Postcards from Waikiki

Aloha ohana! 🌺 I am finally returning after my spontaneous month-long hiatus with some stellar new content, and it feels oh so good to be back. Over the past month or so, I have completed a round-world trip, which is something I can now tick off my (admittedly nonexistent) bucket list. I left from England, spent a few days in Spain, checked into the motherland (New Zealand), caught some waves in Hawaii, and then circled back to England again. I’ve got to say, I had presumed a 360° journey would be painful fight-wise (I passed through nine different airports), but I hit the jackpot on high-quality airlines and all but empty planes. There’s nothing like having the whole row of seats to yourself in economy class on a long-haul flight.

To give you a little taste of what I’ve been up to lately, I’m going to kick off with another instalment of the postcard series: the Waikiki edition. This was my third time traveling to Hawaii, which meant that – as an old hand – my experience was a little less touristic and more of an exercise in visiting all of my favourite haunts. I spent the week surfing, drinking watermelon juice, and roaming the streets of Honolulu’s most iconic neighbourhood in an exasperated search of vegetarian food (seriously, it’s an issue how few options there are. This is 2018, people!).

My time in Waikiki has inspired a few posts that I am really looking forward to sharing with you. As always, keep your eyes peeled towards the bottom of my post for my Waikiki travel vlog, which was published on the Ginger Passports’ YouTube channel….

The view from our hotel room

It’s not a Ginger Passports blog post without at least one photo of fruit or vege 🍉

Although they are native to India, you will find the glorious banyan tree all over the island

Sunbathing (or burning, in my case) ☀

Feeling aesthetic

And for your viewing pleasure…

Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel so you’re the first to know when new content comes out 📽

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8 Cultural Tips You Need to Know Before Traveling to Dubai

Dubai – the City of Gold – has long been included in most people’s lists of places to go before they die. The most liberated city in the Arab region never fails to show the world that there is no such thing as impossible. It is home to many of the world’s top man-made wonders, after all.

If you are one of the many travelers who still have Dubai to check off on your list of places to visit, there is no doubt that you will marvel at this city when you do come. There is an abundance of adventurous activities here. Furthermore, if you want to treat yourself to a luxurious getaway, there is no shortage of luxurious hotels and resorts in Dubai ready to enthral you in every possible way.

Suffice it to say, Dubai is ready for you.

But are you ready for it?

This desert city, while committed to growth and progress, is still very much rooted in its Arab culture. Are you aware of Dubai’s customs? If not, then you better learn so you can avoid getting into trouble with the locals and the law.

There are activities and behaviours you may think to be neutral in other countries that could actually be deemed scandalous – even criminal – in Dubai. Listed below are eight important points for you to learn about the city’s local culture and customs.

Drinking alcohol is no casual activity here

You may find restaurants in Dubai that advertise their happy hour, but you can’t just head on over and freely order a drink.  Residents need to present an alcohol license to be sold any alcoholic beverage.

You can, however, enjoy a beer or glass of wine as a traveler without an alcohol license – but only if you purchase it at a licensed hotel, bar or restaurant, and stay within its premises the whole time. Also, it’s imperative to note that you must not consume excessive amounts of alcohol because exhibiting drunken behavior is not tolerated in Dubai.

Loud and wild parties are no-nos

Dubai may have a flourishing social scene, but local culture dictates great consideration for others despite the frivolity of an event. Loud music and dancing are frowned upon, and may even land you in jail for being a disturbance to others.

Public displays of affection are considered indecent

You may be spending your getaway at a romantic ocean view hotel, but keep the affection for your spouse (yes, it has to be someone you’re married to) in the bedroom.

Kissing, hugging or cuddling, and holding hands in public are all considered lascivious acts. Many have landed in jail simply because they didn’t know Dubai remains that conservative when it comes to physical affection.

Cussing is always an offence

There is no tolerance for vulgar language in Dubai, be it said or in written form (like on a shirt or a post on social media). Observe local culture sensitivities about ‘defamatory language’, because failure to do so can easily land you in jail.

A lot of visitors and expats learned this lesson the hard way, so if you’re coming to the City of Gold for the first time and you’re used to cussing like a sailor, do your best to hold your tongue. Even if it’s just a casual expression for you, and is not directed toward anybody, you still run the risk of spending a night in jail.

Modest dressing is the norm

Desert weather is super-hot, but remember to stay covered to avoid generating unwanted attention and getting fined. That means no to clothing that shows too much leg, arms, and chest, for both men and women.

Dubai is the most tolerant city in all of the Middle East, but it still holds strict rules of propriety. Visitors of the city should avoid breaking these rules.

There exist strict photography laws

The UAE has strict photography laws, which protect its conservative locals, as well as sacred sites and buildings of power.  Keep an eye out for signs indicating that picture-taking is not allowed.

Moreover, if you wish to take snapshots of the locals – especially women – get their consent first (which is a little tricky to do because casually chatting up women can be considered a form of harassment). In Dubai and the rest of the UAE, it is deemed rude and intrusive to just suddenly take pictures of people around you. Failure to uphold these photography laws can lead to an arrest or hefty fines.

Use your right hand for doing most things

The left hand is considered the dirty hand in Muslim cultures. Avoid using it when meeting people for the first time, opening doors, and most importantly, when eating.

Don’t eat in public during Ramadan

Show respect for the Muslims who fast during Ramadan. You do not have to fast along with them, however, avoid eating where you can be seen during this time to demonstrate social sensitivity as the Muslim majority of Dubai’s population.

Article 313 of the Penal Code actually considers it a criminal offense for anyone (irrespective of faith) to consume food or drinks in public at daytime during Ramadan. Violation of this law can lead to a month-long imprisonment or a fine of Dhs 2,000.

Knowing these important points will keep you from committing social mistakes that could ruin your time in Dubai. Keep your trip classy, and observe, respect, and learn from the local culture, especially if the customs are different to what you are used to. With these things in mind, your Dubai experience is sure to be spectacular.

Author Bio

Thomas Grundner is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for JA Resorts & Hotels. He has more than 20 years of expertise in the hospitality and leisure industry – across international markets including Germany, Egypt and Spain. Grundner oversees all sales, marketing and revenue efforts as the company continues to build on its key growth and development strategies and further cultivates its unique blend of ‘Heartfelt Hospitality’ and ‘Casual Luxury’.

Photographs courtesy of Unsplash

If you’re interested in learning more about social customs in different cultures, be sure to spare a moment for my experience in Egypt’s conservative climate. Open Season: Being a Ginger in Egypt is waiting for you…

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Postcards from Oxford

Oscar Wilde once said that Oxford still remains the most beautiful thing in England, and (that) nowhere else are life and art so exquisitely blended, so perfectly made one.

