Finally: How I Lost 20 Pounds

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I’d read a million times that, in order to lose weight, one had to create a ‘calorie deficit.’ A what? I scoured articles and came across information like, “1 lb = 3500 calories,” and “eat 500 calories less.” Huh? Eventually, I figured out I’d have to track how many calories I was already eating and then eliminate 500 calories a day from that…OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT?!

There were a couple of issues with the above:

  • I didn’t want to waste a week figuring out how many calories I was already eating that were keeping me at my weight at the time. No matter that I ultimately wasted much more time than had I just taken this step — I wanted something that would work, and fast!
  • 3500 calories in a pound, 500 calories to eliminate, calorie deficit. I had no idea what any of it meant. It was the same maddening feeling I used to get in math class — I knew the information was all right in front of my eyes and yet, I just could not make sense of it.

Flash forward a few years and, in this our age of ease and convenience, I finally found something that made sense of everything I’d read. In September of 2014, I downloaded the MyFitnessPal app. You want to know how pessimistic I was about it? Years of experience had led me to resign myself to the idea, which I pushed repeatedly to the back of my mind, that it would only be a matter of time before I gave up on myself and failed yet again. I refused to take a ‘before’ photo because I thought I’d jinx myself out of an ‘after.’ This is how my mind works, folks.

Now, I’ll be the first to say that I think a number of factors went into my success. I was living at home again and I had a new job that, while it didn’t offer the movement that came with teaching, was less physically and emotionally stressful. But without a doubt, the biggest contributors to my ultimate success were:

  1. Knowledge: I finally understood what it meant to eat at a calorie deficit. The app set it up for me! I put in my goals (lose 1 lb/week), my general activity level (sedentary), my height and my initial weight. BAM! No “test week” required. Just an instant plan rooted in math.
  2. Awareness: Logging my foods was eye-opening. Do you know how quickly those 100-calorie snacks add up? Those tiny Hershey’s kisses? Coffee creamer? I still eat all of these things, but no longer mindlessly. The more I logged my food, the more I learned how to make smart choices about how I fuel my body. For example, I learned that a 100-calorie Fudge Stripes pack kept me full for all of maybe 5 minutes; however, a 95-calorie serving of oatmeal with berries kept me full for a couple hours. Game. Changer.
  3. Results: The best part about using MyFitnessPal is that it is mathematically/scientifically going to work if you use it diligently. As long as you are taking in less calories than you are burning (your body is burning calories even without exercise, by the way) you will lose weight. I know that if I eat within my calorie goal I will see a lower number on the scale. I saw results in ONE WEEK, people. And I know that’s what we all want and honestly, need. Being able to see the results of my work quickly, even though it was only a pound, gave me the motivation to keep going.
  4. Consistency: I love using MyFitnessPal because the progress is regular and gradual. I knew the changes I was seeing were going to last because they were slow and steady. I know that if tomorrow I decided to stop using the app I would NOT automatically gain back all the weight I’ve lost so far, because over the course of using the app I have made inherent and natural lifestyle changes. Downloading the app and logging in a couple times a week is unlikely to get you results. For me, what ensures results is consistently logging in and logging my food and exercise. Truly, consistency is key.

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Well, there you have it. A simple, free app (the version I use) has seriously changed my life. Maybe it will work for you, maybe it’s not your thing. If you do decide you want to give it a shot, feel free to connect with any questions or if you need an accountability buddy. Good luck!

 

 

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Scale vs. Non-scale Victories

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There’s no worse way to set out to accomplish something than doing so without a goal in place. The goal itself doesn’t have to be something everyone approves of or understands, but it should certainly be something that makes sense to you. I myself struggle with this, a lot. It’s hard to balance my ‘what’s meant to be will be’ philosophy for life with my ‘what’s next’ approach to my career.

For a long time, my weight loss efforts were [mis]guided strictly by the scale. I had one number on my mind that I HAD to reach each time I renewed my efforts. The thing is, I didn’t know why. I imagined arriving at that number would mean I’d look and feel a certain way, but I didn’t recognize the value of focusing on these potential non-scale outcomes.

