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How to Buy Products Only Sold in the USA

sarah kohl travel blogger tips to buy in the USA and ship internationally

Being a US citizen I hardly ever think about “not” being able to order something from a site. Once in awhile I’ll see a retail site in the UK that claims they won’t ship to the United States, but pretty much, everyone is willing to ship here.

Sure, I had seen the text, “only ships to the continental United States,” or something like it before while checking out, but it never impacted me so I didn’t pay it much attention until I started dating a Canadian.

This guy was well off, but maybe not the most educated person. He adamantly believed that a weird cocktail of supplements in fruit juice was the magic bullet that could prevent or cure any flu, cold, or unidentified sniffle. I forget the specific name of this hyped-up, athlete-endorsed, miracle slurry, but it’s not all that important. The important part was that the company would only ship to the United States. For whatever reason, they wouldn’t budge on this policy and ship to Canada despite him placing orders by the case.

I really couldn’t fathom this whole dilemma. First off, who would think that poor health could be countered with any one item, and second, how could a company refuse to ship their product to such a good customer?! This guy would jump through all kinds of hoops to get his juice into Canada. If I remember correctly, his supply chain included shipping the stuff to a friend then driving across the boarder to retrieve it.

He ended up just moving to the US so he doesn’t have that problem anymore, but today I stumbled across a service that would have saved him a lot of effort. (I don’t know if he married an American just so he could get easier drink shipments, but I have my suspicions.) It turns out there is a service called Parcel Bound that will give you an American address to place orders with and then forward your packages. It’s intended to save international buyers from paying extra shipping costs, but it can also be used to order from sites that don’t ship internationally.

The company will either forward your packages or store them in a warehouse and consolidate everything into one package. When they do decide to make the international shipment to your location they compare all the US delivery services to get you the best rate. It’s a very good idea. You do have to register for an account, but their basic plan is free which is pretty cool. So if you want to shop like an American, but don’t want to get married to one, this seems like a great alternative.

sarah kohl travel blogger tips to buy in the USA and ship internationally long

Tips for Getting Sleep While Traveling

sarah kohl travel blogger getting sleep while traveling important travel tips

Getting sleep is important regardless of where you are and what you’re doing. The benefits of a good night’s sleep range from maintaining overall health to an improved mood. As difficult as it can be to get rested at home, it’s even more challenging to get sleep while on the road.

Changing time zones and red-eye flights aren’t the best way to ensure you get your beauty rest, but I have a few travel tips that should increase the chances you’ll stay healthy and rested while you’re on the go.

Get an Eye Mask

They certainly aren’t the height of fashion, but an eye mask can help block out light while you rest your eyes. Spring for a comfortable mask since it’s no good if you don’t wear it! There are some interesting hoodies and coats that are meant to act as an eye mask and pillow, but I’ve never tried them myself so I can’t vouch for them.

Bring Your Own Pillow

If you’ll be traveling for a long time you might want to consider bringing your own pillow. Choosing the right firmness for your pillow takes some effort and you might not want to rely on the hotel, Airbnb, or hostel you’re staying at to provide you with the perfect pillow. Of course, this might be unpractical for a short trip or if you’re working under luggage restrictions.

Bring a Blanket or Light Clothes

Depending on the temperature of your destination (or destinations!) make sure you won’t be too cold or too warm to sleep. The ideal sleeping temperature is 70°F so pack some light sleepwear or a blanket to get you close to that. You may also want to consider wearing socks to bed. Feet have the worst circulation and tend to get colder before the rest of the body.

 Pick a Bedtime For When You Arrive

Some people choose to sleep during their flight then stay up for an extended time once they land. Others choose to do the exact opposite. It doesn’t particularly matter which method you use so long as you make that decision early on. You’ll want to plan 6-8 hours of sleep for yourself either way. After your first night, try to keep a regular bedtime, especially for extended trips.

Don’t Drink Fluids Before Bed

About 2 hours before you plan to sleep don’t eat or drink anything. If you do, you’re more likely to need to use the bathroom during the night which will interrupt your sleep cycles. I know it can be tempting to grab your complementary alcoholic beverages on international flights, but you’ll have a better time on your trip if you’re rested. If you want to eat a snack, choose a high protein snack that won’t make you too thirsty. The protein should help with your melatonin and serotonin production and aid in keeping you sleeping.

Read Instead of In-flight Entertainment

Reading will prepare your mind for sleep better than watching TV. You might want to choose something that’s low action or low drama. A thrilling mystery won’t help you rest your mind! If you don’t want to read, at least avoid watching TV. It disrupts your pineal gland function and makes it more difficult to sleep.

