Video: How We Make The Luders Placemats

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Happy New Year to you all!

We used the festive holiday to rest (eat and drink too much), reflect and ponder on what might be next to our Studio Mali adventure. We’ve set ourselves a few targets for the start of the year. Although selling at markets over Christmas was an amazing experience, oh my it was tiring! We didn't have a second to think about what 2019 might hold. So we made some decisions, firstly taking a few months off the markets to develop some new products, spend some time sprucing up the market stall aesthetics and a sneaky little winter get-away to Hungary. We also wanted to start sharing how we make our products to help our readers understand what goes into each product. So here we are…

Let us introduce an in-the-making video of our most recent product the Luders Placemats, inspired by architecture of the Marie-Elisabeth Luders Haus on the bank of the river Spree, Berlin. We were a bit camera shy to do a full voiceover but we’ve recorded all the processes that are needed to get it ready for the kitchen table! Of course, for the sake of story telling and repetition we have skipped some of the repeated sanding stages, we didn’t want to bore you!

Here’s the finished article, click the image for safe passage to the shop…

Here’s the finished article, click the image for safe passage to the shop…

Step-by-step

  1. The making starts by sending the CAD design to our CAM machine, in this case a laser cutter. We place in a piece of sustainably sourced birch-faced aeroply that has been cut down from a larger sheet. We are careful to pick pieces with the most interesting grain and with the fewest blemishes. We also check that the grain is vertical.

  2. After laser cutting, we number and masking tape the individual pieces so we can fit them back together later, systems are quite important when you make 20 of the same thing that are essentially large puzzles!

  3. We finish the wood with three different grades of sandpaper. First a rough p120, a finer p400 and very fine p600 which leaves the plywood really smooth to touch.

  4. We use an airgun to apply the different colours, making 2/3 passes per colour, cleaning out the gun with water between passes and colour changes. This part is quite time consuming as we always run into problems getting the acrylic paint to the correct consistency.

  5. Then, we apply a strong resin-based adhesive to the 0.8mm aeroply layer which are then fixed to a 4mm plywood base that we prepared earlier, preparation is everything they say!

  6. We are careful to clamp everything in the right place (that’s a Radiohead song right?) whilst the adhesive sets. Note: if we get this bit wrong the whole piece is ruined and we will have to start again.

  7. Then the fun part, sanding the burnt edges on the electric sander and cleaning up the rounded corners. After the rough finish on the sand belt, we follow the same process as before hand sanding the backs and edges with a rough grit p60 on the logo and then p120, p400 and finally p600 which leaves the ply incredibly smooth.

  8. We hoover or brush off the extra dust particles and prepare the wood for varnishing.

  9. To get the best finish we use a spray polyurethane varnish that is applied in even layers. The finish is key, as it offers a long-lasting protection to just about everything the kitchen can throw at it. It’s not as environmentally friendly as other finishes but it should last a lifetime if looked after, which counter balances its damaging polymer credentials.

  10. We finish with a last light sand with the p600 sand paper and then its finished, voila!

Here’s the video:

We hope you enjoyed our making video! If there’s anything else you’d like to know about the product or processes involved we would love to hear from you. Just pop your comment in the box below and we will get back to you.

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Sri Lanka: 5 Reasons Why It's The Perfect Destination For The First-Time Backpacker

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Tipped as the top travel destination for 2019 by Lonely Planet, Sri Lanka has it all for the outdoorsy traveller. From turtle sanctuaries and stunning white sanded beaches in the south, to the world famous tea plantations sprawled across the countries mountainous centre. 


If you are into animal watching, then you can spend your days bouncing around in an open topped jeep on safari, trying to spot wild elephants, crocodiles and leopards in the lusciously green national parks.  Mountain trekkers can head to a number of well know ranges, and can hike up some of the nations favourite peaks such as the steep and sacred Adams Peak at sunrise.  Head to the bustling and rugged city of Jaffna to soak up the culture of every day Sri Lankan life.  There are ancient temples, historical sights and plenty of religious ceremonies to attend. 

A climb to the sacred Adam’s Peak is well worth the reward….

A climb to the sacred Adam’s Peak is well worth the reward….


