Interview with Hug it Forward Zach Balle

Finding Meaning In Travel with Zach Balle, Pres of ‘Hug It Forward’.

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Plus, How Food Lifts Your Trips.

Find out how Hug It Forward is building schools from bottles and trash in Guatemala – and how travelers can take part. Zach Balle, pres and co-founder, explains all about this important work for children in underdeveloped places. He also shares his personal travel strategies as a small footprint traveler. Plus, our hosts – some would call them experts on eating – talk about how meals and cuisine can elevate an authentic travel experience. Hear them share food stories and restaurant recommendations from around the world.


Produced by The Greenville Podcast Company.


Mike Putman 0:26
Welcome listeners. This is Mike Putman and James Ferrara, and welcome to Episode 11, I believe 10 or 11. I’ve lost track one of the two and we’ve got a really exciting guest for our listeners today. So I’d like to welcome Mr. Zach Balle, who is the president of Hug it Forward. Welcome, Zach.

Zach Balle 0:50
Hey, thanks for having me hsere, Mike and James.

Mike Putman 0:54
Great. Thanks for joining us. We tried to get Zach on last week, but he was caught in a hurricane. Do you want to share a little bit about that?

Zach Balle 1:02
Yeah, well, I was in one of my secret spots or secret spots in Baja and doing a little surfing living off grid. And hurricane Kay, pushed us out. And I thought I was going to be able to get the interview done the day before the hurricane. But the satellite internet was not working. That’s yeah, so ha to delay? Here we are.

Mike Putman 1:28
Well, great. Well, we really appreciate you joining. And one of the first things that we did Zach with all of our guests is we go through a few rapid fire questions. And I’m gonna let James lead that today. So be prepared and just give us one word or one sentence short phrase to answer these questions, because our listeners want to learn more about you and how you like to travel.

James Ferrara 1:52
So Zack, let’s start out with what’s your favorite destination in the world?

Zach Balle 1:58
Hmm, good question. I would, I would say Baja.

Mike Putman 2:05
I’m not surprised. Zach is a big surfer and spends a lot of time down there. So that’s not surprising at all. Thinking about your other travel outside of Baja, because I know you like to camp down there in your own vehicle. But what is your favorite hotel chain or independent property?

Zach Balle 2:22
I’m not really a guy that stays in hotels. I’m usually living off grid. I’m living in a 25 foot trailer that we park right on the beach in Mexico and still a lot of surfing and hanging out.

James Ferrara 2:39
So hotel Zach, that would be your favorite brand. Yeah, hotel Zach.

Mike Putman 2:44
There we go. Yeah, and Zach has been a good friend and a really, really cool guy. Or is a really cool guy. And if you got any of our listeners get a chance to know Him. And I know some of our listeners will know Him. You can appreciate his lifestyle and all the good that he’s done.

James Ferrara 3:01
So we’re gonna skip maybe a normal question we might have asked you about your favorite cruise line. I think we’re gonna skip right over that. But I am going to ask you this. What do you do for food sack when you’re traveling?

Zach Balle 3:14
Yeah, good question. So I am a spear fisherman and a rod and reel fishermen. So I spend a lot if there are no waves, then I’m on the water fishing or spear fishing. So we eat a lot of fish and rice, and usually whatever vegetables we can get our hands on. Cool.

James Ferrara 3:34
Cool. That sounds great. All right. Well,

Mike Putman 3:36
we’re really had John here not to talk about your spearfishing, but to talk about your organization Hug it Forward, for which you are president of so can you share with our listeners, your journey, how Hug it Forward was started, what you guys do, and all the good that comes as a result of those actions?

Zach Balle 3:57
Yeah, super happy to share. I’ll rewind a little bit. I’m from the great state of Ohio. And I went to the Ohio State University. And I studied business and you know, wanted to go out in the world and make a bunch of money and retire one day and give money to philanthropy. And I, you know, really wanted to serve and give back and I I just came from mentality that you had to make a bunch of money first, and you could go help people. And so I went out to Phoenix, Arizona and bought and sold a bunch of real estate during one of the hot markets there. 2006. And then I found myself in Vegas with a bunch of my buddies that I was doing real estate with and to me, I had made it I was making more money than any of the guys that went to college with at the time and I was you know, the guys that I was doing deals with they were 10 20 years older than me and I was just really excited and when I was in Vegas. I had this realization that if our founding fathers walked into this club, I was at a nightclub called Chet, I don’t know if it still exists there or not. If our founding fathers came in, they’d be like, Okay, what are you guys doing with all your freedoms, and it just like kind of really shocked me because I thought I was happy with what I was accumulating the wealth and, you know, having the results, and I went to bed just feeling really discouraged. And I woke up in the morning, and I had this realization that the only thing that made me feel fulfilled, truly fulfilled, Not fleeting moments of fulfillment, was travel. And travel was this, this way that I could just feel my way through life and have different introductions with people and it’s like, God, the universe would just play certain people in front of me during travel, and there would be certain conversations that would really, you know, be profound. And, and so I, I said, okay, the only thing that really makes me feel fulfilled is traveling. So I walked into the office next week, and I quit. And they all were, you know, shaming me and, and questioning me and just like really confused by my decision. And so I quit, and I was like, Okay, what am I going to do next? And I decided to get on a website called Find a I found a guy that had a boat, sailboat that wanted to circumnavigate the world. So you

Mike Putman 6:33
just went cold turkey, from Las Vegas to quitting your job back in Arizona, and then straight on to trying to get a spot on a sailing ship around the globe.