He wasn’t wrong.

When I arrived in the City of Dreaming Spires only three months ago, it was impossible to turn a blind eye to its reputation. I had been well-informed that it was the most beautiful town in England, and the fact that I would be living (quite literally) on the doorstep of the world’s oldest English-speaking university that has educated the likes of Stephen Hawking, Aldous Huxley, and Emma Watson (shout out to the Harry Potter generation) didn’t alleviate the suspense.

All of five minutes after I stepped off the train, I decided that the suspense had been worth it.

I plan to write a lot of blog posts detailing my Oxford experience, but for now, sit back, relax, and enjoy a ‘lil appetiser of what’s to come. Oxford is a fantastical place that you really have to see with your own two eyes, but for now, see what it’s like through my lens…

There is quite possibly nothing more transcendent that Oxford under snowfall

Enchanted by New College (deceptive in the fact that is actually one of the oldest colleges at the University of Oxford)

Learning a thing or two at the renowned Museum of Natural History

“Oxford lends sweetness to labour and dignity to leisure.”

Henry James

Exploring Hogwarts at one of Harry Potter’s film locations at New College

Taking in the views from the University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin

December blues… Oxford the ghost town

Christ Church College, where they filmed the Great Hall scenes in Harry Potter 😍

The romantic Bridge of Sighs

Another fine specimen from the Museum of Natural History

Idyllic, cobblestoned streets containing gems like this

The iconic Radcliffe Camera basking (for once) in the sun

For more of my postcards series, feast your eyes on Postcards from Madrid, Postcards from Angkor Wat, and the oldie but a goodie, Postcards from Ha Long Bay. Furthermore, stay tuned for the Oxford travel vlog that will be airing soon! In the meantime, keep up to date with latest on the Ginger Passports’ YouTube Channel (and show some love!)

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Contrived Perfection: Why You Won’t Find Me On Instagram

In January 2015, I signed up to a little app called Instagram.

I remember vividly the joys of waking up in the morning, grabbing my phone from the bedside table, and scrolling down my feed to see what had happened in the Insta-sphere overnight. I would schedule when to upload my pictures with an almost neurotic zest, and the photo editing app VSCO became like second nature to me. Even in the days before the Ginger Passports, I followed an impressive selection of travel bloggers; some of my favourites were Lauren Bullen of @gypsea_lust, and the curated @dametraveler. I would be lying if I said that the jaw-dropping photography I saw through this platform didn’t in part inspire me to create my own travel blog.

Cut to late 2016.

“Why don’t you give that bloody thing a break for once?” asked my boyfriend as I was checking my phone for the umpteenth time to see who had liked my latest gram. It took me a moment to mentally pull away from the screen and engage with what he was saying.

He wasn’t exaggerating. I unwittingly seized any opportunity to disconnect from my immediate responsibilities and immerse myself in the app – a disconnection that is somewhat ironic, coming from a social application designed to facilitate connection. I didn’t pay him much heed at the time, but it wasn’t long before I began to really consider my participation in such a community. It wasn’t until it reached the point where I scrapped a potential trip to Portugal because I couldn’t find transport to a particular Insta-worthy location that I deleted the app in cold blood. My hard-earned followers and hours of arduous planning and aesthetic calculation circled down the drain.

Deleting Instagram was the best decision of my online life.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing from there. It took a wee while for me to adjust back to life in the slow lane. For several weeks after, I still couldn’t meet a friend for coffee without being distracted by which filter my chai latte would look best under. I remember panicking when I booked my flight to Madrid because my ticket said I was seated on the aisle, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to post epic views from out the window. It took me a decent five minutes before it dawned on me that I no longer had to bother with any of that stuff. But at the end of the day – and one and a half years later – I can sincerely say that I do not regret my decision to leave that community.

It seems that I’m not the only one harvesting bones to pick with the social media giant. Time magazine published an article in 2017 called ‘Why Instagram is the Worst Social Media For Mental Health‘, and I couldn’t agree with their findings more. Studies show that the psychological distress fostered by the app can lead to debilitating anxiety and depression. An individual in the article commented that, “Instagram easily makes girls and women feel as if their bodies aren’t good enough, as people add filters and edit their pictures in order for them to look ‘perfect’.”

This is where I segue into why I am denouncing Instagram. The main problem I have with it is that it paints an unrealistic portrait of life. In the context of travel bloggers, this means a feed saturated with photos of ‘contrived perfection’, to quote former internet celebrity Essena O’Neill. Success on Instagram for travel influencers has been reduced to a formula: devastatingly beautiful model + turned away from the camera + isolated location + heavy editing = triumph. Anything outside of this formula is far less likely to garner such a positive response.

If you’re unconvinced, just take a look at the grams below. These are some gorgeous snaps taken by Jessica Stein of Tuula Vintage, Nicola Easterby of Polkadot Passport, Brooke Saward of World of Wanderlust, and Kiersten Rich of the Blonde Abroad. They also happen to meet the criteria stated above.

These photographs do not represent the the reality of travel blogging, nor of these travel bloggers’ lives. But when all anyone sees is the final product, you can’t blame them for thinking that. You can’t blame anyone constantly inundated with this sort of media not to question their own life, and by extension, their own self-worth. In a social culture that thrives off conspicuous consumerism, how we present our lives can become a reflection of their value. Digital manipulation and selective presentation can be dangerous.

I want to make it very clear that I do not for one moment think that these Instagrammers have their success handed to them on a silver platter. Nor do I for one moment think that their work is shallow or meaningless. People simply don’t understand the hard work that goes into ‘making it’ in this industry. I follow all of the blogs and read all of the content produced by these women, and I cannot even begin to imagine the sheer amount of time, effort and money that goes into these pieces. I don’t just follow these women, I look up to these women – just not for the pretty pictures you’ll find on the ‘gram. If you want to further understand why, take a moment to read about Jessica’s experience raising a newborn daughter diagnosed with a rare chromosome disorder, Brooke’s take on sacrifice and personal values, Nicola’s advice on how we can stop letting animals be abused for tourism, and Kiersten’s guide on how you can volunteer abroad.

I am not here to drag these women down; I am here to offer a critique as to how Instagram removes pictures from their context, and purveys an exclusive, one-dimensional, one-size-fits-all view of traveling.

“I joined Instagram relatively recently, mainly to look at travel photos of places and people around the world… but was disappointed (by) how many of the photos seemed to follow a particular format. A thin, blonde, white girl stands in a floaty dress, her back to the viewer, in a seemingly preordained beautiful location. Off camera, a queue of other ‘influencers’ wait patiently to get the perfect shot.”