The scale is a touchy subject – some say to stay away completely and others swear by it. Personally, what helped me finally achieve my goals was loosening the reigns to find a middle ground. I used my scale regularly to help me track my progress and to observe the effects of the changes I was making, but for once I actively tried not to let the number on the scale define me. It’s a mental battle, and requires a fair amount of positive self-talk. Ultimately, it can be liberating.

So, before I share how I lost the weight allow me to share some possible goals you may want to set (both scale and non-scale).

How to use your scale

When you’re committing to a long-term lifestyle change, it’s helpful to check in on your progress regularly so you don’t lose momentum. When you can mark some tangible changes as you go, you’re more likely to stick with the efforts.

I recommend weighing yourself once a week only, at the same time and in the same place each time. For me, that time is every Sunday morning before breakfast and the place is in my kitchen. I also wear about the same thing (usually my workout clothes as I head to the gym right after a quick bite) in efforts to keep as many of the variables constant as possible.

If you’ve ever weighed yourself in different areas of your home, you know that your scale can reflect back a number that is several pounds higher or lower depending on where you are (upstairs, downstairs, on carpet, on tile, etc). Similarly, the scale at your friend’s place may show you a number different from the scale at your gym.

Part of letting go of the exact number is recognizing that you are seeking a particular shift, whether that be up or down on the scale for you, and focusing more on that than the number itself. Essentially, what I’m looking for when I weigh myself each week is did I lose, gain or stay the same compared to what the same scale and conditions showed me last week, and what choices during the week led me to my result.

Look forward to non-scale victories

There are myriad non-scale victories to focus on when you make a lifestyle change like the one I made. Here are just a few:

  • Increased energy levels – You know when you find yourself breathlessly exclaiming, “I’m so out of shape!” Yea, saying that less.
  • New activities – It’s always amazing when your body doesbalancing act nausheen fitness.jpg something you didn’t think it could. For me, this first came in the form of running an entire 5k without stopping. Granted I was motivated by chocolate, but still!
  • Fitting into an old favorite – You know what I mean, those skinny jeans or that one hot dress. A lot of my clothes fit me better now than they ever have before. Sure, this also means a lot of my clothes eventually got too big, but actually feeling a pair of pants go from too snug to too big is an incredibly tangible result of your efforts.
  • Losing inches – The number on the scale can be pretty finicky sometimes. If you’re looking for another quantitative way to track your progress, consider keeping track of measurements. You can measure your waist, arms, etc every few weeks and track how these change over time. It’s something I did not do and sometimes wish I had!
  • Healthy cravings – The healthier I eat, the more my body craves healthy foods. While my sweet tooth is alive and well, I notice a big difference in how my body feels when I eat unhealthily vs healthily. This helps me choose healthy options happily and more often.
  • Feeling better about yourself – Realizing you’re treating yourself well and feeling proud of your healthy choices is the best. Little compares with the feeling of knowing you’re finally doing right by yourself. Chances are, you’re running around all day trying to fulfill your responsibilities to your family, friends, kids, boss, etc. There is something incredibly satisfying about valuing yourself enough to make time for your own health.

Next week, I’ll share how I finally lost 20 pounds. In the meantime, if you’re looking to make a similar change this week is a great time to set your goals. What non-scale victories are you looking forward to, or have you already achieved? I’d love to hear about it!

When it Finally Clicks

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My earliest memory of being “weight-conscious,” to put it euphemistically, is from when I was in the fifth grade. I was getting ready for school, not feeling great in anything I put on and rummaging furiously through the closet. I came across a pair of jeans, buried in the back, and tried them on with trepidation masked by a forced nonchalance. They fit. I was floored.