Whatever you choose to do in this diverse country, you really won't be disappointed because the standards are high and the quality of your experience is valued and welcomed by the locals.  Tourism is integral to the country's economy and in recent years they have seen a significant boom.  So for the first time backpacker, you have the peace of mind that the route is well trodden and the Sri Lankan people will treat you like family.  

Here are 5 reasons why we think Sri Lanka should be on the top of your to-visit list for the first time backpacker....

  1. The Friendly People

Not all people you meet on your travels will greet you with open arms, but the Sri Lankan’s are some of them.  After travelling in 16 countries over 10 months, we decided that the Sri Lankan's are some of the warmest and most welcoming folk that we've ever met.  Men would buy us coffee in the street, hosts would spend hours making us the most delicious home-cooked food from scratch, people are always on hand to help you get on the right buses, locals will share their food (and seat) with you on the train, and sometimes people will even walk down the street with you just to have a chat! You can’t get much friendlier than that.

Locals on the train to Nuwara Eliya who shared their food with us

Locals on the train to Nuwara Eliya who shared their food with us


Obviously there will always be the odd few rotten apples that are trying to get something for nothing, but on the whole we found the Sri Lankan's very trustworthy and helpful.  Impressively, nearly everyone speaks English due the empire, so if you are ever in need of help then just ask the person next to you and I'm sure they will do their best.  The hospitality in hostels and guest houses is next level, and hosts will really go out of their way to make your experience the best that it can possibly be.  We really don't have a bad thing to say about anyone we met!

2. It's Just So Cheap!

Sri Lanka is very well priced to travel around and on some days we would spend around £12 per day between us, that's with eating in the 'hotels' which are actually restaurants where the locals eat.  It's possible to find accommodation for around £6 for a double room per night on booking.com, and if you are happy to eat like the locals then a couple of kottu's (a Sri Lankan street food of chopped roti bread, vegetables and meat gravy fried on a hot plate) would set you back between £1.50 to £3.00 for 2 portions. That's a whole lot of bang for your buck!  A beer at an off-licence will be around 300 rupees (£1.50) which isn’t so bad. 

Well-priced produce at a local store

Well-priced produce at a local store


Travelling by bus is very cheap indeed, ranging from about 50p to £4 per journey (the £4 journeys would be if you were travelling for 5 hours across the country), and the train can be even cheaper but slower and far more crowded.  A train ticket to Colombo from Kandy is around 100 rupees for 2nd or 3rd class, or you can travel in 1st for only 500 rupees (£2.50)!  A rickshaw in the capital is around 50 rupees per kilometre, which isn’t too shabby.  


Visits to the national parks can however be pricy (they have to make their money somewhere right?) so if you are trying to keep your costs down then just choose to visit only one or two of them on your trip.  For example, a visit to the Kaudulla National Park on an elephant safari set us back £50 per person, and a trek in the knuckles mountain range with a guide and driver was £50 between us.  Compared with the costs of food, travel and accommodation, these prices seem extremely high, but if you acknowledge that you are paying for one or two people’s time and consider it a once in a lifetime experience then the costs aren't so bad after all.  I mean, you get to see elephants in the wild!  If you are happier eating in tourist restaurants for peace of mind of hygiene then there are many to choose from, and prices will be more like £3 to £6 for a main meal.  We ate at the local restaurants 3 times a day and never got sick, so if you want to taste real Sri Lankan food and pay cheap prices then find the nearest 'hotel’.

Kaudulla National Park on an elephant safari!

Kaudulla National Park on an elephant safari!


3. Easy To Get Around

Transport in Sri Lanka is great for the backpacker.  You can pretty much get anywhere by bus, or if you want to travel at a slower pace then taking a train is a good option.  If you don’t want any hassle with transport and money is no option then just take a cab or tuk tuk.  Remember to negotiate hard because most likely the first price will be far too high. 

