Never Leave a Hotel Before You Check Out — Best Life


Technology has streamlined and improved many of the old conventions of traveling. These days, you don’t even have to carry around a printed boarding pass—and you certainly don’t have to safeguard your money on the road with traveler’s cheques. But there’s one longstanding travel protocol that you should keep doing even though you don’t technically have to. Read on to find out what you should never leave a hotel without doing, according to the experts.

RELATED: Never Forget to Do This Before Going to Bed in a Hotel Room, Expert Warns.

hotel front desk with woman in background
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These days, hotels make the checkout process easy. You can just toss or recycle your electronic room key cards, and then just walk right out of the hotel without ever formally undertaking a checkout process. But Brandon Berksonhotel expert and founder of the curated boutique lodging guide Hotels Above Par, says you should always go through the process of checking out, whether digitally or in person at the desk.

RELATED: Marriott Customers Are Outraged That the Hotel Chain Is Doing This.

Businesswoman at reception, paying for hotel room.
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Since you’ve provided your credit card information at or before check-in, you can technically just walk out and the hotel will push all the final charges through to your credit card. But that’s the problem, Berkson warns: If you don’t check out, you won’t know what those charges are in advance—and you won’t have a chance to dispute them if something looks wrong.

Rear view of tourist in the hotel room pulling the curtains to see the view
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When you check out of a hotel, you get a chance to review the charges individually and make sure that everything looks accurate. “Checking out is important,” notes Berkson. “There have been a few times where I was charged the wrong amount—shoutout to the minbar sensors wrongly detecting that I took something.”

It’s also a chance to negotiate the bill under certain circumstances. Say you didn’t feel the room was as advertised, or the service fell well below any reasonable expectations. Checking out is your chance to ask if they’ll make it right by giving you a price break, or tossing in a freebie.

Another pro tip: Checking out of an international hotel allows you to ask for the bill in local currency, which is likely to be a much better deal for you in the end than a foreign bill issued in U.S. dollars due to conversion rates.

RELATED: For more travel advice delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

man scanning his key card on his hotel room door
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Aside from dollars and cents, checking out of a hotel is just the courteous thing to do, especially at a time when staffing shortages are causing huge disruptions across a heavily impacted travel and hospitality industry. “This is the way housekeeping knows your room is clear for the next guest, something especially relevant during the pandemic when staff need to harness in on further disinfecting surfaces, laundry, and restocking necessities,” Berkson says.

RELATED: A Hotel Worker is Rating Celebs Based on How Rude They Are.



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Arrive Two Hours Early for Holiday Flights, Experts Warn — Best Life


The many struggles at airports around the country have been well documented in recent months, as major airlines have seen delays and cancellations on a massive scale. In recent weeks alone, Southwest Airlines and American Airlines each canceled thousands of flights in high-profile snafus due in large part to staffing shortages brought on by the pandemic. All of the drama for passengers around the country is only expected to get worse in the coming weeks, with demand for holiday travel surging and airlines trying to beef up their employee rosters and trim their schedules in the hopes of minimizing disruptions. If you are scheduled to travel in the midst of the mayhem, you’ll want to make a plan to move through the process as smoothly and proactively as possible to get where you’re going. Read on to find out how early experts suggest you arrive for your holiday flights.

RELATED: Another Major Airline Just Said It’s Cutting Flights for the Next 2 Months.

TSA screening line at airport

The ongoing circumstances mean you should be arriving at the airport with a much larger buffer of time than was necessary in the past, even for domestic flights. Now, both the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and airport officials around the country say travelers should plan to arrive two hours before a domestic flight.

Experts call this a “critical” tip, citing the huge demand for travel as well as long TSA screening lines. “Passengers should not cut it close or they could definitely miss their flight. We want to avoid any backlog at the TSA passenger screening checkpoint,” Thomas R. Stoudt, executive director of the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, told The Morning Call.

RELATED: The CDC Just Banned You From Bringing This on Flights.

Airport terminal crowded with travelers
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In order to guarantee that you don’t miss your flight—and miss Thanksgiving dinner with the family—always give yourself at least that two-hour buffer, experts say. But you can also get some help gauging wait times at your target airport by downloading the MyTSA app. In advance of your scheduled flight, you can check how busy the airport is likely to be on your specific day and time of travel based on historical data.

A flight attendant grabbing a plastic water bottle during service on a flight
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Consider that TSA data shows that 1,525,948 passengers passed through security checkpoints on Nov. 3, which is nearly two and a half times more than the 636,533 passengers recorded on the same day last year. That’s a lot of people going through airports at a time when the whole industry is struggling to find enough workers. A large-scale staffing shortage happened after airlines slashed rosters early in the pandemic, encouraging employees to take buyouts or furlough arrangements. But the demand for travel roared back faster than expected and left a gap at a time when hiring is difficult and job seekers have choices.

RELATED: For more travel advice delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

a crowded airport

Airlines are trying to mitigate disruptions through strategies like offering major perks to employees who work throughout the season, CNBC reports. But you’re still likely to face hiccups, so pack your patience—and a few strategies of your own. If your flight is oversold, for instance, know how to negotiate: Never take the airline’s first offer, experts say.

RELATED: Never Do This When Your Flight Is Canceled, Travel Expert Warns.



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Thanksgiving recipes that are easy to make : Life Kit : NPR


Illustration of a group of friends passing food around the table at Thanksgiving dinner for a Friendsgiving.
Illustration of a group of friends passing food around the table at Thanksgiving dinner for a Friendsgiving.

Food writer Eric Kim is kind of a Thanksgiving expert — he’s been making the holiday dinner for his family since he was 13 years old.

“My parents didn’t know how to cook American food when they immigrated here,” he says. Kim and his cousins really wanted to partake in this very-American holiday so they took over the kitchen and fashioned a menu straight from the imagination of a 13-year-old: “Those early Thanksgivings had like five different pies and a banana pudding.”

He says the holiday evolved over the years (though the banana pudding remains a staple).

Eric Kim eats Thanksgiving dinner with his family in Augusta, Georgia in the 1990s.

Eric Kim


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Eric Kim

“The kids got better at cooking it, and then the adults looked forward to it. And then it became this beautiful kind of moment once a year where the adults could, like, sit back and relax.”

Kim says those early years of making Thanksgiving dinner helped him become the cook — and the New York Times food writer — that he is today. This year though, he’s on a mission to help everyone spend less time in the kitchen and more time enjoying their food and their company.

(See two of Kim’s original Thanksgiving recipes — Salt-and-Pepper Roast Turkey Breast and Cheesy Pizza Stuffing, at the end of the story.)

Cook smarter, not harder.