Zach Balle 6:45
Yeah, so I got on a boat in Florida and went through the Bahamas, went ended up in Cuba. And I met a buddy who wanted to, you know, make a difference in the world. And we got back to the States, and we started a nonprofit called Huggett forward. And it was originally started to go around the world hugging people had nothing to do with schools. And the reason for that was in the first world, in the United States, we’ve, you know, we feel like, we have all the material possessions in the world. But we’re lacking connection. And so we felt that if we could bring hugs around the world, we could we could bring connection back well, we quickly realized that that idea was very idealistic. And it’s very difficult to track the results of that of that program. And we found ourselves in Guatemala, traveling giving free hugs, and we found a unsafe school for kids. And so we were like, Okay, this could be really interesting, we could, you know, raise some money to help build the school. And I, you know, quickly found out that I didn’t study development work. I didn’t speak Spanish. And I really had no clue what I was doing. And so I leaned on a buddy of mine that I went to college with that was in the Peace Corps. And he told me about this girl in Grenada, Guatemala, who wanted to build a school a lot of bottles, and was lacking the funding and you know, the final details to be able to make the project work. So we went up there. And we participated in trying to figure out how this was going to work, I went back raised the money, we build our first school, out of trash in 2009. And so what that means is, we have the community pick up all the inorganic trash, so all the soda bottles, all the chip packets, and we have them stuff, the chip packets inside the bottles, and the bottles are used inside the walls for insulation. But more importantly, it’s a way to upcycle and to be able to have trash management. And most of these communities, there is no trash management. It’s either burned or just littered throughout the community. And so one of the main things that we do is bring awareness to the environment. As you guys know, when you drink a soda bottle, the bottle doesn’t say it takes 600 years to decompose if you just throw it out in the environment. And so our job was to help educate the communities about what the plastic is going to do to the environment. So and I can get into more details, Mike, and you’ve been to Guatemala, you and your family and have been a big supporter of ours through this process. Do you do you want me to speak about anything specific because you know, there’s there’s a lot that we can go over in this area?

Mike Putman 9:49
Yeah, well, I think it’s really interesting how your career had changed paths and gotten into helping others through travel Zach, I know our listeners would be really interested in the construction process of how you build schools out of bottles, can you? Can you take our listeners through that?

Zach Balle 10:09
Yeah, and we have a really awesome video on Huggett But I can try to explain it to you. So we asked the community, there’s an environmental program that talks about the plastics and what the plastics are doing to the environment. And so that’s the first step is awareness. The second step is we ask every man, woman and child to participate by collecting all of the soda bottles in the community that are displaced all over and all of the trash, then we asked them to stuff all of the inorganic trash into the bottles, making them super solid.

Mike Putman 10:44
And to give our listeners a little bit about what it means is to take a plastic bottle and fill it full of plastic like gum wrappers and candy wrappers and chips. And then you take a piece of rebar and pound that in there, and it takes about, I don’t know, 1520 minutes to make one bottle full of trash. And it takes 10,000 bottles to build a school if I remember correctly.

Zach Balle 11:10
Yes, correct, Mike. Yeah. And, and we’ll get to that trip with you coming down with your family, because that was, you know, really impactful and powerful and part of our organization and what makes it great, so, but if I get, I’ll just finish a little bit of the construction process. So yes, like you said, each bottle is labor intensive. The reason for the labor intensive is we want every person in the community to have ownership in the project. And all 10,000 bottles need to be collected and stuff before they get any funding. And this is to ensure ownership that they actually want the school it’s not a bunch of Americans coming down and saying, Oh, you need a school let’s build a school right there’s this is the blood sweat and tears ownership in it and hug it forward provides all of the funding for the materials. So all the concrete rebar, the roof, the doors, the windows, and, and also head up and relays, which are the head masons, if you will, and to make sure that everything is built correctly. So we use a standard post and beam construction. And then inside the where there would be concrete, cinder blocks, we fill that with the bottles, and this is a way for us to upcycle the trash and be able to get it all in one area not displace all over in the environment. And the schools, you would not know that they’re built out of trash, unless we, if we didn’t leave a little circle or a heart on the outside. And on the outside one of the walls to see that the inside is is is full of bottles, and these schools are designed to be exactly the same dimensions as the government certified schools. And they have to be government certified. Because if they’re not, then the government won’t provide the teachers in the books and the curriculum necessary for the school. And so I encourage everyone to go check out the website or the video to to see more if there if they want to see more specifics. And then we also put out a manual called the ball school manual to Pa And it’s a full manual from start to finish on how to build a school. So any nonprofit or any group around the world that wants to build a school out of trash, they can do that without being tech Brock cracy. Or, or anybody in their way. Sack how many schools have you built this way? We have we’ve built 136 schools since our first one 2009

Mike Putman 13:46
Wow. So I mean, and how many kids would fit into a school?

Zach Balle 13:55
We we’ve built schools, anywhere from two classrooms to four, and depending on the, you know, the community and what’s going on with everything. And the kids, you know, you’re looking anywhere from 15 to 25 kids, you know, per classroom. And, and then Yeah, and like I said, we have a range between 22 and four room classrooms.