Bring Audiobooks or Music

Most people will fall asleep if they listen to relaxing audio tracks. The mellow narration of an audiobook or an ambient music track can help your mind unwind and slow down. When you’re excited about your trip it can be hard to calm down and get the most of your time sleeping making this a particularly useful travel tip!

The most important thing is to remember that you need sleep. While traveling you’re going to be exposed to a host of new germs and opportunities to get sick. A good nights rest will help you stay healthy and make the most out of your trip!

 

Spend Your Rewards Points!

get the most out of airline rewards points programs sarah kohl travel tips

Too many people save their rewards points like a dragon hoarding gold, but why? Rewards points aren’t money. There is no reality where a company will increase the value of your rewards points over time, but there is a very good chance that they will decrease the value of those points!

There are a lot of programs that have rewards points, credit cards, airlines, grocery stores, gas stations, movie theaters; almost anywhere you go, there’s a rewards program. So it’s easy to loose track of how many points you have and what you can get for them. However, it’s important to use the points as soon as you can and not to get wrapped up in collecting them.

It’s one thing to save for a big trip, but generally, you should be trying to use points as you earn them. At any time, the company offering you those points could change how and when you can use them. For example, with airlines, you might be saving for an international flight, but over the year or two that it takes you to save those points you could have gotten a better point value from a handful of domestic flights. Before booking anything, check the price in miles and then again in dollars. Use that information to find the conversion rate, just like if you were comparing another currency! You might realize that your miles are worth more on certain flights than others.

If you have been hoarding, you might not be totally out of luck. Often times, the best use of rewards points is for luxury goods and services. In terms of airlines that means business and first class! A great example is the luxury suites on Singapore Airlines can be booked from San Francisco to Singapore for a measly 70k miles. For those unfamiliar with Singapore Airlines suite’s they have an armchair, a standalone flat bed, doors and windows, 23 inch tv, and pre-ordered gourmet meals. Yeah, it’s a bit better than what Delta offers for their miles!

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The moral of the story is do the math, compare, and don’t be afraid to spend those points! You’ll be glad you did.

 

Bug Industries: A Game for Programmers

I’m a sucker for new tabletop, card, dice, pretty much whatever games. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to see this kickstarter. The game is called Bug Industries. Each player is in charge of a project and they need to de-bug their project first to win.

kickstarter bug industries logo characters art sarah kohl blog

The game is simple, but it looks to be hilarious and enjoyable. It’s also just a great way for non-programers to get a sense of programing culture. I wouldn’t consider myself to be a programer even though I dabble. I simply think this would be great to play with say, a marketing department, so they can understand the frustrations that tech teams experience.

bug industries new game infographic how to play board game for programers

They described the “atmosphere” of their game a bit in their official press release and I had to include it. These guys certainly have a sense of humor!

“Only four bugs left. Then you win the game. You roll the dice. A four – perfect! But the action dice shows that you have to draw a bug card. It is… the godfather of Bug Industries, the stag beetle. The meanest bug of them all. He looks at you with that dung-eating grin and gives you 16 new bugs…”

The group behind this game made a fantastic promo video that you should watch if you’re even a little interested in the game. It goes over a bit of how you would play the game as well as introduces some of the characters.

The game is meant to be played in under 20 minutes. Of course, because programers built it, they actually ran programed simulations to make sure that it’s guaranteed (almost always) to be a 20 minute game.

bug industries game developers team photo sarah kohl blog kickstarter

This is the group of handsome gents who came up with this great game idea.

My personal favorite character is The Lady. She’s a mantis, because of course she would be. She’s all about making your life more difficult by misleading you into making bad choices. That’s probably how I was as a manager. (I hope not though!)

bug industries characters board game for programers kickstarter sarah kohl

I do really love the art style used for these guys and I have a feeling this is going to be a great game. If you want to get your own copy of Bug Industries check them out on Kickstarter and make a small donation. Don’t worry, they will ship internationally!

Some Great Things About Florida

Florida is known around the US for providing the country with strange and disgusting news stories. From people being swallowed by gators, to junkies  accidentally burning down landmarks, Florida knows how to capture headlines with class. After spending a bit more time down south I might be starting to understand why.

You Can Buy Alcohol ANYWHERE

In New York we don’t tend to have beer and liquor sold in the same store. This is because wine and liquor can only be sold in designated liquor stores, where as beer can be sold in grocery stores. I am actually pretty jealous of Flordia on this one if I’m being honest because when I say anywhere, I do in fact mean anywhere.

