6 Ways I’ve Traveled Without Leaving My Home

As a travel writer for more than 10 years, I loved and cherished my jet-setting lifestyle. Last March, all that brought me joy was stripped away in a matter of weeks. Trips to Australia, Switzerland, Canada, and other destinations I was eager to visit were cancelled. I had to pivot to writing about other topics (outdoors and pets, which I love), but that deep desire to experience this wonderful world of ours burned inside me. I had written for Forbes about ways to virtually travel via live feeds and binge-worthy TV shows that transport viewers to beautiful locales. But I needed more. I needed something to keep that wanderlust alive for my sanity. So, in the course of this past year, I decided that if I can’t go places, I can bring them to me. I made a few changes to my everyday life that quenched a bit of that travel thirst and brought me moments of happiness. 

The CDC still does not recommend unnecessary travel for the time being, unless you are vaccinated. Yes, folks are getting vaccinated at an accelerated pace (Thank you, President Biden!), but it might be months before we can all freely travel internationally without worrying about infecting others.  

Here, I share some tips on how you, too, can travel without leaving your couch. 

1) Download a New Tab extension for Google Chrome that showcases beautiful pictures from around the globe. I use the Nature – Ocean Beach & Space Galaxy New Tab extension (naturally!), but there are other extensions you can download and be delighted each time you open a new tab.  

2) Change your ringtone from some boring bundled noise to something exciting like an ABBA song, especially those featured in Mamma Mia! (or its sequel). These songs automatically transport me to Greece. I sometimes use a celtic ringtone from an app that takes me to Ireland and Scotland every time the phone rings.

3) Listen to the Calm app’s meditation or sleep stories. My favorite is Blue Gold by Stephen Fry about meandering through the lavender fields and sleepy villages of Provence, France. Calm also has sleep stories from Iceland, Africa, Belize and more.

4) Order jewelry from other countries on Etsy or through the UNICEF Market. This has three benefits — First, I get trinkets from places like India, Thailand, Scotland, and Greece delivered to my door and getting packages from these places boosts my mood momentarily when I open the mailbox. Second, it benefits artists who make beautiful pieces of art. Lastly, by purchasing from the UNICEF market, you are helping children in need.

5) Escape to another location via Window Swap, a website that literally gives you a glimpse from the window of someone else’s world. Simply click the “Open a new window somewhere in the world” bar on the screen and get randomly transported to Cornwall (UK), New Zealand, or Israel (to name a few). There’s no limit to how many times you can change the view, so click away to see and hear the sounds of places you’ve dreamed about. Who needs Doctor Who’s Tardis, right?

6) Watch a Bollywood movie on a streaming service. Hindi-language, Indian films with upbeat song and dance sequences set in magical destinations like Turkey, Corsica, and Australia are perfect for escaping the quarantine doldrums. I stream these films with subtitles on Netflix and Amazon Prime every once in a while when I need an escape. Some of my favorites are listed below: 

  • Bachna Ae Haseeno – Europe and Australia (Amazon Prime)
  • Chalte Chalte – Greece (Netflix)
  • Chennai Express – South India (Netflix)  
  • Dhoom 2 – Namibia, Durban, and Rio de Janeiro (Netflix) 
  • Dil Chahta Hai – Australia (Netflix)  
  • Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge – Switzerland (Amazon Prime) 
  • Dostana Florida – (Amazon Prime) 
  • Ek Tha Tiger – Ireland, Turkey, Cuba, and Thailand (Amazon Prime) 
  • Jab Harry Met Sejal – Various European Cities (Netflix) 
  • Jab We Met – Himachal Pradesh, India (Amazon Prime)
  • Kites – Nevada and New Mexico (Amazon Prime) 
  • pK – Belgium (Netflix) 
  • Tamasha – Corsica (Netflix) 
  • Queen – Paris and Amsterdam (Netflix) 
  • Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara – Spain (Netflix) 

Life Lessons from Indu and Andy

I am lucky to have two amazing rescue dogs to spend my life with and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Indu, a mixed-breed pup rescued from a puppy mill, is a blue-eyed, blond-haired beauty with a mind of her own. I adopted her when she was just eight weeks old from the North Shore Animal League. She has grown up to be an independent, smart pooch who knows exactly how to get what she wants, whether it be being fed promptly at 8AM/6PM or walked at a certain time in the afternoon. She loves to hike, take long naps, spend a considerable amount of time in her backyard, and keep a watchful eye on the neighborhood. Even at the age of 12, she bounces over above ground roots/logs and keeps a steady pace on the trails in all seasons. She is drawn to men and especially loves her grand dad and her papa, cozying up to them for belly rubs and initiating playtime. Indu’s reputation precedes her: she has a recipe “Indu’s Chicken” by The Dog Chef, a drink named “Indu on the Beach” concocted specifically with her eyes in mind, and a hybrid SUV that bears her name. She’s one special pooch and she knows it.

