess previously it was used for washing yourself up, but nowadays it seems to be just an expensive laundry basket!

6) Brazilians love all things made of manioc/yucca/cassava, the traditional root that tastes slightly like potato. Mandioca is eaten in soups, as mashed (like potato), as fried (like french fries) and even used as flour to dip your meat in… and probably in many more ways.

7) Brazilians also love their national booze, cachaça aka pinga, the main ingredient of caipirinhas. They think it’s the greatest thing ever invented. Taste-wise it’s not my favorite, but I gotta say it’s not the worst beach drink… (here as a mango version).

Mango caipirinha

8) Brazil is definitely NOT the right place for someone who has bacteria phobia! The locals love to share everything with their friends: beer, coke, water, pinga, not to mention food. If you buy a tapioca (sort of like a taco) or a sweet corn cob, you’ll need to offer bites to all of your pals. So you may even be sharing your drink or food with up to 10 people. But hey, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger! 😉 The Brazilian immune systems surely must be strong from all this sharing.

9) It’s fairly easy to become a true Paulista (FYI, a Paulista is a person from Sao Paulo. Carioca = Rio resident). All you need to do is spot a local “celebrity” called Fofäo on the city streets (well, more like a local loonie bin). Hahaa. 🙂 Fofäo is a scary-looking man who has injected tons of silicone into his cheeks… he got his nickname from a cartoon character who looks the same way.

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Why this guy has done that to himself, nobody knows. My Sao Paulo friends said he is a transvestite who was trying to be transformed into a woman. When that failed, he just became a weird-looking man who had done tons of operations to himself. Other people are scared of him, others just feel sorry… some say he can be violent too, so better keep your distance I guess. Fofäo works odd jobs around the city of Sao Paulo and can be spotted here and there by any lucky people walking around town… or unlucky, as he looks very scary! Legend says you can have a heart attack if you see him in the dark. As for me, I saw him twice during my 2008 visit to Sao Paulo. Once he had crazy make up on his face, neon colors all over. I guess that was to promote some flyers he was distributing. Scaaaaary….. I walked past him stiff as a stick… So yeah, you would think that in a city with 16 million people you wouldn’t see the same person twice but apparently you cannot avoid seeing Fofäo. Unless you are a Carioca for life… 🙂

10) Brazil has a reputation of being a somewhat dangerous place. However, the main thing that reminds you of the unsafe nature of the country are Brazilians themselves and the way they guard their possessions (those that have them, naturally). Most of my friends here have high fences around their houses, alarm systems, a scary barking dog in the backyard and some even have a paid guard patrolling their street. When going out in the city, my friends park their cars in guarded parking garages, as the risk of the car being robbed is supposedly high. Apartment buildings often have a guard downstairs who checks who is coming in and out. Sometimes my friends will ask me to walk fast as “this is not a safe area.” But I’ve seen a lot of proof that Brazil is not as dangerous of a place than what the locals make it out to be. For example, it’s customary here that if you are left without a seat in the bus, someone who has a seat will hold your purse so that you have two free hands to hang on to the strap rather than just one. WOOOOOW! I wouldn’t trust my purse to a stranger even in Finland! But here people don’t even think twice about it. How cute! 🙂

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So yeah, Brazil is great and well worth a visit even outside of the World Cup! (For which I’m not sticking around, by the way… I’m not a fan of sports crowds.) People here are really friendly and even if you just met them, they will probably invite you to stay in their house for a few days, or to come for a barbeque.  And they always have a friend in another city, and “you can call them when you are there and they will help you out with everything!” 🙂

Christmas in the Dark

Merry Christmas everyone! Or happy holidays to those of you that don’t celebrate this occasion. Unlike last year when I skipped Christmas, this year I went all out – all the way out to Finland, that is. And Finland is where I’ll be for another four days, until it’s time to celebrate New Years in Tel Aviv. Can’t wait!

The reason why I’m super excited for Israel is very simple – I miss the sun! I’ve barely seen the yellow friend since arriving in the Arctic North about two weeks ago. Somehow in my enthusiasm to spend the holidays with the family I almost forgot that my homeland sucks in December. Big time. There’s no light! Here’s a photo taken around 4 p.m. Could it get any darker?

