Friday, September 12, 2014

Travel Caution: 5 reasons why I'm not joining WorldVentures

Not too long ago, someone asked if I’d like to be a part of a new business venture in the travel industry. Being a travel blogger and all, and liking to think of myself as generally open-minded, I was pretty interested to sit down and talk about what all of this was all about. What I left the meeting thinking left me more than a little bit on guard.

So, first a bit of a quick run-down on what WorldVentures is.


I hadn’t seen this little blue banner before I met with a representative before, but if his word is to believed then WorldVentures is supposedly big enough that people are posting pictures of themselves with blue “You should be here” banners on Facebook and the like.

Fun, freedom, and fulfilment!

It's a company that sells holidays that are exclusive to club members - so first, you sign up as a member, which makes you eligible to buy vacations or holidays from the company at low rates, such as $200 for a 7-day holiday in the south of Spain.

But wait, there's more! If you get enough referrals, you even get compensated for your efforts from WorldVentures, with the potential to earn money in the range of thousands of dollars a month, car maintenance money, housing maintenance money... That's more than enough money to become a full-time vacationer!

Sounds incredible? Makes you want to sign up yet? Me too. But before you jump on the train, maybe you'll want to read this. Here are five reasons you should be wary of WorldVentures, Dreamtrips, Rovia, and anything else associated with this travel club.

If it's too good to be true, that's probably because it is.


#5 Pretty much a pyramid scheme.

Alright, they’re not exactly a pyramid scheme, but they’re as close as it gets to it. They’re a network marketing scheme, selling a product (their holiday packages) which you can only purchase with a membership and subscription, which you buy through a representative (that's the network bit) - that's how they remain on the technical right side of the law. First, you have to pay money to be part of the club, and then later you pay some more for the right to sell the scheme.

So you pay $200 for membership entry, then $50 every subsequent month, a fee which is waived after you recruit 4 people into your team. Until then, the $50 you spend a month is put into your Rovia/Dreamtrips account, which you can then use to redeem holidays. But in order to recruit people, you have to pay $100 to be given the rights and marketing tools to sell the scheme, and then $10 every subsequent month.

So right off the bat, you're paying either $200+$50 a month to be able to buy holidays, or $300+$60 a month to buy holidays and sell club memberships. You don’t start earning money until you recruit 30 people. Thirty people! So before you even start becoming compensated, you're helping WorldVentures make $6000, and that doesn't include the $50 that these new members have to pay every month.


On principle, I don’t do ANYTHING that tells me I need to pay money to make money. The first month you sign up, you lose money paying for your membership until you get 4 people to join up, and then you stop making payments. Even then, the prospect of seeing the returns on your investment is so dismal - remember, you need to sign up 30 people to start making money.

As a get rich quick scheme, they’re pretty awful. I don't know about you, but the likelihood of me recruiting 30 new people to be a part of WorldVentures is next to nothing. (I'd have more luck paying people to join.) But let's say, hypothetically, that you are in the lucky few that do manage to get to 30 people. What happens then?

You'd start by getting a paltry $500 a month.

That doesn't even cover rent, let alone food, transport, and other generally necessary things you need to be a living human being. If you're in WorldVentures to be able to "Make a living... living!", you're going to be sorely disappointed. You don't get free trips just by being a member - the money for those trips is still coming out of your own pocket. The person making a lot of money off WorldVentures probably won't be you.

The vast majority of its members don’t get paid. In fact, nearly 80% of WorldVentures representatives don’t make anything at all from the scheme.

#4 The sheep herd mentality of its followers

When I was being pitched to about WorldVentures, they told me that their presence in Singapore was ‘new’ and that I should ‘get in early’ on this scheme. Yet, while I was researching about WorldVentures, it seems like at least a third of the complaints were Singaporean! Clearly, the scheme really isn’t as new to the market as their representatives were making it sound.

Already, WorldVentures was investigated in Norway for potential illegal practices. While they were eventually allowed to continue selling their memberships (they're very good at staying just enough on the right side of the law), here are a few of the comments that came up in response:

Cultist alarm bells are going off in my head.
Here in Singapore, it appears that our famous Phua Chu Kang - yes, Gurmit Singh himself - endorses WorldVentures. But just because a celebrity’s face appears on an ad doesn’t mean they actually use it. If you paid anyone enough money to do something, of course they’d lend their face to it.