We took several local buses to get to the base of Adam’s Peak in central Sri Lanka

We took several local buses to get to the base of Adam’s Peak in central Sri Lanka


The buses are the best way to get around though, and they’re are hilarious!  Travelling on one is such an experience, and in some ways they are the funniest part of the trip.  These are the local buses where the driver blasts out Sri Lankan bhangra for 4 hours straight, everyone is stuck to the sweaty leather seats, there is a line of people standing all the way down the isle clinging on for dear life, whilst the driver over-takes at full speed like a maniac.  So obviously the speedy dangerous driving is not a plus side of travelling by bus, but you will be guaranteed to get there quickly.  We would recommend sitting towards the back for safety, and not looking out the front (for obvious reasons).  Ignorance is bliss they say.  The bus assistant will be the one taking ticket money, and will tell you where to put your oversized bags.  The benches on the buses are made for small bottoms, so you will most likely be squashed up against the person next to you.  But for a couple of pounds per journey, who really cares?!  The buses are clearly marked in English where they are headed for, and there is always an assistant on board to ask if you are unsure.  Sri Lanka is the perfect sized country, because you can pretty much travel across the whole of it within a day.  

Local kids waving the train on by…

Local kids waving the train on by…


4. Diverse

Sri Lanka is a unique country with so much to offer.  Depending on what you’re into, every traveller can have a completely different experience.  If you like tropical beach breaks, sun bathing, surfing, turtle conservations and whale watching, then head to one of the many beaches that sprawl the lengthy coastline.  Along with beachy vibes brings chill out bars with like-minded travellers, parties and fun times.  

A beautiful sunset at Negombo beach near Colombo

A beautiful sunset at Negombo beach near Colombo


Looking for more of a nature-inspired trip? Well this is the place for you.  Never have we seen so many exotic animals in one country before… elephants, eagles, monkeys, crocodiles, mongoose, leopards, giant squirrels and wild boars.  The list is literally insane.  Each national park has a different focus, some are the home to the leopard whilst others of the elephant, so choose which one you visit thoughtfully.  It’s worth noting that entry to these national parks is in the form of a jeep safari, so don’t think you will be able to trek in there to enjoy the nature! 

The middle of the country is more mountainous and hilly, so for nature lovers and those into trekking you can head to the likes of the Knuckles Range, Sigiriya, Horton Plains, Adam’s Peak, Ella, Haputale and Lipton’s Seat.  There are plenty of walks to do without paying for entry to the National Parks, and luckily there are lots of local buses to get you away from the main towns and cities to start your route from.  The tea plantations are spectacular, and are free to roam around for the enthusiastic walker.

The view from our guesthouse at Nuwara Eliya, surrounded by leafy tea plantations

The view from our guesthouse at Nuwara Eliya, surrounded by leafy tea plantations


If history, culture and religion is your thing then this a country rich in all of these areas.  With Portugese and Dutch attempted invasions, British actual invasion, and civil war between the Tamils and Sinhalese lasting several decades, it’s hard to hide the very recent wounds of history, particularly in hard-hit areas like Jaffna where bullet holes are visible in the crumbing buildings.  The majority of the Sri Lankan people are of Buddhist religion, with a small proportion of Hindu’s, Christian’s and Muslims.  There are many incredible temples and places of worship to visit along with religious sights such as the ancient Mihintale and Polonnaruwa ruins.  One of our favourite moments was experiencing a Hindu ceremony at the decorative Nallur Kovil temple where men took their shirts off with the sound of live percussion instruments playing.

Nallur Kovil Hindu temple in Jaffna

Nallur Kovil Hindu temple in Jaffna


5. The Food

If you’re a foodie like us then you will probably be salivating right now at the thought of eating delicious Sri Lankan food.  Imagine coconut milk curry with an explosion of spices, beautifully balanced with chunks of sweet butternut squash, and spicy beetroot curry with home-made coconut rotis… it’s just too delicious!  The coconut milk is freshly made and my god does it taste like it.  Rice and curry is the staple, but really when you order it you end up with about 6 components including daal and fresh vegetables too.  No one goes hungry in Sri Lanka!

