Gifts That Give Back 2023

It’s that time of the year again! Before you rush out to malls or websites to purchase your holiday gifts, make sure to check out our sustainable gift guide first. The 2023 collection includes gifts at all price ranges that give back to social causes from healthcare and the environment to a number of women’s causes. Check out what’s new or visit one of previous editions and find the perfect gift for everyone on your list!

Forged Flare ornaments

Ornaments for Animal Rescue

Looking for a Christmas party gift, hostess gift or a unique stocking stuffer for an animal lover? Forged Flare specializes in creating unique ornaments that are reminiscent of stained glass. Handcrafted in Texas and perfect for gifting, my Mother’s Angels ornaments make people feel seen, appreciated, and heard. Pick a design filtered by an emotion – representing luck, love, peace, etc; by birth month, holiday occasion or charity.

The Paw Print for Charity ($49.95) holiday ornament that shows an angel with a paw print, gives back 30% of every sale to HOME Rescue, a local animal shelter in the Dalls-Ft. Worth area. The founder, Jen Street and her family created this design with a specific intent — to give back directly as a thank you for getting them through the loss of their pet.

Tote Bags for the Planet

No one needs another tote bag, but yes, they do need this one! Any travel addict on your gift list is going to love the oversized tote bag by Xplorer Maps, with hand-drawn story maps and accessories that illustrate various destinations. Select your favorite national park, city or destination, or collect them all. Made of heavy duty cloth material, the tote bags are reusable and sustainable. Take them grocery shopping, to the beach, or even holiday shopping! Get a matching jigsaw puzzle and keep the entire family engaged during the holidays.

Xplorer Maps is a member of 1% for the Planet, which partners in conserving and preserving our public lands. To date, they’ve donated over $145,000 to nearly 40 different organizations worldwide. 

The bags cost $24.99 and are available through their website and on Amazon.

Sustainable Athletic Ware

Let’s face it – you are going to pack up a few pounds during the holidays and come January, you will likely set a new year’s resolution to eat healthy and exercise more! So, gift someone you love, as well as yourself, Vitality premium athletic apparel and loungewear for added motivation to move. My personal favorite is the Cloud II Trouser ($88) which comes in a dozen colors. It is flattering and super comfortable, perfect for running errands, walking at the trail, and while traveling.

Vitality’s brand designs are for everyBODY, available in sizes 2XS-4XL, including for men and women. Vitality’s mission of inclusivity, commitment to customers, and focus on confidence-inducing apparel remains at the forefront. Each piece of clothing is sustainable, ensuring steps to reduce energy consumption, material waste, and emissions. Along with sustainable and ethical production practices, Vitality has also raised $500,000+ for a variety of organizations including the Special Olympics, It Gets Better project, Active Minds, Girls, Inc., American Red Cross, and more.

Women’s Bean Project Gift Box

Gourmet Food Supporting Women in The Workforce

If there’s a foodie or chef on your gift list, get them a meaningful subscription box from the Denver-based social enterprise Women’s Bean Project (WBP). This initiative encapsulates gourmet products from WBP and additional complementary products from curated brands. For only $75, your receiver will get a box full of surprises each quarter, which includes an assortment of baking, soup and bread mixes, spices, snacks and recipes.

What sets this gourmet food subscription apart is its profound impact – 100% of the proceeds directly contribute to training and employing women who face significant barriers to entering the workforce. Women’s Bean Project hires women with histories of incarceration and homelessness, women who are ex-gang members or former addicts with multiple felonies, and puts them to work manufacturing gourmet food items. But more importantly, the nonprofit addresses the mental, physical, and emotional health of the women participating in the program.

Candier Candles

Candles for Female Leaders

Barbie is not the only one to highlight girl power in 2023! These cute vegan soy wax candles by Candier feature sassy and fun messages that make for the perfect personalized gift any woman or teen girl will love. Send good smells, holiday sprinkles and inspiring messages like the Donut Worry Candle. Warning – It actually smells like a fresh glazed donut and may make you hungry!

Candier’s flagship candles are poured in the U.S. with pure, natural sustainable soy wax and are cruelty-free blended with essential oils. Plus, a portion of all Candier sales go to Girls Inc, to support the next generation of female leaders. They’re also 100% committed to minimizing their carbon footprint and fighting climate change by limiting their plastic use and donating to Greenspark. 

Moon Sonders Dreamighty® wearable throw blanket

Blankets For Breast Cancer Victims

Want to gift a warm hug across the miles? Moon Sonders Dreamighty® wearable throw blanket will keep adults and kids warm and snuggly all through the winter. Available in solid colors and character patterns, the soft fleece blankets with sleeves are perfect to wear as you sip on hot chocolate, watch a feel good movie or while you wrap Christmas gifts.

The founder, Karen Bonnici is herself a breast cancer survivor and committed to supporting breast cancer victims. Her “Let Your Strength Shine” blanket is a heartwarming ally for the Pink Fund’s essential mission and 5% of profits from sales of blankets goes to alleviating the financial strain on breast cancer patients.

Order the Moon Sonder blankets for the entire family on Amazon. Kids $29.99 and adults $49.99.

Enjoy Ceramic Art Coffee Mug

Coffee Mugs Supporting Art

Gift the coffee lovers on your holiday list characteristic handcrafted coffee mugs and espresso cups created by artisans. These are no ordinary mugs! They are especially designed for those who cherish art, culture, and coffee. The best selling Snowman Mug ($49.99) with gold handle was conceptualized during a workshop where artisans shared tales of their childhood winter memories. Today, every purchase of this mug ensures their stories continue, fostering a community of shared memories and art.
For every mug sold, a portion of the proceeds is directed towards supporting local artisans and their families. Enjoy Ceramic Art also collaborate with community initiatives that focus on preserving traditional ceramic craftsmanship, ensuring a future for this art in the modern age.

Hats For Social Impact

Hats are a must have in my travel suitcase so I always love it when someone gifts me a new hat! You can’t have too many, right? One of my favorite hat companies is Wallaroo, which is made in Colorado and inspired by Australia. For nearly two decades, this company has been dedicated to creating trendy hats that effectively protect the skin from harmful UV rays. Skin cancer is a growing concern around the world, and Wallaroo takes skin cancer education and prevention seriously. Make sure to select a hat rated according to the UV radiation blocking capabilities. A UPF 50+ Palm Beach ($55) fabric fedora blocks 97.5% of ultraviolet rays, according to the Australian Radiation Protection Agency, and is fashionable to wear at ant resort. The wide brim Sanibel hat ($53) ensures maximum sun protection and the chin strap provides extra wind resistance for when you are out at the beach or open water.

Wallaroo Hat Company is part of a growing global community of 2,100 Certified B Corporation® making business a force of good. In addition to designing fashionably functional hats, Wallaroo donates sanitary products to women in need.

Saffron Marigold block print shower curtain

Block Printing Honoring Artisans  

If you are looking for household gifts for the parents or in-laws, Saffron Marigold is a fair trade, handcrafted textile company that produces beautiful, boho-chic home decor and accessories with unique block-printed designs. They work in fair trade partnership with artisans in India who utilize eco-friendly materials from local sources and adopt low-energy production techniques, mainly handcrafted methods. You can find table lines, bedspreads, quilts and shower curtains made of natural fibers like cotton, alongside reclaimed or upcycled materials, as well as low-impact and natural dyes. As a result, the patterns are vibrant and stylish!

Every purchase ensures a wonderful ripple effect: steady employment for skilled artisans, economic self-sufficiency for apprentices, and safeguarding the time-honored craft of block printing.

Alexis Jae Aircraft Pendant

Jewelry Supporting Breast Cancer Research

Alexis Jae Jewelry offers one on a kind solid 14k gold and diamond statement pieces that female travelers on your gift list will love. Ethically sourced gems and recycled gold ensure that the jewelry is not only pretty, but sustainable. They are also sold at wholesale prices without any middleman markups. What’s more? 25% of profits from all product sold support breast cancer research through a partnership with A Cure In Our Lifetime.

Check out the compass necklace ($600) that will remind you to stay course and follow your North Star, or get the jet setter a chic and versatile 14k gold aircraft pendant ($115).

Burlap & Barrel Spices

Spices For Equity

If you love to cook like me, you will love the quality of spices from Burlap & Barrel. They are a leading purveyor of single origin spices sourced equitably around the world. Founded in 2016, Burlap & Barrel is a single origin spice company and social enterprise working directly with expert spice farmers in more than 20 countries to source unique, beautiful spices for home cooks and professional chefs.

