Tuesday, June 19, 2018

5 Reasons Why You Should Travel Alone at Least Once in Your Life

Hello from Prague! I arrived here yesterday after 18 hours of travel and am so happy to be back! This is my 12th solo trip. If you're new around here, I've traveled to 6 countries and over 10 cities solo! I began my solo adventures during my fall semester in Milan in 2016 for two reasons. Foremost, I found that I couldn't always do what I wanted to do when I traveled with a group since most of the time my values didn't align with the group's values. For example, I would rather wake up early and explore the city as opposed to stay up late and drink. While I understand there is value in the latter, I would rather direct my energy towards exploring a new city and learning about a new culture. Secondly, during that period of my life, I lost sense of who I was and subsequently lost my confidence. Traveling solo gave me the opportunity to gain all of my confidence back. I realized if I could survive being alone in a foreign country, I could do anything I set my mind to! 

Here are five reasons why you should travel alone at least once in your life: 
  1. Traveling solo builds confidence because you don't have anyone to rely on but yourself. To me, this is the most rewarding part of traveling solo! There is no greater feeling than finding your way around a foreign city all by yourself. 
  2. When you travel solo, you are the boss of your own schedule which means you can do whatever you want, whenever you want. Wake up as early you want, eat wherever you want, and embrace the freedom! 
  3. When you travel solo, you are forced to step outside your comfort zone. For example, you may find yourself eating alone at a restaurant for the first time. Don't stress it, just put your phone away and talk to your waiter or people sitting near you. You'll be surprised at the stories you hear and the friendships you build.
  4. Traveling solo gives you more time. What I mean by this is that when you travel solo, a day seems much longer because you're by yourself and you're only doing the things you want to do. When I went on my first solo adventure to Venice, I didn't know what to do with myself after the first few hours! I couldn't believe all the time I had. 
  5. Traveling solo allows you to meet more people. I have met people from India, Indonesia, South Korea and beyond during my solo adventures. I would have never met these people had I not traveled alone. This is not to say you can't meet people if you're traveling in a group, but it may not be as likely or may require more effort since you already have a companion. 
Of course, while I love traveling solo and encourage others to do so, this list is not to discard group travel. I've also had some of my best memories while traveling in a group. I am simply encouraging you to step outside your comfort zone and see the world from a different perspective! 

Have you traveled alone? If so, I'd love to hear your experience!! 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

My Low Waste Vegan Graduation Party + Tips for an Eco-Friendly Party

This weekend I celebrated my graduation by having a low waste vegan party! I was on the fence about having a low waste vegan party since most people have a preconceived notion of what vegan food is and are not familiar with the "zero waste" movement. However, I ended up deciding to just go for it and I'm so glad that I did! 

In order to plan for the party, I started by creating a menu which included appetizers, dinner, and dessert (I'll list it below). After creating the menu, I made a list of what we needed and separated it by produce, bulk items, canned goods, and everything else. For the produce, my brother and I went to the farmer's market and bought all of the fruits and veggies for the party without plastic. I used my reusable produce bags and tote bags so that I didn't have to use any plastic bags (#plasticsucks). I like going to the farmer's market because most produce doesn't come wrapped in plastic! In total, the produce only cost about $50. Although none of it was organic, it was still a step in the right direction. 

The next step was to go to the grocery store for bulk items, canned goods, and everything else. Normally I go to Whole Foods, however I knew it would be too pricey for the party if I'm being honest. Instead, I went to Fairway Market which is similar to Whole Foods. There, I bought rice and coconut flakes from the bulk section, a few cans of chickpeas and sauce, and the rest in packaging. I tried to buy all of the packaged products in glass, paper, or aluminum to support a circular economy. However, this wasn't feasible for items that only came in plastic like veggie burgers, buns, sprouts, chips, and pita bread. Normally, I would not buy anything in plastic. However, this was an exception since I needed to be more flexible for the party and cater to different preferences. This grocery haul cost about $140. 

After buying all of the food, I realized I needed to buy compostable plates, cups, and bowls since we didn't have enough real dishes for all of the guests to use. Another great option would have been to purchase secondhand plates, cups, and bowls from Goodwill since they're usually affordable. You can always donate them back if you don't want them to clutter your home after the party. I've also heard of having a BOYP - bring your own plate - party where all your guests bring their own dish! Either option is a great alternative to using disposable plates that end up in a landfill. In terms of silverware, we had enough real forks and spoons so we just used those! All napkins, plates, cups, and bowls were composted. (:

I said I'd get back to the menu so here we are! 

