5 Ways Travel Makes You Mentally Tougher

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For the next 12 months, Zoe Weiner will be living and working remotely in 12 different cities around the world through an organization called Remote Year. As she moves to each new location and tackles new obstacles, she'll share what she learns with us here at Mental Floss. Miss her previous installment? Read it here.

If you looked at my Instagram feed while I was living in Cambodia, you would think my life consisted solely of going to temples, lying on beaches, and hanging out with monks. But those were just the picture-perfect highlights: The reality of my trip was much, much less photogenic.

When I moved to Phnom Penh, the capital city, I had no expectation that the experience of living there would be anything short of an adjustment. The country has a deeply complicated and conflicted history, and is in the process of rebuilding after more than a quarter of its population was wiped out by genocide only 30 years ago. Of course there were going to be challenges, but I arrived ready to face them head-on.

That's a lot harder than it sounds.

Here's something that most full-time travelers leave out of their blog posts and Instagram feeds: It's one thing to experience a place that is so culturally shocking as a tourist, it's completely different when you're trying to actually live there. The creature comforts that I've come to depend on to successfully get through the day—dependable WiFi, air conditioning, a meal that won't make my stomach churn—were nowhere to be found. Add to that a sporadic work schedule and less than four hours of sleep every night, and I was at my wit's end.

Growing up, my mom’s favorite refrain was "toughen up" (I was a really sensitive kid…). And that's exactly what I did over the four weeks I spent living in Phnom Penh. Full-time travel challenges you in a million different ways every day, and whether you realize it or not, each of these challenges makes you tougher. Here are five ways being a digital nomad gives you more grit.

1. YOU LEARN TO ADAPT.

How did I know that I had fully adjusted to living so far outside of my comfort zone? When I stopped balking at dogs and cats living in piles of garbage, people cooking frogs on the side of the road, and little kids riding on the backs of motorcycles without helmets on. These things are all normal parts of life in Cambodia, and they eventually became normal parts of life for me, too. I no longer looked at these things as “weird” or “foreign,” they were just things that I saw every day on my way to work.

2. YOU RECONSIDER "COMFORT."

As it turns out, the things you think you need to get through the day aren’t actually that important. Having air conditioning, iced coffee, and a comfortable bed may seem like the most important things in the world (at least, that’s how I felt), but once you realize you can survive without them, you’ll see that they’re really just fluff. "Things," I came to learn, aren't all that important for my general wellbeing. As long as you have the mindset of "I can do this"—which, admittedly, takes some time to get to—you'll be able to succeed.

3. YOU LEARN TO RELY ON YOURSELF.

There are few scenarios in life more terrifying than being lost in a foreign place, at night, with a dead cellphone and no idea how to get home. But if it does happen (which it did), you can’t shut down, freak out, or sit on the ground and cry in a panic—you have to figure it out. The more obstacles you’re faced with, the better you'll get at tackling them. And learning a bit of the local language doesn’t hurt, either.

4. YOU REALIZE WHAT'S REALLY IMPORTANT TO YOU.

I’ve said it before, but the whole digital nomad is nothing if not a lesson in prioritizing. Being forced to find balance in work, life, and travel helps you figure out what, exactly, is the most important. You may be presented with the choice between taking on a major (but optional) project at work and a side trip to Phuket—and no one else is going to make it for you. You’ll learn your boundaries and how to say "no," because you only have enough hours in a day to say “yes” to the things that actually matter.

5. YOU BECOME MORE SELF-REFLECTIVE.

How do you respond to things that make you uncomfortable? How do you deal with finding a balance between work and life? What kinds of things do you actually enjoy doing in a new place? These are all questions that you'll ask yourself, consciously or not, every day. And in doing so, you'll learn more about who you are.

7 Top-Rated Portable Air Conditioners You Can Buy Right Now

Black + Decker/Amazon
Black + Decker/Amazon

The warmest months of the year are just around the corner (in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway), and things are about to get hot. To make indoor life feel a little more bearable, we’ve rounded up a list of some of the top-rated portable air conditioners you can buy online right now.