“I think people cook too much on Thanksgiving Day, and that’s really unrealistic,” Kim says. “What I want to do on Thanksgiving Day is be with my friends … or my family.”

Kim has devised a menu that’ll allow you to actually enjoy the day – by simplifying the meal in five key ways:

Make ahead

Spend the day before Thanksgiving doing the bulk of your work so that the day-of you only have to roast the turkey and reheat your sides.

Simplify your ingredients

Kim’s simplified menu relies on a pared-down list of ingredients used throughout the dishes: salt, pepper, butter, dried oregano, onion and lemon.

The food at Thanksgiving is already delicious, Kim says, so it doesn’t need a lot of extra flavor. “You’re taking these ingredients like sweet potatoes or green beans, radicchio … and just adding two or three things to them to make them shine and to make them more of themselves,” he says. “A lot of butter goes a long way.”

Illustration of a hand stirring ingredients in a bowl. A pepper grinder, bowl of salt, cut lemon, and plate with butter sit in the foreground.

Simplify your tools

Kim says you can make the full meal with just a sheet pan and a large skillet. The bone-in turkey breast is roasted on the sheet pan while all of the sides and gravy can be cooked stove-top in the skillet.

No oven acrobatics

Look for recipes that allow you to cook everything at one temperature. That way, you’re not having to figure out the logistics of when to put in one casserole for an hour at 375 degrees and another for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Kim designed his menu (peep his cheesy pizza stuffing here) so everything can be cooked at 350 degrees — which is also low enough so that you won’t be sweating in your kitchen all day!

Take the terror out of turkey

A lot of first-timers can get overwhelmed by cooking the turkey. Kim says it’s fine to just do a bone-in turkey breast. And he says, simplify your turkey prep. “All I do is I slather some butter all over it, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and I roast it.” (Try his recipe here.)

And for those turkey haters, Kim says part of the problem is that people usually overcook them. “As long as you don’t overcook it, a whole world will open up to you. It’s delicious.” To avoid overcooking, try using an electric instant-read meat thermometer so you’ll know exactly when it’s done.

With all that extra time you’ve got on Thanksgiving day now, you can focus on the important stuff like frantically cleaning your apartment, chilling the wine, finding the perfect pair of eating pants – oh, and spending quality time with your loved ones.

Enjoy the day … with whomever you’d like

Some of us are unable to travel home, or we’re stuck at work, or we’re estranged from our families. Some of us just want to be able to double up on this food-laden holiday. Whatever the reason, it’s important to remember that celebrating with friends is no less important. Kim says it’s a time to celebrate your found family.

“For me, Friendsgiving, it started out being the replacement holiday. It’s like, ‘Oh man, I can’t go home, so I have to be with … other people,'” says Kim. But throughout the years, he’s come to cherish the holiday.

“You’re not just celebrating your friends because they’re replacements for family, you’re celebrating them because they are your family. And I think that’s really beautiful.”

No matter who you’re celebrating with, Kim says, a little planning (and some prep the day beforehand) can help you enjoy the moment and the company.

Eric Kim’s Thanksgiving Recipes

Salt-and-Pepper Roast Turkey Breast

Roasted Turkey Breast NYTCREDIT: Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Photograph by Bryan Gardner for The New York Times; Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne; Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Roasted Turkey Breast NYTCREDIT: Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Photograph by Bryan Gardner for The New York Times; Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne; Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Time: 2 hours, plus thawing and resting

A bone-in turkey breast is significantly easier to cook than a whole bird, it takes a fraction of the time, and it still feeds a group comfortably. To ensure succulence, you could apply a dry brine the night before, but when you’re cooking just a breast, the greatest insurance against dryness is pulling it out of the oven the moment it’s done, and no later. (For that, rely on an electric instant-read meat thermometer; it’s the only way to get a truly accurate read on the internal temperature of your meat.) I like to roast turkey the way I roast chicken: unbrined but slathered in butter, showered with salt and pepper and popped into a moderately hot oven to get crispy skin. Once the slices are fanned out on a platter tumbled with lemon wedges, it looks like a veritable feast.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, very soft
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 whole (6- to 8-pound) bone-in turkey breast (see Tip)
  • 4 lemons, quartered, for garnish
  • Instant-read meat thermometer

Directions

1. Keep the butter nearby. Place about 1/4 cup kosher salt in a small bowl and keep nearby as well, along with a black-pepper grinder. Transfer the turkey breast to a large sheet pan and thoroughly dry all over with a paper towel; get it as bone-dry as you can.

2. Using your hands, very liberally rub the butter all over the turkey breast. (If the butter is difficult to spread, soften it further in the microwave in 10-second intervals.) Make sure to slather the butter on the underside and bones in addition to the entire surface of the skin. Wipe your hands with a towel.

3. Generously season the turkey all over with salt, especially inside the cavity. You don’t have to be precise here, but do go heavy on the salt — the turkey can take it. (In general, you should account for about 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt or 3/4 teaspoon Morton coarse kosher salt per pound.) Next, generously grind black pepper all over the turkey; again, no need to measure this. Let the turkey breast sit so the seasoning can penetrate the meat and allow the bird to come to room temperature, about 1 hour.

4. Meanwhile, position a rack in the bottom third of the oven and heat oven to 350 degrees. Place the turkey breast in the oven, then with the oven door still open, carefully pour 1 cup water into the sheet pan. Close the oven door and roast until the turkey’s internal temperature reaches 150 degrees, 13 to 15 minutes per pound. (To read the temperature, insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of one of the breasts, making sure to avoid the bone, which will give you an inaccurate reading.) Very carefully rotate the pan halfway through roasting and add another cup of water if the pan looks dry. When done roasting (1 1/2 to 2 hours), the skin should be golden brown and crispy.

5. Let the turkey breast rest in its pan, uncovered, until cool enough to handle, at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour. Transfer to a cutting board. Cut along one side of the breastbone with a sharp knife, then the other, cutting each breast off the bone, and keeping the skin intact. Thickly slice each breast crosswise and serve on a large platter scattered with the lemon quarters. Taste the pan juices and, if they’re a little salty, stir in a little hot water. If they need more seasoning, stir in salt and pepper. Spoon the pan juices over and around the sliced turkey.

