Take a Class with Me in 2016

I’m pleased to announce that I am now an instructor at Writers.com, and I have two classes coming up:

Pitch Like a Honey Badger


The Nuts and Bolts of the Freelancing Lifestyle.

Pitch Like a Honey Badger” is intended for freelancers who want to improve their pitching skills and, by extension, their rate of acceptance and number of assignments. The class starts January 20 and is asynchronous, meaning there’s no set meeting time; you can work through it at your own pace.

In “The Nuts & Bolts of the Freelancing Lifestyle,” I’ll be teaching something almost no other writing course teaches: the finances of freelance writing. This course is designed to help you define what financial success looks like for you as a freelancer and to assist you with developing a concrete, practical plan for achieving it. It starts March 9 and is also asynchronous.

If you’ve ever worked with me before, you know that I’m very hands-on with students and colleagues, offering honest, useful feedback and support that’s rooted in the values of transparency and giving.

I hope you’ll consider registering for one (or both!) of these classes. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me directly at writingjulie [AT] gmail [dot] com.

3 Ways to Make Money So You Can Travel

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Mynameisharsha; o_corgan
Yesterday, I got together with a travel writer friend and among the many topics we hit upon during our two-hour long parsing of this industry was this: Is it still possible to start a travel blog and make money?

Make money to travel.
Make money to travel.

The answer, I think, is “Yes,” with lots of caveats. Travel blogging is a profession for a handful of people, some of whom are my friends of acquaintances. But for many of them, blogging is an all-consuming, time-intensive job that–like most jobs–has its own stresses.

If you’re not interested in or committed to travel blogging as a career, there are still lots of ways to make money so you can travel without having to confine yourself to a conventional office job (though, hey, that’s fine too, if it suits you).

Some of these ways to make money so you can travel are jobs I’ve held myself; some are gigs my friends have had and recommend to others. If you’ve got jobs to add to the list, let us know in the comments.

Become a tour guide.
I worked for several years as a season tour director for EF Smithsonian, leading educational student trips in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Not only did I travel frequently and meet teachers and students from all over North America (some of whom remain friends and who have traveled with me to other destinations), I gained contacts who were useful when I went on to author part of Fodor’s travel guide books to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

One of the benefits of being a tour guide (depending on the company) is that you’re often paid tips in cash, typically at the end of your trip. It’s nice to be able to have cash on hand that’s a supplement to your salary.

Play poker.

Playing poker suits some travelers.
Playing poker suits some travelers.
Recently, I had lunch with a new acquaintance. She holds a professional office job and seemed to be a fairly buttoned up person, so I was surprised when she said that she plays poker on the side in order to make cash to fund her travels and set aside money for a start-up she’s dreaming about.

Now I have zero experience in this area, but she’s not the only person I know who plays poker and other games as a source of income; at least one of my former students at MatadorU played poker online and off to fund his travels, and was even toying with the idea of starting a niche travel and poker blog.

I’m told that it’s become harder to play poker and make money in the US; in fact, the FBI says it’s illegal to gamble online in this country (even if you’re wagering in an offshore casino). Playing poker online is legal in some countries, though. Proceed with caution here and make sure you’re in compliance with local laws.

Ply existing skills.
Make an inventory of all the skills you possess, no matter how incidental they seem to your daily life. Do you speak another language fluently? Can you cook well? Are your photography skills better than the average point and shooter? Do you know another city or country better than its locals?

Any of these types of skills can be parlayed into temporary, and possibly recurring, freelance work.

Francisco and I have been contracted to translate a Spanish winery’s strategic plans into English. Francisco has worked as a private chef and has given cooking classes. I’ve been hired as a fixer for news crews visiting Mexico City. These are just some examples of how you can turn your existing skills and abilities into paying work.

What tips do you have for making money so you can travel– or while you travel? Share in the comments.

Cambio Monetario en Cuba/Changing Money in Cuba

Text: Martin Pei de la Paz
Photos: Francisco Collazo and Brayan Collazo
[vease abajo para la version en espanol]

Traveling to another country presents a number of logistical challenges: finding accommodation, learning the local transportation system, making sure you’re safe, and learning local customs, to name just a few. Visiting Cuba presents even more challenges, such as exchanging money, and then, learning about the different types of currency, how items are priced, and forms of payment.

Cuba, with its CUC (shorthand for the “Cuban convertible”, as it’s called), turns money exchange into a science that’s not easy to decipher in one or two weeks. Figuring out the maze of transactions is a task that’s utterly Cuban–and tough, to boot.

Recently, some German friends of mine wanted to have the experience of buying fresh fruit and vegetables at a local market. A chalkboard indicated that guavas were 5 pesos a pound. They paid 10 CUC for two pounds of these delicious, aromatic fruit.

In reality, they paid $240 Cuban pesos, the equivalent of a Cuban’s monthly salary.

