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How to Host a Friend Speed Dating Event

Friendship is hard. Once you’re out of the friendship-incubator that is college, it’s tough to meet new people outside your own little bubble. I’m here to help! Friend speed dating is for awesome women who are interested in platonic friendships with other, similarly badass, ladies! It’s a speed-dating format without any of the awkwardness. I’ll be serving up huge helpings of coffee, tea, cookies, doughnuts*—and friendship! *Email me at news@mbloudoff.com if you are vegan etc. so we make sure you get some noms, too!

How To

As I planned this event, I relied heavily upon this librarian’s site. She had a GREAT explanation of how the event should flow, and it was really helpful as I planned my own meetup. I made some alterations, like each “couple” got to talk for five minutes. In retrospect, if I’d had a smaller group (we had 16), it would’ve been great to let people chat for even longer!

I printed and cut out groups of ice breaker questions and placed one chunk of questions in front of each seat. I found the questions here and here.

I used yellow sticky notes with arrows to direct people on where to go after their time was up. Then I printed out this star and this arrow for the trickier moves. (See the librarians site above for details on movements!) Overall, the sticky notes and the arrows didn’t help so it’s best if you stand by at the end of each chat to direct people until they get the hang of it.

In case of an odd number of people, I had a “craft station” where folks could either draw or write letters. We ended up not using it. I just filled in to make it an even number until the latecomers showed up. (Note: If you do decide to fill in, make sure you rotate like everyone else! I didn’t rotate for a couple rounds, and it made things a little tricky toward the end of the meetup!)

Food

I made sure to provide my email address and ask about food preferences. It’s just common courtesy, but it goes a long way to making everyone feel welcome. While no one emailed me about food allergies, I still had fruit, gluten-free cookies and chocolate, in addition to the dozen (Dunkin’) doughnuts, two muffins and a cinnamon role, so that there were options for everyone. On top of that, I bought tea for everyone in the group who wanted it (our group wasn’t into coffee!). The coffee shop we were in just filled up a gallon jug of hot water and had a variety of tea bags available. (I set this all up in advance with the manager.)

We had all the fruit, a muffin, a cinnamon role and six doughnuts left at the end of the evening so I had everyone take some home. I think it’s better to get too many treats than not to have enough, but in the future I think I might just bring doughnuts and skip the cinnamon role and muffins. (Fruit is a must-have for any vegan etc. people!)

Venue

I started off by reaching out to a whole bunch of established restaurants and cafes, and was astounded by how difficult it was to host events at these places. Some asked for thousands of dollars to make a reservation! That wasn’t going to happen.

Out of ideas, I reached out to an acquaintance who hosts weekly meetup.com groups for a rather large number of people. She recommended this new coffee shop called Central Coffee Bar. It was PERFECT! The service was amazing and the people were incredibly accommodating. (I think new places are great partners because they’re still trying to generate buzz around their new venture, and they want to develop relationships with the community.) I will definitely be giving them a ring for my next event!

For friend speed dating in particular, make sure it’s a place that’s relatively quiet and large enough to accommodate a big group. There’s nothing worse than having to shout over other people when you’re trying to get to know someone new, or having to squeeze around tables and chairs to move spots when the time is up.

Marketing

Marketing was, by far, the most difficult part of the whole process. I tried printing out posters and posting them in the neighborhood, but that was super ineffective. Most places wouldn’t let me put up posters, and the ones that did ended up tearing them down in just a day or two. Complete waste of money!

My next tactic was using Facebook’s paid advertising to get the word out. But unless you’re willing to fork over the big bucks, and I’m talking more than $50, it’s not worth it. I paid the least amount, $16, and no one told me they saw the event pop up on their Facebook. I’m glad I did it just to cover all my bases, but I don’t think it helped with marketing.

Eventbrite got the most number of people to sign up. Creating an account is free and very easy. I shared the page with local listserves, blogs and asked my friends to post it to their Facebooks and share it with their coworkers. This was, by far, the BEST idea. I don’t know how often I can bug friends to be my personal marketers, but I’m gonna give it go for my next event, too! (Thanks, guys, you rock!)