Really, their spices taste fresher and more flavorful because they come directly from small farms! With a better-than-fair-trade sourcing model, they help improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. You can find practically any spice on their website, from Royal Cinnamon and Zanzibar Black Peppercorns, to rare botanicals like Amazonian Pompona Vanilla and Wild Timur Pepper from the Himalayas. My personal favorite is the chef Floyd Cardoz masala gift set ($66.99) because it is packed with six essential flavors from all over India, but you really cannot go wrong with any of their spice collections.

Shiki Wraps

Gift Wraps For The Planet

Finally, wrap all your gifts this holiday season with Shiki Wrap’s reusable gift wrap and bags made from sustainable materials. You can machine wash and reuse these soft, stretchy, fabric wraps without any need for tapes and ribbons. These beautiful printed gift wraps not only help save the environment, they also support artists and feature designs that benefit nonprofit organizations. For example the Ocean Conservation themed prints benefit The Rozalia Project for clean oceans and a healthy marine ecosystem. Prices range from $14-25 per wrap. Get the entire holiday collection for $135 and you will have plenty to wrap all your gifts this year.

Shiki Wrap is a 1% for the Planet member that includes thousands of businesses and environmental organizations working together to support people and the planet.

The Story of Four Seasons Hotels

The Four Seasons group of hotels and resorts is one of my favorite brands in the world. From The Four Seasons Resort Mauritius at Anahita to Four Seasons Hotel Sydney, each property I stayed at was over the top luxury and service. But it wasn’t until my recent visit to the Four Seasons Toronto that I came to know the story of how this brand came to be.

Founding of The Four Seasons

Four Seasons Hotel Toronto, located in the vibrant Yorkville neighborhood, is the Canadian company’s flagship property. This is where it all started. In 1961, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts opened its first property – a motor hotel in downtown Toronto, down the street from where the current hotel stands. It was the brainchild of Isadore Sharp, the company’s Founder and Chairman. He wanted to set the stage for a new type of hotel experience with personalized service for business travelers. He found a niche in mid-size hotels of exceptional quality offering distinctive service and opened another location in London. The hotel became popular with celebrities when the Toronto International Film Festival was held in the Yorkville area.

four seasons hotel toronto

Amenities We Now Take For Granted

Our web tool revolutionizes the way you download instagram video.

As the brand expanded, Four Seasons became the first hotel company in North America to introduce now-standard items such as bath amenities, robes and hair dryers. It was also the first to provide European-style concierge services and 24/7 in-room dining. Twice-daily housekeeping, one-hour pressing and round-the-clock laundry and dry cleaning are additional guest services introduced by Four Seasons long before any other luxury hotel operators.

Have you ever wished to take home a hotel mattress? The first custom made Four Seasons mattress that we all love debuted in 1984, and has been the standard bearer for a night of perfect rest in all of Four Seasons hotels since then. In 2014, Four Seasons further innovated their sleep experience by introducing a fully customizable mattress that allows guests to choose the firmness of their hotel bed.  

Since then, the company has included  Private Residences, Residential Rentals, and  the Four Seasons Jet in its portfolio.

The Golden Rule

Academic researchers have done several studies and published papers about the reasons for Four Seasons success. It comes down to their mission statement: To treat others as we’d wish to be treated ourselves. Isn’t it simple and powerful?

And this is so evident in the staff interactions I have had across all the properties. Most employees I met were super friendly. We talked about our common passion for travel. They told me that they worked for the company for years, as many as 30 years! They often utilize the company benefits to travel to different Four Seasons properties, take their families to discounted dinners at the hotel, and enjoy their work life balance. The company culture ensures that the employees are well taken care of. Having a base of loyal and happy employees definitely reflects on how the guests feel too.

I wouldn’t be writing this blog post featuring a brand unless there was a sustainability promise. Through their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) program, Four Seasons for Good, seeks to preserve and regenerate the beautiful places in which they operate, and leave a positive, enduring impact on the communities. Each of the two pillars: Planet (environmental impact) and People (social impact) makes efforts to contribute to the achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It makes me feel good about my stay too!

Four Seasons Hotel Toronto

Now let’s go back to Toronto, where it all started. A beautiful lobby with intricate lattice doors welcomed me in. The Premier Room on a 30 floor tower had a stunning view of a quieter part of the city, overlooking charming row townhouses and a park. The interior, in grey tunes, was soft and blended with the sky. A luscious giant raspberry macron with fresh raspberries and gold leaf was waiting for me to devour. This was going to be a wonderful stay already!

Fun fact: The 9,038-square-foot penthouse, which occupies the entire 55th floor of the West Residence at The Four Seasons Toronto was sold for Canadian $28 million in 2012, making it the most expensive condominium unit sold in Canada!

four seasons spa

The Spa

The Spa at Four Seasons Toronto is a must! My 90-minute Signature Gold and Diamond Facial was not only indulgent, I came out radiating. Think hour and a half of cleansing, peeling, massages, gold infused and rose quartz crystals masks, and anti-aging gold serum. My family members couldn’t believe the glow on my face. The relaxing rooms also had great views of Toronto skyline.

At some point during your stay, also make sure to check out the indoor swimming pool and state of the art gym. I am generally not a hotel gym person but this one was worth sweating at.

Dining

The dinner at Café Boulud was one of my best meals in Toronto. The airy restaurant with lots of natural lighting and modern interiors offers international Chef Daniel Boulud’s homestyle French menu. Melt-in-your-mouth Bluefin Tuna, fresh from the ocean Nova Scotia Lobster with homemade linguini, and fennel poached British Columbia Spot Prawns stood out for me. The Grapefruit Givre was a unique dessert. A half grapefruit was filled with grapefruit sorbet and topped with sesame halva strands and rose lokum (Turkish delight). Nothing like I have ever seen before. The menu is seasonal so you may not find the same dishes I tried. But if you go on a Wednesday, order the Three-Course Rotisserie Menu with PEI Mussels and Sticky Toffee Pudding. Yum!

The best part about Four Seasons Hotel Toronto is the location. As soon as you come out of the hotel, you are in the heart of Yorkville, Toronto’s top shopping and dining destination. There’s luxury designer boutiques, cafes with lovely ambiance and all types of restaurants. Just walking around the neighborhood and people (and their dogs) watching is also fun.

Four Seasons Hotel Toronto is also pet-friendly!

Check out more stories from Canada on my website.

Travel Sustainably at The Ranch in Nicaragua

Did you know that The Republic of Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America? The beautiful country is sandwiched between Honduras and Costa Rica. Unfortunately, political unrests and negative press impacted tourism in Nicaragua for several years. But if you do go there, you will find that the reality is very different. Nicaragua is actually a very safe country for tourists where you can travel sustainably. The people are polite and welcoming. The scenery is stunning! And best of all, it is an affordable travel destination.

Rancho Santana Nicaragua

Getting There

Fly into Managua, the capital and drive up north to be in the coffee plantations and cooler mountains, or west to get to Pacific Beaches and east to the Atlantic. You can also fly to Liberia airport in Costa Rica and be at the border within minutes. Whichever direction you choose to go, on your drive expect to see lots of banana plantations, cattle ranches, wooded forests and open fields. Keep an eye for towering cone shaped volcanoes against the skyline. There are 17 volcanoes in Nicaragua, though none are active.

pink beach Rancho Santana Nicaragua

San Juan Del Sur

Lately, Nicaragua has become a popular beach resort destination among immigrants and vacationers from USA and Canada. The town of San Juan Del Sur is a quintessential example of this. You will see lots of high risers and surf shops. I would suggest going there for a day, if you must, but head north to one of my favorite spots in the country.

private beach Rancho Santana Nicaragua

Private Resort in Tola

When you arrive at Rancho Santana in Tola, it may appear like an upscale resort in Southern California. Picture terra cotta roofs and beige stucco against the blue ocean and white sand in the background. “The Ranch,” is a sprawling, sustainable private resort and residential community located on 2,700 acres of Nicaragua’s pristine Emerald Coast. It is must visit if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle and be in a peaceful, undisturbed atmosphere. The Ranch is so spread out that you may feel you are one of the handful guests here, but that is by design. I stayed at The Inn, a charming boutique hotel that is the focal point of The Ranch.

surfing Rancho Santana Nicaragua

Make Your Own Retreat

While surfing is the main reason to come to this part of Nicaragua, there are tons of activities right at The Ranch. Start your day with guided morning yoga at the pavilion overlooking the coast. Spend a couple of hours at the 6,000-square-foot treetop retreat The Spa in El Bosque. In the afternoon, take a swim and relax at resort’s five beaches (there’s a pink one too!) or three pools.

horseback riding Rancho Santana Nicaragua

Guided Activities

The Ranch has a very knowledgeable staff with tour guides who offer everything from sandboarding down coastal dunes, hiking in the pristine woods, birdwatching and monkey spotting too. You can take a nature tour or horseback ride along the beach without ever having to leave Rancho Santana. 