I ran downstairs and announced all through the house that finally, I fit into a pair of jeans. To be clear, I was never obese, by any formal definition. I’ve coasted by on the high end of ‘normal’ for my height all my life. Very likely, there were jeans out there in sizes we just happened not to own that would have fit me. But all that is beside the point, which is that by the fifth grade I had already learned to let my body make me nervous and sad.

Until that moment. I don’t recall how long I rode the euphoria of fitting into those jeans. Knowing myself, it wasn’t for long.

Anyone who has ever struggled with their own body image is well aware that this runs much, much deeper than what I can describe for you in one, two or a hundred blog posts. Unless you have battled your own ugly thoughts about yourself day in and day out until it becomes second-nature (sadly I know too many of us have), you won’t ever fully understand the psychological toll. All I ask is that, if you’re coming along for the ride, you suspend your judgments as I share my journey over the coming weeks.

I was never as thin as I thought I was supposed to be. In middle school, I had slim friends who didn’t understand my struggle and I had friends bigger than me who didn’t understand my struggle, and were almost offended by it.

For years, I yo-yo dieted. I binged. I ate emotionally. I ate not enough. I exercised without any idea of how to make it change my body. I was mean to myself, angry with what I was. Nothing clicked. Not in elementary school, not in middle school, not in high school (when I finally dropped 8 pounds senior year and had no idea how to sustain it). Not in college. Not when I was a full-grown adult with a big-kid job as an English teacher.

In fact, I was at my biggest when I was teaching. Years of not understanding my relationship with food, combined with a cross-country move fresh out of college and the daily emotional stress of teaching caused me to lose control. I joined weight watchers. I quit. I began being more active. I stopped. The lifelong cycle continued.

Don’t get me wrong – this is simply a magnifying glass set atop one element of my life. Throughout all these years, I’ve also lived my life and been ridiculously happy – I’ve made great friends, traveled and taken risks, been in love, pursued my professional interests. The point is, my struggle with my weight has long been an underlying part of my life.

transformationBut now, the tables are turning. It took me decades to figure it out, and I finally found something that has worked for me. I’m smiling as I write this part. In the six or seven months spanning the end of 2014 and start of 2015, I lost 20-25 pounds – the most I’ve ever managed. More importantly, I’ve spent the time since then keeping them off and managing the fluctuations. I still have my struggles and I’m still battling my demons, but I feel the best I ever have. I’m proud of myself and I’ve taught myself that self-love gets you much further than self-hate.

Looking back on it, and to an outsider looking in, this past year of my life and the accomplishments may look easy. I wanted to start my next series of posts with this one to make it very clear that this was not me deciding, on a whim, to lose some weight and then immediately seeing results. No, this has been about fifteen years in the making until something finally clicked and I found what worked for me.

The steps I took and the changes I’ve made may work for you and they may not. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share: how I lost the weight (all-natural and all free), what foods I eat on the regular, how and why I exercise, various challenges I’ve faced in this process and how to overcome them, what’s next for me in my journey, etc. If at any point there’s something specific you’d like to know or see a post about, please feel free to email me or let me know in the comments.

You can do it, it’s possible. Trust me, and thank you.

3 Ways Perfection Kills Progress

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This is not me, this straight-to-blog business. No, I’m a pen-and-paper-first kinda gal. I like to brain dump all over blank sheets of paper until the knots in my mind are undone in some semblance of sense outside of my own brain. Well, you know where that’s gotten me lately? Nowhere.

As desire for cultivating my creative passions outside of work swirl with comparisons of people whose creative passions ARE their work, I have moved further and further away from achieving any sort of peace in this matter. After several renewed intentions over the course of more time than I care to admit, I have to face it. I’m stuck. And it’s all my own doing.

I’ve been funneling so much energy and worry into being perfect right out of the box that I may as well wither away inside of it. So, this is what I get. If straight-to-blog is what it takes for me to quite making excuses and to overcome my fear of imperfection, so be it.

In fact, this exercise has also helped me realize exactly why seeking perfection can be so detrimental (thereby leading me to a content topic so clearly this was the right move on multiple levels).

