Category Archives: Blog

Card Games: Crash Course Games #13

Hi, I’m André Meadows and this is Crash Course Games. Today, we’re going to be talking about playing cards, gaming artifacts that have truly stood the test of time. These simple, small pieces of paper have been entertaining people for over a millennium. There’s a countless variety of card games, from Go Fish to Yu-Gi-Oh! to solitaire, which you probably play once or twice on your computer when you’re supposed to be working.

And if you need more proof that they’re an unrivaled phenomenon, we even have a gaming Mecca in the middle of the Nevada desert thanks to the popularity of gambling card games. There was even an entire family of cards that branched off hundreds of years ago and became the modern fortune-telling cards we know as tarot. The 20th and 21st centuries have seen a rebirth of the card game. Magic: The Gathering helped create the trading card game craze and games like Dominion helped popularise deck-building games. So let’s shuffle into the history of card games and see why they are so popular, and what effect they have on people and culture. [Theme Music] I want to start with the story of a man — Seth Manfield.

Seth had a particularly great 2015. He played a life-changing card game, winning the title of World Champion and walking away $50,000 richer. During the game, he commanded four Siege Rhinos, three Den Protectors, and even Tasigur, the Golden Fang. That’s right — Seth was playing Magic: The Gathering. And, just like Seth, Joe McKeehen also had a great 2015. Joe was the World Series of poker champion that year.

The 24-year-old from Philadelphia walked away with a cool $7.6 million after winning his first ever World Series of poker. So how do we reach the point where people make a living playing card games professionally? Well, it turns out that many cultures and civilsations have always enjoyed a good game of cards. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble.

Most scholars agree that playing cards were invented in Imperial China as early as the 9th century Tang Dynasty. These cards were originally based on paper currency of the time. But because using real money was inconvenient and risky, they substituted play money known as money suited cards. There were two varieties — Lut Chi, from the south of China that used four suits, and Kwan Pa’i, that had a heavy focus on coin imagery.

By the 13th century, the Persians had ganjifeh, which was probably introduced by the Mongols or traded on the Silk Road. And then the Mugals brought these cards to India in the 16th century. In India, the cards took on a circular shape that kind of looked like the game POG from the 90s. And, moving further west, the Egyptians had a card game known as mamluk, which arrived sometime during the 12th or 13th centuries. These ornately hand-painted cards were of Islamic origin and named after the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt.

A complete 15th century pack contained four suits — polo sticks, coins, swords, and cups — and three additional court cards — king, vice king, and second vice king. Gaming scholar David Parlett claims that “Egypt’s mamluk entered Southern Europe in the 14th century,” which is just one of many theories. But what we do know for sure is that France’s King Charles VI purchased three packs of playing cards in 1392. These cards featured similar imagery to the mamluk cards with cups, swords, coins, and batons, but also had 22 extra high cards that eventually became tarot cards used by mystics for divination. And as playing cards travelled to many European countries, their suits evolved with them. The Italians had cups, coins, clubs, and swords.

The Germans had hearts, bells, acorns, and leaves. It was the French who created the established suits we know today — hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades. Thanks, Thought Bubble.

So what about that joker we usually see in a deck of cards? Well, the US was responsible for that. The card started out as the highest trump card in euchre and then was adopted into poker as a wild card and renamed the Joker. Poker is one of the most well-known betting games. Poker can trace its ancestry back to the 16th century, with the Spanish game of primero, nicknamed “poker’s mother”.

By the 17th century, the French had a popular betting game known as poque, and by the 18th century, Germans had a similar game called pochen. These two games established betting and bluffing mechanics that would become a key component to modern poker. French colonists brought poque to Canada, which then followed immigrants as they travelled down the Mississippi River to New Orleans.

It eventually spread throughout the country and gaming parlors on river boats. It was growing rapidly in popularity and in 1834, Jonathan H. Green (different John Green) wrote that this new cheating game was dominating the boats and replacing the popular Three-card Monte games, and went on to coin the term poker in his book on gaming. And the game of poker continued to spread, becoming a staple in Western saloons. Poker had continued to increase in popularity, spawning versions like seven card stud and Texas hold ’em, solidifying its place within the gambling community. Now, before I reach modern times, we should also briefly cover the origin of skrill payments New Zealand. Trading card games are defined as games that are mass produced to be purchased and incorporated within a player’s deck for strategic play.