Cheesy Pizza Stuffing

Cheesy Pizza Stuffing NYTCREDIT: Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks. NYTCREDIT: Bryan Gardner for The New York Times Cheesy Pizza Stuffing NYTCREDIT: Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Photograph by Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Cheesy Pizza Stuffing NYTCREDIT: Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks. NYTCREDIT: Bryan Gardner for The New York Times Cheesy Pizza Stuffing NYTCREDIT: Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Photograph by Bryan Gardner for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Time: 45 minutes, plus drying bread

Ingredients

  • 1 (12- to 14-ounce) loaf brioche or challah, torn into bite-size pieces (about 4 cups)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more softened butter for greasing dish
  • 1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
  •  Salt and black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, plus more for topping
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 cups shredded low-moisture mozzarella

Directions

  1. The night before serving, spread the bread pieces on a sheet pan and let sit on the counter to dry out. Alternatively, you can bake them at 250 degrees until completely dried out and no longer soft, 20 to 30 minutes.
  2. When ready to make the stuffing, transfer the bread to a large bowl. Heat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9-by-13-inch or 8-by-11-inch baking dish with softened butter.
  3. Melt the 4 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high and add the onion. Season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and slightly browned at the edges, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the oregano and tomato paste and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the stock and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
  4. In a medium bowl, beat the egg with a fork, then beat in the milk. Pour the stock mixture and milk mixture over the bread and toss with two spoons until evenly coated. Add 1 cup mozzarella, and toss again until well combined. Let sit until the bread fully absorbs the liquid, about 5 minutes.
  5. Transfer the stuffing and any accumulated liquid to the greased baking dish, spread out evenly and top with the remaining 1 cup mozzarella. (To make ahead, you can stop at this stage, cover the dish and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.)
  6. Bake, uncovered, until heated through and the cheese is melted, 15 to 25 minutes. (You may need to add a few minutes to the bake time if the stuffing has been refrigerated.) Sprinkle a pinch of oregano over the top and serve immediately.

You can find more of Eric Kim’s recipes here.

The audio portion of this podcast was produced by Meghan Keane.

We’d love to hear from you. If you have a good life hack, leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at [email protected] Your tip could appear in an upcoming episode.

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Never Make This One Mistake When Booking a Flight — Best Life


After a long year and a half of life under the COVID-19 pandemic, eager travelers are beginning to take to the skies again as cases continue to drop. Data from the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) shows that 1,525,948 passengers passed through security checkpoints on Nov. 3, which is nearly two and a half times more than the 636,533 passengers recorded on the same day last year. But as travel picks back up, experts warn it’s important to make sure you’re not making one major mistake when booking flights for your long-awaited trip. Read on to see what you should know before you jet off.

RELATED: Never Do This on a Plane, Infectious Disease Doctor Warns.

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Typically, searching for flights is as straightforward as looking for which flights are available at the nearest airport that can get you to your destination. But experts suggest that opening up your search to include other nearby airports both in your departure and arrival cities can be one of the easiest ways to save money off the bat, especially as many airlines have changed their service routes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead of sticking strictly to one airport code, Phil Dengler, travel expert and co-owner of travel website The Vacationer, tells Best Life the best option is to search for all airports serving whichever you’re flying to. “Google Flights allows you to select up to seven departure and arrival airports at a time. This is a powerful feature because nearby airports may have much cheaper prices,” he says.

But while looking at alternate options nearby that could unlock cheaper fares, make sure you consider a few things before you book. “Whether or not using a cheaper airport saves you money depends on the particular trip,” Dengler warns. “Just make sure to consider the additional travel costs to get to the airport as well as time,” while also keeping in mind expenses such as parking at the airport and getting around in your arrival city.

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Just because you’re stuck with a limited number of airports at home or your destination doesn’t mean you still can’t find a better deal on airfare. If you’re able to be flexible with the date or time you fly—even a few hours or just one day earlier or later—experts say you might be able to save yourself a serious amount of cash, especially if you’re flying over a holiday.

“Picking travel dates before looking at flight prices is a recipe for disaster,” Dengler warns. “You should always decide where you want to go and then find the cheapest days to fly. You can save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, by being flexible on dates,” adding that he recommends using the date grid feature on Google Flights to quickly see which days offer the best fares.

RELATED: United Is Lifting This Major Flight Restriction, Starting Nov. 15.

Woman sad and unhappy at the airport with flight canceled
David Prado Perucha / Shutterstock

Besides being somewhat flexible about which dates and where you fly in and out of, it can also be just as essential to make sure you’re booking your flights from the right vendor to begin with. “The number one tip travelers need to know is to stop using third-party apps like Expedia, Priceline, and Skyscanner as they do not save you money,” Deanna Ford, travel expert and founder of The Detailed Traveler, tells Best Life. “You’re not getting any deal you wouldn’t otherwise get by booking directly with an airline.”

Instead, Ford says she uses third-party apps and booking websites only as a search tool before using the information to book with the airline directly. Otherwise, you could be setting yourself up for a set of travel headaches if you run into any travel issues when it comes time to fly.

“If you encounter a delay or cancellation and you booked through a third-party website, airlines will not rebook or refund you directly, Ford warns. “You will have to go through the third-party website and work around their cancellation or change policy as well as the airline’s cancellation or change policy, which makes the process that much more complicated. And in the era of COVID? Having your flight canceled is a huge possibility.”

A female passenger in a medical mask is waiting for a flight at the airport.
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Even though no one likes to overpay for airfare, experts warn that price shouldn’t be the only thing guiding your decision when it comes time to book your flight. “One of the biggest mistakes people make is buying the cheapest ticket without considering the trade-offs and extras like paid luggage, ridiculously long layovers, or ability to pick a seat,” Denise Cruz, a frequent flyer and travel blogger at Wander Her Way. “I travel extensively for work and leisure, and I’ve seen people pay two or three times the price of the ticket in luggage fees. Some airlines charge $40 to $60 to check a bag each way, and that can easily make the cheap flight be more expensive than another seemingly more expensive option that allows you to check one bag for free.”

Cruz also warns that the bargain fare you book might also leave you without the option of picking your seat. “[That] can work on short distances but may end up getting you stuck in the middle seat next to strangers on a 12-hour flight,” she warns. “My advice is to look at the entire cost of the ticket and understand what you’re giving up for the lower fare.”

RELATED: Never Do This If You’re on an Oversold Flight, Expert Warns.



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Uncertainty, expense and recurring goodbyes: The life of a US Foreign Service family


Editor’s Note — Loren Braunohler joined the US Foreign Service as a diplomat and has served in Mozambique, Venezuela, Sudan, Washington, D.C. and Thailand. After a decade in the US State Department, she resigned in 2011 to become a stay-at-home mom and travel writer. The opinions expressed here are her own.

Kiev, Ukraine (CNN) — US Foreign Service Officers are a special kind of crazy.

I should know. I was one, and I’m married to one. We move our children, pets and belongings to far flung places across the world every few years.

Depending on where we are located, we can bike the Alps, hike the Himalayas, surf in Sydney or nosh on the world’s best Thai food until we’ve reached our breaking point. On the regular.

Other times, we serve in places where we’re exposed to dengue fever, the plague (yep, it still exists), life in an authoritarian state or a mega-city with alarming levels of pollution.

