Why Does Vacationing Make You Sick?

This article appeared in Wake Forest University’s Old Gold and Black newspaper.

It is the first week back from spring break and many students are sporting bronzed tans, souvenir t-shirts from foreign countries and, unfortunately, a nasty illness. As fun as traveling is, it can also have a range of negative impacts on the body. If you are one of the students holed up in your bed surrounded by tissues and NyQuil, mournfully scrolling through pictures of your poolside break in Punta Cana, you may be wondering why your body is falling apart.

The first leg of spring break festivities often includes a cross-country plane ride that travels from one time zone to another. The effect of this flight is one that many jet setters are familiar with called jet lag. Symptoms of jet lag include intense exhaustion, indigestion, moodiness and more that are caused by the disruption of your body’s internal clock, driven by something called circadian rhythm. Many of your body’s internal biological processes, from hormone release to sleep, are controlled by a 24-hour timing system roughly based on day and night. When you switch time zones or severely alter your daily routine, your mind and travel plans for the day become desynchronized with your body’s internal clock. With your body and mind at odds along with a weakened immune system, you are easy prey for a host of opportunistic pathogens and annoying illnesses.

The bacteria and pathogens attacking you have to originate somewhere and are often present on the plane itself. According to a 2015 study done by TravelMath, the surface of a plane tray table has approximately eight times more bacteria per square inch than the bathroom flush buttons. As you are enjoying the lukewarm pasta covered in mysterious sauce served by a surly flight attendant, bacteria are proliferating all around you and taking advantage of your weakened immune system to strike. A good way to avoid this cesspool of disease is to use a disinfectant wipe before eating or maybe just wait to eat when you land. 

Unfortunately, communities of bacteria are most likely waiting for you when you land, too, specifically those residing on public transit systems. In London, a country where over 1.3 billion people use the underground transit system known as “the Tube” every year, there are over 121 different bacteria and mold strains growing among the businessmen and women trying to get to work. During the London Under the Microscope project led by London Metropolitan University, researchers found nine bacteria species associated with antibiotic resistance, so it would be smart to always carry a bottle of hand sanitizer.

If you manage to dodge the slew of illnesses lurking on the plane and train, another thing you might have to worry about is the food and water. Several foreign countries have different cooking techniques and water management systems than the United States and your body is not always equipped for the organisms that may hide in the food and water like local populations. Locals already possess a semi-immunity to many of the illnesses that are omnipresent in their community because their bodies developed the antibodies specific to defending against that organism. For an outside visitor, defense systems are not quite as ready for these brands of attack from foreign invaders and may be more susceptible to illness. Some communities in Africa have even adapted and acquired immunity to certain strains of malaria due to consistent exposure to the disease.

Although spring break is filled with fun, sun, and relaxation, it is always important to be aware of the illnesses hiding around the corner. 

Beer Goggles and Blackouts: The Science Behind Shots

This article appeared in Wake Forest University’s Old Gold and Black Newspaper.

As Wake Forest quickly approaches the end of its regular football season, this also means the end of warm weather, the beginning of all-night finals study sessions and the very last home tailgate. The last home tailgate may simply be a nostalgic and wholesome time for many of you, but for some, it will include the consumption of copious amounts of hard liquor during the unspoken tradition of “Senior Fifth.”

For those of you that don’t subscribe to the concept of “ignorance is bliss,” it might interest you to know what exactly this alcohol is doing to your body when you take that first shot of top-shelf liquor (or more likely a half-hearted sip of Aristocrat vodka).

The main ingredient of most liquors is ethanol, which is both water-soluble and fat-soluble. This means that when the ethanol travels to your stomach, it can be easily diffused into your bloodstream and pop on up to your brain. Some of the alcohol will be metabolized by your liver, but it has a hard time keeping up with the drinking rates of a lot of college students.

