Five Easy Ways to Save Money While Traveling

There is no shortage of advice online when it comes to tips for saving money while traveling. However, there are several easy, often overlooked measures one can take to maximize a travel budget, without hardly compromising your itinerary or experience.

1.) Contrarian ticket buying
Beyond determining your destination, if you can be non-committal in scheduling the “when”, it can go a long way to help reduce transportation costs. The best example is airfare, which I often purchase through Google Flights or Southwest Airlines’ low fare calendar. It can be difficult and emotional exhausting to have a destination determined months in advance but to wait to secure transportation till only weeks before you’re scheduled to leave, but if you can find the discipline, it can reward you handsomely. I’ve gotten one way cross-country and international flights using both services I mentioned before for well below $100, both only several weeks before my ideal departure day, and several months in advance.

2.) Shared-room lodging
For those traveling solo, or with a lone companion, shared room hostel stays are hands down the cheapest rooms you can rent, and often the most fun. I’ve had some awesome times and met unforgettable people when staying in hostels and bunking with 3-5 other people in a room. You can find rooms for $5-10 in almost all Latin American cities I’ve stayed in; mind you, the smaller a given city’s tourism industry, the less likely it is for there to be a hostel. In this case, I would suggest booking through AirBnb. Even in larger cities with a higher cost of living, you can find a room for close to $10 per night.

3.) Raw > processed foods
Though this is a principle I apply to my life in general, it deserves special consideration with respect to saving money on the road. Not only will eating fresh fruits, meat, nuts and seeds bought from street vendors or markets generally cost less than packaged snacks, you will need to buy less since the nutrient contents will leave you feeling more full.

4.) Cut out drinks, carry a water bottle
This may be a tough one for some readers to execute. Since I view what I do as travel rather than vacation, I’ve largely put the idea of splurging on expensive things out of my mind. Beverages in particular are one thing that can add up quickly when considering a budget.

While living in Mexico, I became accustomed to only drinking water and making my own fermented drinks (think kombucha) since it’s nearly impossible to find drinks that don’t contain at least 20 g of sugar per container.

While carrying a refillable 20 L water jug isn’t too feasible on the road, you can still carry a large, BPA-free water bottle, as most hostels and hotels have their own water jugs free for guests, or you could even refill a disposable empty plastic bottle for short-term periods. Not paying for water every time you need to replenish your supply is one of the best cost saving measures I have found to maximize a budget.
In addition to keeping your wallet padded, your body will thank you for reducing your sugar consumption. Fresh juices sold by street vendors can often cost less than their packaged equivalents, but also are usually high in sugar.

Alcoholic beverages, especially those purchased at a bar or club can be dangerous to someone on a budget, especially since – like in my case – they are likely to drink more than one or two in a sitting. I’m not advocating becoming a recluse in order to save yourself some coin, but rather to be conscientious when buying alcohol or going out drinking. Buying in bulk is more economical than individually, and drinking more while “pregaming” before hitting the bar means you will need to drink and pay less at an establishment.

5.) Pack light
When I first started traveling frequently, one of the first lessons I learned was to carry as few belongings as possible. The largest cost associated with unnecessary luggage is baggage fees from airlines. Many companies will charge for checked bags, sometimes starting with the first one.

In a lot of Latin American countries, you can buy things cheaper once you arrive then you could get them for in the US. If you will be traveling long term, or plan to reside somewhere medium-term, you may want to considering selling your belongings that are in mint to mildly-used condition.

When traveling light, you also have the added benefit of peace of mind. Not having to worry about transporting all the things you don’t need, or even worse, have them lost in transit or stolen, allows for more stress-free travel.

Theft against tourists can be quite common in a lot of metro areas in Latin America, and if you get a bag stolen, it’s only going to cost you a lot more money and headache than if you didn’t have it in the first place, or bought domestically when you needed something.


Why I Opted to Leave the USA for Latin America, Abroad

I was comfortable in my situation. I loved the neighborhood where I lived, and the friends I had made since moving to the city. My job paid well enough to where I didn’t stress over money much, and I enjoyed the work and my co-workers company enough that the weeks seemed to fly by, especially in the summertime. But therein laid the problem.

I saw time passing, and I knew I wasn’t content – with where I was for my age in terms of achievement, and with what I was contributing to humanity (little impact). Ultimately, I knew I would only be satisfied working for myself, and helping others in some manner.

When I had the realization that I had wasted the second half of my 20s getting high and working full-time for a simple paycheck of Monopoly money, I knew I needed to act. It was time to move on.

As much as I wanted a change in employment, I needed a change in scenery as well. Since I had already decided to jump ship at my office, I figured why stop there? I wanted to live more righteously in not only my work life, but also in my home life. I had become disenchanted with the rat race of the city; I saw the effect it had on its inhabitants, how it ironically hardened their souls while at the same time causing them to depend greatly on others. I needed greener pastures, in both the literal and figures senses. Or at least one with different vegetation. I wanted to get back to nature, back to my roots.

You see, I grew up a country boy, and will be through and through. That’s where my heart is. My ideal setting was a place with abundant natural resources, respectable, good-hearted and easygoing people, and as free of wifi and 4G RF waves as possible. I had a friend living in a rural area in the state of Quintana Roo in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. The more I thought about it, the more logical sense it made, as that location seemed to meet the criteria I had laid out for my relocation.

A locale with underdeveloped technologic infrastructure, abundant natural resources, and a low cost-of-living were all ideal conditions for achieving spiritual freedom. Free of poisoned, errr, “processed” foods, high-frequency radio waves permeating the body and mind and stressing over money, spiritual metamorphosis can take place.

Thriving Vs. Surviving

For me, the decision came down to thriving vs. surviving. Sure, I had grown over the course of the last decade, and I laugh to myself when I think of the person I was at 20. But my personal growth seemed to have plateaued around 26. For various reasons, I had become complacent as I fell into my role with my employer.

