Here are my top five posts from all categories:

  1. The ultimate Africa travel bucket list: Over the last year, I went to Egypt and South Africa and loved it. I would love to return for some more scuba diving and animal encounters.
  2. Moving back in with my parents: I feel a lot of this while living at home for a few weeks, although it’s slightly different living with my grandma than my parents.
  3. 7 ways to spring clean your blog in 2019: I don’t know about you, but I desperately need to clean out my blog.
  4. My 2019 TBR and reading challenge: I hope to read more this year and these different reading challenges can make it interesting!
  5. Make your perfect bucket list for 2019: This is a great idea for customizing your own goals for the year. I will certainly be using this to make my next goals update.

Science, sustainability and veganism

General travel and study abroad

Travel destinations

Lifestyle

Entertainment

Blogging

Photo by Andrew Knechel.

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The people have spoken. I recently held a Twitter poll to see if I should start book reviews and it seems that most of my followers are interested! The idea really excites me and I think it will help me stay interested in the reading world if I incorporate some bookish posts in my blog.

I’m not sure how often I will do these, it will probably depend on how much I read in a month. I set a goal on GoodReads to read 35 books this year, which is about 3 books a month. With that, I will probably do these posts once a month or once every two months. Let me know how you liked this post and I will consider doing more in the future!

As a reminder, here is how I rate my books:

  • (★★★★★): Loved it
  • (★★★★): Really liked it
  • (★★★): Didn’t hate it, didn’t love it
  • (★★): Barely finished it

Another few notes: I will warn if there are any spoilers with (start spoiler) and (end spoiler) so you know when to stop reading and pick up again if you don’t want to ruin the book for yourself. I also try to watch as many adaptations as I can, just to compare, so I will comment on all the ones I’ve seen.

Without further ado, here is what I read since the New Year:

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

91jFmxYLSsLRating: ★★★★★

Genre: Sci-fi, dystopia

GoodReads rating: 4.28 / 5 (673,900 ratings)

Medium used: E-reader (borrowed from library via Borrow Box)

Date started/ finished: 16/12 – 28/12

Summary: In the not-so-distant future, the virtual utopia in the OASIS is known and loved worldwide. When its wealthy creator dies and hides his fortune in the OASIS, both individuals and corporations fight to navigate clues from 80’s pop culture to find the prize.

Thoughts: Wow! I am really stingy with my five stars but this one is well-deserved. My dad thought I wouldn’t enjoy the book as much because I wouldn’t get all the pop culture references, but even if you’re not fluent, it’s easy to follow in context. The world-building is absolutely magnificent and the story keeps you on your toes.

Other adaptations: I saw the film and other than basic premise, it was not a whole lot like the book. If you have read the book or seen the movie, here is a good video that talks about the differences well. The most annoying short coming of the film was (start spoiler) the way the first key was obtained. In the book, the main character is a school kid with not a lot of money who can’t access the money and resources to hunt for the prize as he pleases. However, the first key is hidden on the school planet so even the most underprivileged have a shot at the hunt. This was not the case in the movie and this change sets the movie off on the wrong foot by making the main character less relatable (end spoiler).

In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park

in-order-to-liveRating: ★★★★½

Genre: Non-fiction, autobiography

GoodReads rating: 4.48 / 5 (18,900 ratings)

Medium used: Paperback (purchased from Waterstones)

Date started/ finished: 28/12 – 2/1

Summary: The title says it all. A very interesting and emotional story about the deprived life in North Korea and how the author escaped to South Korea through China and Mongolia and adjusting to a new life.

Thoughts: As I mentioned, I am really stingy with my five star reviews, but I really, really enjoyed this book even though non-fiction (especially biographies) aren’t my go-to genre. I know very little about the details of the oppressive government in North Korea and lengths people will go to in order to be free, it’s very eye-opening. I highly recommend this book to everyone.

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Matilda-Book-CoverRating: ★★★★

Genre: Fiction, children’s

GoodReads rating: 4.30 / 5 (506,000 ratings)

Medium used: E-reader (borrowed from library via OverDrive)

Date started/ finished: 3/1

Summary: Young, bookish Matilda only finds peace in her books with obnoxious parents at home and a cruel headmistress at school. She uses her brains and newfound “gift” to help herself and others around her.

Thoughts: I figured this would be an easy, cute read… and I was right! It took me about two hours to read but it kept my attention. Obviously as a children’s book, it wasn’t amazingly stimulating, but again, it was a pleasant read.

