Free Three-Month Trip to Italy from Airbnb

Author Article

Hi, hello, ciao, there’s someone I’d like to introduce you to. It’s future-you—more specifically, it’s five-months-in-the-future you.

Five-months-in-the-future you lives in a charming countryside village in Southern Italy called Grottole. (It’s in the part right between the sole and the heel of the boot.) You start every day with a cappuccino and a lesson in Italian language, before moving over to the vegetable garden to get acquainted with local produce. Next up is a cooking lesson, and a homemade lunch (fingers crossed that it’s pasta). Save some room for a sundown aperitivo, though.

One quick clarification: This could be be five-months-in-the-future you—if you apply for, and win!—one of four spots in the Airbnb Italian Sabbatical program. According to the company:

“Airbnb is sponsoring a unique opportunity for four people to move to the small village of Grottole for three months and experience authentic rural life in Italy. Selected candidates will become temporary citizens of the village and will volunteer for a local non-profit organization called “Wonder Grottole” whose aim is to revitalize the town’s historical center. The small village of Grottole, with only 300 inhabitants and more than 600 empty homes, is at risk of disappearing and is asking for your help!”

I mean, you really don’t have to twist our arms on this one. Hang on, what’s that, it’s all-expenses paid? And a €900 monthly expense stipend? Okay, we’re double in. Make that triple.

Join The Conversation

TOP COMMENT:
“I would love this opportunity to learn and live in Southern Italy with others that share love of food, travel, and culture. Pretty please!!”
— Gail B.

COMMENT

And now that we’ve reeled you in with that video, we’d like to present the following stream of daydream-inducing photos of Grottole, in an effort to distract you all until you miss the application deadline (Feb. 17). Meanwhile, we’ll be racing to get our essay submissions in! (And pondering how to answer the application question, “Why would you like to take a sabbatical in Grottole?” Forced choice response options do not include photos of our tiny, drafty New York apartments.)

Allora:

To learn more about the program or (ugh! If you must) apply, check out Airbnb’s Italian Sabbatical page.

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Do you ever daydream about taking a sabbatical to Italy? Let us know in the comments!

The World’s Best Hostels For Solo Travelers

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By

ANECDOTALLY, IT SEEMS like solo travel is the new “it” way to see the world. But even if your Instagram feed isn’t filled with pictures of people climbing mountains by themselves, numbers don’t lie. Hostelworld — the worldwide mavens and aggregators of everything hostel-related — found a 42 percent increase in solo bookings over the past two years. A remarkable number given how popular hostels were for solo travelers to begin with.

Each year, Hostelworld filters through over 1.2 million hostel ratings to come out with its annual HOSCARS awards, its ratings for the best hostels in the world. As solo travel booms, this year’s HOSCARS included awards for the best worldwide hostels for solo travel, as well as awards specifically for solo male and solo female travel, the best of which you’ll find here.

The Roadhouse
Prague, Czech Republic

Photo: The RoadHouse Prague/Facebook

This modern-décor-meets-old-brick hostel near the Charles Bridge in the Mustek section of Prague sits along cobblestone streets and architectural marvels, perfectly situated for solo exploration. That said, if you’d like a little help discovering the city, The Roadhouse organizes daily activities like sightseeing and attending music festivals. Inside the hostel, you’ll be plenty entertained with Netflix and Wii in the common area. Or, if you’re tired of socializing, each bed comes with a privacy curtain and a reading light.

Soul Kitchen
St. Petersburg, Russia

Photo: Soul Kitchen Hostel/Facebook

“The Soul Kitchen in St. Petersburg” sounds a little like a Florida restaurant with killer shrimp and grits, but it is, rather, the top-rated hostel in Russia. The cool, white brick interior sits inside a 150-year-old Neo-baroque building, set gracefully on the banks of the Moyka River. You can take in the waterfront view from the hostel’s balcony or enjoy the indoor amenities from the funky reading room or TV lounge. If the hostel’s name inspires you to cook, the kitchen boasts one of the more unique hostel stoves you’ll find, where an antique 19th-century wood burner has been converted to run on gas.