Fresh fruits at a homestay in Kandy

Fresh fruits at a homestay in Kandy

The kottu is incredible, it’s a street food of fried roti bread, vegetables and sometimes egg covered in meat gravy.  It’s one of the cheapest dishes you can get and it’s probably the tastiest because it’s so god damn naughty.  One of the funnest things is choosing between the surplus of fried street snacks, the Sri Lankan’s do love a deep fried snack!  Nearly anywhere, you can pick up vegetable rotis (that look like a vegetable samosa), dosa (fermented pancake), egg hoppers (crunchy pancake in the shape of a bowl), string hoppers (well-seasoned stringy noodles you eat for breakfast with your fingers), jackfruit balls… the list is endless.  And then there’s all the sweet stuff too… coconut pancakes, buffalo curd with plant nectar (like honey), and all the fresh fruits.  It’s worth going to Sri Lanka just for the food alone, we were so excited to be eating it every day that sometimes we just worked our schedule around the food!

The legendary Kottu street food. We had definitely put on a few pounds after 4 weeks of eating this bad boy.

The legendary Kottu street food. We had definitely put on a few pounds after 4 weeks of eating this bad boy.


We Dig It!

I feel like I could go on and on about all the great things that Sri Lanka has to offer, but really it would be better for you to just go and experience it for yourself.  For the first-time backpacker, this really is a fantastic country to visit because as far as travelling goes; it is relatively easy, the people are lovely, it’s got so much to offer and it’s cheap.  I would say that 2 weeks is probably the minimum amount of time to spend there, we went for 4 weeks and in that time we only went to 2 beaches!  So if you do want to visit then I would strongly suggest not trying to cram everything in and rushing around to much.  It’s a relaxed country to be in, and it’s all the small moments that make this place so special; like sharing a dinner of home-cooked food, or watching the sunrise up on Pidurangala Rock. 

For the first-time backpacker, you really won’t regret a trip to the incredible Sri Lanka….

A tranquil sunrise on the top of Pidurangala Rock, just watch out for the sneaky monkeys!

A tranquil sunrise on the top of Pidurangala Rock, just watch out for the sneaky monkeys!


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Lifestyle: Redressing The Balance (Budget!)

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Five months ago we set out our intentions for how we wanted to live after our amazing long-term travelling experience. It’s easy to say what you want to do, but actually doing it is a totally different matter and It’s safe to say the last few months have had a strong sense of ‘back to life, back to reality’! Returning to our old lives was a shock; mortgages, bills and high cost of living has been tough. Knowing that our outgoings are so high has definitely pushed us to make some big changes so that we could still afford to live in London, but with a significantly different lifestyle and outlook.

Our summer holiday, a week long wild camping expedition in the Lake District for £150

Our summer holiday, a week long wild camping expedition in the Lake District for £150

Luckily I was able to pick up a 4 day working week teaching at my old school. I wanted to spend the extra day off starting a new project with Ali, a new business we’d spent months dreaming about. Ali decided not to return to work applying her full focus to developing products under our Studio Mali name. With only one of us in employment, we’ve had to look to new ventures for cash and to rein in our spending, planning everything from our daily diets to what we can afford to at weekends. Luckily, London is full of free things to do and we both cycle to reduce our travel costs but planning food has been a lot more challenging.


Beans; surely the cheapest, healthiest, food source one can buy? To cut costs on food we’ve taken meat out of our diets and only had butter and cheese for treats. Those beans I mentioned are prepared in large batches which feed us for 2/3 dinners and lunches and are super healthy. Along with beans and pulses, we have been eating loads of whole grains and fresh fruit and veg, not only because is it healthy but it’s loads cheaper, especially when you do your fresh food shop at Aldi! We bulk buy long lasting food in a big monthly online shop, which is delivered for free during the day. Our luxury item is coffee that we buy in large batches so its cheaper, we have 4kg of coffee beans in the cupboard! We’ve been trying hard to avoid the pub, which has been a doddle in the warm summer but so much of what is special about the British winter happens in pubs, so we’ll likely have a little splash out during the darker months.

 
Ali’s weekly sourdough…It takes 3 days but it’s so tasty and made from just flour, water and salt!

Ali’s weekly sourdough…It takes 3 days but it’s so tasty and made from just flour, water and salt!