Hell, if you paid me enough money, I'd probably endorse pretty much anything. David Beckham's on Calvin Klein adverts, but I'm pretty sure he wears underwear from more than one brand.

When I was asking representatives about further sources and credibility and research, they said that I was of course free to do my own research and come to my own conclusions, just as long as I was aware that “This is an idea that a lot of people are very afraid of, so there are people out there who are saying not-so-nice things.” Well, I don’t really know about you, but I’m not too convinced about the credibility of a company whose representatives are so worried about people being 'misled'. A good product usually speaks for itself.

Which brings me to my next point…

#3 The members REALLY don’t know what they’re talking about.

I was shown an example ad of a holiday in Zante, Greece. This very ad, in fact.


Now, let me show you a picture that I took in Santorini, Greece.


If it looks an awful lot like the previous picture, that’s probably because they the same. Zante? Santorini? I wouldn’t trust a travel company that can’t tell Santorini from Zante. Zante, FYI, is another Greek island, known for its rugged coast and for being a nesting ground of loggerhead turtles. Not that it isn’t a pretty tourist destination, but don’t go there expecting to see the white buildings and architecture of Oia.

#2 Their holidays aren’t really any cheaper.

(On that note, they sell holiday/vacation packages.)

If you find the exact same trip, WorldVentures says, for ANY amount less, they will absolutely refund you 150% of the amount you paid AND send you on that trip just the same. So let's say that you buy a 7-day DreamTrip in a 5-star hotel in the south of Spain that costs $200, and you go somewhere and find a trip that costs $199. They'll give you $300, and send you on the trip just the same.

That's $100 that they're giving to you, plus the trip, and in fact most of the time people are able to find trips that are cheaper than what WorldVentures offers, which means they make money that way. (Catch - the refund is in DreamTrips points, so you can't take your money and spend it elsewhere.)

Cheap holidays! Who wouldn't want that?
But the key here is that the price you see excludes airfare. For a lot of travellers, airfare and transport is often the most expensive part of your trip. So if you’ve excluded airfare, of course your holiday is gonna look ridiculously cheap! The $200 holiday that you got in the south of Spain is now going to cost you $1400. But that's still cheap, isn't it? After all, you're getting a 5-star hotel stay, concierge to attend to your every need, free airport pickups, and being treated like a total superstar while you're there. All that for all of $1400! Still sounds like a deal?

Sure, except your $1200 airfare could have been a lot cheaper, and this is why.

Rovia is WorldVentures's official travel booker website - the website you go to if you want to redeem points, buy a DreamTrips holiday, or use your WorldVentures membership benefits in any way. Their cheapest ticket for a ticket from Singapore Changi (SIN) to Malaga Airport (AGP) from 30 Sep to 7 Oct 2014 is US$1134.69.


This is Skyscanner, my favourite air-travel booking website. Their cheapest trip from SIN to AGP from 30 Sep to 7 Oct is, by contrast, US$910.


That's more than $200 over the price that you would otherwise be paying. So your cheap holiday isn't really as cheap as you thought it was. Not quite so great if your intention was to get the best bang for your buck.

Which leads me to the next point...

#1 IT’S NOT SUSTAINABLE.

Too good to be true? That’s probably because it is. How can holidays be provided at that cheap a price? How does anyone earn ‘residual income’ - and for that matter, where does WorldVentures get the money to be able to pay for that residual income? Let’s do the math.

According to representatives, the money you give to WorldVentures will be given back to you in points - so whatever money you give them, you'll be able to redeem via their booking engine, Rovia. That means that as long as you redeem your points, WorldVentures isn't supposed to be actually getting anything. So your $50 a month you get to put toward your next trip booked via Rovia.

Now, even WorldVentures members readily admit that they’re often able to find the same holiday for less than what Rovia, charges. So when they find cheaper prices, Rovia refunds them the whole lot and them send them on their trip anyway. So if a ton of people do this, where does Rovia make money? For that matter, where are they getting the money from to pay people an additional 50% anyway?


So, a lot of people get DreamTrips holidays for free or even get refunded in excess. But how? They can’t keep sending people on trips for nothing.

When I asked representatives about how WorldVentures is able to negotiate such low prices, this was the answer they gave me:
“The current business model is that travel agents buy a lot and then create the demand, so they have to charge you more. WorldVentures presents demand (in the form of membership bases) and then buys to cater for the demand, thus being able to negotiate lower-than-wholesale rates.”
Uh… Alright, so maybe I didn’t do economics in university, but that still doesn’t check out to me.