Cozy Nook Hostel
Da Lat, Vietnam

Photo: Cozy Nook Hostel/Facebook

You’re not sitting in the lap of hosteling luxury at this spartan, wood-accented hostel in the heart of Da Lat. But assuming you’re ok sleeping on a clean, firm wooden bunk, this might be one of the best hostels in the world for immersing yourself in local culture. The owners pride themselves on giving guests a true sense of Vietnamese hospitality, which includes nightly dinners and Vietnamese cooking classes where you source ingredients from the local market. Cozy Nook also offers plenty of ways to get out and explore the city, including motorbike tours, canyoning, and trekking through the nearby mountains.

Adventure Queenstown Hostel
Queenstown, New Zealand

Photo: Adventure Queenstown Hostel/Facebook

The folks behind Queenstown’s most popular hostel were experienced backpackers who took the best things they found in hostels around the world and put them in one cozy, 49-bed establishment. The stone façade gives the place the look and feel of a mountain lodge, with balconies to enjoy the view out over Camp Street and a dining room looking onto Lake Wakatipu. Adventure Queenstown is especially appealing to solo travelers because it offers organized activities five nights a week, from pool nights at a pizza joint to Mario Kart competitions. So even if you’re not in town for hard-core adventure, you can find people to spend time with.

The House of Sandeman
Porto, Portugal

Photo: The House of Sandeman Hostel and Suites/Facebook

For wine lovers, you may not find a more perfect hostel than the House of Sandeman, set atop the Sandeman wine cellars, across the Dom Luis I Bridge from the center of Porto. The world’s first branded hostel boasts fantastic views of the River Douro, whether from nine of its exquisitely decorated suites or from the George Restaurant and Bar. The rooms all feature hardwood floors and expansive windows, so you can enjoy waking up to scenes of Porto’s unique and eclectic architecture. And, of course, you can visit the Sandeman Cellars and taste port wine, a tradition that dates back to 1790.

Hostel Lullaby
Chiang Mai, Thailand

Photo: Hostel Lullaby Chiangmai/Facebook

The common area at the Hostel Lullaby is one of the more unique you’ll find in a hostel, a large glass greenhouse that feels a bit like socializing in the Southeast Asia section of an indoor conservatory. If that conservatory served free snacks and had a patio with yoga classes. Cool as the greenhouse is, if you tire of spending your days there, you’re also a short walk from Chiang Mai’s most famous monasteries at Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang. Once you return, you’ll be laying on one of the hostel’s five-star pillow top mattresses, providing one of the most comfortable hostel sleeps you’ll ever have.

Hostel Majdas
Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Photo: Hostel Majdas Mostar/Facebook

The accommodations at the first hostel to open in Mostar after the civil war of the 1990s are perfectly clean and comfortable. But the reason to stay at the Hostel Majdas isn’t so much for the beds or the cake Majdas herself makes. It’s the tour. Bata’s Crazy Tour is without question the most immersive, personal tour of this former wartorn city. Bata takes you through the city, up to a mountain waterfall, and into a local home, interspersing the journey with unbelievable stories from the turbulent war years. Since people often stop in Mostar during a summer holiday to Croatia to dip their toes into Bosnian culture, this tour is the perfect way to learn a lot about the country in a short amount of time.

Star Hostel
Taipei, Taiwan

Photo: Star Hostel/Facebook

The modern Asian design we see in American luxury hotels is largely drawn from the sort of everyday décor on display in cities like Taipei, and nowhere is this more obvious than at the Star Hostel. Here you’ll walk through bright common areas with floor-to-ceiling windows, dotted with tropical plants and light woods. The Green Lounge is like a serene Asian spa where you can meditate while sitting on the floor and gain a sense of calm even when other travelers bustle around. The rooms are similarly done up in simple woods and whites, and though not as luxurious as Asian-inspired hotels back home, the Star Hostel is equally aesthetically impressive.

USA Hostels Ocean Beach
San Diego, California

Photo: USA Hostels Ocean Beach/Facebook

The lone stateside hostel to make the cut is this psychedelically painted spot on Newport Avenue in San Diego’s Ocean Beach. In addition to being literally seconds from the sand, the hostel does more to help you explore the city than most full-service hotels. On Sunday, you can take a shuttle to the San Diego Zoo, Sea World, and Downtown San Diego. Twice a week the hostel shuttles guests to hiking at Cowles Mountain and also offers a twice-weekly shuttle to La Jolla. It’s got a weekly beer pong tournament, a beach bonfire with s’mores, and a farmers market out in front. So for a cheap beach vacation to Southern California, this is easily the best option you’ll find.