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  1. Perfection fuels the comparison fire
    You want to be a big-time blogger? Photographer? Insta-famous? As you search the inter-webs for inspiration to help you live your passion, you realize just how many people are out there living your dream in a kick-ass way. It becomes easy to look at renowned bloggers or photographers, and young people with ridiculous amounts of followers on social media, and forget the process they must have endured.
  2. Perfection enables fear
    It’s easy to become paralyzed as you compare yourself with “the competition,” and necessary to regain perspective. That great blog maybe wasn’t born great. That incredible photo likely wasn’t close to the first one shot. It can be too overwhelming to pursue your passion once you convince yourself you’ll never be as good as those who are already doing it. Seeking out sources of inspiration is fine, just beware falling into the trap of wanting to be just as seemingly perfect right off the bat. Respect the process.
  3. Stunts progress
    It’s tough to improve when you haven’t even started, and this is precisely where I’ve been living for too long now. There may be a constant stream of inspiration as you brush up on tips and tricks and admire the work of those who’ve come before you, and if you wait too long to take action the inspiration goes sour. It goes from being the push you need to the pressure keeping you down as you avoid the negative feelings associated with your own imperfections – but you haven’t even started yet!

Here’s what it comes down to: we’ve all got to start somewhere. We won’t be perfect right away, or maybe ever, but at least we’ll be able to face ourselves and say we tried.

Cheers,
Nausheen

 

Lessons from Traveling with Family

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As my year in Spain came to a close I became increasingly filled with anticipation regarding what would come next. I was anxious to see my family and show my parents around Europe for the first time in their lives. I was also terrified that with my Fulbright grant I had officially peaked and would be beyond lucky to find a real grown-up job in my field of choice, ever. You know, a totally normal feeling for a 26-yr-old who’d just taken a year off to travel.

It felt like I’d been waiting forever but finally the day did come to see my family again. Those 10 months were the longest I’d ever gone without seeing them, and I learned that while it’s possible to go so long in between visits, it’s far from desirable.

Traveling with my family was…different from all the travel I’d experienced to that point. I’m glad to have had my sister with me as together we worked through the challenges of traveling with our parents. What do we have to show for it? Tons of pictures, a lifetime of memories and these 5 neatly packaged takeaways:

1. Where you stay matters
I met my family for the first time after 10 months in London. After embracing and laughing with excitement and exhaustion, my parents began to take a closer look at the hotel rooms we were staying in. They were less than pleased. My sister and I were shocked. My dad had left the planning up to us, and we’d gone back and forth repeatedly trying to find reasonably priced places to stay that were also nicer than where we would normally stay ourselves. Well, clearly she and I had stayed in one too many hostels to recognize quality anymore. Sis and I thought of a hotel as simply being a place to shower and sleep before heading out on adventures. When you’re traveling with family though, where you stay becomes a necessary refuge for recovery. Over the course of our trip, we would change hotels in two different cities.

Reunited at the Tower Bridge, my favorite place in London

Reunited at the Tower Bridge, my favorite place in London

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2. Walking is not for everyone
Both my parents enjoy going on walks, but a leisurely stroll is hardly the same as walking an entire city in a matter of days. To accommodate my parents, sis and I veered from our typical travel routine and planned to take public transportation as much as possible. Parentals were not thrilled. They’d rather have taxied. In some places, like Portugal and Spain, this wasn’t a terrible idea. In others, like Paris and London, it may have been. When I think back on our trip, it’s hard not to feel guilty about not choosing nicer places to stay (though it all worked out) and about pushing my parents to walk more than they found comfortable. In several ways, this trip opened my eyes to the truth no child wants to face — maybe my parents are getting older. On the other hand, maybe walking a whole city is just one specific way of travel and simply doesn’t mesh with every travel personality.

