Mistakes I Made While Traveling (So You Don’t Have To)

This December I flew to Latin America for work and decided to extend my trip to make the most of my time there (and attempt to be more eco-friendly by tacking on vacation time so I wouldn’t make an additional trip another time flying from NYC). I was so excited to have the opportunity to put my life skills of living low waste to the travel test–I mean, I had done a passable job when I went on a road trip to Hudson Valley, Burlington, and Montreal (carpooled).

While I had every intention of succeeding, I think it is safe to say that I had more “fails” than “wins”. Here are some of my mistakes I made while traveling so you know to avoid them when you make your next trip!

Mistake #1: I brought my reusable utensils and stainless steel straw, but I did not use them.

For the majority of my trip I was able to dine in and be able to use stainless steel utensils, but there were times where I forgot to bring my set when I ordered something to drink, and on top of that I would forget to say sin popote, por favor (“no straw, please” in Spanish).

I think out of the times when I received a drink with the straw, only one was a plastic straw, and others were either stainless steel or paper. While paper straws can be composted, it is still a single-use item and one that I didn’t need to use in the first place (and I would encourage us all to refuse single-use items whenever possible, with some exceptions here).

PRO TIP: Just bring the reusable utensils and straw with you wherever you go; it’s light, takes up such little space, and makes for an easy solution if you are ever in a pinch for these items.

Mistake #2: I didn’t bring a reusable container for food.

When you are traveling, it’s hard to gauge the portion sizes of your meals, and whether you’ll want to do takeout when you feel like having a night in. When I am in NYC, I usually always have a reusable container or mason jar because I bring my lunch to work, but didn’t think I would need it while I was here (silly me).

For the majority of the time traveling, I dined at restaurants, but sometimes there would be food that I just couldn’t stuff into my belly, but didn’t want to do takeout and have extra trash (in Costa Rica there are no more styrofoam containers, but plastic containers are still widely used). I briefly weighed the pros and cons to food waste versus takeout containers, and wanted to give the benefit of the doubt that restaurants who are taking care of disposing leftovers would have a compost bin (I was told by someone from Costa Rica that there are usually four bins: regular trash, glass/metal/plastic, paper/cardboard, and organic waste).

PRO TIP: Bring a mason jar or a collapsible container (or both). These items can serve as a beverage container for a drink or smoothie, and hold your leftovers or takeout!

Mistake #3: Sometimes I didn’t recycle or compost.

If you’re reading this and judging me, I’m not offended because I was judging myself hardcore too. I stayed in Airbnbs during my time in Panama and Costa Rica, and not a single one of these accommodations had explicit bins for recycling or composting. There were times when I would walk on streets and see a recycling bin, but they were minimal!

Sometimes when you travel you will encounter these barriers where the infrastructure just isn’t there. The best thing you can do is to adjust your purchasing and consumption habits during this time, such as not buying that juice or soda bottle (even if you are craving it!) and making sure you eat all of your food so there is nothing that a restaurant would have to throw away if they do not compost.

Okay, I listed a few of my mistakes, but I want to share some of the successes (because we’re all here to learn)!

Success #1: I did not use any of my accommodations’ single-use toiletries.

Over the years, my family and I have accumulated a ton of toiletries from the hotels we have stayed in. I think at the time we thought we were being resourceful because we knew if we had opened a product and did not take it with us, it would be thrown away (yikes!), so the next best thing would be to take it home. Of course, now that I am actively trying to reduce my waste, I bring my own toiletries from home (naked products like shampoo and body soap bars, for instance) or even the old toiletries from those hotels in the past!

There are some hotels that are taking steps in the right direction to reduce their waste, such as hotels that offer soap dispensers rather than single-use products!), and social entrepreneurs who are tackling this problem head-on.

Success #2: I carried my reusable water bottle everywhere I went!

If there is ONE thing that you can do as you start your journey to zero waste, I would say it is to bring a reusable water bottle with you wherever you go. There are so many different kinds that you can choose from (flat ones that won’t bulk up your bag, collapsible ones, glass ones if you are sensitive to other materials’ taste, and more traditional stainless steel or durable plastic ones).