Target, Walmart, and yes, the Dollar Store all have a section for wine and beer. The selection isn’t as varied as what I see in our NY liquor stores, but oh the convenience!

sarah kohl liberty creek single serve boxed wine florida

You Can Buy Single-Serve Boxed Wine

I love good wine, but I appreciate the bad, cheap wine for it’s convenience. With that in mind how can I not marvel at single-serve boxed wine? I suppose 3 glasses of wine might be a bit more than “a single serving,” but even still I’m amazed.

As I stared at the box, the only person I could think of buying this were the homeless. Thank goodness the box suggested some alternative reasons you might need a small box of strong & cheap wine! To quote the box directly:

“Our Pinot Grigio is light-bodied with hints of citrus fruits and notes of ripe apple. Pinot Grigio will pair perfectly with light pasta dishes and fresh green salads. It’s a great wine to take on a camping trip or a weekend getaway.”

When translated from Marketing Speak means roughly: “This is a wine. We didn’t use the best, but we might not have used the worst ingredients. This will go well with your can of cold spaghetti O’s, beef ravioli, or a head of iceberg lettuce. This package is extremely mobile and discrete so you can drink anywhere you want, you lush.”

You Can Get More Than Just Food Delivered

I, like many lazy people, love GrubHub. Pretty much everywhere I go I check to see what my delivery options are. It’s some sick obsession. I can’t help it. Imagine my surprise when I realized I could get not only hot food, but groceries delivered to my door in Florida! Beaches, lax alcohol polices, and grocery delivery via GrubHub? No wonder why people move here.

As I browsed the grocery list dreaming of all the wonderful orders I could place for over-priced TP and toothpaste I found the most hilarious offering by far, condoms. Condoms in and of themselves wouldn’t be that weird to see on this list, but they were the only item that had multiple options. Can’t be picky when ordering generic shaving razors, but don’t be afraid to scrutinize your condom order!

sarah kohl funny grub hub delivery options florida

In all seriousness, Florida is pretty great. They get picked on a lot, but there is a reason so many people choose to live here. I’d be a liar if I said our fresh water beaches in New York were comparable to the National shoreline, and whats more, you can bring your single-serving of boxed wine!

Credit Card Threats While Traveling

Today there are a lot of different tech threats that travelers have to worry about. Often times, the threat is to your credit card. Travelers encounter all kinds of credit card theft and there is no shortage of new methods being used. Here are a handful of new and old tricks being used to gather your information and ways you can protect yourself.

credit card theft method mobile card reader - more details on iamsarahkohl.com

Card Readers

Processing cards has never been easier. Unfortunately, that holds true for legitimate businesses and criminals alike. This new trick requires a mobile payment processing terminal (as seen in the picture) and the target to be carrying a card with an RFID tag. These credit cards can process transactions without swiping the magnetic strip. The credit card thief exploits this by punching an amount into their credit card processing terminal then hovering the device over other people’s pockets in a crowded area. This works particularly good at conventions or on public transportation. The scammer and the mark never even need to make physical contact and you won’t know what happened until after the scammer is long gone.

How to Protect Yourself

This one is one of the easiest attacks to protect yourself against. All you need is an RFID blocking sleeve for your credit cards. You can get them from Amazon for next to nothing and they generally come with Passport RFID tag protectors too! (Most passports contain an RFID chip that would allow someone to scan your information, this would prevent that.)

 

Card Skimmers

Scammers looking to get many credit cards in one heist use card skimmers. Skimmers attach over legitimate credit card processing terminals then copy and store the information from every card that passes through them. Again, the mark is unaware anything is happening since the transaction will process as normal. Often times these are attached in conjunction with a small camera to catch any pin numbers that might be needed. They are generally placed on easily accessible credit card readers like the ones you see at gas stations, ATMs, vending machines, and other kiosks.

How to Protect Yourself

The best defense here is to familiarize yourself with the card readers you frequently visit. This is harder when traveling so if you have to use an unfamiliar credit card terminal tug and wiggle the slot where you insert your card. These skimmers are meant to be removable unlike genuine credit card terminals. If you do find yourself with a skimmer in your hand, don’t take it with you. Sometimes the scammer is watching the terminals. The best thing you can do it call the police.

 

Unsecured Wifi

Unsecured wifi paired with http site logins can be dangerous. People on the same network as you can share files and view some of your activity. If you’re visiting http sites then they can see every page you’re visiting. This is why any sites that deal with financial information require the domain to be https. If you’re visiting https sites then anyone viewing your browsing habits would only see domains, not the specific pages. Unprotected wifi has become more of a threat as people use their phones and tablets for more important tasks such as checking email, financial accounts, and pay bills on the go. Your phone is just a small computer. All the same caution that you would use connecting your PC to a open network should be used with your phone.

