As much fun as traveling is, it’d be a hard argument to make that it’s low impact. Airfare, take away food, water bottles: it can all add up fast and make an impact on the environment. Although I’m not perfect, I wanted to share some of my tips for being low waste when I’m not in my hometown!
Check out farmer’s markets for local produce and a fun experience
Because the produce doesn’t have to be transported as far, it’s lower impact
Supporting local farmers is always a bonus! No farmers, no food.Choose (More) Conscious Travel Options
Airfare has a super high carbon footprint, so avoiding airfare altogether would be ideal
For local travel, choose public transport or even walking and avoid taxis and car rentals.
Use Reusable Containers
Having a reusable water bottle is an obvious one, but it can save tons of single use plastic from being in the environment. Just make sure to fill it up whenever you have the chance.
Bring a mason jar for iced drinks / packed lunches / leftovers from restaurants.
If you don’t want to bring a glass jar in your luggage, you can always check out the recycling bin at your hostel for glass food containers. Clean it really well and voila!Reusable Utensils
Reusable straws are definitely a fad right now and available in so many places! Chances are your local smoothie shop/ health food store has them for sale, but if not they’re readily available at stores like Target or on Amazon.
Reusable utensils can be a total life saver if you’re eating packed food, or if you just don’t want to use plastic for ice cream and such. Shop the “Free Food” Section
If you’re staying in a hostel, chances are there’s a section in the fridge or pantry labeled “free food” from travelers who over purchased but couldn’t take the food with them.
Checking out these options can save you money on staples like rice, oats, bread and pasta. Plus you never know what you might find!
Food waste contributes to methane production, and it’s a huge issue in the USA and abroad. Also, it’s plain simple that it is ridiculous to buy something that’s available for free!
Choose Low Impact Options
Try to say no to plastic bags / food that comes in single use plastic.
If possible, choose vegan / vegetarian options. Animal agriculture is harmful for the planet, so opt for alternatives when available. The vegan option on planes is usually much fresher and not AS mass produced, so I’d recommend it to anyone whether you’re vegan or not!
If you’re cooking your own food and grocery shopping, make sure to bring reusable bags to carry the products back to where you’re staying.
Use reusable mesh bags for produce, nuts, seeds, etc to avoid plastic.
Lastly, Be Kind to Yourself and Others
This isn’t truly about sustainability, but I do think it’s normal to make mistakes and to not be perfect in your pursuit of a low impact life style. 100 people doing 50% is still better than 25 people doing it perfectly! Try your best, but don’t get angry with yourself or others if it doesn’t always go perfect.
Do you have tips for sustainable travel? Share it with me or others in the comments. Bon voyage mes amis!
Another post about food! Something we all need and eat, yet our relationships with it can be so very different. How I eat has been a long and complicated process, and I am aware that there’s things I could do better, not just nutrition and calorie wise. While I’m not a nutritionist or expert on the matter, I consider what I eat pretty healthy and balanced. I’m often asked what I do eat, so I spent my day off work tracking exactly what it is I eat in a single day. The amount/ content can definitely change, depending on what I do, who I’m with, if I’m working out etc. However here is all my meals for one random Tuesday, enjoy!
Because it was my first day off in a days, I slept in for a bit longer than normal. After cleaning up, I start my day with a glass of water with a clementine and then start breakfast. I had a huge bag of kale that was expiring, so I used it in my tofu scramble with bell peppers, and then made a smoothie with it as well. The smoothie was made of kale, banana, pineapple, turmeric, almond butter and almond milk. Black coffee is my go to, so I had a few mugs of that as well. If you like milk in your coffee, I recommend trying oat milk! Even before I was vegan I didn’t love milks in my coffee, but I love oat milk with espresso and recommend everyone try it out!
My stomach was hurting a bit from something I had the day before, so I tried to make a lunch that wouldn’t bother it too much. I had a piece of Little Northern Bakery’s gluten free bread toasted with a bit of vegan butter. I usually try to avoid vegan butter because it’s void of any nutrition really, but I also don’t want to be too restrictive as I’m not able to eat a lot of my favorite foods while I’m following the low FODMAP food plan for my stomach. I also had cooked carrots with cumin, turmeric, and cinnamon as well as some slices of smoked tofu from Neopol and a few grapes and cantaloupe pieces.