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I recently found a blog post that describes the Finnish winter down to a T: “November in Finland is murder. It’s just as beautiful as a summer’s day in Mordor, or a day spent in a windowless house without any lights.  You wake up, it’s dark. You come home from work, it’s dark. It’s not the nice and soft kind of darkness. It’s wet and rainy and awful. Pitch black.” Yes, exactly!

You see, a third of Finland is located above the Arctic Circle. That means that a third of the country experiences what is called the Polar Night – a period of about 50 days when the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon. As you can see in this chart taken from Gaisma.com, the number of daily sunlight hours in the city of Utsjoki currently stands exactly at 0:00. ZERO. A month from now the day lasts a whopping 3.5 hours. Yee-haw. :/

(Then again, in six months the day is exactly 24 hours longer! That’s because the Midnight Sun lights up Northern summer nights. Here’s a cool video of the phenomenon. Now THAT is a great time to visit Finland!)

Picture 16I hail from Southern Finland, a good 700 km away from the start of the Arctic Circle (that’s 400+ miles for you Yankees). So things aren’t quite as dire down here in terms of sunlight hours as they are up in Lapland, where this chart is from. But don’t be fooled: they are still pretty bad. Right now the length of the day stands at about five hours in Helsinki and Turku, the two Southern cities I always zig-zag in between. The worst part is that we usually get five hours of cloudy weather, not five hours sunny hours. And then it’s back to darkness again until the next cloudy day. And this goes on for months. Right now it’s been a week since the sun last made an appearance. Our short five-hour days look like this:

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Isn’t it cheerful here, especially since we have no snow to brighten up the scenery? A true Christmas in the dark. Makes me think longingly of the Christmas I spent in the Australian wine country, in the middle of the hottest summer. Ahhh, that was the life!

While nobody likes the lack of sun, most folks in Finland seem to be able to deal with the winter blues somehow (especially since it means we have awesome summers in return). People keep themselves busy with hobbies or look forward to their two weeks of winter holidays in Thailand or the Canary Islands. They go for brisk walks despite needing a flashlight. That’s great for them, but I just want to get out of here! I feel like I’m only a few steps away from being diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – I definitely feel anxious, hungry and sleepy (and the jet lag that keeps on lagging on is not helping). Maybe I have a harder time adjusting to the darkness since I haven’t lived through a full Nordic winter in 13 years. Two weeks is already too much for me! I am a child of the the summer, a major-league beach addict. I feel totally out of my element when I don’t see the yellow blob in the sky for days on end.

We did have one relatively bright and sunny day about 10 days ago. That made all the difference in the world. I went for a walk up a hill in Helsinki with my sleep-loving friend Mira, with whom I traveled around Central America last winter. Without that day I probably would have gotten the first flight out of here even before Christmas had started. 😛

Sunny day

As lovely as it has been to spend quality time with family and friends, I’m happy I only have one more weekend of this doom and gloom and then I’m off to sunnier pastures. If it’s up to me, I’ll continue my life as a climate refugee and avoid the Finnish winter for many years to come!

Have you been to Finland or Scandinavia during the winter? How did you cope with the darkness? What are your tips for surviving the winter blues? 

(PS. If flying off to the tropics isn’t an option for you, there are other ways you can try to alleviate SAD.)

Five Reasons Why Digital Nomads Should Live in New York

You may have heard the term “digital nomad” before. Basically a digital nomad is a 21st Century creature much like myself: a person who is highly mobile and makes a living through working remotely. With no physical office to trek to every morning, I can choose to live anywhere – or nowhere, if I feel like it.

Out of all the world’s cities, I have selected New York as my base.

Times Square

I first moved here in 2004, and altogether have spent about six years in the City of all Cities since then. The rest of the time I’ve been roaming around the world: Australia, Asia, Latin America, Europe, Africa. My trips away from NYC have varied from a couple of months to even a year at a time. But no matter how far I’ve ventured, I’ve always found myself back in NYC sooner or later. It truly is the best place in the world to call home! I am always excited to come back here, so homecoming blues is a foreign concept to me nowadays.

