10 Things You Should do the Week Before Taking a Solo Backpacking Trip

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Next Saturday I’ll be taking off on a jet-plane. Literally. The time has come for my yearly trip to Europe (Ireland, Scotland, Denmark, Hungary, Belgium) and I could not be more excited to be going back to my second “home.” I’ve taken somewhere around 15 backpacking trips, so I definitely have a routine of how I get ready for them. My number one rule of advice? Don’t wait until the last minute. It might seem sexy to pack the night before, but you must resist. A smart traveler knows that to have peace of mind you need a good system to get things checked off bit by bit.

This weekend I started my “week before takeoff” routine and after getting everything booked up, I’ve started to get the ball rolling on pre-packing. Didn’t know that was a thing? Well, it definitely is. Especially when you work as much as I do, it’s important for you to plan things out well. Here’s my list of six things I make sure to have done one week before take-off, for an international solo backpacking trip.

Copy Passport, Drivers License, Credit and Debit Cards to Leave

Obviously I don’t anticipate anything going south during my trip, but if you’re smart then you’ll always have in the back of your mind that it could. The best way to keep this type of thing from turning into a really big bad problem is for you to be prepared. This is why I always copy, and then hand off, prints of my passport (and other important cards/documents) that I’ll have with me on my trip. This way, if they get stolen, I’ll have all the numbers and information I need to replace them… or at least get back on a plane ride home.

Print Maps and Directions from the Airport to the Hostel

I know that this is the information age, and that many places have wifi for free. I also know that data plans allow you to talk and pop on GoogleMaps whilst abroad. But the reality of the situation is that phone signals and wifi are not reliable, and if you solely depend on them you could end up stranded in a city you don’t know, surrounded by a language you don’t understand. If you have a physical map you not only can find directions easier, but a lot of the time you can ask for directions easier. People in a city know their city. And even if they can’t speak your language, seeing things in written form (with a map) can make a world of difference when communicating.

Learn Basic Words if You don’t Speak the Language 

The reality of traveling to Europe is that most people have some knowledge of English, especially since most of the places I’ll be visiting will be major cities and capitals. That being said, a native word can go a long way, when you’re making your way through pretty much any part Europe. Even if you try to say a word, and totally botch it up, most people will appreciate the attempt. Unless you’re trying to speak Irish in Ireland, in which case you’ll probably just get laughed at. Let’s all try to be a little less like the stereotype of walking into every country like English is the official language of the world. Especially if you’re an American, like me, you should at least know how to say:

  • Please
  • Sorry
  • Goodbye
  • Hello
  • Thank you

Make an Address List for People who want Postcards

This one is really near and dear to my heart because I adore getting postcards, so I think it’s really important to send them out, while I’m traveling, as well. I usually travel with a physical list of all the names I want to send postcards to. Obviously there are ways to make this digitalized, but what can I say? I’m an old fashioned kinda girl.

Print Confirmations, Tickets, Hostel Booking etc.

Not all confirmations need to be printed, but if I’m feeling nervous about going to a country I’ve never been to before I usually do, just to be on the safe side of things. I always travel with a pocket binder so I can slip things like this in there. It’s also great for slipping things in for the scrapbook I’ve been saying I’d make for the past 10 years (#DontJudgeMe). Like I said above, use your best judgment, but when it comes down to it, wifi should never be depended on.

Make a List of Places for Roommates, Significant Others

I always leave a list of places I’ll be staying, when I leave on a backpacking trip. On this list I write hostels, cities and any other relevant information people might need to know if an emergency happens. Once again, it’s always better to be prepared!

Pay Bills in Advance

One of the easiest things to forget, when you’re abroad, is to pay bills that fall on the dates that you’re traveling. For this reason, I try really hard to pay everything before I even head to the airport. This way I have peace of mind that I’m not late on a payment, and I don’t have to worry about coming back to a house where the electricity has been cut off. Everybody wins.

Arrange for Pets to be Fed

Whether you’re a plant mom/dad, or you have a more cuddly animal, it’s important to make sure that your pets are fed and good to go before you embark on your adventure. For me, this means buying fish feeders that my roommate can drop into the tank periodically, but for a cat if obviously would be more involved. The long and short of it is, be sure to say thank you for roommates helping out. Just ’cause they live with you, doesn’t mean it’s somehow their obligation.