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett for the Guardian

Columnist and author Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett is onto something. As she continues to write in her article on how Instagram is sucking the life and soul out of travel, “when most travel photographs on Instagram begin to look like fashion editorials, you have to wonder whether anyone is learning anything.” Call me old-fashioned, but I like to think that travel should be an opportunity first and foremost to educate yourself on life beyond your front gate. Only a privileged few even get the chance, so why would you waste it on somebody else’s aesthetic taste?

The psychology behind Instagram proves to be particularly interesting. An article by Wolf Millionaire outlined several cognitive mechanisms by which we might understand the addiction of this app. According to the article, Instagram activates the reward centres in our brains; by sharing our goings-on with our followers – and subsequently receiving positive feedback in the form of likes and comments – we are reinforcing the activity. The reciprocity effect comes into effect here, whereby we exploit the habit of returning favours to people who have helped us in some way. In the context of Instagram, this means that when we like someone’s picture, we eagerly anticipate that person liking one of ours back.

But that is not to say that all of these cognitive mechanisms are ultimately beneficial. Relative deprivation refers to the psychological phenomenon whereby we compare our lives to other people’s. This is an occurrence which wreaks havoc on our mental health when we forget that what we see on Instagram is the cherry pickings of people’s lives. For every envy-inducing photo of a stunning travel blogger posing beneath the Eiffel Tower, there are a dozen others where people kept walking into shot, the wind was blowing her hair into her face, or a cloud wasn’t cooperating (trust me, I’ve been there). This relative deprivation is possibly the biggest influence regarding why I decided to call it quits on Instagram; I didn’t even know I was committing it until I went cold turkey and realised that suddenly my life didn’t seem so drab anymore.

Recently, Instagram have also changed their presentation algorithms from a chronological system to one that favours the big guns in the industry over the underdogs.  As Sara Melotti of Behind the Quest wrote, “What once used to be about content and originality is now reduced to some meaningless algorithm dynamics and who has the time and the cash to trick this system wins the game”. Some might argue that there is nothing wrong or unethical about this – after all, that’s just the nature of business. But does this mean we should continue to support this? Or should we protest against the implications? This raises another provocative question: whose responsibility is it to make a change? Should Instagram really bear the moral burden, or is it up to its users?

 

I am fully aware that Instagram is not just one of, but perhaps the most valuable tool by which to grow your brand. It is essentially a platform that has enjoyed a front row seat in the shift from traditional forms of advertising to something that blurs the lines between marketing and reality. If I decided to bite the bullet and create another Instagram account, I can almost guarantee that my follow count for the Ginger Passports would grow exponentially. I would probably gain more access to sponsorships and other resources that I could convert into the means to travel without breaking the bank and making other financial sacrifices. Nearly eighteen months on from when I launched this blog, I probably still wouldn’t be bending over backwards to try and secure business partnerships. Life would probably be a hell of a lot easier.

But life also isn’t lived under a filter.

As of the time of writing, my advertising is pretty humble. I rely on organic growth and the conviction that meaningful, thought-provoking content will convince readers to come back time and time again rather than closing the tab for good. I focus on creating content for my blog rather than social media so that I have the luxury and accommodation to actually communicate my thoughts and go beyond the aesthetic. I have made a conscious decision not to make myself a feature of this blog, but rather to showcase places and other people who I believe can make a bigger and better impact. At the end of the day, I am a writer.

Instagram is an incredible platform that holds the potential to introduce the world to unknown talent and artistry. However, it is also a tool that is used and abused. Sometimes I think that it’s sad how such a masterful invention is coupled with such harmful, negative side effects. Imagine the relationship we would have with Instagram if we all understood the implications and actively worked against them. But in practice, this would never happen, and so I am investing in what I personally believe to be a much better alternative: platforms that encourage discussion above all else.

Maybe abstaining from Instagram is going to be the downfall of my blog. Maybe abstaining from Instagram is the only thing holding me back. But I’ve made my bed, and – considering that it is something I wholeheartedly believe in – I guess I’d better lie in it.

There’s no filter for that.

If you’re hungry for another opinion piece, feast your eyes on Why I Hate the Word Wanderlust. It’s still one of my favourites to date.

Photographs courtesy of Unsplash

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Alcalá de Henares: the City of Storks

Half an hour shy of Madrid sleeps the humble Alcalá de Henares. The Spanish city — which translates to Citadel of the river Henares — is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and boasts a rich history which can be traced back to the Bronze Age.

Meandering through the shadowed alleyways, I couldn’t help but feel reminiscent of my time exploring the Italian city of Siena. The centre — Plaza de Cervantes — is positively medieval, and the cobbled streets carry a certain romanticism. The destination has come to be known as “the city of three cultures” owing to its three different neighbourhoods of Moorish, Jewish, and Christian origin.

It is also one of those rare places where there is a lucky dip of tourists and locals. Alcalá de Henares is a university town, so the streets are not only buzzing with travellers, but also the quiet presence of residents. For someone who unwittingly seeks comfort from dichotomies — I am only human, after all — I found this to be a little unsettling.

Crossing the threshold into Alcalá de Henares, it soon became readily apparent that humans do not run this city. Instead, around ninety breeding pairs of storks have claimed the land — and more are arriving every year. The distinct birds throne nests balanced upon every rooftop, their black silhouettes stamped into the skyline. As someone who had never before seen a stork in real life — for me, they existed purely as cartoons swinging clothed babies from their beaks — seeing them for the first time was something of a shock.

Alcalá de Henares has come to embrace the visitors, so much so that the stork population has become one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city. For a place known as the birthplace of the celebrated author Miguel de Cervantes, that’s no easy feat. The stork has become emblematic of Alcalá de Henares, and has created something of a communal identity for its citizens.

I spent that Sunday afternoon roaming the city and practicing my broken Spanish. I sat in Plaza de Cervantes and ordered tortilla de patata, cerveza, café con hielo and vino tinto, whilst above, storks snapped their beaks and scattered twigs from their disheveled nests. My heart may belong to Madrid, but there is something doubtlessly special about Alcalá de Henares.

The storks know it too.

Catch more of my Spanish adventures here – or if you want to get choosy, take your pick out of Barcelona or Madrid 🇪🇸

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Everything You Need to Know About Booking an Ethical Safari

For most people, going on a safari is a once in a lifetime opportunity. For a lucky few – such as the people who operate safari tours in Africa – it becomes a way of life.