I am waiting for more airports like San Francisco International Airport to ban plastic bottles to further encourage travelers like you and me to bring our reusable bottles when we are on the go! I wonder if airports count how many single-use beverage containers are thrown away at the security checkpoint every day…the number must be staggering!

As a note, I am not sponsored by any of these brands, but do own a couple of S’well bottles and a d.stil bottle!

Success #3: I took public transportation and shared car service rather than renting my own car to get around.

Depending on where you travel, there are opportunities for you to take public transportation using the trains, subways, or buses. It might be more convenient to rent your own car when you land from the airport, but if you are staying in a central location where there is public transportation, taxis, or ride-hailing service, I encourage you to opt for those choices instead.

There are definitely other considerations besides convenience, such as your own personal safety. As someone who is standing under 5′ tall, I should be more scared when I travel alone haha, but I ask my friends, browse the internet, and look at reviews for other travelers on the best ways to get around and make my decisions then. When I was in Panama City and San Jose this December I used the ride-hailing service Uber to get around because I felt safer plugging in my destination rather than risking getting lost in a foreign city, but in Merida when I volunteered abroad I used the public buses and was fine!

What are some of the learnings you made when traveling?

Netherlands: A Country Built for People, Not Cars

When I first arrived in the Netherlands, I was in for a shock. I am originally from NYC, so observing the stark difference between the space given to vehicles and pedestrians was peculiar—the streets for vehicles were narrow, but the sidewalks and bike paths were wide and in abundance. Everywhere I turned, there were parked bicycles, and there seemed to be more cyclists on the road than there were cars.

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The bike paths were almost as wide as the roads, and all throughout The Hague there were WAY more cyclists than there were car drivers. It was quite a sight to see!

I had taken a course during my graduate school career on the Global Environment and Public Health, and we had a lecture discussing the built environment and how the US was built for vehicles and not for people. The majority of the country is not considered “walkable” with the exception of some cities like NYC, which feature select neighborhoods that allow for essential errands such as shopping for groceries, dining, and living on foot.

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In many countries in Europe, you could find large plazas such as this one where people would spend their time. The closest place I can think of that resembles this type of open space in NYC is Union Square.

After visiting some countries in Europe such as the Netherlands and France, I’ve seen some cities within these countries that make it very evident that the people are the focus and their quality of living is the priority. I stayed in the Zaandam neighborhood outside of Amsterdam and the Marais neighborhood in Paris, and both were extremely people-centered in comparison to the general cities I’ve seen in the US. In NYC, if you live in the outer boroughs, you will find that many neighborhoods are residential, and you either need a personal vehicle, access to public transportation, or resources to pay for car service to go shopping, buy groceries, or dine with friends. When I stayed in the Netherlands, France, and Spain, I felt like essential activities were accessible by walking and didn’t necessarily require another mode of transportation.

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I truly miss how punctual these Dutch trams were!

Additionally, I see that other countries are leading the way in their public transportation and harnessing the power of electricity! Trams exist everywhere in the Netherlands and I have to say, they are SO convenient! Faster than buses and on time in comparison to the MTA system in NYC, I was thoroughly impressed by the comprehensive network of trams and lines that decorated the sky. NYC Mayor de Blasio announced that we are moving toward renewables and clean energy on a mission to become a zero emissions city by 2030 starting with net zero building emissions, but we definitely need to think creatively and innovate when it comes to our public transportation infrastructures, keeping our underserved communities in mind. Other cities such as Washington, DC, Barcelona, and Taipei, just to name a few, are doing amazingly when it comes to faster, more efficient public transportation methods in the form of trains and subways.

Now that I’m back in NYC, I can definitely feel the difference in what it means to live here in the US versus in another country outside of the Americas. I am optimistic though that we are moving in the right directions in all of our major cities to make them more human-centered and catered toward us rather than our vehicles!