Andy, on the other hand, is the opposite of Indu in so many ways. This cocker-spaniel mix (lovingly called spanx) joined our family later in his life, having been a stray in Georgia. We don’t know how old he is, but we know he survived heartworm disease and led a rough life before becoming a cherished member of our family. He now enjoys the finer things in life, like plush blankets, gourmet homemade food, and comfy beds in all the rooms of the house. He is mama’s dog to the core, always following me like a shadow or curled up next to me while I work. It was love at first sight when I found him at the Best Friends Animal Society‘s Super Adoption event in New York City in 2016.

While Indu loves playing with toys, Andy prefers the company of humans. We call him the Mayor and Indu a diva. Together, they are the yin and the yang of our family that brighten each day of our lives and bring endless joy to everyone who crosses their paths.

Here are some life lessons from our precious pooches…

Easy Vegan Recipes: A Collection

Updated: August 2020

Hi everyone! 

Welcome to the wonderful and rewarding lifestyle of veganism. Whether you are here because you have just decided to switch to a vegan diet or looking for more recipes to add to your repertoire, you’ve come to the right place. I am all about making easy and healthy dishes that don’t take up too much effort or time. So, check out these links to some of my favorite vegan recipes. I’ve made almost all of these dishes over the years and can tell you that they are super easy and fun to make. Of course, you can change up items to fit your taste (and spice level).

And if you like this blog post, share it and spread the word about these amazing bloggers and authors. I will keep updating this post as I find more delicious recipes.

Let me know if you have any questions and feel free to add your favorite recipes in the comments. 

INDIAN

Cabbage Moong Dal from Indian Healthy Recipes 

Eggplant Curry from Show Me The Curry 

Yellow Dal from Vegetarian Times (Note: Feel free to add tomatoes, squash, spinach, kale or carrots to dal for a healthier meal.) 

ITALIAN 

Avocado Pasta from Damn Delicious 

Easy Soy Milk Alfredo Pasta from Cheap Food Here 

Sheet-Pan Spicy Roasted Broccoli Pasta from the New York Times

Spinach Pesto from Food.com 

Vegan Alfredo Sauce from Minimalist Baker 

Vegan Roasted Red Bell Pepper Pasta from Minimalist Baker 

MEXICAN 

Squash Quesadillas from Smitten Kitchen 

Tempeh Tacos from Well Plated 

THAI

Pad Thai from Taste of Home 

Pineapple Basil Thai Fried Rice from Archana’s Kitchen 

TOFU DISHES

Crispy Oven Baked Honey Garlic Tofu Bites from I am a Food Blog 

Pan Fried Tofu with Spicy Sauce from Maangchi 

Stir-Fried Cabbage, Tofu and Red Pepper from the New York Times 

Tandoori Tofu from My Spicy Kitchen 

MISCELLANEOUS

Chickpea Flour Eggless Vegan Frittata from Vegan Richa 

Classic Tabbouleh Salad from The Spruce Eats 

Easy Authentic Falafel Recipe: Step-by-Step from the Mediterranean Dish 

Easy Vegan Quiche from Nora Cooks 

Mac and Cheeze from Mayim Bialik’s vegan cookbook shared by The Beet

Stuffed Bell Peppers from Simply Recipes  

SALAD

Pearled Couscous Salad with Kale from Forks Over Knives 

Potato Salad from Peta  

Quinoa Salad from Cookie and Kate 

SOUP

Costa Rican Black Bean Soup from DoTerra 

DESSERT 

3-Ingredient Banana Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies (I use raisins instead) from Clean and Delicious 

Banana Bread from Martha Stewart 

Banana Blueberry Muffins from Two Peas And Their Pod 

Banana Walnut Cake from Vegan Baking 

Carrot Cake from Ceara’s Kitchen 

Chocolate Chip Cookies from Chocolate Covered Katie 

VEGAN COOKBOOKS

Isa Does It: Amazingly Easy, Wildly Delicious Vegan Recipes for Every Day of the Week by Isa Chandra Moskowitz 

Oh She Glows Cookbook Over 100 Vegan Recipes to Glow from the Inside Out by Angela Liddon 

Sweet Potato Soul: 100 Easy Vegan Recipes for the Southern Flavors of Smoke, Sugar, Spice, and Soul: A Cookbook by Jenne Claiborne. You can also follow her on Instagram here

VEGAN RECIPE ARTICLES 

Here are some more links for recipes if you want to browse more: 

7-Day Vegetarian Meal Plan: 1,500 Calories from Eating Well

30 Quick Vegan Dinners That Will Actually Fill You Up from Buzzfeed  

These 10 Freezer-Friendly Plant-Based Meals Taste Even Better the Next Day (and the Next) from Well and Good 

Here’s a fun video to help you get started: 

What A Beginner, Intermediate, And Experienced Vegan Eat In A Day from Goodful

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.

https___blogs-images.forbes.com_lavanyasunkara_files_2019_04_Promenade-1200x900
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.

AVD2

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.

AVD3

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.
AVD4

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. 

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