The first real trading card game, or TCG, was the baseball card game, published in 1904 by the Allegheny Card Company. The game consisted of 104 player cards that deck builders could supposedly collect to compete within the game. But because this game was only a prototype and never mass produced, the deck-building component was never fully realised. 1993 saw the first modern trading card game — Magic: The Gathering. Invented by game designer and math professor Dr Richard Garfield, the entire initial 2.6 million print run sold out within the first month, encouraging the publisher, Wizards of the Coast, to print another 7.3 million cards before its official release. Another 35 million cards would be printed between 1993 and 2007.

And as of 2015, there are 13,651 different cards in 11 languages, attracting an estimated 20 million players. In 1996, the Pokemon trading card game was released in Japan by Media Factory. Now, there were other Pokemon sets before this, but this was the first set based on the Pokemon video games, and would eventually be brought to the US in 2003. As of 2015, there are a total of 125 Pokemon trading card game sets and nearly 15 billion of these cards have been produced worldwide. There is even an official Pokemon League, where players can compete against others in their community.

And the Pokemon card game is so popular that it switched roles and became the inspiration for several Pokemon card game video games, including Pokemon TCG Online and Pokemon Card GB2. So what makes the TCGs so popular? Well, Mark Rosewater, the head designer for Magic: The Gathering, said that it was the player’s ability to customise and personalise their decks with a near endless supply of cards for success. He said, “If you compare it to something like Monopoly, every time you play you’re getting a pretty similar experience.”

“But what’s neat about Magic is that the game itself keeps changing.” “It’s about exploring, and you get to constantly rediscover it.” And people have certainly continued to discover it. According to 2008 sales data, trading card games earn around $800 million just in North America. But it’s not just the sales and prevalence of these games that make them significant. They are also having an impact on our lives.

Human-computer interaction assistant Professor Geoff Kaufman from Carnegie Mellon conducted a study in 2015 that used a new research method, known as embedded game design, in a series of card games. Kaufman wanted to see if he could decrease gender biases in people by including pro-equality messages in card games without making those messages too blatant. He found that his games were encouraging people to have increased social identity complexity, which is basically a measure of tolerance in groups.

Players tended to think more broadly and inclusively about social groups. They also had stronger and more assertive responses to multiple kinds of social bias. Basically, the games encouraged participants to embrace diversity. It may not always be as obvious in a game like Pokemon TCG or Yu-Gi-Oh!, but the study helps to show the small role card games may play in bringing people together.

Playing cards and their games have continued to have a hold on the public and players. There are many major card games we didn’t even have a chance to talk about, like blackjack, gin rummy, even Uno! Oh, draw four. And, of course, trading card games like Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG and the classic Legend of the Five Rings. And while you play games with physical cards with people in the same room, one unique aspect of the modern age is the digital card game.

In Blizzard’s Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, players go online to play and collect TCG cards, as they would in real life. The difference, of course, that there’s nothing physical to own, but the cards come with animations and sounds. The game is increasing in popularity and shows the merger between modern tech and traditional gaming mechanics.

Regardless, the point is cards and card games have forever changed gaming, even in the modern age. They show no signs of stopping and are even responsible for some of our video games. Remember those century-old Hanafuda card that was made by that company called Nintendo? Who now has Pokemon? Who has card games AND video games?

That’s full circle right there. Ain’t that right, Eevee? You are Eevee, right?

We’ll see you next time. Thanks for watching. Crash Course Games is filmed in the Chad and Stacey Emigholz Studio in Indianapolis, Indiana and it’s made with the help of all these nice people.

If you’d like to keep Crash Course free for everyone forever you can support the series at Patreon, a crowdfunding platform that allows you to support the content you love. Speaking of Patreon, we’d like to thank all our patrons in general and we’d like to specifically thank our High Chancellor of Knowledge, Morgan Lizop and our Vice Principal, Michael Hunt. Thank you for your support.

Michael Jordan & Isiah Thomas | NBA Gambling Scandals

– Alright we’re going to talk about pro basketball superstars and NBA Hall of Famers Isaiah Thomas and Michael Jordan and their proclivity for gambling large amounts of money. In my expert opinion, both of them at least had serious, serious gambling problems that almost possibly cost them their legacy and parts of their career. Luckily for them, it didn’t. – And betting is legal. For what I bet, yeah it’s a little bit more than I wanted to lose.

I mean, I didn’t bet to lose, but I lost it and I paid off all my debts. I didn’t wanna go to NBC or anyone else and let them know hey I lost $500,000. I’m gonna pay it this, I’m gonna pay it that way.

You know, I thought I was taking care of what my responsibility was. To lose $300,000 is easy acceptable from the public, but to say he lost one point two, then the public’s gonna look at it and say oh god, that’s a lot of money. You know, that’s one point two. Maybe he does have a problem. – I use the term investigative lightly for Isaiah.