 

We have had to invest some of our savings into the business to buy a laser cutter, materials and to start organising the admin.  But with that equipment we managed to create 6 products and develop the shop on our website, build an Etsy shop and sold a few in markets, whilst also stocking some in a shop in Stoke Newington, the Design Store. Creating all these new objects has been a steep learning curve. From developing our brand, to how we market it and how we tell our story across social media, there’s literally always something to do. Ali has been exceptional in the amount of research, development and pure grit she has put into Studio Mali, maybe we should rebrand as Studio Ali!

One element of home life that has linked back with our travelling times has been Airbnb. It’s been a total revelation, we’ve loved having tourists, students, house-hunters and even wedding guests come and stay with us. Our visitors always teach us something new and love the fact we can always help them get the most out of their stay, we’ve been fully booked all of September and October! If you’re in London and you’d like to stay with us then here we are. Airbnb has given us the extra income to take risks with the business, we’d recommend it for both fun and finances!

 
We loved meeting Jiayi and Yuan through Airbnb. Discovering that we visited Yuan’s home town of Dali last year!

We loved meeting Jiayi and Yuan through Airbnb. Discovering that we visited Yuan’s home town of Dali last year!

 

So…. redressing the balance, life now feels very different to our 2017 pre-travel lives. A little more random, a bit riskier and certainly more exciting. The balance has come from assessing what we wanted from London life; to be more creative, to inspire others to make changes and to have some more adventures ourselves. Well we’re doing it, we’re poorer but happier and I truly don’t know what our lives will look like in a years time. Once the business kicks off a little, we will be able to get away a bit more often, even a weekend out of the city would suit us nicely. I imagine this might read like hell for some, but for us it’s bliss.  Bring on the beans! 

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Culture: Soca, Feathers And Grinding At Hackney Carnival 2018

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Sunday the 9th of September was a party day for Hackney this year. Although it sits in the shadow of Europes largest, loudest and booty-iest carnival over in west London in late August, Hackney is a smaller but far more local affair. The sun shone, the outfits were outrageous and the vibe was youthful and eclectic. Imagine groups of teens whistling and dancing, families waving from the sides and the occasional eccentric middle-aged boogie queen who shows us all how it’s done….check her out.

 
 

Unlike Notting Hill, what makes the Hackney Carnival so special is that it’s more diverse, don’t get me wrong there’s still plenty of soca music but also floats representing a much broader array of cultures from Asia, South America and the common sounds of the West Indies. The carnival sound systems organiser also promotes diversity in sexuality and the representation of LGBT in London. You can read these thought-provoking posters found outside The Night Tales sound system near the Hackney Central train arches….

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Slow motion always makes things a little strange…

Here is 45 seconds of unedited carnival carnage. The sun was setting in front of the Hackney empire and energy was rampant; dancers posing, crowds passing and one guy who just stood in front of the shot, thanks mate!

Part mermaid, part dolphin and lion whisperer

Part mermaid, part dolphin and lion whisperer

The epic purple swan

The epic purple swan

Rarely the best of friends in the wild, this bird and snake seem to be getting on just fine here

Rarely the best of friends in the wild, this bird and snake seem to be getting on just fine here

At 3 meters in diameter, this lady did a lot of spinning to show off the span of her dress.

At 3 meters in diameter, this lady did a lot of spinning to show off the span of her dress.

The tiny hot pants award goes to… we really digged this guys get-up!

The tiny hot pants award goes to… we really digged this guys get-up!

A carnival beauty, bird of paradise.

A carnival beauty, bird of paradise.

Robot snake man on wheels…

Robot snake man on wheels…

Hackney Carnival is a growing event but it definitely has a different vibe to Notting Hill. Firstly, there’s very few police, which can add an edgy feel at Notting Hill. The music and floats are more diverse and there is en excellent representation of the different cultures in Hackney. There’s never a shortage of people who like to enjoy themselves in Hackney, but ever-so often they are the nighttime people. It’s was great to see some daytime party vibes with residents out on the streets chatting, dancing and having fun. We definitely felt like we were surrounded by neighbours rather than strangers as is the case at Notting Hill. So when September 2019 starts calling, remember to get yourselves down to Hackney for some local carnival action. You might even catch me in some cheeky hot pants!

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Events: Studio Mali At Urban Makers East Market In Old Spitalfields

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Yesterday was our first ever market with our new range of Studio Mali products, and what a jolly good one it was!