Which country do you live in? How is the built environment there? Share some insight as to what your city and country is doing well, or what could use a little work.

7 Tips to Prepare for Southeast Asia

It’s been about a week since I’ve arrived in Siem Reap and I must say my body seems to be accepting this humid, hot climate in October. In NYC, I could probably enjoy the cool autumn breeze, but here…nope!

My friend gave me the scoop about living in Siem Reap, but you can’t really know what you’re getting yourself into until you’re actually here. With that said, I’d like to share some of my tips on how you could prepare yourself for living in Siem Reap.

  1. Learn to ride a bike.
    You’d be surprised to find out how many people don’t know or were never taught how to ride a bike during their childhood. Here, it’s one of the most common methods of transportation after tuk tuk or motorbike.
  2. Practice riding a bike in a real street, not in your backyard.
    Trust me, this one is one of the most helpful tips I can give you. I learned how to ride a bike when I was a kid, but I only practiced in my driveway and at the park, both of which were car and traffic-free! This week, my office’s tuk tuk driver let me and the two other volunteers fly from the nest and we were on our own riding our own bicycles. AND LET ME TELL YOU, it’s not easy when maybe 80% of the streets are unpaved and/or do not have traffic lights or signs. You’ll be dodging traffic left and right, in front of and in back of you. If you’re a noob like me, you have to signal with your left arm out when you want to make a left and risk getting it whacked if you stop too close to a tuk tuk or a zooming motorbike.11918__870x_148
  3. If you’re feeling lavish, hail a “trusty” tuk tuk.
    Tuk tuks are one of the most common ways tourists get around in Siem Reap, and probably in other parts of Southeast Asia. A little seated carriage is attached to motorbike and will be your “taxi” while you’re in Siem Reap. For a modest $1-3 USD, you can get around most of the city without issue. Make sure you negotiate the price with the driver BEFORE you get in, or haha good luck 😐
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  4. Book someplace to stay for the first week or two, and book another place for the long term later.
    If it’s your first time living in Siem Reap like me, it would be prudent to book a short-term stay when you first arrive. You won’t really know what you’ll be close to, so if you decide you like a particular neighborhood, you can easily find a cheap apartment for under $200 USD a month pretty much anywhere you want. There’s an “Expats and locals living in Siem Reap, Cambodia” Facebook group that advertises apartments for rent/sale and also many other helpful items that you may be interested in!
  5. Bring DEET insect repellent.
    If you know me, you know that I’m literally a mosquito magnet no matter where I am in the world. Name a place, and there will be at least one mosquito that’s lurking near me…When I was in Mexico this summer, I had brought and bought insect repellent but I still got bitten quite a bit. Turns out you need DEET percentages of at least 10-15%, and even that might not be strong enough depending on how evil the mosquito is. I ended up purchasing 8 bottles of 40% DEET repellent spray and lotion (yes, overkill but really I’m trying to avoid getting any mosquito-borne viruses). So far, I’ve been using the spray every morning before I leave my home and it’s been pretty reliable. I did apply lotion to my feet after I wash them in the afternoon (we experienced quite a bit of flooding from the rain so there’s some stagnant water outside the office) but it didn’t seem to work as effectively as I’d hoped repellent lotion would. :/
  6. Bring cheap quick-drying sandals.
    Echoing what I mentioned above about the flooding…I brought a pair of leather flip flops that tend to absorb water, and I didn’t want it to be contaminated with stagnant water that potentially can carry parasitic worms, so I was lucky to find sandals for only $1.50 here. But hey, Old Navy sells $1 flip-flops, so invest in that in the US or wherever you can find a cheap water-repelling shoe that is easy to wash!

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    Just to put things into perspective, this is supposed to be a rice field but was flooded due to the heavy rains two days in a row!