Surely someone has to pay for the electricity, water, petrol and food that you're going to consume while you're off in your 5-star hotel. Someone has to pay the hotel staff - and the hotel staff have to earn enough money to feed themselves and their families. Someone is paying for your luxurious 24-hour concierge who's treating you like royalty, and someone is paying for all the activities that you're going to be doing while you're there. $200 just doesn't seem enough to pay for all of that.

I don't know if $200 is enough to pay for that yacht.
Now let's talk about their compensation scheme. Let's say that you get 30 members and earn your $500 a month. Let's also say that all the members redeem their points in the form of dubious cheap trips. Where is that $500 coming from? And let's not even talk about the thousands of dollars a month that you're promised if you make the rank of Top Incomer, plus housing and car maintenance. To me, the numbers just don't check out.

Conclusion

The biggest red flag to me is how unsustainable the whole thing is - the money just doesn't check out. Mike Azcue and Wayne Nugent, the two top guns at WorldVentures, have been convicted of tax fraud. And that doesn't even include how, with a lot of MLM and network marketing representatives, every coffee becomes a new opportunity to sell a product. I'm keeping my wallet tightly shut.


Read more:
The truth about WorldVentures
WorldVentures Scam? Yes It Is In My Opinion
5 Reasons Why I Refuse To Join World Ventures
WorldVentures: This is NOT the Way to Travel the World

Monday, September 8, 2014

These are the Rules of Amazing Road Trips


Quickly, which are the moments you'll remember the most? I bet it won't be the moments that you spend sitting in your cushy tour bus looking out a glass window, having your tour guide announce the sights in front of you. No - I bet they'll be the moments you spend out in the middle of nowhere, looking out into vast fields of absolutely nothing, spent in silence with people who you have somehow come to know, love, and trust.

The best travel moments aren't even the most iconic ones.

The best travel moments are the ones that you know can only belong to you.



This is why a lot of people consider road trips the best way to see the world. You're off somewhere - often in the middle of nowhere - and there doesn't seem to be anyone near you for miles and miles around. There's the earth - vast, wide expanses of lush, green grass and trees - and the sky - so endless, so infinite and boundless. And if even for a fraction of a second, you realise that we humans are so small and tiny and insignificant, and our insignificance is beautiful.

Perhaps one of the most unbelievable things about your particular situation might be that you are in a country in Central Europe, better known for its gruesome WW2 history than its surreal green summers. You might even ask yourself, "What did I do right that I wound up here?"

Have a fantastic partner

One of the most essential things to a great road trip is, of course, having a fantastic partner. Partners are crucial - these are the people you'll be spending 24 hours a day with, for however long your road trip takes. It is essential that your partner get along. (It also helps if you have the same taste in music, especially if your taste in music is similarly ridiculous, like playing Le Festin from Ratatouille on repeat even though you're nowhere near Paris.)

Here is my Polish road trip partner, Adeline. There are many like her, but this one is mine.

Adeline sometimes runs off into the tall grass and sunsets.
We spent our entire road trip sleeping in our car, shielding the windows with clothes hung up like laundry and spending more time than I'd like to admit searching for gas station showers so that we could have at least some semblance of hygiene.

Having a great road-trip partner is so important because travelling together can make or break your friendship. If you aren't better friends by the end of your trip, it's probably because your friendship fell apart doing it. But if you find a travel partner who's willing to be sticky and stinky and sweat it out in the middle of a Polish summer with you, you better hold on tight cos you got yourself a treasure.

Don't follow all the rules

Okay, I know this post is called 'Rules of Amazing Road Trips', but really, aren't all rules kinda made to be broken? If your map tells you to turn right, turn left; if your GPS tells you to take a particular road but your gut instinct figures there must be a short-cut, take the short cut. Yes, it's sometimes a stupid thing to do - more than once we've gotten ourselves stuck in tall grass and almost unable to get out of a pretty frightening situation - but it's only when your adrenaline starts pumping that you realise you must be well and truly alive, because your fear takes over and you start thinking you might just die.

Just make sure that you're smart about when to follow the rules and when not to. Sometimes it's okay to get yourself stuck, but always - always know when to turn back when it's time to turn back.

If you're lucky, your risk-taking might be rewarded with beautiful views something like this one.

Sometimes, driving wildly off-route can lead to picture-perfect ponds.