Every CUC is equivalent to 24 Cuban pesos. Every CUC is divisible into $0.25, $0.10 and $0.05 coins, facilitating small transactions, quite similar to the US dollar.

Although they were aware of the equivalency, my friends never thought that the national markets would charge in national currency (the peso) and not in CUC (the convertible).

The Cuban national currency (the peso) generates confusion among tourists, particularly as the coins look similar to those of the CUC. Complicating this scenario is the fact that we have a complex system of payment, which one can really only learn through his or her experiences of living in Cuba.

The peso is the currency used by the government to pay its workers. It’s also the currency that’s used to pay for daily expenses, such as transportation, as well as telephone and electric bills.

Oftentimes, tourists pay for services in CUC when they should be paying in Cuban pesos. Many Cubans take advantage of tourists’ lack of knowledge about the currency for motives of personal gain. It’s a common situation in markets that are designated for national consumption.

The system of money exchange gets more complicated and darker still, even for Cubans. For example, if you stop at a store designated for national consumption and you only have CUC, the exchange value of that CUC will only be 20 Cuban pesos instead of 24 Cuban pesos… complex, right? Yes, it is. Returning to our example of the German tourists buying guavas, having paid with one CUC, they would have only received 10 Cuban pesos, instead of 14, the official rate.

To get a better sense of this internal exchange rate, here’s a conversion table used by the Currency Exchange Bureaus in Cuba (CADECAs):

1 CUC= $24.00 Cuban Pesos
0.25= $6.00
0.10= $2.40
0.05= $1.20

The rate of exchange described in the market scenario, which I’ll refer to as an illicit exchange rate, are reflected in the following table:

1CUC= $20.00 Cuban Pesos
0.25= $5.00
0.10= $2.00
0.05= $1.00

Who knows what the reason is for this difference in the exchange rate in markets compared to the official exchange rate, but perhaps it can be explained by two possibilities: one, the ease with which this modified exchange rate facilitates transactions for vendors, who can work with round numbers instead of fractions: 1, 2, 5 and 20, for example, instead of 1.20, 2.40, etc. Perhaps the other reason is that this unofficial yet sanctioned exchange rate allows the vendors to earn a bit more. Nevertheless, I believe that once the embargo is lifted, the system of currency in Cuba will become more simplified.

The incentive for dishonesty and deception with respect to currency exchange is clear: just a few CUCs represent the monthly salary of an entire family. A good salary for a Cuban is 450 Cuban pesos– the equivalent of 19 CUC. It’s not hard to understand, then, why the driver of a private car for hire might take advantage of the ignorance of his passengers– and the perceived depth of their pockets–when charging them more for a trip from Point A to Point B than he’d charge from Point B to Point A when the distance is exactly the same.

The ideal place to change money is in banks or in authorized exchange bureaus, known in Cuba as CADECAS. CADECAs can be found throughout Havana and other provinces, as well as in hotels.

As incredible as it may seem, it’s not uncommon for tourists in Havana to be approached by a local who offers to change their money for them. I’d recommend, however, that you not take them up on the offer; money exchange outside of banks and CADECAs is not an authorized activity, and can end up causing you and the local problems. On more than one occasion, the tourist will receive one Cuban peso for every CUC he changes. In such cases, your money is lost and you’ll have no right or recourse to reclaim it. For this reason, I strongly suggest that you change your money in small denominations at CADECAs, being sure to ask for both currencies (CUC and Cuban pesos), as both are acceptable forms of payment throughout Cuba.

Although traveling in Cuba is safe compared to many other places in Latin America, it’s preferable if you travel with people you know or trusted friends until you’re confident enough to get around on your own.

Good luck!

Llegar de un pais a otro presenta un sin numero de problemas logisticos: acomodacion, transportacion, seguridad, costumbres, etc. Llegar a La Habana, Cuba especialmente envuelve algo mas que esto como por ejemplo, el cambio de monedas, precios, y formas de pago. Cuba, con su CUC (Cuba Unidad Convertible) como se le denomina por sus siglas o simplemente “convertibles,” envuelve una ciencia aparte no muy facil de decifrar en una semana o dos. Navegar por este laberinto de transaciones es de por si una tarea muy cubana y ardua a la vez.

Recientemente unos amigos mios Alemanes querian tener esa experiencia de viajeros primerisos de comprar en el mercado de frutas y vegetales frescos. En la pizarra aparecia “guayabas 5 pesos por libra.” Ellos compraron 2 libras de estas deliciosas y aromaticas frutas, pagando 10 CUC por este producto. En realidad pagaron $240 pesos cubanos, el equivalente a mas de un sueldo mensual para un Cubano.

Cada moneda de 1 CUC equivale a $24 pesos cubanos. Cada CUC se divide en monedas de $0.25, $0.10 y $0.05 para facilitar su cambio en transaciones pequenas, muy parecido al dolar en su unidad fraccionaria de cambio. Mis amigos aunque sabian su equivalencia en el cambio no se imaginaron nunca que en los mercados nacionales el pago es en moneda nacional (peso) y no en CUC (Moneda Convertible).