I had originally planned on eating this before the gym, but a rainstorm foiled that plan! I had to settle on some light muscle work at home, but this was my snack before that. This is half a banana with peanut butter and ground flax seeds, and then a few pieces of pineapple. One thing I do to attempt (key word attempt) portion control is use really small plates so I don’t feel a pressure to fill it with food.
When I was in Jordan, I remember sitting with my host sister and eating this amazing dish out of the pan with her, scooping up an amazing and tasty vegetable dish with the khbz (bread) we had so much of. After realizing it was simply sauteed peppers and tomatoes, I went on to try to make my own version. It’s sort of like Shakshouka, except I don’t include any eggs of course. So basically this is tomatoes, peppers, chickpeas and (surprise) tofu sauteed up together. I also needed some more greens so I had spinach tossed with lemon juice, evoo, and ACV and then sliced cucumbers.
Bedtime Snack- 9:45
I have a bad habit of always needing something sweet right before I fall asleep, and so before I went to bed I had a big cup of frozen blueberries, and another cup of icy cold almond milk.
So that’s it! I don’t actually track my nutritional information or calories, and I don’t know if I ever will, but this is a pretty good look at what I eat. Some days I definitely eat more, and some less, but I wanted to share this for inspiration and into glimpse of a vegan and low FODMAP diet. I’m not perfect about this, but I generally try to ensure I follow the “8 a day” philosophy. It encourages plant based eating by encouraging people to eat at least 8 servings of different fruits and vegetables a day. It’s an easier way to start plant based meals because it focuses on adding those extra things in, instead of the “taking away” mindset. My 8 a day was fulfilled this day, because I had peppers, kale, spinach, banana, cantaloupe, grapes, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, and blueberries. Hooray for plant based eating, and I hope this can give some inspiration!
Thanks to apps like Duolingo and Babble, a lot of people have felt more motivation to begin to study foreign language on their own. And since Duolingo just included Arabic on their hefty selection of languages, I thought it was only fitting to talk about some other ways I’ve studied Arabic upon return to the USA! Even thought it isn’t always feasible with my work schedule, I’ve tried to dedicate 15 minutes or more each day to Arabic study.
Finishing my Textbook
I’m extremely lucky that my scholarship program gave us our textbooks for free, so I was able to keep my “AlKitaab” text book and finish it when I returned to the USA. I started to take notes on the grammar concepts in a separate Arabic notebook, and attempt to memorize the vocabulary using Quizlet. Making study sets on the app helps me remember the words as I write them, and then I use the “learn” function to quiz me on recognition and creation of the new words. Additionally, one activity I really like is to work on the vocabulary with friends. Shraddha (check her out at https://shraddhajoshiblog.com/ she is amazing!) and I will video chat and work through the vocabulary together. To spark our brains for creativity as well as language utilization, we’ll go through the list of vocabulary, using one new word in a sentence and replying to the previous sentence with the following word. It takes some serious brain power to use words like “dream” immediately following words like “fired from a job” but it helps us to use the new words in a variety of ways!
Sometimes it’s hard to find podcasts in your target language. When I first tried to find Arabic podcasts, I only found ones from a university I was later rejected from. So honestly, listening to their podcasts was upsetting for me at first and I set off to find more! Thanks to Shraddha, again, I was introduced to the Kerning Cultures podcast (https://kerningcultures.com/ is the link for their podcast, but it’s available on the Apple podcast app as well!). They are sort of like “This American Life” but about the Middle East! They talk about serious concepts like immigration, the hijab, racism, but also extremely sweet ones like baklava, and love at first sight. Since many of their podcasts are in English, I recommend everyone check them out! Some podcasts however, are in Arabic. I like to listen to them, even though I sometimes only understand the main idea. Despite being unable to follow everything, hearing the language in real conversations and interviews it extremely helpful for my accent and listening abilities!