Other adaptations: I’ve seen the film and play and both are very true to the short book with a few of their own elements added in. The movie is fantastic but the play isn’t my favorite. There are some good songs (see: “School Song”), but it feels like such little material spread out over a too-long stage running time.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

the-handmaids-tale@2xRating: ★★★½

Genre: Fiction, (feminist) dystopia, classic

GoodReads rating: 4.09 / 5 (990,000 ratings)

Medium used: E-reader (borrowed from library via Borrow Box)

Date started/ finished: 4/1 – 7/1

Summary: In her lifetime, Offred goes from strong, independent woman with a family of her own to totally stripped of all freedom and, like many other women, is reduced to baby-making slave to a powerful man and his wife in the new order.

Thoughts: This book is the epitome of good idea, poor execution. Okay, “poor” might be a strong word because I almost liked this book. The internal monologue of the main character drags at times with the most mundane observations and don’t even get me started on the lack of quotation marks… I had to re-read a paragraph a few times to figure out where the dialogue stopped and the descriptions started. More or less, the bones of this book and the plot are good, it’s the writing and way the story was told I had an issue with.

Other adaptations: The television series has met with a lot of critical praise. I skimmed the pilot and found the world-building to be spot-on, stellar cast and compelling main character. This reviewer has said the first series follows the book quite closely (with some dialogue taken directly from the passages) with a more realized main character. Another reviewer commented that the biggest changes are adding more dimensions to the answered questions about characters and plot points (start spoiler) such as what happened to Offred’s child and husband and where the O.G. Ofglen went (end spoiler) left by the book. It sounds like I would personally enjoy the series more than the book!

Have you read any of these? Which did you enjoy most?

Photo by Radu Marcusu.

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Now that I’ve been Advanced Open Water certified for about a year now, I’m always thinking about new places to explore the underwater world.

My have been spoiled in my first few scuba diving experiences. First, I went on a LiveAboard in the Red Sea, seeing some of the most beautiful reefs and wrecks in the world. Then, I went to South Africa with my university where I experienced wonderful reefs, baited shark dives and more! This summer, I will be scuba diving in Thailand on a LiveAboard to the Phi Phi Islands based out of Phuket and another trip in the Gulf of Thailand (either based out of Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Samui or Ko Tao).

Here are some other scuba diving adventures I would love to have in the future:

Something local: Although I’m in a landlocked state, I don’t have to go far to experience great scuba diving. Sites relatively close to me include the Gulf of California, Channel Islands and La Jolla Cove.

Silfra: Formed by diverging tectonic plates, this dive spot in Iceland is known for its incredible visibility and geological marvel. Although, I think I’ll need to take a dry suit course, first!

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Photo credit: Extreme Iceland

Great Barrier Reef: Because, well, duh.

Hawai’i: My family used to go to Maui quite often and that is where I had my first scuba diving crash course. I would love to return as a more independent diver and experience all the sites I have been to from the surface while snorkeling.

Sardine run: From May through July, billions of sardines spawn at the bottom of the African continent and move northward along the east coast of South Africa, attracting all sorts of predators from sea birds to whale for this feeding frenzy. When I went on my university course to South Africa in April, we were too early for the season, but I would love to return to Sodwana Bay and the Reefteach dive resort for this spectacle someday.

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Photo credit: Jason Heller

Mayan Rivera: A very broad range, but I would like to explore as much as I can of one of the most critically acclaimed dive sites in the world including Cancun, Cozumel, Belize barrier reef and the Great Blue Hole. Maybe for my 2020 big trip…

Banda Sea: I tried to be more specific with this one, but I would love to go anywhere in the Coral Triangle: home to the most marine biodiversity on the planet. I recently read a blog post on a Banda Sea LiveAboard and it looks so beautiful and luxurious.

Helping hand: Finally, as an animal lover and conservationist, I would like to do some dives specifically to help the environment, collect data and learn more about what can be done. I would love to find an organization such as Seasearch in the U.S. to participate in once I have more dives under my belt.

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Photo credit: The Blonde Abroad

Have you been scuba diving? Where would you want to go?

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I’ve decided to do something fun and review the top attractions and restaurants according to TripAdvisor in my city: Brighton!

Landmarks

North Laine (#1): This area of town has a lot of quirky shops, kooky items for sale on the street, great restaurants and always something (or someone) to see. This has certainly earned its #1 position.

Duke of York’s Picture House (#2): Love films? Then seeing the oldest cinema in continuous use in Britian is a must. The seats are so comfortable and there are film nights for everyone, from children’s movies to classics. It’s a great way to unwind after a day of exploring.

Royal Pavilion (#3): It’s a hard one to miss. Right in the city center, it’s unique Indian architecture gives the area a lot of character. I’ve never been inside, but I love sitting on the lawn on a sunny day or the ice skating rink they put up in the winter against the lit building.