I think it was mostly due to a combination of mental and physical exhaustion from working full-time, and a difficult stretch in which many of my friends and role models passed away. But, besides the garden that I volunteered at a few hours each week, I wasn’t giving back to society, or having to step outside my comfort zone at all. I took the train to work, then home Monday through Friday, and would typically make a few spontaneous trips to downtown or the north side on the weekends, usually for errands or to go to a show. Any service I needed, I had at my disposal, for a price. I wasn’t learning. And that’s not what I wanted. I wanted to start my own business, become self-sustaining, and pick up as many useful skills as I can along the way. Cities of the present day do not provide a good backdrop for any of those things.

You see, the American urban environment of the 21st century values attainment – of status, and material wealth – above people and relationships. It’s a vicious, conniving, dog-eat-dog world. And it’s a ideology that transferred from the corporations at the nucleus of the city to it’s inhabitants. Individuals will stop at nothing to meet their “goals,” even if it means crossing a few friends and making some new enemies along the way.

This disregard for the well-being of others is also well documented in the process of gentrification, in which established corporations and upstart tech firms flocking to the city buy up property in it’s still affordable-but-trendy neighborhoods, driving up rent costs and ousting lower and middle class independent businesses, families and individuals. I saw it happening first hand – at work and in my neighborhood – on a daily basis.

In short, the city breeds chaos. And while some people or businesses can thrive in that dog-eat-dog atmosphere, I’m not one of those people. I knew, as an entrepreneur, I would constantly be in survival mode, and would stressing much more over money coming in as I did as a working stiff. Which, to someone with only a foggy notion of the type of business they wanted to create (like me), this was a stress-inducing enough thought on its own.

I had realized my biggest obstacle to successfully pursuing my vision as an entrepreneur was my environment, from both a business and personal standpoint. There were certainly entrepreneurial opportunities in the city, but they usually presented themselves on someone else’s terms.

Sure, the city in general – and Chicago in particular – can provide many great networking opportunities for business owners in all types of industries. But operating costs, regulation and competition are high.

There is regulation in the form of certification, licensing or permitting in nearly every industry I can think of, all of which come with stipulations. Often times the permits in a coveted industry will go to the highest bidder. And often if you can’t secure one by legally, you can bribe the right person to attain the licensing you need. However, in addition to being illegal, it may end up costing more than if you were able to get the permit through legal means.

Conventional wisdom in the US will tell you that Mexico’s government is corrupt, but maybe the reason for that belief is because there isn’t a facade in place. A lot of Americans in power positions are just as susceptible to bribes, but just aren’t as publicized.

In the larger context of business funding, operational costs and debt are also factors that can be detrimental to a startup based in an urban area. To be sustainable, even a home business with zero overheard would need to generate at least enough revenue to pay rent, which I would ballpark around $700 for a studio (which is on the low end of the spectrum).

In terms of debt, the vast majority of startup business ideas have some overhead costs beyond rent, which are only exponentiated in the city. I for one am not the type to take out a loan, business or personal, but for many beginner entrepreneurs, this would be a crucial first steps toward owning your own enterprise.

Besides having to make loan payments at whatever alarming interest rate the financial institution sees fit, the business owner is beholden to the bank, and whatever contract laid forward. After taking out a loan, in many ways you are working for the bank that has loaned you the money.

And I wasn’t willing to let that happen to me. I chose to not be shackled by JP Morgan or any number of its affiliated bankster institutions through contractual obligations. Instead, I would take my $2,000 dollar rainy day-startup fund and go somewhere I can have total freedom in my pursuits. Oh, and the ocean and magnificent, natural fruits and seeds like coconut, papaya, mango and dragonfruit for less than $1 USD a pop.

And that’s what I did.

In the interest of full disclosure, my distain for the hardships experienced as a result of regulation, bureaucracy and automation is only a fraction of the equation of why I relocated. I think a lot of the distaste I have for these inevitable byproducts of doing business stem from my moral code, which they violate. For various reasons, my moral compass has always directed me to live outside the confines of control systems, such as debt, government permission (certifications) and health care.

Sure, I will (hopefully) eventually have a taxable income. But, other than income generated online, it will – at least for the interim – be outside US gov’t. jurisdiction. And I can sleep a whole lot better at night knowing my earnings are going to corrupt Mexican and Central American government’s officials than those corrupt ones in the United States. At least in this case the corruption is well publicized, so I know roughly what I’m getting. Maybe more importantly, I avoid having my tax dollars sent to finance civilian drone strike deaths in the Middle East.

That’s the crown jewel issue with the federal government. There’s no transparency, and the inner-workings aren’t how they seem on the surface.

I don’t proclaim to know exactly where or what percent of our taxes dollars are allocated to what, but this infographic offers a pretty good breakdown.

Half of the 24% that went to military funding went directly to military contractors like Lockheed Martin and Boeing, while only one quarter (5.9% of total spending) of military budget was allotted for taking care of veterans. More money went to nuclear weapons funding (7%) than to veteran care.

Americans are simply a cog in the military-industrial-complex machine, set on global domination in order to secure the continuation of the petrodollar’s spot as the world’s currency.

Corporate Control, Freedom and Convenience in the New (American) Normal

The prevailing notion is that in exchange for your duties to the government, i.e., state identification, selective service registration, health care coverage and what you pay in income tax, you are provided “freedom” to do as you please, but in reality, this is a stretch from the truth. It is almost like calling industrial-farmed, free-range chickens “free”.

In the eternal words of George Carlin, “Americans are meant to feel free by the exercise of meaningless choices. Paper or plastic, aisle or window, smoking or non-smoking. Those are your real choices.”

In short, Americans have had all the really tough life decisions already decided by them by the corporations that govern their lives. And whether they believe it or not, these corporations dictate their preferences, values and beliefs.

