Monday, June 23, 2014

My Travel Must-Haves

Now that you know how to plan for your travel, how do you pack for one? Well, this is different with everyone...BUT here's how I do it. First, i'm a backpacker kinda girl. Especially in Europe where cobblestones are everywhere (I didn't bring a pack to Greece and almost broke a wheel...fun!). I also like to have my hands free when en route...to hold a map/camera/crepe, ya know. Essentials. So having everything on my back is perfect. If you do go this route - make sure the pack is sized for you! Wouldn't want to break a back over there :)

Aside from what to pack your things IN, there are a few things that I have brought on my travels that are LIFESAVERS. These are items that have saved me/come in handy on each and every trip - aka not location/climate sensitive.



1 - Comfortable Shoes
I CANNOT stress this enough. DO NOT buy new shoes before you leave without walking 1+ miles in them first - AT LEAST. If you are trying to pack light - skip the heels (heels + cobblestone = sprained ankle) and only bring flip flops if you are anticipating public showers - because you WILL get a blister between your toes. Also, make sure you grab a pair with good supports, a little raise in the heel will give you better posture, and support around the heel will make sure your feet don't tire too fast. I bought a pair of Birkenstocks while in Greece and have brought them on every trip since - they are game changers. Seriously.


2 - Cross Body Bag
Whilst out strolling the beautiful towns of Italy, at any one moment you will be holding camera, navigating a map, and grabbing a drink of water. You will also need to carry around all of your other 'things' that we seem to clog up a purse with. Cross body bags give you hands free mobility and relieves some of the stress on your shoulder that other purse styles might. I have used this LeSportSac on my last two trips and LOVE it. The strap is adjustable, the top zips and there are around a thousand secret pockets inside. This is IMPORTANT. At any time it would take a pick pocketer around 2-3 un-zips to get at any important items I am carrying ($$, passport, phone). A guy tried in Barcelona, after the first zip he found my capstick - which is where I caught him. ALSO - it's waterproofish. No one wants to carry around a wet bag post- midday downpour in Thailand, amiright?!

3 - The Traveling Iron
I have used a backpack for my last few trips, but I can see this applicable to all suitcases - things just get wrinkly/musty after being worn/carted around the world. This stuff is amazing. Spray it on, use your hands to flatten your clothes and they will be wrinkle free and smell amazing. I use it for EVERYTHING...well, not to straighten my frizz ball hair I suppose...

4 - The Mobile Sleeper
When you are backpacking around a country, you need to be able to catch up on sleep whilst en-route to a new location. You also don't want to miss out on sleep throughout the night because there is a marching army outside your balcony (Looking at you Athens) or screaming bar hoppers that don't understand you have an uber early flight the next morning (Looking at you Grenada). These saved me both times. Sometimes there is a weird light shining into your hotel room - put on your shades. Weird noises? Block em out! Long bus/plane ride? Neck cramps are the wooooorst. 

**BONUS ITEM!**
I got this scarf while I was in Hydra, Greece and have since brought it on all my trips. It's perfect to use to wrap your head/shoulders in a mosque/temple, to keep your shoulders warm at night, or to sit on to watch the sun set. I've also wrapped my DSLR with it when I keep it in my bag (keeps it safe/dry), used it as a blanket on flights and as a sarong at the beach! SO versatile :)



WOO! Now go book a trip :)





Monday, June 16, 2014

So, you wanna travel, huh?

pssst: Landed myself in Thailand! So for the next two weeks you get some travel-related posts - hope they get you in the mood for some Thailand picture over-load once I return!

I LOVE Traveling. In 2009, amongst the dust and roaring sirens of Athens, I fell in love. I fell in love with being out of my comfort zone, trying new foods, wondering around unfamiliar cities, and diving into new cultures. I love getting lost (literally) in cities, sometimes on purpose, sometimes on accident. I truly believe that is where you can see a city in it's purest form - it's where all the amazing-fun things happen.