Mike Putman 14:25
And so my experience when I went to Guatemala, on a hug it forward trip was that these kids were having that they did have a teacher, at least in the village that I went to, but they met under, you know, the old oak tree as I would call it. And when it would rain, they couldn’t have school because they didn’t have a roof over their head. And is that is that typical in Guatemala zakat was that

Zach Balle 14:51
it’s typical in the areas that we’re working in, right and so that’s where the motivation comes. For every man, woman and child to participate in collecting trash because like you said, Mike, some of them do have roofs, but a lot of them do not have flooring. So, you know, if it rains, you know, the inside of the classroom is muddy, and the desk is sitting in mud. So, you know, this is a, you know, real motivation. And we’ve, we are really encouraged to see a community put together, you know, something for their kids, right. And I think it’s a universal desire for every parent to provide an opportunity for their child. And so it’s really, it’s bittersweet. It’s, it’s sad and happy to see some of these dilapidated infrastructure, just to provide education so that when we come in, and we say, hey, we we’d like to participate working side by side with you to, to have a school that’s safer for your children, they’re a static, and we also ask a lot, we ask a lot of man hours, because we want to make sure that after we leave, from a development science, that there’s ownership, and everyone will nod their heads, yes, that we will take care of it. But the people that participated the blood, sweat, and tears, you know, we’re hedged a little bit more in them taking care of the project.

James Ferrara 16:17
So I’ve heard you both refer to a trip, Mike, you’ve gone to participate?

Mike Putman 16:24
Yes, Yes, Zack, why don’t you tell about how this great. So I guess just to kind of play it back, we got built this great organization that helps all these children in Guatemala, with building schools, how does that intersect with the travel space?

Zach Balle 16:41
Yeah, um, great question, Mike. So we’re, in the early days, we got contacted by a businessman that was was working with Mike, and he wanted to make a donation. And they made a very big donation. And I said, you know, one of the easiest thing, in my opinion, is to write a check, I think it’s very difficult to make the time to go down and see where your money is going. And I think it’s the responsibility of the donor to know where their money is going. There’s a lot of nonprofits out there that do a lot of great work. And there’s a lot of nonprofits out there that are just marketing engines to raise capital. And so I wanted to share this experience with Mike and having he and his family come down after they wrote a big check as well. And to see it, and to ask the questions. And so for seven days, we take care of all the logistics, all the food, transportation, translation, to participate in working side by side with the community to build the school. And during that time, certain perspectives come up right and, and earlier in the interview, I talked about travel was the thing that brings the most fulfillment to me. And, you know, one of the things that was really interesting to me, and on one of the first trips was what is the definition of happiness. And I was raised and conditioned that happiness was a direct correlation with my material wealth and what I had on the, in the, in the outside world, and so I was in wealth accumulation early in my early years, and then traveling to Guatemala, I see that, you know, the wealth accumulation is very limited, but the smile and the radiance of happiness is very, very bold and big, and you can feel it. And and so I think you know, Mike, maybe you can speak a little bit to this and your experience as well. But it was it was about bringing people into the a new context to to feel a different energy to see what life is like when we’re not in wealth accumulation, right wealth accumulation in Guatemala is family, it’s having enough food and resources to be able to provide for the community. It’s about working together as a community to build a school for future generations. And to witness this and to feel this really sends a lot of people back to the United States on a plane scratching their head thinking wow, what what is the meaning of happiness? And where do I need to create a different balance in my life? Right, and this is, it’s not about not having the resources and you know, living off grid and you know, building schools in Guatemala. But I believe that bringing the world closer, and having these types of conversations is what’s going to get us out of this disease and disconnected time in our lives and hug it forward has done a really phenomenal job with all of our team members. Having really saved trips for people to come down and have this experience. And the community is just blown away that a bunch of people from the United States care enough to stop their busy lives to get on a plane to come down and get their hands dirty, and participating and building a school. And so, Mike, I’m curious for, you know, for you to, if you can share a little bit about what what the trip was like for you and your family? And And was there any type of philosophical questions that were, you know, brought up for you in that? And did it change you in any way?

Mike Putman 20:32
Yeah, yeah, sure. So I’m happy to share about that you actually stay in Antigua, which is this really beautiful colonial Village and in Guatemala, and you learn a little bit more about the culture, and then you go closer to one of the villages where you’re building the school, and you actually go to work. And so all your mammals are taken care of, you’re building a bond with the people you’re traveling with. But you actually go in and go to work and you help build literally build the schools. My son, who was about 14, at the time, was Hollan, bags of cement around, you know, I was taking a piece of rebar and, and bending it, you know, to make the right structure. And it was just a joy, because not only are you working with the people in your team that are part of that trip, but you’re also working side by side with Guatemalans who live in that village who are going to be able to send their kids to school, so it’s very rewarding. And they have just a hunt for it, it does just an excellent job with the trip. Generally, the children that are going to be participants in the school, put on a little play for you, there’s some activity, but the bonding that you get with the children, and the experience that you have is just overwhelming. And there’s a couple of days off. So it’s not like slight slave labor for six days. But there’s one day where you go see some Mayan ruins, and another day where you experience a couple other nonprofits and learn about them, as well as pick coffee, I got an opportunity to pick coffee and actually see coffee, coffee being produced and roasted by a small grower, which was, which was really enjoyable. From a personal perspective, I was able to take my two kids with me down for a trip. And the takeaway from them to being able to see how other people who are not as fortunate materially live, but how happy they are, was a big takeaway. There were lots of relationships between my children and the younger children that they were playing with and working with. And it was, when I say it was a life changing experience. I don’t say that lightly. It really did change my kids lives in a positive way. And it was just a great place space to be in. And really, it really felt good from coming back from that trip.