Adventure Q2
Queenstown, New Zealand

Photo: Adventure Q2 Hostel/Facebook

This smaller, more centrally located offshoot of the Adventure Queenstown Hostel gives the same worldly, laid-back style as the original in a much more action-packed location. It sits just across from the popular Village Green, which means that by day you’ll be able to stroll outside and enjoy a beer with other leisurely travelers and by night be able to walk feet to the nearest bar. You won’t find much in the way of private rooms here, either, so be sure to wear yourself out bungee jumping, hiking, hang gliding, and generally risking your life so your roommate’s snoring won’t keep you awake.

We Love F. Tourists
Lisbon, Portugal

Photo: We Love F****** Tourists/Facebook

The “F” stands for exactly what you think it does, which at first glance might make it an unlikely pick as the best hostel for female solo travelers. But top the list it did, as this Lisbon hostel set at the juncture of Praca de Figueira and Rossio squares rates highly in nearly every category. The location is prime, about five minutes from Barrio Alto and Cais do Sodre, and walking distance to the museums, parks, bars, and restaurants of the Alfama neighborhood. The hostel organizes walking tours and pub crawls of the area, so you can make the most of the location without any guesswork. 

Surprising Countries Where U.S. Citizens Need an Advance Visa

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Many countries require U.S. travelers to present entry visas on arrival.

U.S. passport owners have the privilege of being able to visit various countries—among them CanadaMexicoFranceItalyBelizeIcelandNew Zealand, and more—without needing a visa. However, a number of international destinations do require that travelers with U.S. passports purchase tourist visas before entering the country. Here’s what you need to know about a few of the more frequently visited countries that require visas from U.S. citizens upon arrival.

Australia

Before heading to the Land Down Under, travelers with U.S. passports must apply for an electronic authorization from the Australian government known as the Electronic Travel Authority (ETA). You can purchase an Australian ETA online up to—but no later than—24 hours in advance of your departure. Electronic tourist visas are valid for one year and permit multiple stays of up to 90 days in Australia. They currently cost $20 per person.

Bolivia

Although U.S. passport holders can obtain visas on arrival at the Bolivian border, the extensive paperwork you need to have with you can complicate matters, which is why it can be better to apply for a Bolivian tourist visa online or at a consulate in advance. To enter Bolivia, U.S. citizens must provide a completed application form, a passport-size headshot, evidence of hotel reservations (or a letter of invitation to stay at a private residence), proof of sufficient funds and departure tickets, a photocopy of your passport, plus a yellow fever vaccination certificate. All of this is in addition to a fee of $160, which is only accepted in cash at the border.

Brazil

A Brazilian tourist visa costs $44 for two-year entry or $160 for 10-year entry, and it can be applied for online or at a Brazilian embassy at least one month before travel. In early 2019, Brazil’s Foreign Ministry announced that the country will soon eliminate visa requirements for visitors from the United States (as well as from Canada, Japan, and Australia). However, timelines for this change have not yet been announced, which means that until further notice, U.S. passport holders must still obtain travel visas prior to arrival in Brazil.

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China

Non-business travelers with U.S. passports are permitted to visit Hong Kong visa-free (for stays of up to 90 days). But to enter China’s mainland, U.S. passport holders must purchase an entry visa through the Chinese embassy no less than one month before their trip. China’s required visas currently cost $140 and allow for multiple entries to the country over the course of 10 years as long as the U.S. passport has a remaining validity of one year at the time the tourist visa is issued.

Cuba

Cuba might be the least surprising country to appear on this list due to its complicated history of travel regulations with the United States. But U.S. passport holders can visit the Caribbean island nation—they just have to adhere to a few specific requirements for entry, the first of which includes applying for a Cuban Tourist Card (sometimes referred to as a Cuban visa). These tourist cards can be purchased online and grant visitors a maximum stay of 30 days on the island. They’re valid for 180 days after purchase, which means you will need to travel within six months of obtaining the document. (Learn more about the legwork required to visit Cuba here.)

India
India’s visa application process changes frequently, so the Indian embassy in Washington, D.C. urges travelers to check its website for updates before planning a trip. At the moment, however, India’s tourist visa regulations are as follows: U.S. citizens can apply online for an electronic travel authorization referred to as an “e-Visa” up to four days before arrival in India, but no more than 30 days before travel. The e-Visa costs $100 and is valid for 60 days upon entry to India. (Be prepared to present a printed copy at customs in the international airport.)

