11 Simple Ways To Make Life At Home Better

As the world hits the pause button, we are all relegated to spending time indoors — working, hanging out with loved ones, bonding with kids and pets — and simply trying to get through this without contributing to the spread of COVID-19. 

For those of you who haven’t worked from home before, this could be a time for adjustment. I am a writer who travels often for work, but I also spend quite a bit of time at home, sometimes for a month or more. Along the way, I’ve learned a few things about making my home a peaceful and work-friendly environment and adapted some tricks to stay motivated. I thought I would share a few tips and links to help us all get through these uncertain times.  

1) If your work from home routine involves spending hours in Gmail, change your background in the settings to a calming landscape. Choose scenes that feature soothing colors like blue and green. The same goes for your desktop or phone wallpaper that you look at constantly. 

My laptop wallpaper from Jasper, Alberta, Canada

2) Open your shades and windows. Let in fresh air and sunlight. Being stuck inside for weeks could feel claustrophobic, so allowing the outdoors in on a daily basis is a good way to keep your spirits up. 

3) If you’ve got pets, pet them and play with them. They’ll love the attention and the interaction will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. (This one isn’t a quick fix, but if you don’t have pets, but want companionship to weather this storm, there are plenty of shelter pets looking for a foster home.) 

Photo by Anton Darius on Unsplash

4) Nature is the best healer. Check out live nature feeds from around the globe on Explore.org to feel invigorated. The website also has an app you can download on your device. 

5) Take a few minutes during the day to meditate. Meditation doesn’t mean completely clearing your mind. Instead, it’s about mindfulness. Think about things you are grateful for and go down the list. Or remember a place that brought you peace and revisit it in your mind (mine is my recent trip to Tofino, specifically Pacific Sands Beach Resort).

Pacific Sands Beach Resort

6) Indulge in a bubble bath. Add your favorite essential oils and magnesium flakes, play some tunes, grab a glass of wine and a good book, and you are sure to feel more relaxed. You can get pure magnesium flakes from Clarity Apothecary. Magnesium helps to reduce pain and swelling, soothe muscles and release tension.

7) Dance, dance, dance. Even if you don’t want to do a full workout, put on some upbeat music when you need a break and just dance in your living room. The movement alone will make you feel better instantly and fight away any stress and anxiety.

8) It’s so easy to order in food, but cooking brings people together and it’s good for your health. Come up with a schedule for the week and get cooking

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

9) If you’ve been hoarding those magazines, now is the time to crack them open. Better yet, use them to create a vision board for the future by cutting out phrases and pictures that speak to you. Manifesting helps you work towards your goals. If travel gets you going, here’s a thoughtful piece by my friend, Fiona Tapp, entitled, Social Distancing Is A Perfect Time To Create A Travel Vision Board

10) Let television transport you to stunning locations. Here’s a list I wrote about some good binge-worthy shows to keep you entertained and dreaming about your next vacation (when we can all get back to traveling). 

11) Light candles, diffuse essential oils, boil some water with lemon or cinnamon, or find some other way to naturally freshen your space. Baking cookies helps, too! My favorite essential oils for my home are Sweet Orange and Black Spruce from Revive. I use Threshold Rose + Cedar soy crackling candle for my kitchen.

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Just remember, when all of this is done, the things we normally take for granted will feel so much better.

Hang in there and stay safe!

Lavanya

Featured photo from unsplash.com

Spain’s Papa Luna Castle is a must-see ‘Game of Thrones’ Filming Location (Forbes)

Check out my latest for Forbes on this Game of Thrones filming location.

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Papa Luna Castle and Peniscola Promenade Credit: Lavanya Sunkara

Header image courtesy of Turisme Comunitat Valenciana.

10 Least Known Islands for Wildlife Viewing (USA Today 10Best)

“In the remotest corners of the world, undisturbed by human development, indigenous wildlife thrives on unspoiled islands. The Galápagos Islands have long been lauded for biodiversity and endemism. But there are lesser known outposts, often thousands of miles away from inhabited areas, profuse with wildlife….”

Read the rest on USA Today 10Best here.

Puffins
Puffins on the Westman Islands — Photo courtesy of iStock / JMP Traveler

Header image is of Yellow-eyed penguins in New Zealand — Photo courtesy of iStock / thomaslusth

Best Cruise Ports for Hiking (Cruise Critic)

Cruising is fun and all, but the best part of it for me is exploring new lands on foot. Here’s a list of wonderful places to go hiking on your next cruise vacation that I wrote for Cruise Critic.

hiking-in-ushuaia-photo-viator_516x_21

 

8 Things to Do in La Paz, Mexico (JohnnyJet.com)

Cradled between the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean, Mexico’s Baja California Sur experiences year-round sunshine—and in its capital of La Paz, a delightfully peaceful existence away from the Cabo San Lucas crowds. Go swimming with whale sharks, pet grey whales, bike around the Magic town of Todos Santos and more.