James Ferrara 23:02
Wow, guys, I mean, I’m really just kind of in in awe, Zack, what incredible, important work and what a way to use your life to better other people’s lives. So thank you for that, Mike, for your support and participation. What if? What if our listeners want to know more and maybe get involved the way you did? Mike would? What can they do?

Mike Putman 23:31
Exactly. They would go to Right? Yeah, You got it. Yeah. And there’s opportunities to take these trips if you like, or help in other some meaningful way. I know that you’ve gotten a lot of publicity in the past. What were some of the other news outlets that had picked up on your story?

Zach Balle 23:51
Um, yeah, we were on World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer for for Earth Day. We were published in The Oprah Magazine. And we’ve been on the website. P score. And we have a we’ve got a bunch of articles on that you guys can check out and I will just say one more thing about the travel aspect. What we found organically is that we don’t do any marketing, right? So I’ve been I’ve never done the interview podcast before. I just decided to do this because I really love Mike and everything that he’s done. And I’m really excited to be working with James as well and me meeting him and hopefully having he and his family to come to Guatemala. But what we found is when when people come down and they experience the trip, they go home and they talk to somebody about it and that individual tell somebody and then more people come down and so it’s been very organic in bringing people down and then we also found that corporation They are trying to figure out this retention issue. And a lot of millennials and younger people and older people, you know, they want to travel and serve. And so this is a very safe trip, an organized trip for a group to have continuity for seven days, and be able to have an experience. And so we’ve we’ve had other organizations like lush cosmetics, they would fund a school and then send down 20 of their, of their employees and managers to have a an experience and when those people went back, you know, they would rave about their experiences in the stores, and it’s organic, it’s authentic, you know, there, there’s a couple organizations that work with us that are, you know, they’re, they’re competing on, you know, sharing travel experiences that, that, you know, people would never have before, and the employees are, you know, grateful to the organization that they work for, to care enough about building schools and or sending them on a trip like this to, to help open up their awareness. And so it’s just been very organic. And Mike has been huge in helping us, you know, figure this out. And, yeah, you know, we’ve we’re moving a group and still and I appreciate your support big

Mike Putman 26:20
time. Well, great. Well, Zach, I really do appreciate you being on the show today.

James Ferrara 26:27
Great. Great to hear from you, Zack, and to learn more about hug it forward. Yes, yes. For for our listeners. And I look forward to getting more personally involved myself. I’m sure. We have a bunch of listeners who feel the same way.

Mike Putman 26:44
Yeah. And I’d love to get James down there to get some calluses on his hands, which probably never had calluses before.

James Ferrara 26:51
I will bring my machete from Florida days in Guatemala that I bought 30 years ago. I’ll bring it with me. Wow, very cool. would love that.

Mike Putman 27:04
All right, man. Well, best of luck to use that sink. Thanks so much for what you’re doing and for your friendship. And God bless going forward.

Zach Balle 27:13
I appreciate both of you. Thank you so much for having me. And I can’t wait to see you guys in Guatemala. Thanks again for everything.

Mike Putman 27:21
Well, that was some great information from Zach barley from Huggett, What a great institution, they’ve done so much good for so many people. In Guatemala, I’m happy to have been part of his journey. And I really look forward to seeing them continue to grow and help lots of other kids in Guatemala.

James Ferrara 27:44
really inspiring, Mike really inspiring?

Mike Putman 27:48
Yes, thanks. So Well, let’s talk about food and travel James, a couple of things that are probably our two favorite things to talk about.

James Ferrara 27:55
I was just gonna say food, what an alien subject for you and I? That’s right, you know, I get this question a lot, because I post photos of going out to eat in restaurants and so on, you know, you have to feed the camera. And people make fun of me as if it’s not part of my travel work. But you know that that begs a question for me, which is, what is the role of food and cuisine and those experiences going out to eat street food? Or what is the role of that in the travel experience?

Mike Putman 28:35
Certainly, you know, part of my travel. I mean, when I think about traveling, it’s not just to see sights and visit cities. I mean, that’s, that’s a big part of it. But part of it is what kind of food scene do they have? Is their food interesting to me?

James Ferrara 28:53
Sure. And it’s all about experiencing another culture. And if we want to drive home an idea on this podcast all the time, it’s about not doing what you do at home. Right? I mean, the whole point of traveling, is to have new experiences and to expand your your, your mind and your experience of the world and your understanding of the world and other people and certainly, Food plays a big role in that. And does from for me, and for you, I know, Mike, and for me, it’s about local flavour, right, getting, getting a sense of how the locals live. It’s about authenticity. You know, instead of staying in my brand name, hotel and eating in the restaurant, Nothing drives me crazier when I see quote unquote, tourists eating in the hotel, you know, I mean, I understand convenience, maybe breakfast or whatever. It’s a quick thing. Sometimes you’re pressed for time, but whenever you can, please get outside the hotel and it’s perience the real food and culture of where you’re visiting. And I thought, Mike, you and I could talk about some of our favorite food experiences. Now. We could do whole shows on this topic. And you and I, but why don’t you jump in? And tell us a story that really sticks with you about your experience of food somewhere?