Eat Local

Farm to table is not a concept but the norm at this resort in Nicaragua. The Ranch grows about 2,500 pounds of fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs each month. Take a tour of the farm just outside the Inn and you’ll spot greens, cherry tomatoes, colorful peppers, sweet corn, a variety of succulent citrus, and habanero chilis (a favorite). All of the ingredients are used at the property’s four restaurants and the tienda (farm store). If you are staying longer at one of the condos, you can pick up fresh produce, breads, meat and cook your own food.

If you are looking to eat healthy and organic during your vacation, you will like the options at Rancho Santana. I enjoyed a bowl of fresh fruit, homemade granola and yogurt each morning. There were plenty of vegetarian options too, my favorite being the veggie bowl with falafel, sweet plantains, greens, cashew curry, avocado and radish at La Finca y el Mar-Bar. All of the menus have a Nicaraguan flair helmed by local chefs. From fresh catch fish burgers to coffee rubbed pork chops with sweet plantains, everything is farm sourced and offers authentic flavors.

cooking class Rancho Santana Nicaragua

Make sure to also take a cooking class with Chef Carmen and learn to make gallo pinto – the national dish of Nicaragua.

health clinic Rancho Santana Nicaragua

Give Back

By staying at Rancho Santana, you also help uplift the community around. Take the new Conectando Corazones tour to learn about all the charitable programs that Rancho Santana supports in the area. Many of the guests and residents created the nonprofits using their own skills and resources. Some of these you can visit include Fun Lemon (where the gym is also located), a vocational school and after school program for learning English, computer skills, plumbing and housekeeping. Many of the graduates are hired to work at The Ranch.

Roberto Clemente is a fully functional health clinic where you can also volunteer your medical, nursing or dental abilities. Besides providing a lab and pharmacy, they also do workshops to educate people on how to eat healthy, grow their own food and ward off diseases.

The Blue Water program purifies the undrinkable well water and sells it in jars to schools and households at 1/10th the cost of name brands.

Lastly, CREA is an educational resource center where kids can get help with homework, after-school lessons, reading and activities.

sustainable resort

Sustainability

One thing you will find distinct at Rancho Santana is that all of the staff is from Nicaragua. They are truly passionate about their culture and community, always eager to offer tips on where to go and which dishes to try.

The Ranch employs over 600 people from the neighboring villages and offers job training, security and healthcare. From farming, to woodworking and iron welding, everything is done on the property itself, creating a sustainable self-sufficient enterprise in this magical corner of Nicaragua.

~ All photos credit to Frederick Choi on behalf of Go Eat Give.

Tips For Planning Your Next Sustainable Trip

When I founded Go Eat Give in 2011, sustainable travel was a fairly new concept. Beyond gap years and volunteering abroad, there weren’t many options for vacationers to travel sustainably and meaningfully. But today, I feel we are more conscious about the impact we make when we travel. From protecting the environment, leaving lower carbon footprint, to ensuring our travel dollars sustain local businesses, there are many things in your control as a traveler. So be aware of them!

When I travel or consult others on where to go, I consider where I would stay, eat, shop and tour with that would be sustainable. It is often not straightforward to find these resources, but thats why you can rely on me or do additional research.

Whether you are looking to plan a trip on your own, or book with Go Eat Give, here are a few tips to help you make your next vacation more sustainable.

plan a sustainable trip
Chartered penguin flight to Antarctica.

Plan Your Transport

While it may not always be possible to avoid a commercial flight, there are ways to offset your carbon footprint by picking airlines that use alternative fuels, sustainable practices and invest in planting trees. When possible, I also opt for family-owned airlines, such as Point2Point Air that operated between Seattle, mainland Washington and the San Juan Islands.

If you are in the habit of printing tickets, itineraries and boarding passes, you can save a lot of trees by going digital. Download the airline’s app on your phone so you can not only see your booking, but get the latest flight updates.

Avoid unnecessary travel, combine trips and use public transportation when possible. Europe has a wonderful rail network which is often cheaper than flying. Plus you don’t have to worry about paying baggage and seat selection fees on the low cost carriers.

To organize my travel details, I use Evernote and Travefy apps. Both sync to my laptop and phone. I can easily share the details with my travel companions and send a copy to my family. Also, you can modify any changes, add directions and contact information on the app and not have to reprint your entire itinerary.

Hotel Miramare in Italy
Hotel Miramare near Portofino is independently owned luxury historic hotel

Book Sustainable Accommodations

The most important factor to consider when choosing your accommodation, especially in developing countries, is to make sure that the money stays within the country. This means picking locally-owned, boutique hotels, that will employ local staff and reinvest profits in the community. Some hotels also utilize environmental-friendly materials in its construction, source art and crafts from local artists and use biodegradable bath products. The Good Hotel in Antigua trains and employs unemployed and single women to work in hospitality and invests 100% of their profits in the community.

Another way to check if the hotel is sustainable is by seeing if they have been certified. Often, the hotel’s websites will list LEAD certified or similar accolades. Check out Jade Mountain in St Lucia, the first Caribbean resort to be certified LEED Gold by the U.S. Green Building Council, one of the highest levels in the green building rating system.

Of course, places such as Inns, AirBnb, and independently owned Bed and Breakfasts will empower locals to earn revenues directly. Plus, you will get to know the owners and have a more intimate experience. Aroha Luxury New Zealand Tours did a wonderful job of selecting luxurious B&B accommodations for me around the country. Not only was I able to stay at some of the most exclusive places, but also got a glimpse of the local lifestyle.

sustainable tourism stay
My B&B hosts in Hoteni dressed me up us a Romanian bride

Pick Local Experiences

A big reason to travel is to see new places and experience different cultures. But there are more sustainable ways to see the major tourist attractions without causing more stress to the places and to yourself.

For attractions, avoid peak hours, go off season, and book tickets in advance. Instead of a guided bus tour, opt for an e-bike or walking tour, where you will be able to discover more of the city and hear enriching stories. Black History Walks in London walks offers some of the most insightful walks, film exhibitions and talks around the city.

Look for experiences that are not heavily advertised in touristy areas. These may include salsa dance lesson at a Havana rooftop, Batik painting with an artist in Bali, or harvesting olives in Tuscany You can also enroll in an activity that gives back, such as diving to build coral nurseries or restoring sea turtle habits at the beach.

Book With a Tour Operator

The best way to book a sustainable trip is through local operators. You can also get better rates for a more personalized experience. I often work with women-owned independent tour operators around the world. Many of them don’t have the resources to advertise themselves internationally, but have good connections with the local communities. They are better able to serve the need in case of any situation, and will go and above and beyond to ensure that you have a pleasant experience.

sustainable tours in TCI
Make your own batik at Saba.

When I was in Romania, my guide Ramona Cazacu of MyRomania, picked me from the airport at Cluj and accompanied me to see my ‘Beato Goes To‘ book illustrators team. She even joined me for dinner at a friend’s place. Toward the end of our week-long tour, I had dinner with her girlfriends in the beautiful city of Brașov. That wouldn’t have been possible if didn’t have a direct connection with my tour operator/ owner.

I often find unique tours with locals through the Airbnb Experiences website. Some of these may be offered by local experts or even celebrities! You can go behind the scenes of a recording studio in Nashville or have a professional photographer take your shots around Berlin.

Remember, most major cities also have free walking tours. You can simply pay whatever you like and meet some interesting people who like to show their neighborhoods. I have found students, single moms and retirees make a decent income while having flexible hours doing walking tours.

eat local on food tour
Rum tasting during a food tour at Turks & Caicos.

Dine Sustainably

If you are like me, you probably search for where you are going to eat before you even get to your destination. Food is not just a source for nourishment, it helps us understand cultures and traditions. Avoid brand name restaurants and go to the ones that source their ingredients locally and sustainably.

The first thing I do in each country is take a food tour. This gives me local insight into the most popular dishes, their names in the foreign language and the best places to eat them at. The local tour guides will also point out locally-owned restaurants that serve authentic food where the locals (not the tourists) go to. If you are looking for something specific, such as vegetarian or vegan options, they will be your best source. Some of my favorite food tours have been in Bangkok, Istanbul and Krakow.

If you have more time at your festinate, take a cooking class and dive deeper into the cuisine. On my first trip to Tokyo, I learned to make miso soup, okonmayaki and sushi rolls. It was very insightful as I learned about the ingredients and cooking utensils (they cook with chopsticks not ladles). When I would dine at restaurants in Japan, I knew exactly what was in the dish and how to pronounce its name.

Breaking bread together will also help you meet other locals and learn more about the place and its culture. Plan your trip around food festivals, join a home hosted dinner, or a group celebration (white parties, fundraisers).