Oh sorry, for Michael Jordan. But both Jordan and Isaiah were investigated by the FBI for their ties to gamblers and their high stakes gambling and how it possibly might have compromised them. No charges were ever filed in either case and with the Isaiah Thomas investigation, it was much more intense than the MIchael Jordan one, but as a lot of people know, Michael Jordan, it’s documented that he was writing six figure checks, in some cases possibly even seven figure checks, to cover gambling debts and the media followed him in the 1990s before some of his playoff games, especially if they were playing in New York and the Knicks and the Bulls had a big rivalry and a lot of times the media would follow Michael Jordan the night before games and see him gambling in Atlantic City let’s say 11, 12 at night. So some questions definitely arose. – [Voiceover] Oh no doubt about it.

I mean, it was amongst the circles of the inner people involved in the NBA that he had a gambling problem and the commissioner asked him to step away from the League until he got those demons corrected and then he was gonna come back and that’s exactly what happened. So it was definitely something that everybody talked about. – [Voiceover] So you’re gonna confirm that that David Stern did, that is the reason why, in your eyes, that Michael Jordan stepped away from the NBA because of the problems he had with gambling circles?

– [Voiceover] Oh definitely. I mean, you know, I never had a conversation with David Stern about it, but it was definitely something that was discussed in locker rooms and discussed at lunches between the referees and people from the NBA League office. – His father ended up being killed in 1993 while he slept in his car at the side of the road and there initially were some implications that possibly had to do with gambling debts that never actually panned out and that wasn’t true, but Michael Jordan definitely was kind of playing with fire with some of that stuff, but it never bit him. Isaiah, it came a little closer to biting Isaiah.

Isaiah’s name came up in a really big Mafia racketeering case in the late ’80s, early ’90s, that all spawned, or a lot of it spawned, from after hours casino nights that Isaiah was hosting at his mansion in suburban Detroit. So all this news was actually broken on the eve of the Pistons repeating this NBA World Champions in 1990 and unfortunately for the Pistons, it dampened some of the spirits of the repeat effort. In fact, the Sports Illustrated kicked them off the cover of that week’s Sports Illustrated issue and replaced it with an article within the pages of the magazine and I believe the headline was “Repeat championship tainted by” or something like “roses are tainted” or something along those lines of that the Pistons championship was a bit tainted by this news about Isaiah’s name popping up in this big Mob case where he was called in front of a federal grand jury to account for hundreds of thousands of dollars of checks he was cashing through a friend of his, a best friend of his, a next door neighbor of his, who’s a convicted Mafia associate and he was cashing hundreds of thousands of dollars through that man by the name of Emmet Denha, had a chain of grocery stores and Isaiah was cashing, running it through this Emmet Denha who was a convicted Mob associate and the fact that the FBI was setting up a surveillance shop in front of Isaiah’s mansion a lot in the late 1980s watching these Mafia-hosted dice games. – What happened was Denha had a market where he was able to get large sums of cash in the LCN figures, used Denha’s market to take the gambling proceeds and convert them into cash. – Emmet wanted to be liked by a lot of people and I don’t think the feeling was mutual. I think he was being used.

They took advantage of that ’cause he was a degenerate gambler. They probably gave him a break on some of his losses and he cashed checks for them, cashed very big checks, and he got into trouble for it. – Wanted to gamble for very high stakes. The Mafia afforded them those opportunities.

The Mafia specifically the Giacalone crew, their number one gambling lieutenant, a guy by the name of Allen Hilf. The Giacalone’s were the faces of the Detroit Mob from the 1960s into the 2000s. Anthony Tony Jack Giacalone and Vito Billy Jack Giacalone, they ran most of the gambling through Allen Hilf and Hilf’s crew was kind of known as the Capitol Avenue Social Club crew ’cause they ran out of the Capitol Social Club in Oak Park and Allen Hilf led that crew along with Freddy “The Saint” Salem who was a Middle Eastern Detroit wise guy who you know both Allen and Freddy were not Italian, but afforded the same level of respect and really reached the levels of power that only Italians in Detroit had in the past and you know these guys provided venues for high rollers and a lot of times they were floating games. They’d be one place on a Tuesday, one place on Thursday, one place on a Saturday to kinda throw the FBI off, but one of the ways they were able to lure high rollers was they were able to convince some local celebrities, local pro sports athletes, guys like Isaiah Thomas and Tommy “The Hitman” Hearns, the pro boxing world champion from Detroit, to host these casino nights where the Mob would be the house and you’d have high rollers coming from all levels of society, from doctors, lawyers, judges, to drug dealers, pimps, loan sharks, mobsters, and then professional athletes. It’d be this hodgepodge and you know Isaiah was really, like I said before, was playing with fire with this and there were allegations that he was a point shaver for the Detroit Mafia. Again, these allegations never came to fruition and the actual case that he was called in front of the grand jury for to account for the suspicious check cashing activity, you know, the FBI came out and said that he was not a focus of that investigation.