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The Lanes (#4): Closer to the center of town, this is also a collection of shops, but more high-end. The narrow streets are picturesque, but make it easy to get lost.

British Airways i360 (#8): I went up the i360 a few times loved it! It’s a fair price for the half hour round trip up the world’s tallest moving observation tower to admire the views of Brighton and beyond.

Brighton Palace Pier (#10): This is my absolute favorite thing to do in Brighton. The arcade games, views and atmosphere never get old. The seafront is what attracts most visitors, I have a hard time imagining why this is so low on the list. 

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The Clock Tower (#13): This landmark is hard to miss and makes for some amazing pictures, especially in the winter when the Christmas lights are up. Pro tip: get a really good picture from the top floors of the nearby Waterstones or Pret.

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West Pier (#14): Right in front of the i360, the ruins are quite characteristic and really makes you wonder about what this pier was like in its prime.

University of Sussex (#16): The university is just a few miles outside the city center and it’s surrounded by rolling green hills. I miss living on campus so much. And if you’re a football lover, the AmEx stadium is just off campus as well.

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Brighton Marina (#18): I’ll be the first to admit there isn’t a whole lot to do at the marina (there’s a bowling arcade and cinema), but if the weather is nice it’s worth a visit to grab a bite and take a walk around the seawall.

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Nature and parks

Undercliff Walk (#1): This long stretch of walk near the cliffs was absolutely beautiful! The crashing waves complemented the walls of rock well and made for a serene experience. I’d recommend you bike, however (there are city bikes to rent all over the town).

Stanmer Park (#2): This vast park borders the university and has a great mix of open areas and trails through the woods. I also love close encounters with the cows!

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Preston Park (#3): Don’t bother, it’s nothing to write home about.

Brighton Beach (#5): Whether you’re watching the people or admiring the view, the beach is a great place to relax on a sunny day. Again, as the home of the famous pier, it’s hard to imagine why this is so low on the list.

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Sea Life Brighton (#8): I’d recommend tourists give this a hard pass. First, these types of aquariums are not unique to the area, with locations from London to Phoenix, and this one is particularly underwhelming.

The Level (#10): Located in the city, this is a great place to people watch (especially the skaters), soak up the sun and grab a bite to eat. The only negative is that there’s almost always a lot of litter.

Seven Sisters/ Beachy Head: Although these are a bit outside of Brighton, it’s worth the trip for nature-lovers. Easily accessible by bus or car, different sites offer various views of the cliffs (“Sisters”). From west to east, the sites are Seaford Head Nature Reserve (overlooks beach and cliffs), Cuckmere Haven (visit the beach at the base of the cliffs) and Beachy Head (walk on top of the cliffs and see the Beachy Head Lighthouse).

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Food

Now, a small disclaimer, as a student, I can’t say I’ve eaten at the fine dining places, but here are some of my personal favorites and how they measure up on TripAdvisor (all of these places have vegetarian/ vegan options).

Befries (#4): So much yes. Not only is this a quick eat, but very budget-friendly and delicious. They serve Belgian fries and a myriad of sauces. Insider tip: if you want to try another sauce, ask for a small sample cup, they’ll give it to you for free! My favorites are curry ketchup, peanut satay and truffle mayo.

Purezza (#19): Embrace the vegan eats at this mouth-watering pizza place that will have even the most adamant meat-eater wanting more.

VIP (#29): Real Italian pizza. I eat from here regularly and it never lets me down.

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Terre a Terre (#39): I’ve been here once a while ago but really remember enjoying it, but it’s a bit expensive.

Food for Friends (#38): Another good vegetarian place, but costs a bit.

Fatto a Mano (#74): Another good Italian pizza place, I wouldn’t say I have a preference to this over VIP, they’re both quite good.

Curry Leaf Cafe (#84): I have no idea why this is so low, such amazing Indian food.

Bankers (#112): My favorite fish and chips, even if it’s not a popular opinion.

Troll Burger: Now, it’s hard to meet a burger I don’t like, but my favorite is a small stall called Troll Burger outside the train station by Green Door Store. The hours vary greatly as it’s run by one dude, but if it’s open, strike while the iron’s hot!

Happy Maki: Another one of my personal favorites is this delicious vegan sushi burrito place. It’s known and loved by all self-respecting vegans in Brighton.

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Bars and pubs

I have gone away from TripAdvisor for this crucial bit of information and did a bit more research on sites such as Design My Night and Culture Trip. I’ll comment on all the places I see recommended that I’ve been to and let you know where I stand.