6 Must Have Experiences at Uluru, Australia

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in Australia is the iconic giant red rock in the smack middle of the country, also known as Australia’s spiritual hub. Most Australians, let alone tourists, don’t get a chance to travel to Uluru. Because it sits in such a remote location, getting to Uluru is not easy. But if you do make it there, you will be blessed in many ways – 6 actually! I was lucky to make it to Uluru on my third visit to Australia and my timing couldn’t have been better. I got to witness the first ever drone show that showcases indigenous stories under the beautiful desert sky. Aside from that, there are other must have experiences while you are Uluru, and here are my top picks.

Dine Under The Stars

I had one of the most unforgettable dinners in my life with a view of Uluru. Tali Wiru, meaning ‘beautiful dune’ in local Anangu language Pitjantjatjara, encapsulates the magic of fine dining under the Southern Desert sky. Located in the middle of the desert, this open air dining experience taps into all of your senses.

When I arrived, I was greeted by friendly staff with a glass of champagne, while a musician played the iconic Australian musical instrument – didgeridoo. I took my first view of Uluru – standing at a distance as the sun was setting. There was also the domes of Kata Tjuta towering above the flatlands.

At the deck, up to 40 guests sat at tables of 4, as we ate a 3-course menu prepared using native ingredients. The best part for me was looking up at the sky and seeing the most number of stars I have possibly seen. After dinner, we learned about the night skies and heard traditional stories while sitting by the fire and drinking hot cocoa.

wake up to see sunrise in Uluru
Sunrise at Uluru is worth waking up for, even if you don’t look so good!

Wake Up To See The Sunrise

I spent only two full days at Uluru, and each day I watched the sunrise and the sunset. You simply cannot pick one over the other timing-wise, as both are so varied. As the suns rays fall over the rock, its color changes from black, grey, to pink, yellow, red and brown. There are a few lookout points from where you can get great views of Uluru.

A guided walk will help you understand the deeper connection of this place.

Go On a Guided Mala Walk

One of the best ways to learn about Uluru is by taking a walking tour with a traditional owner. Local elder Sammy Wilson pointed us to some of the important historical and cultural facts along an easy boardwalk to Kantju Gorge. We visited waterholes and rock art sites, and learned of Uluru’s cultural significance to Anangu. But most importantly, the indigenous guides tell tjukurpa (creation stories) that only they are allowed to share. One of them is called the Mala story, which is what is depicted at Wintjiri Wiru.

This experience is only offered through SEIT Outback Australia which prides itself in immersive journeys to the beautiful culture and history of Uluru and Anangu. 

must experience drone show in Australia
The magical Wintjiri Wiru sound and light show.

Watch The Drone Show

Wintjiri Wiru is the newest experience that opened at the Ayers Rock Resort in May 2023. This is the world’s-first sound and light show that combines ancient Anangu storytelling with state-of-the-art drone and laser light technology. 

We traveled by bus to a stunning viewing platform located near the resort. A short boardwalk through the desert led us to an open-air deck with intricate designs created by local artist Christine Brumby. Then we had drinks overlooking the sunset. There was Uluru on one end of the horizon, and Kata Tjuta on the other. Once we took our seats at the stadium-style benches, we each had a picnic basket filled with gourmet delicacies. There was cheese, fresh baguette, fruits, salad and desserts prepared by the resort’s chef. It was magical!

As the darkness fell, around 1,100 drones took flight, while lasers, projectors and field lights filled up the amphitheater. The audio narrated Mala story is accentuated with a light spectacle. I felt like the stars were dancing above me, while the sounds of the elders echoes in the stillness of the darkness.

If you feel awkward that a high-tech experience may disturb the sanctity of a spiritual site, ask they locals. The Anangu people were consulted every step of the way to ensure that they were comfortable with the drones and were able to craft their story as they wanted to be told. Some of them were delighted that modern technology was being used to carry on their stories, which is especially important for their own kids (who are also on devices now).

Wintjiri Wiru is a must have experience on your next visit to Australia!

shop for dot painting in Australia
Purchase art created by local artist Christine Brumby.

Shop for Indigenous Art

During your stay at Uluru, make sure to visit The Gallery of Central Australia (GoCA), which is adjacent to the Desert Gardens Hotel. Here you can see indigenous paintings made by artists living in the western and northern parts of Australia. Among these, you will find the traditional vibrant dot paintings. You can also shop for scarves, jewelry, bags, books and original artwork to take home. 

The Gallery operates as a nonprofit that works with artists to set up art communities through which they can source materials and get exposure for their work.  

Walk Among A Field of Lights

Another experience worth waking up before dawn for is the Field of Light Sunrise tour. Artist Bruce Munro’s open-air exhibition, aptly named Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku or ‘looking at lots of beautiful lights’ in local Pitjantjatjara is his largest work to date. In pitch darkness, you will see over 50,000 spindles of light covering more than seven football fields. The colors of the lights change constantly, overing a spectrum of ochre, deep violet, blue and gentle white.

In the morning, there was hardly anyone there, so I felt very peaceful walking through the lights. Once the sun started rising, you could see Uluru’s majestic shadows in the backdrop.

Also, nearby in Watarrka National Park, you can visit Munro’s new Light Towers installation (opened in April 2023).

Watch the magical sunrise from the viewing deck.

Getting To Uluru

Given its geographic location, most tourists to Australia often don’t make it to Uluru. There are only a few flights that come directly into Ayers Rock Connellan Airport, which are primarily from Sydney (4 times a week). There are also flights from Alice Springs, Cairns and Darwin. 

You can also fly into the nearest town of Alice Springs and then drive 460 km to get to Uluru. If you are a road tripper, plan a multi-day camping and driving trip across the outback.

listen to didgeridoo in Australia
Watch and learn about the iconic Australian instrument – didgeridoo.

Where To Stay

While there are very few hotels and campsites near Uluru, you can find something at every price point. I stayed at the Sails in the Desert luxury boutique hotel, which had large and comfortable rooms with balconies overlooking a garden and pool. The on-site restaurant offered good selection of fresh and healthy dishes using local produce. There was also a cafe, bar and gift shop in the lobby area.

Walk from the hotel to the adjacent Town Square Lawn, where you can partake at complementary guest activities. Listen to the stories of Aboriginal culture and tradition, learn about hunting weapons, didgeridoo, and the local Pitjantjatjara language. 

where to stay at Uluru
Stay in luxury at Sails in the Desert hotel.

Guidelines for Visiting Uluru

When you visit any indigenous spiritual sites, make sure to be respectful of the land and the cultural values. Stay on marked trails and don’t walk into reserved, private or ceremonial areas.

Whenever possible, be silent and allow others to focus on their meditative or spiritual journey as they go observe Uluru.

Also, do not take photographs of sacred carvings and images. When taking photos of videos of people – such as guides, elders or artists – make sure to ask for their permission first. Don’t use drones. The best way to enjoy your time at Uluru is by putting your devices away and soaking in the energy with your mind, body and spirit.

Road Trip Along California’s Stunning Highway 1

Are you looking for an unforgettable road trip? Look no further than the legendary California‘s stunning Highway 1. This iconic route stretches 656 miles from Southern to Northern California and passes through some of the most stunning shorelines, historic cities, and picturesque towns in the entire state.

You may have seen Highway 1 as a backdrop in countless movies, television shows and advertisements. Most of them showcase romantic couples driving their convertibles top-down, with cool Pacific breeze blowing their hair. But it is not always sunny and warm in California. In fact, it was cold and rainy in February, but still worth the once-in-a-lifetime road trip.

If you are planning to take a road trip along California’s Highway 1, here are some must stops to eat, stay, see and relax at.

views along Highway 1

San Francisco to Monterey

Arrive at San Francisco (SFO) and rent a car from the airport so you can start your road trip right away. You can also plan to spend a day or two to explore the city’s attractions such as attractions like Fisherman’s Wharf and Alcatraz Island. But I feel San Francisco deserves another trip as there is so much to do and see.

lighthouse on highway 1

From San Francisco, continue south along Highway 1 to Monterey. On your road trip, you will see breathtaking views of the Pacific, redwood forests, and quaint coastal towns. Stop at Half Moon Bay to visit Maverick’s Beach, Ano Nuevo State Park, and have a bite at Dad’s Luncheonette. Continue on to the touristy town of Santa Cruz. There are plenty of family-friendly attractions in the area to fill up an entire day. But if you have limited time, take a walk along Natural Bridges State Beach, grab come caffeine from Verve Coffee, or a sweet refreshment at Penny Ice Creamery. Your next stop along Highway 1 will be Moss Landing where you may be able to see some otters during your hike through Elkhorn Slough.

Monterey on road trip in California

Monterey

Monterey‘s rugged coastline is the most photographed portion of Highway 1. Plan to spend a couple of days here to enjoy the laidback fishing village. At Monterey Bay’s Cannery Row, you will find frequent references to its sardine packing history and the novelist John Steinbeck.

