A Love Letter to New York City

It’s a strange thing to live out of a carry-on and backpack, filling the days in between flights being homesick for places I’ve never been to – for far off islands with turquoise waters and impossible sunsets setting into orange sand dunes. I’ve lived airplane ticket to airplane ticket for the last 4 years, marking time with passport stamps and suitcase wheels lost to moving sidewalks, moments measured by a compass rather than a clock. 10 consecutive days was the longest I had spent in one place.

And then I came to New York. 

I was initiated into city life by taking a pigeon wing to the face, and by watching the guy I was on a first date with stride across the bar to kiss another girl within an hour of meeting me. This was what everyone had warned me about – the brutal city that would rip your heart out and throw it in front of a speeding cab. The city of garbage lined streets, the smell of trash spilling out from alleyways and occasionally masking the stench of urine wafting up from hot asphalt. The over-sized rats that dart in and out of subway tracks, an occasional distraction from the honking and the crowds and the relentless loneliness. 

And yet, New York, I love you. And I don’t mean that in the colloquial way, but in that ridiculous all-consuming inconvenient can’t live without you kind of way. As Simone De Beauvoir so aptly put it, “there’s something in the New York air that makes sleep useless.” And it takes a certain kind of unconditional love to love living here, despite the potholed streets and absurd prices and the guarantee of noncommittal heartbreak and rejection. 

Because in two subway stops, you can travel through twelve countries. From the cannoli lined storefronts of Little Italy, to the rainbow facades of Chinatown and all of the winding alleyways in between that promise adventure. Where every single subway ride is the most random sampling of humanity, people of all walks of life confined to a single space if only for the briefest moment. Where my morning coffee on the fire escape is imbued with dreams emanating from passerby’s skin in an almost tangible, completely irrational way. Because everything about New York transcends rationality.

In my very first blog post in February 2016, I wrote: You see, no one has ever given me a reason to stay in one place. If and when someone does, I’ll know it’s real. I’ll know that I’ll be able to happily call a place home, because sometimes, home isn’t four walls or the familiar curve of your favorite pillow. It’s wherever another soul calls you to return to day after day. Until then, my heart yearns for the unfamiliar and distant corners of this tiny planet that each and every one of us calls home.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that a city could imbue me with the desire to stay put and the impossibly foreign concept of homesickness. Because when I’m not in New York City, my mind wanders to the views from Rockefeller Center onto the circuit board streets dotted with cabs and food vendors, pink sunsets against mirrored skyscrapers tinged with the unwavering resilience of every human who calls this city home. 

How to stay healthy while traveling

From jet lag to greasy airport food, red-eye flights and hours of subsisting off of cardboard flavored infant-sized plane food, traveling can take a toll on your body. Unfamiliar environments, harsh climates, and the temptation to indulge as well as take a break from your regular workout routine are all very much a reality. But, living out of hotels and tents and hostels and various kitchen-less places for 365 days a year means that I eat every single meal out, don’t have a consistent gym membership, and don’t ever go home to a regular routine that gets me back on track. And if you know one thing about me, it’s that the only thing I love more than traveling is eating. Nothing pains me more than ordering salad at a restaurant, and I strongly believe dessert is a requirement of every meal (including breakfast and lunch). I’m constantly baffled when someone tells me they were too busy and forgot to eat. FORGOT!?! The only scenario in which I can imagine this happening to me is a total nuclear apocalypse.
Most advice on staying healthy on the road will go something like, “at restaurants, choose simple meals like grilled chicken with vegetables, opt for salad for a starter, and skip dessert.” Seriously!?  I didn’t fly to Paris to eat lettuce and forgo creme brulee and give up on all of life’s joys. So, here are my tips on how I try to stay healthy and fit on the road:
1. Be prepared – I never show up to an airport (or literally anywhere else besides restaurants) hungry or snack-less. Some might think over-sized purses are a fashion statement, but I love them for their snack maximizing capabilities. Added bonus if they fit a 32oz. water bottle. My carry-on bag is always stuffed to the brim with snacks. My favorites are oatmeal packets (just ask for hot water on the plane), fruit, almonds, and RX bars.
2. Prioritize what’s important to you – I live for the endorphin rush of a workout, and I treat it the same way I do a work meeting – I’m never too busy or too tired or just don’t feel like it. The only reason I would skip it is the same reason I’d skip that meeting – if I’m physically sick. The hardest part of any workout is getting out the door. So to echo Nike, just do it.
I also prioritize what I eat and drink. I don’t particularly like the taste of alcohol aside from red wine and gin, but that doesn’t mean I forgo outings with friends or don’t go to bars. It just means that my red solo cup is filled with water, and the first thing I do at a bar is check the dessert menu. Is that healthier than having that drink? Probably not. Am I happier doing so? Certainly.
3. Never ever skip breakfast – or any meal for that matter – I still can’t comprehend how anyone can do this, as I nearly always wake up ravenous and incapable of doing much of anything before stuffing my face full of food. Remember that sumo wrestlers gain weight by skipping breakfast. By depriving their bodies of food after sleeping all night, their metabolic rates stay very low. They also take long naps in the afternoon after eating lunch, and eat a huge meal in the evening before bed. So, stick to smaller meals throughout the day, in LOTR hobbit style.