No matter where we are located, however, the one constant is that the travel opportunities are insane.

Alliances, aperitifs and agrément

Life before kids: Loren and her husband Walter on a 2008 work trip from Khartoum to the Egypt-Sudan border.

Life before kids: Loren and her husband Walter on a 2008 work trip from Khartoum to the Egypt-Sudan border.

Courtesy Loren Braunohler

Let’s back up for a second. Most people have no idea who Foreign Service Officers are or what they do.

US Foreign Service Officers, or FSOs, are American diplomats.

We meet hated war criminals one day, and revered humanitarian leaders the next. We hop on trawlers alongside Mozambican fisherman to collaborate on conservation.

We meet Darfur rebels in the desert to discuss peace negotiations with the Sudanese government. We help broker peace deals, connect US companies with overseas buyers and help Americans overseas in need.

We progress US foreign policy issues, making clear to other countries where we stand and what we stand for. We are nearly always living and working overseas in US embassies and consulates, and are occasionally on domestic assignment in Washington, D.C.

My husband and I have been at this for 20 years. Combined, we’ve lived in nine countries, learned six languages and resided on nearly every continent (we’re coming for you, Antarctica). I began my career in Mozambique and Venezuela; my husband began his career in Thailand, Iraq and Australia. We got engaged in Venezuela, married in Thailand and honeymooned in Laos. We then served together in Sudan, Washington, D.C. and Thailand.

During this time, I resigned to stay at home with our growing family, which had grown to five. Subsequently, we served in Poland, spent a year in Rhode Island at the Naval War College, where our fourth child was born, and are now serving in Ukraine.

In less than a year from now, we’ll move again. To where? Who knows? But that’s the fun and madness of it all.

The world is your oyster (no really, it is)

The Braunohlers traveled to Phnom Penh, Cambodia with their first-born son in 2011.

The Braunohlers traveled to Phnom Penh, Cambodia with their first-born son in 2011.

Courtesy Loren Braunohler

The lifestyle of an FSO is a sort of managed chaos. We live and breathe for the “bid list.” It’s like looking at the departures board at JFK — so many countries, loads of history, fascinating cultures and journeys into the unknown — all at your fingertips. A real life “Choose Your Own Adventure”.

Do you get to decide where you go? Well, yes, and no.

An FSO has to be “worldwide available,” meaning, we must be willing to go anywhere the US has an embassy or a consulate.

When I started out, I was given a list of nearly 80 cities around the globe. I had to rank order 25 of them. I ranked Mozambique as my first choice and got it.

Others weren’t as lucky. The poshest location on our list? Oslo. The most difficult? Liberia (it was in the midst of a civil war).

And the amazing thing is that every one of us has a soft spot for something — whether that’s election-observing in countries fraught with corruption or working on a climate change pact with China. Locations almost always get filled without people having to be forced into them.

When you become more senior, you have the chance to lobby on specific positions in certain places … but don’t worry, you’re almost never completely in control of your own fate.

The chaos and the beauty

Walking on frozen lake Strebske Pleso in Slovakia in 2018.

Walking on frozen lake Strebske Pleso in Slovakia in 2018.

Courtesy Loren Braunohler

When we started our careers, my husband and I were both single. Life was simple.

Now we have four kids and one big golden retriever. My kids are pack mules on trips when we relocate: everyone, no matter how strong, little or prone to complaining, pushes an entire cart full of luggage.

Usually there is an infant being worn in a baby carrier. And a 90-pound dog being pushed alongside in a massive crate. And luggage regularly falling off of carts. To say that we are good entertainment value at airports around the world would be an understatement.

In our lifestyle, everything pivots almost all the time. Pivot to a new school. Pivot to a new language. Pivot to a new neighborhood. Pivot to a new home. Pivot to new friends. Pivot to a new sport.

We are constantly buying cars to fit our latest assignment. We’re constantly buying new wardrobes. I just had a friend transfer from India to Ukraine in February. Imagine that climate shock. And the sheer list of vaccinations we need is impressive.

Exploring Kiev's St. Michael's Monastery in 2020.

Exploring Kiev’s St. Michael’s Monastery in 2020.

Courtesy Loren Braunohler

During these crazy times of transition, my kids, now ages 11, 9, 7 and 2, have sustained huge changes in their personal and social lives. They have gone from small, private international schools to large American public schools.

They’ve gone from living a life of flip flops and tank tops in the humidity of Southeast Asia to frigid negative temperatures in eastern Europe.

Delicious pad Thai turns to borscht. Swimming pools turn into sledding hills. Jungles into thousand-year old castles. Ever tried to set up a lemonade stand overseas? Good luck with that. Learn. Deal. Adapt. Repeat.

Change is our constant. And constant change gets messy, but there is also a special kind of beauty that comes with it.

My kids’ world is so much bigger than mine ever was at the same age. They see poverty. They see wealth. They see all nationalities, hear different languages, go to school in these languages, and begin to understand and appreciate new traditions and religions.

We’ve had the most amazing travel adventures. We’ve been greeted by eagle rays gliding near the surface of the water as we disembark from a sea plane onto a floating dock in the Maldives. We’ve walked through the rice paddies of Ubud, Bali and searched for fairy houses along the coast of Ireland. We’ve hiked the trails of Hong Kong and visited temples in Phnom Penh. We’ve jet skied the Black Sea off the coast of Ukraine and walked on frozen lakes in the High Tatras of Slovakia.

Unpaid toilets for life

Daughter Kate, in the far right, attends a Polish preschool birthday party in 2016.

Daughter Kate, in the far right, attends a Polish preschool birthday party in 2016.

Courtesy Loren Braunohler

What do we miss?

We miss home. Real home. Our grandparents. Our cousins. A forever house that is our home. Friends that will go through grade school, middle school and high school with us.

We miss the ease of doing things in our native language. We miss the familiarity of what’s normal and expected. We miss knowing that when we go into a bathroom, we don’t have to pay for the privilege to use it, or that it’s not a hole in the ground.

Little League. Having a mailman. Tap water that you can drink. Good medical care.

So how do we get the kids on board with this state of constant transition?

Our American friends in Benin have adopted the term “adventure family.” Identifying themselves this way gives their kids, ages 6 and 9, a sense that there is purpose behind all of the moves, difficult goodbyes and upheaval: to have adventures and explore together, as a family.

It also gives them an immediate connection to other “adventure families” as they move around the globe.

And then came Covid-19

With the advent of Covid-19, the Foreign Service lifestyle got even more complicated. We moved from the US to Ukraine mid-pandemic, pre-vaccine in the summer of 2020.

We faced massive shipping backlogs, pet transfer centers in European airports were closed, and when we arrived we were not allowed to have contact with anyone from the US Embassy community for weeks.