La moneda nacional Cubana (el peso) genera en sentido general confusión para los turistas ya que se parecen al CUC al cambiarse en monedas pequenas. Todo esto sin tomar en cuenta que tenemos un complicado sistema de pago que solo se aprenderá con la experiencia de vivir en Cuba. El peso es la moneda con la cual el gobierno paga a los trabajadores. Esta se utiliza para los pagos de actividades diarias: servicios telefónicos, eléctrico, transportes, etc.

Los turistas muchas veces pagan los servicios en CUC cuando deberían pagarlos en pesos cubanos. Muchos cubanos se aprovechan de este desconocimiento para sacar provecho. Esta situación se da mucho en los mercados para consumo nacional.

Este sistema de cambio en el mercado negro tiene otro valor, inclusive para los cubanos. Por ejemplo si te detienes a comprar en un establecimiento para el consumo nacional y solo tienes dinero CUC, el equivalente de este CUC sera de solo $20 pesos cubanos en vez de $24. Complejo verdad? Si, lo es. Ese mismo turista por ejemplo podria pagar por sus guayabas con 1 CUC y le devolverian $10 pesos cubano, en vez de $14 que es el cambio oficial.

Para una mejor idea de este cambio y su equivalencia, aqui esta la tabla de conversiones de CUC a peso cubano en casa de cambio oficia (CADECAS):

1 CUC= $24.00 pesos cubanos
0.25= $6.00
0.10= $2.40
0.05= $1.20

El mercado negro tiene una diferente tarifa de cambio en los mercados de frutas y vegetales. Estos se reflejan en la siguiente tabla de cambio de CUC a peso cubano:

1CUC= $20.00 pesos cubanos
0.25= $5.00
0.10= $2.00
0.05= $1.00

No se cual es la razona para esta diferencia en las tarifas en el mercado negro, pero quizas esta sea por dos razones especificas: una es la facilidad que esta presenta para los vendedores al trabajar con unidades de cambio completa: 1, 2, 5 y 20, en vez de: 1.20, 2.40, etc. Y la otras es por las ganancias que este cambio representa para ellos. Sin embargo creo que una vez las restricciones del bloqueo se levanten se podria simplificar este sistema monetario de cambio.

El incentivo para la deshonestidad van marcado por el hecho de que unos pocos convertibles representa el salario mensual de una familia. Un buen salario llegaria a $450 pesos Cubanos o $19 CUC. Muchas veces una misma carrera en un auto de alquiler privado te cuesta mas en la ida que en la venida, estimando el precio no por la distancia sino por la ignorancia de sus pasajeros y por la profundidad de tu bolsillo.

El lugar ideal para cambiar la moneda a CUC, pesos cubanos, o monedas extranjeras es en los bancos o en las casas de cambio, conocidas por sus siglas como “CADECAS.” Estas se encuentran en diferentes localidades en La Habana y en las provincias, pero mayormente dentro de hoteles.

Por insólito que parezca en La Habana es muy frecuente que alguna persona se le acerque con la intención de cambiarle la moneda. Le recomendaría no hacerlo ya que eso es una actividad delictiva que terminara perjudicandole. En mas de una ocasion el cambio que le harán será de un peso cubano por cada CUC que cambie, robandole de esa manera su dinero sin derecho a reclamo. Mi criterio es que cambie en la CADECA una pequeña cantidad de CUC a pesos cubanos de esa manera ya tienes las dos formas de pagos aceptables para Cuba.

Aunque viajar en Cuba es seguro comparado a otros lugares en latinoamerica, es preferible que lo hagan con personas conocidas o amigos de un amigo hasta que puedas navegar por si solo.

Buena suerte!

How to Use an ATM in Chile

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo

When was the last time you used traveler’s checks?

I know; I can’t remember either.

These days, you can find cash machines around the world.

The ubiquity of ATMs doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to use them, though.

On my recent trip to Chile, I was embarrassed to ask colleagues to loan me cash when I couldn’t make a withdrawal from a series of ATMs. I knew I had money in the bank–that couldn’t be the problem. I read Spanish, so I was pressing the right series of buttons. Why couldn’t I get any cash?

An amused saleswoman watched as I punched buttons and cursed an ATM. She called me over to her kiosk. “It happens to all foreigners,” she said.

The problem was that I kept looking at the ATM–which seemed exactly the same as the machines back home–and going through the same rote motions of button pushing that I use in the US. Thus, I kept missing the option at the bottom left of the screen: “Conduct Foreign Transaction.”

That’s it.

So that’s how you use an ATM in Chile.

It’s also how you slow down and remember how to be present in every moment.

Photo: BigBlue (Flickr creative commons)