Make a List of Things to See in Each Location 

I love lists. And when it comes to travel I try to compile a (rough) list of places I want to go, and things I want to see beforehand. When I’m on my trip I don’t want to spend the time looking up local attractions, so it makes it a lot easier to have a fall-back plan. I also want to emphasize that this is a list that’s extremely flexible. I usually only end up doing half (at most) of the things I write on there, but it’s good to have options!

Change Out Currency

Some currencies are easier to come by than others, so you’ll want to make sure you have what you need before you leave on your trip. You should also make sure that your hostel (or wherever you’re staying) accepts payments with cards, since that definitely is not always the case, and you don’t want to be caught off-guard.

When it comes to currency, you should also make sure that you do your research on which currency is best for which country. I definitely have a horror story of thinking that Northern Ireland and Ireland rolled with the same money. A mistake that earned me some very angry glares on my first trip. You can exchange money, beforehand with banks (as long as you have an account with them) and with businesses that specialize in currency exchange. You can also exchange money in airports, but I’ve generally found that to be a pain.

Have a pre-packing tip or routine that helps you keep your sanity? Share it in the comments section below! 

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Merry Christmas to all

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This past week has been complete mayhem.

Why?

Mainly because I kind of forgot about the whole gift giving side of Christmas, and therefore had to pack all of that ish into one week. For everyone. I know, I know, I did it to myself. But then, I did also contract a nasty cold that knocked me out for two days. Fun times.

That being said, I wanted to write up a quick posts saying Merry Christmas to all of you beautiful people who follow and comment and read my blog. Thank you for being here and for making this a part of your busy lives.

Christmas is all about being thankful for the blessings we have around us, and this blog and all of you are such a blessing to me. Writing is my heart and my soul, and travel is the breath I live by. Thank you for being along on the journey, and I for you all to have a peaceful and heart-filled Christmas, no matter where you are, or what you’re doing.

Last year I spent Christmas 2015 sleeping in Heathrow Airport, so this year I’m happy to say that I’ll be spending it cuddled up under a pile of blankets…in a house. I pushed my annual trip to Europe back a little this year, so I’ll be leaving mid January to go explore some more of the world (can’t wait!).

Until then (or whenever I have a spare minute to breathe/write) Merry Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight.

10 Ways I Save Money and Travel More

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Saving money has always been a hobby for me. It really does feel more like a game, at this point. How much can I save? How far can I stretch one amount? This is not because I have to, but because I love being able to do twice as much with what I have. Not only do I think that it’s fun, but I also think it’s important to be a good steward of your money, in general. During the holidays this can get a bit tricky, but here are some of my ideas for saving a little extra cash so you can travel more!

1. Popping Tags


I have a degree in fashion design. That being said, I love expensive clothing (or well made clothing, which is usually very expensive). I love well made fibers and fabrics and leather boots are my weakness. I know that clothes are important to my psyche, so I make room for them in my budget. But there’s a catch. First off, if I want to go shopping for clothes, I have to sell clothes to Buffalo Exchange or Crossroads. This way I’m not only buying new clothes at a discount price, but I’m also cleaning out my closet and using credit to reduce how much I’m spending even more. There are also apps that do this, so don’t panic if you don’t have a store near you. The best part of this system is that I end up paying 1/10 of the price for designer clothing.


2. Discount Tickets

I grew up doing theater and I’ve always loved the stage (whether I’m on it or not). That being said, paying to see theatrical performances can feel like cutting a hole in your bank account and watching it drain. But I NEED theater, so I’ve found a few ways around the system. I usually go to previews or first performances (which can be based off of a “donate what you can” system) or I buy my tickets through GoldStar which is a discount site for just about everything in your area. I’ve literally paid $6 for a performance, before. Some aren’t quite that discounted but it does save a whole ton of money, especially for date nights.


3. Volunteer

I am hugely into volunteering. I grew up volunteering basically every weekend and I think it’s so important to give back to causes that you’re passionate about. For me, this includes some local venues that promote the arts. In exchange for volunteering I get free access to the performances and I’ve even been able to catch one by the amazing spoken word artist and poet, Sarah Kay.


4. Buy And Cook In Bulk

I have a bit of a dietary advantage because I’m allergic to pretty much everything expensive (cheese, dairy, alcohol) but I still keep an eye on how much I spend on food. Not only do I make massive meals which I then store so I can eat them in the future, but I also buy in season (fresh food that are usually on sale). This is a great technique for people not onboard with a Top Ramen diet.