3.What speaks to you may not speak to me

Mom is so over it

Mom is so over it

Perhaps the hardest pill for me to swallow was that my parents did not fall head over heels for Europe like I did. What’s more, my absolute favorite city on our itinerary was their least favorite: Rome. They couldn’t grasp its charm. The history did not resonate with them. Where I saw beauty and romance and adventure, they saw only ruins. They did not care for the food. I wondered repeatedly how I had managed to fail their expectations and fail Rome, and ultimately had to accept that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. My parents were unimpressed by the narrow streets that reminded them of crowded areas of the motherland they’d left behind, and were surprised by how defensive I became of the city. I think Rome is where they truly reaffirmed their intense appreciation for life in America.

Trevi Fountain was under construction. This did not help Rome's standing

Trevi Fountain was under construction. This did not help Rome’s standing

4. Paris is always a good idea
Hands down, Paris was the highlight of our trip. There was plenty to see: the Eiffel Tower proved impressive, the boat tour was highly enjoyable, the Champs Elysees was wide and grandiose, and the food exceeded expectations. We were all happy in Paris, and even now my parents reminisce most about that leg of our trip. They even want to go back! So, Paris wins.

How could you not love this place?

How could you not love this place?

All smiles in Paris

All smiles in Paris

Majestic

Majestic

5. There’s nothing like family
Traveling with family is so completely different from traveling with friends. There were certainly some struggles, arguments and hurt feelings along the way, but in the end I aim to remember as many of the wonderful parts as possible: our train ride from London to Paris; visiting and touring the Ismaili center in Lisbon; sitting in the Lisbon airport listening to tales of my parents’ start in America; catching up with my sister in real time; knowing that however the experience unfolded, I was able to show my parents a part of the world they’d only ever imagined before.

Just chillin' at the westernmost point of continental Eurpe

Just chillin’ at the westernmost point of continental Eurpe

Fun in the sun in Segovia

Fun in the sun in Segovia

Soul Searching

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Did you know?
I used to search your eyes. I used to try desperately to see something there. Beyond a reflection, the likes of which any hard and glossy surface could deliver.
Those moments when I just silently stared straight into your eyes? I was looking for a way in. I wanted to see past them. I wanted the sun to lighten your dark eyes so I could catch even the tiniest glimpse of what lay behind them.
I wanted to see your soul. I wanted proof it was there, if I’m being truthful. In moments when fear gripped my uncertain heart I needed proof that you were real, and more than a test.
I needed to wade in the depths of your eyes, to swim with your soul, to know it was right and that I was safe in my happiness.
When I couldn’t see past your eyes – when they remained dark despite the surrounding light and despite my willful pleading- I tried talking myself out of the fear I felt then.
I tried shaming and guilting myself out of thoughts that you were not real. I felt disappointment and tried to quell it but it lingered. So I kept trying.
In those moments while you held me close and stared uncertainly my way, I stared back, searching hungrily and fruitlessly for your soul.

País Vasco – Adventures in Basque Country

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Determined to explore a bit more of Spain as our time abroad sped to a close, a friend and I jetted off to Bilbao one weekend to check out how the northern-folk live. After a quick hour by plane, we landed in Bilbao ready to take on the day. We found the city was much quieter than we had anticipated, which was a welcome change at least for a little while.

After checking in at our hostel, we made our way to the Guggenheim to take in some art.

Awesome bridge we passed on the way.

Awesome bridge we passed on the way.

Guggenheim shrouded in mystery!

Guggenheim shrouded in mystery!

Our visit to the Guggenheim coincided with a huge Yoko Ono exhibit, which gave me the opportunity to learn that I don’t “get” Yoko Ono. My favorite room housed a series of 9 different screens, each playing a video of a single person with a musical instrument. Eventually, they all sang and the song and music from each individual video came together to create a cohesive musical group.

The best smelling dog I ever did meet, in the Guggenheim's backyard.

The best smelling dog I ever did meet, in the Guggenheim’s backyard.

After the Guggenheim, we wandered around until we came to an outdoor market. Has there been any European city in which I have not come across an outdoor market? We took some time to explore the goods being sold, before finding a gelato place where we had just about the best gelato ever (in Spain). Yum!