(And if you’re worried that friends sharing the event will mean that only YOUR friends will show up, thus defeating the purpose of meeting new people, don’t worry about it. I only had two of my friends show up, and they were from different friend groups so they’d never even met!)

I also paid for a meetup group. It only got me two sign ups, but I think it was worth it for future events. Now, everyone who went to friend speed dating can join my meetup group to get alerts about my future events. We’ll see if that pans out! So far I have just under 100 members in the meetup group, which could be helpful for my next foray into marketing.

I used a free photo from Unsplash to market the event and searched for one till I found a pic that represented a diverse group of people (VERY IMPORTANT!).

Lessons

I had a blast, and so did everyone else! The attendees all said they loved it, and—better yet—they all made new friends! SUCCESS! *big smiles

Looking back, I think my biggest lesson is that most people are not hardcore planners like I am. (I love planning months in advance!) Most people signed up in the last three days. I went from five participants to 16—with one person signing up the day of! SO, if you’re planning an event, don’t freak out if you don’t have “enough” people one week out. They’re probably just more spontaneous folks! (Plus, many blogs won’t promote your event until the week-of so that also explains some of it.)

Along the same lines, I also think I worried far too much over making everything “perfect.” Several people complimented me on how organized everything was, and that made me SUPER happy! But, when little mishaps occurred, everyone just went with the flow. I even asked an attendee to take over timing the event so I could go pay the bill—and they were more than happy to do it. So my advice is to breathe more and worry less. =)

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cape town, table mountain, south africa

Top Things to Do in South Africa

This is the list I used when planning my trip to South Africa. Scroll through it and see what jumps out at you. Enjoy your trip, and ping me with any questions!

Johannesburg 

Two days is plenty of time to see all that Joburg has to offer. Tack on an extra day to do quirkier trips and explore the city. Uber is the best (and cheapest) way to get around if you’re new to the city and unaware of its good/bad areas, especially since there aren’t that many sidewalks for walking. Make sure your cell phone works overseas without crazy fees because there’s very little free wifi in this city!

  • Soweto
    • “For real insight into post-apartheid South Africa – a visit to the township of Soweto, home to an estimated 3.5 million people – you need to hire a guide. Besides providing a glimpse into how millions of black South Africans live today, Soweto is historically fascinating. Nobel Peace Prize-winners Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu both lived on tree-lined Vilakazi Street and Mandela’s former home is open to visitors. Left as it once was, Winnie’s military boots stand next to a bed with a jackal-skin throw, and old photos line the walls. Just down the road, the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum, named after the 13-year-old whose murder by police sparked an uprising in 1976, is another hard-hitting reminder of the horrors of apartheid.” –Condé Nast Traveller
    • The guided tour of Mandela’s home is simply a memorized speech of significant dates. It’s interesting, but don’t expect it to take more than 20 minutes at the maximum.
    • The Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum was fantastic. It did a great job of explaining the uprising and its aftermath. All the feels.
    • I was skeptical of paying $70 to take a tour of Soweto, especially when I’d been told that it’s fine to walk around in the daytime. But I’m really glad we went with Township Travel (Siphiwe Kumalo info@township-travel.co.za sowetour98@gmail.com). The tour offers perspectives, not only from the tour guide, but from residents in their early 20s who take you around their neighborhood and answer all your questions. I highly recommend it!
  • The Apartheid Museum:
    • Built by the casino next door, this museum is pretty awesome. It’s also incredibly overwhelming (the layout is like a labyrinth!) and crowded. It’s worth a visit to learn some basics, but I think you’d get much more out of reading a book.
    • This place is difficult to get to. You can call an uber from where you’re staying, but there’s no wifi at the museum or the museum’s cafe to help you get back. Luckily, the pawn shop next to a gas station down the street has wifi. Ask an uber driver (they pull up to the museum all the time!) to take you to the gas station, ask for the pawn shop’s wifi and then request him/her on the app from there.
  • BOOKS!
  • Sporty Things
    • “If you can, try and watch a Premier soccer league game at the FNB stadium- kaizer chiefs (most famous and loved soccer club in SA) play there (world cup stadium finals were played and biggest stadium in south africa) tickets should be no more than $5 usd.  Sit in the heart of the crowd and get in the mix of their singing and dancing all game long. Another good PSL game to go to is Orlando stadium- for Orlando pirates (second most popular team in SA) –sit in the heart of the crowd to gain full experience.” -Emily Chow
    • “If you care to watch cricket games–you can watch at the wanderers stadium—warning: games can take up to 8 hours… or 3 hours for a “t cricket game”” -Emily Chow
    • “You can also go to Ellis Park, now known as emirates airline park to catch a rugby game. world famous stadium– where invictus was filmed and where mandela unified the black and whites thru sports.” -Emily Chow
  • Witchcraft
    • https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/museum-man-and-science
    • Kind of a letdown, actually. It’s only fun if you go with a tour and can have everything explained to you. The proprietors of the shop won’t take the time to point out all the cool stuff, (unless you show up at around 7 a.m. and ask for the owner’s son) which is understandable.