And I’m not just talking about the corporations who control the news, which in many cases are Apple (News, aggregator), Google and Amazon (Huff Post). Other huge influencers include content creators like Netflix, Disney and AT&T (HBO), and the biggest retailers, like Nike. Often times, the news and entertainment companies – which really are two sides of the same coin – create the norm, which is normalized through social pressure, and the retailers reap the benefits in the cultural shift to their desired outcome.

These corporations have used this process to prime citizens for the future of smart objects and the Internet-of-Things (IoT), and sold them on the idea under the guise of convenience. And based on the insights I’ve gathered through opinions online and among people I’ve talked to, most people have bought into it hook, line and sinker.

While there are still a good amount of people weary of AI and big data, the popular opinion seems to be that convenience trumps privacy, and sense of accomplishment. I’ve come across many people who are greatly anticipating the future of automation for its ability to make their lives easier, or who believe “privacy is small thing to give up for safety.”

Consider this except from a March 2019 post about mental health from Medium contributor Eshanthi Ranasinghe:

“There is evidence to suggest that we are just hitting the tip of the iceberg of tech-enabled mental health issues. Twenty four/seven access to information can cause a kind of collective anxiety and helplessness. Researchers using health-monitoring devices found that entire populations’ sleeping habits, heart rates, and distances walked can swing out of sync after large societal events (e.g., Brexit) — and much of this is heightened by a constant cycle of social media and digital news.

We also see this manifesting socio-culturally. Smartphones have disintermediated many in-person conversations. We are talking to each other less and having fewer meaningful conversations which can increase feelings of loneliness and anxiety. Not only are more people, particularly digital natives, craving “IRL” (in real life) connection, but studies have shown that people felt better and more connected during times when they only socialized face-to-face.

This level of social disconnection can also endanger health. Loneliness has been alleged to have the same impact on life expectancy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, with a risk factor that rivals excessive drinking or obesity. A lack of social contact can also speed up cognitive decline, heart disease, depression, and suicide. And, smartphones are methodically killing off boredom, which has a very important role in creativity. The seeds of ideas that may come from idle reflection are being replaced by constant distraction. And constant distraction — which causes dopamine to spike when confronted with newness and novelty, addictive but inherently unfulfilling–does not lead to a healthier mental state. Being creative, however, can.”

Most of these considerations I’ve already touched on here, but the one I haven’t – mental health – is probably the most concerning. With the shear amount of Americans inflicted with mental health issues, which is only projected to rise in the coming decade, I think a lot of my compatriots are missing the bigger picture.

The more tasks the IoT is enabled to complete for you, the more isolated you become. And isolation often leads to depression.

Another root cause of this depression, as the author mentioned is lack of IRL (in real life) connections. When automation and AI create feelings of isolation, the more authenticity that person craves.

Authenticity may be something hard to come by in that future of the IoT. Removed from the smart-grid, I believe my travels will – and have proven to in the past – bring me authentic experiences. I know that my time in Mexico has been dripping with them.

In my mind, comfort really equates to sterile. And the US is well on its way to becoming a sterilized nation. And who wants to live the same comfortable, predictable life day in and day out?

I don’t. Personally, I’d rather be engaging in life-affirming interactions, enjoying lower living expenses for similar standards (minus the IT), boosting my brain’s endorphin levels through gratifying, modest physical exertion, and living free of contracts, obligations and meaningless distractions that suck your creativity and life-force.

I’ve simply come to realize the benefits that organic interactions with others, privacy and mental freedom from the stranglehold of “Big Tech” and government agencies, and a sense of accomplishment can provide for personal growth and well-being. I encourage you to push yourself towards this enlightenment.

See you down the path.


Nutritional Considerations for a Plant-Based, Supplemental Diet

As the popularity of alternative methods for fueling the body increases globally, both the plant-based meat substitute and nutritional supplement industries are projected to grow significantly as well. And while both a plant-based diet and nutritional supplements are perceived as — and in theory, are — beneficial to health, there are a number of considerations one needs to account for when practicing a plant-based or vegan diet, or regularly taking nutritional supplements.

There are definitely arguments to be made for both the plant-based diet and, in some instances, nutritional supplements. However, you will serve your body best — and vice versa — by deriving the majority of your vitamins and minerals from natural, raw and ideally, live (probiotic) sources.

While the vegetarian and vegan diets have been highly publicized in the media for some time, the term “plant-based” has spread like wildfire with the public and among the media recently. Maybe because of its meteoric rise, there is still no clear definition as to what exactly constitutes a “plant-based” diet. This leaves the term largely open to individual interpretation. For example, a large percentage of the public doesn’t necessarily believe plant-based means vegetarian, many health professionals included.

The above-linked article from Men’s Health contains polling data from the International Food Information Council Foundation, which found 30 percent of respondents “defined a “plant-based diet” as a diet that emphasizes minimally processed foods derived from plants and limits the consumption of animal products.”

Though this survey was among the general public, rather than exclusively those that consider themselves practitioners of a “plant-based” diet, and a higher percentage of respondents do believe the plant-based diet to be equal to a strict vegan diet (32%), it illustrates the murkiness surrounding the term, and the likely, soon-to-be reality of plant-based meats.

Most likely because of the ambiguousness of the dietary guidelines, consumers’ rationale for adopting the diet is just as varied. Much like the rationale for vegan or vegetarianism, it seems the driving force for the diet is animal welfare (i.e., humane treatment, reduction of factory farming, etc.) followed by environmental benefits. A lot of the consumers surveyed see plant-based products as a way to cut down their meat intake, and the far-reaching secondary effects of their consumption.

Obviously, health is also a factor, but doesn’t seem to be as large a consideration as I used to think. And while the conservation of the natural world is something near and dear to my heart, my fear is that by placing so much importance on reducing their environmental footprint, individuals may not be deploying eating habitats that maximize their own personal health.

If you participate in a plant-based diet, I only hope you’ve done some research to determine which nutrients that come primarily only from meat or dairy could be lacking in your diet. Additionally, you could be overlooking the effects alternative sources of protein and other fortified foods have on your body in general, and your digestion in particular.