Vietnam
Just as with Australia and India, U.S. citizens planning trips to Vietnam have the option to apply for an e-Visa—also referred to as a “visa on arrival”—online and in advance. Acquiring this e-Visa, which is valid for stays of up to 30 days, requires paying two fees: one “visa letter service fee” at the time of application and another “stamping fee” upon arrival in Vietnam. (The cost varies depending on length of travel and other factors—see more information here.) It’s important to note that Vietnam’s online visa approval process only applies to air travelers who arrive at one of the country’s international airports in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, or Da Nang; travelers arriving by land or sea must apply for a visa through a Vietnam embassy.

For the full list of countries requiring tourist visas from U.S. citizens, including Russia, Nepal, and Tanzania, click here.

Deal Alert: Flights to Europe From $340 Round-Trip

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By Max Prosperi

Airfare deals are typically only available on limited dates. We recommend you use Google Flights to find dates to fly, then book through an online travel agency such as Orbitz or Expedia, which allows you to cancel flights without penalty by 11pm Eastern Time within one day of booking. However, if you’re using The Platinum Card® from American Express, you’ll need to book directly with the airline or through the Amex Travel portal to get 5x MR points. Remember: Fares may disappear quickly, so book right away and take advantage of Orbitz or Expedia’s courtesy cancellation if you’re unable to get the time away from work or family.

For many, it’s still far too early to start planning your summer travels. But, putting off your summer travel plans could result in having to pay insanely high prices for flights to and from your preferred destination. This is especially true of flights between the United States and Europe. Luckily, we’re seeing quite a few deals to popular cities in Europe extending into June.

These low fares are available from major US cities to popular cities in Europe such as London and Paris, available in the early spring months into summer. Late March and early April appear to offer the most availability. Still, fares are available starting late February and trail into June. These less than-$400 round-trip fares are currently available through popular Oneworld and Star Alliance carriers including American and United.

If you manage to find a deal that works with your wallet and schedule, make sure you don’t miss out on what your destination has to offer. Check out  Get Your Guide’s list of best activities in popular cities throughout Europe.

To search for these fares, head to Google Flights and enter your origin and destination cities. Scroll through the calendar function to find dates and prices that work for you. Finally, click through to book. Most of these fares are available directly through the airline, however, some fares may only be available through OTAs like Priceline or Expedia.

Airlines: American Airlines, British Airways, Finnair, Swiss, TAP Air Portugal, United
Routes: BOS/EWR/JFK/ZFV/LAX/SFO/ORD to BCN/CDG/CPH/DUB/FCO/LON/OSL/ZRH
Cost: $336+ round-trip
Travel Dates: March – June 2019

Pay With: The Platinum Card® from American Express (5x on airfare booked directly with the airline), Citi Premier CardChase Sapphire Reserve CardAmerican Express® Gold CardCiti Prestige Card (3x on airfare plus excellent trip delay insurance) or Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (2x on travel)

Here are a few examples of what you can book:

New York City (JFK) to Paris (CDG) for $341 round-trip on American Airlines in April:

New York City (JFK) to Rome (FCO) for $357 round-trip on American Airlines in May:

Newark (EWR) to Dublin (DUB) for $391 round-trip on TAP Air Portugal in April:

Chicago (ORD) to Oslo (OSL) for $387 round-trip on Swiss in April:

Los Angeles (LAX) to Barcelona (BCN) for $356 round-trip on American Airlines in April, May:

Boston (BOS) to London-Gatwick (LGW) for $363 round-trip on American Airlines, British Airways in May:

Maximize Your Purchase

Don’t forget to use a credit card that earns additional points on airfare purchases, such as The Platinum Card® from American Express (5x on flights booked directly with airlines or American Express Travel), Chase Sapphire Reserve CardAmerican Express® Gold CardCiti Premier CardCiti Prestige Card (3x on airfare) or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card (2x on all travel purchases). Check out this post for more on maximizing airfare purchases.

Featured image by Joe Daniel Price/Getty Images

Italy’s Abandoned Villages Plan To Save Themselves From Ruin By Selling Homes For $1 Or Less

See Business Insider Article Here
By Aria Bendix

With its quaint fountains, ancient churches, and proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, the Italian village Ollolai may seem like the ideal refuge from city life. In reality, it’s losing people at an alarming rate as residents trade the historic hamlet for bustling metropolises.