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But despite what you might think, there aren’t a whole lot of other digital nomads using this megalopolis as their home base. Most seem to set up their mobile offices in places like Chiang Mai, Thailand, or Playa del Carmen, Mexico. I suppose that is mostly because of the lower living costs of developing countries (and the eternal sunshine of these spots…).

Well, I can’t blame these kids, but I sure can think of multiple reasons why more digital nomads should live in New York City instead. (Not counting the obvious: New York is the center of the world’s media and definitely one of the most exciting cities in the world.)

Here are my TOP 5 reasons.

1. New York just might be the most multicultural place on this earth

As a globetrotter with precious memories from 60+ countries, I tend to get nostalgic for at least five countries/cultures per day. I may simultaneously miss Bolivia, Laos, Korea, Nicaragua and Senegal. Luckily New York has people from all over the world who have formed lively communities here – some 110 different languages are spoken in the borough of Queens alone. So whenever the mood strikes, I can head over to Korea Town, Little Ecuador or Little Senegal to ease up my reverse-homesickness. Easy peacy! A normal New York day for me is one where I use 3-4 languages, hear music ranging from reggaeton to Irish folk tunes, wander from a Latin area to a Chinatown (of which there are three in New York) and chat up some strangers from exotic lands. I often feel like I’m traveling, even when I haven’t left the city borders. Amazing.

2. You can get all your favorite foods in New York

pupusaEvery country I’ve traveled to has left some kind of a mark on my culinary palate: it’s because of my recent trip to El Salvador that I now love pupusas, both home made and those from street stalls (pictured above), and I still yearn for Mexico City’s tacos that I tasted in 2009. My Korean trip would not have been complete without daily helpings of kimchi and bibimpab, and the Senegalese yassa sauce was so delicious I want to learn to make it. The good news is most of these foods can be bought in New York. All it takes is a trip to some far-flung ethnic neighborhood, and you’ll get all your favorite cuisines from the world over. No passport needed.

3. New York is inspirational

A few months ago I attended the Social Good Summit and the Global Citizen Festival in Manhattan and learned a ton about the problems plaguing the world today. More importantly, I learned about the solutions. That’s the beauty of the city: whenever I have extra time on my hands, there’s no shortage of lectures and networking events to attend, and most are free of charge. My favorites are the speeches organized by the Open Society Foundations, as you also get served a tasty lunch. Can’t beat that, free nourishment for both the body and the mind. In my spare time I also attend lectures about the future of journalism and the art of travel writing. I meet other writers, get inspiration for new stories and improve my craft. Love it!

4. New York is affordable

Sunset Park

I know what you are thinking – “what is this girl talking about? New York is the most expensive city in the US!” Sure, the city is pricey based on the statistics, but make no mistake – there are always deals to be had in this town. I might even go so far as to suggest that New York has more deals than any other place in the world. In midtown Manhattan there’s always a $1 pizza slice war going on, and in Brooklyn you can find neighborhoods where beauty salons charge $12 total for a manicure and pedicure. Happy hours are abundant, as are $10-15 three-course dinner specials in Thai restaurants. Taxis cost a fraction of those in Europe. Even rent gets down to affordable levels once you leave Manhattan. Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and New Jersey just across the East River all have affordable housing options and fast public transportation into Manhattan. Plus with all the free events going on, who has time to spend money in this city? I find that I spend relatively little money in New York, considering how much fun I have here every week.

5. New York has great flight connections

Digital nomads need good flight connections and many airports options – and New York City has three airports in its proximity. Bargain hunters can score roundtrips to Europe for $400-500, and one-ways to Central America can be bought for as low as $150 on Spirit Airlines. And getting to the airport doesn’t break the bank either: New York has the world’s only 24-hour subway system (as far as I know), so you can take the train to the airport at all hours of the day.

Convinced yet? Let me know if you are a digital nomad contemplating moving here! It would be great to have more world traveler friends in New York. 🙂

It’s been a year since Sandy turned me into a breaking news reporter

Today it has been exactly a year since Super Storm Sandy ravished the lives of New Yorkers and many others on the Eastern Seaboard. My Facebook feed has been full of commemorative status updates and links. I checked out a few of the articles and photos, including this story of a man who lost his life partner and every photo of him in the storm. Heartbreaking.