Mike Putman 30:26
Yeah. So yeah, thanks. I think my greatest food experience and this is took place over actually a couple of years, was meeting a chef in the south of France. on a, on a visit there, there was a new area that was opening up, and I happen to go there and visit and the host took me to this beautiful restaurant in the south of France and had just a wonderful, wonderful meal. The gentleman was who’s no longer with us, unfortunately, Felipe Silva, he was a two star Michelin chef in Paris. And then he bought his own place in the south of France, which was this charming 13 or 14 bedroom, room hotel. All the rooms were unique. All it really just classic, classic designed, and it was very near Cannes and Monte Carlo Sentra pay, and people would come up from those areas. He was inland maybe 20 miles but they would come up from those areas and have dinner with him because he was this really renowned chef. So the first time I had dinner there, I came back to the states and we were having a travel function and in San Diego. And I wanted to do something really extraordinary for our executive team and some of the leaders in the business. And just on on a on an alert call called and asked could he come and present a gastronomical meal for our team. And we became such good friends he said I’d be glad to he came over for a week and brought a sous chef and ended up preparing this just wonderful. I think it was a nine or 10 course meal for the executive team and all the leaders and we actually sold tickets to this event and use the money for some nonprofit and it might have been Zach’s as a matter of fact, it might have been hug it forward that we we use the money for but anyhow, we had this great experience. And the thing that really made it special for me is I was able to share this level of gastronomical dining with a lot of people who had never had that opportunity. So that’s one of my favorite stories. And we had a great time, he spent a lot of time with us. And we had parties and it was just a fabulous experience for everybody involved.

James Ferrara 33:09
Well, that that is very special and sort of a lifelong memory clearly. For me, it’s like choosing my favorite child, to choose a favorite restaurant, restaurant, I have a lot of stories, and I have a lot of ways that I’ve come to these to eat at these places. I think that’s important for our listeners too, you know, really good tip is to just ask your hotel concierge, although sometimes, if you’re in a big tourist hotel, you may really fall trap to, you know, there’s some financial arrangement between the concierge and the and the restaurant and you may not be getting the best recommendation. So that can get a little tricky. But I, the thing that I always do is I look for local newspapers or local publications, so that I’m not googling online. A lot of that is advertising and promotion. If you if you Google the best restaurants in Chicago, you’re going to get these kinds of advertorial things built up promotions that you’re really reading about, as opposed to looking in the Chicago newspaper for articles on the best new restaurants that year, or round up at the end of the year, the best restaurants. So it’s the source that you have to look at a really good, non promotional source, like a local newspaper, and see if you can find some clues about better restaurants in the area. I’ve bought through doing that kind of work or even doing research. I’ve come up with some great places over the years. My wife and I once went to Paris and did a tour of the oldest restaurants in Paris that we put together and we ate at tour Are Shawn overlooking the notre DOM, and famous for its pressed duck in this big contraption that they turned it looks like a medieval torture device and crush the carcass of the duck to make an incredible Zoo. And we ate at Le grande before, which was so old that my wife could not get comfortable. She said, I can tell from these cushions that this place is 200 years old. And it was very beautiful to look at, but not exactly what you would call modern, comfortable, you know, and we just went from from place to place in these incredible restaurants, some of which are gone now. But we caught them at the time. And there’s one tip I always like to give to people if you’re going to the Bahamas. And you know a lot of people wind up in Nassau. And unfortunately in a lot of ports in the Bahamas, there’s been so much pressure from the tourist trade that these ports have turned into like jewelry shops and T shirt shops. And they don’t have a lot of sense of place anymore. You know, on a given day 20,000 cruisers come off ships into these little villages. So you have to look a little harder to find the local color. And in Nassau is a Graycliff, which has been a source of hospitality guest house in a restaurant for several 100 years. And prior to that was home to royalty, English royalty living in NASA, so it was built as a mansion. And it has a spectacular restaurant. And very interesting is it has one of the oldest wine cellars in the hemisphere. There are bottles in the gray Cliff wine cellar, and you can go see them by the way, that date to the 1700s. And one that I saw the limestone from the walls of the cellar, sort of bled out and oozed out and and they sort of half enveloped this bottle, which is now kind of half trapped inside the wall. Very, very interesting. And you can have a dinner down there. And I’ve attended a dinner down there in this incredibly atmospheric wine cellar in the cellar of a several 100 year old mansion in a port where some people have kind of written off that there is much interesting there. And in fact there is you just have to look for it.

Mike Putman 37:56
That is I never even knew that place existed and up into Nestle shot of 3040 50 times I don’t know,

James Ferrara 38:03
it’s right across from the governor’s mansion or down the street from the Governor’s Mansion there. Mike, you’re a fan of the Michelin Guide, right, which is very different from a lot of the guys we have here in the US, which tend to be populist, like surveys of what people think of restaurants, whereas the Michelin Guide is been around for a long time is really based on professional evaluations. Right?