Once the ethanol hits the brain, that is when the real effects start kicking in. One of the very first reactions, and often most desired by drinkers, is a quick release of dopamine. Dopamine, also known as the “happiness chemical,” is a neurotransmitter that is typically released during an exciting or fun experience and causes feelings of euphoria. While dopamine is being released, the ethanol is simultaneously increasing the receptiveness of GABA, a chemical that decreases response times and may be the reason you just tripped over your own foot.

How drunk a person gets depends on many different factors: sex, age, size, genetics or even your mood. The more a person drinks, the more tolerance they build up against the effects of alcohol. This is the reason why two people can drink the same amount and one of those people could be in a coma while the other is still dancing to “Mr. Brightside.”

Although the way alcohol is expressed differs from person to person, drinking an entire fifth tends to have the same effects on pretty much anyone.

One of the best detectors of drunkenness levels is your Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC), or the percent of ethanol in a person’s bloodstream. The legal limit of driving under the influence is 0.08 percent, but anything above 0.15 percent BAC is when a person typically “blacks out.”

The process of blacking out is when your brain literally does not have the capacity to make any new memories. Along with its other seemingly magical powers, ethanol reduces the effects of a neurotransmitter called glutamate.

Glutamate’s job is to keep you alert and to make new memories through signals sent between nerve cells in the NMDA receptors of your brain that allow glutamate to complete memory function. Contrary to popular belief, brain cells are not destroyed in this process, but they are too weakened to remember the reason why or how you woke up next to a Subway meatball marinara.

Ethanol has the ability to mess with your perception of time, but scientists believe that it can also mess with your perception of attractiveness.

If you have ever been drunk, you might be familiar with the concept of “beer goggles,” which is a term used to describe when someone is sexually attracted to another person who would not otherwise be appealing to them without a little influence from the bottle.

In a study conducted in 2008 published in Perception, researchers tested the ability of subjects to detect symmetry under the influence of alcohol. Many believe that attractiveness is based on the symmetry of a person’s face and subjects in this study had a significantly difficult time determining symmetry, which could explain the phenomenon of this warped perception.

Biology does not only unlock the mystery of beer goggles, it can also explain why you pee every five minutes after drinking alcohol. Alcohol is a diuretic, which is any substance that increases the frequency of urination, so when it is processed by your kidneys it forces you to pee out much more than you can take in. Along with this increase in urine output from diuretics, ethanol decreases the production of vasopressin, a hormone that signals for your kidneys to reabsorb water. Without this signal, all I can say is that I hope you have a bathroom nearby.

For those of you preparing to drink a fifth this Saturday, you are probably also prepared for the inevitable hangover that will hit on Sunday morning.

After the excessive peeing and terrible dancing from the day before, your body is almost guaranteed to be dehydrated. This lack of sufficient water plus the acetaldehyde toxins leftover from your liver’s hard work in metabolizing, can leave you feeling like a shell of yourself.

The biggest favor you can do to prevent this debilitating feeling is to eat before you even start drinking and chug a bottle of water before bed.

Stay safe this weekend, Demon Deacons.

It’s the Little Things: Bangkok, Thailand

As riveting as life is in good old Winston Salem, most of my spring semester was spent reuniting with friends in front of Wait Chapel, eating massive amount of Chipotle, and studying. Now that summer has arrived, a lack of routine has become the norm once again.

I was recently named Wake Forest’s Pulitzer Fellow for Crisis Reporting. My reporting focuses primarily on the Thai environmental movement and how Buddhist activists, known as engaged Buddhists, have played a role in it. I also accepted an internship at WWF in Washington, DC (and no, this is not the wrestling league WWE, it is the World Wildlife Fund), so the Thailand timeline was pushed to a mere two days after my last final.

As soon as I exited the doors from the large auditorium holding stressful statistics students captive, I shifted gears into planning mode. Days later, I was waving goodbye to my Dad from the JFK airport departure gate and strapping on my travel backpack.