Watching TV shows on Netflix in Arabic was at first extremely frustrating and infuriating. I could only find ones representing war and terrorism (and yes, I made a post on that as well). However after some searching I discovered a few other shows I really like! The Writer is a Lebanese mystery about a murder in Beirut, which I enjoy and use the MSA subtitles to follow along (they speak in a Lebanese accent). I also loved the new Netflix show Jinn, and as it is set in the city I studied in, I can understand a lot more of their dialect and use the Arabic subtitles less. This show has some controversial reviews as it includes more “negative” representations of teenagers in Amman, so take from it what you will. I enjoyed it a lot, and recommend people watch it even if you don’t know Arabic!
I haven’t spent a ton of time diving into Arabic music, but here are some of the bands and songs I know.
Babylone- Algerian, I love the song “Zina” still
Apo and the Apostles- Palestinian band, some songs are English too!
Massar Egabri- Egyptian
And my absolute favorite, Mashrou’ Leila. This is probably one of my favorite bands, including English ones I already knew. They’re an alternative band from Lebanon, and let’s just say I’m extremely sad they played in Rabat in JUNE, since I won’t arrive to Rabat until September. I don’t know my favorite song by them, but I love Calvary, Djin, and 3 minutes.
Again Shraddha’s idea (can you sense a theme here? She’s seriously an inspiration), we’ve been reading BBC articles, writing down the words we don’t know and then making quizlet sets for those words. It’s seriously helpful! Some words we’ve learned are absolutely obscure and probably unnecessary, but it’s helped our comprehension and vocabulary! Ask me about horse riding, or Trump’s comments about congress (yes, they did publish this story in Arabic too. Yes the rest of the world knows what he said!).
Reading books in the Target language can also be helpful. I have one particular “story book” in Arabic, designed for students which I like. It’s super formal, but I like the story lines and the vocabulary can be interesting.
One of the most amazing parts of studying a foreign language is speaking it with friends. I’m extremely lucky that I not only have so many friends that study it with me, but I also have so many native speakers who are extremely gracious with their help in not just their dialects, but formal Arabic as well. I don’t think I’ve ever had friends text me and ask for explanations of random English grammar, but my friends from Jordan, Morocco and other countries have always been so willing to help me. It’s amazing and I am so fortunate to have them! If you have the opportunity to practice with native speakers, I recommend it! I think I have to shout out my friends Zineb and Abdullah, because they are half the reason I still study Arabic. People who are so willing to help with their dialect, language, and culture are beautiful and amazing and I am filled with so much love for them. Thanks again to all my pals who’ve ever helped me on this journey!
On a different note, I also have been (slowly, Arabic comes first!) teaching myself French. I’m extremely low in it, so in terms of teaching yourself a language from the beginning I would say a textbook is helpful! Duolingo has not been my cup of tea, so I bought the “Easy French Step by Step” workbook. I’d recommend it to anyone starting out! I also try to practice French with friends who study it, and I often ask people for help with the grammar and conjugations. If you’re learning French too, reach out to me and we can struggle through it together!
Anyways, learning a foreign language is hard, especially if you’re not living in that country! Hopefully some of my practices and tips can help you! Let’s move towards a more connected and understanding world through language. ️
Despite the typical comments vegans always say they receive, the one I most frequently am asked is “Will you stay vegan in Morocco?” I answer with a kind of half sure suggestion of closure, which usually ends with “I’ll try my best!” Thinking of my time in Jordan, where compromises were frequently made, I actually see an entanglement of my language skills with the way I ate in Jordan.
The word for “Vegan” doesn’t exist in Arabic, and the word for vegetarian is just an adjective form of “plant” itself. Imagine saying to someone, before a big plate of lamb and rice, “Sorry, I’m plant-y” in a butchered Arabic sentence. Before I left for Amman, I memorized all the things I didn’t eat, and how to express that. No “Haleeb”, “LaHem”, “Dijaj”, “Beydah” or anything of the like for my plant-based self, thank you! However with a list of don’ts, I fell short on the most important part of veganism to me: what I do eat. I vividly remember sitting with my host sister in a relative’s living room, and feeling confused and verbally incapable of replying to her question: if you don’t eat any of that, what do you eat? I replied “khudhar”, which means vegetables, and was one of the few words I knew. The family seemed confused and generally worried, how could one survive off vegetables alone? I lacked the vocabulary to explain everything else that was a part of my diet, and so I frequently compromised on foods since I hadn’t prepared to explain what I wanted to eat, only what I didn’t.