You’ve no doubt heard of the Impossible Burger or Beyond Meat’s faux-chicken and meatball products by now. But for those who have been living under a rock for the past while, these meat substitutes are plant-based products that use vegetable protein like soy, or pea proteins to replicate animal protein. While plant-based meat substitute products have been available in supermarkets for some time, recently they’ve been making headlines for finding their way onto fast food restaurant menus, like the Impossible Whopper at Burger King, or McDonald’s PLT (plant, lettuce and tomato).

Even though consumers’ primary motivation for trying these products has seemingly more to do with environmental considerations than health, whether these products are actually more healthy than meat has been a hotly-debated issue as consumer interest in them has picked up.

Many proponents of these plant-based meat substitutes suggest that they are at least as healthy as their animal equivalent, and often are quick to point out that health is not the primary consideration for most consumers in the first place. Opponents have argued that plant-based protein isolates and concentrates they contain, which are derived from soy or peas, are actually more processed than a natural beef patty, and will have ramifications on health.

Red meat consumption has repeatedly been linked to increased risk of colon cancer, high blood pressure and heart disease. However, when consumed sparingly, a grass-fed, organic beef patty on a gluten-free bun will provide you nutrients that you can only get from red meat, or at least are of higher quality than the fortified versions found in plant-based substitutes or nutritional supplements.

For example, the iron found in meat (especially red meat) is more readily absorbed than the kind found in plant foods, known as non-heme iron (interestingly, heme is an ingredient in the Impossible Burger, and what the company claims “gives it a crave-able taste”). The absorption of non-heme iron can be enhanced by vitamin C and other acids found in fruits and vegetables common to a vegan diet, but may be inhibited by the phytic acid in whole grains, beans, lentils, seeds, and nuts (all common foods for vegans).

Another example of the inefficiency of the body to digest plant-based nutrients can been seen in the uptake of omega 3 fatty acids. The Mayo clinic suggests the conversion of which “to the types used by humans is inefficient.”

Tofu, almond or soy milk, and soy and pea protein isolate are among the most popular sources of animal-protein replacements for vegans and vegetarians. All of which go through some process of extracting, purifying and manipulating proteins, carbohydrates and fats. When this processing occurs, the plant cells are broken down, and the original, biological structures of those cells are transformed and no longer respond the same way in our bodies.

In these refined food products, the structures that exist to slow down digestion, such as fiber, have been removed. As a result, our bodies consume the energy of the food much quicker and easier, spiking our insulin, which leads to inflammation, and can cause the onset of diabetes. For context, consider brown rice. When the outer layer (the bran) is polished to make white rice, the carbohydrates are digested much quicker, and they transform from a complex carbohydrate to a simple one.

Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods both list the ingredients in each of its products on their respective websites. Besides just the protein substitutes themselves being synthetically produced, both burgers contain some form of modified food starch. Sugar and flour are starches, and just like plant-based protein isolates, the refined versions have a high glycemic index with no nutrients or fiber. This causes insulin production to spike, and leads to chronic inflammation (triglyceride buildup) in joints.

Both burgers also contain an absurd amount of sodium, which comes from the ingredient iodized salt. Typically, salt is added to packaged foods as a preservative to prolong shelf life. Too much sodium causes cells in the body to retain fluid and results in swelling, effecting the nerves roots and ultimately leading to pain, discomfort, bloating, high blood pressure and unnecessary stress on the heart.

On paper, the Beyond burger appears to have a slight edge as the healthier choice between the two. Beyond Meat touts the use of non-GMO crops in its proteins, and seems to get a lot of its flavors and vitamins from fruit juice extracts. By comparison, the bottom half of the Impossible burger’s ingredient list look like the back of a multi-vitamin bottle — Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E), Zinc Gluconate, Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Sodium Ascorbate (Vitamin C), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12).

I want to point out here that packaged food and supplements that list nutrients individually, such as vitamin C, or use chemical names like ascorbic acid, are fortified vitamins and minerals, and almost always synthetic. These low quality vitamins and minerals have an even lower mechanisms for uptake and digestion by the body than organically occurring nutrients.

As shown above, this finding can be exemplified in the Impossible Burger, which contains fortified Vitamin C, E, and an assortment of B vitamins. And while it may be necessary for vegans to get their B12 from fortified sources since it really only occurs naturally in meat, research has shown that the body absorbs natural vitamin E twice as efficiently as synthetic vitamin E.

However, the Beyond burger also has its share of refined “non-GMO” ingredients, including refined coconut oil, rice protein and potato starch. Again, let it be noted that refined carbohydrates and starches like potatoes, white rice, and white-flour products cause a rapid rise in blood sugar, which increases the risk of heart attack and diabetes (a risk factor for heart disease).

When researching for this article, I came across this quote from Michael Rogers, food scientist at the University of Guelph, voicing his opinion on plant-based meat substitute products:

“We’ve created a whole new form of malnutrition that, from an evolutionary perspective, didn’t exist until a hundred years ago. There is no anthropological evidence to suggest Type 2 diabetes. There’s no anthropological evidence that suggests that diseases like metabolic syndrome even existed a hundred years ago. And that is a direct consequence of the ultra-processing of our foods.”

He did go on to mention that having processed food in your diet, as long as it’s in moderation, isn’t entirely bad. Which also seemed to be the consensus among many of the experts interviewed in various articles. The healthiest thing you can do as either a meat-eater or a vegan/vegetarian, is to consume any of these products in moderation.

However, what’s concerning is that its been found more than 50 percent of Americans’ calories come from ultra-processed foods. “Ultra processed” foods, as defined by the University of São Paulo and Tufts University, are:

“Formulations of several ingredients which, besides salt, sugar, oils, and fats, include food substances not used in culinary preparations, in particular, flavors, colors, sweeteners, emulsifiers and other additives used to imitate sensorial qualities of unprocessed or minimally processed foods and their culinary preparations or to disguise undesirable qualities of the final product.”

