Eating Vegetarian Food in Spain

If you’re used to eating vegetarian food in America, get ready for a challenge in Spain. 

Vegetarianism is still a weird concept to a lot of Spaniards, so explaining your preferences can lead to confusion. Not only do Spaniards eat a lot of carne, they often don’t consider finely shredded meat or flesh-based products (like broth) to actually be meat. (If you shred up the jamón really small, it doesn’t count, right?) Finding vegetarian food can be an adventure or a chore, depending on how you spin it. But fear not, it can be done!

Tip #1: Speak some Spanish.

I never had any major issues in Spain because, while my spoken Spanish is rough, I’m able to get “I’m vegetarian”, “does this have meat?” and “no ham, please” across with ease.  If you don’t speak Spanish, you’ll probably want to study up on some phrases (see tip #3) or bring a print-out explaining your dietary needs.

Tip #2: Have patience and be flexible

People will give you weird looks, call over their managers, accidentally bring you extra meat instead of no meat. Have endless patience, do your best to communicate your needs up front, and laugh off the worst interactions. (A waiter in Toledo flat-out told me I should stop being vegetarian.) You can always get a bocadillo (see the next tip) or mushroom tapas later.

Tip #3: Do your research and have go-to choices

Before I went to Spain I researched vegetarian tapas choices and used Pocket to save the most useful blog posts to my tablet for offline access. (I’m not sponsored by Pocket or anything, I just think it’s undervalued as an app for travelers!) Bocadillos were a favorite, even though the idea of an egg, potato, and tomato sandwich is still weird to me. I also liked mushroom and egg tapas (I asked for the jamón to be left out) and, of course, the gazpacho.

If you don’t speak Spanish, lists of food vocabulary words like this one may be helpful. I also saved this article, which is a fantastic primer on eating vegetarian in Spain. Print the lists or save them offline.

Tip #4: Eat Middle Eastern

This was the easiest compromise for our family, which includes one meat-lover, one meat appreciator, one will-eat-meat-sometimes type, and me, the vegetarian. Middle eastern restaurants are plentiful in the south of Spain and have quality choices for meat eaters and abstainers. Bonus: they seemed to be open earlier than Spanish restaurants, which was great for us since we weren’t able to adjust to Spain’s 10pm meal time.

Tip #5: If you get stressed, just try a vegetarian restaurant

Sure, eating at a sit-down restaurant can be hard on the wallet, but you know what? Sometimes it’s worth it. Vegetarian-only places can be a nice haven if you’ve had a hectic day (or few days) of struggling to find food that suits your needs. This is what we ended up doing in Toledo, where vegetarian food was especially scarce. Madre Tierra gets my family’s seal of approval for having good food, a quiet atmosphere (if you’re there right when they open), and a great wait staff (although there weren’t quite enough of them).

Best of luck to all you vegetarian travelers out there! Please share your favorite veggie restaurants, tapas dishes, and bocadillo shops below!

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Why You Should Always Carry a Tactical Flashlight

I’m not sure when I started carrying a tactical flashlight, but now I won’t travel without one. Why? Protection! Finding lost things! Adventuring! Oh, let me count the ways!

Before I launch into a rhapsody (okay, an enthusiastic listicle) about why I love tactical flashlights, let’s make sure we’re on the same page. Tactical flashlights are meant to be used with weapons and in other tactical contexts. They tend to be very bright, water resistant, and tough. (Here’s a brief overview from Art of Manliness.) Lots of preppers (and non-prepper people who like to have more-than-average levels of preparedness) carry them every day.

I’ve carried a Streamlight ProTac 2AA for four or five years now.


Why should you invest in a tactical flashlight? Let me count the reasons:

  1. See human attackers first
    Carrying a flashlight helps diminish the element of surprise that muggers and other no-good characters rely on. If you can see into the dark alleys and grimy corners, they can’t hide there.
  2. See animal attackers first
    This is less relevant in certain parts of the world, but is still a useful bonus.  At the very least you won’t be startled when a hungry, mangy pup approaches you after dark.
  3. Temporarily disrupt attackers’ vision
    Tactical flashlights are usually much brighter than their standard issue cousins. If you’re carrying one, you’ve got a chance to shine the light in any attacker’s eyes, disrupting their vision enough to give you the temporary upper hand.
  4. Can be used as an improvised weapon
    I mean, you’ll be carrying a small but solid tube of metal. It’d hurt to get hit with a tactical flashlight. Plus, they’re pretty much universally legal! (There’s still a slim but real chance they’ll get confiscated if you go through strict security, though.)
  5. You always have a tough flashlight on hand
    Every point in favor of tactical flashlights up to this point has been about self-defense applications. Those are valid, of course, but let’s not lose sight of what flashlights are for: seeing in the dark. If you’re out exploring abandoned buildings or ancient temples or picking your way through a swampy campground to the toilet in the middle of the night, a tough flashlight will make things much easier on you. It’ll probably be tough enough to survive getting dropped in the toilet or knocked off a castle wall, so you’ll be able to use it for future adventures, too!
  6. Improve your night visibility
    Make it easier for cars to see you if you’re out after dark without reflective gear. (Just don’t blind any drivers, please.)
  7. Good for living where electricity is spotty
    Tactical flashlights easily fit in (men’s) pockets and often come with a clip and holster. If you’re spending time somewhere where the electricity isn’t reliable, having a flashlight on hand 24/7 will make your life easier.
  8. Good for finding things
    I thought I was the only one who relies on their tactical flashlight for finding lots items, but I am apparently not the only one! (This writer uses his to find remotes, I use mine to find stuff in the bottom of bags and drawers.) Seriously, this perk is practically worth the ticket price.
  9. Good for exploring ancient ruins before the sun rises
    What do you mean this hasn’t happened to you before?

    The first sunrise of 2015 over Angkor Wat.


    Oh, and I guess you can use them to shoot guns in the dark. That’s a thing, too.

Convinced that you need to add a tactical flashlight to your next packing list? I hope so! If you’ve got questions (or even more uses for tactical flashlights), drop ’em in the comments.

I am not affiliated with Streamlight or any of the sites linked in this article.

Twenty-Two Years of Questionable Spanish Acquisition Techniques: A (sort of) Success Story

Note: language aquisition and travel are inseparable for me. I travel to learn new languages and I learn new languages to enrich my travels. Spanish was the first of my non-native languages and the one I’ve been struggling with for the most years. For your comfort and edification (and so you don’t make my mistakes), here’s a brief reflection on my years with Spanish.

I learned Spanish through a hodgepodge of techniques and curricula, poking at various curricula when I was younger, getting a bit more structured in high school (but still dabbling) before finally taking actual classes in college. My studies bolstered my reading abilities and my vocabulary but did very little for my ability to speak Spanish.

So far, this is probably a familiar story to many of you. Here’s where my story diverts from the path most take, the path that ends in the land of perpetually intermediate vocabulary and stubbornly stagnant speaking skills. I took two weeks between freshman and sophomore years of college to take intensive classes in Antigua, Guatemala, then spent a week putting my skills into practice while building a goat house along Guatemalan teens. It was fantastic! I loved it! I focused on the vocabulary I needed most, used Spanish for most of my waking hours, and made leaps and bounds in terms of speaking abilities.

…and then, instead of going back to New Mexico for sophomore year, I went to Taiwan and took five hours of Mandarin classes for a semester. While this wasn’t necessarily a death sentence for my Spanish, I didn’t touch my second language for four months of intensively working on my third. That, my friends? That was a mistake.

I took another Spanish course back at UNM during my junior year, a 300 level class where I was working alongside people who had been speaking Spanish from the cradle. This helped some, but not nearly enough. Chinese came out of my mouth when I tried to speak Spanish, and now there were three languages jumbled in my head instead of two.

My senior year of college we decided to head to Spain for spring break. I knew this would be a challenge on two fronts: first, I had never spoken Spanish with anyone from Spain; second, I hadn’t actually spoken Spanish for two years, and my brain had filled with Mandarin in the meantime. Time to review, I supposed, and set about trying to reclaim the language skills I had lost. Mom and Dad expected their kids to interpret, after all, and I couldn’t leave my brother to do all the hard work.

It went…okay, I guess. I had grand plans of testing out of the entire Duolingo tree and polishing off a Memrise “first 5,000 words” deck for vocabulary, watching a certain number of hours of Spanish TV, writing a certain number of words — essentially forcing my way back to where I had been before.