We were largely unable to explore, meet new people, use public transportation, experience museums or restaurants, or simply see the inside of our children’s new school.

In 2021, the family visited Maalefushi Island in the Maldives.

In 2021, the family visited Maalefushi Island in the Maldives.

Courtesy Loren Braunohler

Pre-Covid, our initial intent when moving to Kiev was to jet off to Italy, Spain and other nearby destinations on long weekends. Instead, we explored frozen quarries and forests outside of Kiev during a long Ukrainian winter.

Our friends who moved to Saudi Arabia at the same time with kids, ages 9 and 7, embarked on one big camping trip and traversed the length of Saudi Arabia from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea by car. Through sandstorms. For spring break. It was an incredible experience for them, and something that never would have transpired had the world stayed open.

I tell myself that this unconventional lifestyle teaches my kids to be more accepting, flexible and to roll with life’s inevitable punches. Perhaps they will see themselves as global citizens and realize there are many ways to live a fulfilling life. Everything doesn’t have to be done the American way.

So yeah, we are certainly a bit crazy. But we are also extremely privileged. We see and experience so many unique corners of this world. We make incredible friends across the globe. We are shaped, hopefully for the better, by our transient lifestyle.

And, we have the liberty to step away from the hard places at the end of the day and receive first-class medical care, live in a free, democratic society, and provide our children with the best possible education.

In the words of J.A. Redmerski, “Sometimes the greatest memories are made in the most unlikely of places, further proof that spontaneity is more rewarding than a meticulously planned life.”

Top image: The Braunohler family celebrates Christmas in Kiev in 2020. Image courtesy Loren Braunohler.





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Itching to leave your life in the US behind? Here’s how to move abroad


Charlotte, N.C. —  Armchair travel was all the rage as the COVID-19 pandemic set in last year — virtual museum and walking tours, Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy, virtual reality games and apps. But what if instead of daydreaming about being abroad, you actually picked up and moved there? 

The U.S. Department of State estimates that about 9 million U.S. citizens are living abroad. As borders began to close because of COVID-19, some people returned back to the perceived safety of home in the U.S., while for others it was the push they needed to fulfill a lifelong dream. 

If you’ve got the itch for an international move, here are some important steps to get started. 

Step 1: What’s the cost? 

Research the cost of living. Maybe you have a place in mind that you’ve always wanted to live, or maybe you’re open to possibilities. Regardless, the first step in any international move should be researching the exchange rate and cost of living. Countries like Portugal, Costa Rica and Malaysia have some of the lowest costs of living, while cities like Zurich and Hong Kong have a reputation for being expensive. 

Save up. A good general rule is to have at least six months’ worth of savings before taking the plunge to relocate to a new country. It’s important to budget in extra costs for things like visa application costs, international shipments of goods and plane tickets. 

Understand the tax implications. U.S. citizens abroad are subject to income tax, whether they live in Caracas or Charlotte. Many other countries will also require that taxes be paid there, as well. Understanding tax laws, foreign tax credits, exclusions and requirements is a complicated task best understood by consulting an expert. 

Step 2: Which documents do you need? 

Secure a valid passport. Passports must be valid for at least six months past your expected return. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant backups in passport processing times. The State Department currently estimates at least 16 weeks for processing routine passports and 12 weeks for expedited ones. Pro tip: Make copies of your passport, driver’s license and birth certificate; take one with you and leave one with a trusted loved one in the U.S. 

Research visa and work permit requirements. Many countries require visas and or work permits. These come in all shapes and sizes, restrictions and lengths of stay. The best way to find out what is required in the country you are looking to move to is to contact the consulate or embassy of that country. Don’t forget to make note of any renewal requirements. For those lucky enough to be relocating with a company, much of this process may be taken care of for you.

Step 3. Do you have medical coverage? 

Determine vaccinations requirements. Vaccination requirements are especially important to understand during this time of COVID-19. For a full list of required immunizations, including COVID-19 vaccine mandates, the CDC website is a good resource. Pro tip: Make photo copies of your immunization records and COVID-19 vaccine card, and take one with you and leave one in the U.S. 

Understand medical insurance. Secure international travel insurance. Many medical insurance plans — including Medicare and Medicaid — do not include international coverage. It is important to contact your insurance provider prior to leaving the U.S. to determine what coverage is available to you. If you do not have coverage, there are companies that specifically provide travel medical insurance, including Cigna Global Health Insurance, Aetna International Health Insurance and GeoBlue Health Insurance Xplorer Plans. Another great resource is the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers.

Know how to find a doctor. While the U.S. embassy and consulate provides a list of doctors and hospitals by country (look under the American Citizens Services tab under the desired country), finding a doctor that speaks English can be its own challenge. Companies like Air Doctor help connect U.S. citizens with doctors who speak the same language around the globe. 

Have a plan for your prescriptions. One last step on the medical front — talk to your doctor and pharmacist about your prescription medications. Find out if they can be filled abroad and what alternatives may be available. Get a written note about pre-existing conditions, as well as a written prescription with dosage from your doctor before you go. While pharmacies abroad will not honor this, it can be helpful to show an in-country doctor who can write you a fillable prescription. 

Step 4. Have you told everyone you’ll be gone? 

Contact financial institutions. Banks and credit card companies can cause your adventure to come to a screeching financial halt if they do not know that you will be abroad. Contacting these institutions is important to keeping the cash flow going. It is also valuable to research which credit cards do not charge a foreign transaction fee, as most will charge between 1-3% per transaction — a fee that can add up over time. 

Let the government know. Any time you leave the U.S., it is a good idea to register with the government’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. STEP is a free service that ensures that you will receive important updates from the embassy on safety conditions, helps authorities contact you in an emergency and ensures that your family and friends in the States can get in touch with you in an emergency. 

Step 5. What happens to your stuff? 

Examine the cost of shipping large items. While you may be hesitant to leave your favorite comfy chair behind in the U.S., it is generally expensive (and can take a long time) to ship furniture and large items abroad. For those must-take items, shipping via sea freight is the most economical option, with door-to-door service demanding higher rates than door-to-port options. There is a lot to consider (and budget for) when you consider customs duties, fees and taxes. 

Evaluate how to transport your clothing. When it comes to clothing, it can often be easier and less expensive to ship a few boxes than to lug extra suitcases through the airport. The USPS even allows you to print international shipping labels and customs forms, order boxes and estimate your shipment costs online. 

Understand the process for taking pets. Perhaps the most important things to take with you when you move abroad are your furry friends. If you are hoping to move with a cat, dog or other pet, the U.S. Department of Agriculture site provides country-specific rules and guidelines. 

Ready to go? 