And while I know in general, vegans and vegetarians have more sense than to eat an Impossible Whopper on a daily basis, much of the same refining is used in other packaged and processed veg-friendly foods as well.

Soy byproducts are found in the vast majority of packaged food lauded as being “vegetarian”. And non-GMO or not, these ingredients have been refined, altering the mechanism your body uses to break them down.

Additionally, regardless of how it is derived and processed, there is mounting research to suggest the negative effects too much soy can have on the endocrine system. Because soy contains isoflavones — a type of phytoestrogren that mimics the effect of estrogen on the body, overconsumption has the potential to disrupt estrogen-sensitive systems in your body, including the reproductive system (which includes the brain, the pituitary gland and the reproductive organs).

In a nutshell, as Jeffery Blumberg, Ph.D., Research Professor at Tufts University, put it:

“It is worth keeping in mind that many plant-based ‘meat’ and ‘dairy’ products as well as refined grains are highly processed foods that may contribute to agricultural sustainability but not necessarily to personal health.”

Clearly, a diet consisting of whole, raw and live foods is the best approach to take for dietary health. Beyond that, you will serve your body best to heed the age-old adage, “everything in moderation.”

Below are some recommendations for getting the vitamins, minerals, oils and fats your body needs, with suggestions broken down with respect to several different dietary restrictions. The list is laid out as a hierarchy, starting with the strictest diet (vegan) at the top. As the list progresses, additional food recommendations are added as they begin to be accepted by less confined dietary guidelines.

Recommendations for getting suggested DV of nutrients for a strict plant-based or vegan diet

  • Vegan nutrient deficiency cure-all: Avocado
    • My favorite fruit, and possibly favorite individual food, just based on taste alone, never-mind the multitude of health benefits. Avocados are considered a superfood, loaded with vitamin K, vitamin C and various B vitamins, and minerals like magnesium and potassium (one serving contains more than a banana). Avocados differ from most other fruits as they contain no sugar, while still containing a large amount of fiber to slow insulin secretion. They are also high in good, monounsaturated fatty acids.
  • Creatine
    • Critical for energy production and explosive grow of muscle cells, especially after physical energy expenditure, and essential for testosterone production in males
    • Activates the mitochondria in muscles and the brain, which are the powerhouses of the body’s cell. Replicates the feelings of strength gained after consuming animal protein.
    • Take intermittently (six weeks on, two weeks off) combined with exercise to ensure activation and expenditure. If only taking one dose per day, it should ideally be taken 30 minutes before workout or most physically strenuous activity of the day
  • Iron
    • Legumes, including beans, peas and lentils
      • People with severe allergies to legumes like peanuts should be cautious when introducing pea protein into their diet because of the possibility of a pea allergy.
    • Soy — tempeh, natto (both fermented soybean products) and tofu
      also good sources of calcium, phosphorus and magnesium and generally contain 10-20g of protein per serving
    • Veggies and leafy greens
    • Spinach, kale, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes and Brussels sprouts
    • Since they contain non-heme iron only, try veggies and leafy greens with high vitamin c content to assist with uptake
  • Omega-3 and other good fatty acids
    • Diets that include no fish or eggs are low in EPA and DHA. Our bodies can convert ALA in plant foods to EPA and DHA, but not very efficiently. Vegans can get DHA from algae supplements, which increase blood levels of DHA as well as EPA (by a process called retroversion)
    • Nuts
    • Try chia seeds, flaxseed, walnuts or hemp seeds. All of which are heart-protective, have a low glycemic index and also contain many antioxidants, vegetable protein, fiber and minerals
  • Vitamin D
    • Sunshine
    • You may also want to consider taking a vitamin D supplement
  • Vitamin K
    • Avocado
    • Although green leafy vegetables contain some vitamin K, vegans may also need to rely on fortified foods, including some types of rice or soy milk, organic orange juice or organic breakfast cereals.
  • Vitamin B12
    • Unfortunately B12 only comes from animal products, including dairy and eggs, so vegans will need to supplement it somehow to avoid deficiency, which can cause neurological problems and pernicious anemia. Try an occasional non-GMO soy or rice beverage, organic breakfast cereals (fortified) or a vitamin B12 supplement
  • Zinc (Important for male reproductive health)
    • Legumes, seeds and nuts
  • Magnesium
    • Leafy greens like kale and spinach (40% recommended daily intake [RDI] per serving)
    • Legumes, particularly black beans (30% RDI)
    • Nuts (specifically Brazil nuts, cashews and almonds) and seeds including pumpkin (37% RDI)
    • Dark chocolate (16% RDI)
  • Probiotics
    • Raw purple onion, tomato
  • Heart health support
    • Avocados. I thought it was worth reiterating here. Regular consumption can improve heart disease risk factors by lowering “bad” LDL, total cholesterol and blood triglyceride levels, and increasing “good” HDL cholesterol.
    • For heart protection, choose high-fiber whole grains and legumes, which are digested slowly and have a low glycemic index — that is, they help keep blood sugar levels steady. Soluble fiber also helps reduce cholesterol levels.

Recommendations for Lacto-ovo vegetarians

  • Protein and vitamin D
    • Whole eggs
      • The protein in an egg is found in the white; the fat, vitamins and minerals are found mostly in the yolk.
      • Pasture-raised chickens that roam outside in the sunlight produce eggs with levels 3–4 times higher than those raised indoors
    • Cow’s milk
      • Though it usually contains fortified vitamin D, milk as also a good source of protein and calcium
  • Probiotics
    • Unpasteurized goat milk or goat cheese
  • Vitamin B12
    • Milk and dairy products like swiss cheese and full-fat, plain yogurt
      • Studies have shown that the body absorbs the vitamin B12 in milk and dairy products better than the vitamin B12 in beef, fish or eggs
  • Omega-3 and other fatty acids
    • Eggs (Fertile, not fully cooked, if possible)

Additional recommendations for meat eaters

  • Fish (mackerel, salmon, oysters)
    • Omega-3 and other fatty acids
    • B vitamins
    • Iodine
  • Beef
    • Iron
    • Zinc
    • Selenium
    • B vitamins (B3 [niacin], B6, B12)
    • Choline

The Physiology of Relaxation and Breathing

If you’re reading this blog, chances are good you’ve heard of the multitude of health benefits that can be gained through practicing yoga. Increased mindfulness, mental clarity, more energy, increased circulation and cardio health, and better flexibility, athletic performance and muscle strength and tone have all been touted as benefits of yoga in recent years.