For these people, every day is an opportunity to interact with nature. They are privileged to personally experience some of the most intimate aspects of the wild. From the birth of a lion cub, to the hunt and capture of prey, the natural world is simply fascinating. There are few things in this world that will inspire and fill you with wonder as much as witnessing the majesty of nature undisturbed.

However, it pays to highlight that last word: undisturbed. Is it really possible to attend a safari whilst leaving the environment untouched? How do acts of tourism affect natural wildlife? If a safari is on your bucket list, issues like these might have you questioning whether it’s really such a great idea after all.

Allow us to introduce ethical safaris

Ethical safari companies practice responsible tourism to make it possible for tourists to enjoy the safari experience whilst promoting ethical standards and practices. These standards include protecting the health, safety and wellbeing of safari wildlife. For example, an ethical safari would never promote interaction with the animals that might harm them or disturb their natural environment, such as petting, handling, or hunting. Ethical safaris operate for the purpose of fostering education and appreciation for the natural world, rather than sportsmanship or exploitation of wildlife.

By practicing responsible tourism now, ethical safaris afford us the opportunity to observe nature – undisturbed – long into the future.

Responsible tourism… what’s it all about?

Simply put, responsible tourism is tourism that benefits the environment, animals, and people. It’s about respect for the ethical, racial, and political sensitivities of different cultures. There are a lot of facets to responsible tourism – and plenty of ways to unwittingly cross the line – however for the most part, this respect can be upheld through common sense.

With nature-based tourism such as safaris, we need to be looking at the impact our actions have on the natural environment. In order to thrive, natural ecosystems work towards maintaining a consistent balance. When something upsets this balance – for example, human intrusion – the natural system is disturbed. Food sources might be eliminated, or habitats destroyed. Consistently intruding upon the environment can devastate the natural inhabitants.

Our goal is to learn more about and enjoy our world while respecting that we have an obligation to minimize the impact of our actions. Protecting the earth’s natural environments ensures that species of animals and plants don’t risk extinction. It’s a promise to future generations that we will do our part to not only leave the world the way it was found, but hopefully to also make it a better place. Without a commitment to responsible and ethical tourism, much of what we take for granted today might someday only be experienced through history books. We’ve been trusted with the earth; it’s our job to protect it.

What to look for in an ethical safari

It’s nearly impossible to attend a safari and not be in complete awe of the world around you. But to maintain the natural environments of the animals, it is crucial that we take care to impede upon them as little as possible.

Before booking a safari, it’s a good idea to do a little research. Start by looking at each company, their mission statements and commitment to the community. Call and ask questions. If you’re unsure as to how to go about this, a travel agent who has experience in helping people find ethical safaris is a valuable resource. Finally, you can also contact South Africa National Parks to learn more.

Here are 8 things to be mindful of before booking your safari…

  • Safety should always be the number one priority. Your safari provider should have a strict set of rules for behaviors in place to protect both you and the animals.
  • There should be a focus on understanding that the animals aren’t there for entertainment purposes only. Guests should walk away from an ethical safari having been educated.  
  • Expect to view natural animal behaviors. During an ethical safari, you should never observe an animal being coerced into performing tricks or other showman-like behavior.
  • Look for safari providers that are committed to the local community or involved in conservation projects. These providers are more likely to adhere to ethical practices.
  • Ethical safaris should support sustainable practices. There should be little – if any – focus on souvenirs, especially those that are sourced directly from the environment. Avoid sales of items crafted using animal parts, natural artifacts or endangered plant life.
  • Ethical safaris will not permit the handling of wildlife; don’t expect to be able to cuddle the baby animals.
  • Avoid booking nighttime safaris unless they take place in an area where there are nocturnal animals only. Headlights, flashlights and camera flashes are disruptive to the nighttime habitat and sleep patterns of most animals.
  • Ethical safaris will limit the number of vehicles and attendees per safari so as to not overstimulate or intrude upon the animals and environment.

The number one goal of an ethical safari provider is to protect and preserve the health and safety of the animals and their environment – and you! No safari should ever endanger any for the sake of tourism.

If you’re interested in booking an ethical safari, we can guide you in the right direction. We at DK Grand Safaris are committed to responsible tourism, and offer a variety of safari services to fulfil your bucket list. We want to host you on one of our amazing adventures, like a Kenyan Photographic Safari, Masai Mara Migration Safari, Gorilla Trek, or other unique experience throughout Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia. Contact us today to learn more.

If you want to learn more about how you can be an ethical traveler and support animal rights, then the Reality of Elephant Riding in Thailand might be of great interest to you 🐘

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8 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Studying Abroad

I realise that I’m probably not the archetypal exchange student. I largely went on exchange to escape a love-hate relationship with my home country, and I had no intentions of returning afterwards. Homesickness simply was not an issue for me, and the decision to study abroad in the first place was not complicated by attachment to my old social life.

Nevertheless, the fact that my exchange did not come with a sacrifice did not mean that it was all smooth sailing from the moment I stepped on that plane.

I went to the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, and – at risk of sounding like a walking cliché – it was one of the best experiences of my life. Certainly, it was the peak of my undergraduate degree. Aside from all the other reasons studying abroad is fantastic, it provided me with an opportunity to reevaluate the direction I am heading, and to work out which things I really want to pursue after university. There’s nothing like being plucked out of the comfort and familiarity of home routine to question whether those same comforts and familiarities are really all that.

Yet, as I said, there still exist a number of key things I wish I had known before going on exchange. If you’re in the position I was six months ago – tickets bought, suitcase packed – then maybe you too can benefit from a little hindsight.

The Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol

You don’t have to do the stereotypical ‘exchange’ thing

If that doesn’t make sense, allow me to rephrase.

You don’t have to make your study abroad experience a reflection of the advertised stories you hear from returned students. Before going on exchange, my impression was that studying abroad was basically one to two semesters where you made a ton of new friends, went out partying every night, and every Friday, flew to a new destination for a weekend break.

And hey – maybe this is your cup of tea. I’m not here to tell you how you should and shouldn’t spend those months. But what I am here to do is to reassure you that there is no one template to the exchange experience. Me, personally? I probably made about seven or eight close friends. I didn’t go out partying once, and my traveling was saved for before and after the semester. And you know what? I am perfectly happy with that. I don’t see my experience as any less of a success purely because I was more of a homebody and preferred to get a leisurely feel for the city as a local rather than a visitor. I wanted to walk away regarding Bristol as a home rather than a holiday destination – and I achieved just that.

You’ll mostly meet international students

This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what you want to get out of your exchange, but from my experience, I really struggled to meet locals.

The locals I did meet were the ones I was flatting with – and even then, I was also flatting with other internationals. I soon discovered that the sorts of social events I participated in, and the sorts of people who made use of social apps, were far more likely to be internationals than locals (or even just other people from the United Kingdom).