In a last-ditch attempt to save itself from ruin, the town opted to sell its abandoned homes for 1 euro (about $1.14) each, starting in 2018. In exchange, owners must renovate the properties within three years — a process that could cost about $25,000.

Read more: 8 cities and towns where you can get a home for free — or buy one at a massive discount

“My crusade is to rescue our unique traditions from falling into oblivion,” the village’s mayor, Efisio Arbau, told CNN.

Almost a year after the program was announced, interest continues to boom. According to Magaraggia, a law firm that advises people on how to buy, sell, and manage properties in Italy, Ollolai received 5,000 requests for its first 100 properties. The program is now oversaturated with demand and has been temporarily put on hold as the government searches for new properties to sell.

Gangi homes 2Gangi has a population of less than 7,000.

The Ollolai initiative is part of a larger program called “Case a 1 euro,” meaning “houses at 1 euro,” which aims to lure new residents to sparse villages in places like Sicily, Tuscany, and Sardinia.

In 2015, the small Sicilian town Gangi began offering free homeswith a similar set of caveats: Buyers had to develop renovation plans within one year and carry out the plans the homes within three.

More recently, the Sicilian village of Sambuca started selling homesowned by the local government.

“We’re not intermediaries who liaise between old and new owners,” Sambuca’s deputy mayor and tourist councilor, Giuseppe Cacioppo, told CNN. “You want that house, you’ll get it no time.”

The homes cost 1 euro and range from 430 square feet to 1,600 square feet. Like other villages, Sambuca requires homes to be renovated within three years of purchase. The village also asks for a $5,700 refundable security deposit.

By mid-January, 10 houses had been sold, with much of the interest coming from foreign buyers in Europe.

Gangi dollar homesAn Australian director and producer visits a 1 euro home in Gangi.

Though the discounted homes have yielded considerable attention abroad, some potential owners remain put off by the hidden costs.

A woman from Melbourne, Australia, previously told Business Insider that she traveled nearly 10,000 miles to purchase a 1 euro home in Gangi, only to discover that the home would cost her $17,000 in fees and permits before any renovations could be done.

“I stayed there for a week and looked at all the ones that were for sale,” she said in 2015. “They were all terrible and needed to be knocked down and rebuilt.”

The homes often show visible signs of neglect, including crumbling walls, rotting wood, and overgrown landscapes.

For some, fixing these issues is a small trade-off for an Italian address. Renovations might also improve the resale value of a property, though home flipping is uncommon in Italy, given thatresidences are often passed down from generation to generation.

Gangi homesA house that was on sale for 1 euro in Gangi as of September 2017.

In the case of European buyers, they could also be investing in the strength of their countries’ economies.

As Italy weathers a recession that began in late 2018, the nation has been forced to borrow money from European banks. Nations such as France, Germany, and Spain own the largest shares of Italian debt, making them particularly vulnerable to a financial downturn in Italy.

While the Italian real-estate market is only one contributor to the nation’s financial crisis, the continued fall in property prices has placed even more strain on the nation’s economy.

Even the state government has sought to reduce its financial struggles by listing abandoned properties.

In 2017, Italy’s State Property Agency offered to give away more than 100 castles, farmhouses, and monasteries to owners who volunteered to transform them into tourist destinations.

Around the same time, the mayor of a remote village offered discounted rent and a $2,100 cash incentive to people who agreed to move there. He later retracted the offer because of excessive demand.

These Italian Villages Will Pay You To Live There — Here’s The Catch

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By Laura Itzkowitz

Who among us hasn’t fantasized about ditching the rat race and moving to a charming village in Italy à la “Under the Tuscan Sun?”

If you’ve been dreaming about buying a crumbling stone house perched on a hillside, you might just get your chance. Locana, a village in the northern Italian region of Piedmont, has become the latest town to attempt to lure new blood with an offer that seems too good to be true.

As first reported by CNN Travel, Giovanni Bruno Mattiet, the mayor of Locana, is offering up to €9,000 (about $10,300 at the current exchange rate) spread out over three years to families willing to settle in the town. The catch: new residents must have a child and a minimum annual income of at least 6,000 euros (approximately $6,800).

“We’re looking to draw mostly young people and professionals who work remotely or are willing to start an activity here,” Mattiet told CNN Travel. “There are dozens of closed shops, bars, restaurants and boutiques just waiting for new people to run them.”