Athens, Greece (Hadrian's Library), doing illegal things :)

 My first trip was to Greece and Cyprus for a month my Junior year of college. I was fortunate that my first trip was not only with a large group, but with two awesome professors who knew the country like the back of their hand. They taught me so much about traveling, navigating a city, and how to embrace it all.

Nicosia, Cyprus (trying Sardines for the first time) 
Paphos, Cyprus (Where Aphrodite was born)
Athens, Greece (Acropolis)
After college, a good friend and I bought a few backpacks and ventured through Italy. It. Was. Amazing. This trip was two years after Greece, and since then every 2 years I have been fortunate enough to go on another adventure. My last was to Spain and France. And this year? Thailand & Cambodia. Still in shock about that one.

Hiking to Postiano, Italy
Boat tour around Capri, Italy
Florence, Italy
Thankfully, I have some amazing people in my life who see the same value in traveling as I do; and we do pretty well navigating the world together. In my past few trips, planning has become increasingly easier. I thought i'd share a few tips on how to plan for a trip abroad with a group of peeps!

Grenada, Spain (Alhambra, my 'must see' on the trip)
Decide on the country/s and key spots to hit
When we started planning for Thailand (which was chosen on a mere suggestion), we each set out to research some 'must see' items. Each person brought to the table a few places/cities that they couldn't leave that part of the world without seeing. This helped us pick the cities we would stop at, and made sure everyone got out the trip what they wanted. If you don't know what you want to see, ask an Architecture student - we will have a list a mile long :)

Paris, France
Pick a timeline and cities
We had two weeks to work with (PTO Hoarders Unite!). We then mapped out the trip according to where each spot was located, so that transports between was as efficient as possible. After looking through our 'must see' items, we could determine how long we should stick around each stop. In our previous travels, we enjoyed staying in smaller cities longer than larger cities, and rotating large and small/beach cities to not be so overwhelmed and allow us time to relax. Do not consider travel days as a day in the city. They are often longer and most exhausting than you think :)

Italy in 10 days: Venice, Cinque Terre, Florence, Rome, Sorrento (Train)
Spain/France in 2 weeks: Madrid, Grenada, Barcelona, Nice, Paris (Bus/Flights)
Thailand in 2 weeks: Bangkok, Siem Reap, Chang Mai, Phuket (Taxi/Flights)

**If you are planning a trip to Greece, Italy, Spain, France or Thailand and would like itinerary suggestions let me know!**     
Paris, France
Divide up the research
One thing we did differently with Thailand was fully divide up the tasks to be done. There are 5 of us going, so each took one of the 4 cities, and one took transportation days. This allowed us to know much more about each city, and made it much more manageable to plan. There are SO MANY sites out there to help with travel research. I love ALL of Rick Steve's books and TripHacker's website for initial research. Make sure to check multiple sources for your information, and check the dates at which they were written. Things can change drastically year to year, and just because one person had a bad experience and wrote it on the interwebs, doesn't mean you will!

When choosing a place to stay, know that some hostels are more like hotels and others are more like campsite! Look at ALL the reviews and amenities (make sure there is a place to lock your pack, AC and...running water). We have found it to be fun to stay in a mix of larger roomed hostels and private hostels. If you are staying in a city a bit longer it might be nice to meet people, but not having privacy/quiet can get exhausting, so switch it up a bit.

Planning for Thailand (Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gorman!)
Prepare for the worst
Before you head over there, go over every logical horrible situation, and plan what you'd do.  Lost your passport? Stolen credit card? Whatcha gunna do?! Scan important documents and leave them at a safe place. Have a back up hidden credit card for emergencies while abroad. Print out your full itinerary prior to leaving (and leave one at home). This includes addresses (in English and native language) and phone numbers for hostels with a small map. Watch the news in that country beforehand and have a few back up plans. When we were in Italy, other tourists were warning us about pickpocketers in Naples (which was our last stop). Half way through the trip we cancelled our hostel and continued south to Sorrento (which was the best decision ever). Have flexibility! Finally, enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program this way if the US Embassy needs to contact you and send over Liam Neeson, they'll know where to find ya.