Appetizers: Hummus w/ Pita Chips, Guacamole, Mixed Veggies (bought in bulk and then cut), Vegan Garlic Bread (toasted with nutritional yeast and oil), Olives, Grilled Zucchini (also bought in bulk then grilled), Marinated Mushrooms, Mango Bean Salsa

Dinner: Impossible Burgers and Boca Veggie Burgers on Buns, Pasta Salad w/ Artichokes and Sun-dried Tomatoes, Corn on the Cob, Salad w/ Strawberries, Oranges, and Cherry Tomatoes, Potato Salad, Vegan Coleslaw 

Dessert: Banana Nice Cream (Cherry, Chocolate PB, and Chocolate), Vegan Raspberry Tart, Assorted Fruit (bought in bulk then cut) 

*If you want any of the recipes, message me on Instagram @anewerkatintown!
In order to reduce waste, I set up three bins: compost, recycles, and trash. I labeled each one with instructions so that guests would know where to put what. All food, plates, bowls, cups, and napkins were composted. All plastic soda, wine, and beer bottles were recycled. All other items that couldn't be composted or recycled were placed in the trash bin!
By shopping from bulk, purchasing items that were mostly in paper, aluminum, or glass, and composting, all 25 of us only created about one jar of trash which I couldn't be happier about! If you're having a party soon, here are some tips for having an eco-friendly party:
  • Don't be afraid to live out your values (i.e.: veganism, zero waste, etc.) 
  • Shop from the bulk section to avoid plastic and excess packaging 
  • Buy produce naked or use reusable produce bags 
  • Don't tell people you're having a vegan party (unless you want to), just let them enjoy the vegan food! 
  • Buy compostable or secondhand dishware 
  • Let go of the idea of having a perfect zero waste party...trash happens 
  • Have fun!!!!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

How Veganism Changed My Relationship with Food for the Better

Disclaimer: This is a detailed post of my relationship with food and how that impacted my weight for the last 10+ years. I am not a doctor or dietitian, nor am I making any medical recommendations. I am simply sharing my story to inspire hope and connect with individuals who went through a similar journey.

Let me start by saying that I've always struggled with my weight. Since I was little, I was always one of the biggest girls in my class for both height and weight. I was an athlete, playing whatever sport I could get my hands on that day and using my height and weight to my advantage. Despite playing sports, I consumed more calories than I burned. I just loved food! I lived for Brownie Earthquake sundaes at Dairy Queen and McDonald's hashbrowns. Every year for my check-up, I would inevitably gain weight from all the extra unhealthy food I was eating and be in the upper percentile for children my age.

My family and doctor attributed my weight to having an athletic build (which is true) and thought I would shed off the "baby fat" as I got older. That didn't happen so I ended up going to Weight Watchers when I was in 6th grade. Yes, you read that correctly. I was a little 6th grader sitting in a Weight Watcher meeting every Wednesday after school with my older sister. The program gave me an awareness of the calories in various foods and introduced me to counting calories (they use "points"...same concept) for the first time. Within a few months, I had lost about 10-15 pounds as you can see in the stark contrast in the picture on the right and the one above. I felt great, but the only problem was that I kept losing weight. I became addicted to counting calories. Soon, I also became addicted to working out. I joined a gym and started swimming in the mornings too...all on top of my normal soccer, softball, and swim team practices. I put so much stress on my body that I even stopped getting my period. Mind you, I was still in 6th grade at this point.

I continued on this path for the most part until high school when I finally got tired of counting calories. As soon as I stopped counting calories, I went in the opposite direction which led me to start overeating. This resulted in me gaining all of the weight back plus more. By the end of my Freshman year of high school, I weighed my highest at 152 pounds (I'm 5'5" for reference). Around this time, I also became vegetarian for ethical reasons and was still playing sports.

During my Sophomore year of high school, I lost the weight again by counting calories and working out. I also started taking sports more seriously since I was considering playing sports in college. I needed to be in better shape for recruiters to notice me. I weighed about five pounds more than I did when I went to Weight Watchers the first time.

By my Junior year of high school, I was in a relationship which helped me stay at a pretty steady weight. However, this changed when I was accepted to the United States Naval Academy Summer Seminar the summer following my Junior year. The Seminar was basically a boot camp to weed out the candidates who were planning to apply to the Academy that fall. I trained for weeks leading up to the camp...lifting weights, running, and doing hot yoga every day on top of my usual sports practices. I bulked up and was as strong as I've ever been. I loved keeping up with the boys during the fitness test and throughout the Seminar. Among other factors, I successfully passed the fitness test which opened up new doors for me: I got nominations to the Naval Academy and the Merchant Marine Academy, and was awarded a $180,000 Navy ROTC Scholarship for Villanova University. I was also recruited for D3 Softball and D1 Bowling too.