Don’t get me wrong; I love meeting people from all around the globe. One of the closest friends I made was a gorgeous ray of sunshine from Germany. But… it’s kind of like when you go on holiday and only end up mingling with the tourists.

Your lecturers don’t give a damn that you’re an exchange student

When classes began, I wasn’t expecting special treatment. But as I had never studied at the University of Bristol before – let alone in the tertiary system of the United Kingdom – I was arguably disadvantaged academically. There were a lot of disparities between the system there and the system back in New Zealand, and some naïve and idealistic part of me had anticipated at least a briefing from my lecturers beforehand.

It didn’t make matters easier that I was studying third-year papers. At least if you are studying with first-years, the lecturers treat you as though you’ve just come out of high school and are as oblivious to the university system as the next eighteen year old. But I was thrown in (well, opted for) the deep end, and right from the word go, I felt like I was wading against a downhill current.

The solution to this isn’t to follow my lead and sit at the back of the class scratching your head. Rather, the solution is to introduce yourself to your lecturers on day one, explain that you are an exchange student and that the system is unfamiliar to you, and tell them that you might need a little extra direction throughout the semester. Your lecturers won’t think you any less capable; instead, they will likely commend you on your initiative and go out of their way to help you the best that they can.

Do not take travel for granted

One of the perks of studying abroad is not just the opportunity to experience student life in a different culture, but also to travel. Other Kiwis can sympathise with me when I grumble about New Zealand’s isolation, and how expensive it is to fly to even the closest country. Because of this, many students are motivated to study abroad because of the relative ease in which they can see more of the world.

The first thing I did when I arrived in Bristol was to purchase £10 return tickets to Germany. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around how cheap it was to roam Europe when you have second-largest international airport practically on your doorstep.

Whilst I didn’t venture out of the United Kingdom during my exchange (those Germany tickets ultimately went to waste), I did spend a whopping four months traveling before the semester began. Make the most of gaps between semesters, as it is highly likely the school year between your home university and overseas university will not align.

Going on exchange during the last semester of your degree is not the smartest idea

During the organisation process for my exchange, my university warned me on multiple occasions that I was risking completing my degree on time by studying abroad during my last semester. I, of course, turned a blind eye to their advice. But it only took a few days of studying abroad to fully realise the gamble I had made.

Unlike in New Zealand, your papers (or units, as they are called) in Bristol are not finalised until after you arrive for the semester. This generally isn’t a problem unless you are counting on specific papers to meet the requirements of your major and minor so that you can pass your degree in a couple of months’ time. Unfortunately, I happened to be in that exact situation, and all chaos broke lose when I arrived only to discover that one of those mandatory papers I had elected was cancelled. Fortunately, I was able to convince my home university to let me take another one that didn’t exactly align with the requirements of my original major, meaning that I wouldn’t have to travel all the way back to New Zealand just to take one paper to pass my degree.

This isn’t a position you want to be in. Your study abroad experience shouldn’t be inhibited by technicalities, and you can avoid this by planning your exchange for somewhere in the middle of your degree.

You actually have to make an effort to make friends

This kind of ties into the point I made earlier about how you don’t have to do the stereotypical ‘exchange’ thing. Although returned students make it seem as though they had new friends coming out of their ears, achieving this isn’t a passive process.

It’s super easy to meet people; just turn up to a social event and say hello. But progressing from that initial introduction stage to actually seeing someone on a regular basis and developing some kind of friendship is a very different thing. As soon as I realised this, I stopped going to bigger social events and began focusing on one on one interactions where the chance of getting to know someone was better.

This is where social apps are a huge helping hand. I highly recommend you download Bumble, which has a ‘BFF’ setting which lets you match with individuals of the same gender with the intentions of making friends. Couchsurfing – which I have raved about countless times in the past – is also great for finding both locals and travellers (contrary to what most people believe, you don’t actually have to couch surf to use Couchsurfing). A recent discovery of mine is Meet Up, which lets you join different groups where you can connect and meet people who share common interests. It’s a bit like the clubs and societies part of the university experience without the university experience. At one stage, I even created a Tinder account, set my settings to girls, and wrote a straight up bio saying, “Hi, I’m here to abuse Tinder and make actual friends.” To much surprise, this produced great success.

Academia is important – but not in the way you think

I’m not an expert on the way other universities function, but as was the case with my experience – and similarly with other exchange students I have talked to worldwide – you do not receive a grade for your work. Rather, you receive either a pass or fail, rendering both excellent and standard work to the same level of recognition. It’s both a blessing and a curse.

The implication of this is that many students adopt a certain “f*ck it” attitude towards their studies during exchange. After all, what’s the point in cramming for hours and pulling all-nighters when there’s no actual payoff? I don’t deny the logic behind this approach, but I do want to raise another point.

Study abroad is a brilliant chance to take papers that you wouldn’t have the opportunity to otherwise. At Bristol, I enrolled in papers that were absent from the curriculum back home; ones that ended up fostering a passion and interest that I continued studying in my own time even after the exams were done and dusted. An example is a paper I took called Gender and Migration; I have published an abridged version of my final essay about refugees on the Ginger Passports, which you can read here.

Independence doesn’t always mean control

Whilst going on exchange will give you newfound independence, you won’t have complete control over everything. This is something I personally struggled with, as I am someone who loathes the feeling of powerlessness.

I was just about to write a list of the things you likely won’t be able to control, when it occurred to me that there is only one thing you really do have control over: you. So many things could happen whilst studying abroad; your flatmates might be antisocial or disrespectful, you might strike awful weather, you might fall incredibly ill, or there might even occur a political event that tunnels its way into your everyday life. Don’t get me wrong – these things suck. But one thing your exchange will teach you is to roll with the punches and make the most out of shitty situations. That’s not something you should mindlessly shrug off.