While the adventure of moving abroad sounds alluring, it is important to weigh the complications of moving during the time of COVID-19. Constantly changing restrictions can limit your movement and ability to get back to the U.S. In addition, lockdowns and social distancing requirements can make it more difficult to acclimate to a new community and make friends. Consider joining online groups in the local area to find out more about what life looks like in your potential new community. 



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Itching to leave your life in the US behind and move abroad? We’ll tell you how | Travel


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Armchair travel was all the rage as the COVID-19 pandemic set in last year — virtual museum and walking tours, Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy, virtual reality games and apps. But what if instead of daydreaming about being abroad, you actually picked up and moved there?

The U.S. Department of State estimates that about 9 million U.S. citizens are living abroad. As borders began to close because of COVID-19, some people returned back to the perceived safety of home in the U.S., while for others it was the push they needed to fulfill a lifelong dream.

If you’ve got the itch for an international move, here are some important steps to get started.

Step 1: What’s the cost?

Research the cost of living. Maybe you have a place in mind that you’ve always wanted to live, or maybe you’re open to possibilities. Regardless, the first step in any international move should be researching the exchange rate and cost of living. Countries like Portugal, Costa Rica and Malaysia have some of the lowest costs of living, while cities like Zurich and Hong Kong have a reputation for being expensive.

Save up. A good general rule is to have at least six months’ worth of savings before taking the plunge to relocate to a new country. It’s important to budget in extra costs for things like visa application costs, international shipments of goods and plane tickets.

Understand the tax implications. U.S. citizens abroad are subject to income tax, whether they live in Caracas or Charlotte. Many other countries will also require that taxes be paid there, as well. Understanding tax laws, foreign tax credits, exclusions and requirements is a complicated task best understood by consulting an expert.

Step 2: Which documents do you need?

Secure a valid passport. Passports must be valid for at least six months past your expected return. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant backups in passport processing times. The State Department currently estimates at least 16 weeks for processing routine passports and 12 weeks for expedited ones. Pro tip: Make copies of your passport, driver’s license and birth certificate; take one with you and leave one with a trusted loved one in the U.S.

Research visa and work permit requirements. Many countries require visas and or work permits. These come in all shapes and sizes, restrictions and lengths of stay. The best way to find out what is required in the country you are looking to move to is to contact the consulate or embassy of that country. Don’t forget to make note of any renewal requirements. For those lucky enough to be relocating with a company, much of this process may be taken care of for you.

Step 3. Do you have medical coverage?

Determine vaccinations requirements. Vaccination requirements are especially important to understand during this time of COVID-19. For a full list of required immunizations, including COVID-19 vaccine mandates, the CDC website is a good resource. Pro tip: Make photo copies of your immunization records and COVID-19 vaccine card, and take one with you and leave one in the U.S.

Understand medical insurance. Secure international travel insurance. Many medical insurance plans — including Medicare and Medicaid — do not include international coverage. It is important to contact your insurance provider prior to leaving the U.S. to determine what coverage is available to you. If you do not have coverage, there are companies that specifically provide travel medical insurance, including Cigna Global Health Insurance, Aetna International Health Insurance and GeoBlue Health Insurance Xplorer Plans. Another great resource is the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers.

Know how to find a doctor. While the U.S. embassy and consulate provides a list of doctors and hospitals by country (look under the American Citizens Services tab under the desired country), finding a doctor that speaks English can be its own challenge. Companies like Air Doctor help connect U.S. citizens with doctors who speak the same language around the globe.

Have a plan for your prescriptions. One last step on the medical front — talk to your doctor and pharmacist about your prescription medications. Find out if they can be filled abroad and what alternatives may be available. Get a written note about pre-existing conditions, as well as a written prescription with dosage from your doctor before you go. While pharmacies abroad will not honor this, it can be helpful to show an in-country doctor who can write you a fillable prescription.

Step 4. Have you told everyone you’ll be gone?

Contact financial institutions. Banks and credit card companies can cause your adventure to come to a screeching financial halt if they do not know that you will be abroad. Contacting these institutions is important to keeping the cash flow going. It is also valuable to research which credit cards do not charge a foreign transaction fee, as most will charge between 1-3% per transaction — a fee that can add up over time.

Let the government know. Any time you leave the U.S., it is a good idea to register with the government’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. STEP is a free service that ensures that you will receive important updates from the embassy on safety conditions, helps authorities contact you in an emergency and ensures that your family and friends in the States can get in touch with you in an emergency.

Step 5. What happens to your stuff?

Examine the cost of shipping large items. While you may be hesitant to leave your favorite comfy chair behind in the U.S., it is generally expensive (and can take a long time) to ship furniture and large items abroad. For those must-take items, shipping via sea freight is the most economical option, with door-to-door service demanding higher rates than door-to-port options. There is a lot to consider (and budget for) when you consider customs duties, fees and taxes.

Evaluate how to transport your clothing. When it comes to clothing, it can often be easier and less expensive to ship a few boxes than to lug extra suitcases through the airport. The USPS even allows you to print international shipping labels and customs forms, order boxes and estimate your shipment costs online.

Understand the process for taking pets. Perhaps the most important things to take with you when you move abroad are your furry friends. If you are hoping to move with a cat, dog or other pet, the U.S. Department of Agriculture site provides country-specific rules and guidelines.

Ready to go?

While the adventure of moving abroad sounds alluring, it is important to weigh the complications of moving during the time of COVID-19. Constantly changing restrictions can limit your movement and ability to get back to the U.S. In addition, lockdowns and social distancing requirements can make it more difficult to acclimate to a new community and make friends. Consider joining online groups in the local area to find out more about what life looks like in your potential new community.

———

©2021 The Charlotte Observer. Visit at charlotteobserver.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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New Documentary Examines The Life And Art Of Jim Denevan


Jim Denevan is probably best known as the mastermind of Outstanding In The Field (OTIF), bespoke culinary experiences set in farm vineyards, beaches, meadows, fishing docks, and city streets across the U.S. and beyond.

But chef Denevan is also a talented multimedia artist who creates eco-friendly, geometric sand paintings—called “land art”—that only exist for a short time before they succumb to the elements. Using a rake and stick as his tools, he creates works so perfect and symmetrical that they look engineered.

Now a new documentary, Man in the Field, tells the extraordinary story of this creative genius, an artist and chef whose background is as unique as has been the course of his life’s work.

About Outstanding in the Field

Since 1999, well before farm-to-table became an overused buzzword, Denevan came up with the idea of bringing chefs and farmers together in natural settings. He gathered food enthusiasts together to enjoy multi-course meals outdoors, served at long, elegantly set tables where people could enjoy a meal and connect with kindred spirits in a scenic setting.