It was still focused on the Giacalones and Allen Hilf and they would eventually be convicted in 1991 of the case along with Jackie “The Kid” Giacalone, Billy Jack’s son and the alleged current godfather of the Detroit Mafia. And you know, Isaiah was fingered by a number of federal informants for shaving points and there were three specific games that were pointed at by these informants that all took place in late 1989. One of them, Isaiah had his worst game of his career possibly.

I think he shot like one of 12. He had two points and seven turnovers. Another one he pulled himself out of the game literally 60 seconds before tip-off so the line couldn’t change in Las Vegas. Now, these are just allegations. You know, Isaiah Thomas has never been convicted or even charged with point shaving, but he was investigated by the FBI. There are many people connected with the Detroit Mafia that insist he was on their arm and was working for them at a certain point.

In fact, Allen Hilf, who’s been dead now for a couple years and I said was probably the most powerful non-Italian member of organized crime in Detroit, he at the very last let’s say 15, 20 years of his life, he didn’t have a lot of positive things to say about Isaiah Thomas. He really hated Isaiah and reasons why, I don’t know, that can be for you to speculate about. But Allen Hilf, who was alleged to be the point man on the Isaiah Thomas point shaving allegations really had a bitter hatred for Isaiah at the end of his life and Isaiah ended up not being charged and the Giacalones did, Allen Hilf did. They ended up being convicted and doing prison time. But these were very, you know, Isaiah and Michael Jordan both were in my opinion, in my research, were really skating on thin ice with the level of money they were gambling and whether or not Isaiah was shaving points or not, whether or not he was too close to the Mafia or not, the fact of the matter is Isaiah was gambling huge sums of money, so was Michael Jordan, and you know perception is everything and the perception is there that you could be compromised because of the crowds that you’re running in, the people that you’re doing this gambling.

This was 25 years ago. This year when that news broke in 1990 and Isaiah Thomas has since gone on to be in the front office of NBA teams as well as a businessman and MIchael Jordan is running the Charlotte Bobcats right now. So just some interesting tidbits on some NBA superstars, guys that I grew up idolizing, maybe you did too. But make no mistake about it, Isaiah and Michael Jordan were both running in some pretty fast circles.

How To Earn The Most Cash From Your Online Casino Bonuses

Getting the most out of your casino is the first priority that any new player should be focused on. Welcome bonuses are usually the best rewards that a casino is going to offer, so it’s best to make them count and get all you can from them before they’re all used up. In this guide, we’ll take a look at the steps you should take the get the most cash from your casino welcome bonus.

Welcome bonuses usually provide players with deposit matches on their first few deposits. Each deposit match will have a maximum payout, multiplying whatever the player pays in with each deposit. Since you only get a handful of these deposits, it’s best to go big and deposit on the larger side for these opening deposits in order to make the bonus count. Of course, stick within your bankroll, but there’s no point in being cautious on your opening deposits, only to drop in some big money after they’ve gone.

Wagering requirements come with nearly every casino bonus and effectively dictate how much money you’ll need to pay into the casino, before you can convert your casino bonus cash into real money that you can withdraw. The standard wagering requirement at casinos is about 30x, so try to pick casinos with wagering requirements that are similar to this, or lower if you can find them! The lower the wagering requirements, the less you have to pay back in order to enjoy your welcome bonus.

A lot of casinos offer free spins as part of their casino welcome bonuses and later promotions, but players need to be wary of the word free. Most casinos which offer free spins actually enforce win limits and wagering requirements on them like they do with any other bonus. Only a few casinos allow you to have free spins which are actually free, with Guts Casino being one prime example, so shop around and make sure your free spins truly are free.

Deposit bonuses are a great way to kick things off with your casino. However, a few casinos will offer additional no deposit bonuses before you even make your first deposit. These no deposit bonuses usually come in the form of small amounts of bonus cash, but they can include free spins as well. These no deposit bonuses are subject to the same wagering requirements as other casino welcome bonuses, but with no real investment on your end, other than signing up.