How to Protect Yourself

It’s best not to connect to public wifi networks, but Free Wifi signs are appealing when you want to quickly check things. Generally, you should be okay as long as you avoid any logins on a public network. For accounts that offer 2 step verification, turn that on! It can be a hassle, but having your email account compromised is worse, trust me.

 

Restaurant Shell Game

This is more specific to the United States than any of the previous scams. If you didn’t know, in the United States, most times you go to a sit-down restaurant the waiter will bring you your check in a sleeve. You place your card in the sleeve, they take the sleeve and your card away from the table and return later with a final receipt for you to sign and leave your tip. In that time, some nefarious wait staff have been known to skim your credit card information. This is even more common at bars where you entrust your card with the bartender to open a tab.

How to Protect Yourself

Your best defense here is you. There is no polite way around this situation in the United States, but there are things you can do to reduce the likelihood that your card will be stolen. For starters, familiarize yourself with your waiter’s name. Refer to them by name at least once to give the impression you would remember them if they tried to take your information. Aside from that, don’t let your card be out of your sight longer than needed. When people have their cards stolen at bars it’s often because they left the bar that night without closing their tab. It gives even a small time crook the chance to easily swipe your information at closing.

 

Through this post I know I referred to credit cards specifically, but these same tricks can be used on debit cards. In fact, it’s more important to protect your debit card than your credit card. A credit card has buyer protection where as a debit card does not. Fraudulent purchases made on a credit card are instantly credited back to your card, but if they are made on a debt card that money isn’t credited back to you until the financial institution has completed their investigation. That can take weeks or months! So if you’re traveling with a debt card, STOP!

Traveling to a Natural Disaster Site

Any seasoned traveler will let you know that not every trip will go as planned. Being flexible is an important part of traveling regardless if you’re dealing with airlines, hotels, or as in this case, the weather. If you didn’t know, last night there was a tornado that hit Pensacola, Flordia. Precisely where I’m traveling to.

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 12.39.39 PM

My sister who is currently living there had just looked at some of the apartment buildings that were torn down. Areas are without power, roofs have been blown off, and despite my upgrade to first class this isn’t the best way to start a trip. For any other travelers who find themselves in a similar situation I’ve put together a few pointers that should help you keep your trip in tact despite the tragedy.

Know When Hurricane, Tornado, and Cyclone  Season Is

It might sound obvious, but for those who grew up in an area without the risk of hurricanes, tornados, or cyclones it’s a smart idea to check and see what kind of natural disaster risk you’re getting yourself into before booking your flights. Typically in the United States, hurricanes are a risk from June to November. That’s part of the reason the Southeast was taken by surprise yesterday.

In the Northwest Pacific these tropical storms are called typhoons and the risk of encountering one is greatest from April to December. Cyclone season runs almost completely opposite to typhoon season. These tropical storms occur in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean from November to April.

Register with the Local Embassy

If you plan to travel to a location during its storm season there are a few preemptive measures you can take to help you be safe including registering with your local embassy. This can be helpful regardless of if you’re traveling domestically or internationally. In the same way that you should tell your credit card company when you’re traveling to avoid having transactions flagged as suspicious, registering with the local embassy let’s people know to look for you in the event of a natural disaster.

Stay Informed While Traveling

The National Hurricane Center provides alerts about storms and storm warnings to give people a heads-up about approaching storms. This is particularly important if you’re driving through an area that is at risk of a tropical storm since you will need to find a shelter.

Another great (and free) resource is the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program which provides registered users with alerts about natural disasters, provides a support line if you’re in a natural disaster emergency, and registers you with a local embassy automatically. It’s a great all-in-one safety measure for any traveler.

Know What to Do In an Emergency

Sometimes all the preparation still gets you stuck in a bad situation. It’s good to know what to do and how to handle yourself in the event of an emergency.

If you have more than 6 hours to prepare:

  • Charge your cellphone in case you lose power.
  • Cover windows to prevent glass from breaking.
  • Secure any lose or lightweight objects that could become a projectile.
  • Stay informed of the situation as it develops.

If you have less than 6 hours to prepare:

  • Find a building and stay in it.
  • Call family or friends and let them know where you are.
  • If you’re at home, turn your refrigerator and freezer to the coldest setting incase you lose power.
  • Use radio, TV, or the internet to stay alerted to the situation.