I’m also very pro stats and analytics, so I love drawing up lists of what I’m going to buy and then trying to keep it all within budget. You might not be so nerdy. But here’s one small tip: Do not go in the store without a list – and stick to it. You’ll be surprised how much money it saves you.


5. Monthly Phone Plan vs Contract

I decided a few years ago to go off of a contract and grab a “pay as you go plan” for my phone. Why? Because it’s really important for me to be flexible about where I live and what I’m paying for. If I end up moving back to Europe, I don’t want to be tied to a three year plan. This also saves me a lot of money since Verizon offers plans for as little as $40 for 3gb of data and unlimited texting/call.

6. Phoning A Friend 

I’ve had my iPhone for three years, and while it’s not cutting edge, it’s also not cutting into my savings with a $700 bill. I do like technology, but I’m not onboard the get further in debt to get a phone the size of your face train. My phone is just now starting to show signs of wear/needing to be replaced, but even in replacing it there are ways to save money! For instance, I’m going to be buying a refurbished phone rather than shelling out for a brand new phone. You might be surprised how much you can save! Check out some buy options HERE, if you’re not crazy happy about searching Craigslist.


7. Breaking Up With Netflix

Here’s the controversial one. I don’t have Netflix. I know: how do I survive? But I manage it with only having to occasionally explain that I don’t have it, to people who refer to shows/movies based off of them “being on Netflix.” To clarify, I also don’t have Hulu. These services just aren’t something that I need in order to be happy. A lesson that I didn’t learn until I lived in France and couldn’t afford them. Even now that I can, I just don’t need the temptation. I do have access to PBS because I donate to them monthly. Supporting public programing is really important…and I love documentaries.

 

8. Negotiate EVERYTHING

I save $240 a year on my wifi bill because I negotiated it down with my provider. Why? Because prices are arbitrary and companies would rather be getting some money from you, than for you to go to a competitor because of $10/month. The moral of this story? Ask! If you’re paying bills you can always call and ask if there’s any way they can decrease the bill. The key here is to be really nice. Customer service people get yelled at 60% of their day ( #unofficialstat) for things they have no control over. Show them some kindness and you’ll go far.

 

9. Invest In Things That Last

Okay so this goes back to the same idea as saving money on clothes. Something I never realized (being raised in the consumer capital of the world: the U.S.) was that if you buy a good pair of shoes then you can literally wear them for YEARS. Well, I apply this principle to everything I buy. If there’s a sturdier option, I go for that one. It might be a few more dollars initially, but if you don’t ever have to buy that thing, again, then it’s so worth it. Example: buy glass, not plastic, to save food in.

 

10. Make It Myself

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Here’s another thing I learned whilst being hopelessly broke in France: there are a lot of things that are pretty easy to make. While I realize not everyone is crafty, there’s always the option of hopping on Pintrest if there’s something you love, but can’t swing budget-wise. Chances are, there’s a tutorial (let’s be honest, Pintrest has everything). Especially if you found it in a store that rhymes with Shmanthropology, look it up on Pintrest – you can probably save 60% just making it yourself. Check out my crafting Pintrest board for more fun ideas!

Phew! Fun, right!? Here’s the great part – even if you only follow one or two of these, you can save a little more and put that money toward travel. Want more ideas? Check back for part two (because I have that many ways I save money) next week!

Did I miss something? Comment below with your money saving ideas!

6 of the Best Style Tips I Learned from France

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A little known fact about me is that I have a degree in fashion design. I don’t usually talk about it because in the professional world I don’t use those skills as much, but I grew up making clothes and sewing and I’ve always loved style. I also grew up watching entirely too many black and white movies, so I have a soft spot for classy clothing and pearl earrings. 1950’s Paris *sigh*. When I lived in France one of the parts that I loved was seeing all of the beautiful European style. I would have loved it more if I was making any amount of money close to a salary so I could buy any of these clothes, but not having the income to splurge made me vastly more aware of the trends and how I would apply them to my own life, once I got back into a position to. Here are some of the things I’ve learned:

shoppingSimplicity is Queen
One of the most beautiful things about living in France was how simple the style and lifestyle is. Now it’s important to note that we’re not talking Scandinavian minimalism (although I’m sure there are houses that follow that) but the French have a clean, yet intricate, attention to detail that I absolutely adore. I love the minimalism, mixed with color and patterns and my heart was won over by the beautiful patterns that you can find in so many homes.