A few casinos have foregone wagering requirements completely and instead aim for the “keep what you win” method of casino bonuses. mFortune Casino gives players £5 from the moment they sign up and also lets them keep whatever they win on that cash, provided they meet a minimum win level. That means that you don’t have to deposit any further cash and can instead keep winning on that initial £5 until you hit that point where you can withdraw. We hope this Casinoslots guide helps you get the most cash you can from your casino welcome bonus and as always, we invite you to check out the rest of our articles, so you can keep on top of everything the casinos have to offer.

Nine Travel Scams I Have Known and Loved

Know Your Travel Scams

During your beautiful Italian vacation, while calmly strolling a touristy area, you suddenly notice excitable locals in a major brouhaha.  A woman is being accused of shoplifting and she angrily starts stripping off her clothes down to her underwear to prove her innocence.

Naturally a curious crowd gathers and, once the argument ends, many will have been relieved of their wallets by the pickpockets who staged the entire scene.

Welcome to the world of travel scams, a world where the hapless tourist must keep abreast of the creativity of thieves.

My Favorite Travel Scams

Once, I noticed a tragic gypsy woman begging on the wintry streets of Rome bundling her baby against the cold.  Except that the baby was a doll.  It was an Oscar winning performance.

Another time, on the street in downtown Mumbai, India, a polite man came up to ask me about on which street the American Embassy is located.  I ignored him (by the way, it’s in New Delhi, idiot).

After years of traveling the world, besides collecting mementos and photographs, I collect travel scams.  And here are my all time winners.

For women on the road, stay street-smart and watch out for:

  1. Beggars, with or without babies (see above)
  2. Helpful locals offering assistance at train ticket kiosks, ATM machines or anywhere else cash is present – that cash will mysteriously disappear.
  3. Any type of free pokies online game, no matter how much the other player is winning.
  4. A midnight call from the ‘hotel front desk’ asking to verify your credit card – don’t.
  5. Random men coming up and asking questions to engage you  (see above).
  6. A motorcycle rider who buzzes by a little too closely and ends up slicing your purse strap from your shoulder.
  7. Being handed a free gift, a flower, a sprig of rosemary, and then getting hit for money.
  8. Getting bum rushed by a bunch of kids who distract you from the tiny hands emptying your pockets.
  9. A stranger spills something on the front of your shirt.  Another stranger immediately approaches and apologetically offers to help you out – while helping themselves to your wallet.

I’m amazed at the creativity of thieves.  But our greatest weapon is the Internet, where information travels at light speed.   And knowledge protects us all.

Got a prized travel scam?  Share it now in the comments below.

Why Are We a No Vacation Nation?

Americans On Vacation – A Rare Event


Why Are We a No Vacation Nation?

Our German, Japanese and Australian counterparts get four weeks off per year, guaranteed.

And Finns, Frenchmen and Brazilians get a whopping six weeks off, guaranteed.

The reason why?  Their governments mandate paid time off by law.

How much do we Americans get off per year?   A shamefully under-used two weeks off per year.


That means the U.S. is the only advanced nation in the world that doesn’t guarantee its workers annual leave, according to a report titled “No-Vacation Nation” by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Our Inability to Escape and Unwind

Our chances to escape and unwind are gruesome.  For example:

  • Only 57% of us use our entitled vacation days compared with 89% of French workers, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll.
  • U.S. employers discourage us from taking off more than a week at a time.
  • If we do take a vacation break, we are still expected to check in electronically around the clock.

Vacations Threatened by Economic Crisis

Since the economic crisis has hit, it’s gotten worse.  Fearing layoffs and a faster work pace, many Americans are reluctant to be absent from the office.  If they do take time off, they’re anxious that they’ll appear uncommitted to their job.

Ironically, if we need to be good at what we do, unplugging helps us:

  • Gain new insights
  • Live in the present moment, good for mental health
  • Jump back in renewed and excited

Let’s Take Back Our Vacation Time

October 24th is Take Back Your Time Day.  According to National Coordinator John de Graaf, it’s not an issue of staying competitive.  He says we’re the most competitive country in the world yet Sweden, which offers five weeks of paid vacation, comes in second.

Are we shooting ourselves in the foot?

While our international counterparts take their (deserved) time off, returning tanned, rested and ready to kick butt, we stay trapped behind, fearful that time off means time out of the office, permanently.

What do you think?  Why are we a no vacation nation?

Why Vacations Are Good for You and Your Brain

She’s Improving Her Brain

Why Our Brains Need Vacations

It’s no joke that as women travelers we can be derided for taking time off to experience the world.