The sculpture-like arrangement of the tables and careful presentation and plating of the meals resembles an art form of their own. On average, about 100 to 250 diners participate in each event, many of them culinary travelers who are “repeaters.”

Denevan launched this visionary project in Northern California, the area where he was born and raised, but took it “global” in 2011. Since its inception, dinners have been held in 18 different countries, involving more than 700 chefs in the serving of over 100,000 meals. 

By design, the experiences allow participants to rediscover the integral connection between the foods they eat and their natural sources. Like good improvisational theater, the precise menus and settings are unpredictable but always coalesce at the end to create a memorable culinary experience. 

About Man in the Field

Man in the Field is the name of the recently-released documentary film by filmmaker Patrick Trefz that tells the story of Denevan’s life and upbringing. 

His father, a machinist, died when Denevan was five years old. His mother was absent from the home, throwing herself into her work. He was one of eight brothers, three of whom were eventually diagnosed with serious mental illnesses. He says that he began his artwork when he was 15 years old and retreated to the woods to escape the violence and trauma taking place in his home, where there was virtually no parenting

After premieres in New York City and Los Angeles, Man in the FIeld is currently streaming on Apple TV, iTunes and Amazon Prime.


Speaking to Jim Denevan

Forbes.com asked Jim about his art, the new film, his travels, and thoughts about the future:

What training contributed to your artistic and culinary achievements?

Jim Denevan: I’ve always been intellectually curious about natural processes. I grew up in environments that led to questioning why, for example, the beach looked different in summer than it did in winter. Making art in that environment was realizing a passion that already existed.

My work evolved as a recognition of place and people, and an exploration of how it exists in a specific time and what can come of that. My mother was a math teacher and I was an auto-didact [self-taught person], passionate about exploring culture, and making art that had no reference to other artists. 

What aspects of your personality led you to your artistic calling?

JD: I find repetitive motions of different kinds soothing, therapeutic, like a sport of a different kind that mixes meditation and physical activity in equal measure. I can walk and think at the same time. 

When I started to draw, I had no plan or measuring device. Drawing in sand is the most natural thing to do yet no one was doing this as a primary artistic practice. 

How does OITF couple your interest in food and art?

JD:  OITF combines experience, quality and ephemerality—it’s a space where food and creativity co-exist. I wanted to bring people together in the land to connect with the elements and the produce of the earth. 

My drawings in the land exist for the same time as a dinner in the field, over a period of around 4.5 hours. With my beach drawings, I have 3-5 hours, 6 at most, but don’t have more time than that before the work is erased by the environment. 

Our dinners have a similar temporality and everything is carried away the same night – both leave no trace. 

What events have you “staged” that stand out most in your memory?

JD:  There was a dinner in 2018 where we were enveloped in clouds and visibility was almost nil, until suddenly all of Mt Fuji appeared and everyone applauded.  We enjoyed fresh soba and the best sake in the country.

Another dinner at Big Sur had guests trekking through almost dangerous conditions before the sun allowed the spectacular 360-degree view over the ocean to be revealed.

A dinner celebrating 50 Years of Food on the rooftop of the Smithsonian with a view of the Washington Monument was very memorable because OITF was recognized for having had a significant influence on the culture of food.

Did you have any apprehension about sharing the painful story of your own life? Showing warts and all?

JD:  No, I didn’t because it was up to the director, Patrick Trefz to make the choices about what to portray. 

I connected with Patrick over surf culture.  He was the staff photographer for a surfing magazine and was assigned to shoot photos to accompany a story they were writing about me.  He approached his work from an artistic perspective and was considered as kind of an oddball in his community too. 

Any thoughts about your next artistic/culinary or other endeavors?

JD:  I have a new book in the works and that’s my focus in the next few months. The conditions for drawing are best in January, February, and March and then late November when I will be in my normal places working. The book will be published mid-2022; it will be a record of my work as an artist and with OITF. 

What impact do you think the release of the film will have on you and your work?

JD:  There may be more pressure to participate intellectually and rationally with museums and cultural institutions and I embrace those ways of looking at my work in a more measured way. 

When you travel for leisure, what are your favorite destinations and why?

JD:  A surfing area at the tip of Baja on the East Cape is a place I return to often, but I am fortunate that my art takes me to interesting places and I’ve traveled all over the world.  Often while scouting new locations for OITF, I’ve remained a few days longer to draw in the sand. 

Is there any type of cuisine you favor and why?

JD:  It’s very hard to be really specific but I’ve caught a lot of waves and came to shore to enjoy delicious food in Mexico. I love food culture all around the world.


Note: This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.


Watch the trailer for Man in the Field on YouTube:





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How a Tip to Obituaries Breathed New Life Into a Decades-Old Mystery


Times Insider explains who we are and what we do, and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together.

As the junior member of The Times’s Obituaries desk, I specialize in a duty more esoteric than writing or editing. I keep our list of recent deaths. Every tip from a Times reporter, every voice mail from a mourner and every entreaty from a publicist with a posthumous client — I record them all and ensure that each person they represent has a chance at whatever immortality newsprint offers.

Last winter, I stumbled on a special sort of narrative — a confession made just months before someone died. The admission, by a lawyer seeking to right a decades-old wrong, set me on a quest to learn the truth about a sensational kidnapping that was widely reported in 1975. My investigation was published in August.

To explain this scoop and how I got it, I must first describe the unusual duties of my job.

The Metro desk sends reporters to crime scenes, and political journalists roam the halls of Congress. But the Obituaries desk does not gather the news; it listens for it. My colleagues and I do not visit graveyards. We depend on announcements from strangers.

When we hear a new name, I write a note that includes a death date, a career summary and an estimate of the number of instances that person appeared in The Times.

You might think that makes me a ghoulish bouncer, scanning résumés to inflict the rigors of status consciousness even after consciousness itself has ended. Yet it would be more accurate to imagine me as a school crossing guard, waving passers-by in the right direction. That is because we treat every single person whose death we’re told of as worthy of consideration for a Times obituary.

An undiscriminating approach is necessary to find a type of story that editors sometimes call a “tale.” These articles narrate lives lived in the grip of unusual passions or distinguished by accomplishments unappreciated in their own time.

This year, for instance, we’ve written about an unsuccessful Olympic swimmer who found glory on the amateur circuit and a Hasidic oral scribe.

Everyone on our list is researched, sometimes for hours, by me or another member of our staff.As the news assistant, I make only additions, taking note of the calls I answer and the emails I see.

Tabulating these names is grunt work, but I find integrity in the democratic view it implies — that everyone holds the potential to be a tale.