Monterey plaza hotel

Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa 

Stay at the historic Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa that is perched dramatically on historic beachfront property within walking distance to most attractions. The rooms are large and spacious, offering private views of the water so you may be able to spot a sea lion during right from your bedroom! Make sure to book a treatment at the rooftop spa, which offers great views of the Pacific Ocean. Soak in a bath infused with organically grown hemp-derived CBD and a special blend of lavender, bergamot and ho wood. Also, you can relax in the outdoor rooftop hot tub. 

For dinner, head downstairs to one of the restaurants on the property. Coastal Kitchen is one of the only restaurants in Monterey Peninsula that offers a seasonal chef tasting and wine paired menu curated by Executive Chef Michael Rotondo (named “Most Promising Chef” at Bocuse D’or by Daniel Boulud & Thomas Keller). 98% of the ingredients come from within a 100-mile radius so you will definitely taste the best of what California has to offer. 

In the morning, drive out to Alta Bakery & Café in Monterey for fresh baked pastries and coffee. Housed in the historic Cooper-Molera Adobe, Alta uses locally grown, seasonal ingredients to create some unique flavors of sandwiches, pavlova and more. My personal favorite was the passion fruit doughnut. 

17 mile drive

Pebble Beach

After breakfast, take a short drive to the world-famous Pebble Beach community where you will see multi-million dollar homes perched along the shoreline. Purchase a pass at the gate to enter or make a reservations at the hotel, spa, restaurant or golf center to get your name in the guest book.

Book a lunch at Stillwater Cove, the main formal dining room at Pebble Beach. The restaurant features fresh and flavorful sustainable seafood and stunning views of the golf course and the ocean. 

relax at the spa

Get a massage at the Spa at Pebble Beach. It is one of only 90 spas in the world to receive the coveted Forbes Five-Star Award. I recommend splurging on a two-hour Royal Treatment. It’s a unique massage treatment that incorporates head-to-toe relaxation with honey, ginger and a royal jelly facial mask. After the royal treatment of the back with pure honey, a beeswax sheet is applied to support the healing process. That is followed by a therapeutic massage, foot scrub and rub. You will be so relaxed and your skin will feel like new! 

road trip in Pebble Beach

17-Mile Drive 

Even if you are not planning to use the facilities at Pebble Beach, you can drive on one of the most scenic drives on the Monterey Peninsula of California. 17-Mile Drive is a visually stunning stretch of roadway which hugs the pacific coastline from Pacific Grove to Pebble Beach. Stop at scenic lookout points at The Lone Cypress, Spanish Bay, Stillwater Cove, the Del Monte Forest, and barking sea lions near Bird Rock. 

Carmel-By-The-Sea

Continue your drive along California’s Central coast to the charming European town, Carmel-by-the-Sea. Carmel is not like your typical beach town. Though there is an expansive white sand beach for swimming, surfing and walking, there’s a lot more to do here. You will find a one-square mile walkable downtown filled with interesting architecture, boutiques, art galleries, restaurants and wine tasting rooms. From fairytale German cottages to Spanish style villas, the architecture in Carmel is quite instagrammable!

Take a stroll down Ocean Avenue and pop into one of the 100 art galleries lining the streets. Take a self guided Wine Walk to 13 tasting rooms and learn about the local boutique wine makers. My personal favorites are – Dawn’s Dream, who supports local nonprofit organizations, and Lepe Cellars, the only wine tasting room inside a gallery.

A great way to learn about the rich history, celebrity presence of this town is by taking a Carmel History Walk. The guided tour will show you 41 passageways and courtyards (that most tourists miss on their own) around downtown Your guide will also point out the best galleries and restaurants that you don’t want to miss.

If you want a fresh and hearty California style breakfast, head to Stationary. They also serve eggs and caviar for your four-legged companions. Have lunch at Little Napoli, one of the most iconic locally-owned Italian restaurants (where even President Obama dined). And for dinner, book a table at the hottest new restaurant in California – Foray. The menu highlights wild products and foraged ingredients from the West Coast, such as chanterelles, clams and truffles. Each dish is very unique and flavorful. This will be a meal to remember!

Cocktails at Bud’s at La Playa is a must! Not only does the hotel bar offer a cozy Bohemian environment, they also sell drink for $0.10! If you are lucky enough to be there on “Dime Time,” you can get a cocktail for only 10-cents. “Dime Time” occurs once a day at the bartender’s discretion and only lasts for ten minutes. You must pay with exact change, so remember to keep dimes handy.

Big Sur

Further south on Highway 1, drive over the famous Bixby Bridge. The bridge is located 13 miles (21 km) south of Carmel. It is considered to be the most photographed features in California. There is a car park area next to the bridge where you can get out and take photos from.

Bixby bridge

You will pass through beautiful forests and beaches as you continue your drive to Big Sur. Here you can spend another full day hiking along many of the trails, surfing and beachcombing at Pfeiffer Beach, camping in the state parks, or simply soaking in the energy of the old redwood forests.

From here you have an option to continue your road trip further south towards Los Angeles. Unfortunately, Highway 1 was closed when I was visiting due to landslides and road erosion.

All You Need To Know About Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

If you are a wildlife junkie like I am, gorilla trekking should be on your bucket list. Most people go on a wildlife safari to Africa, starting with the Masai Mara in Kenya or Kruger National Park in South Africa. Over the years, I have done many safaris and game drives through Africa and seen more lions, cheetahs, elephants, zebras and giraffes in person than I imagined I would. But only in Rwanda, was I able to see mountain gorillas!

If you have watched the movie King Kong, you may be familiar with fierce giant gorillas portrayed to be monsters destroying cities. But in fact, gorillas are very docile and human-like. These gentle giants share 98.3% of their genetic code with humans. Therefore, their behaviors are very human-like. The large great apes are our third closest cousins after chimps and bonobos.

mountain gorilla of Rwanda

Where can you see gorillas in the wild?

Only 1063 gorillas are left in the world, of which 604 are in the Virunga Massif. Mountain gorillas are only found in equatorial Africa, in the dense jungles of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. So, if you have never visited any of these three countries and been on a gorilla trek, then you have only seen gorillas in captivity.

Rwanda is perhaps the best option of the three for beginner gorilla trekkers. The country is well developed to support tourism infrastructure, so you can find good roads, high-end hotels, and well organized tours. The terrain is also relatively easier to navigate on Rwanda’s side.

What is the best time of the year to go gorilla trekking?

Since the gorillas live in these jungles year-round, there is technically no bad time of the year to see them. However, the wet season (from October-May) can be more challenging for hiking as the trails get muddy and steep. September is perhaps the best time to visit Rwanda if you want to trek and also watch the gorilla naming ceremony.

gorilla naming ceremony

Kwita Izina is the largest event in Rwanda, where baby gorillas born in the last year are officially named with lots of pomp and show. A big stage is set up at Volcanoes National Park where world-renowned performers energize the guests with music and dance. Over 50,000 visitors gather to celebrate the gorillas and Rwanda’s commitment to their conservation. Everyone from the president of Rwanda and international dignitaries, to business owners and community members attend. In 2022, 20 baby mountain gorillas were named by celebrity artists, sportsperson and philantropists. His Royal Highness The King of Wales also named a baby mountain gorilla virtually.

gorilla naming ceremony

Where does the gorilla trek start?

You will need to book a guided tour to trek with the gorillas in Rwanda. Once you arrive in the capital of Kigali, travel by a safari vehicle to the region of Musanze (about 3 hours drive). The road is windy, going through mountains and tea plantations. Plan to take medication if you tend to get motion sickness.

In Musanze, you can check in to Virunga Inn Resort and Spa, a lovely boutique or if you want to splurge, book a night at the ultra-luxurious One & Only Gorilla’s Nest.

The gorilla treks begin at the crack of dawn, so make sure to get a good night sleep before.

gorilla painting

In the early morning, you will drive to the visitor center of Volcanoes National Park, to receive further instructions and paired with your trekking party. Here, soak in the breathtaking scenery with morning mist rising about the Virunga volcanoes at over 4000 meters. There is lots of festivity at the visitor center with live music and dance performances, free tea and coffee vendors, as well as art and souvenir shops. You will have about an hour to walk around, get your gear on, enjoy some snacks and use the toilet facilities before heading out on your hike.

driving to the gorilla trek

What’s it like to gorilla trek?

Once the guides receive update from the rangers about the exact location of the gorilla families, it’s time to get going. Groups of eight people are formed and you may be given the option of taking a an easier or a more difficult hike. If you have a preference of which of the 10 gorilla families you prefer to see, that will determine your path. The mountain gorillas live in family groups of 5-50, led by a dominant male or silverback. The family may have more than one silverback in the group but only one is designated as the leader.