     

  7. TRY the local food! (But bring travel medicine, just in case)
    If you’re going to a new place for the first time, you need to try the food, at least once! It’s almost guaranteed that your home city won’t have authentic cuisine the way they have it in the country in which you’re traveling. If you want to err on the cautious side, go to an actual restaurant where they serve the local cuisine, and if you’re feeling brave, try the street food in the stands lining the streets. Use your judgment when you try these foods–if it’s meat, you want to see that it’s either refrigerated and cooked in front of you, or that your food is very hot when it’s served to you. If you have a sensitive stomach, you can bring any of the following items with you: Pepto Bismol (helps with upset stomach), activated charcoal (apparently it clings to the toxins in your body and helps you expel it), Imodium (anti-diarrheal), psyllium husk (to stay regular when you go #2)

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    Some delicious homemade Khmer cuisine 🙂

These tips can definitely apply to nearly every country in SE Asia 🙂 Please remember to buy your medicine where you’re from before you go traveling, JUST in case it’s difficult to find! Hope you enjoyed reading and please let me know in the comments if these are the kinds of posts you’d like to read!

 

Visit Madrid

Hi everyone, I’m back! The next few posts will feature photos from my recent trip to Europe 🙂

My first stop was in Madrid, Spain. The weather was a solid 100~ degrees Fahrenheit the two days I was there, something I’ve never experienced before in the US. The people there are so nice, and I was amazed and impressed that I was able to get by with my middle school and high school level Spanish and speak with the locals! I loved how nearly every city I visited had community trash bins for regular, recycle, and compost trash to encourage proper sanitation. Flowers were in bloom and families were all out enjoying the fantastic weather at El Retiro Park and Mercado de San Miguel! So excited to be sharing some photos from this fabulous city here:

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There were beautiful arches everywhere we went, this was just one of them

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I absolutely love taking photos of the streets in each city I visited!

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People could go boating in El Retiro Park and watch the ducks and the fish in the water

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Paella is a must-have when you visit Spain. This was super yummy, I can’t wait to make my own version one day~

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Super fresh and delicious looking seafood in Mercado de San Miguel

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Charcuterie stores and cured meat were everywhere we went

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Olives seem to be a big thing in Madrid; they’re super popular, but so salty!

ALL PHOTOS ARE ©magnetically aesthetic. Please do not steal, edit, or use these pictures in any way without my permission. Thank you!

Stay connected with me: Pinterest | Instagram | Twitter  ❤

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

This past weekend’s weather in NYC makes me miss my vacation in the Dominican Republic. Warm, sunny, 85-degree weather… I can’t wait til spring and summer arrive!

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ALL PHOTOS ARE ©magnetically aesthetic. Please do not steal, edit, or use these pictures in any way without my permission. Thank you!

WHY WE QUIT OUR JOBS IN ADVERTISING TO SCRUB TOILETS (Reblog)

Every day it feels like I see someone or couples quitting their 9-5 jobs and traveling the world and I feel almost envious of their new lifestyles. I would think, “how do they do it? Are they just loaded with money and can afford to country hop for the rest of their lives?”

I came across this blog post about a couple that was one of the pioneers for dropping their stagnant jobs to see the world. This particular post takes off the rose tint from our perception of these happy-go-lucky travelers and shows us another side of this new lifestyle. I’m glad this puts things in perspective and presents the other truth in their travel adventures!

(originally discovered this blog through this Buzzfeed post!)

How Far From Home

After being gone exactly 6 months, I feel it necessary we share the uglier side of our trip. Browsing through our blog posts and Instagram feed, it seems like we’re having the time of our lives. And don’t get me wrong – we are. It’s bloody amazing. But it’s not all ice-creams in the sun and pretty landscapes. Noooooo. So far, I think we’ve tallied 135 toilets scrubbed, 250 kilos of cow dung spread, 2 tons of rocks shovelled, 60 metres of pathway laid, 57 beds made, and I cannot even remember how many wine glasses we’ve polished.

You see, to come from the luxuries we left behind in Johannesburg, to the brutal truth of volunteer work, we are now on the opposite end of the scale. We’re toilet cleaners, dog poop scoopers, grocery store merchandisers, and rock shovelers.

It’s painstakingly hard and dirty work.

And although the last few…

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