However I look forward to my time in Morocco not only because I have missed Arabic classes, or the warm embrace of MENA hospitality, or the cups of mint tea, but another reason as well. After a year of self study, I feel more confident in my ability to explain why I eat the way I do, and to help solutions that focus on what I am eating, not what I don’t. That’s what its all about to me, not about just cutting out animal products, but about treating my body to nutritious, varied, and delicious foods!
In that vein, I also wanted to share a recipe I love to make for myself and friends. This recipe isn’t Moroccan at all, and is actually inspired by noodles I miss eating in Xi’an, China. They likely can’t compete with the spicy, sweat inducing noodles the street vendors sold me for less than a buck, but they taste amazing! This recipe is also, *cue the So where do you get your protein? eye rolls*, protein packed!
This recipe is super straight forward: cook the soybean spaghetti as per package instructions, then mix together the different ingredients to stir into the cooked noodles. Additionally, I like to add broccoli to give some extra green and because it matches with the dressing super well. Add some chopped cashews and enjoy!
2 tsp All Natural Peanut Butter (I use Smuckers brand)
1 tsp Sriracha
1/2 tsp pure Maple Syrup
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp garlic (minced)
1-2 tbsp warm water
Mix all of the ingredients above in a small bowl, saving the water for last as a thinning agent. This recipe is super versatile, so feel free to adjust the amounts of each ingredient depending on your desired spice, sweetness, or saltiness!
1 serving soy bean spaghetti
1 cup steamed broccoli (optional)
1/4 white onion (optional)
1/4 cup firm tofu (optional)
1 tbsp soy sauce (optional)
1 tbsp cashews, chopped (optional)
Cook the soy bean spaghetti as per instructions on the box. Drain the water, then mix half of the sauce into the warm noodles. If using adding tofu, saute sliced onions and chopped tofu in a nonstick pan with a splash of soy sauce. Add the sauteed tofu, broccoli, and remaining the sauce over the noodles. Top with chopped cashews.
If you tell someone you are taking a gap year, there is a usual look of judgement and surprise. The stereotypical image of a gap year student is one who doesn’t quite fit the mold of what a student should be. Maybe they’ll go travel or backpack, maybe they’re working full time to save up for tuition costs, or maybe, how we often like to view them, they’re going to sit in their parents’ basement, smoke too much, and never go back to school. Now how do I fit in it all? It feels odd to say I’d be travelling, because after all, I’m going to stay in one country the whole time. I’m not working, aside from a volunteer position in a local NGO I’m trying to land. And yes, it is Morocco, but I most certainly won’t be doing the last thing on that list.
So what am I doing? Would you believe me if I said I was going to class full time? While simultaneously being immersed in a foreign culture, travelling that country, and learning a foreign language? Starting September 3rd, I’ll leave Baltimore for the academic year, and move to Rabat, Morocco. Thanks to the National Security Language Initiative for Youth scholarship, funded by the US Department of State, my program is fully funded and allows me to continue studying Arabic in an immersive environment. There, I’ll study in a language center called “Amideast”, alongside 14 other gap year students. Five days a week, I will study for three hours each day, and develop my linguistic skills in both formal Arabic, and Darija, the Moroccan dialect. Darija is extremely different than the dialect I studied in Jordan, as it has many different influences, including French.
Before I leave for Morocco, I’m teaching myself the basics of Darija and French. As far as French goes, I not only am trying to work through an “Easy French” textbook for beginners, I’m also going to live in a French speaking area for three weeks this summer. In the beginning of August, I’m packing up for Montreal, Canada. There I’m going to work in a hostel, bask in the arts and architecture, and hopefully practice my French some more.