1. SereneLife 3-in-1 Portable Air Conditioner; $290

SereneLife air conditioner on Amazon.
SereneLife/Amazon

This device—currently the best-selling portable air conditioner on Amazon—is multifunctional, cooling the air while also working as a dehumidifier. Reviewers on Amazon praised this model for how easy it is to set up, but cautioned that it's not meant for large spaces. According to the manufacturer, it's designed to cool down rooms up to 225 square feet, and the most positive reviews came from people using it in their bedroom.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Black + Decker 14,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner and Heater; $417

Black + Decker portable air conditioner
Black+Decker/Amazon

Black + Decker estimates that this combination portable air conditioner and heater can accommodate rooms up to 350 square feet, and it even comes with a convenient timer so you never have to worry about forgetting to turn it off before you leave the house. The setup is easy—the attached exhaust hose fits into most standard windows, and everything you need for installation is included. This model sits around four stars on Amazon, and it was also picked by Wirecutter as one of the best values on the market.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Mikikin Portable Air Conditioner Fan; $45

Desk air conditioner on Amazon
Mikikin/Amazon

This miniature portable conditioner, which is Amazon's top-selling new portable air conditioner release, is perfect to put on a desk or end table as you work or watch TV during those sweltering dog days. It's currently at a four-star rating on Amazon, and reviewers recommend filling the water tank with a combination of cool water and ice cubes for the best experience.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Juscool Portable Air Conditioner Fan; $56

Juscool portable air conditioner.
Juscool/Amazon

This tiny air conditioner fan, which touts a 4.6-star rating, is unique because it plugs in with a USB cable, so you can hook it up to a laptop or a wall outlet converter to try out any of its three fan speeds. This won't chill a living room, but it does fit on a nightstand or desk to help cool you down in stuffy rooms or makeshift home offices that weren't designed with summer in mind.

Buy it: Amazon

5. SHINCO 8000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner; $320

Shinco portable air conditioner
SHINCO/Amazon

This four-star-rated portable air conditioner is meant for rooms of up to 200 square feet, so think of it for a home office or bedroom. It has two fan speeds, and the included air filter can be rinsed out quickly underneath a faucet. There's also a remote control that lets you adjust the temperature from across the room. This is another one where you'll need a window nearby, but the installation kit and instructions are all included so you won't have to sweat too much over setting it up.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Honeywell MN Series Portable Air Conditioner and Dehumidifier; $400

Honeywell air conditioner on Walmart.
Honeywell/Walmart

Like the other units on this list, Honeywell's portable air conditioner also acts as a dehumidifier or a standard fan when you just want some air to circulate. You can cool a 350-square-foot room with this four-star model, and there are four wheels at the bottom that make moving it from place to place even easier. This one is available on Amazon, too, but Walmart has the lowest price right now.

Buy it: Walmart

7. LG 14,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner; $699

LG Portable Air Conditioner.
LG/Home Depot

This one won't come cheap, but it packs the acclaim to back it up. It topped Wirecutter's list of best portable air conditioners and currently has a 4.5-star rating on Home Depot's website, with many of the reviews praising how quiet it is while it's running. It's one of the only models you'll find compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant, and it can cool rooms up to 500 square feet. There's also the built-in timer, so you can program it to go on and off whenever you want.

Buy it: Home Depot

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Why Does Altitude Affect Baking?

This woman is going to make a quick stop at Whole Foods' bakery section before book club.
This woman is going to make a quick stop at Whole Foods' bakery section before book club.
nicoletaionescu/iStock via Getty Images

Even if you’re highly skilled in the kitchen, you might find yourself with a deflated cake or bone-dry brownies if you happen to be baking in Aspen, Colorado, for the first time. But why exactly does an oven at high altitude so often wreak havoc on whatever baked good is in it?

According to HuffPost, it all comes down to air pressure. The higher you are above sea level, the lower the air pressure is. This is mostly because there’s less air pressing down on that air from above, and it’s also farther from the gravitational forces on Earth’s surface. With less air pressure keeping liquid molecules in their liquid form, it takes less heat in order to vaporize them—in other words, boiling points are lower at higher altitudes.

“For every 500-foot increase in altitude, the boiling point of water drops by 0.9°F,” Dr. Craig F. Morris, director of the USDA ARS Western Wheat Quality Laboratory at Washington State University, told HuffPost.

Since liquids evaporate at lower temperatures, all the moisture that makes your signature chocolate cake so dense and delicious could disappear long before you’d normally take it out of the oven. To avoid this, you should bake certain goods at lower temperatures.

With less air pressure, gases expand faster, too—so anything that’s supposed to rise in the oven might end up collapsing before the inside is finished baking. Cutting down on leavening agents like yeast, baking powder, and baking soda can help prevent this. This also applies to bread dough left to rise before baking (otherwise known as proofing); its rapid expansion could negatively affect its flavor and texture, so you might need to adjust how much yeast you’re using.

If all the ways a recipe could go wrong at high altitudes—and all the experimentation needed to make sure it goes right—seem like a lot to keep track of, Betty Crocker has a handy chart with various types of baked goods and suggested modifications for them.

[h/t HuffPost]