I was lucky last year in that my part of Brooklyn wasn’t really affected by the storm. Instead, I experienced Sandy from a different standpoint – I was covering it for Finnish media. The stories I wrote were published in Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s biggest newspaper for whom I’ve written a number of travel stories, such as this one about the Trans-Siberian vs. The Indian Pacific.

The first call from the newspaper came on Monday morning, and the storm was due to hit that night. The paper had already found a photographer for me to work with, and they said they’d need a story about how New Yorkers were preparing for Sandy. And they would need it in about three hours. On top of that, they wanted me to find some Finns to interview, if possible.

Not going to happen, I thought – what are the odds I would find Finnish people wandering the streets of downtown on such short notice? The times I run into Finns in New York are few and far between anyway.

But the universe was on our side: as soon as photographer Kaisa Rautaheimo and I arrived downtown in our prospective cabs, we bumped into a Finnish couple! It truly felt like a small miracle. The couple, consisting of a Finnair pilot and his common-law wife, agreed to be interviewed. We got some great quotes from them about how they were stranded in New York as the airport was closed.

“Overall the feeling is peaceful, there’s no panic,” they said at the time. “We’re taking this as an adventure.”

We also found a number of other New Yorkers willing to give us a quick quote, and I rushed home to type up the story. Mission accomplished! For the rest of the night I huddled in a friend’s apartment, anxiously waiting for the storm of the century. The next day the newspaper in Finland ran three different versions of my story in their various print editions.

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Tuesday morning I woke up to another call from Helsingin Sanomat. They updated me on what the storm had done while I had been asleep – hundreds of thousands of people were without power in Manhattan, the bridges were closed. They asked me to go out to find three people affected by the storm and to interview them for a post-storm article. Again, they needed the story in 3-4 hours.

The morning was super chaotic as I was trying to figure out if there was a way for me to get to Manhattan to do the interviews. If the bridges were closed, there was no public transport and the cabs were all taken, what could I do? Magically a friend just happened to be driving into Manhattan, and had heard rumors about Brooklyn Bridge being open to private vehicles. It was and I got a ride – phew.

I met up with Kaisa at Times Square and we spent the next few hours taking cabs around Manhattan in search of people to interview. On 14th street and 8th Avenue we saw a crowd had gathered around an apartment whose front wall had fallen down. Very few restaurants were open, and the lines were long. Finally we interviewed a woman who had huddled all night in her dark apartment downtown, a man who had ridden his bicycle from Brooklyn to Manhattan to see the damage and a Lower East Side family whose whole building had lost power.

As Kaisa also didn’t have electricity in her downtown apartment, we rushed back to Brooklyn to get online to send our stories and photos to the paper. We called the editor as we were on our way back. I started writing the article in the cab but had to change it midway after getting more instructions from the editor. Yikes.

I remember sitting down at the desk to write and looking at the clock: the story is due in 45 minutes! The pressure was building but I knew I couldn’t let that get to me. Whenever I got too self-critical, I remembered the advice of Anthony Mancini, my features professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” So I just typed as fast as I could and told the stories exactly how they had been told to me. And phew, I finished the article right on deadline. That story, too, made the front page of the foreign section the next day.

Picture 12

It was only at that point, almost 20 hours after Sandy had hit, that I actually had time to start learning about what had happened. I felt fortunate that I had gotten away with hearing a few howling winds outside my window and seeing a few overturned trees.

And I felt really lucky I had been around to deliver the stories to Helsingin Sanomat. It was my first real foray into breaking news reporting and was great practice for what was to come about a month later – the Connecticut elementary school shootings. I covered that for another Finnish paper, Iltalehti. That to this day remains the hardest reporting assignment I have ever done for multiple reasons.I’m sure it would have been even more challenging, had I not had the Sandy experience fresh in my mind.

As terrible as the storm was for many people, it taught me that reporting breaking news is not as scary as I had imagined, and it’s something I actually enjoy. The feeling of having finished an article right before deadline is an endorphin high like no other.  And it felt great to be writing about something that actually mattered, rather than doing yet another hotel review (as fun as those are). By all account, Sandy was a big deal, and I’m happy to have written up a tiny piece of history.

Were you affected by Sandy in some shape or form?