Likewise, the advantages of meditation have also become more publicized and validated in mainstream media through the last decade or so. Regular meditation, which is a component of yoga, provides many of those characteristic benefits, in addition to decreased stress and anxiety, and improved feelings of well-being and immune functioning.

In both processes, the practitioner is generally encouraged to focus on breathing and muscle relaxation to fully realize the benefits. However, I believe the health benefits of these two components – nervous system relaxation and breathing – as standalone practices are still overlooked by the “new age” health community.

In traditional Chinese medicine, relaxation and breathe are paramount to achieving improved health and Qi flow (circulation), and I have discovered through my own experience that there are reasons why this importance has been stressed in Eastern medicine for three thousand-plus years.

Aid in releasing blocked Qi, healing

Traditional Chinese medicine hold the belief that obstructions in Qi, or one’s internal life energy, can be corrected through acupuncture or, the needle-less version, acupressure. These blockages of Qi, which occur along the body’s meridian lines, are said to be buildup of toxins in the body. Both practices insist on the patient relaxing the body (specially the spot being treated) and breathing deeply into the afflicted area.

While the breathing element of mindfulness practices has gotten a lot of praise in recent years because of its positive effects on mental processes, the aspect of awareness of the sensory nervous system and relaxation of the muscles and subtle bodies in order to restore flow in Qi channels has been an even greater benefit to me.

As far back as I can remember, I’d had issues with neck and shoulder stiffness, and joints throughout my entire body cracking spontaneously. I had always heard knots in the muscles of the back come from stress, which was partially to blame in this case. Another culprit to some degree was likely poor diet, creating a buildup of toxins in my joints. But, as I’ve learned through muscle relaxation techniques developed from meditation, the largest cause was me tensing my muscles, without even realizing what I was doing.

Muscle relaxation, acupressure and massage loosen toxins stored in joints and muscles, and deep exhalation can release them from the body. These practices are what have given me insight and allowed my nervous system correction to take place, and in turn, my breathe is only the stronger because of it.

The autonomous nervous system plays a large role in meditation. One of its two components, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is responsible for the “fight-or-flight” response to stimuli, and primes the body for action. In other words, it is essentially the body’s stimulation mechanism in charge of reacting to external, stressful or threatening stimuli. It controls such functions as heart rate, sweating and adrenaline secretion.

The SNS works in tandem with the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), and when the SNS engaged, it is thought to counteract the parasympathetic system, which generally works when the body is at rest or in relaxation mode.

In my particular case, there seemed to be a direct correlation between anxiety-inducing or stressful situations and my tendency to tense up. In order for me to alleviate all the built up tension and strains in my muscles, I needed to disengage my overactive SNS, instead putting the parasympathetic nervous system in the driver’s seat, and allowing my body to enter a state of relaxation.

Through repetition of several mindfulness exercises that sought to relax the body, and by breathing into certain areas of my body, was able to achieve this result. Once I became better trained at relaxing my body, I was finally able to sense when I was tensing up. When I would go to treat those tender areas using gradually-deeper massage, most times other linked areas on my body would loosen up, and I could crack seemingly-unrelated joints. Like, for example, I would massage my neck and feel something in my shoulder or lower back pop. Many of these tender spots I previously had not known correlated with other areas, and were constantly under stress from my tendency towards tensing.

But now that I was aware of them, I became conscious of my tendencies and begun to work out the deep-seeded tensions. Those readers who crack their knuckles know it’s an unbelievably gratifying and relaxing sensation to release pent-up stress like this. Imagine what happens when it’s joints that have been constantly under stress for years.

There’s been times when I swear it felt like my collarbone broke after I had worked out a bit of a knot in my neck through basic massage, but the sensation was instead a feeling of relief and stress leaving the body, rather than pain. Another time, it felt like I gained three ribs on my left side that had been missing, after getting my lumbar to crack and correct itself through deep massage of my lower back and sacrum.

I’ve even been able to partially heal an inguinal hernia I’d had for years on the left side of my pelvic bone, simply through relaxing the muscle and tendons in that area. Once I became aware of my tendency to favor that side and tense up there in moments of high-stress or anxiety, the condition begun to improve.

Yoga and body scan meditations are your best bet for starting to explore your body and its various ailments. Calm and Headspace are popular apps that offer a basic body scan relaxation exercise, and can begin to put you in tune with your body and the weak points throughout your nervous system.

Digestion and Lower Dantian

In Daoist theory, the body’s internal energy, or dan, is said to be found in three areas called dantians. The lower dantian – or the lower abdomen from the genitals up to the kidneys – is believed to be the primary location where this energy is stored, as it is the structural center of the body. The area encompasses most of the digestive and reproductive organs, as well as the majority of the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems.

These two components of the autonomous nervous system, unlike the central nervous system, are largely unconsciously controlled. However, Daoists believe that through mindfulness of the lower dantian area, one can assist autonomous system functioning, thus improving health and vitality.

The gut has long been referred to as “the second brain” in traditional Eastern and more recently in Western medicine, and there is scientifically evidence to back up this claim.