I opted for an easier hike. My only goal was the see the mountains gorillas, babies would be nice too. So we first drove about an hour and a half from the visitor center to the top of a mountain, crossing dirt paths, farms and villages. Our safari vehicle got stuck in the mud pool at one point and some farmers helped us get out.

trekking through the farms

Then we met with armed rangers and porters to start the hike. We walking for about an hour through potato farms and enjoyed beautiful views from the top. There were few golden monkeys too. We saw gorilla claw marks on eucalyptus trees, which was exciting. The gorillas had been in the area! As we made our way through the entrance of the national park, the foliage got thick and thorny. The bushes rose up above my height. Stinging nettles brushed my legs (yes it was painful but only lasted a few minutes). The rangers use machetes to clear out the path for us to maneuver through. My porters were very helpful in pulling me up the steep slopes and helping me manage my steps. Having more familiarity with the terrain, they could pinpoint where to step and which plants to avoid touching.

gorilla trekking at volcanoes national park

Once the rangers confirmed we had neared a gorilla family, we left our backpacks and walking sticks with the porters, and walked a few more steps to get closer to the apes. Only us eight people on the tour and the guide could get near the family. Everyone else has to stay back.

And when you finally see them

When I first saw the gorillas, I was dumbfounded. It felt like I stepped into my television set and got into the National Geographic documentary I keenly watched. Perhaps I was having a 5-D experience? It was surreal! The Susa family I saw has 18 members, including 3 silverbacks and 2 babies. They were rolling in the bushes, scratching their heads, covering their eyes, and taking long naps. At one point, a mommy gorilla picked up her baby, brought it close to her face and gave her a big gorilla kiss. It was the cutest thing I had ever seen!

The Susa family is one of the most difficult ones to spot as they live in the higher altitude that is challenging to trek. Susa is also famous for having the first set of surviving twins in the history of mountain gorillas in 2004. However, today they had come down the mountains, so I got very lucky. The two babies in the group were – Muganga Mwiza named by Mr Laurene Powell Jobs, and Baho named by Dr Frank Luntz.

The gorillas seemed oblivious to our presence. They were seeing us. We made eye contact, but they didn’t seem to be bothered. My guide told me that sometimes the gorillas come and put their arm around you or play with you. I would have loved that!

gorillas in Rwanda

Maintain a 10-foot distance from the gorillas but they can get closer to us. Of course, you must not touch them.

You can spend up to an hour will the gorillas, but the hour goes by very quickly. I must have taken a thousand photos and videos during that time.

Then it was time to say goodbye to the Susa family and trek back down. Our entire tour lasted about 6-7 hours and we were back at the lodge for a late lunch and shower. Other groups who opted for more difficult hikes were out for about the same time, but returned back muddier and more tired.

view from the trek

How difficult is it?

Comparing notes with other trekkers I found that every gorilla trek is different. Some can last entire day, others only a couple of hours. You may have easier walks or cross steeper slopes, but you are guaranteed to see the mountain gorillas in Rwanda.

One thing is for sure, Gorilla trekking is not for the faint hearted. You need to be in good physical shape to endure bumpy roads, long hikes, changing temperatures and come face to face with the giant apes. If you are afraid of getting close to wildlife, this may not be the right adventure for you.

How much does it cost?

Visiting gorillas is more expensive than other African animals safaris. Because of their delicate habitats, the government of Rwanda limits the number of visitors to protect the welfare of the gorillas and their homes. The entry fee to Volcanoes National Park is $1500 per person and limited to 80 people a day. That allows you to visit the gorillas only for up to one hour. It does not include your accommodations or meals. You also have to pay for rangers, drivers, guides and porters. Add to that, international flights and other tours, and you are looking at a few thousand dollars for an adventure of a lifetime.

It is worth noting that 20% of tourist revenues from gorilla trek permits go to the local communities surrounding the park. The rest is used for the maintenance of the infrastructure in and around the national park.

Packing and preparing tips

In terms of packing for your trip to Rwanda, there are no luggage restrictions unless you plan on taking the jumper flights between cities. You definitely need to bring a waterproof backpack, a rain jacket, lots of layers and good hiking boots. Wear long pants and shirts to protect against the cold, sun, bugs and nettles. The weather in the mountains can change drastically. It was actually quite cold the first day I was there. Carry a winter hat and fleece.

Because gorillas and humans share the same genetic makeup, they can pass on respiratory diseases (including flu and COVID-19) to each other. You may need to get tested and have to wear a mask while visiting the gorillas.

porters for trekking in Rwanda

Make sure to visit an ATM or convert currency to Rwandan Franc and carry loose change to give as tips. You should pay $15-20 to each trek leader, guide, tracker and porter for the service they provide. The rangers have tough lives. They live in the remote jungle for 5-10 hours each day, guarding each gorilla family and tracking their locations. Tourism is the biggest source of employment for locals in this area. The locals depend on the limited number of travelers who visit the area. Many of the guides are former gorilla poachers. By creating alternate sustainable sources of employment, it helps protect the environment as well. My two porters were farmers and carried bags for the treks as a second job.

Also worth noting, is 20% of tourist revenues from gorilla trek permits goes to the local communities surrounding the park and the rest for the maintenance of the infrastructure in and around the national park.

Things to do while in the area

If you go gorilla trekking in Rwanda, plan to spend at least a week or two to visit other national parks, lakeside towns and cities. In Musanze, learn more about the mountain gorillas at the brand new museum located at the Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

enjoy Rwanda culture after a trek

The Red Rocks Intercultural Exchange Center is also a good place to learn about Rwandan culture. Here you can stay overnight in the modest hostel. Or book day time organized touristic workshops such as banana beer making, music and dance. There are also many art galleries and fair-trade shops around Musanze town.

Gifts That Give Back 2022

This year, it feels like holiday decorations were up before Halloween and Black Friday started two weeks earlier. I guess we just can’t wait to celebrate, so let me help you do just that! Like every year, I share a list of my favorite products to give and receive, but ones that also give back. Each of these are hand selected by me because they are not only wonderful gifts, but also meaningful. From empowering women and young girls to saving manta rays, these businesses make an environment or social impact. So make your holiday shopping worthwhile and give a unique, sustainable gift that also gives back in 2022 and beyond.

Fashion for The Ocean

A great gift for women who care about responsible fashion. FLORE QUO’s Iris cross-body shoulder bag ($350) is sleek and fashionable to carry during the holiday parties. I also use it to travel as it goes from the cocktail bar to the beach. The bag is made in Spain and comes with two crystals embellished interchangeable ornaments – signature Butterfly Crown and Manta. You can get it in pink, vibrant green and classic black.   

By wearing this bag, you won’t only make a fashion statement, but also show your love for the ocean and manta rays in particular. 10% of the profit from the bags are donated to the Manta Trust, a charity registered in England and Wales.    

Receive 10% off your purchase with FLORE QUO with code “GOEATGIVE.”

Jewelry for a Cause

Remember a loved one or give hope to someone battling a life threatening disease. Revive Jewelry’s affordable bracelets, rings and earrings (retail prices ranging from $25-$117) make for great gifts to moms, daughters, survivors and caregivers. Each of the pieces honors loved ones and survivors by incorporating cellular imagery in the design. The best part is you have flexibility to choose which cause you want to stand for.

10% of proceeds from sales are donated to an associated charity. For example, if you purchase the Forever Tied Awareness Bracelet, you can select which cause you want to give to – Alzheimers, breast cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, ovarian cancer and pancreatic cancer. There are 18 causes to choose from.

Use code “GOEATGIVE” to get 10% off your purchase on Revive Jewelry. Valid through 12/31/22.

candles are gifts that give back

Candles by Refugees

Who cannot use a candle that gives back during the holidays? Prosperity Candle’s Burmese Candles ($28) are handmade with all-natural soy and coconut wax and premium fragrances. Each scent in this series evokes a cherished memory from the women artisans and refugees who came to the U.S. from their homeland of Burma (Myanmar). With handwritten Burmese symbols, each candle reflects the incredible qualities they brought with them as refugees seeking to build a brighter future for their families: such as peace, kindness, gratitude, joy, and compassion. Your purchase helps provide employment at a living wage.  

Use code “WELCOME10” at prosperitycandle.com to receive 10% off your first order. 

Wall Decor By Emerging Artists

Make a big impact in the life on an artist when you gift this trendy BIG Wall Decor ($40-700). The innovative two-part durable and portable wall decor system makes for good holiday, housewarming, office and college grad gifts. Designed by emerging artists, there are colorful abstracts, soothing nature and contemporary imagery for any space. And what is great is the massive size that fills up the wall without costing hundreds of dollars to frame. Since BIG Wall Decor started in 2019, they have paid over $500,000 to new artists. 