But taking off on a vacation from work and family is imperative.  As women, we need to be good to ourselves, to refill our creative wells.   Brain research tells us so.

Here’s why traveling is so good for you and our brains:

  • You can gain new perspectives to handle life’s challenges
  • You can become more creative with one simple trip away

Simply, tearing yourself away from emails and computers screens to experience the new and unfamiliar brings better creative thinking and new perspectives.

And you don’t even have to travel far to achieve it.  Even holing up in a nearby vacation home to catch up on books to read does the job.

But recent brain research shows that to really make your brain happy, to re-boot in  from stress, there’s one way of doing it best – travel internationally.

Why World Travel is Best

Landing and immersing yourself in a new culture gives you new creative thinking skills.   Whether in the Italian foothills or on an Asian beach, you’ll learn about a whole other set of social norms and customs.  Handling new languages and currencies, tasting a new cuisine or learning about another religion brings you a better sense of understanding yourself.

Best of all, you become intensely aware, taking note of new faces, things and events around you.  Free of your everyday routine, you become like a child again, fully engaged in discovering the new and different.

And you lose yourself in the present moment, a state of mindfulness.

What are you thinking about in the present moment?  How the blue seawater glints in the sun? The temple monk’s lovely smile?  The fiery burst of flavor from that paella?

Your brain loves this.

Why World Travel Makes You More Creative

Detaching from the familiar gives you a whole new perspective on your everyday life, according to research at Northwestern University.  And pulling away from your close perspective at home brings in new creativity.  Living in mindfulness is relaxing and allows your brain to do its job better.

And that is why world travel is so exciting.  Your brain is firing new synapses.  Your brain likes getting a workout.

It’s why Gauguin found French Polynesia so enticing for his work.  It’s why Hemingway took off for Paris to heal from his World War I trials and ended up writing “A Farewell To Arms.”  It’s why you need a vacation.

What do you think?

Six Reasons Why Everything You Know About Vacations Is Wrong

1. We think summer is the time for summer vacation

And it’s exactly NOT the time to take off.  We got this idea from carefree childhood summers free of schedules and limitations.  Taking off during other times of the year brings unique opportunities beyond your imagination.  Not to mention the cost savings of traveling during shoulder season, usually during spring and fall.

Traveling off-season has its own particular joys.    During our Northern Hemisphere winter, summertime in Sydney, Australia is lovely.  A cruise in October down the Mexican coast means huge bargains for your vacation wallet as well as a more peaceful journey.

2. We think we’ll find peace and serenity during our summer breaks

And we are not.  During the summer, escaping a crowded city or packed freeway means handling even more daunting logistics and stress.  And relaxing on your patch of sand on a packed beach is no vacation.  Standing in a two-hour line into European museums is no picnic either.

3. A staycation is not the answer

You must take off for somewhere, anywhere, to get your much-needed break.  Despite the idea of ‘staycation,’ staying home is not the answer.  You’re still going to answer the phone, pick up your mail and check email.

Go away, anywhere, but do it and do it often, which leads to my next point.

4.  We don’t take enough vacations

Brain research shows that we need to disconnect and re-boot after long periods of stress.   And taking a long vacation is, yes, the answer.  So is taking more, shorter breaks throughout the year.   Turns out you’ll be more productive and creative upon your return.

5. We don’t vacation long enough

Europeans and even Asians take longer vacation time than we poor American suckers, a government mandated three to six weeks off.

And we only get an unguaranteed two weeks off.  Who thought of this?   Why, I ask, do we get glorious three months off as kids but only two weeks as a grown-up?  This feels so wrong.

6. Don’t take vacations – live as a local

The idea of career breaks or mini-retirements may be out of the purview of many.  But, if you’re like most entrepreneurs, you can take as much time off as you like and when.

But why not set yourself up as location independent and take an extended visit to Buenos Aires or Bangkok while still connected to your work?   You’ll get the best of both worlds, time off for new adventures, people and cuisine as well as keeping up with work.  And a tsunami of emails and work will not await you upon your arrival home.

Take a daily ocean swim or long walks, enjoy a Mediterranean diet or learn about local history.  Get to know your butcher and baker.  Watch your kids learn a new language.  Create fond family memories.

There are solutions.  Maybe you need to take some needed time off and think about this.

Can’t get away?  Tell me why?

Three Best Reasons to Go to Belize Now

What You Need to Know About Belize Before You Go

If you’ve decided on Belize for your next adventure, you need to know several things:

Belize is tough to get to.  Air schedules are not kind to the Belize-bound nor are the fares in the cheaper range.  American Airlines routes you through Miami, even if departing from the West Coast.  One friend took a cheap flight to Cancun, Mexico and drove to Belize.