Now it really might seem crazy to some people to imagine doing all of this. Canada, Morocco, the UAE. But my message to everyone any anyone is this: You deserve to be happy. You truly do. Find what brings you energy, excitement, joy and love. Do not stop chasing that. I used to look at people on social media, and wonder how they had everything it seemed I wanted. Before I applied to NSLI-Y, I looked at pictures of the alumni, jealous and sure I would never be one of them. I looked at the acceptance rate at NYUAD, laughed, and only applied because I would have kicked myself if I had not done so. Things may not always go your way (I was rejected by so many college, scholarships, and volunteer jobs), but it doesn’t mean you stop trying. So take it from me, it won’t always be easy, but investing in yourself is worth it. If you have the opportunity to do what makes you happy, do it. Don’t let anyone tell you your dreams are crazy or too big, because you are living for yourself, no one else.
Something I frequently am asked is how I afford to travel the amount I do. I’m no where near as well traveled as I would like to be, but I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to move around a good bit. I wanted to compile some tips from my experiences that can hopefully be helpful!
It sounds dumb, but it’s true. Seriously, save peoples numbers. Talk to random people at restaurants. Befriend classmates you thought you wouldn’t like. Besides the obvious reasons to broaden your social circle, having connections all over the world is seriously the best thing ever. If you feel comfortable asking, crashing at a friends house is a super great way to save money that you might have spent on accommodation.
I’ve stayed in NYC, Philly, Denver and Austin this way. Plus, as a local they will have insights into the culture and what you need to see / should skip the lines for. Recently in Prague my friend Andy showed me all around and it was amazing, I hit all the major spots + got to check out the vegan food scene.
Bonus: Bring a little gift from your hometown! I try to do this as often as I can because even just a little locally made chocolate bar (or something like this) can be a great way to say thanks and show them you appreciate it! If you forget this buy a treat or dinner for them to show your appreciation!
To be completely honest, sleeping on planes sucks. The quality of sleep I get on Spirit versus United is pretty much the same, but flying Spirit is significantly cheaper! Personally I have trouble saying no to all the snacks and meals on planes, so I like that these aren’t included in the flight package. The only thing is usually just one small bag is allowed before you pay, so I try to pack super light and bring a Jansport bag only. Use applications like Student Universe or Kiwi to find cheap flights and discounts. If your destination is close, check out buses or trains. Make sure the time and place are safe (I hate arriving places in the night when it’s dark). I found a bus ticket from NYC to Baltimore for $5!
I love sleeping, so I would never argue that it’s a waste of time, but sleeping takes a big chunk out of our time in a place. And you know what else does to? Travel. I like to book overnight flights so 1) I don’t lose as many hours of daylight in the city and 2) you don’t pay for accommodation that night. It’s a two for one! I love sleeper trains because they can have couchettes (little beds in a dorm) but overnight flights are okay too (just be sure to bring a neck pillow and some melatonin!).
Stay in Hostels
If you can put up with sleeping in dorms for a bit, hostels are the way to go. You’re saving significant amounts of money by compromising on a less private location, but it’a full of amazing experiences. Hostels often hold excursion type events, have free meals, and are an amazing place to make connections. You meet other travelers and get a feel for the city as well. I absolutely loved staying in Hostel One in Budapest, and cherish the experience!
My cute hostel, I am writing this from the common bar/ eating area
Apply for Scholarships
This may not seem like the most obvious way to travel, but it’s the source of my travel bug! Although not a scholarship, my school had a cultural exchange program to China, which was an amazing opportunity. Because it’s public they can’t legally make profit off of us, so it was very inexpensive for how much we got (travel, food, accommodation, tours etc). After that, I applied for a scholarship through the state department and it opened a whole can of worms! Certain branches of the government focus on intercultural education, so they offer scholarships for students to experiences places they deem beneficial to national security. I lived in Jordan for the summer through the National Security Language Initiative for Youth scholarship, and I’m living in Morocco for a year under the same scholarship.
If you have an interest in a country that seems even somewhat “obscure” from where Americans typically choose to travel, there’s probably a scholarship for it! Wanna check out Seoul? Study Korean! Always wanted to float in the Dead Sea? Try Arabic! I don’t have every single study abroad scholarship here, but I’ll list a few I know.
Utilize your Accommodations Meals and Make Your Own!