Use code “GIVE20” to receive 20% off BIG Wall Decor

Eco Friendly Slings

Anyone outdoorsy on your holiday gift list? Urban Bower is a sustainable eco-friendly outdoor gear store that sells high-quality products while caring for the environment. You can get lanterns, blankets, cutlery, chargers, towels, bento boxes and hammocks, but my favorite is the Circadian Sling Bag ($52). Made from plastic bottles and designed in Portland, Oregon, the bag is super light, hands-free with tons of storage for walking around town or hiking in the forests. Plus, you can get a design to represent your favorite animal – lion, camel, eagle, cobra and more!

Each of their products is sourced from businesses that are either a B-Corp, part of 1% for the planet, help clean waterways of plastic, give back to their community or give back in other ways.

Get 10% off your oder on Urban Bower with discount code “goeatgive10.”

Food To Fight Hunger

Foodies on your gift list will appreciate Bookmarks and Breadsticks’ Read It & Eat It Winter Hot Sauce box ($60). The perfect holiday gift contains a copy of the book – Hot Sauce Nation, a trio of hot sauces from woman-owned business Queen Majesty’s, and Bee Sting Honey Sriracha Flavored Chips for dipping. The site also offers holiday peppermint and hot cocoa boxes and $5 from each purchase is used to fight hunger in Buffalo. These holiday boxes support FEEDWNY and The Good Deed Grocery, organizations that bring free food to area schools.

best toys to gift in 2022

Toys That Empower Girls

Did you know that two-third of girls don’t think they can be whatever they want to be? Why is that? If you have a pre-teen girl to shop for, inspire them with fun and interactive LeadHER craft collection ($24.99). These craft kits includes an educational story of a known powerful woman, such as Maya Angelou, Greta and Amanda Garman Thunberg. They also include thoughtful discussion questions that encourage them to use their voice for change.

What’s more, LeadHER donates a portion of proceeds to organizations working to empower girls across the globe. They have given over $30,000 in products to Girls Inc. of Westchester and Girls on the Run LA this year alone.

dates that give back

Chocolate Covered Dates

If you gravitate to sugary sweet treats on cold winter afternoons, here’s one that is good for you, good for the world, and good for the planet. Hot Date Kitchen dark chocolate covered sweet and salty organic medjool dates ($9.79) filled with spiced sunflower butter are plant-based and gluten-free. They are also a Carbon Neutral company and donate 10% of their profits to the Clean Air Task Force (considered one of the highest impact charities working on Climate Change Mitigation), and to GiveWell (high impact non-profit working on poverty alleviation in developing countries).

But wait, this Black Friday weekend, they will be donating 100% of profits to Climate Change nonprofits.

Taaluma bag give back to artists in Rwanda

Totes Funding Micro Loans

I like to buy locally-made souvenirs from the places I visit, but don’t always have the luggage space to haul them back. That’s why, when I saw Taaluma Rwanda Tote by Isabelle S. ($95), I fell in love with the colorful fabrics and the backstory. As seen on Shark Tank, Taaluma works with fabric-making artisans from around the globe to make limited quantities of culturally-inspired tote bags. These can be used as backpacks at school, office or while traveling (they have passport and laptop pockets).

Each purchase contributes to funding a micro loan for a small business owner, therefore helping reduce poverty, eliminate hunger and increase access to education. Get one Taaluma tote from each country!

socks that give back to Seattle children hospital

Socks For Children’s Health

Get down to the basics. For your last minute stocking stuffers, get Arvin Goods‘ soft, fitting and responsibly made socks ($12+). They come in a variety of colors and athletic, crew and no-show styles. Made with 50% or more certified organic materials, each pair of socks helps save 50+ gallons of fresh water.  Arvin Goods donates 10% of profits annually to the Seattle Children’s Hospital.

give back to nature

Fashion For Earth

If you are shopping for activewear, tees or loungewear, Happy Earth Apparel is a new, stylishly sustainable B Corp certified fashion company that puts people and the planet first. The fabrics are organic and made with sustainable material. They partner with fair trade and carbon neutral businesses. When you check out, you get an option to give to causes such as reforestation, climate change and stopping pollution.

Make a statement with the soft and sustainable give a damn hoodie ($60) on your hikes, travels and gym visits!

9 Fun Things To Do in Vail Even If You Don’t Ski

The quintessential town of Vail in Colorado is best known for its award-winning slopes and luxurious ski resorts. Located at an elevation of 8,150 feet, at the base of Vail Mountain, Vail is set within the beautiful surroundings of the White River National Forest. Home to the expansive Vail Ski Resort, Vail is one of the world’s favorite spots for winter sports such as skiing, snowshoeing and snowboarding. But there are plenty of things to do in Vail year-round. In the summer, you can golfing, hiking and attend cultural festivals. In the Fall, watch the vibrant yellow and orange leaves change colors on the Aspen trees. And in the Spring, enjoy rafting, fishing, horseback riding and the great outdoors. Whether you are looking to hit the trails or to simply enjoy the charm of the German-style village, there are plenty of fun things to do for non skiers.

fun ski history in Vail

1. Learn The History of Snow Sports in Vail

If you have an hour or two to spare, take a self guided history tour of Vail. Fun fact: The city was incorporated only in 1966. Start at the Colorado Snowsports Museum at Vail Village, where you can learn about ski fashion and snowboarding history. They also offer one-hour guided tours that point you to important sites around the village.

Vail’s public art collection includes over 60 works ranging from sculptures, murals, playground components to site-integrated art. You can take an organized art walk by printing a map of the Town of Vail’s public art collection online. Or pick one up at the Vail Village and Lionshead Welcome Centers. The map will guide you through 36 works of art in Vail Village and Lionshead, as well as beyond the town center.

another thing to do is Betty Ford garden in Vail

2. Stroll Through The Highest Alpine Gardens in Colorado

If you are a nature lover, take a stroll through Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, the highest elevation botanical garden in the U.S. It is also the only dog friendly botanical garden in Colorado. Based entirely for the conservation of alpine plants, you can see themed displays about fragile mountain environments from all over the world. The gardens are open from dawn to dusk, and don’t require an entry fee (donations are suggested). As most of Vail is pedestrian friendly, you can easily walk (with your dog) or bike from Lionshead or Vail Village to the garden.

3. Shop at an Eclectic Market

One of the best things to do in Vail is visit Vail Farmers’ Market & Art Show. It is one of Colorado’s largest farmers’ markets held on Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. along Meadow Drive in Vail Village. Filled with over 125 artists selling handmade crafts, soaps, salts and candles, farmers with their fresh fruits, vegetables, honey and oils, you will have plenty to see and shop for. Also, make sure to try a warm apple strudel, salmon roll, and plenty of German and Mexican food!

4. Hike with a Llama Near Vail

Picture real life llamas on the back of a pick up truck, waiting for you in front of your hotel lobby! Vail-based tour operator, Paragon Guides, offers half day personalized hikes where you walk with a llama through the mountains and forests outside the city. No, you will not ride a llama, but they do carry your backpacks and lunch. They are pack animals after all!

The guide will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about llamas. They are curious, gentle and intelligent, yet like cats, they act on their own terms. There may be some pulling and feeding the llama, as well as walking and hiking through the slopes. And halfway through your hike, there is a picnic lunch served overlooking some of the most spectacular scenery in Colorado.

Llama treks can be tailored for families with kids, or a multi-day backcountry adventure with stay at mountain huts.

don't ski? do a bonfire at the ranch in Vail

5. Spend the Day at a Ranch

If you are looking for an authentic ranch experience, head to 4 Eagle Ranch in Wolcott, about a 25 minute drive from Vail. With a scenic backdrop of mountains and horses, all ages can enjoy a number of activities at the ranch. You can go zip lining, horseback riding, take a 4×4 jeep or ATV tour. You can also learn to use a Cowboy lasso or just enjoy the vast expanse on a wagon ride.

On the first Thursday, the ranch offers a Western dance with DJ, food, and line dance instructions. And in the winter, there are traditional sleigh rides pulled by a team of Percheron Draft Horses. At the end of your action packed day in Vail, grab dinner, sit by a bonfire, roast marshmallows and star gaze.

ski and bike from the top of Vail mountain

6. Get a View From The Top

If you don’t ski but are curious to know what the view is like from the top, take a scenic gondola ride to the top of Vail Mountain. The Eagle Bahn Gondola runs out of Lionshead and Vail Village. Once on top at Gondola One, you can explore a myriad of activities, casual dining and great views, of course! Vail Mountain’s Epic Discovery includes fun family-friendly attractions such as the Forest Flyer Mountain Coaster, Eagle’s Nest Tubing Hill, Marmot Mini Kid’s Tubing Hill, kids zipline, bungee trampoline, Paramount Peak Climbing Wall, Gore Creek Mini Golf and more. You can take the gondola ride both ways or come back down using one of the hiking and biking trails.