That brings me to my scoop. On Dec. 19, when The Times received a long email about Peter DeBlasio, a lawyer said to have been a “leading personal injury plaintiff’s attorney,” my eyes did not glaze over. Midway through the note, my attention was rewarded. Mr. DeBlasio’s daughter, Alessandra, wrote that her father had self-published a memoir shortly before his death that revealed what she called “the long-held secret” of his most famous case — the trial for the kidnapping of the whiskey heir Samuel Bronfman II. I asked for a copy of the little-read book, and then I immersed myself in it.

Back in 1976, Mr. DeBlasio secured an exoneration for his client, one of two charged with kidnapping, by persuading jurors that Mr. Bronfman staged the crime as a hoax to shake down his family for cash. But on Page 474 of Mr. DeBlasio’s book, I discovered, he said the opposite was true.

“I want it to be clear to all who may ever read these pages that Samuel Bronfman was not a part of the kidnapping,” Mr. DeBlasio wrote. “I have always felt sorry for him.”

The confession in his book helped set the record straight on wild allegations from the criminal investigation and trial, including that a Brooklyn fireman spent years surveilling a scion of one of the world’s great fortunes, and that the fireman and Mr. Bronfman were secretly lovers. I recounted the crime’s twists and turns not on the Obits pages, but in a 3,000-word story that recently led the Metropolitan section.

It took me eight months, studying court records and interviewing people involved in the case who are still alive, to figure out the significance of Mr. DeBlasio’s book. But what should have been the hardest part of my reporting, getting the scoop itself, took no enterprise at all. It was just grunt work.



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Mom moves family into an RV to help pay debt, travel full time: ‘Life is too short’


After two years of “barely scraping by,” and living in debt, Karen Akpan and her husband Sylvester decided it was time to move their family into an RV to travel full time

Akpan, 32, told Fox News that they sold their California home in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit the U.S. Akpan, Sylvester, 43, and their 8-year-old son Aiden moved into their renovated RV by May of that year. 

“We were just sick and tired of being sick and tired of all the bills and living in California and barely scraping by,” Akpan told Fox. “We decided we just wanted to do something different for our son.”

Karen Akpan and her husband Sylvester decided it was time to move into an RV to travel full-time in February 2020.

Karen Akpan and her husband Sylvester decided it was time to move into an RV to travel full-time in February 2020.
(Courtesy of Karen Akpan)

She said she and her husband had several goals in mind when they made the move. 

“First of all, to pay off all our debt and then to create generational wealth,” Akpan said. “And then just spend more time together, which is so important to us because I feel like life is too short. And what matters the most is just you being around people that you love.”

COUPLE SELLS THEIR DREAM HOME TO TRAVEL AROUND SCOTLAND IN A VAN

Now that it’s been about a year and a half, Akpan said her family has been able to pay off $200,000 in debt, about half of which was student loan debt. 

“It sounds scary when you say that because, to be honest, we shouldn’t have been in that much debt in the first place,” Akpan said. “It was absolutely nuts.”

The Akpans travel full-time, both around the U.S. and internationally with their 8-year-old son Aiden. 

The Akpans travel full-time, both around the U.S. and internationally with their 8-year-old son Aiden. 
(Courtesy of Karen Akpan )

Though they still have a little more credit card debt they’re working to pay off, Akpan said they’re almost done. 

“Right now we’re at the tail end of it,” Akpan said. “We have very, very little left.”

HOW TO ROAD TRIP WITH KIDS, FROM PARENTS WHO LIVE IN A BUS YEAR-ROUND

Through their journey of paying off their debts, Akpan said she’s become something of an advocate for financial literacy, encouraging her friends and family to start their own Roth IRAs and learn more about ways to save for their future and avoid going into debt. 

“People don’t know these basic things that they could have that could help them, help their families, help them save,” Akpan said, adding: “So it makes it hard for you not to get into debt and make these silly mistakes when you literally don’t know.”

“To be honest, we shouldn’t have been in that much debt in the first place. It was absolutely nuts.”

— Karen Akpan

She added: “It is a mission of mine, especially this year, to talk about it and make people aware … especially with my friends. Just starting with my friends and my family who don’t know these things.”

THESE FOLKS LIVE IN VANS — HERE’S THEIR LIST OF ULTIMATE ROAD TRIP ESSENTIALS

Akpan added that she and her husband have been educating Aiden along the way, while also starting to invest in his future through his own accounts, including a Roth IRA and a 529 plan.

“We have set up our lives in a way that we are not just pouring into ourselves and our future, but we’re already pouring into him right now,” Akpan said. 

The Akpans have been able to pay off about $200,000 in debt since they moved into their RV. 

The Akpans have been able to pay off about $200,000 in debt since they moved into their RV. 
(Courtesy of Karen Akpan)

Akpan talks about financial literacy and financial planning for kids on her blog, The Mom Trotter. She also runs a nonprofit called Black Kids Do Travel, where she encourages families of color to explore the world. 

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Aside from being taught financial literacy, Aiden is also homeschooled, which makes it possible for the family to travel full time, both around the country and internationally. 

“His learning has always been on the road,” Akpan said. “Everything is a learning experience for him. And the difference is that he gets to not only watch videos and read about it, he gets to see it. He gets to be there.”

"We were just sick and tired of being sick and tired of all the bills and living in California and barely scraping by," Karen Akpan told Fox. "We decided we just wanted to do something different for our son."

“We were just sick and tired of being sick and tired of all the bills and living in California and barely scraping by,” Karen Akpan told Fox. “We decided we just wanted to do something different for our son.”
(Courtesy of Karen Akpan)

Aside from getting to experience places first-hand, international travel also allows Aiden to learn about other cultures. 

“It’s really been very important to me to expose my son to different cultures and different people and everything and being able to travel internationally gives us that opportunity for him to appreciate and be respectful,” Akpan said. “I want to explain to my son: ‘Everybody will not do things the way you do it. And the fact that they don’t doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with them.’”

“Being able to travel internationally puts us in a place where he’s right front and center of all of it, so he’s really learning to be a global citizen, which has really been a goal of mine.”

— Karen Akpan

“So I want him to actually see other people’s cultures, see how they live, appreciate it, ask questions and be respectful of it,” she added. “And being able to travel internationally puts us in a place where he’s right front and center of all of it, so he’s really learning to be a global citizen, which has really been a goal of mine.”

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Akpan told Fox that after the last year-and-a-half of full-time traveling, she’s still not ready to go back to living in a house.

“I’m not going back to that monthly mortgage,” Akpan said.”If we ever do live in a house, I always say this, we would have to buy in cash, to be honest. I cannot go back to monthly payments… I just can’t. Not with the lifestyle I’m living now.”

She added: “I can afford more vacations that are not strictly budget, where I’m counting pennies everywhere we go. So, living in a house would take that away from us again.”



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