Treat yourself

Even the most hardheaded of roadtrippers needs a coffee break. Go ahead and take one. You've been driving for easily 10 hours, you're tired and exhausted and your legs need a stretch. Pull up into the next town and take a couple of hours away from the wheel, looking out into the harbour in silence. You deserve it.


While you're there, you might as well take a stroll around the harbour too. Road trips are awesome, but sometimes when you look at other modes of transport, you might find yourself wondering if a boat trip on your very own private yacht might not be such a bad idea either. Boat trip next time, maybe?

Just remember to feel guilty when you return to your car afterwards and think about how loyal and trusty she's been, getting you from one place to the next. Almost every road trip involves a slightly overenthusiastic degree of fondness for your rented vehicle, who you by now have no doubt named and talked to on numerous occasions. 


Take it as it comes

This is probably the most important one of all. Road trips are all about letting go, and this means that it's perfectly okay if your drive gets suddenly blocked by a herd of cows standing in the centre of the road. Yes, really. And if that happens, it's perfectly okay to make silly mooing noises, wait for the cows to move, and generally be quite amused by your drive being stopped by cows instead of heavy downtown traffic.

If you have a great road trip partner, you may even start checking out cow butts, just for the hell of it.


Probably some of the most memorable moments of my Polish road trip involved, in no particular order:
  1. Sleeping under the stars in a rural area so dark you could see the Milky Way,
  2. Driving towards the primeval European forest Białowieża near the border with Poland and Belarus in the middle of the night,
  3. Seeing deer by the roadside just as we we're talking about the improbability of seeing deer on our drive,
  4. Later becoming totally lost in said primeval forest while looking for European Bison (we didn't find any), and
  5. Endless hours talking about life, the universe, and everything with my awesome road trip partner. (More on this later.)
Sounds crazy? Awesome, I thought so too. But the crazy randomness of these moments is what makes them so great. After all, you're not really rushing anywhere are you? So go out there, get lost, have fun. and watch the different colours of grass paint the world a work of art.



Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Is this the death of the camera?


A couple of days ago, my friend Aggy over at DEW Traveller posted something over on Facebook that made me stop and think. She confessed that she'd started using her iPhone as a near-total replacement for a proper camera while travelling, citing the alternative as being far more lightweight and easier to carry while maintaining decent image quality.

Although this isn't really something that should have taken me by surprise, it nonetheless did. Already, there are vast numbers of tourists that opt to use their phones to capture memories of their trip; during my most recent trip to Scandinavia, it was glaringly obvious that most people around me had abandoned their standalone cameras in favour of iPhones and Samsung Galaxy S5s.

And no wonder - the cameras on these phones are among the best in the market, and their ease of use makes them extremely consumer friendly. There are an abundance of apps which can turn any picture into something breathtakingly beautiful and easily sharable, from the pioneers of social photo-sharing Instagram to VSCO and Afterlight. Is there really a need to continue hauling around a big, bulky, clunky camera?


Starting out in photography

I started becoming interested in photographs when I was 11 and picked up my first copy of National Geographic Magazine, although it wasn't until 2012 when I picked up my first dSLR that I started becoming interested in the art of photography. My first 'real' camera was the Canon 550D, a beginner-level little thing that was nonetheless an amazing first camera.

I dived into playing with settings (I refused to use any of it on Auto mode) and my first real photography experience was at Galloway Forest Park in September of that year. Galloway is famous for its dark night skies, free of light pollution and giving rise to the opportunity for seeing the Milky Way.

Of course, the only tricky thing about trying to photograph the Milky Way is that any kind of star photography requires at least a passing knowledge of how light hits a camera. If your shutter isn't held open for long enough, all you'll photograph is pitch black, so the shutter needs to be open for 30 seconds to a minute at minimum. This was my first real experience with using a camera on a fully manual mode.

Galloway Forest Park, Scotland, September 2012. Shot on Canon 550D.
Why do I talk about something that happened two years ago? Because this is a prime example of something which simply cannot be replicated on an iPhone camera.

The iPhone holds its weight

For all the fancy filters and ease of use of the iPhone, there are limits to its capabilities. Of course, the iPhone's camera does hold its own - recently, National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson travelled around Scotland armed with nothing but an iPhone 5S.
With intense use (I’ve made about 4,000 pictures in the last four days) I’ve discovered that the iPhone 5S is a very capable camera. The color and exposures are amazingly good, the HDR exposure feature does a stunningly good job in touch situations, the panorama feature is nothing short of amazing—seeing a panorama sweeping across the screen in real time is just intoxicating. Best of all it shoots square pictures natively, a real plus for me since I wanted to shoot for Instagram posting.