Filled with gelato, and the knowledge that no matter how full we were in that moment we’d be hungry for dinner soon, we sought out a place to get pintxos. Since Basque country is known for these small snacks, we weren’t passing up any chances to try some! After dinner, we meandered over back to our hostel. We had only allowed ourselves one day in Bilbao, and we both agreed that was plenty.

The next morning, we were up bright and early to catch our bus to San Sebastían. When we arrived in this coastal city, it was pouring! We took shelter and lamented at our poor luck, trying to figure out how to change our itinerary for the day. A movie, maybe? It is a testament to how exhausting travel can be, that in those wet moments huddled together in northern Spain nothing sounded better than finding a movie theater to waste away in for a few hours.

As luck would have it, by the time we made it to our hostel the rain had all but subsided! We headed out in search of food, and then trekked along the shore to Mount Igueldo. 10309064_10152440497856187_1632698316116541666_n

For 2.80 euro, you can take a rickety tram up to the top of Mount Igueldo for some great views and – to our surprise – a cute little amusement park!

Tranquil tram route.

Tranquil tram route.

Having conquered Mt. Igueldo, we decided to partake in our favorite activity – eating. First, we went to observe the Peine del Viento (Wind Comb) sculpture near the foot of Mt. Igueldo. 10478584_10152440501066187_4420826989803699612_n

The pintxo bars in San Sebastían did not disappoint. There were so many options, and the vibe was much livelier than in Bilbao! We hopped through several different pintxo bars until we could eat no more, then walked back to our hostel.

Just a very small taste of some of our pintxos.

Just a very small taste of some of our pintxos.

Crossing the bridge on our walk back to the hostel.

Crossing the bridge on our walk back to the hostel.

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Crossing the bridge near our hostel in the day-time. Beautiful.

The next day, we aimed to explore some more sights before catching our bus and then plane all the way back to Madrid. First, we headed to the San Telmo museum to learn a bit more about Basque culture.

Walking to the museum.

Walking to the museum.

Afterward, on our way to lunch, we ran into some sort of fun cultural fest. Running into unexpected surprises like this is one of the best parts of traveling! We watched some performances and checked out some food stalls before continuing on our way to lunch.

Octopus!

Octopus!

Then, it was back to the hostel to grab our stuff and travel back to Madrid!

“Not Green, Emerald.”

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In putting together a list of travel destinations for my year abroad, I felt about Ireland the way I have felt about Italy. I was drawn to its magical allure. And, while Italy will forever hold a special place in my heart (Italy is magic), our trip to Dublin did not disappoint.

I traveled with three other Fulbrighters, and we spent our first day wandering by various shops and cathedrals on our way to the Guinness Factory. This factory is THE thing to do in the city of Dublin, and is basically the beer equivalent of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. We spent about four hours there.

Spire

Spire

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Trinity College

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Inside the Guinness Factory

Inside the Guinness Factory

Inside the Guinness Factory

Inside the Guinness Factory

That evening, we wanted to check out the Temple Bar area. We were lucky enough to catch a lively street performance before heading back to our hostel to rest up before day two.

Dancing in the streets!

Dancing in the streets!

On our second day, two of our group headed to Galway, while the other two of us headed off on a full-day bus tour. We stopped in Limerick before heading over to the Cliffs of Moher. The Cliffs themselves were majestic enough when we could see them through the fog and mist, or when we weren’t caught in wind tunnels! I am a little surprised I managed to survive the experience with only a sharp tear in my leather jacket, and severely knotted hair.

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

Proof that I was there!

Proof that I was there!

After the Cliffs, we had lunch at a nearby tavern before making our way to a gorgeous national park. The Burren is a very unique, stony national park. This part of our trip, in addition to the sometimes sweet and sometimes lewd Irish ballads our tour guide serenaded us with, was my favorite part of the trip.

The most amazing Fish & Chips

The most amazing Fish & Chips

The Burren!