Click the link below to read more:

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How to Get Into (and Around) Lima From the Airport

Don’t rely on your hostel/hotel’s transportation! They’ll overcharge you, and getting a taxi at the airport is simple.

Take Green Taxi from the airport to your destination. It’s 50 soles (Peruvian currency) or $20.

Fifty soles is the better deal. You can exchange some money at the airport, and then exchange money on the street later where you’ll get a MUCH better rate. (NOTE: Most people on the route to Machu Picchu accept cash only!)

To get back to the airport, use a service called EasyTaxi. Download it to your phone, type in your location, and a safe cab will pick you up within 5 minutes. Getting around Lima shouldn’t cost you more than 20 soles (~$6). The app even tells you how much the fares are beforehand so there’s not confusion, bargaining or cheating!

The app gives you the option to connect your credit card, but just pay in soles for everything. Also note that cabbies rarely have exact change so try and carry as many coins as possible.

You can also use EasyTaxi to get around Lima and Cusco. You should avoid using local cabs because it’s oh-so common to get robbed in a cab.

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How to Talk Your Way Out of Anything: Part I

Nothing is logical in Peru.

The U.S. has its problems, of course, but I like to think it’s governed by a system that’s fairly rational. Businesses usually operate 9-5, Monday through Friday. The water is safe to drink; the food safe to eat. The grocery store will sell you food, and the post office will take your letters. There’s a sense of order, place and time.

South Americans aren’t governed by such rules or, rather, any rules at all.

Everything about living here is complicated. Every. little. thing. Want to mail a letter? The post office may have moved down the block without notice. The landlady says she’ll get here at 3:30 p.m.? Don’t be naive—she won’t show till tomorrow evening. Need directions to the bus station? People will make up fake routes. Want to buy some chicken from the store? The cashier doesn’t know the cost so you leave empty handed.

It’s amazing how much time I’ve spent thinking/worrying/raging over simple, everyday things. To succeed in Peru, in South America, you have to drop all notions of logic—and start playing the game yourself.

I’ve noticed that the people here are masters at talking their way out of anything. After nine months in Peru, the young padawan has graduated, and I’ve come up with a list of my own tricks. Enjoy.

Smile Like a Crazy Person

If you smile REALLY big and speak in a high-pitched voice that bubbles and gushes every third sentence, you can talk your way out of anything. Bonus points if you’re wearing gringo pants.

After spending four hours in a tiny Peruvian airport with exactly two waiting rooms, I wanted to walk around outside, which (of course) was forbidden. But it was sunny, and there was a puppy waltzing around in the grass so obviously I made a break for it. After 15 minutes of freedom, a man came up to me in protest. But when the corners of my mouth are kissing my ears and ponies and rainbows spewing from my mouth, it’s difficult for people to say no. Thus a long, boring afternoon was instantly more interesting.

Deer-in-the-Headlights Approach

When someone yells at you to stop doing something (as is often the case for a journalist trying to get a closer look) you’d have to be pretty dense to not catch their drift. But when you adopt the deer-in-the-headlights look, life suddenly gets a lot easier.