Covering all of your bases prior to leaving leaves out SO much of the stress during the trip; and will leave more time for these moments:

Poros, Greece
Happy Traveling!






Friday, June 13, 2014

Happy FLAG DAY People!

Did you know President Wilson DECIDED flag day should be a thing? I'm sure the conversation was over a few too many beers whilst playing chess or riding a horse or something late at night. "Hey ya know what Bill, I think we should celebrate FLAGS, they just don't get the recognition they deserve." Now, don't think i'm downplaying flags here, I mean, AMERICA. But, isn't it kinda funny. I'm sure someone who didn't want to overstep his bounds around the president was like "okay Willy, that fine, but just not a FEDERAL holiday, mmkay?" To which he responded "Okay, BUT MAKE SURE THERE ARE PARADES!"

So, we adopted the flag in 1777, and in 1949 Flag day became a thing, full of parades.

source
Man waiving hat: Hey Mom look at my new red boots! I got them on sale, and LOVE the knee high length
Man Hoisting up the Flag: DID WE REALLY NEED AN 18FOOT LONG FLAG? This is so HEAVY. Why isn't this man behind me helping?? Is that a real eagle? IS IT COMING FOR ME? Maybe it'll hit the man behind me...*snicker*

So, I thought, HOW better to tip the hat to Mr. Wilson then to raise a flag ON FLAG DAY?! 


You see, THIS little gem was sitting perfectly on my property...and after digging up two poles in my back yard (ugh, clotheslines YOU WIN), i'm not about to start that jig again. And I think it'd just be SUPER AMERICAN of me to have that flag out there. But don't think for a second I didn't consider a pirate flag, because that would be AWESOME. I just don't want to resurrect another Barbary war (sorry for getting so historical on you guys today...). There were also talks of various European & State flags and I found a school patrol flag that would have been HILLARIOUS. Maybe i'll MAKE a flag someday, with like a family crest on it or something. 



ANYWAYS, so up she went, on this Flag Day. Finger snaps for the dead bushes in the background - enjoy the next few weeks, because once i'm home, you are first on my list to tackle. Literally.








p.s Off to travel the world for a few weeks, I'll be posting some travel tips whilst i'm away! 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

HOSTA la vista dead shrubbery

Let's rewind this train a bit, remember what we started with?



I trimmed back the dead plants in hopes they would magically come alive, installed a rain barrel, removed the sides of the canopy, took down the eye brows, and started reconstructing the canopy



Well, spoiler, ALL the plants around my house are dead-zo. The boy and I ripped out all the plants next to my house, and I started on the bushes behind the garage - and got as far as I could with a pair of snippers and a handsaw.




That took around 6 hours spread over 3 days. These guys were unruly, and I needed to call in the big guns to finish 'er off. SO! The parents stopped over this past weekend to help me put a fork in my little landscaping project. My great aunt Betty was nice enough to donate some plants to the cause, which has helped me turn my landscaping from brown to green! My father and I started the day destroying the roots behind the garage. It took some hardcore yanking/cutting/crowbar-ing to get them loose.

Whilst we worked on that, my mother worked on the side of my garage, placing some plants that will grow tall in the space covering up the concrete base, but not blocking the sidewalk.




Then we set the rest of the plants around the house, fingers crossed they all make it in my rocky-landscaping!




Behind the garage we went from THIS:


TO THIS!



But I think my favorite is this shot:


Its a few steps up the improvement ladder from this:



The 4 larger pieces of wood were gems found in my attic #reuse. I like that they are a little organic in shape - especially that 'live edge' on the bottom right.


zomg caprese sammies ALL DAY.


Once all the plants start to take root and fill out it's going to be a green OASIS back there. And I love it. Next on the list is to tackle the HORRIBLE edging choices that have been made in the past. Basically any rock in sight was a victim to the edging catastrophe. They stick up and out into the sidewalk, which made it SUPER fun to shovel last winterpocolypse. I have been removing them as I go, but it seems that project is (like most) one where you find more projects just by ripping things up. Like a hidden garden taken over by grass? Anyone need some 800 year old pavers?...They are free if you rip them out :)