Once I figured out what the camera could do well I began to forget all the things it couldn’t do at all.


So clearly, the iPhone camera is good enough that there are professional photographers willing to leave their workhorses at home when they travel. And, as Jim Richardson notes, "What surprised me most was that the pictures did not look like compromises."

The cons of camera photography

As some of you might know, I freelance in photography. I've put aside my Canon 550D now, and my baby is a Nikon D90 that lives in a makeshift dry box (it's really an airtight box with a pack of dehumidifying silica gel thrown in) with three lenses. And really, when I travel, those are all the lenses I really need.

Is it bulky carrying around a D90 and three lenses? You bet. I've found that the Crumpler 5 Million Dollar Home is the best way to carry all my memory-capturing essentials when I travel. I'm guilty of often wishing that my D90 wasn't the big, clunky monster that it is - when I pull it out of my bag, it's a look that screams 'tourist' and often makes me feel really self-conscious.

Ritual bather in Bali, Indonesia, December 2013. Shot on Nikon D90.

The iPhone captures small moments

The rise of iPhoneography is in no small part due to the ease of having your device on you all the time. Most people don't have their standalone cameras on them all the time; I'm guilty of carrying my iPhone with me absolutely everywhere, even to the bathroom. The constant availability of the iPhone has changed the way photography happens. It's less intrusive, less forced, more natural. This is particularly useful in photographing people who might not be comfortable in front of the camera - the result is something more like a daily moment.

I'll be the first to admit that I don't take my D90 with me everywhere, while on my iPhone I am more likely to capture moments that I would not have before. I would very rarely, if ever, use my D90 to take pictures of food, but on my iPhone I don't think twice before pulling it out to capture an attractive food setting or take a selfie of a precious moment with friends. Besides, I can hide any photographic imperfections with an array of enhancing or desaturating filters.

Another advantage of smartphone photography is how easy it becomes to share an image. With Instagram being a dominant channel of social media, capturing an image on a smartphone makes it easier to upload a picture than if you used a different device. For a lot of people who just want to share bits from their life with their friends and followers, this can be a huge plus.



The camera still has a role to play

But would I consider giving up my dSLR in favour of my iPhone? Probably not, and here's why. Despite the ease of use of the iPhone, the camera on an iPhone simply does not have enough control. You can't control aperture, shutter speed, or ISO on an iPhone camera - perhaps fine for the vast majority of users who don't really care, but this would definitely be a significant loss for me. There's no way I would have been able to capture Galloway in September 2012 on an iPhone camera.

On a smartphone, you probably won't be taking any particularly stunning pictures. You'll probably be capturing everyday moments. In addition, you lose a great deal of depth of field - the resulting images are flatter. There isn't a total loss of depth of field - they're great for capturing what's around you, which is perfect if your purpose is to take a nice landscape, but a more particular photographer may feel restricted.

An example of depth of field, Westfjords, Iceland, June 2014. Shot on Nikon D90.
There's a beauty to the big, bulky SLR that isn't acknowledged often enough when talking about smartphones and cameras. I will mourn the day that we no longer require the technical knowledge that is necessary to creating a good photograph, the day that the exposure triangle and manual settings on dSLRs become redundant, and the day that people no longer suffer the weight of the tools of their photography.

Despite how much we resent the weight of camera bodies and multiple lenses, photography, like any other creative form, is a mode of expression whose creators are often caught in a love-hate relationship with the art. We love what we create, but we don't love the pain that creating it causes us. (I mean that very literally - my shoulders often ache from the weight of carrying around three lenses, extra batteries, and sometimes even a tripod.)

Of course, it might be easier to just go entirely iPhone, but then the legacy of photography would be lost. No longer would we be able to follow in the footsteps of Ansel Adams; we might very well lose the magic that was once the exclusive domain of those capable of capturing emotive pictures in the style of Sebastião Salgado.


Some conclusions

Is the camera going away any time soon? I doubt it, at least not as far as dSLRs are concerned. I think there's a chance that smartphone cameras may replace point-and-shoot cameras completely - the usual function of point-and-shoot cameras is to take somewhat decent photos in a relatively compact body, which smartphones today are perfectly well capable of doing.