The Burren!

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After the long trip, we headed back to our hostel for hot showers and some rest. Once we felt like humans again, we made our way back to the Temple Bar area. We had a great time listening to crowds go wild upon hearing traditional Irish songs, and catching some live music as well.

On our final day, we made an unplanned visit to the Leprechaun Museum. You guys, this was definitely a highlight of my trip! This museum is actually an interactive storytelling museum about Irish folklore, complete with an Irish guide! We had too much fun climbing up on giant furniture and walking through all the cute sets they had set up. If you have the time, this place is worth checking out! But only if you feel like catering to your inner child. 10359228_10152433113231187_8259906020505488521_n 10409494_10152433114596187_8646340377476722601_n

By the time we finished acting like children at the museum, the Dublin Castle was open. We headed over to explore, bought some souvenirs, and grabbed a last Irish meal before heading to the airport.

Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle

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Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd’s Pie

I left satisfied, and also convinced that road-tripping would be the best way to see all Ireland has to offer. Next time!

Denmark Days

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The happiest country in the world (well, one of them at least) had been on my list of must-visit places for some time, and it turned out to be a wonderful trip. I will say, everyone was shocked whenever I mentioned Copenhagen is one of the happiest places in the world – especially Spaniards! How could a place so far North be that happy? 10292529_10152377370271187_9134950878403537280_n

Danish and coffee! This certainly made me happy.

Danish and coffee! This certainly made me happy.

Well, lucky for us we went when the weather did not force us to answer that question. The sun was shining, the streets were clean, the people were out and about. Copenhagen marked my second Couchsurfing experience. While we didn’t spend much time together, it was nice to come back in the evenings and share stories of our day with our hosts. I spent my first day in Copenhagen alone. I have found I don’t mind time alone so long as I know it’s limited. As my friend was set to arrive that evening, I spent my first day wandering through some sights on my own.

Gorgeous park

Gorgeous park

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Rosenborg Castle

Rosenborg Castle

Old Stock Market Exchange

Old Stock Market Exchange

I also made time to visit David’s Gallery, which houses Islamic art and has free entry! I killed three great hours there, letting old terminology learned in religious classes come washing back over me.

Once my friend arrived, we revisited many sights I’d already seen. As my friend is a vegan, we also had some interesting food experiences!

My first 'raw food' experience! "Thai Noodles"

My first ‘raw food’ experience! “Thai Noodles”

I didn't know vegetarian food could be so delicious

I didn’t know vegetarian food could be so delicious

One day, we visited Christianshavn to climb the spire on Church of our Savior. TIP: Skip the Giralda and climb this church tower instead if you are physically able! It is higher up and further from the center, allowing for better views and a unique experience.

Church

Church

On the spire!

On the spire!

Next, we made our way over to nearby Christiania. This is a self-proclaimed autonomous area with a population of about 1,000 people. No photos are allowed here, but some other things are. Hint – it’s also known as Freetown Christiania, and has signs proclaiming itself the Green Light District. The air was thick with heat, special smoke and general indifference. We saw little tents set up, with men inside shrouded in black as they conducted business. We saw lots of people generally having a good time either wandering through a colorful open-air market, or sitting outside enjoying some beers under the sun. 10300090_10152377378861187_4147899439774871084_n

Christiania presented a stark contrast to the incredibly neat and clean areas of Copenhagen we had seen until then. The area had its own charm, and I’m glad we had a chance to explore it.

Afterward, we made our way back toward Nyhavn. This was probably my favorite place in Copenhagen. As the weather was nice, loads of people sat out drinking beers at the edge of the canal. I joined in, substituting some incredible gelato for the beer.

Nyhavn

Nyhavn

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#HappyWall near Nyhavn!

#HappyWall near Nyhavn!

Someday, I’d like to visit Copenhagen in the winter to experience it a different way. For now, I am glad to have had a pleasant first experience in one of the happiest countries in the world.

With my main man - HC Andersens

With my main man – HC Andersen

We went to Tivoli!