Read the article on JohnnyJet.com by clicking here.

LaPaz
Visit @golapaz on Instagram

My Nature-Inspired Travel Wish List

All the major publications are putting out lists of recommended places to visit next year and I figured Nature Traveler should also join in the fun. I’ve had an incredible year, visiting six new countries and checking off more states in my quest to get to all 50. Some recent highlights include Mississippi river cruising on the American Duchess, exploring Canada’s Paris of the Prairies, eating deliciously spicy food in Thailand, cruising the Norwegian fjords, canoeing in Molokai, visiting America’s Serengeti in Yellowstone, road tripping through Iceland (in the winter!), and castle hopping in Spain.

I have no idea what the new year will bring, but I am hoping to do a lot more traveling, and get even more assignments (especially in my dream publications). Here’s my nature inspired list of all the places I want to experience in the coming year.

1) Grand Canyon, Arizona

Grand Canyon
Visit @grandcanyonnps on Instagram

Every year I like to visit at least one National Park. In 2018, it was the mighty Yellowstone and two years before my husband and I road tripped through Utah’s National Parks. In 2019, we are headed to the Grand Canyon in the spring. I am ready to be awed by the grandest of America’s natural temples. (Fun Fact: There’s even a rock formation in the Canyon called the Vishnu Temple).

2) Baja California, Mexico

LaPaz
Visit @golapaz on Instagram

I really, really, really want to swim with whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez, considered the richest body of water in the entire world.  

3) Maritime Canada

Maritime Canada
Visit @newfoundlandlabrador on Instagram

Ever since my visit to Saskatoon last year, I’ve been itching to return to Canada. What better way than to see its easterly provinces of Quebec and Newfoundland & Labrador, which are abundant with natural wonders and wildlife. 

4) Patagonia, South America

Patagonia
Visit @torresdelpainenp on Instagram

Patagonia is the place to go for nature lovers. It boasts stunning vistas at every turn, towering snow covered mountains, and lakes in varying shades of blue, not to mention the adorable Magellanic penguins, guanacos, seals and sea lions.

5) Northern Territories, Australia

Uluru
Visit @exploreuluru on Instagram

I was fortunate enough to spend three amazing weeks traveling all over Eastern Australia back in 2014. I can’t wait to return to the land Down Under to explore other parts. This time, I am keen on seeing the Northern Territories and the mystical Uluru.

6) Thailand

Thailand
Visit @thailandinsider on Instagram

One can never get enough of Thailand. From its gilded temples and ancient ruins,  incredibly friendly people to breathtaking islands, the Land of Smiles is a gem worth visiting again and again. Personally, I’d go back just for the sizzling hot food…and the massages.

7) Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls
Visit @niagarafallsusa on Instagram

It’s one of the most beautiful natural wonders in North America and I have yet to see it. Given that I live in New York, I really don’t have an excuse. It’s time.

8) Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Amsterdam
Visit @iamsterdam on Instagram

Ahh, the canals, the bikes, the architecture, the world class museums, the windmills— the 1,000 year old Dutch Capital has been calling my name for sometime now, and I am happy to have booked our flights for our European rail tour for September.  

9)  Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Bora Bora
Visit @visit_borabora on Instagram

I can’t remember how many years ago that I added this to my wishlist, and it still remains at the top. I can just picture myself snorkeling in the famous Bora Bora blue green lagoon surrounded by rays, colorful fish, and reef sharks.  

10) Switzerland

Switzerland

I’ve lived in the United States nearly 20 years, but I still watch and love Bollywood films. If there’s ever a constant in these movies, it’s the vivacious song-and-dance sequences set in exotic locales, especially the Swiss Alps. I’ve been wanting to visit this paradise since I first saw Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge.

Sully H.W. Bush, America’s VetDog from the Prison Puppy Program

I am sure by now you’ve all see the heartwarming picture of the late President George H.W. Bush’s service dog Sully lying next to his casket. Washington Post reported that Sully is a two year old service dog from the Guide Dog Foundation’s VetDogs Program, which provides  trained dogs to veterans in need. These dogs are trained by prison inmates in their Prison Puppy Program. Sully graduated from this very program, and spent every waking moment serving his boss since last June, as you can see on his instagram feed @SullyHWBush. The article states that “Among the services that Sully was able to perform for Bush were retrieving dropped items, opening and closing doors, pushing an emergency button and supporting him when standing.”

