Location Spotlight: Rancho Mastatal

Last year, we gave you a look into our Costa Rican partner Rancho Mastatal, but we thought it was time for an update! 

At Rancho Mastatal, our students learn about permaculture and immerse themselves in a community that cares deeply about environmental sustainability. By doing so, students learn how to live in balance with the environment, making the most of what nature provides us without causing harm to our ecosystem. This includes cultivating natural building and food production skills, as well as learning about soil ecology and fertility.

Rancho Mastatal takes pride in their focus on natural building, which emphasizes the use of local labor and resources. These materials include wood, sourced from the region and sometimes directly from their property, earth, straw and natural grasses, bamboo, stone and rock, and manure. All of these resources are found in abundance and are not just strong, but renewable and sustainable. Students also get to learn the proper techniques to use each of these materials, which they put to test by building on their own!

Working with wood | Photo By: Maria O’Neal
winterline, global skills, gap year
Working with wood | Photo By: Maria O’Neal
winterline, global skills, gap year
Building at Rancho Mastatal | Photo By: Maria O’Neal

Another main focus at Rancho Mastatal is hand preparing meals from whole foods that are locally or regionally sourced. For many students, this is a far cry from the processed and prepackaged foods that are so prominent in America. At Rancho Mastatal, students develop an appreciation for every step of the food preparation process, from gathering ingredients all the way to eating the final product. For example, our students get to make and enjoy their very own chocolate!

winterline, global skills, gap year
Yeukai showing off her handmade chocolate | Photo By: Emma Mays
winterline, global skills, gap year
Paris squeezing limes | Photo By: Emma Mays
winterline, global skills, gap year
Grinding beans | Photo By: Emma Mays
winterline, global skills, gap year
Starting the food prep | Photo By: Emma Mays
winterline, global skills, gap year
Chocolate time! | Photo By: Emma Mays

Finally, students get a lesson in permaculture, which is the practice of sustainable land use design. This involves planting in patterns that occur naturally to maximize efficiency and minimize labor and waste. Permaculture allows us to reach the desired level of harmony between man and nature, making it a win-win situation for all sides!

winterline, global skills, gap year
Planting at Rancho Mastatal | Photo By: Emma Mays
Winterline, global skills, gap year
Planting at Rancho Mastatal | Photo By: Maria O’Neal
winterline, global skills, gap year
Planting at Rancho Mastatal | Photo By: Maria O’Neal

Interested in learning more about Rancho Mastatal? Check out their website or join us when we head back next year for the 2019-2020 gap year!

Holiday Gift Guide 2018

The holidays season has fallen upon us once again, and that means finding the perfect gifts for your loved ones. To help you out, we’ve compiled 10 of the best gifts for travel fanatics – whether the person in your life with wanderlust is a friend, family member, or yourself!

Our recommendations from last year still stand, too, so be sure to check those out if you need even more inspiration!

    • Invest in a gift that keeps giving all year round by signing your recipient up for a travel-friendly subscription box. Travel + Leisure has a list of suggestions ranging in price from just $9 a month. Your giftee could receive new books every month to read on their flights or drives, a curated box of foods and drinks from a different country each month, a kit of useful outdoor tools and products, travel sized toiletries, and more. With so many options, you’re sure to find a subscription box that suits the individual needs of your on-the-go loved one.
    • Redefine the travel pillow by gifting a Trtl this holiday season. The Trtl pillow is lightweight and less bulky than the standard neck pillow, and offers plenty of support with its internal structure, despite its lackluster look. The Trtl pillow is scientifically proven to be better for your neck than a u-shaped pillow. Don’t believe us? Check out the rave reviews and try for yourself.
    • A Bluetooth-enabled speaker will let you personalize any space, from campground to beach to hotel room (just don’t rack up any noise complaints!) The Ultimate Ears Wonderboom weighs less than a pound, but delivers a big sound, whether you’re entertaining a crowd or just yourself. A 10 hour battery life and a waterproof, drop-resistant design means there’s no adventure this speaker won’t survive.
    • Not ready to give up your unlimited data and scour for free WiFi? With a Skyroam hotspot, you won’t have to. Whether your family wants you reachable 24/7, you’re working remotely, or you just can’t fathom a day without Instagram, the Skyroam has your back. You can connect up to five devices to your Skyroam for WiFi, which you buy in 24-hour day passes to get unlimited global internet in over 130 countries – starting at just $9 a day. And if you don’t travel enough to warrant buying the hotspot, you can rent them for your trip, too.
    • Every traveler needs a good pair of headphones, whether you prefer in-ear or over-ear, noise-cancelling or not, wireless or connected. Travel + Leisure has a comprehensive list of tried-and-true options, ranging in price point to suit your budget.
    • For the friend who’s more comfortable in the airport than at home, Airportag is the place to shop. Help them decorate their space with a cute throw pillow reminiscent of the airport where their favorite adventures begin or end.
    • One of the best ways to truly learn about a culture is by trying their cuisine. If the way to your friend’s heart is truly through their stomach, surprise them with a food map from their favorite country! Whether it was pho in Thailand or pizza in Italy that changed their life, they’re sure to drool over these gorgeous prints. There’s even a section specifically for the gluten-free traveler, as designer Jodi Ettenberg knows the struggle herself of traveling with Celiac disease.
    • You can never go wrong with wall art! These prints are customizable to include your favorite cities, and Etsy has an endless amount of similar travel-themed prints.
    • This Europe and Africa embroidery kit is easy enough for beginners to complete and cute enough to hang on any wall. It can keep them busy on a plane or train ride, or fill their time at home between trips.