After 20+ hours of movies, two finished books, and potential back problems resulting from the tiny seats on the plane, I landed in Bangkok. First impressions? Confusing. Giant. Green. I booked a room at the Best Western Plus at Sukhumvit (because the name was familiar in a place that very much was not) and was greeted with bows and exuberant welcomes. During the times that I was not sleeping due to severe jetlag, there were several little things I noticed about this giant city.

1.) They don’t mess around with malls here.

When I got to Bangkok, I had to wait about four hours to check into my hotel because why not add a couple more hours to the journey, right?!?! I mooched off of the wifi at Starbucks to try and find something to do during the time, and was directed to a place called “Terminal 21.” I am hesitant to even call this place a mall, it is more of an art exhibit. Each level is modeled after a different city around the world. I don’t really know why they do this considering none of the stores match the theme on any of the floors, but, hey, it’s fun and kitschy so why not! By escalator, I explored Rome, Paris, London, and even San Francisco, with murals and sculptures decorating each level.


Thank god for this lighthouse in the middle of the mall, I almost couldn’t find it!

The truly spectacular mall that blew my mind away is called Siam Paragon. Being a Pennsylvania-native, I have the benefit of living about 35 minutes from the second biggest mall in America, called King of Prussia, which I have grown to love and cherish. I am sorry to say it, though, King of Prussia has a thing or two to learn from Siam Paragon. Right outside of the Siam BTS station (Bangkok’s above ground railway system), the mall is split into 3 parts: Siam Discovery, Siam Center, and Siam Paragon. Siam Discovery, my favorite part of the mall, is more about lifestyle products and has an entire floor dedicated to artsy eco-friendly products called “Ecotopia.” If you know me, you know this kind of thing is right up my alley. The Siam Center has all sorts of stores for middle to high-end clothes, shoes, and a couple of fun pop-ups inside which I assume are solely for the purpose of Instagram. Siam Paragon is the cream of the crop. Housing stores like Fendi, Louis Vutton, Tiffany, and anything your boujee imagination could think of, this mall is not for the faint of heart (or wallet). But one can dream.


I hung out more at this mall than tweens do in middle school.

One of the benefits of traveling alone is that I can do whatever I want, and I am not ashamed to admit that I went to this mall at least ten times during my stay in Bangkok, and I STILL didn’t make it through all of it.

2.) Creepy Ex-Pats with young Thai girls

Being you are in a foreign country, you cannot help but feel a kinship when passing by an American. There’s normally that look that passes like “Hey! We share one similar characteristic, I feel safe with you now.” As I walked the streets of Bangkok, I began to notice that almost every American I saw was a middle-aged man. I thought to myself that is so cool of them, they have probably always wanted to visit Thailand and are finally doing it, damned if they are alone! But as I passed by even more sweaty old-men, I realized they were not actually alone. More often than not, there was a much younger Thai girl glued to their side.

I sat down at dinner one night with a Japanese couple that I had met and shared my weird observation with them.

“Oh, that’s because of the booming sex industry,” they laughed, like it was something that I should have just innately known.

Apparently, a lot of older American men move to Thailand to find a young girl to date and provide a financially stable lifestyle for the two of them. To be honest, I find the entire phenomenon supremely uncomfortable and unsettling. After that, any American male I passed on the street was met with an uneasy glance and cold shoulder.

This is maybe a situation where it is better to live in ignorance.

3.) The concept of breakfast does not really exist here

I was introduced to the power of marketing last year during one of my journalism classes. Apparently the reason that I crave cereal in the morning is credited to General Foods.

Things work a little differently here in Bangkok. There are times where I woke up at 7 AM to start my day and passed by someone eating a hearty dish of noodle soup or a plate of pad thai. Pad thai can pretty much be eaten at all times of the day, which is truly a wonderful thing.

4.) Respect is very big.