I am horrible at guessing how long anything will take, so needless to say I didn’t get through all that. I did, however, get some reviewing in, and got almost back to where I had been before Taiwan. Ethan and I tag teamed our way through Spain. He’d studied Spanish for a short time by taking Skype lessons with my teacher from Guatemala.* Because he primarily listened to and spoke Spanish, he was far better than me at understanding native speakers and spitting out fluent-sounding sentences. He had a much smaller vocabulary base than me, though, so I would stand nearby as he called Airbnb hosts to fed him words.

(As an aside, this is an excellent example of why I think “fluent” is a useless term for discussing language abilities. Could he ramble on fluently, talking his way around words he’d forgotten or describing them until someone got the point? Sure. He also forgot words like “old” and “butter” on the regular. I spoke slow or broken Spanish but was much more reliable when it came to translating museum labels and menus. Together, of course, we got along just fine and made my parents proud.)

So. That’s where I am right now in my Spanish learning journey. (And it will always be a learning journey, even if I live in some rural village in Columbia for ten years speaking nothing but Spanish.) Right now I’m finally about to make that Duolingo tree turn gold (review of that is upcoming), using Spanish to ladder Esperanto, and listening to more Spanish. I still desperately need to practice speaking the language, though. Once I get a job I plan on shelling out for at least monthly review sessions with a teacher. (Orrr, if you wanted to try iTalki, you could use my referral link, so we both get $10 off a lesson! That’s also an option.)

I hope to do another intensive down the road, maybe in Spain. If you have the money but not the time, I think it’s hands down the best way to learn a language fast. Which is why I’m taking a nine-month Chinese intensive in 2018 — more on that as it develops. (I don’t have the money for that, by the way, but the Taiwanese government is kind enough to pay for my tuition and living expenses.) This time, I’ll keep practicing my Spanish. What use is speaking multiple languages if some of them are constantly out of commission?


*The school is Ixchel Spanish School, by the way, which we both recommend! Professional, affordable, very flexible, good homestay experience, learned a lot.

Odd Things About Spain

A fantastic vegetarian meal in Cordoba

One of the perennially interesting perks of traveling is learning what little American quirks I’ve been taking for granted. Traveling pushes us outside of little comfort zones we didn’t even know we had and leaves us pondering doorknobs, water fountains, and all sorts of other topics we don’t usually give a second thought to. So! To kick off a series of posts about my recent travels in southern Spain, here are eight quirks I ran into over spring break.

      1. Dinner is super late at night.
        It’s not unusual for Spaniards to sit down to eat dinner at 9 or 10 pm. It’s pretty standard for restaurants to open for dinner at 9 as well. I go to bed at 10:30! I usually eat around 6! We tried to adjust for a few days, but the tendency to eat late threw us through such a loop that we gave up and started finding restaurants that opened earlier. (There are explanations, but they didn’t make things any easier for jetlagged Americans used to eating dinner at 6 pm.)
      2. Corollary: nothing opens until 9 in the morning.
        Okay, not nothing. But a lot of places are closed until 9 or 10 in the morning. I usually eat breakfast around 7. What if I want to go buy yogurt at 8 am? What then, Spain? (I should just go shopping the night before, that’s what.)

        Eating churros and chocolate in Granada, Spain.
        Churros con chocolate in Granada. This “breakfast” was at 11am.
      3. Doorknobs are in the middle of the door. This baffles me. In the US and pretty much everywhere else I’ve traveled*, doorknobs are on the side of the door opposite the hinges. Opening a door is a two part movement: first you turn the knob, then you swing it open. In Spain, doorknobs are smack in the middle of the door! This is apparently done for aesthetic reasons, but it creates two problems: first, it’s harder to open and close doors, since leverage isn’t on your side, and second, it makes it impossible to use the door quietly.

        Example door (x)
      4. Their Spanish is different. This wasn’t exactly a surprise, but I hadn’t been exposed to much “Spain-Spanish” before this trip. It took me a few days to figure out that “bueno” for “okay” wasn’t going to get me anywhere — I needed to say “vale”. The accents were different, “aseo” apparently means “restroom”, and people said “cojer” without everyone in the vicinity turning red in the face. A strange world indeed.
      5. Smoking. Again, not a surprise, but not something I enjoyed. Second-hand smoke makes me cough, and I like to avoid it if I can.
      6. Weird ideas about vegetarian food. It’s not meat if it’s crumbled up really small and sprinkled in with your mushrooms! Thus goes the Spanish thinking about meat. Vegetarianism is a strange, exotic habit here. A waiter at a restaurant in Toledo actually told me I should “stop doing that” (as in, “stop being vegetarian”). Ah, well. There’s still good vegetarian food to be had, so I was happy in the end.