And now for the good stuff…

After rambling on and on about the things that I wish I had known before embarking on my exchange, I’m worried I’ve put some people off the remarkable adventure that is studying abroad. So to clear the air, here are the positive outcomes that nonetheless came out of the above…

  • I made peace with the fact that I am never going to be an extrovert who socialises over ten shots of Jägermeister. It may sound trivial, but accepting that took a weight off my shoulders and made me feel a hell of a lot more comfortable and fulfilled with a more relaxed lifestyle.
  • I met people from all over the world. It may not have felt like an asset at the time when I was trying to fully immerse myself in British culture, but now that I have invitations from all around the globe… I think it’s fair to say that it is by far one of the biggest advantages of going on exchange.
  • I was academically challenged. Looking back, I should have been far more proactive in reaching out to my lecturers when I was confused, but something that did come out of that was that I learnt to be more independent with my studies.
  • I spent four insane months traveling around Spain, France and Egypt before settling in England. These weren’t just high intensity one-day-in-each-city trips either; with the exception of perhaps Egypt (where I was based in Cairo for the whole time), I left each country feeling that I had an intimate understanding of it.
  • I was pushed out of my comfort zone when making friends. Back in New Zealand, the only new friends I made were ones I was introduced to when visiting old friends, so the art of meeting people was not one I had refined. When I arrived in Bristol, the thought of meeting someone in a coffee shop or art gallery for the first time made me positively squirm. But by the time my three months were up, I found myself looking forward to such encounters.
  • I discovered a new academic passion, which – as I have already said – I have written about on the blog.

Studying abroad can offer some of the biggest highs and some of the biggest lows. It may not be for everyone, but for those who are prepared to take the risk, the payoff is immense.

So… where do you want to go?

Photographs courtesy of Unsplash

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Invisible Victimisation: The Gendered Politics of the Refugee Crisis

Foreword: This is an essay I wrote as part of my undergraduate degree. Note that the text has been edited and the references removed to better fit this platform (to ask for a source, please contact me here). I realise that the tone and length may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but nevertheless, I feel that it is important to share this. I fear that with so many dreadful events reported everyday in the media, we will become – if we haven’t already – desensitised to the injustices of our governments.

The global refugee crisis is believed to be the worst humanitarian disaster since the second world war. Fleeing from war-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan, we might presume that the only factor influencing the refugee experience prior to these individuals’ resettlement is the degree of suffering they endured. However, many do not reach the point of resettlement because a large obstacle faced when seeking asylum is being legally recognised as a refugee. There are many reasons why immigration officials might reject refugee claims, but these reasons often work to veil underlying motives.

Gender is one of these leading underlying motives for rejection of refugee status. Respective gender narratives for both women and men inform immigration officials’ decisions in dissimilar yet equally devastating ways. Through research and case studies, I argue that if the gender identities of asylum-seekers are inconsistent with Melanie Griffiths’ social construct of the ‘ideal refugee’ (as will be described below), they risk being denied protection by the receiving state despite meeting the conditions listed in the Refugee Convention.

As stated in Article 1A(2) of the Refugee Convention, a refugee is defined as a person who “… owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of the country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to return to it”.

To be considered a refugee, applicants must fit into this definition. In many cases, this is straightforward; however, under certain circumstances, gender can be used as a vehicle by which the experiences of some refugees may be discounted.

By regarding the state as a hegemonically-masculine institution, asylum-seeking might be understood as partial to men. That means that men might be more likely to be recognised as refugees than women, and thus receive access to more protection than their female counterparts. Yet, in such an environment, the patriarchal paradigm that rewards men in other institutions can bestow an adverse effect.

The experiences of refugee men navigating the asylum system are characterised by powerful gender narratives. Some even argue that the state’s failed understanding of men as three-dimensional people is more problematic than the disadvantages posed by womanhood. Men tend to be painted as active agents unfailingly responsible for their circumstances; in the words of Ruth Judge, they are “… easily subsumed into the ugly caricature of (the) threatening young male asylum seeker”. Migrant men are often homogenised by the law as immigration criminals, thus rendering their vulnerabilities invisible. By constructing ideas of radicalised and morally deviant men, the state can justify denying refugee status on the grounds that such individuals would not serve national interests. This might be framed as setting men up as ‘better off’ to cope with the situation in their home country, and therefore less deserving of refugee status.

That is not to say that women are immune to typecasting. Not unlike in most arenas of life, they are depicted as naturally passive and vulnerable. According to these constructions, the female body is repeatedly victimised — an image Rutvica Andrijasevic likens to that of a puppet on strings. This metaphor of the ‘human marionette’ conveys how the female body is lifeless, helpless, and able to be manipulated and exploited by the strings on which it is borne. This identity contrasts with the narrative that men pose a safety threat, and perhaps feeds into what many academics call a ‘feminisation’ of the refugee experience.

Photographed by Roger Arnold for the United Nations

Those who have studied sociology and criminology might be familiar with Nils Christie’s concept of the ‘ideal victim’. The ideal victim is defined as an individual who is weak, virtuous, innocent, and attacked by a stranger who is big, bad and powerful. They are also recognised as someone who cannot threaten the interests of those trying to help them. Not unlike Christie’s ideal victim, Melanie Griffiths argues that there also exists an ‘ideal refugee’, with the characteristics of this individual reflecting that of the ideal victim. According to Griffiths, the ideal refugee is “… moralised, feminised, and pacified”, and stands in paradoxical contrast to what men are criticised for, yet are still expected to be. In light of this, the argument that men are more disadvantaged than women when seeking asylum appears reasonable. Gender synonymy — the idea that only women are affected by the gender regime of asylum-seeking — thus lacks conviction.

However, despite constructions around femininity aligning with those of the ideal refugee, female asylum-seekers are affected in other ways. In the Refugee Convention, we observe that the definition of a refugee is problematic because it operates under the assumption that all refugees share the same experiences and treatment regardless of their gendered identities. Issues pertaining to this arise when we consider how individuals more likely to be recognised as refugees are those who visibly participate in political activism. These individuals tend to be men, as women are more likely to engage in supportive roles that might not meet widespread understandings of political activism, and hence fly under the radar of immigration officials. The actions of these women are consequently rendered apolitical and invisible, and this invisibility greatly reduces their chance of being recognised as political refugees.

The invisibility of the political victimisation of women has contributed to the argument that gender should be included as a category in the Refugee Convention. James C. Hathaway insists that gender clearly meets the criteria of a “… social subset defined by an innate and immutable characteristic”, however feminist perspectives are unsympathetic to this. Although they agree that the rights of women are neglected during the asylum process, they also argue that including gender as a social group would only prove disadvantageous to women because of the assumption that women are persecuted purely because of their gender. Such an assumption is dangerous because, by holding their gender accountable, the law depoliticises women’s experiences as political agents. We know that political supporting roles are already rendered insignificant by the state; expanding that invisibility to gender would only regress the second-wave.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees responded to these dissensions by claiming that, “States… are free to adopt the interpretation of women asylum-seekers who face harsh or inhumane treatment due to their having transgressed social mores of the society in which they live… as a ‘particular social group’ within the meaning of… (the) Refugee Convention”. The key feature of this statement is that states can freely interpret what a particular social group entails. This means that they bear no legal responsibility to treat women as belonging to such a group.