Western medicine suggests that the parasympathetic nervous system specifically is responsible for digestion. However, there is a third component of the autonomous nervous system, the enteric nervous system (ENS), which can operate independently from the brain and the PNS and SNS. It is housed in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, starting at the esophagus and extending down to the anus and contains over 30 neurotransmitters also found in the central nervous system, including serotonin and dopamine transmitters. Taking into consideration that 90% of these serotonin neurons and 50% of dopamine neurons found in the body are located in the gut, the gut in general, and ENS in particular, truly is the “second brain”.

The motor neurons of the ENS serve to churn and break down intestinal contents, while other neurons are responsible for secreting enyzmes.

I’ve found that simply relaxing the lower dantian area helped alleviate longstanding digestive issues. I used to have a pretty gnarly case of what I thought to be indigestion or acid reflux. By practicing meditation and relaxing my stomach and lower back specifically, I was able to locate the real source of my problem. I had a condition called plum pit syndrome, or the “heart in the throat” feeling. Plum pit is characterized by the feeling of a lump in the throat and the inability to swallow.

According to traditional Chinese medicine,“plum pit syndrome is a result of a situation that is figuratively too hard to swallow, so it gets caught in your throat. That’s why almost everyone who suffers from this condition is also struggling with some kind of life stress, change, or mental health issue.”

Once more, stressful and anxiety-inducing situations and stimuli seemed to be the root cause of my problem. In general, plum pit indicates emotional energy stagnation between the liver and spleen, usually resulting from stress or frustration, and can signify future chronic digestive problems, or be an indicator that larger digestive issues are already at play.

Traditional Chinese medicine recommends acupuncture/pressure to combat this ailment, and an herbal formula Ban Xia Hou Po Tang, consisting of pinellia and magnolia bark, was created specifically to treat this condition.

But, as I mentioned, relaxing certain parts of my body – specifically the lower back and stomach – has proven to be an effective remedy on its own. Relaxing my stomach muscles during eating and swallowing food, while breathing in deeply from the stomach to allow air in has really cleared up my digestion issues.

It totally makes sense that these two spots are connected, hence the British “heart in my throat” idiom, but I had never suspected the connection prior to learning and applying relaxation techniques.

Finally, another physical benefit to digestion I’ve personally experienced is the ability to counter constipation right on the spot. Mindfully relaxing my stomach, specifically the spot three finger widths below the belly button, pretty much does the trick every time while plugged up on the toilet. Ill spare you of anymore details…

Again, there are simple relaxation and breathing practices you can use to combat digestive issues. The 4-7-8 breathing technique, developed by Dr. Andrew Weil has been proven to be effective way to put your body into a relaxed state; it also can benefit the body in several other ways, such as helping with insomnia, anxiety and hear rate/blood pressure. This technique changes the “tone” of the ANS by decreasing parasympathetic tone, increasing sympathetic tone and ultimately your body’s relaxation response.

Essentially, by using your voluntary system to impose rhythms on the breathe, gradually they are induced in the involuntary nervous system, which one can’t get at directly.

Translating Relaxation Techniques to Other Aspects of Life

Dr. Weil once said during an interview on the Tim Ferriss Show, that “meditation is not about mindfulness in just a given sitting. It is about carrying those experiences and training into all aspects of your life.”

This quote stuck with me, and has had a profound impact on my outlook regarding mindfulness practice. I’ve long been able to recognize when the mental benefits of meditation and breathing were being applied in my life while not actually in practice; in the sense of focus, presence, and introspection into my thoughts and tendencies.

But more recently, since discovering this quote and beginning to practice Wing Chun, a form of kung fu, I’m become more conscious of how the breathing and relaxation aspects of yoga and meditation transfer physically to all sorts of different situations and activities.

One of the basic principles of the first form of Wing Chun is relaxing your upper body. When I first begun training, my Sifu would get frustrated with me – although he concealed it well – because of my learned behavior of subconsciously tensing my back and shoulders. Once he and others in class called attention to what I was doing, I was able to transfer the principles I had picked up in other relaxation practices, and my form improved significantly.

To me, one of the most fascinating things about Wing Chun (and general Qigong practice) is that by relaxing your muscles directly after contact with your opponent, you gain the upper hand because you can sense the timing of their next strike. When your body is in a relaxed state, rather than one of SNS fight-or-flight panic, your sensory perception and awareness are heightened.

This last benefit may be the prime example of how nervous system relaxation and breathing practices benefits the sensors and motor neurons of the sensory nervous system, and why you should start practicing these techniques.

Reflections on Tulum – Letting Your Soul Shine

Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico is a wild place. Its inhabitants each have their own unique reasons for living there or visiting, but I find – in my seven total weeks spent there – they fall into three distinct categories.

First, you have the locals, the working class. Families and individuals who are native to Tulum, or have come from other parts of Mexico to pursue work opportunities. They often work long hours with few days off, and sometimes hold down multiple jobs or hustles to make ends meet.

Not that this is irregular to most parts of Mexico, but the cost of living in Tulum can rival that of some smaller US cities, even on a modest lifestyle, so working for two different employers in a single day is common to supplement a primary source of income.

The next group is the party crowd – those that are there to be seen, often in the fashion of being Instagrammed on the beach. The group that feels the rules don’t apply. We’re talking world travelers who have come for egotistic reasons; either of self-promotion or to get their rocks off in a drug-induced frenzy. They are often looking for an escape; from realities that are hard to come to terms with, or from recent unpleasant or traumatic experiences. 

Finally, you have those who are there for actual healing; there to make a difference. Either in their own lives or in the community. They aren’t there to cope through temporary relief of their emotional baggage with party drugs; but rather to carve out the life they envision, often through servicing others. This group is comprised of spiritual healers, artists, and others with a marketable skill they can use to barter to support themselves, and benefit others. 

I find myself in this latter category. Though crafting my marketable skillset is a constant work in progress, my aim is to give back to the local community and foreigners there for self-improvement. It took me a long time to find “my calling”, but I always knew that helping others is one of the few things that gave me a sense of purpose. 