        A fantastic vegetarian meal in Cordoba
        A fantastic vegetarian meal in Cordoba
      7.  Lack of water fountains. Spain’s got a lot of catching up to do on this front. I pack a water bottle everywhere out of habit, so I was fine, but you really can’t rely on water fountains in Spain.
      8. Potato sandwiches. It’s not super difficult to find vegetarian food, as long as you like bocadillo de papa, the country’s ubiquitous egg and potato sandwich. Yep, that’s right, potatoes in a sandwich. They’re actually pretty decent if you give them a chance!

        *Which is mainly North and Central America and Asia and not Europe, to be totally fair.

        White text reading "Quirky Things About Spain" overlain on a picture of food.

I’m back! An update.

Hey there, blog. It’s been a while.

I’ve neglected you because, unfortunately, trying to finish my undergraduate degree was rather trying. Good news, though! That’s over with. I’m now free — free to write, free to travel, free to do whatever I darn well please, as long as money allows.

Although I was busy with school, I made time to travel. I spent eight days in Spain this semester, and five camping in New Mexico’s high desert. I’ve got plenty of posts on Chaco Canyon, Carlsbad, and southern Spain lined up.

More exciting and more to the point: I’m moving to Taiwan! I’ve been awarded the Huayu Enrichment Scholarship, which pays for room, board, and tuition at an intensive Taiwanese Mandarin program. The scholarship kicks in this December (2017) and runs until summer of 2018. This fall I hope to get a TEFL certificate, probably in Thailand, so I can be more employable as an English teacher. Other exciting (but still highly tentative) plans are in the works.

So many projects and adventures are in the pipeline right now, and I can’t wait to share them all with you!


The Very Large Array

The Very Large Array has, at the same time, an incredibly descriptive and totally unhelpful name. The array in question is a Y-shaped network of radio telescopes that sit in the New Mexican high desert. They’re turned to the sky, listening to the sounds of worlds light years away from earth.

Unless you’re New Mexican or move in space science circles, the Very Large Array (frequently called the VLA) is likely foreign to you except for the vague feeling that you’ve seen it somewhere. It’s got a surprisingly large pop culture presence. Carl Sagan drove it into the public eye when he included it in Cosmos. The VLA is highly recognizable – movies like Contact, Independence Day, and Terminator Salvation have been shot here. Heck, Bon Jovi even shot a music video at the VLA.

Jodie Foster's character from the film Contact listens to a headset at the Very Large Array.
Jodie Foster’s astronomer from Contact listening for sounds of alien life at the Very Large Array. Although the VLA isn’t used for SETI projects, it is certainly capable of picking up alien signals buzzing around the universe.

Even if you’re not super into space or Jodie Foster movies the VLA is still worth visiting. Its hugeness and remoteness mean it’s awe-inspiring even without context. While it takes some driving to get to, it’s open from 8:30 – sunset every day for self-guided tours, making it an accessible day trip. I made the trip from Albuquerque one very cold afternoon in January. (That’s another thing to be aware of: not only is the VLA remote, it’s cold in winter. The woman in the gift shop told me it had dropped to -2 F with windchill the day before.)

The gift shop has shorter hours than the grounds, so if you’re interested in getting post cards or asking questions, come before 4pm. There’s a small theater where a short documentary plays on demand, which I’d recommend you watch to get acquainted with what you’re about to see. There’s also a small museum to wander through. I got in for free, but I can’t remember if it’s because I had a student ID or because I attended UNM.

After that it’s out into the cold! (Or heat, depending on when you go, I guess.) There’s a short walking tour that should probably take about half an hour. It took me about ten minutes because – have I mentioned this yet? – it was so cold. The tour takes you past a small dish, a few interpretive labels, and then right to the base of the closest working dish. From there you can walk up onto the balcony of one of the science buildings for a fantastic view of one of the VLA’s branches.

The closest dish. It moved when I was there, which was spectacular.

I was very much by myself this trip. Apart from the lady in the gift shop, I only spotted two other visitors and one scientist.

After you finish the walking portion of your tour you can drive a short distance to see one of the dishes in the massive service shed. Once it’s all fixed up they’ll roll it out onto a special set of train tracks and drive it very, very slowly to its new home.

If you’d like to visit the Very Large Array, check out Roadside America’s entry. Make sure to peek at the official website for up to date information about visiting hours and other logistical concerns.