There's absolutely no doubt that the advent of iPhones have made photography more accessible to the everyday person. Anyone can be a photographer today, and I think it's great that it's easier than ever for anyone to capture the moments that mean something special to them. But the big, bulky camera remains the home of the 'serious' photographer; the amount of control you get on one of these is not something that can yet be replicated on a smartphone.

While anyone who is serious about taking quality pictures is not likely to toss their dedicated camera, the iPhone, for the vast majority of people, is a more than adequate, easy and compact device that captures everyday moments. Many lightweight, budget and compact travellers also value the small body of the iPhone.

The dedicated camera and the smartphone camera are both image capture devices, but their best use varies wildly from user to user. Both devices have their niches in very different applications, and even the best photographers may find use for both dSLRs and iPhones.

The big, bulky, standalone and dedicated camera isn't quite ready to die just yet.

What do you think?

Is the iPhone steadily encroaching on the space of the dSLR or the dedicated camera? How many of you have abandoned your cameras in favour of more lightweight, portable options? Or have you been able to find an in-between compromise at all - how many of you are trying Micro 4/3 cameras as lightweight photography options? Let me know in the comments!


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: Lush's Herbalism, the weirdest skin cleanser you might ever use!


Today, I've got something a little different for you than the usual travel stuff! I'm really excited because today I'm going to be doing a review on the Lush Herbalism face and body cleanser.

I picked up Herbalism while I was in Gothenburg, Sweden a couple of months ago, mostly on the recommendation of a Lush girl who I'd stopped to chat to. We were both totally fangirling about amazing Lush products, especially about how great they are for cabin-bag-only travel. I've loved Lush ever since I found out they do solid shampoos, soap bars, solid body moisturisers... As a travel addict, Lush is pretty amazing.

So when the Lush girl I was talking to told me that Lush does solid face wash, you can imagine I was pretty excited! After talking about the various options available, I decided to pick up Herbalism, which is this little green crumbly monster in a pot.


Now, first things first. How do you use this stuff? I'm gonna admit that Herbalism does take a little bit of getting used to. It's not often that you get face cleansers that are in solid form, but even then it took me only something like three or four uses before I got the hang of them. You just pinch off a tiny little bit, add a tiny amount of water, mush it into a paste, and use it the same as you would a regular cleanser.

The key here is really not to add too much water. What I usually do is to wet the fingers of my other hand and start working the product into a paste. It then turns a very pretty colour of green - a light, milky green - and then you use it the same as you would any other face wash.

The thing I've found I like a lot about Herbalism is how natural everything is. I grabbed this from the product website - the list of ingredients include ground almonds, kaolin, glycerine, chlorophyllin water, nettle, rosemary and rice vinegar extract, rice bran, gardenia extract, rose absolute, chamomile blue oil, sage oil and perfume. Those are all natural ingredients, and I really like the sound of them, which is great if you're inclined to use all natural products.

My take on it

I love how my face feels after using this face wash. I've used the same face wash in a few different climates while travelling, and I can safely say that it's been holding up really well so far. Whether I'm in a place with wetter or drier humidity - like Singapore or Sweden - it doesn't make my skin feel dried out. I just feel refreshed and clean, which is great! Rice bran is the exfoliating agent here, and it's a soft enough exfoliant that your skin doesn't feel red or sore after use, so you can use it every single day.

Kaolin clay as an ingredient is also great if you have oily skin, because kaolin soaks up excess oil in your skin. Here in Singapore, my skin gets really oily really quickly, and I have definitely noticed less shine on my face after starting to use Herbalism. It takes a little while for your skin to adjust, but all around it does a bang-on job of being a great, gently exfoliating cleanser for all skin types.

Because it's a solid face wash, it's also fantastic for travel because you don't have to worry about liquid restrictions when you put it in your carry-on. Herbalism also doubles up as a body cleanser, so you can save on even more space in your travel bag!


On the website, Lush says:
"Nettles, rosemary and rice bran vinegar work to cleanse the skin, removing dirt and grease, leaving bright and beautifully clean skin. Chamomile blue oil and rose absolute are used for balancing skin tone. Rice bran and ground almonds will gently exfoliate the skin and when mixed with water, the almonds create a soft cleansing milk. Our chlorophyllin is extracted from alfalfa, which is rich in vitamins and minerals and is great for revitalising the skin."
Will a face cleanser, which is on your skin for all of maybe a minute and then washed off, really be able to give your skin a boost in vitamins and minerals? I'm doubtful. I'm not sure that chlorophyllin water is all as effective as Lush makes it out to be, but at any rate it turns the product a really pretty green. 