In Tulum, I sense there is a bit of animosity between the natives and those travelers there for self-serving purposes. Those that take without giving anything back in return, and often times contribute to unrest in pursuit of their selfish habits.

My intention was to curb the stereotype/belief among some locals that travelers are narcissists that are only there to party, who often put on airs. I put this into practice in simple terms by greeting most locals I met with a kind hello and “smiling with the eyes,” and on a deeper level by giving back through initiating healing practices in the form of free Qigong instruction for guests at the hostel where I was staying.

My aim was to eventually start teaching classes for the locals – the vast majority of whom have never had been exposed to the concept of breath practice or self-healing – rather than the international travelers there, but for various reasons, I didn’t end up hanging around long-term. 

After two and a half weeks, I departed Tulum, and landed in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, after two bus rides and a brief stopover in Villahermosa, Tabasco, on Mexico’s gulf side. In my brief experience in Villahermosa, the people were extremely agreeable, so long as you were willing to open yourself up to them. 

Though San Cristobal also has a prominent tourism industry and expat community, I didn’t sense the tensions I had experienced in Tulum. Maybe it was the lack of posturing by the tourists or their general temperament and openness to the culture that prevented this hostility, but whatever the case, different cultural groups were able to coexist *more* harmoniously from what I witnessed.

I think it was the intentions of the travelers that set the two locales apart. People, in general, were more hospitable, and often quick to wish other restaurant patrons around them a “buen provecho” (the Mexican equivalent of bon apetite, and so much more) in passing. 

I thought the people of San Crístobal were the most hospitable I had encountered; that is, until I got to Oaxaca. After an overnight bus ride – one complete with several identification checkpoint stops, and one engine failure, where we proceeded to transfer to another bus destined for Oaxaca city—we arrived at the state’s capital.  

It took me almost no time at all to fall under the spell of the enchanting city and its people, as they came off as extremely outgoing and agreeable, even more so than in other cities I had been to in Mexico. 

That’s not to say that there aren’t rough patches– outlier encounters that can leave you feeling a bit uneasy, and may even cause you to question your life as a vagabond. But this type of experience can (and often does) occur in any metropolitan area, obviously – to residents of Chicago, New York or LA, for example – even in the US.

However, the particular experience you have may be unique to or at least more typical of a specific country or continent. For example, It would be atypical for a white boy to be shaken down by the police in hopes of them finding (or planting) drugs, in order to extort the “perputrator” for a couple hundred pesos, as had happened to me personally, in Oaxaca, or to an acquaintance of mine in Bogotá.

For an African-American in inner-city Chicago, on the other hand, this experience stateside may not be so foreign. At this point in the post, I would like to check my white privilege.

However, the aptitude to take control of your emotions in situations like these is worth its weight in gold, and can pay dividends. One personality trait that translates universally – and can benefit you in many contexts or countries – is having a thick skin, and the ability to brush off unpleasant experiences.

I discovered the benefit of this quality while living in Chicago, and its power is something that I still carry with me to this day. The ability to free yourself (your mind) from past impressions – which ultimately lead to beliefs – is one of the best ways to start each day anew; and along with that fresh start, how to best radiate positivity and openness.  

Regardless, what I’ve found is that only you as an individual have the power to decide how much energy you will allocate in regards to playing into negative energy. And what I mean by that is that we each have the ability – through our beliefs, decisions and actions – to determine the trajectory of our own experiences. Our expectations often dictate the outcome of our experience. 

I know that staying out all night partying – drinking and doing cocaine or MDMA until the early hours – will leave me feeling lethargic and introverted the following day, and those feelings can be easily perceived by others. Body language is something that translates, regardless of if you want it to or not. 

For example, I had basically been bed-ridden for nine days with a serious case of Salmonella poisoning while staying in San Cristobal. Upon investigating and learning that rest was one of the best things I could do to aid my recovery, I made a point of only leaving the hostel one or two times each day, at most – just to get some soup or electrolyte drink, or just a bit of fresh air.  And when I did, I didn’t feel or – from what I can only assume – look myself. I could tell passersby were quick to pick up on this, as I noticed they tended to shy away from eye contact more than they typically would. 

It was a very unpleasant experience, and I was eager to do what I needed to remove myself from the circumstance. Though I wasn’t actively engaging in egotistic acts that subdued my well-being, I still felt I needed to take personal responsibility in order to bolster (both my physical and mental) health, and thus improve my demeanor and others’ perception of me.

In my view, it really almost always comes back to being a matter of personal responsibility and holding yourself accountable, which is often easier said than done in this era where playing the victim game is so en vogue. 

I am a staunch proponent of living life to the fullest, and the best way I’ve found to do that is to take measures to vitalize my health and well-being to the fullest. Getting eight hours or more of sleep each night, exercising, limiting caffeine consumption to one cup of coffee and one green tea per day, and removing alcohol from the equation entirely are a few examples I’ve found to really boost my spirits.  

Another way to “live life to the fullest” is to position yourself to best take advantage of opportunities when they arise. The aforementioned strategies are the best way I’ve found to feel close to 100 percent at all times, but this isn’t a cure-all.

What works for me very well may not work for everyone else; each person is unique, and their circumstances may dictate a different combination of strategies.

However, these measures are generally universally beneficial to the well-being of most, and even if they aren’t applicable for a particular individual, that person can find what works by holding themself accountable and taking the initiative to discover what is. 

I’ve also found that conducting yourself with righteousness is an excellent way to resonate with others. Being genuine with statements and actions has served me well in regards to others’ perception of myself.

When you display confidence in your endeavors, others are much less likely to scoff and ridicule you. Seemingly, you resonate with them better on an interpersonal level, and as a byproduct, judgment seems to be difficult to occur.

Additionally, this technique helps curb the feeling of agitation or tension I spoke of earlier that arises when you are feeling strung out, and are forced into a social setting. Just remembering to conduct yourself righteously – but always in a friendly, unassuming manner – calms any anxiety and allows your composure to remain intact.