Fall/Winter 2016: College Budget Technical Clothing Haul

Here are some quick reviews of shirts and pants I’ve gotten over the past few months. I’ll write these posts every so often to keep you up to date with travel clothes that are actually worth it.

This haul features a lot of H&M tencel and some Mountain Khakis pants. Read on for full opinions!

H&M long sleeve tencel shirt ($10)

This shirt is strange. I wanted a light, long-sleeved shirt that would cut the sun a bit and provide comfortable coverage for hot, conservative countries. I don’t hate this shirt, but it’s not what I was expecting. It’s got very tight sleeves, for one thing, so it’s uncomfortable to push them up. (I hate having my lower arms covered, so this is an issue for me.) It also hangs strangely around the shoulders and it’s l o n g. It’s practically a tunic. The stitches on the hems also look cheaply made.

Verdict? If you like the fit and want something cheap for a short-term trip, by all means get it! I won’t be getting it again.

H&M tencel tank top ($13) and tencel t-shirt ($15)

Both the tank and the shirt are built similarly. They fit nicely, although the neck drapes a little strangely on the t-shirt. Both shirts are incredibly soft and silky, and I frequently sleep in them after wearing them for the day. In certain lights or with certain bras, they’re a tad see-through. In general, I like them. I could do with another tencel tank, in particular.

H&M Tencel/Cotton/Modal jeans ($30)

Yep, this is the best picture I have of the pants.

Oh, boy. Yes, I know these jeans are more like jeggings, and yes, I know they’re cheaply made. But man. They are so comfortable I’m just choosing to ignore all that. They’re skinny without being suffocating and comfortable to wear while sitting for long periods. They also stretch nicely, meaning my movement’s not restricted, and they’re light wash, so they’re not super hot even in blazing sun. I’ve worn them on multiple flights, on field work, and for three days straight at Disneyland. No, they’re not perfect, but man, do I ever love them.

Mountain Khakis pants ($20, typically $90)

Mountain Khakis Traverse Pants Review
Mountain Khakis Traverse Pants

I got these deeply discounted during Mountain Khaki’s fall sale. I’ve already posted a full review of these, which you can see here.

How to be a Better Citizen of the World

This post includes referral codes, which benefit me and you. Win-win!

Brexit, the US election, troubles in Turkey, an ongoing refugee crisis, frequent acts of violence and terrorism – 2016 was a turbulent year. You know how to make 2017 better than 2016? By widening your focus, deepening your empathy, and working to positively impact the world around you. No, it may not make a huge difference in the world at-large. But becoming a better citizen of the world will improve your life and it will bring us one step closer to a more understanding future.

Ready to get educated and socially responsible without drowning in social justice theory or packing up to join the Peace Corps? Here are some little ways you can be a better global citizen in 2017.

1. Keep up with the world news
Read the local and national news, but then shift your focus larger. What’s happening in South America? China? New Zealand? North Africa? A few ideas for how to do this:

  • If you read the news from an app, add international sources (The Economist and the BBC are both good for global issues) or topics (“Africa”, “Taiwan”, etc.).
  • Subscribe to an email newsletter dedicated to regional news. I get Quartz’s Africa Weekly Brief, which I’ve learned a lot from.

2. Investigate your charities
Where’s your money going? The new year is a good time to make sure you’re putting your money somewhere where it’s helping, not hurting. Some questions to ask:

  • Does this organization actively involve clients in leadership positions and decisions? Does it value the voices of the people it’s helping?
  • Does this organization have a good track record with managing money? High operational costs are not a bad thing – nonprofit employees need paychecks, too! – but scandals or issues with the government are signs of problems.
  • Do they have generally positive mentions in news sources?
  • Are they working with other NGOs?
  • Do they seek long-term or short-term solutions? (Both have their places, but emergency aid is not the same as developmental work!)