7. Eat and Drink Your Way Through Vail

Though Vail is a small resort town with only 4,700 people, it attracts some of the best culinary talents from across the world. You will find a large selection of restaurants ranging from casual to mountain fine dining (no white tablecloths here), and cuisines such as German, Thai, Italian, and new American.

At Lionshead, have breakfast or lunch at the Tavern on the Square at The Arrabelle Hotel for great views overlooking the chair lifts. Or for something more casual and hearty, order German pancakes at a tucked away spot called The Little Diner. At Alpenrose in Vail Village, try the giant portions of beer, pretzels, pies, cakes and really good German food in an authentic setting. Also, you cannot miss Sweet Basil, one of the most acclaimed restaurants in the city, known for their locally-sourced fare and global flavors. Maria Busato, sous chef at Sweet Basil, received the 2020 Colorado Chef of the Year award from the Colorado Restaurant Association. Chef Person Shields at the Grand Hyatt Vail also creates innovative dishes using farm fresh produce.

8. Get a Shoulder Tune Up

You probably would never think of (or want to) visit a hospital during your vacation, but The Steadmad Philippon Research Institute in Vail is a popular medical tourism destination on its own. The nonprofit is globally renowned for research into the causes, prevention and treatment of orthopedic disorders. They have treated celebrities, sports champions and armed service professionals. The relaxing spa-like environment and top surgical care makes Vail an ideal location to restore and heal muscles and joints after injuries.

If you want to amp up your golf game, enroll for an hour or more in the Golf Sports Medicine Program. Here you can use the new Biomotion Lab to test your swing. Using a golf simulator and golf instruction with world-class data collection, your trainer will show you body motion analysis and injury rehabilitation techniques. Similarly, you can also learn how to better run, play baseball and ice hockey to avoid future injuries.

9. Attend a Yappy Hour

Traveling with pets? From June through Labor Day, take your four-legged best friend to the Gore Creek Terrace of Grand Hyatt Vail. Grab a beer for yourself, while they (the friendly dogs) enjoy live music, browser dog beer, dog treats and toys. 20% of the drink proceeds are donated to a local shelter, Eagle Valley Humane Society. Sometimes, the shelter bris adoptable dogs to the Happy Hour.

After a fun social afternoon, head for a walk to the Gore Creek Recreational path located directly behind the hotel. There are also two dog parks near the hotel – Stephens Park and Big Horn Park. And in case, you plan to stay overnight at the Grand Hyatt Vail, they provide dog beds, treats and an in-room dining doggy menu.

The Best International Restaurants in Portland

Portland, Oregon is one of the most diverse cities in the United States. With immigrants and transplants from all over the world, you can find some pretty good restaurants in Portland. And I don’t mean those hole-in-the-wall, mom-and-pop, “authentic” and local kind of slurs. The ethnic themed restaurants in Portland are 100% genuine to their roots, while showcasing modern twists, and elevated presentations. It is no wonder that Portland was included in the World’s Greatest Places 2022 by TIME Magazine.

Here are some of my favorite restaurants in Portland that will take you on a culinary journey across the globe.

best overnight oats for breakfast

Australia – Proud Mary

Start your day with coffee and breakfast at the hip Aussie-inspired cafe with bright interiors and an industrial feel. Proud Mary was founded by husband and wife Nolan and Shari Hirte in 2009 in Melbourne, Australia. Portland is their first coffee shop location outside the country. Both their locations in Melbourne and Portland offer all-day breakfast, lunch, quality teas, fresh juices, smoothies, cakes, pastries, and table-service, along with really good coffee. They also use fresh, healthy, sustainable, ethically, and locally sourced produce.

It is no doubt that Proud Mary serves the best overnight oats that I have ever tasted in my life! This big healthy bowl was filled with delicious cinnamon rolled oats, pumpkin sunflower chia seeds, blueberry and bay, and Meyer lemon coconut cream for a sweet kick. Pair it with an oat milk cappuccino and you will be packed with enough energy to explore the miles of natural spaces around Portland.

Scandinavia – Broader Nord

If you have a sweet tooth for breakfast, head to the Scandinavian inspired Broader Nord. They have a lovely outdoor patio where you can share picnic style tables with Portland residents (in their PJs) and their four legged friends. It is perhaps the only place in the world I have found fresh warm aebleskiver (Danish pancakes holes) on a restaurant menu (I make them at home with stuffed raspberry jam!). I also ordered something I had not tasted before – paper thin Norwegian potato pancakes called lefse, served with geometric fried eggs. Broader Nord has an extensive lunch, cocktail and caffeine menu, so make sure to stop by at least once during your visit to Portland.

Thailand – Phuket Cafe

You may not consider Thai food for brunch, but the weekend menu at Phuket Cafe is worth checking out. Offered only from 10am – 2pm on Saturdays and Sundays, the creative combinations of sweet, spicy, and pungent flavors from Thailand awaken your tastebuds in Portland. Start with Sang Kaya French Toast, a decadent butter dripping brioche, with kabocha puree, Inal tea syrup, coconut cream, and fried shallot. Sweet and savory? Yes it works, my friends! I actually wanted to order one more, but decided to taste a few other dishes.

Tha Gang Plan had an interesting combination of black cod curry with a crisp fried eggs and green panda colored roti. Phuket Cafe has a rustic bar and a beautiful forest like interior with skylights and greenery, and an art deco cabin for outside seating. You will won’t be disappointed if you go for brunch or dinner.

Sri Lanka – Mirisata

For flavorful, vegan food from Sri Lanka, head to the casual Mirisata restaurant. They have a lovely outdoor patio for that perfect Portland weather. Order from the rotating menu at the counter and the eat fresh cooked and healthy.

If you are not familiar with Sri Lankan food, order the short eats sampler or the rice and curry plate. It will give you a chance to sample a larger variety of dishes. You can never go wrong with String Hopper Meal
– a traditional preparation of rice noodles made with red rice flour, and served with potato curry, lentils, and sambol sauce. And their watalappan, a cardamom flan-like custard made with cashews, coconut milk, and kithul jaggery, is to die for! Basically, I would be eating at Mirisata every week if I lived in Portland 🙂

Also worth noting is that the restaurant is a worker cooperative, meaning the six people who work there are equal parts owner and employee. This model cultivates a work culture of equity and respect, and adds more collective members from underrepresented races, ethnicities, genders and identities to provide more business ownership opportunities to those from previously marginalized communities. 

Philippines – Magna Kusina

James Beard nominate Magna’s chef Carlo Lamagna has enhanced his childhood memories with refined presentation at Magna Kusina. The small restaurant has a dinner-party feel, where you can interact with the bartenders and chefs from practically every seat. To soak in the action, get a seat at the chef’s table and watch the pros stir fry giant pots of pancit miki-bahon (noodles mix), while simultaneously grilling scallops and octopus skewers on charcoal flames.

The menu features a lot of pork dishes, but there are seafood and vegetarian options too. My favorite was the Mom’s Crab Fat Noodles – house made squid ink noodles sautéed with Dungeness crab, corn, peppers, and crab fat sarsa. The cocktail menu at Magna Kusina is also quite interesting with unsuspecting ingredients. Think tamarind, chammy, jackfruit, corn, fermented shrimp paste and green mangoes.

Mexico – República

If you want to change your preexisting notions about Mexican food, book a five-course tasting menu at Republica. This James Beard Award 2022 semi-finalist is showcasing a modern take on pre-colonial Mexican food and sourcing from Mexican wineries. Servers at Republic are part historians, telling stories about the Revolution, cooking concepts and indigenous ingredients. República sources ingredients from local BIPOC makers, as well as from family-run organizations in Mexico.

In the morning and afternoon, República serves guisados and quesadillas made from blue corn masa. In the evening, the menu quick changes to a buzzy wine and dessert bar with wines from Latinx winemakers (as selected from local winemaker Cristina Gonzales). The food is elevated, refreshing and completely different from the Tex-Mex you have known all these years!

West Africa – Akadi

Top Chef: Portland, chef-owner Fatou Ouattara from Bouake, Cote D’Ivoire, recently reopened Akadi in a bigger space on SE Division with a broader menu. High ceilings, a large bar, and live music after 10pm, makes the restaurant feel more of a community hall. It was nice to see Akadi bustling with diverse diners, looking to expand their palates to flavors from West Africa. The menu features a wide selection of popular favorites such as samosas, suya, jollofmeal, and peanut stew. Also, there is an entire section dedicated to Afro-vegetarian and Afro-vegan entrees.

Unfortunately, the service and the food at Akadi restaurant was not very good on the night I visited, but you may have a different experience.