The town is located about an hour from Piedmont’s capital Turin and almost two hours from the famous vineyards of Barolo, Barbaresco and Asti, which have brought great wealth to the region — or parts of it, anyway. Locana, it seems, has been suffering from depopulation as young people move to cities in search of work. It’s a trend that’s playing out all over Italy, where a weak economy has made many young Italians pack up and move abroad.

“Our population has shrunk from 7,000 residents in the early 1900s to barely 1,500, as people left looking for a job at Turin’s big factories,” Mattiet said. “Our school each year faces the risk of shutting down due to too few pupils. I can’t allow this to happen.”

A vineyard in Asti, a Piedmont town known for its sparkling wines. Photo by Laura ItzkowitzA vineyard in Asti, a Piedmont town known for its sparkling wines. Photo by Laura Itzkowitz/TPG

And the mayor of Locana isn’t alone. Just a couple of weeks ago, the village of Sambuca, in Sicily , announced it was selling houses for just 1 euro. After CNN broke the story, it went viral and has apparently resulted in a flood of interest. The mayor’s office even set up a dedicated email address — case1euro@comune.sambucadisicilia.ag.it — which received tens of thousands of emails, he said.

TPG spoke with Leonardo Ciaccio, the mayor of Sambuca, who said “the official call for bids will kick off on Feb. 10, but already lots of visitors from all over the world have come to Sambuca and purchased houses available for prices other than one euro.”

According to Mayor Ciaccio, the town is home to around 6.,000 residents and offers cultural attractions including museums and theaters as well as opportunities to go hiking and explore the region’s gastronomy. The closest beach is about a 15-minute drive away in the town of Fiori Menfi. The closest airport is in Palermo, about 70 minutes away by car. According to Italy Magazine, the town was founded around 830 by the Saracens and still has archeological sites, narrow, winding streets and underground caverns.

Seems too good to be true? Of course it is.

The 37 homes for sale are crumbling and in dire need of repair. In order to get one, you have to commit to investing at least 15,000 euros (over $17,100) in renovations, which must be completed within three years. Add to that the property taxes, which in Italy are notoriously high. To prove you’re serious, you must put down a security deposit of 5,000 euros (about $5,700), which will be returned once the renovations are complete — that is, if you can get one at all.

Jonathon Spada, an American web designer living in Rome, heard about just such a deal being offered up by a town in Abruzzo a few years ago and went to the town hall to try to bid for a house.

“In that case, it was structured like a competition and there were dozens upon dozens of entrants for just the two small homes that I was interested in,” he told TPG. “Additionally, the competition required [that] a minimum amount of private funding (something like 50,000 euros) was secured before applying and an entire design project, including specs and budget.”

Sextantio Grotte della Civiltà hotel in Matera. Photo courtesy of Design HotelsSextantio Grotte della Cività hotel in Matera. Photo courtesy of Design Hotels

Spada says it seemed like a ruse to gain media coverage before just giving the opportunity to a local. He added, however, that in the case of these other towns, investing 10,000 to 20,000 euros into a property might still be a good deal, citing the examples of Basilicata’s ancient cave city of Matera — currently the European Capital of Culture — and Santo Stefano di Sessanio in Abruzzo, where crumbling old homes have been transformed into sister locations of an albergo diffuso called Sextantio.

Translated literally, an albergo diffuso is a “scattered hotel” — in essence, a hotel that operates as a collection of suites in renovated houses or, in the case of Matera, cave dwellings spread out around the town. In fact, Sextantio Le Grotte della Cività in Matera and Sextantio Albergo Diffuso in Santo Stefano di Sessanio are chic members of Design Hotels.

“You can see that the road to success lies with foreigners buying up these properties, renovating them and spending vacation time there,” Spada said.

Who knows — if you’ve got the money to spare and want to play a part in a town’s revitalization, it just might be worth it.

Featured image of the Langhe Hills of Piedmont by Laura Itzkowitz.

These are officially the safest destinations for solo travel in 2019

Lonely Planet Article Here

Solo travel is on the rise but if you are lucky enough to get to go off travelling by yourself, you need to be assured of your safety. Help is at hand as a new report entitled the ‘Solo Travel Safety Report 2019’ has compiled data to find the safest solo traveldestinations for 2019.