We went to Tivoli!

Where we rode the Star Flyer! Super fun and some great views.

Where we rode the Star Flyer! Super fun and some great views.

Who me? I'm just in Tivoli!

Who me? I’m just in Tivoli!

Don't be fooled. These heavy bikes were not our friends. Rent from a store instead!

Don’t be fooled. These heavy bikes were not our friends. Rent from a store instead!

Was she worth the walk? Idk, you tell me.

Was she worth the walk? Idk, you tell me.

On a final note, I would like to share that everyone bikes around Copenhagen. Toddlers bike. The elderly bike. Pregnant ladies bike. And not as a fun pastime or for exercise either! Everyone bikes as a form of transportation. And it’s wonderful.

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Solo in Oporto

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Do you ever challenge yourself? Dare yourself to take a risk, big or small? Push yourself to step out of your comfort zone? I would like to think everyone has this quality, though it may be more openly displayed by some. I often find myself extending, and accepting, my own challenges.

Walking along the Ribeira in the ran

Walking along the Ribeira in the rain

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Dom Luis Bridge

Dom Luis Bridge

I knew before I arrived in Madrid for the year that I wanted to embark on one solo trip. The idea of traveling alone is a glamorous one. The solo traveler is a worldly character, as in touch with her own being as with those around her. Unafraid to be herself, by herself because the only thing that matters is the divine act of travel. Solo travel is supposed to teach you about yourself.

Graffiti witnessed on our walking tour

Graffiti witnessed on our walking tour

Graffiti by the same artist

Graffiti by the same artist

Well folks, I am not a “solo traveler.” Most of what I learned about myself on this trip, I already knew. I don’t want to be alone. It’s taboo to admit such a thing, I know. We live in an age of independence. And guess what? I am independent. I am perfectly capable of spending quality time alone. I can, and have, navigated a new city alone. I have visited cafes and famous sites alike, all by myself. The thing is, I’d just rather be with people. Of course, we all need a break from each other sometimes. But I find that I am a social creature. I am mostly an extrovert by the most basic definition – I derive my energy from social situations. So naturally, my solo trip was only ‘solo’ for about half a day.

Inside Sao Bento Train station

Inside Sao Bento Train station

Town Hall

Town Hall

I spent my first hours in Porto being rained on. After my nice umbrella kept flipping out due to wind, I trashed it in anger and bought another one, which also flipped out. I tried reading my map to find a place to eat, and it quickly became drenched and illegible. I gave up. I found myself alone near an alley, and knew what I needed most in that moment was to not be solo. I needed a friend where there was none to be found. So, on the verge of a total breakdown, I became that friend for myself. I talked myself down. I asked myself what I needed in that moment to be happy. I was alone. It was all about me. I could do whatever I wanted. The answers were simple enough: I wanted to rest at the hostel and charge my phone; to put in my contacts and grab a hat to replace my umbrella; to ditch my must-see-sights list and just go relax in a cafe; to explore the ‘Harry Potter bookshop’ because that’s where magic lives.

Cafe Majestic - oldest cafe in Oporto

Cafe Majestic – oldest cafe in Oporto

Livrario Lello - inspiration for JK Rowling's Harry Potter

Livrario Lello – inspiration for JK Rowling’s Harry Potter

Port Wine

Port Wine

I did all of these things. That night, I made friends in the hostel and stayed up much later than intended because I was in good company. The next day, I spent all my time with people I met on a walking tour. Part of me felt I was cheating myself of the solo travel experience. Wasn’t it supposed to be all introspective and deep? But for me, it was all that and more. It’s in my nature to gravitate toward other people, and I’m glad I didn’t have to stifle that part of me on this trip. I learned that, while I enjoy alone time, I thrive around company. I also learned that in cases when I am alone, I can rely on myself. I can lift my own spirits. I can cater to my own needs. I can be my own friend. And, if I don’t take a solo trip ever again, it just may be too soon. 😉