Senior year of high school rolled around and my boyfriend broke up with me (I thought he was the love of my life lol...I'm glad I can laugh at this now). Later that year, I was also rejected from the Naval Academy. My second best option was to accept the Navy ROTC Scholarship to Villanova University. This is the only reason I ended up at Villanova! After accepting the scholarship, I soon lost hope and no was no longer motivated to do anything physical. By the end of the school year, I quit soccer and softball, stopped all training, and I gained weight again.

Flash forward to two weeks before I was supposed to report to NROTC orientation/boot camp at Villanova University. I was miserable, out of shape, and decided there was no way I could show up for orientation in the physical and negative state that I was in. I gave up my scholarship that day, a guilt-ridden decision that proved to be one of the hardest decisions I've ever made. Although it was the right decision for me at the time, I am still paying for it... literally. A few months later, my father and brother were both diagnosed with cancer within four weeks of one another so I had a huge wake-up call to make my health a priority again. I began working out, introducing distance running into my life, and shed the weight once again.

By Sophomore year of college, I stopped being vegetarian after 4 years and soon gained all of the weight back yet again. Are you seeing the pattern here? I was so tired of gaining and losing the same weight so I went to Weight Watchers for the second time which helped me shed the weight yet again. (Wow, I'm getting tired of writing: I lost the weight again.) While Weight Watchers did help me temporarily, I don't believe the system works because it relies on counting "points" instead of eating intuitively. While attending Weight Watchers, I became more serious about distance running and ended up running my first half marathon in honor of my late brother.

Can you guess the next part of the story? I gained the weight back YET AGAIN during my first semester of Junior year of college in Milan. My clothes hardly fit, I felt more bloated than I ever had, and the thought of exercising and running completely turned me off. I was eating literally whatever I wanted...pasta, pesto, pizza, paninis, and gelato. You name it, I ate it. I came home for Christmas break at the end of the semester and knew I had to do something different to change the on-going relationship I had with food and my body.
After Christmas break, I journeyed back to Milan for the spring semester of my Junior year. Within a few weeks, I was back to being vegetarian and couldn't believe I ever gave it up. Shortly thereafter, I started transitioning to veganism (read my journey in depth here). I focused on eating more fresh fruits and vegetables from the local farmer's market. I also walked a few miles to class and to Mass instead of taking the subway, and walked about 10 miles a day when I was traveling on the weekends. I realized I could be active and healthy without being obsessed with exercising. This realization combined with my new vegan lifestyle allowed me to have positive mindset towards food and exercise and to let go of the excess baggage I was carrying since my high school breakup. I felt better than I had ever felt during this semester!

Now, one year later, I'm here today beyond happy and finally at a healthy weight. I have been vegan for an entire year now (YAY!) which has been the main factor in my stable weight. I now focus on fueling my body with WHOLE fruits and vegetables and WHOLESOME meals. I no longer eat any processed foods and hardly drink alcohol. I also don't count calories anymore. Who wants to do that for the rest of their life? Not me! Instead of counting calories, I am learning to eat intuitively and listen to my body. My binging habits still linger, however they are nowhere near as bad as they used to be! Now if I feel like overeating, I usually indulge in a giant bowl of fruits or vegetables. Lastly, I am working on introducing consistent exercise into my life without being extreme. I haven't stepped foot into a gym in over two years because it's too toxic for me. Instead, I am trying to get back into distance running and yoga. I'm not perfect and it's a work in progress, but veganism has changed my relationship with food and my body for the better and I am so incredibly thankful!

Monday, June 4, 2018

A Newer Kat in CAGLIARI

I'm back with another travel guide this time for Cagliari, a small city on the Italian island of Sardegna. I traveled to this island over spring break and loved the quintessential Italian feel of the city.

Where I Stayed:
I stayed at Villa Beach City which is located in Poetto Beach, about 20 minutes outside the main city of Cagliari. The hostel was only a two-minute walk to the beach and a grocery store. Unfortunately, I went during off season so it was too cold for the beach and most of the restaurants were closed. However, this would be a great location to stay in the summer months! As for the hostel itself, I stayed in a private room since this was the only option the hostel offered. It cost about $30 per night which wasn't bad considering I had my own room and bathroom. My favorite part of my stay was talking with one of the owners of the hostel in Italian. She was so friendly and told me to come back to the island soon. She even drove me to the airport for about 20 euro which I was happy to pay since my flight was early. While I enjoyed my time here and the fairy tale essence of the garden, I will say the common area smelled a little wonky like bad incense and it was a little far from the main city if you want that to be the focus of your trip.