The safest destinations for solo travellers have been revealed. Image: Buena Vista Images

The report was put together by travel website WeGoPlaces.me, and it advises travellers on where to go and how to stay safe while travelling around the world, giving an overview of the safest, riskiest, most peaceful and hostile countries. It is based on the population of that country’s feeling of safety and security, and the report combines its findings with advice and tips from the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Data was sourced both from the Gallup Global Law and Order Report and Global Peace Index 2018. For the Gallup report, residents of 142 countries were questioned about how safe they feel walking alone at night, their confidence with local police, whether they had been assaulted or mugged and more. The responses were compiled into a Law and Order Index score for each country, and the safest destinations for solo travel around the world were found to be 1. Singapore 2. Norway 3. Iceland 4. Finland 5. Uzbekistan 6. Hong Kong 7. Switzerland 8. Canada 9. Indonesia and 10. Denmark.

Cuba reigns as the fastest growing female solo travel hotspot. Image: JulieanneBirch

The Global Peace Index was produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace and is considered to be the world’s leading measure of global peacefulness. It ranks Iceland as the most peaceful country in the world, a position it has held since 2008, followed by Norway, Denmark, Singapore and New Zealand.

Residents of 142 countries were questioned about how safe they feel for the survey. Image by ©Justin Foulkes/Lonely Planet

How to Live an Extraordinary Life, Starting Right Where You Are

Tiny Buddha Article Here
By Leslie Ralph

“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” ~Rumi

“Isn’t this a miracle?” I asked myself in the milk aisle at Whole Foods.

It was a Wednesday night after work, and I was buying a few staples to get us through the week. It was a completely ordinary moment in a completely ordinary day, and it was miraculous.

Rewind a few years, same Whole Foods, same shopping list, and you’d find me absentmindedly wandering the aisles, lost in a head full of worries. I couldn’t tell you now what I was worried about then—the house, the kids, money, probably.

My body would be tense, with a hint of tears right behind my eyes.

“Isn’t this supposed to be a miracle?” I might have asked if I had the words to describe that feeling.

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be one of those interesting people who did interesting things like paint murals or write books. I wanted to see every continent and learn as many languages as my brain could hold. I wanted to feel excited by my life.

As a child, I had no doubt that this is what growing up would be like.

But, for just as long as I can remember, I also lived under the assumption that I had something to prove. My intelligence, my worth, my place in this world.

Somehow, these two ideas became intertwined.

That part of me that felt so certain that her life would be extraordinary started to have doubts.

Could I really pull it off?

Had I really earned it?

Was I being completely delusional?

Over time, that vision of an extraordinary life felt like a silly childhood dream, and I stopped myself from following it. I worked hard and earned a good reputation, but that excitement, that fulfillment was always just out of my reach.

I would let it go saying, it’ll come later, but as I checked off the boxes of life’s to-do list—degree, job, marriage, kids—I wasn’t feeling anything like I thought I would.

The feeling that something was off fueled a restlessness that I mistook for motivation. I poured myself into school and then work, but not necessarily out of excitement. I think a part of me still believed that if you weren’t happy, you just weren’t working hard enough at it.

What confused me about it all was that my life was good. I had a beautiful, growing family, a stable job, and a safe, comfortable house. I mean, I was buying organic milk to pour on my cereal. That’s a privilege.

So, if nothing was “wrong,” why didn’t it feel right?

I’d scold myself for not being more grateful, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t feel the way I wanted.

Then, one ordinary day, while squeezing in another email during my lunch hour, a little thought snapped me out of it.

“You’re missing the point, Leslie.”

Time stopped just long enough for me to notice my racing heart.

Maybe you’ve had these epiphanies, where you’re amazed by your own wisdom and you feel so incredibly clear and awake. Maybe it was during a life-changing event, or maybe, like me, it was during an everyday moment, like buying toothpaste or feeding the cats.

The immediate effect wasn’t anything extreme. There was no out of body experience, no inexplicable knowledge of the universe. Just an ordinary little thought that led to another ordinary little thought.

What if living an extraordinary life isn’t about the details?

Every now and then, I’d pull out a list I made that day and add a thought or two to it.

The point is…

Overflowing.

Seeing more magic.

Doing what you love.

Being happy.

Being present.

Feeling bright, brave, and brilliant.

Waking up and appreciating the mountains.

My children knowing how much they are loved.

Gratefully receiving everything I have.

Letting myself unfold.

Alignment, not approval.

Trusting the wisdom of my own heart.

A hundred percent up to me.

And in a gradual, ordinary kind of way, I figured it out. That feeling I wanted wasn’t an outcome. It wasn’t something that would happen “when.” It wasn’t in the details at all. It’s your feelings, moment to moment, that make your life extraordinary.