Take the system adopted by the United Kingdom: each applicant is assessed as an individual rather than as a member of a social group. Susan Akram considers this to be a perilous gateway into cultural relativism (the idea that moral right and wrongness can be judged according to cultural norms).

Photographed by Sergey Ponomarev for the New York Times

To further illustrate the consequences of this free interpretation, Akram recounts the 1991 case of Nada, who applied for refugee status in Canada after being persecuted in Saudi Arabia for refusing to wear a veil and resisting sexist laws. She explained how she had been stoned, spat on, and hissed at when venturing outside without her veil, and listed repressive laws such as driving, study and travel prohibition that compromised her freedom as a human being. She also noted that, if arrested, the mutawwa’in — the religious police — would beat and jail her for breaching these laws.

Nada’s lawyer cited both her political activism and membership to the social group of women as the grounds for her persecution in Saudi Arabia. Her case was rejected by the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board because her feminist demonstrations were not considered political, and – quoting from Akram – it was “… not credible that an Arab Muslim woman would disagree with the authorities of a Muslim state”. Here, we observe both the invisibility of female political activism and cultural relativism interacting to weaken Nada’s case and serve the interests of the state.

While female refugees must grapple with the likes of the above, male refugees must deal with obstacles of a different kind. In 2015, Justin Trudeau announced that Canada would no longer accept single Syrian males as part of their refugee resettlement program. That decision impacts the future of refugees such as Adham, a 29-year-old man who left Syria for fear of being conscripted by the army. “There’s a lot of young men leaving Syria because they don’t want to be in the military,” he explained in the Al Jazeera article. “It’s better than being Syrian and killing one another.” Adham’s punishment for evading service is imprisonment and potentially death, and his solution was to apply for refugee status elsewhere. However, his ability to be recognised as such is complicated by the state’s conceptions of masculinity.

The argument many politicians offer as to why young, able-bodied men should not be granted asylum in this context is that they have a duty to stay back and fight for their country. Trudeau’s decision not to accept single Syrian males as refugees has been supported by the likes of Donald Trump, who drew upon the male-migrant-terrorist rhetoric when he quoted, “You look at migration (and) it’s young, strong men. We cannot take a chance that the people coming over here are going to be ISIS-affiliated”. Conscientious objectors such as Adham protest the assumption that young men have a responsibility to sacrifice themselves in a war that they do not support. His case highlights how the state can fail to understand violence directed at men — whether that be inflicted by the home or receiving state — as justification for protection. Both the case studies of Adham and Nada demonstrate how constructions of gender contribute to the difficulty in evidencing a prerogative for refugee status.

There exist many similarities between the experiences of female and male refugees. Their identities are both constructed by gendered narratives that essentialise their trauma, however it would be inappropriate to conflate the two. As explained by Melanie Griffiths, whilst it is far easier for women to fit the passivity and vulnerability of the ‘ideal refugee’, the depoliticisation of their actions and suffering undermines their claims to asylum. For many of these individuals, their womanhood reinforces “… the existing and paradigmatically masculine normative structures of international refugee law” (see Heaven Crawley). Meanwhile, male refugees are disadvantaged by constructs of masculinity that contradict the very meaning of the asylum-seeker. As the case of Adham demonstrates, it is somewhat ironic that states abuse their responsibility to protect male refugees, whilst simultaneously denying these refugee’s rights on the grounds that they have a responsibility to protect their own country.

By analysing the asylum-seeking process through a gendered lens, we can further understand how underlying assumptions preclude the experiences of both female and male refugees from state protection in the wake of this humanitarian crisis. Through such knowledge, we can address this gender discrimination and improve the future prospects of refugees on a global scale.

In the words of Katharine Charsley and Helena Wray, “… gender constructs policy as policy constructs gender.” The ramifications of this are clearly reflected in the asylum process, and illustrates the stronghold gender norms still have over society. Successfully challenging these norms is a process antithetical to all we have learnt, but the best place to start is through the exposure of such biases. If refugees can navigate the asylum-seeking system in the face of gender expectations and ideals, then the impact on their quality of life will be immeasurable.

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WTF Happened to Egypt’s Tourism Industry?!

For me, one of the greatest joys of traveling is the opportunity to expose yourself to diverse cultures and languages, to see how other people live, and to distance yourself from everything familiar and comfortable. It is for those very reasons that places such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America do not naturally draw me.

It is also for those very reasons that without a shred of doubt, I can say that the crown of my travels in 2017 – if not ever – goes to Egypt.

Many things amazed me during my three weeks spent in the capital of Cairo. There were the pyramids, the landscape, the way of life… but perhaps what amazed me most was that there was hardly a (western) tourist in sight.

Why was this? I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. Here is a country with such rich history that places like Paris pale in comparison. Here is a country where you can easily budget for NZD$15 a day. Why am I – a white, western tourist – such an anomaly?

Cue research. Statistics show that Egypt’s tourism plunged from 11 million in 2010, to 9.3 million in 2015, and then to 5.3 million in 2016. I’m not ignorant; I’m fully aware that Egypt hasn’t escaped disaster over the last few years. This is understandably enough to deter anyone from regarding it as a tourist hotspot. To cite personal experience, I myself have rejected flights with Malaysian Airlines after the events of 2014.

Despite being located in North Africa, Egypt is also a Middle Eastern state, and to hold that label comes with certain connotations for us western folk. I’m not saying that these associations are completely false, but neither am I saying that they should serve as well-grounded rationale to veto the Gift of the Nile. For a long time, Egyptian politics have been anything but stable. We can track how statistics nosedive following the 2011 revolution, whereby autocrat Hosni Mubarak was overthrown. This political uncertainty kept tourists at bay.

“The low number of inbound tourists has affected the economy, which looks to the sector as a crucial source of hard currency.”

Quartz

The 2011 Revolution; photograph courtesy of the Atlantic

Further events have dissuaded the hordes. In October 2015, a Russian passenger plane was brought down on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, resulting in 224 fatalities. In the wake of the tragedy, Russia – a major source of tourists – cancelled all air links with Egypt, and the United Kingdom suspended flights to Sharm el-Sheikh (the Egyptian resort from where the flight had departed). It is estimated that this decision occasioned a loss of 900,000 British travellers.

In January 2016, two German tourists were stabbed to death in Hurghada, and in December that same year, ISIS killed 27 worshippers at a Coptic church. Just two months ago, an attack on a Sufi mosque claimed over 300 lives… I’m probably not supporting my cause here, am I?