What are you getting your favorite traveler (yes, that can include yourself!) for the holidays? Let us know in the comments below!

Best Travel Podcasts

If you’re not familiar with podcasts, you’re missing out – they’re all the rage, and for good reason! You can find episodes about practically any topic of interest and plug in to be educated, entertained, or simply have background noise. There’s a host of podcasts for listeners with wanderlust, whether you’re simply curious, in the process of planning a trip, or already on the go. We’ve rounded up some of the best and broken them down, so scroll through to find your new addiction.

  1. Zero to Travel
    • Host: Jason Moore
    • What to Know: Travel expert Moore talks with adventurous people who live life on the road to offer listeners advice and resources about all things travel. Some  basic topics include starting and running an online business, travel and work opportunities, budget strategies, planning, backpacking, and more: like how the tiny house movement impacts travel or how to campervan in New Zealand. With over 15 years of experience, Moore knows what he’s talking about and wants to make sure that even the most inexperienced travelers get the same opportunities to see the world as he as.     
  2. Amateur Traveler
    • Host: Chris Christensen
    • What to Know: Each episode is a location guide to a new destination, featuring a guest host who has expertise on that area alongside Christensen. Whether you’ve already decided where you want to go next or you’re open to ideas; if you’re looking for exotic island running routes, the best beaches in Europe, or a particular city, Amateur Travel will help you learn how to best experience any location.
  3. National Geographic Weekend
    • Host: Boyd Matson
    • What to Know: This radio format podcast brings you amazing stories from exotic places around the globe. Each week Matson interviews new explorers and scientists who explore topics you’ve never even thought about: giving turtles CPR, horseback riding from Canada to Brazil, and going camel shopping are just a few of many. Though the show stopped producing new episodes, the archive is sure to keep you busy for a while and both entertain and educate you.
  4. Indie Travel Podcast
    • Hosts: Craig and Linda
    • What to Know: Indie Travel Podcast episodes cover pretty much everything you could think of: history, money, relationships, location guides, and more. Craig and Linda post great reviews of cities and countries, but they also focus on the less talked about, equally important issues: like how to eat healthily on the road, celebrating the holidays away from home, and packing light to fit a carry-on bag. Almost any question you have, or might wonder but haven’t considered yet, Craig and Linda have covered in their over 300 episodes.
  5. Travel Tales Podcast
    • Host: Mike Siegel
    • What to Know: Siegel is known for his work as a professional stand-up comedian, meaning he knows how to explore both the best and worst parts of travel in lighthearted conversations. Siegel invites a different guest each week to talk about flipping property abroad, becoming a kidnapping victim, traveling to receive medical treatment, and more. No two stories are the same but all are equally eye-opening, making them an easy and fun listen.
  6. Travelogue
  7. Abroaders Podcast
    • Host: Erik Paquet
    • What to Know: This show is for the budding entrepreneurs, the people seeking personal growth, and the hopeful money savers. Paquet’s 200-plus episodes cover multiple airlines, reward cards, and hotels to help you make the most of your money and travel the way you want to travel. Leveraging your credit is important to learn young, especially if you want travel to be a serious investment and not just an occasional vacation. Paquet is more than equipped to help you learn this lesson.