Mike Putman 38:32
So literally, yeah, and it’s in it. So Michelin, I live in South Carolina, for those of you who don’t know, and Michelin is, has a lot of manufacturing here. Michelin, of course, it’s a tire company, right first. But early on what they did to promote the sell of their tires is they created these MICHELIN gods, first in France and then an expanded out to other parts of Europe. And now it even includes the the US and other parts of the world. And basically the way these Gods work is they have very, it’s very secretive. Undercover eaters, let’s call it and they go around, and they rate restaurants in different cities. Unlike what you might find from the New York Times as an example, where someone might say, hey, you know, Joe Smith, a Food Editor from the New York Times and announce your arrival, which means the restaurant has time to prepare or maybe catered to you in a special way. The Michelin guide does not work that way. You don’t know that. They’re that they’ve been there until after they have left and then you’re notified. So it keeps the restaurants on their toes and it also gives what we hope is a more unbiased type of a rating. So yeah, purpose li when I travel, look for Michelin restaurants. And just so the listeners know they have a scoring system of where three stars is the top. So a lot of you’ll hear people say I went to a five star restaurant, well, it may be five stars under somebody else’s scoring system. But in terms of Michelin’s rating, there’s three stars is the top. And I think in the US just to give you kind of a point of reference, I think there’s around five or six, three star restaurants in the entire United States. Something like that, I might be off a little bit very, yeah, very, very hard to, to get a Michelin three star restaurant so. But one of the things that was interesting about it is I love going to Singapore, have a lot of good friends there, I used to have an office there as a matter of fact, and one of my good friends, Cynthia CO, who is an actress and a model would often take me to these Hawker stands. So it’s, this is street food, but kind of think of it as an outdoor food court. And the idea is, and there are several of these in Singapore, but you sit in the middle where there are chairs and tables, and then you walk around to these different vendor stalls. And the stalls might be, you know, six feet wide, seven feet wide, something like that. And they typically specialize in one dish. So it might be spicy crab, which is a big, a big entree there, or it might be something, something else. And so you you kind of shop around if you will, and you don’t order anything from them, but you sit down, and then they have waiters and waitresses that come and you’ll say I want to spicy crab, I want to fry squid, I want this, that and the other. And then they go around to the different stalls and they get you the best, the best food that are the best ones that they believe serve that particular item. And they bring them back and then you pay them one fee at the end of the night. And then they dispersed the money to all the different vendors, which is really cool, because you get to eat, you know, if you got a large table and you order six or seven entrees to share, you can try plates from six or seven different vendors while you’re there, and also enjoy some cold beverages. But the time that I wanted to get to is Michelin and this is about seven years ago, rated one stand a hawker stand as a one star. And this kind of blew things up in the in the Michelin kind of undercover world because everybody is a one star restaurant just to give you some kind of idea might be 100 to $150 a person, you know somewhere in that range. And one

James Ferrara 42:54
star sounds low but a Michelin one star restaurant. Those are some of the best restaurants in the world. That I mean most restaurants get no stars from Michelin, right? So one star would be equivalent to like a four or five star restaurant in most of the ratings that we know about.

Mike Putman 43:13
Yeah. And to give you into put that again in perspective is in South Carolina. There was one one star restaurant in all of South Carolina and James is going to have some some smart remark about us. I’m southern they just don’t get down here that much. But anyhow, it’s it was this kind of big news that a hawker Stan got got this one star and so on one of my trips to Singapore and made it a point to go and have it and and it was phenomenal food and it was I don’t know, seven $8 for an entree. Crazy. Yeah.

James Ferrara 43:47
And I think that’s a great system that Mike has is he goes to that Michelin Guide wherever we are. And see if you can find your one star restaurant that will It will blow you away. I mean, I’ve done in Italy. I was in Naples. And I really wanted rabbit rabbit is something I love. It’s part of my family’s culture to eat rabbit I know there people out there screaming right now. I can say rabbit in 10 different languages because I like it a lot. And I’m always looking for it. So it’s famous in Italy and particularly in Naples, a rabbit slow and long braised in red wine, and tomatoes and oh my gosh. So we were walking around the city of Naples we came across a restaurant that was very highly rated. And the owner happened to be standing outside and we started chatting with him and said we were planning on coming back for lunch after we shopped for a little bit and he asked me what I wanted. And I’m sure you can guess what my answer was. I’ll tell you an Italian it was called needle yo which is rabbit in the Alien. And he, you know, in one of these great scenes like from a movie, he called some kid off the streets. I’m like street urgent, and he handed him a little bit of money and said something to him quick and Italian. And the kid went running down the street. He sent him off to go buy, rabbit, you know, and then he told us to go shopping and come back in a couple of hours, which we did. And I ate a rabbit that put me into like, orbit around around the Earth. It was so good. And you know, one of those great memories for me, Mike, you and I have talked about haggis in Scotland, which is the stuffed mainlining stomach lining with a very spiced and delicious, ground up organ meats. And it’s a real traditional dish in Scotland. But I had it in a Scottish baronial Castle, you know, served in the traditional manner with everyone dressed up in Highland costume and cut open with a sword and a whole big sort of torch lit procession like you know, rip, really something amazing. But I also remember from Scotland all the game. All the different types of birds and fowl and fish in Scotland was just amazing. And I have to like that kind of food. So

Mike Putman 46:37
yeah, seafood, seafood and certainly the Edinburgh area is some of the best in the world. And they export about 90% of their seafood to Italy and Spain, which most people don’t know but their lot they have cold water lobster, which is fantastic clams. Some of the best oysters I was just over the summer and I had some just some of the best oysters I’ve ever eaten in my life. But let’s talk about weird food. So James, I know you’re a street food lover dislike I am what is the strangest thing that you’ve eaten off the streets.