I’d suggest practicing in the mirror until you’ve nailed your Blue Steel. Half the time DIH makes me look pathetically lost and the other half I come across like I’m having an episode. Either way, it works, and people usually leave me alone.

Speak in Tongues

Another benefit of having locked down the gringa look is that people expect you to be a Spanish fail. When someone insists on having a conversation I don’t want to have, I make as many basic Spanish errors as humanly possible. Then I randomly mix verb tenses until I see steam emanating from their ears upon which I abruptly stop everything and walk away.

Problem solved.

Fill Them with Regret

The other approach is to talk. And talk. And talk, and talk, and talk. Answer their complaint so thoroughly and exhaustively that they forget what they were upset about in the first place and can only focus on getting rid of you. It’s a pretty gutsy move that requires some fast-paced BS, but if you’re quick on your feet, it works wonders.

On my last trip to the Andes, I was cold and requested a blanket from the hotel. The front desk told me “it’s not cold” and promptly hung up. I talked to him for 15 minutes straight. I went to bed cuddling up to two blankets. #cantstopwontstop

And that, ladies n’ gents, is how to talk your way out of (or into) anything… Part I.

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galapagos, viewpoint, ocean

Planning for a Last-Minute Trip to the Galapagos

The Significant Other and I just got back from a trip to the Galapagos. Rather than gush about HOW COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY AMAZING IT WAS, I’m offering some tips to make your vacation planning easier. The devil is in the details! I think this is pretty extensive, but drop me a line in the comments if you have specific questions.

Booking a Last-Minute Galapagos Cruise

Cruises sound expensive right off the bat, but when you consider how much it costs to explore the Galapagos on your own, cruises can actually be cost-effective. For example, a day tour of North Seymour Island is ~$160. Add $20 for the hostel and $10 for home-cooked food. Factor in all the time and energy you’ll spend booking your own trips, and you’re already pushing $200. When you do the math, cruises aren’t that pricey.

NOTE: It’s impossible to base your budget off anything you read online or in a guidebook. Prices are constantly going up. Keep that in mind, and always bring extra cash in small bills $1, $5, $10.

If you can wait until two weeks before your vacation date to start looking for cruises, you can snag amazing discounts (~60 percent!). Book a flight to Quito, and stay at a hostel in the Mariscal District (NOTE: We stayed at the Traveler’s Inn. The breakfast is free and includes eggs, toast, yogurt, fruits, juice and tea/coffee. The wifi is incredibly slow, and the showers are luke-warm.) This is where all the tour companies have offices. Visit each tour office and see what kinds of deals they’re offering. Tour offices are generally open between 10 a.m.-12 p.m. and from 3 p.m.-5 p.m. They will NOT be open after 12 p.m. on Saturday or at all on Sunday.

Please be aware that all tour operators expect you to pay in cash for the tours—even if it’s a couple thousand dollars. Luckily for U.S. citizens, Ecuador operates in American dollars.

Most tour companies will offer to book the flight for you. I booked the flight on my own so I’m not sure how cost-effective this is, but it’s definitely an option.

NOTE: We almost booked a cruise with Yate Darwin and would highly caution against it. There were many frustrating problems, which I won’t go into here. We ended up booking a four-day Angelito cruise using PalmaRoja Tours. I can’t recommend the Angelito highly enough. The staff was incredibly friendly and helpful. I have several food allergies, and the cook made special meals and snacks for me every day. I never had to worry! It was amazing. Plus, our guide Maja, was the best guide I’ve had in all my years of traveling. Really fantastic company.

If you can’t find a tour you like in Quito, you can hop on a plane to the Galapagos and head directly to Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz. Tour companies also have offices in this city and will offer deals.

sea lion, galapagos

How to Pick a Galapagos Cruise

After days of research, all the cruises started blurring into one, and I suffered from information overload. I recommend picking the cruise based on the ease of access, animals you want to see, cruise size, days at sea and budget. Make a spreadsheet and assign points—it’s the only way to stay sane.