Screen Shot 2018-12-03 at 11.55.16 AMThe Post reports that the Labrador will join the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. There, he will assist with “physical and occupational therapy to wounded soldiers and active duty personnel during their journey to recovery.”

Here, I’d like to share an article I wrote a few years ago for PupJournal about the amazing Prison Puppy Program.

I hope you read and share.

INMATES RAISE PUPPIES FOR VETERANS, AND IT’S A WIN-WIN 

Our veterans are in need of service dogs, and the America’s VetDogs Program is rising up to the challenge by providing them with canines trained in prisons to help them lead normal lives. In the Prison Puppy Program, the puppies, usually Labradors, Golden Retrievers, and Lab/Golden mixes, receive a handler around the clock. Inmates feel immense fulfillment and pride in giving back to society while learning valuable dog training skills — not to mention spending time with an adorable companion.

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America’s VetDogs’ Prison Puppy Program was launched by The Guide Dog Foundation, based in Smithtown, Long Island, with the hopes of enriching the lives of inmates and providing the puppies a chance to be great service dogs.

When the pups turn eight weeks old, they are sent to live with specially chosen inmates at participating correction facilities in Massachusetts, Maryland, and Florida. There are currently 90 puppies being raised at 11 correctional facilities; first preference is given to incarcerated veterans who were honorably discharged.

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Puppies need to be exposed to a variety of situations at an early age, and a prison is an ideal location where the handler can devote all of his time to the dog. Pups spend weekdays with their designated handlers, sharing their cells and learning housebreaking, crate training, and basic obedience.

AVD8They are also taught how to turn on lights, open doors, and retrieve dropped items. They follow their handlers everywhere, attending classes, observing recreational activities, and going to meals. Once a week, an America’s VetDogs instructor travels to the facility to provide instruction to fit the Guide Dog Foundation’s curriculum.

On the weekends, volunteer puppy raisers take the dogs into the real world, where they can experience busy streets, stores, car rides, and a home environment. They are also exposed to restaurants, libraries, other animals, and children to prepare them for life after training. The program relies heavily on the weekend raisers, and those who work full-time have an opportunity to participate

 

Erin Sullivan, a resident of Massachusetts whose brother is a veteran, has raised three puppies for the program. Sullivan told PupJournal, “I’m honored to be doing something that benefits such a humble group of men and women. My weekends might be more carefully planned out than the average person’s, but I have an adorable sidekick who makes me and others smile, and who helps me have thoughtful and wonderful conversations with people about veterans, PTSD, our prison systems, and how fulfilling volunteering can be.”

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The dogs spend their time in prisons until they are about 16 months old, and proceed to receive advanced training at the Guide Dog Foundation. They are then matched with the right veterans to suit their specific needs.

Since 2003, VetDogs has placed more than 400 assistance dogs with disabled veterans, free of charge. Currently, there are more than 150 service dogs in the eld providing mobility and independence to veterans, active-duty service members, and first responders with disabilities.

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VetDogs also places guide dogs with individuals who are blind or have low vision; hearing dogs for those who have lost their hearing later in life; and facility dogs, as part of the rehabilitation process in military and VA hospitals. Whether they suer from post-traumatic stress disorder, have vision impairments, or physical disabilities, our veterans are paired with the ideal dog to meet their needs and lifestyle.
The highly trained dogs assist veterans with their daily activities, and provide companionship and emotional support. In some cases, they are trained to wake them up during night terrors, and get help when their person is having a seizure. They also help with retrieving dropped items, opening refrigerators, turning on and o lights, and pushing handicapped door buttons.
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The correctional facilities where puppies spend their time are a lot more peaceful and have a sense of normalcy; the veterans benefit because they are getting highly trained dogs from the prison program.

Andrew Rubenstein from the Guide Dog Foundation told PupJournal, “It is reported to us by all the prison leadership that having the dogs inside the walls has made the prison more calm, the inmates more responsive and compliant, and the atmosphere is more easygoing.”

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Dogs are incredible beings capable of doing amazing things and, with the right environment and training, they can truly change lives. The service dogs of the Guide Dog Foundation’s VetDogs Program are making the lives of those who served our country so much easier, and we hope the program continues to grow and affect more change.

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To learn more about the program, visit vetdogs.org and guidedog.org.