There have been times that I've gone over my skin with a toner afterwards, and there is a bit of a green tint on my cotton pad. So even after washing off, there are traces of the product left on the skin, but it doesn't really bother me. My skin's not being stained a bright Elphaba green, and I feel so much better after washing my face with this.



While I love this product for the most part, that there are some cons. Probably the biggest one is how quickly it goes bad. The shelf life of the product is just 2-3 months, which is isn't very long at all. Given how little of it you need to use every time, a small 100g pot is going to last easily 4-6 months, so that's a lot of product that goes bad really quickly. My confession: I'm actually past the expiration date for my pot already, but I'm still using it because it doesn't seem to be losing any of its effectiveness. I should be safe... Right? I'll keep you guys updated if my skin winds up breaking out or doing crazy things, which it isn't doing just yet.

Something else that's extremely interesting is Herbalism's smell. I've read a lot of reviews, and something that seems to come up again and again is that some people don't quite like the smell - people are saying that it smells like 'green chutney' and 'vinegar'. Weirdly enough, I don't think that at all. Quite on the contrary, I love the smell of Herbalism! To me it smells like fresh-cut grass and has a really nice sweet forest, jungly kind of smell. Some people may like it, some people may not, but personally I love the smell. It's not overwhelming - just enough for you to feel refreshed when you use it, but it's not overpowering in any way.

Price: S$25 in Singapore, or £6.40 in the UK for a 100g jar. Isn't it crazy how different prices are in different parts of the world?!


What do you think of Herbalism? Have you tried it before? Will you be trying it anytime soon? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Warsaw: A City Destroyed and Made New Again


I remember the capital of Poland from The Pianist, which is in my opinion one of the best WW2 films out there.

I've played piano pretty much my entire life, so seeing how Adrien Brody's character suffered not only at the hands of the WW2 injustice but also from being away from his instrument, I can quite truthfully say that I almost cried when Szpilman started playing Chopin's Mazurka in A minor.

Everyone, on three: sob.
The city is beautiful, its architecture old and weathered. Warsaw has survived numerous wars throughout its city, most famously World War 2, where some 85% of the city was destroyed. It has since been rebuilt (can you imagine rebuilding an entire city?), although the city bears memories of the war and especially the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, with monuments dedicated to the Warsaw Jews.

The Warsaw Uprising monument on Krasinskich Square

Warsaw is a city shaped by its scars.

Despite its difficult past, it's clear that it has come a long way. Today, it is very much a liveable place, with all the creature comforts that one would expect of a global city. The summers are comfortably warm, with people out on the streets under blue skies walking in between crayon-coloured buildings. Without the many monuments to WW2 victims, you might not ever know that this place was once the scene of massacres.



My German fellow Couchsurfer Ozzie and I set out on a hunt for the perfect pierogi, a Polish dish of stuffed dumplings that are first boiled, then either baked or fried. A summer day in July is perfect for just such a hunt.

I love seeing interesting adverts, especially if they involve upcycled materials. So when Ozzie and I were walking around and came across this advert van, I just had to take a picture.


We wandered down some tree-lined streets leading up to beautiful gates. (It's almost like Warsaw had to double her efforts to look pretty after being destroyed in all those wars.)


It turns out that 'authentic' pierogi isn't really a thing - in Poland, they're as common and widespread as fish and chips. (Imagine the embarrassment when we were trying to ask around for 'real' pierogi. Typical tourists!) Ozzie and I finally headed to Zapiecek, a restaurant chain that is well-known for having kickass pierogi at really decent prices.


Zapicek is super cute - it has a really homely atmosphere, with servers dressed in Polish costume and every restaurant decorated the way you might expect a grandmother's house to be. It looks and feels almost like a fairytale grandmother's house, which makes it all the more fun to be in.

After having a very Polish meal, we had fun hunting down the most Polish name that there was. (The name is "Stanisław", in case you're wondering.) And it's so typically Polish that we even found streets named Stanisław.


If you're a chocolate connoisseur, listen up: there's a Polish brand of chocolate called E. Wedel, and it's got an entire chocolate factory in the centre of Warsaw. Yup, that's right - a whole chocolate factory! Where there are chocolate factories, there must be cafés, and it was here at the Warsaw E. Wedel factory that I had some of the best hot chocolate I've ever had.