  • Ease of Access: You can (to my knowledge) take day trips to Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, North Seymour, Floreana, Bartolome, South Plaza and Santa Fe. We chose cruises that took us to islands we couldn’t reach on our own, like Santiago and Espanola.
  • Animals: Each island is known for specific animals. No guarantee you’ll see them, of course, but there were a few endemic species that I was dying to see. For example, North Seymour: blue-footed boobies and frigate males, Santa Cruz: tortoises, Espanola: albatross, Santiago: iguanas, Santa Fe: iguanas. The cruise that promised the most animals won.
  • Cruise Size: Pay attention to the number of people on the boat. Our head count was 16, and it was perfect. Anything larger, and you’re going to get lost in the shuffle. Anything too small and your boat will be so tiny that it bobs up and down with each and every wave. Ugh.
  • Days at Sea: I’m the kind of gal who likes her feet firmly planted on the ground. It was important that we got to see what we wanted to see but didn’t spend unnecessary time on the water. We ended up with a four-day cruise, but I think we also would have enjoyed a five-day. NOTE: six- and seven-day cruises are rare. It’s usually four, five or eight days. Also remember that a “four-day” cruise is really just two days because the cruise doesn’t start till late afternoon on the first day, and ends before 10 a.m. on the last day.
  • Budget: Go in with a budget for your cruise, and follow it. I had tour operators send me “deals” that were two- to three-times more than my max budget. It was tempting, but I had to put my foot down.

frigate, galapagos

Getting to the Galapagos

Flights to the Galapagos: There are two airports in the Galapagos: Baltra and San Cristobal. If you’re thinking of taking a cruise, fly into Baltra. Most (if not all) of the cruises start/end there.

Three airlines go to the Galapagos. TAME appears to be the cheapest at first-glance, but they tack on a whole bunch of fees at checkout that actually make them more expensive. I used Avianca for the most cost-effective flights.

NOTE: Don’t forget that there’s a $120 fee to get into the Galapagos. Airport officials will also search your bags for fresh fruit and animal products. I would highly recommend bringing in your own snacks since healthy food is hard to come by on the islands. They’re OK with dried, packaged fruit, granola bars, even peanut butter sandwiches! If you don’t want your bag locked with plastic ties after getting searched, tell the officials. Keep a pair of nail clippers in case they lock your bag anyway.

Getting into Santa Cruz from the airport: You’re not allowed to walk around Baltra because it’s a military base. You’ll take a short (free!) bus from the airport to Baltra’s dock. A $1 ferry will take you across the river to the island Santa Cruz. From there you can catch a (~$5) bus or take an $18 taxi (in total NOT per person) into town. It’s a 40 minute drive via taxi and longer with the much slower bus.

Taxis are poorly labeled, white Toyota pickup trucks.

Taxis in Santa Cruz: Once you’re in town, taxi rides should be about 50 cents per person up to $1 max. Taxi drivers often pick up multiple people so don’t be alarmed if a few strangers hop into the cab.

Snorkeling tips: Snorkeling is transportation, right? A few tips to enjoy your snorkeling experience: Try on your mask before leaving land. If you can press it to your face (without using the straps) and it stays in place, it’s a good fit. If you need glasses, bring your own prescription goggles as there aren’t any (that we saw) on the islands. Or you can make your own prescription goggles. Spit on your lenses or use baby shampoo to keep them from fogging up. If you have facial hair, your mask might not fit well. Slather on some vaseline to help make the seal. Your flippers shouldn’t fit comfortably when you’re on land. They need to be a little tight because they’ll loosen up in the water. Check the snorkel mouthpiece to make sure it has two notches to bite on. I’d recommend renting a full-body wetsuit for sun protection, added buoyancy and extra warmth (the water can get chilly).

Galapagos

Things to Do in the Galapagos

I’ll write another post with an outline of our cruise. These are the two day trips we took outside the cruise.

San Cristobal

We went snorkeling off Kicker Rock and explored Cerro Brujo beach for $100 with the tour company Cindy Sol. They were very professional and served a delicious lunch. I would highly recommend their services. I don’t have the cross street for the company’s office, but the harbor area is tiny (only ~five blocks) so you can either ask for directions or walk up and down the streets until you run into Cindy Sol). NOTE: Tour agencies close in the afternoon to avoid the heat and open up again in the evening. I’d recommend booking a day trip the night before. However, most tours leave at 8:30 or 9 a.m. so you can also show up at the office around 8 a.m. and book any available seats on the spot.