There was a last minute slot available at the Urban Maker East craft market held at Old Spitalfields London, so we quickly got our make on to ensure we actually had some stock for the stall. We had 10 days to make 3 Arshan Side Tables, 18 Ebony Necklaces, 8 Ishrim Wall Hangings and some greetings cards, and we already had 50 organic and carbon neutral T-shirts that we’d had printed.

Our hand-made Ebony Necklaces displayed in their gift boxes, £55.

Our hand-made Ebony Necklaces displayed in their gift boxes, £55.

We really enjoyed the week building up to it, until three days before the market when our laser cutter decided to break. Talk about timing! It was making some horrendous noises as it moved down the X and Y axis, so we had to accept bad luck and shut it down. It was going to be 10 days until an engineer could come out to fix it, so we had to just take what we’d already made and hope that we weren’t going to end up with an empty stall. Well, that would have been an amazing achievement on our first market so we wouldn’t have been too sad about it!

 
Carnival T-shirts ready for sale. Made from organic cotton, and made in carbon neutral factories powered by 70% wind power. £30 each.

Carnival T-shirts ready for sale. Made from organic cotton, and made in carbon neutral factories powered by 70% wind power. £30 each.

 

The market was really well organised, and each maker had a 2m X 2m stall that they could either layout into a tabletop format or into a walk in configuration. We opted for the open one, giving us a bit more space to display our products. In hindsight I think the table top option would have been better for us, giving the customer a bit more confidence to come over to the stall.

 
Handmade Arshan Side Tables, £165 each.

Handmade Arshan Side Tables, £165 each.

 

We met some lovely makers; there was Catherine from Sargasso Trading Co. who makes beautiful hand-made cosmetics using all natural ingredients and Jemima from One Time Design who specialises in hanging textiles made from banana palm fibre. There was such a community feel at this craft market and I got the feeling that everyone really wants to help one another. Because everyone is selling such different crafts, it never felt like there was competition as such. And if someone sells something, then you are genuinely only happy for them because they have worked so hard to get that sale.

Hand-made Ebony Necklace.

Hand-made Ebony Necklace.

Also none other than Charles Dedman pops his head in for a chat after seeing our instagram feed. A couple of months ago we wrote a piece about his incredible woodwork, you can see it here in our blog post. It was lovely to hear what he’s been up to, and that he’d just visited the London Design Fair for the 3rd time this year in the Old Truman Brewery. He usually shows his work there every year but on this occasion he had a year off.

Mark’s sister is also a permanent stall holder at Old Spitalfields selling silver jewellery, so we had a familiar face nearby to give us some tips! She kept on sending over all of her trading buddies, so we got to meet a few experienced sellers which was helpful.

Carnival Tee’s.

Carnival Tee’s.

Although this wasn’t the best ever day for us with regards to sales, we were so happy to have taken part in our first ever crafts market and it’s all just a big learning curve. A lovely graphic designer travelling from America was our first customer of the day buying one of our Ebony Necklaces and a greetings card, and if you are reading this post then drop us an email because we would love to hear from you again!

Studio Mali at Urban Makers East market, Old Spitalfields 2018
Hand-sprayed greetings cards, inspired by the Khongor Sand Dunes in Mongolia. £3.50 each.

Hand-sprayed greetings cards, inspired by the Khongor Sand Dunes in Mongolia. £3.50 each.

We are keen to try out some different markets over the coming months, and we will keep you posted once we know more. We have our eye on Chatsworth Road in Clapton and Netil Market in London Fields at the moment, so lets see how it develops in the coming weeks.

Thanks also to our friends Si and Jazz for coming down to support us :)

Our first ever shop! Thanks to Urban Makers East for hosting us.

Our first ever shop! Thanks to Urban Makers East for hosting us.

 
Mark & Ali, aka Mali. Slightly chilly but very happy!

Mark & Ali, aka Mali. Slightly chilly but very happy!

 

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All of the articles on our website are free but if you can support us by viewing, sharing or even purchasing from our travel-inspired shop, you'd make our day! Every share, like or sale gets us closer to our dream.....you guys rock.

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