If you’re not currently supporting a non-profit organization, now is a great time to do so! Doctors Without BordersAmnesty International, and Kiva are personal favorites.
3. Actively seek out people who are different from you
There are so many ways to go about this, but if you want some ideas:

  • Contact your local mosque and ask if it’s alright for you to visit
  • Volunteer at an interfaith event
  • Pick a news source with high journalistic standards but with a different slant than you usually read
  • Read or subscribe to news sources meant for groups you don’t belong to. (I’m not a Middle Eastern woman, but I subscribe to Ella Letter.)
  • Visit a faith gathering you wouldn’t usually attend
  • Volunteer to work with people different from you

5. Learn a language
There are so many free or low-cost options for learning languages out there that you really don’t have an excuse. Italki, FluentU, and Yabla are some of the best paid services. Duolingo, Hinative, Language Transfer, and Memrise are my favorite free picks. Depending on the language you’re working on, other specific resources are likely available, like Decipher and Pleco for Mandarin or Coffee Break Spanish. Between podcasts, Netflix shows, YouTube channels, free apps, and the local library, you’ve got plenty of free study sources.

Side note: if you want to get serious about language learning, my favorite resource is the book Fluent Forever.
6. Take a class
Sometimes a bit of structure is good for learning. Check out the free college courses on Coursera or get your hands on a lecture series from The Great Courses. I’ve been working through several of their courses on Eastern civilization this year and I’ve learned so much. (My mom’s tip for getting The Great Courses cheap: buy them through Audible. They’re vastly cheaper that way. Some libraries also have a selection.)
7. Read some fiction
Fiction is one of the best ways to build empathy, plus they can be more interesting than non-fiction. Try googling “books by [locality] authors” or “books from [location]”, then picking up anything of interest. To get you started, here’s a list of 25 books by African authors released in 2016, and here are 10 award-winning books by Asian authors.
8. Examine your purchasing habits
What’s the cost of your fashion? Your food? The new year is a great time to shift away from past ruts towards shopping patterns that generate less waste and favor responsible producers. You’ve heard it before: thrift more, buy less, cut down on meat consumption, bring your own bags to the grocery store. They’re little things, sure, but they add up over a lifetime.

9. Tell others
Get your book club to diversify their reading list. Share that well-written thought piece on Facebook. Forward your South American News brief to your friend who’s just started studying Spanish. Educating yourself and changing your lifestyle are useful, but the benefits increase exponentially if you share what you’re learning.

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Best Travel Tips of 2016

Do you ever feel like you make a travel breakthrough? Like, you discover this one little thing that suddenly makes you shameful for all the years you spent without knowing it?

The past few years I’ve traveled a lot by myself, and a lot with family. I’ve gone on road trips with friends, with each member of my immediate family, and with my entire family. I’ve traveled for debate competitions, for school, for fun, and to move across the country. There have been a lot of learning experiences and a lot of adventures. Here are some of the things that stuck out to me the most this year as “YES, THE INTERNET MUST KNOW!” sort of things.

  1. Always bring fuzzy socks on the plane. It almost makes economy feel like first class. Almost.
  2. Keep your body and your skin hydrated. Bring lotion and chapstick on the plane! Carry a water bottle everywhere you go! Especially if you live somewhere hot, you can’t afford to get stuck without water.

This was a pretty big treat. . . . . | #helicopter #losangeles #la #california #cali #ocean #coast |

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3. If you bring your own mug and tea bag, the coffee shops in the airport will give you free water. You get a lot more tea than you would on a plane AND it’s made with much cleaner water than airplane water.

4. Book the hotel room beforehand. I always book hotels and hostels ahead of time, even if it’s just the morning before I need the room. My mom and dad don’t, and let me tell you – after two separate road trips that involved frustrated room searching, they’ve converted to the “book before hand” mindset!


5. Seek out the weird. Atlas Obscura and Roadside America are essential tools for planning a trip that’s a little bit colorful. Eat something weird! See something quirky! Adventure a little!

6. Be the first in the airport. Not in a pushy way, but in a “plan ahead and know what you’re doing” sort of way. Be the first to volunteer to take a later flight. Volunteer to switch seats with someone. Keep a close watch on flight updates so you’re first in the customer service line when your flight gets canceled.

7. See stuff close by. You know how long we’d lived in New Hampshire for before we went to explore NYC? Eighteen years. Yep, nearly two decades living four hours away from one of the greatest cities on the planet before we ventured in. Hop on your favorite travel website or Atlas Obscura and see what’s near you.

8. Always bring boots. Once I left my boots behind and we got stuck in a blizzard. I had to wade through snow in my dress shoes. Once I had to borrow my mother’s shoes to go on a challenge course. (This was uncomfortable for everyone involved, since she’s a 6 and I’m an 8.) Bring boots everywhere! (If you’re not a boots person, I would plead with you to change your ways – if you absolutely refuse, bring sneakers instead.)