Depending on where you are, meals might be super expensive. I absolutely love to eat my way through cities, but I also like to save a bit of money by making some of my own meals or buying fresh ingredients from the local markets. In Budapest, my hostel has free family dinners as well as coffee/ tea. I tried to eat the family dinners every night to save money, and then I bought a roll of oat biscuits and fresh fruits to eat for breakfast with pumpkin seeds I brought from the US. Then I can totally splurge on delicious meals for lunch + snacks and desserts! This is totally personal though, some people will make all their own meals, and some people will eat every meal out to get more of a taste for the culture. For me, this is how I like to save a bit and find balance.
I don’t think I am 100% qualified to give tips on how to travel cheaper as I am not an extreme budget traveler, but these are my tips from my experiences! I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to save most of my wage and spend it on things I enjoy, like flights, vegan food, and coffee!
A little over two months ago, I was sure I knew where I wanted to go to school. I’d researched classes, student life offerings, and even chosen the residence hall I wanted to Live in if I was accepted at the University of Chicago. And then, I was rejected. And it hurt.
I’ve applied for a lot of things that scared me: my trip to China through BCPS, my NSLI-Y scholarship to study in Jordan, but I hadn’t really been rejected by anything like that, yet. So a part of me anticipated some well needed character building, but the hope of being accepted clouded it. So being rejected by UChicago left me feeling pretty down, at least for a few days. Was I good enough? What had I done wrong? Should I have taken the SAT a few more times? Why had I slacked my freshman year? But in reality, pondering these alternative realities and combinations that would have led to a different admissions decision was useless, because as of now, time machines don’t exist and the situation in front of me was all I had to work with. So I got back to work in writing college essays, requesting transcripts and the whole nine yards to apply to other schools. And when I look back on the decision from mid December that I saw as a complete blow to my gut, I’m actually really, really grateful I was rejected my UChicago. And it’s not because it’s not an amazing school, the education is insane and I would have been very well off had I been accepted, but that doesn’t mean it was for me. In fact, I really believe I found the school for me, and I hadn’t even heard of it when I was applying to UChicago.
I applied early decision two (the later binding choice) to New York University Abu Dhabi. I had really always wanted to go abroad for college, but I was scared my degree wouldn’t mean as much if it didn’t come from the US. So when I asked one of my mutuals on Instagram where she was studying and she said NYUAD, I was amazed I hadn’t found it before. A small liberal arts school situated in a region I want to live and work in, backed by the US institution and resources seemed a dream for me. And a dream come true, because I was invited to Candidates Weekend at NYUAD.
CW, for short, is a required part of the admissions process which was helps the university hand select students very, very holistically. While many universities use more than just test scores, NYUAD flies potential candidates (deemed suitable from essays, extracurriculars and everything else on the common app ) to the Abu Dhabi campus for a weekend. The 48 hours in AD are jet lagged, and jam packed.
We did campus tours, academic fairs, excursions to the desert, conversations with faculty members, and of course amazing meals. The weekend is evaluative from all angles, because while the admissions team makes sure we seem to be a good fit for the school, we also have a really special opportunity to do the same of the school. Staying in dorms and spending the weekend with other potential students allowed us to judge the university as well. And in all honesty, I can say I felt perfectly at home. Talking to students from over 50 countries (this was just the CW group, as about 120 different nationalities are represented in a school of only 1400 kids), I could feel my mindset shifting to a more global one. We stayed up late talking about our lives around the world, politics, food, and of course how much we loved the campus.
And then, a week after I returned from Abu Dhabi, I was accepted to NYUAD. It still feels like a dream come true, because I never imagined I’d feel so sure that a university was right for me. And with the career I want, in global health, studying closely with students from around the world and gaining new perspectives is as critical as the actual classes I take (although the courses are certainly challenging as well, as multiple Rhodes and Fulbright scholars have been chosen from the few graduating classes so far).
So reflecting on the pain and disappointment I felt of being rejected by a school i originally thought was perfect for me, I’m now very, very grateful. Now, I have the opportunity to attend a university that’s a better fit for my personal interests, and I never would have had this opportunity had I been accepted to UChicago. I’m beyond excited to continue my internationally focused studies at New York University Abu Dhabi, and I Hope everyone can take the cruelty of the college process as an opportunity for growth, reflection, and maybe even a chance to find a (new) perfect place for you.