  • East Street Tap: Wouldn’t be my first choice for drinks, but they have amazing food and are in a good location.
  • The Mesmerist: I love the atmosphere here, but be prepared to spend a bit more than the average pub.
  • Dead Wax Social: The pizza here is amazing, but can’t say much about the drinks.
  • Sticky Mike’s: They shut down a few days ago, but I always liked this little place. R.I.P.
  • Green Door Store: I haven’t been in a while, but always had a good time with the live music.
  • Molly Malone’s: One of the only places I know of that serve my favorite cider: Symonds! Also the live music is great.
  • Revenge: The gay bar. They have amazing, cheap shots and fun club nights and gigs for everyone.
  • World’s End: Starting with this pub, these are my personal favorites. Great cider selection with arcade games and a mini racetrack.
  • The Hope and Ruin: Probably my all-time favorite pub. Great atmosphere and food.
  • Freemason’s: Great place for cider lovers like myself.
  • The Franklin Arms: An actually fair pub quiz.

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Have you been to Brighton before? Have you enjoyed any of these attractions or restaurants?

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It’s that time again for a massive goals update complete with:

  • 2018 goals revisited
  • Autumn goals revisited
  • 2019 goals
  • Winter goals

Here are how my last year’s New Year’s goals went:

  • Travel to three new countries: In 2018, I went to two new countries (Norway and South Africa) and also re-visited Spain and Luxembourg, so I’d say I’m pretty happy with the way this turned out.
  • Travel to three new U.K. destinations: I visited Cardiff, Kew Botanical Gardens, the Scottish Highlands and Seven Sisters and passed through Portsmouth and Reading. Again, I’m pretty happy with the way this turned out.
  • Attend one football game, one hockey game and one musical: Although I did not make it to a football game, I don’t regret not going as it never really grew on me. I did see a hockey game (Cardiff Devils) and musical (The Lion King).
  • Visit home:My U.K. visa expired so I was home in time for Christmas where I am currently stationed trying to figure out my next move.
  • Get a pet:Did not happen, but I don’t mind. I will keep the idea of a pet on the backburner when I look (hopefully) for my first place this year.

I have also set goals for my last few months of my time in the U.K., here’s how it went:

  • Work 40 hours a week: More or less.
  • Travel to one new U.K. city: Cardiff, Wales.
  • See a musical: The Lion King.
  • Travel to one new country: Didn’t happen.
  • Read two books a month: Did happen! More or less… I read 25 books last year so that averaged it out.
  • Complete a new T.V. series: I watched Dancing Queen and Travels with my Father, I especially enjoyed the latter.
  • Apply for five jobs a week (until mid-November): I applied for all the jobs I can manage, but the universe wasn’t on my side.
  • Blog for 5-10 hours a week: I was definitely in the lower end of this range.
  • Watch more films: I watched more films in the last few months than I have all year. Some of my favorites were Crazy Rich Asians and Arrival.

Here are my big goals for 2019:

  • Start my career: By the end of 2019, my biggest goal is to be in a job I like in my field (conservation biology). I really hope that’s not too much to ask for…
  • Get a car: Being away for so long, I truly forgot how impossible it is to live in a lot of places in the U.S. without a car. This bit will probably be done in the next week or two!
  • Visit three new countries: My brother and I are still in the throes of planning a trip to Southeast Asia and while I hope to travel to as many countries as possible then, that might not be realistic. If we cut that trip short, I hope to visit Mexico as I live so close but have never been.
  • Visit one new U.S. state: I have only been to a handful of states in the U.S. and with friends scattered all around the country, there’s no excuse. I will likely visit my friend Lisa in Salt Lake City or my family in Montana.
  • Visit three new southwest sights: There is so much beautiful and unique nature in the southwest U.S., I hope to explore some more of it.
  • Read 35 books: I have been really enjoying reading these last few months and hope to read 10 more books this year than I did last.
  • Get in shape with exercise and better eating habits: Since I’ve been home, I’ve been a juggernaut. I’m not used to having so much food around. That combine with my lack of exercise this year has put my health in jeopardy. I know this is everyone’s goal, but I don’t want to lose a certain amount of weight or anything like that, I just want to create more mindful eating habits, an exercise routine and feel better on the inside.

Here are some smaller winter goals I will use as stepping stones to meet my big goals:

  • Find a job, even if it’s just part-time
  • Apply for 10 career jobs a week
  • Try the MeetUp app to make new friends
  • Visit one new U.S./ southwest state/ site
  • Watch more classic films
  • Read three books a month

I will update my winter goals in March sometime, stay tuned!

Photo by Zain Saleem.

What are your biggest goals of 2019?

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