 

Remember, this is just scratching the surface of all the content out there. Whether you find something you like from this list or realize you’re looking for something a little different, there’s countless podcasts to keep you busy and help you learn about someplace new. Any really good shows you think we missed? Comment below and let us know!

Preparing for College with a Gap Year

Thirty percent of freshmen…go away to college only to recognize — either because of their grades, their habits, their mental health or all of the above — that they’re not ready for college life.” This statistic from the New York Times may seem shocking to some, but many of us may be able to relate.

College is hard. I’m a senior now, in my second to last semester, and it’s still hard. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun and rewarding, and worth it, but it does mean that many of us – despite the best efforts of our secondary schools, parents, etc. – are ill-prepared to tackle college. If you’re like me, you’ve spent most of your life in the same town, following the same routine: wake up, school, extracurriculars, homework, sleep, repeat. Maybe the weekends and vacations offered variation, but for the most part, you’ve known only one way of life. William Stixrud and Ned Johnson say it best: “for so much of these students’ lives, their parents, teachers, tutors and coaches have told them what to do and when.” Going to college and suddenly being responsible for yourself can be a shell-shock.

college gap year winterline

Stixrud and Johnson have more words of wisdom: “if you question your teenager’s readiness for college at the end of high school, you cannot expect that he or she will be ready by fall. It takes time, practice and some failure to learn how to run a life.” So how do you prepare? A gap year, they say (and we agree!), “can help students mature so that when they do enroll, they are more likely to be successful. For highly stressed, high-achieving students, a gap year offers time to recover from high school before tackling college.”

My Experience

I’ve written before about my regret in not taking a gap year for myself. Though I did return to college after freshman year, it certainly wasn’t easy. In fact, the fall semester of my sophomore year were some of the most difficult months of my life. I was withdrawn, constantly exhausted, crying or sleeping all the time. I went to one or two of my eight class periods a week. It wasn’t until I was sitting in the Behavioral Medicine office, discussing the possibility of taking a semester off, that I realized how unprepared I had been for this part of my life.

I’d done really well in high school, maintaining an impressive GPA in all honors and AP classes, being on the cheerleading team, and participating in multiple clubs before and after school. On the weekends I held a part-time job and volunteered. I considered myself responsible in high school, and looking back, I still do for that age. I packed my own lunch every day, drove myself everywhere, got my homework done without being nagged, and paid for a lot of my own leisure expenses.

Elaine and Cody doing some food prep. | Photo By: Meagan Kindrat
Winterline students cooking on their gap year | Photo By: Meagan Kindrat

But I didn’t know how to properly study for a college exam, or maintain a strict budget. I didn’t know how to cook a meal, work a laundry machine, or clean a bathroom. I didn’t know how to maintain communication with roommates, advocate for myself in a job or internship interview, or make an impact on a community to which I was new. And that didn’t magically change when I got to school. I didn’t absorb these skills by osmosis from my parents or my peers; I didn’t pick up on it easily. All that happened was that the skills I didn’t know suddenly became more important and necessary and I still didn’t know them – and I began to collapse under the pressure.

Luckily, with support from my parents, doctor, and the school, I did finish that first semester of sophomore year, kept my scholarship, and returned to school the following semester after a much-needed winter break. But not all students are so lucky. Some can’t afford to return to a school where they didn’t succeed as expected. Some are so burnt out, so mentally taxed, that returning right away isn’t an option.

The Takeaway

So in my opinion, Stixrud and Johnson are right. If you aren’t prepared for college when you graduate high school, it’s ok – and maybe better! – not to go right away. You can’t learn the necessary life lessons in a week, or even a month. That’s why I wish I had done, and I recommend, a program like Winterline. Doing a gap year gives you a longer period of time to learn these lessons so that you aren’t overwhelmed, and the ability to do so while traveling with a group of your peers makes the lessons so much more fun to learn. A gap year gives you world experience that you just can’t learn at home or in the classroom, and opens your eyes to how many ways of life there are.

Winterline Gap Year Students
Winterline Gap Year Students

You don’t have to maintain that “wake up, school, extracurriculars, homework, sleep, repeat” routine. Immersing yourself in different cultures will show you how rich and fulfilling your life can be with different experiences. And if you decide to return and go on to college, as many do, you’ll be armed with skills that you’ve learned hands-on, making your school experience as smooth and as fun as it’s meant to be.