*Published on Pupjournal.com on November 11, 2016

** Images courtesy of The Guide Dog Foundation/America’s VetDogs; Featured image from SullyHWBush Instagram. 

10 Eco-Friendly Products for Your Next Vacation

The tide has finally turned and there are now more opportunities than ever to participate in sustainable and responsible tourism. Cruise lines, hotels, and tour operators are beginning to ban plastic straws to protect marine life, and companies like Intrepid Travel started offering vegan food adventures. Many argue that flying is bad for the environment, but did you know that eating a vegan diet can reduce your impact much more than flying less?

There are also other ways to help the planet– by investing in companies offsetting carbon emissions and further reducing your footprint by embracing eco-friendly products. For this piece, I’ve reached out to avid travelers around the world and asked them to share their favorite green products. So the next time you are packing for a trip, keep these in mind for the sake of Mother Earth.

1) Have Clean Water Anywhere with Katadyn BeFree Bottle

BeFree
Photo courtesy of Katadyn BeFree Bottle Facebook

Every traveller knows how important it is to stay hydrated on the road, but constantly buying bottled water is both expensive and terrible for the planet. That is why I love my Katadyn BeFree water bottle with a built-in filter. I’ve used it while hiking in the Andes, volunteering in the rainforest, and in cities where the tap water quality is questionable. Not only does it save me money, it reduces the amount of plastic waste I’m throwing away. Just be sure to take care of the filter and rinse it frequently so it continues to taste good and perform well. ~ Contributed by Thea Wingert, Zen Travellers

2) Hit the Road with OluKai Vegan Shoes

2) OluKai Vegan shoes
Photo courtesy of Lola Mendez, Miss Filatelista

One of the biggest challenges of going vegan for me was finding suitable travel shoes that aren’t made from animal products. Luckily, OluKai makes vegan-friendly great all-around sports shoe, the Eleu Trainer. I’ve worn mine through dirt, rain, and sand, but they’re incredibly still in great shape. They’re stylish and comfortable, and I don’t have to worry about tripping over my laces! The shoe was inspired by the Hawaiian Lifeguard Association, which makes me feel like I’m part superhero. OluKai supports the Ama OluKai Foundation, so every pair of these vegan-friendly sneakers also give back to cultural preservation in Hawai’i. ~ Contributed by Lola Méndez, travel writer, Miss Filatelista

3) Pack Light & Repel Bugs with ExOfficio Clothing

3) Bret and Mary wearing ExOfficio Clothing
Photo courtesy of Bret Love & Mary Gabbett, Green Global Travel

ExOfficio clothing has been one of our must-have travel items ever since we discovered the brand back in 2011. We were headed on a small ship cruise to the Galapagos Islands, where cabin space was minimal and laundry services were not available. We needed clothes that were extremely lightweight, breathable, offered protection from the sun, could be easily washed and dried overnight, and which preferably could work while hiking the rugged, lava-strewn landscape AND eating dinner at night.

The fact that their BugsAway line also offered built-in protection from insects for up to 75 washes was just a bonus. The company has grown a lot over the last 8 years, adding cold weather clothes and fashionable styles such as the reversible Zhanna Leggings, tunic-length Tatra Pullover (also reversible), and Cosima Jacket, which rolls up into an interior pocket to become a great travel pillow. Check out this guide to The Best Travel Clothing for Every Travel Style. ~ Contributed by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett, Green Global Travel

4) Power up with a Solar Charger

4) Solar charger
Portable Solar Charger, photo from Amazon.com

Although I’ve only had a solar portable charger for a few months, it has become one of my essential travel items. I constantly need to recharge my smartphone because my battery runs out very quickly. A solar portable charger uses sunlight to recharge the phone so it is especially useful for travelers who spend a lot of times outdoors. I love using my solar portable charger because not only is it eco-friendly, I also never have to worry about finding an outlet or power source. ~ Contributed by Patti, The Savvy Globetrotter

5) Opt for an Ethically Made Scarf

5) Happee Scarf
Photo courtesy of Leticia Sales, Co-founder of Happee

My favorite travel item is a cotton sarong/scarf with a print of a world map. The print is totally wanderlust, and I’ve worn it at several occasions for the past three years. I’ve worn it as a beach towel in Thailand, to cover my head while visiting mosques in India, as a sarong to visit temples in Bali, and on several buses and planes when the air conditioning was too cold. It’s easy to fold, to wash and to carry along. But for me, the best part is that it was ethically handmade by artisans in India. For anyone interested in buying, Happee ships worldwide from India, and the easiest way to buy in USD is to shop on Etsy. ~ Contributed by Leticia Sales, Co-founder of Happee