There is no committee keeping score and waiting to grant permission to begin. There’s just us, the people we care about, our corner of the world, and those little moments. And we have a choice in what we do with them.

That feeling that something was wrong wasn’t about my reputation or my checklist. It was about my awareness of the miracles right in front of me and my willingness to take conscious, meaningful steps that felt extraordinary to take.

Since that day, my life has changed dramatically.

We live in the same house, we shop at the same store, I have the same job, but now, I’m also one of those people who is curious about everything. Who loses themselves in creative projects just because. Who creates art, writes poetry, and self-publishes books. I’ve become one of those people who sees even the most ordinary moment at Whole Foods on a Wednesday afternoon as extraordinary.

How did I do it? I simply let myself begin right where I was.

You may have a completely different version of extraordinary, and that’s what’s so perfect. How to live an extraordinary life entirely up to you—it’s your life, after all. The action itself isn’t as important as the intent behind it.

As long as your intent is to make something in your world just a little better, to learn something just a little deeper, to try something you’re just a little curious about, it’s foolproof. You could institute pizza Saturdays or travel the world, saving endangered species. Both are extraordinary.

If you’re not sure where to begin, here are a few things to try. They changed the world for me.

1. Be tenacious in your appreciation and optimism.

First, slow down and look around. Then, appreciate anything and everything you possibly can. Thank the sun, thank the water, thank the air you breathe. Look out for the funny thing that happened on your way to work, beautiful sunsets, and acts of human kindness. Even when everyone around you wants to complain about the boss, be the one who notices that it’s such a nice day.

When I talked about my day, I used to begin with something that went wrong. Then, I gave myself one tiny challenge: lead with gratitude. I made a point of starting conversations with something positive as often as I could, which meant I had to start looking for those positive things and remembering to bring them up. I discovered so much beauty around me with this one simple switch.

2. Define your extraordinary.

What do you want to see in this lifetime? What do you want to learn? How do you want to feel while you’re living your life?

I’d thought about these things before, of course, but they would quickly get taken over by something more serious. I didn’t want to waste time. My attitude changed when I decided that feeling curious, engaged, and alive was more important than being productive.

I began setting intentions for the week. I’d write down an idea that excited me, a feeling I wanted to nurture, and something I wanted to learn or create. Then, I gave myself small, meaningful challenges that fit with those intentions. Carrying a composition book with me quickly led to filling that composition book, and then another and another.

3. Make friends with your body.

Your body was made for living, so live in it. Use it in a life-affirming way. Don’t just feed it, nourish it. Let it move, let it sweat, let it pump its blood, laugh, cry, and feel. Stretch into it and savor its senses. Rest it when it’s tired, heal it when it’s hurting, love it even when you want to change it, and thank it. And when it has something to tell you, lean in and really listen.

I used to treat my body like it had no purpose. I didn’t nourish it, I overworked its muscles, and I constantly tried to remodel it.

It wasn’t until I started paying attention to how I feel now that I asked myself, is this how you would treat a child or an animal in your care?

My answer was an emphatic, NO.

4. Lose yourself in curiosity and creativity.

Follow the fun and let yourself overflow. Take on a ridiculous project just because it lights you up, even if it’s silly, you’re “too old,” or it’s “wasting time.” Let it be messy. Let it change directions. And let it fail spectacularly. The outcome isn’t as important as the process of it.

I practice this by painting with my children. They are experts at following curiosity and creativity. While I’m painstakingly sketching a dog or a flower, they’re creating imaginary animals in underwater kingdoms and then covering the entire thing in handprints when the inspiration strikes.

Every time, I shake my head with a smile—this is supposed to be fun, remember?

5. Be of service in a way that’s meaningful to you.

Share something. Create something. Teach something. Go where you are masterful and add value to the world in any way that’s accessible to you. Feed the hummingbirds, pick up litter, volunteer in your community. Big or small, it doesn’t matter; it’s the meaning behind it that makes all the difference.

I started by cultivating the kind of presence I wanted to have in my own life. I wanted to feel present at home, for one, so I reduced the expectations I put on myself. The house may be messier, but our weekend adventures at the park are nothing short of extraordinary.

If you’ve ever wanted to feel differently in your life, take one little, ordinary step. And then another. Let your feelings guide you. Your extraordinary life is waiting for you on the other side.