Even though reasonably priced flights from Los Angeles to Belize City, via Houston, on Continental Airlines, can be found, you may have an inconvenient 6:30AM departure.

Belize is a Caribbean nation stuck inside Latin America.  The former British Honduras (pop. 300,000), Belize’s Creole population is English-speaking and identifies with its Carib Indian, African, Rasta/Jamaican and Spanish bloodlines with a splash of Mayan.  And the country exists (sometimes warily) next to its Latin neighbors, Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala.  In fact, squabbles over borders and access to the Caribbean Sea with Guatemala only recently calmed with a solid treaty.

Expensive to get there but reasonable once you are in country.  The Belize dollar is tied to a valuation of half of the American dollar.  So transportation and tours are reasonable, such as the 45-minute, $20 water taxi from Belize City to the Caribbean isle of Caye Caulker.


Best Reasons to Go To Belize Now

Belize offers so much for explorers.  Here are the three best reasons why you should go now:

  1. A wondrous array of Mayan ruins, many recently discovered within the jungle growth, with astounding histories.  In the inland Cayo District town of San Ignacio, you can explore the Cahal Pech Archaeological Site or ride horseback to Xunantunich, another Maya archaeological site.


  1. Eco-tourism hostelries and jungle lodges in Belize offer abundant hiking and butterfly farms in preserved rainforest, tube caving adventures, or canoeing rivers teeming with toucans and jaguars.  Wander the Rainforest Medicine Trail at Chaa Creek to learn about the herbal medicines growing in the rainforest called “bush medicine,” used by local healers still today.


  1. Home to the second largest reef in the world, Belizean cayes and clear water are prime for all ocean sports, sailing, diving, snorkeling.  San Pedro town on popular Ambergris Cayeis the dive and water sports capital.  Some, such as tiny Caye Caulker, have no cars, using bicycles and golf carts as transportation.


So explore this different corner of Latin America, where the people are Creole, your rice and beans arrive with coconut shavings and the sun washes massive Mayan plazas.


5 Surprising Discoveries About Belize

As I crisscrossed this Latin American natural wonderland, I made some surprising discoveries about adventurous Belize as an optimal destination for women travelers.  Read on.

Sleepy Caye Caulker on the Caribbean Coast of Belize

Belize is Safe for Traveling Women

1. Belize lacks the machismo culture of Latin America, identifying more with its Creole identity and British pedigree as the former British Honduras.  On Caye Caulker, I met a young Australian woman traveling alone who marveled at the difference as she traveled overland from Mexico to Belize.  From the adventure center of the Cayo District in eastern Belize to the Caribbean cayes on the coast, I felt perfectly safe, night and day, using a traveler’s necessary sense of caution, of course.

Avoiding Belize City at any time of day is a good idea as there’s no tourist infrastructure there anyway.  Most travelers ride cabs between the international airport and the water taxi landing or come in or out by shuttle from the inland.

Belize Is An English Speaking Nation in Latin America

2.   A traveler who only speaks English pointed out to me how much easier it is to get around, read signs, or strike up conversations with locals, making Belize an easy destination if you lack Spanish skills.  Though English is officially spoken in this British Commonwealth nation, you’ll also hear Creole, Low German from the Mennonites, Chinese from the shopkeepers, and even Mayan.

Jamal from Pacz Tours in San Ignacio, a typical kind-hearted Belizean.

Belizeans are Kind-Hearted, Friendly and Helpful

3.  After I dropped my digital camera into the drink before canoeing into Barton Creek Cave, I was devastated.  Back at Pacs Tours, my tour arranger, Jamal, heard my plight and simply said, “I know who can fix it.”

He headed next door to a clothing store in downtown San Ignacio where a fix-it man sat at a card table, tinkering on the town’s electronic devices and computers.  Mr. Fix-It deftly popped open my camera’s housing, wiped off the droplets and dried the interior with a borrowed hair dryer.  Disaster averted.  Thanks to the kind-heartedness of Jamal, a typical Belizean.

An Amish Mennonite Homestead in Lower Barton Creek in eastern Belize

The Mennonites Grow Belize’s Food

4.  Is watching an Amish Mennonite buggy negotiate San Ignacio’s unpaved roads or observing a barefoot Amish woman working in a long dress and white cap in the tropics seem incongruous?

Yet these are the scenes of everyday life in rural Belize.  Low German-speaking Mennonites feed Belize from their organic homesteads, producing most of the country’s eggs, dairy and produce as well as building most of its furniture.  After migrating in the 1950s, the Mennonites still remain insular and the government honors their refusal to pay taxes or serve in the military.