James Ferrara 47:15
While I’ve had some weird food, that’s for sure. I have had grasshoppers and ants in Mexico City. And that took a took my most brave attempts to eat. It’s a bit crunchy. And I can’t say that I highly recommend it. But I’m glad I tried it.

Mike Putman 47:46
So I was in Phuket Thailand and not take that back. I was in Pattaya Thailand, and had deep fried Scorpion after a couple of Tiger bears. So yeah, that was same thing, it was just kind of like, really crunchy, not a lot of taste didn’t taste like chicken. Like everybody says it just tastes like something really deep fried.

James Ferrara 48:14
Highly recommend a different kind of experience than these things I say. I mean, one of my best times was in the countryside of Italy, we met up with relatives of friends of mine, so kind of a distant connection, but we were told to look them up. And it turned out, they owned a restaurant. Well, they closed the restaurant for us, so that we could have a private lunch, they invited all of their family plus the large group of friends that I was with. And so we had, you know, 20 some odd people in this restaurant. But we had a private afternoon meal where they made all of their favorite and best foods for us. And we struggled to understand each other. None of us. You know, neither of us speaking, well English or Italian. But it was such a magical moment. So if you can hook up with some locals, if you can get invited to someone’s house for dinner, or if you can take advantage to have one of those programs that we even have now where you can eat with locals somewhere. I mean, that’s a great, great experience, I

Mike Putman 49:32
think. Yeah, absolutely. Getting a chance to dine with locals is always, always interesting. The one

James Ferrara 49:39
thing I would look out for kind of looking at this from the other side is these touristy experiences and in fact, there have been some articles recently, if you go maybe the Greek islands or the south of France, places where there’s a very heavy tourist trade and you eat at one of these restaurants on the beach, you know, or we’re on the water. Sometimes they can be tourist traps, and you can get presented with a ridiculous bill. And in one of the articles I read just a week or so ago, they interviewed the owner of one of these restaurants where there had been many complaints to the Tourism Board, and so on. And he had a, an answer that had a lot of hubris in it. Uh, but at least it was honest. He said, Look, our prices are on the menu. You know, people were complaining that when they went to leave, they had a bill of three, four or $500, for lunch, and they were being ripped off. But he was saying, Look, I’m upfront about it, I have this position on the beach. And if you want to eat here, you have to pay my prices. So what I would say is just always be smart. Right? Look at the menu. First, make sure you understand what you’re ordering, make sure you understand the prices, don’t get caught in one of those tourist traps.

Mike Putman 51:08
Don’t be a tourist, which is one of our mottos. For sure. So let me shift gears here for a moment, I want to remind our listeners that we really like your feedback. We’re interested in in hearing topics that you’d like for us to cover on the podcast. So please go to no tourist. And that’s tourist with an s No tourist And there is a section there where you can register your questions or topics you’d like Jameson to cover. And we’d really love to hear from you. Additionally, we have a really cool contest coming up. More details will be announced on next week’s pod about this. But we’re going to be given away some really nice trips. And we’ve got a really, I think, a very creative way of qualifying people to be able to win some fantastic travel. So tell your friends to listen, tell your friends to subscribe. And we’ll be rolling out some more details next week. And we’ll have the contest up and running probably the week thereafter. So look for

James Ferrara 52:19
Oh, everyone’s gonna be so excited about that. Yes, yeah.

Mike Putman 52:23
So look forward to that as well. And James, there was a topic you wanted to share with our listeners about how air works, how, how the government, excuse me is working with with our airlines, and some of the problems that are being faced and being a dresser.

James Ferrara 52:43
Sure. And this is a result of this past year where we all know, there have been some really tough weekends. And there have been delays and cancellations and more than we’ve ever seen before. And you may have heard that the government and the Secretary of Transportation Pete Buda judge was being tough with airlines. And I remember saying in a television interview, you know, that’s not going to work, because there are things that are causing these problems and threats from the government are not going to fix those things. However, I think that the Department of Transportation came up with a really smart idea. Rather than hitting these airlines over the head with threats and fines. They made an announcement in mid August, that the D O T would be launching a new resource online for travelers that would allow us to look up and compare each airlines policies for what happens if your flight is delayed? How many hours does it have to be delayed for you to be compensated or rebooked? What happens if your flight is canceled? What are your rights? These things have always existed, but they have been a little nebulous, a little undefined. And while airlines have always been responsible to a degree to compensate passengers, the exact number of hours of delay was not defined, for example, so it was wasn’t clear and the airlines were getting away with a lot well, after this year and all the complaints. The government set up this website. And now you can go and look and compare one airlines policies to another. So what they did was instead of threats and fines, they threw the airlines into heavy competition with each other. And they said we’re going to launch the site on September 2. it. So you have a couple of weeks to get your policies as sharp as you can get them, because you’re going to be compared to your competitors. And on September 2, that site did open at the Department of Transportation’s website, which is GOV. And there you’ll find a section called aviation consumer protection. And there you will see their new resource, the airline customer service dashboard. Now leave it to the government to make things very difficult to find. And to name them in a very uninteresting way. But there it is. on the aviation consumer protection section, the airline customer service dashboard, take a look and know what your rights are and know what your compensation will be a know what airlines are allowed to do and not allowed to do when it comes to delaying, canceling or changing your flight. I think this is going to improve things for everyone. And the airlines are doing everything they can to improve this situation. And it has gotten better. I think you would agree Mike, right. It’s gotten better in terms of cancellations and delays. Certainly. It’s a fraction of what it was like around Father’s Day, for example.