After a hurricane:

  • Check in with friends and family via social media or phone calls.
  • Watch out for debris and downed power lines.
  • Avoid walking or driving through flood water.
  • Listen to local officials and return to normal actives only after the site is declared safe.
  • Document any damage for insurance claims and protect property from further damage.

“There are no strong men, there are no beautiful women. At least, you can die knowing this and you will have the only possible victory.” – Charles “Hank” Bukowski

 

Women-Owned Comic Publisher Kymera Press

It’s been awhile since Comic Con, but believe it or not there is still a pile of independent comic books that I haven’t had a chance to read! I’ve just started to get around to checking out the comics I picked up from the Kymera Press booth. I hadn’t heard of the company before Comic Con, but I have to admit I’ve been itching to get to these since the show.

Kymera Press is a comic publishing company that was founded in 2013 for women. It’s owned by women, and intends to help women succeed in the comic industry. Their writers, artists, and editors are women which I found immensely cool. I only had a brief moment to speak with them because it was the last day and I was booking it to pick up comics, but even in that short amount of time they left a lasting impression on me. This group of women explained that they wanted to be better represented in the comic industry so instead of fighting their way though other companies they decided to start their own!

Obviously, thats exactly the kind of attitude I can relate to. The women in the company seem to come from all walks of life and span generations. With these varied perspectives on life, I would expect the comics to be better than the average indy comic. They currently have three series out which I find impressive for the small team.

Of course, probably the most important part of Kymera Press’s existence is the testament to the growing interest in comics among women. Hopefully companies like Kymera Press can help get a few female comic artists and writers to the level of fame that so man men have achieved in the industry.

Free Space Tourism Posters From NASA

For the past 50 years people have been obsessed with the idea of going into space. We are closer than ever to making it possible for average people to visit space with the launch of companies like SpaceX. The idea of space tourism seems to be an exciting thought for even the scientists at NASA. They recently released a series of retro posters designed to be marketing propaganda for fictional space travel programs. Anyone with even a mild interest in space or design will enjoy these.

free nasa space tourism program poster

A few of the planets mentioned in this poster series by The Studio at JPL aren’t the ones you learned for your model of our solar system. My favorite inclusion is Ceres which orbits around Neptune. Even if you knew nothing about the planet, the poster gives the right impression. It’s a cratered surface like the moon, and recently it was confirmed by NASA that the planet does have a trickle of water. It’s quite a bit further to travel than say Mars, but it seems like it would be a potential candidate for the fictional space colonization movement.

ceres free nasa space tourism program poster

A runner up poster for both design and feasibility as a space colony is Kepier 186f. It’s name isn’t great, but the planet shows the most promise as a New Earth. (And yes I do think the human race would be so unoriginal as to re-name the next habitable planet New Earth.)

Kepler 186f free nasa space tourism program poster

Every poster in the series is beautifully done, and they are all available for free to print. I expect every X Institute of Technology campus will be littered with them by the end of the week. If you would like to see the full collection and print off some copies for yourself please visit NASA’s website.

enceladus free nasa retro space tourism posters

Pascal Campion’s Art of Love

I bought a print from this artist at a convention not too long ago, but thought writing about the artist’s work around Valentines Day would be more appropriate. Many of his illustrations revolve around the many flavors of love that people experience throughout their lives.

Sarah Kohl Pascal Art Valentines Day
The one in particular that I purchased is a couple taking a dip in a wooded area on what one can only imagine is a warm summer day. (It made me chuckle a bit when I bought it because he went to sign it then realized he had pre-signed it so he pretended to sign it again and handed it back.) While I loved all of the art I looked at, I felt an immediate attraction to this particular illustration of his. I have many found memories at nearly every age of swimming outdoors with people who are important to me. Of course, I also appreciated that not every picture of his depicts romantic love. Some are the love a pet shows it’s owner, others are the love a child shares with the world, but every illustration is guaranteed to stir a happy feeling inside of you.

The artist’s story is fairly interesting as well. Pascal Campion was born in New Jersey, but received his formal art education in France. When looking at his work, it’s my opinion that this has had a significant impact on not only his art style, but his art subjects. In particular, the soft memory-like style and the focus on happy emotions in his digital paintings reminds me of French cinema and my personal experiences in France. His work shows a love for life and a passion for sharing it with people. If I had to guess, this is probably why he was initially interested in doing work for educational games. I would highly encourage everyone to browse through his work, even if you don’t intend to buy, it’s sure to bring a smile to your face!

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