6) Produce Less Waste on Your Period with the Cup and Reusable Pads 

6) Reusuable Pads
Reusable Pads, photo from Amazon.com

The average woman uses over 11,000 tampons in her lifetime…that’s a lot of waste! Single use feminine hygiene products are also made from a type of plastic that takes a lot of fossil fuel to produce. In fact, a year’s worth leaves a carbon footprint of 5.3 kg CO2 equivalent. I started using a reusable cup and pads around three years ago and have never looked back. Please, don’t feel grossed out! They are so easy to use and much easier than dealing with tampons and pads. No more having to touch those filthy bins in public toilets either. One cup will last around 10 years so it’ll save you a small fortune. At night I’ll often wear a washable pad too, just incase. For other ways to reduce waste in the bathroom, check out this article on Zero Waste Bathroom. ~ Contributed by Amy Jones, Family Edventures

7) Pack a Reusable Shopping Bag

7) Reusable Shopping Bag
Baggu reusable bag, photo from Amazon.com

One of my favorite eco-friendly products is my reusable shopping bag. Bringing a reusable shopping bag when I travel is an easy way for me to be more eco-friendly. Instead of using a plastic bag every time I shop for groceries, souvenirs or anything else, I use my reusable bag to carry back my loot. I have owned my Baggu reusable bag for over five years and I take it with me on every trip. In addition to being eco-friendly, I love that it is lightweight, durable, machine washable, and it folds into a little pouch.  ~ Contributed by Matilda, The Travel Sisters

8) Use Eco-Friendly Sunscreen to Save Coral Reefs

Aloe Vera Sun Lotion
Aloe Vera Sun Lotion, photo from http://www.therestorecentre.ie/

I was really surprised that an Eco-friendly sunscreen exists and I was not sure why until I did my own research. Regular sunscreen is actually toxic for the animals that live in the sea, it pollutes the water and poisons the fishes, coral reefs, and other living creatures under the water. I highly recommend Aloe Pura or Aloe Pura Body. I only started using it earlier this year and I love it, it does the job as good as a regular sunscreen and the price is just the same. Be a responsible traveller and make sure you add this to your Eco-friendly travel accessories for your next beach holiday.  ~ Contributed by Mary Charie, A Mary Road

9) Ditch Plastic Bottles and Go with S’well

9) Swell Bottle
Lavanya Sunkara with S’well bottle on a road trip in Maine

I was introduced to the insulated S’well bottle three years ago when my husband received it at a conference, and I haven’t gone a single day without it since. My 17oz bottle keeps water cold for up to 24 hours, and is perfect for long road trips and flights. It’s easy to fill up at airport water fountains, and even fits in my purse for long days exploring new places. The bottle does come in other sizes and super cool designs. It’s also lightweight, easy to clean, and always keeps water fresh. I must’ve prevented thousands of plastic bottles from going to the landfill over the years, thanks to S’well. These bottles also make perfect gifts for the travelers in your family! ~ Contributed by yours truly, Nature-Traveler

10) Bid Goodbye to Tiny Bottles, and Hello to Solid Shampoo

10) Solid bars from Ethique
Ethique solid shampoo bars, photo from Facebook

I switched to solid shampoo two years ago and have never looked back. It’s perfect for travel as it lasts for ages and takes up very little space, there is also no problem taking it in your hand luggage. But the best thing is it completely cuts out plastic waste and most brands are eco-friendly so I don’t have to worry about washing my hair while camping or travelling in areas where water drains straight back into a river or ocean. Ethique makes a brilliant range and uses no plastic packaging. I also love the ones available at LUSH. For more eco-friendly travel accessories, check out Top Eco-Friendly Travel Accessories to Help You Travel Green.  ~ Contributed by Rohan, Travels of a Bookpacker

Feel free to share your favorite eco products in the comments below. Happy travels!!

Header photo courtesy of Leticia Sales of iamHappee.com.

This Thai Temple Was Built Using 1.5 Million Beer Bottles (Architectural Digest)

I am so excited to share my first article for Architectural Digest! Click on the link or picture below to check it out…

This Thai Temple Was Built Using 1.5 Million Beer Bottles

The Temple of a Million Bottles, which took two years to build, was spearheaded by local monks who had grown tired of seeing beer bottles littering their local community

Tourism Authority of Thailand (6)

Photos courtesy of Tourism Authority of Thailand 

 

12 Ways to Explore the Myths and Mysticism of Andros, Bahamas (Fodor’s Travel)

I am so excited to share my first article for Fodor’s Travel. It’s about a special island called Andros in the Bahamas. Find out what makes it so mystical by clicking the link below.

12 Ways to Explore the Myths and Mysticism of Andros, Bahamas

Bahamas-Myths-and-Mysteries-Lusca

 

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