Mike Putman 56:25
All right. And the luggage displacement has gotten better as well. So yeah, there’s definitely been some improvement. And this is a really nice resource to show the consumers what their rights are. There’s even a place to file a consumer complaint. What to do if your flights over sold? So good resource. Yep.

James Ferrara 56:52
And, Mike, there been some other headlines in the travel industry?

Mike Putman 56:57
Yeah, there have? Yeah, there’s been been a couple of things that caught my attention for sure. There was a discussion that happened in the Washington Post, which as I felt this is really interesting, because it’s something I’ve done in the past. And the discussion was around, should we as passengers give flight attendants gifts, right. So when you get on board, you know, sometimes the flight attendants have been working hours and hours and hours. And usually, they’re the ones that catch the brunt of, let’s say, not very nice passengers. Feelings. And sometimes it’s just nice to recognize really good service, and sometimes just nice to give somebody something that might brighten up their day. So that’s what this this article is about. And James, I gotta tell you, I’ve done it, there’s a couple of things that I do. So one is as an advantage, executive platinum member, which is a a level in their player program, their top level, you’re given these once a year, you’re given these small little cards, and I think you get 10 a year. And when you receive exceptional service from an American Airlines employee, you can fill that out, put the date on there, hand it to them, you know, while you’re on the plane, or what have you, and that there’s some type of recognition, because they’re very gracious when they get one of those cards. So that’s something you can do if you don’t have that status. Another thing that you could do is offer a small gift. So in this article, it really discussed like, what’s appropriate, what’s not appropriate? And sometimes what happens if you do this, because sometimes there’s a positive outcome. If you go on board, and you, you offer your flight attendant, a little something, something. So there, you know, there were discussions about people possibly getting upgrade or people being moved to a better seat on the plane, maybe in the same compartment. But but the overwhelming idea was you don’t do it, just you don’t do it for that. Sometimes that is a possible outcome. But you do it to kind of lighten up someone’s day, or let them know that you do appreciate the job that they’re that they’re doing. So some of the suggestions were, if you do want to do this, give them something small candy, that type of stuff is always appreciated, but it should be individually wrapped, not like oh, here I’ve made some homemade chocolate chip cookies. Please share these. How icky would that be though? If you’re the flight attendant, right? And somebody does something nice for you, but you’re like, I don’t know this person. Could there be? Could there be scorpions in it? Like what my eight and so, some things like that. They do say that. In the article. There were several airline flight attendants that were interviewed, and they said nothing that would be over the top that would be very Spensive that would seem inappropriate, but small things. But the one thing the best one was this flight attendant that had a lot of tenure said, The best gift she ever got was there was a little kid with a family, that hand wrote notes to eat each flight attendant during a flight and hand them out. But what a thoughtful child to do that. And she said that was the best gift ever.

James Ferrara 1:00:29
Also, you know, they have those duty free shopping areas conveniently located near your plane. So you could pick up something in there, too. I’ve only ever done this casually, it’s never really been a strategy of mine to get special service on board. But I will say it’s got to be one of the toughest jobs there is. So I do appreciate those people who take it on, especially the last couple of years where we’ve had some really, you know, some ugliness from people suffering through the pandemic, and they’ve just taken it out on airline attendants. And yet those people still show up for work and do what they have to do for us. So I’m really appreciative of that.

Mike Putman 1:01:18
Yeah, and then unfortunate thing, and I’m sure many of you have seen this through social media or news articles is, they’re the person who has to suffer when, you know, back in the days a mask, somebody didn’t want to wear a mask the whole time, or someone’s had too much to drink. And they’re just being a real jerk. And so forth. And there, they have to be the onboard police officers, right, and try to take care of very unpleasant situations. And sometimes things like delayed flights, you know, these things, just get people on edge already get passengers on edge. And it doesn’t take a lot to send them over the edge. And then here are these poor flight attendants who are not making a lot of money, by the way, are having to deal with it. So yeah, my heart goes out to them. And there’s something nice, drop them, drop them a car, drop them, you know, some a candy bar something make their day.

James Ferrara 1:02:14
Agree, good thought.

Mike Putman 1:02:16
Well, good. Well, unfortunately, our deal guru Jessica is enjoying a vacation this week. So she will not be on with us. But we look forward to having her back next week. fully rested and chock full. And

James Ferrara 1:02:33
she’s doing her market research. This is how she’s rose. With the good deals are she’s out of the country right now and joining one.

Mike Putman 1:02:41
Yeah, poor poor Jessica, but good for her to get a ticket to take advantage of some of the awesome experiences that we create in the travel industry. So be glad to have her back next week. And I think that’s going to wrap up this week’s session of no tourist allowed.

James Ferrara 1:02:59
Great. Thank you, Mike. been fun to be here with everyone. And please check back with us. We have some big guests coming up over the next couple of weeks. And we have that new contest with some incredible giveaway as you can tell, we’re not in the car business. So we’re not giving away cars. And you know, we’re not in the chocolate business. So we’re not giving away chocolates. You could probably guess what we’re giving away.

Mike Putman 1:03:26
Yeah, that’s going to be worth coming back and listening. Thanks again, everyone.

James Ferrara 1:03:31
Thank you everybody.

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