Where I Ate:
I struggled with finding vegan food near my hostel since it was such a small town. I ended up going to the grocery store for my breakfast and lunch meals (which was fine with me) and eating pasta and pizza without the cheese for dinner. I also ventured into the city one afternoon and went to the farmers' market for some fruit to munch on and stopped by a quintessential Italian cafe which I highly recommend doing! I got a bag full of fruit for only two euro and enjoyed a soy cappuccino...vegan heaven if you ask me! I'm sure there are other vegan options in the city as well, I just wasn't staying in that area.

Restaurants in Poetto:
  • Lo Spiedo Sardo Poetto $$ - I don't recommend. The pasta wasn't that great. I only went here since all the other restaurants were closed.  
  • Al Poetto Ristorante Pizzeria $ - This is an OK spot for pizza. Again, I was limited with my options. 
Farmers' market and cafe in Cagliari:
  • Mercato di San Benedetto $ - Highly, highly recommend! The market is open Mon-Sat 7AM-2PM and makes for a great lunch or snack stop. For more info, check out this post
  • Antico Cafe $ - If you want to feel like you're in an old-school Italian movie with Italian music playing in the background and a classic old Italian man reading a newspaper right next to you, go to this cafe. 
What I Did:
Here are some of the places I recommend seeing in Cagliari and Poetto! If you want a more in-depth look, watch my Cagliari Vlog.

1. Poetto Beach
The first thing I did when I arrived at the hostel was venture to the beautiful Poetto Beach. You can tell how much I loved it by the smile on my face! I took a long walk on the beach and enjoyed the view while eating some of the best strawberries I've ever had. I'm sure this beach would be even better when it's warmer. I probably would've stayed all day if it wasn't cold! The restaurants along the beach also looked really cute, although almost all of them were closed like I said. You can also see Sella del Diavolo in the background which is a beautiful place to go hiking or just admire from the beach. There was also a great running/biking path along the beach which I would've taken advantage of it I was there longer. 

2. Sella del Diavolo Hike & Calamosca Beach
As I was researching things to do in Cagliari, hiking the Sella del Diavolo was one of the top things that caught my attention. I tried to find a hiking tour, but there weren't any since it was off season. I hemmed and hawed about hiking solo, and finally decided to just go for it because I didn't want to miss out on something I really wanted to do just because I was alone. I packed some water and a pocket knife and my hiking saga began. I attempted to find the entrance on the Poetto beach side and failed to do so. I didn't want to give up that easily so I tried again later in the day and successfully found it near Calamosca Beach which is also a great beach to visit (beach in the distance of the picture on the right). I found the entrance/trail using this app called Wikiloc and will definitely use the app again in the future! 
As always, if you opt to hike alone, use caution and do so at your own discretion. 

3. Botanical Gardens
My Earth-loving, vegan self had to go to the Botanical Gardens. The Gardens are located in the heart of Cagliari which you would never expect...it's like a little oasis from the busy city! I really enjoyed going here because it was a nice break from the ebb and flow of the city. There were also so many different types of plants, most of which I had never seen before! Another thing I loved about the garden is that the people working at the entrance gate were so friendly! I spoke in Italian and you could tell they really appreciated it. If possible, try to learn a few basic phrases of the language wherever you are traveling to! A little effort goes a long way. 

4. Torre dell'Ellefante & Panoramic Viewpoint
Unfortunately, I couldn't climb the Torre dell'Ellefante because it was closed for construction. Instead, I went to a panoramic viewpoint right past the tower! It was overlooked the entire city and port. I loved seeing all of the colorful buildings from above. 

Side note: Right before I took this picture, a little girl walked past me and asked her mom in Italian, "Why is that girl alone?" Of course, she didn't know I could understand her and didn't mean any harm by it. However, it took me by surprise and I ended up thinking about it for the rest of the afternoon. I came to the conclusion that our society is so afraid of being alone because of the stigma that is attached to doing something solo. We are so afraid of being alone that we even use our phones as pacifiers. I say no to this stigma and will proudly keep going solo near and far!  

Other places in my Cagliari Vlog
5. Parco Naturale Molentargius

What To Be Prepared For:
First and foremost, Sardegna runs on Italian time which means schedules don't really exist. I waited over an hour for one bus and 15 minutes for another. Italy has a beautiful way of making you slow down you least want to! Secondly, make sure you buy a ticket for the bus and don't try to ride for free. The first time I purchased a ticket at the machine prior to boarding and the second time I bought a ticket on board. Well, I figured that when I took the bus for a third time, I could just buy a ticket on board again. Apparently only some bus drivers let you do that so buy your ticket in advance! Also make sure you always have a bus ticket and don't try to sneak on without one! On one of the buses I took, two cops got on and started checking everyone's tickets and fining those without one. Lastly, as with any European city, be weary of pick-pocketers.

If any of you have summer travel plans, I'd love to hear in the comments and follow along! xx