4. Indulge – it may not always be good for the waistline but it’s always

Levain, oh how I love thee

good for the soul. I’m not a fan of health food impostors that masquerade as their indulgent counterparts – your brain is fancy enough to recognize the difference between a sugar-free gluten-free raisin “cookie” and a gooey melted chocolate chip cookie from Levain. Life’s too short to be skinny and miserable, so indulge (in moderation) in the foods you most love.

5. Stay hydrated – an obvious one. There’s a reason I always request an aisle seat on a plane – I’m constantly running to the bathroom. The lack of humidity in the cabin amplifies dehydration, and lower oxygen levels contribute to fatigue. Make sure to drink at least 8 oz of water for every hour in flight.
6. Mix workouts and sightseeing – most of my favorite traveling experiences have been while doing something active. I spent this past weekend in Puerto Rico and my favorite part of the trip was kayaking 3 miles through a pitch-black mangrove to bioluminescent bay. The best way to explore new cities is to walk, run, or bike rather than stick to subways or cars. I usually check MapMyRun for recommended running paths as soon as I get to a new city.
No gym where you’re staying? Pack resistance bands which take up no space in your suitcase. I also pack a massage ball – much smaller than a foam roller, it targets muscles more effectively because of the smaller surface area and feels fantastic both after a long flight or workout. I also always check if the city I’m in has ClassPass, and read Yelp reviews for the best gyms in town that have free trial classes for first timers.
8. Zocdoc – with no primary care provider, I rely on the handy app Zocdoc for finding same day or next day in-network doctor appointments in any city in the US with just one click. It’s incredibly quick and takes all of the headache out of seeing a doctor when you’re in a new city. And if you’re traveling outside of the US you won’t experience the headache of seeing a doctor, because you won’t be in the US.
Being healthy goes far beyond obvious nutritious diet choices and a consistent workout regimen. Traveling can be a great time for a digital detox, meditation, catching up on sleep, or reconnecting with those around you. So remember to indulge, enjoy, find balance, and prioritize what makes you happiest!

How to Pack Your Life Into a Carry-on Bag

In the fall of 2012, I was living in Madison, Wisconsin and had received a very late acceptance to grad school in Germany. I had exactly 10 days to quit my job, figure out what to do with my belongings, move half way across the world, and find a place to live in a foreign country. I wasn’t particularly attached to any of the furniture adorning my studio apartment as I found all of it besides my mattress in dumpsters around town. I ended up selling the free furniture on Craigslist which paid for my international flight, and packed all of my clothes into a large suitcase. My last day at work was on a Friday, I flew to Germany on Saturday, and I started classes on Monday living out of a 4 bed hostel. That was the precise moment I realized how owning so little and not being tied to “stuff” made a spontaneous move across the world incredibly easy.