9. Educational travel can be awesome. I went on a trip with my school this summer to study the geology, history, and culture of Montana, with a special focus on Lewis and Clark. You know what we did that we couldn’t have done if we weren’t university affiliated? Go to one of the most famous and scientifically important paleontology sites in the world. It was AWESOME, and I learned a lot, too!

A post shared by Renee (@reneeroams) on

10. Be a force of calm. We broke down three times in Montana and ended up returning home early. I can’t tell you how many times we got terribly lost or couldn’t find a hotel room when driving between New Hampshire and New Mexico. Asking “what can I do?”, keeping a positive mindset, and being willing to compromise are such important skills for frequent travelers that I can’t over emphasize them. Learn to spread a sense of calm and you will leave a positive impression with everyone you meet on the road.

11. Modular packing is awesome. Whether you use compression bags or modular bags, this style of packing will improve your trip one hundred fold. Promise.

12. Get a good sunscreen. Ideally, you should have two: one for your body, one for your face. They should be good for your skin, not a pain to wear, and easy to apply. I had no idea how much of difference a good sunscreen could make until I got one. My favs are Neutrogena’s Ultra Sheer SPF 100 Spray (body) and Ultra Sheer Liquid Daily Sunscreen SPF 70 (face). Both are light, non-streaking, and good for sensitive skin. You can even pat the liquid sunscreen on over makeup if you’re careful about it. If you want something that’s good for face and body, Aveeno’s Baby Sunscreen SPF 55 is a quality (and cheap) pick.

13. Always bring anti-nauseous. Yep, I’m the girl who always has Bonine or ginger tea for you. I can and will offer it to queasy-looking strangers. Sure, it costs me money, but it improves life for everyone, since no one’s getting sick and no one has to deal with a vomiting stranger. It’s a win-win.

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What have your travels taught you this year? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Disclaimer: None of the links on this post are affiliate links. Product links go directly to the primary distributor. 

Visiting the Trinity Test Site in New Mexico

The Trinity Test Site at the White Sands Missile Range marks the site of the very first atomic bomb test.

Ever since I moved to New Mexico for college, I’ve wanted to visit the Trinity Test Site. After my visit to Hiroshima, I felt like I needed to go, as a pilgrimage of sorts. This was easier said than done since it’s only open to the public for fifteen hours a year, for seven and a half hours a day on the first Saturdays in October and April.

A view of the whole ground zero site, taken from the perimeter of the site and looking towards the parking lot. The memorial obelisk is visible in the bottom left corner.

For a site that’s only open twice a year, the Trinity Site is structured well for tourists. There are educational materials on the perimeter fence, educational staff on site, a booth where you can look at trinitite and uranium artifacts, and a pop-up gift shop set up by the folks from White Sands National Park.

Before you ask: no, it’s not dangerous to your health to visit. While there is more radiation in this area than average, it’s less of an issue than, say, being a frequent flier.


Trinitite. It’s illegal to collect the rock formed from melted desert sand, but there’s plenty around to look at.

There’s also food (cooked fresh, but mostly baseball game sort of fare) and enough portable toilets to easily handle the crowds. BRING WATER. I never go anywhere in New Mexico without a liter of water on my person, and I keep at least a gallon in my car. Bring twice as much water as you think you’ll need, and snacks if you don’t want to eat overpriced sausage dogs. Besides water, the only real issue I had was with parking: due to the bottleneck caused by ID checking, I had to sit in traffic for half an hour to get into Stallion Gate, and I hit some more traffic before I reached the final parking lot.



Would I recommend checking out the Trinity site? If you’re in town at the right time of year, absolutely. It’s interesting for history and science folks alike. Because of what happened here, our history and science have been forever changed. That, at least to a lot of you, will make it worth the trip.

When to go: The first Saturday of October or April (check ahead of time – it’s possible they’ll go back to a once-a-year schedule). If you want to learn about New Mexico’s nuclear history and you’re not in town when the Trinity site is open, you can check out the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque, or visit the memorial near Stallion Gate.

Further reading: The Atlas Obscura article is a useful resource, as is the official Army open house page.

How to get there: Don’t use Google maps. Navigating between cities in New Mexico is easy, and you’ll want to use the Army’s official directions to navigate once you get close to Stallion Gate. There is also an option for joining a convoy from Almagordo.

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Visiting ground zero of the first atomic bomb detonation near Soccorro, NM.