As if having hot chocolate next to a chocolate factory isn't enough, it's even better that the heavenly smell of chocolate wafts through the air around the factory. It's like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory come to life!

That chocolate! That whipped cream! What more could you want on a summer afternoon?
The heart of Warsaw's Old Town is its marketplace, which is bustling with restaurants and cafes filled with people at dinnertime. Amazingly, this entire area was systematically destroyed by the German army in the second World War and then completely rebuilt in the style of its pre-war appearance after the end of the war! A near-total reconstruction of a medieval city - that's pretty incredible.



It's clear that Poland is full of people who are as stubborn as they get. Complete rebuildings of cities are all in a day's work for these guys. I guess that's what you get from being a part of a country that's forced to toughen up from endless war and suffering, and that's what makes the Polish some of the most admirably resilient people there are out there.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Singaporean in Warsaw


One of the last places you might expect to bump into Singaporeans would be Warsaw in Poland.

And yet, Warsaw is precisely where I met the amazing and incredible Toniwalia, who - despite having grown up in Singapore, being totally Singaporean through and through, and cooking maggi goreng of all things for me on my first day in Poland - is Poland's top Couchsurfing host.

Toni is absolutely the most amazing guy and the most incredible host - he left Singapore some 18 years ago, moved to Warsaw, and never looked back. And when I asked him why Poland of all places - most people would go to the UK or the US - he simply said that it was the first place he went to and that he'd fallen in love so much that he never left.

This is "do not freak, I am a Sikh" Toniwalia.
Toni has hosted over 800 people in his little apartment in downtown Warsaw in 5 years of being an incredibly involved Couchsurfer. There's never a week that goes by that he doesn't have someone staying with him.

Imagine the amount of trust you must have to let more than 800 people through your front door!

Apart from being an incredible host, Toni also cooks insanely good Asian food. He runs a place called Tandoor Palace that makes the best tandoori chicken. The signature dish is called Chicken Toni (named after himself, of course) and it was the best Indian food I've ever had.

After having spent a good year away from Singapore and food like this, having this little taste of home was the best thing that ever happened.

Perfectly crisp tandoori chicken with neon green mint sauce. Soooo good!
While in Warsaw, I met a German girl named Ozzie who was Couchsurfing with Toni too. My temporary room-mate and I hit it off from the very get-go, and as everyone knows, liking the people you meet is the foundation of any amazing trip!

Toni took us around some of the most famous places in Warsaw, including the Łazienki Królewskie park to see a statue dedicated to one of Poland's most famous sons, Frederic Chopin.

Ozzie and me in front of the Chopin monument in Łazienki park!
Walking around Łazienki on a warm summer's day is like some sort of a dream, with happy families out having picture-perfect picnics on the green, green grass. And the park is massive - like, really, really huge, occupying an incredible 76 hectares in the centre of Warsaw.

In fact, Łazienki park is so big that it even boasts a palace. A palace! It's called, imaginatively enough, the Palace on the Water (because it sits right on the water).



The Palace on the Water actually sits on an artificial island that was built in Łazienki Lake, so it divides the lake into two northern and southern parts.

In keeping with the style of what seems like every other piece of royal real estate out there, the palace has peacocks. Indian peacocks, right in the middle of Central Europe. Why? I don't know, but it seems like every piece of royal property has to have peacocks, so... Peacocks for Poland!


Let's not forget the peahens.
The peacocks and peahens in Łazienki are so tame that they are barely bothered by the humans all around them. Some are even so tame that they'll take food right out of your hands! Most people feed pigeons, and then there are those that feed peacocks... Ha ha!


While we were walking and talking, Toni, Ozzie and I started making some so-bad-they're-good jokes. Toni told Ozzie and me about the Polish dish pierogi, which are a sort of dumpling with all sorts of fillings on the inside. ("P-p-p-pierogi!")

He also told us that since we were staying at his place, we were free to make ourselves at home. 

How much at home, you may ask? "If you go out and bring someone home, all I ask is that you bring one girl home for me too," says Toni. "With Polish girls, you don't fuck them - they fuck you!" Well, Toni, we'll be sure to keep that in mind! Bahaha!


I could not have been any happier with the new friends that I'd made that day in Poland. Two Singaporeans and a German in Poland? Sometimes the most unlikely combinations are the foundation for the most memorable moments.

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