Since then I’ve traveled only once with a suitcase too large to carry onto a plane (when I moved to Portland for 1.5 years). Every other time I’ve boarded a plane I’ve fit everything into a carry-on and backpack, even when traveling for months at a time to winter and summer destinations in between work trips that require business casual attire. Over the course of the last 5 years, I’ve packed and repacked this amazing little suitcase about 650 times. Here are my tips on packing your life into a carry on bag regardless of how long you’ll be away, or the weather you might encounter.

Pack your necessities first – this means your travel documents, cash, medicine, phone, camera, foreign power adapters, underwear, and socks (those ankle breaking heels you’ve only worn once are not part of this category). If you have access to a laundry machine, you can pack the same way whether you’re traveling for 1 week or 1 year. And if you don’t, you most certainly have access to a sink or shower – this hand-washing bag is magical. I pack a few laundry detergent pods  so I can do laundry on the go, and I wear my heaviest jacket in-flight. I stick dryer sheets in between clothes so they smell nice even when I’ve worn them 10 days in a row (not that I would ever do such a thing). There are certain toiletries I never leave home without (my memoir will be called Purple Shampoo: The Tough Life of Being a Bottled Blonde), but the rest I tend to buy when I reach my destination. I pack a lot of dresses because I’m both too lazy to coordinate two pieces of clothing, and it’s an entire space-efficient outfit in one. Boys, apparently man-rompers are very in these days. 

Roll everything, and stuff into packing cubes – Rolling your clothes both prevents wrinkles and is more space efficient than folding. These packing cubes can fit a deceptively large amount of clothing, and they keep everything neat and organized. While some people swear by compression and vacuum seal bags, I don’t like to use them because you can easily go over the weight limit. 

Probably the only time anyone ever noticed what I wore to work.

Checking a large bag pretty much guarantees you’ll be inconveniently lugging around more stuff than you’ll need or use, and comes with the potential headache of lost luggage. Remember that you’re traveling to see the world, not for the world to see you! Nobody is going to care (or remember) what you wore, as evidenced by the time I wore the exact same outfit to a work go-live 4 days in a row, but with a different jacket over it. Besides, fancy scarves and cover-ups do wonders when you don’t want to look like you’re wearing the same outfit in every photo.

You can have a closet full of clothes and a room full of stuff and never feel like you have enough, but just packing for one trip will make you feel feel like you have too much 🙂 


Why you should drop everything and go to Madagascar

I’ve taken quite a hiatus from blog-writing, mostly due to laziness and…well, that’s my only excuse. But my recent trip to Madagascar made me want to run up to everyone I know and rave endlessly about this incredible country. At 60 million years old it’s the oldest island in the world, and 90% of its plant and animal species are found nowhere else on earth. So here are 8 reasons to make Madagascar your next destination!

1. Lemurs 

Hanging out with the ring-tailed lemurs at Andasibe’s lemur island nature reserve
These fluffy squealing creatures that jump up to 35 feet are so oddly human-like that it’s impossible to look away. Females dominate their groups, and males don’t take their share of a meal until the female does (human males, take note). The Indri lemurs, predominantly found in Andasibe, sing in a carefully coordinated chorus by copying each other’s rhythms. If you stay in the cozy bungalows of Feon’ny Ala ($11/night), you can even be awoken by their singing in the morning. Unfortunately, all 106 species of these primates are threatened with extinction in the next 20 years if the current rate of deforestation continues.
2. Baobab Trees

There is something so alien-like about the Avenue of the Baobabs, an alley lined in dozens of thousand year old giants between Morondava and Belo-Sur Tsirbihina. With their spindly branches, the baobabs look like trees that have been uprooted and planted upside down. They can recover from a fire or termite attack, as they simply grow new bark over their “wounds.” Their hollow stems can even hold thousands of gallons of water to cope with seasonal droughts.
3. The people
With more than 18 different ethnic groups among its 22 million people, the Malagasy are a mix of African, Arab, and Indian origin and are warm, welcoming people who were ready to immediately jump in and help when my car broke down 10 hours from the closest town.
4. The food