Everyone is constantly bowing. As soon as I got to my hotel, all of the front desk people bowed. I looked at something in someone’s store, bows ensued. I walked past someone on the street, bows (just kidding, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this had happened). This is only one of the small signs of respect that Thailand demands. You also have to take off your shoes before entering someone’s home, a temple, or office building. Oh, and you have to stand for the Thai national anthem to honor the king before seeing a movie. It felt like some sort of flash mob at first when everyone around me stood up during the previews of the Avengers.


Not pictured: me wearing jeans and a long sleeve shirt in the heat because women aren’t allowed to show their shoulders or legs.

5.) Their ketchup cups are far too tiny.


How is ANYONE supposed to fit enough ketchup in here?

6.) I am not entirely sure that they have traffic laws 

Drivers in Bangkok are similar to drivers in Mario Kart on Rainbow Road. It seems like there are zero traffic rules and people are just flying around doing whatever they want and don’t seem to care about the consequences. Between tuk-tuks, cars, and motorcycles, drivers just weave in and out of the road with no rhyme or reason. Sometimes motorcycles just drive on the sidewalk with all of the pedestrians and then have the audacity to scowl at YOU like you did something wrong by walking on a pedestrian-only sidewalk. I was warned by some friends that it is easy to twist your ankle on the sidewalks of Bangkok, but did not realize I would be playing a high-stakes game of cat and mouse with motor vehicles on a regular basis.

As Thailand’s biggest city, Bangkok is a melting pot of food, people, and culture. It also feels like a literal melting pot considering the temperature did not drop below 89 degrees for the duration of my stay. All in all, though, Bangkok did something that most cities around the world can do; it kept me on my toes, it kept me interested, and it kept me exploring.

Exploring the Concept of “Evidence Photography”

About half-way through my stay in Europe, I visited my two best friends in Barcelona. This weekend getaway allowed us to drink sangria, cruise around on a boat, eat delicious food, and most importantly discuss all of the weird observations we had made while living abroad.


Us laughing at the fact that British TJ Maxx is called TK Maxx

During this informal forum, one of my friends named Haley brought up a concept that has not left my mind when since she described it.

When visiting popular cities and attractions, you are bound to see a multitude of tourists. Each tourist has their own style and method for traveling, but the main focus of this conversation was a certain manner of picture-taking which Haley described as “Evidence.”

There is no shame in wanting to take pictures and document your adventures, especially in the beautiful places throughout Europe, however witnessing someone take a photo that could be classified as “Evidence” is extremely odd and extremely hilarious once you start noticing.

At its most basic form, Evidence is when a tourist stands in front of an attraction, or even just a random brick wall, without smiling or posing and has one of their family members take a photo of them. The term Evidence so perfectly describes this phenomenon because while you are questioning why a person would want a stoic photo of them standing in front of a random trashcan next to the Sagrada Familia, they are simply trying to get photographic evidence that they did, in fact, visit Barcelona.

Image result for people standing in front of the pyramid

Proof that this random man actually touched the Great Pyramids (or maybe just a wall of rocks)

Rather than trying to capture candid moments of family fun and treasured memories of the awed faces that come along with seeing world wonders, these no-nonsense travelers are efficiently obtaining tangible proof that they were physically at these sites before moving on to the next site.

Occasionally, those participating in “evidence photography” may be feeling a little wild that day and even throw up a peace sign or a thumbs-up, but they will never smile because that would just be TOO crazy.

After discussing this concept at length and laughing about it for a very long time, I could not help but notice this trend throughout every place I visited. There were seemingly apathetic tourists outside of Buckingham Palace, indifferent visitors at the Eiffel Tower, and even deadpan sightseers standing in front of the “Iamsterdam” sign waiting for their photos to be taken.



If you look a little closer…


You will see that this man NAILED IT.

During our family vacation, my brother and I attempted to try this method but failed miserably because we were simply not cut out for the cruel world of “evidence photography.” Next time you are visiting a new place, try and spot some “evidence” photos taking place because it can turn into a very fun, and entertaining, game.


If anyone even tries to question that my brother went to Notre Dame, they will get a face-full of this photo