Stay at Casa Mabell for $20 per person. The hostel doesn’t have a microwave, and the owner doesn’t speak English. But the place is spotless, has AC, is two minutes from the shore, and if you can speak a little Spanish, the owner will help you book tours.

Get your laundry cleaned for $1.50/kilo at La Lavanderia Rosita. We gave our clothes to them at 8 p.m., and they had everything done by 3 p.m. the next day. Great service.

North Seymour

Booked this tour with Esmeralda III. We wouldn’t recommend this boat. The guide was unnecessarily rude. The tour also promised to take us to North Seymour in the morning (better wildlife pictures!) and then snorkeling in the afternoon (cooling off!). Instead, we spent far too much time snorkeling in the morning and saw no wildlife. Then, during the heat of the day, we were rushed around North Seymour. I absolutely loved the island (we saw blue-footed boobies and frigates!), but go with a different tour company.

Signing off for now! More tips later, and please add your own!

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How (And Where) to Buy a Camera Lens in Lima, Peru

Camera equipment in Peru is expensive and challenging to find. Save yourself the hassle and buy all the equipment you need in the U.S. BUT, if you’re stuck in a bind, check out these options:

You can buy basic lenses at the chain stores Saga, Ripley and Hiraoka. There’s also Media Solutions Peru, Roditec and ZF Store. Everything at these chains will be pricey because of Peru’s import taxes. Your best bet is to buy something used.

To find quality used equipment, try surfing Mercardo Libre or OLX.com—the Peruvian equivalents of EBay. Visit Calle Porta in Miraflores, which is a street lined with (mostly) reputable camera shops. Or frequent CompuPalace on a regular basis. They often have great deals on used glass.

If you’re really desperate visit Polvos Azules, Lima’s go-to for every pirated DVD and computer game ever. They’ll also have what you’re looking for—just be suspect of the quality.

In preparation for a last-minute trip to Argentina, I purchased a “lente gran angular” from a camera seller I found on OLX.com. I managed to get him down 100 soles, but it was a good deal for both of us. He had a quality lens, which I needed quickly and couldn’t afford to buy new, and I paid in cash. Everyone loves cash!

Now, I’m no expert on buying used cameras, but here’s a check list I threw together from reading hours of Internet forums:

How to Check a Used Camera Lens

    • Check the outside of the lens. Scratches are OK. Dents mean the lens could’ve been dropped. Walk away.

Same goes for fungus. If you suspect a lens has fungus inside (which is pretty common in Lima), do NOT put it on your camera body. Run far, run fast.

  • Lens creep: point the lens up to the sky and down at the ground. Does the lens “creep” aka slide forward or backward?
  • Look through the lens like a telescope
  • Is the mount clean?
  • Check autofocus speed
  • Check manual focus
  • Smell it: If the person was a smoker, you’ll know it. Not necessarily a deal-breaker, but good to know.
  • Use a bright light and shine it inside the lens to look for scratches that will reduce quality. Don’t worry too too much about dust.
  • Rotate lens and listen for loose material moving around
  • Zoom in and out while listening for loose material or grating sounds
  • Make sure the lens hood stays locked
  • Check weather sealing
  • Make sure the filter screws on and off easily
  • Take a picture all the way open
  • Take a picture all the way closed
  • Check for center defects
  • Turn on and off IS
  • Take a picture of a newspaper to check clarity
  • (I recently learned this!) If a lens isn’t used for a long time, you can get oil marks inside. Check for the oil marks using preview.
  • Take photos using autofocus in single AND continuous mode
  • Take photos in light setting AND dark settings
  • Is there a warranty?
  • Check for centering defects
  • Take a picture of a pattern and check to see if there’s distortion
  • Bring your laptop and take a look at 50-100 photos on your laptop.
  • Enjoy your new lens!

 

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