Let’s take a look at the UK government’s foreign travel advice for Egypt. Under terrorism, the government warns, “Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Egypt… you should avoid crowded places and gatherings… in North Sinai, there are frequent, almost daily reports of terrorist attacks… foreigners have been targeted.” It’s not exactly the most reassuring news for prospective travellers. There is also a lovely little segment on how the government will not pay a ransom to free British citizens in the instance of kidnapping, but for the sake of encouraging people to visit Egypt, I’m going to leave that bit out.

However, the article does continue with, “The authorities in Egypt maintain a significant security presence across the country, including armed security officers stationed at important sites, critical infrastructure, and road checkpoints… extra measures are in place at tourist sites… (and) the Egyptian government’s counter-terrorism campaign has resulted in significant reduction in the number of terrorist attacks on the Egyptian mainland since January 2015.” That’s a little better.

There is a light amongst all of the darkness; in the first half of 2017, Egypt’s tourism rose by 170% to reach 4.3 million. This has been attributed to how Egypt has upped the ante when it comes to security and other incentives for travel. That number doesn’t even come close to the peak of Egypt’s tourism heyday – and it’s not to say the industry isn’t still reeling – though it illustrates how the country is making a slow but steady comeback.

“… we must move away from a ‘green-light’ mentality on travel advisories, and government and travel companies must devise a methodology to inform consumers as to all risks, actual or potential.”

The Independent

My advice to you? Travel to Egypt. The threats certainly exist, but if you take the time to educate yourself on how to best navigate things, you will be greatly rewarded. With a non-existent tourist population, you will probably find you have the sights all to yourself. Al Jazeera described visiting the pyramids as “… like walking on the moon… deserted, forlorn and uninhabited”. Don’t believe them? Just take a look at my experience below…

If you consult terrorism statistics for London, you will observe that there have been five separate incidents in the last twelve months alone. With today’s political landscape, it’s unfeasible to be thinking of places as having safety guaranteed. Nothing is sure in this world.

Did I feel safe in Cairo? Yes. Aside from some minor harassment – which you can read about here – I did not for one moment feel that my protection was under threat. I am not encouraging that foreigners should take their safety for granted. In other words,  don’t be stupid. Use common sense and exercise caution. Dress appropriately for the culture and understand that you have a responsibility to both yourself and others to behave respectfully. But the fundamentals aside, embrace the incredible opportunity that is Egypt.

I’ll see you there.

Need some more convincing for why you should travel to Egypt? Check out the following blog posts…

And last but not least, find inspiration in Hamsa Mansour: The Egyptian Cyclist Showing How It’s Done

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26 Grains: the London Café Bringing Back Porridge

Hello, my name is Dani, and I am a porridge addict.

My morning is not complete until I’ve devoured soy milk porridge with sultanas, raspberries, and a drizzle of honey. Some people have yoga, some people have meditation – and I have my porridge. It’s calming to stand over the stove stirring the oats and contemplating my day, and I don’t see myself adopting another breakfast choice anytime soon.

When I was organising a day trip to London, I was ecstatic to discover that there is a porridge café there. Yes, you heard right: a porridge café. Much to my boyfriend’s inconvenience, I planned the whole day around visiting to this café, and I must say, I was not disappointed.

Photograph courtesy of Time Out

Tucked away in the whimsical little courtyard of Neal’s Yard is 26 Grains.

Porridge isn’t exactly what you might call a fashionable food, but 26 Grains – founded by Alex Hely-Hutchinson – is helping it make a comeback. Perhaps what I like best about 26 Grains – aside from the porridge, that is – is that the café really captures that Scandinavian atmosphere of cosiness. It’s exactly what you need first thing on a London morning; in fact, I would go as far as to describe my experience there as though my stomach had been cradled in a warm, delicious hug.

Photograph courtesy of 26 Grains

I’m reluctant to call 26 Grains a minimalist café, but they certainly illustrate the philosophy of ‘less is more’. The only form of clutter is a selection of cookbooks dotted around the place, and a plant wall on the garage doors. As far as customers go, some are bent low over their morning newspaper, steam from their cappuccino curling into the air. Two sit opposite one another, heads together in hushed chatter over a bowl of banana cacao, on what might even be a first date.

“Nothing in this world is as it seems. Except, possibly, porridge.”

Stephen Fry

Photograph courtesy of Amazon

The one drawback to our experience was the café’s insane popularity. This meant that our only option for dining was to be seated up at the bar, which wasn’t the most comfortable and relaxed setup. In saying that, we were lucky to even get this option, and it did give us full view of the kitchen. We also had the choice of dining al fresco, but considering we were visiting the capital in late December, that alternative wasn’t wildly appetising.

Photograph courtesy of Retail Design Blog

26 Grains really nails the craft of artisan porridge. To cite their menu, we’re talking about Nordic pear porridge with coconut yoghurt and cacao crumble… rhubarb and cardamon granola with compote… even their famous avocado and dukkah on sourdough rye for those who decide that porridge isn’t their thing. While you’re there, why not energise with a turmeric latte or smoothie? You can check out their affordable, healthy and seasonal menu here. Oh, and p.s. – they’re vegan friendly 🐮

“26 is just a number that I like… it’s one of those numbers that seems to come around a lot; there are 26 letters in the alphabet, 26 miles in a marathon, 260 weekdays in a year, it just fits.”

Alex Hely-Hutchinson in an interview with Suitcase Magazine

Photographs courtesy of About Time, Healthy Hotspots and Pixie 

About five minutes after we had ordered, we were served with beautifully-presented porridge; a feature which is very important in the day and age of social media where nothing really happens unless you Instagram it. Served in quaint ceramic bowls, I drooled over the dish that was too beautiful to eat. Then – if it were even possible – I discovered that it tasted even better than it looked.

The Ginger’s Recommendation

  • Hazelnut and Butter Porridge with Almond Milk Oats, Cinnamon Coconut Palm Sugar and Apple
  • Fresh Mint and Ginger Tea

26 Grains isn’t just for the porridge lovers; photograph courtesy of Pinterest

If you are planning a trip to London, I strongly recommend you make time to visit this café. 26 Grains really makes you appreciate the simple things in life. Now, excuse me whilst I book another trip to London to feed my porridge addiction.

The ‘Deats

Name: 26 Grains

Website: Here (seriously, you should check it out)

Location: 1 Neal’s Yard, London, WC2H 9DP

Hours: Monday to Friday (8am-5pm) and Saturday to Sunday (10am-4pm)

To bring the oat-y magic to your kitchen, check out the 26 Grains Cookbook on Amazon. Furthermore, to read more café reviews on the Ginger Passports, allow me to introduce you to Brew-tiful: Nectar Espresso Bar and Café, and my personal favourite, Starfish Café: Your Sunday Morning Fix.

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