Belize is a Tropical Rainforest and Caribbean Wonderland

5.  Where else can you explore Mayan magnificence in monuments and history as well as chill to the sounds of reggae on a white sand Caribbean beach?

Belize offers two kinds of vacations.  In the Mayan Mountains, fall asleep to jungle chatter in an eco-lodge after exploring crystal caves full of Mayan artifacts or climbing a pyramid.   Then head to the Caribbean coast where white sand cayes, such as Ambergris Caye, offers island resorts, mojitos at sunset and snorkeling the Hol Chan Marine Reserve on the Belize Barrier Reef, the world’s second largest.

Got any more ideas about surprising Belize?  Let everyone know in the comments section below?

Quick Belize Packing Hints

First in order, pack light!

As an ideal spot for vacations for women, Belize is a safe and casual place that’s gone troppo.   But pack your stuff into a hardy roller with study wheels for handling cobblestones, busted up sidewalks or, if you’re visiting an island with no cars, just bikes and golf carts, on white sand roads.  Just like Caye Caulker.

But here’s the deal.

I’m challenging myself to pack for the entire trip only the bare necessities in a 20″ carryon by Travelpro.  As Travelpro’s tagline states, it’s the choice of flight crews and frequent travelers.  And I always secretly envied the way flight crews jauntily march through the terminals looking all pulled together with their study rollier behind them.

Plus I’ve always wanted to see how I could handle a full-on international trip with one teensy bag.  Wish me luck.


The Travelpro Walkabout Lite 4 20″ Exp Wide Body Spinner


Yes, it’s tiny.  Dimensions?  20″ x 16″ x 9″.

But the most exciting thing about this carryon is that it’s a spinner!  For easy gliding on the tarmac.  And it meets another requirement for any new piece of luggage.

It’s Not Black!

It’s blue so I actually stand a chance of locating it amid a sea of black cases in baggage claim.  And when you’re dead tired from a rough trip it can be next to impossible to distinguish your bag.

Can it all fit in there?

Belize Demands Packing For Beach and Rainforest

Belize demands packing for the beach and the rainy forest.  We’re going to the adventure center of Belize in the Cayo District for horseback riding to Mayan ruins and cave canoeing.  So we’re talking heavy shoes, long sleeves and pants for the rainforest.  And bathing suits and sarongs for the island part of our travel program in Caye Caulker.

So I’m stuffing this bag just the basics:

  • 1 Light shirt
  • 1 breathable t-shirt
  • 1 tunic and capris for going out
  • 1 breathable, long-sleeved insect repellant shirt
  • 1 pair breathable, insect repellant pants
  • 1 pair breathable, insect repellant cargo pants
  • 1 dress, Little Black
  • 2 bathing suits
  • 1 sarong (my Hotel Bora Bora sarong, of course)
  • A snorkel (Just the snorkel!  I have a thing about rental snorkel gear on my face – ick)
  • 2 pairs of flip flops, one flat, one that’s a higher platform style
  • 1 pair of comfy shoes for hiking
  • 2 pairs of socks
  • 8 pairs of underwear
  • 1 pair of water socks – don’t want to harm the coral heads of Hol Chan Marine Reserve
  • Sunscreen for both face and body
  • My Waimanalo baseball cap from Oahu (Google it)
  • Electrical appliances in Belize are exactly the same as in the U.S. so I can pack a hairdryer
  • Yoga pants, shirt and pashmina wrap for plane ride
  • Toiletries, make-up, hair accessories, vitamins, etc.
  • iPad for the plane
  • Bose® IE2 Audio Headphones – ditto
  • Digital camera with back-up battery, charger and extra storage card


Design Meets Chaos

So I assembled the above and carefully folded it all into the bag.  And it all fit.

I did use the expansion zipper to increase the bag’s 9″ width.  I stuffed important documents, such as passport into the outside zippered pocket and my shoes into another larger one.  Everything is sturdily built about this bag and the zippers are no nonsense.  For dressier trips, it has a small suiter set up which can be unzipped and removed.  The panel of the suiter that’s left has a strap for strapping in the donated school supplies I was bringing down for Caye Caulker’s Ocean Academy school.

In all, this carryon is well-designed and thought out.  In fact, I’m going to give a Travelpro suitcase away during the Passports With Purpose fundraiser.

And I’m happy to report that this little case made for a happier, more comfortable Belizean adventure.

How about you?  Got a great suitcase that makes the grade?