Pearls Solve a Multitude of Sins
Having a bad day? Not feeling like feeling you’re usual classy self? Throw on some pearl stud earrings! This is one of my favorite style hacks because it makes me feel like Audrey Hepburn on days when I’m feeling more like Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street. And who doesn’t want to look like Audrey? No hands? I didn’t think so. Not ready to throw down on real pearls? I’ve found some really great pairs of studs at Nordstrom that do the trick, while on a budget.

Mix and Max

You’re probably thinking that the French spend millions each year on clothing. And, of course, for some you’re probably right. But some of the classiest women I ever met taught me the very important lesson to mixing where you shop. This means you may have a designer wool peacoat, but your t-shirt is from Abercrombie. This lesson taught me that it’s not just about what you’re wearing, it’s about how you’re wearing it. And another key is to buy quality, over quantity. When you do splurge, splurge on statement pieces that are going to last you years. There’s a really great book I have called Paris Chic that does a great job of outlining Parisian and French fashion. Your wardrobe will thank you for the $1.99 you spent buying it.

Treat Yourself
The French know how to pamper themselves, and I don’t mean going out and coming back with a carload of clothes charged on their credit card. I mean lotions, bubble baths and perfumes. I mean those things that make you feel like gold – even with nothing on. Spending the extra dollars to buy quality skin care products is worth it. Treat yourself, and your body, by investing in some bath salts or some soothing lotions. You’ll be surprised how lovely you feel without even needing to spend money on clothes.

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Scarves
If there’s one style tip that I’m so glad I learned when living in France, it’s the beauty of scarves. From light and airy to bulky and bold, scarves aren’t really something I invested in before I lived in Europe. But I’m definitely now riding the scarf train! A great scarf can not only double your options on a simple sweater, they’re a lot less expensive than buying a whole new wardrobe. And they’re warm. I’m all about the warm. I’ve found some of my favorites at Nordstrom (because, despite popular opinion, Nordstrom isn’t always crazy expensive, if you know the right places to look), but I also love to buy them at World Market.

Kids Wear
One of the cutest things about living in France was definitely the children. The child style goals I now have are insanely high. Like, I kind of want to fly to France yearly so that I can dress my future children. Yeah, that bad. The cute little animals, the cute little patterns. All of it. If you’re looking to replicate all the cuteness (or just see what I’m talking about), you can type in “French kids clothing” in Pintrest and envy away, or hop over to Petit Bateau which has a U.S. website but totally French kids style. J’adore.

Time to Move Mountains – Rise Up Women of the U.S.A

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I grew up in a passionately Republican family; one that was racist, homophobic and expressed bigotry on a regular basis. Does this represent all Republicans? No. I am simply telling my story.

Needless to say, this morning when I rolled out of bed to the results of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, I didn’t have to “imagine” how people could have voted for Trump. I knew from 18 years of first-hand experience. The power of fear should not be underestimated.

That being said, of course, I was upset with the outcome. As a woman, and a person of color, how could I not be? The next four years are going to be challenging in ways I’ve never had to experience in my lifetime. But whether we want to admit it or not, hate racism and bigotry have all been in the Whitehouse, before.

Women of the United States of America, it’s time for us to rise up.

This post isn’t about right or left or red or blue. It’s about what’s next for us.

I currently live in a city that’s more liberal than most. We try (although, we have work to do) to understand equality and promote it among the people living here. We try. We’re not perfect, and we are on a journey, but we try. I realize that other parts of the country are not this way. Perhaps this election was, if nothing else, a beacon to shine a light on that fact. We are a broken people. We are a broken nation. We are a nation who has been taken in by the false god of fear.

This morning, as I stared at a map filled with red colored states, I tried to wrap my mind around the numbers, the statistics and how exactly this happened. I love analytics. But this was different. Something didn’t feel right. How did the statistics for women voting slide so strongly toward a man who embodies everything we fight so hard against?

Perhaps this is another lesson: the gaps in American equality are not just a problem created by men.

Over the course of the past months we have seen our President-elect slander women again and again. The list of offenses is egregious. Regardless of your stance, the facts are that he’s currently facing, and has formerly been accused of, rape charges.

So why did we, as women, vote for him?

To be honest, I don’t have an answer, but I do know what this points to — a culture where we, as women, are hurting.

A stroll through any history book will show you that existence has never been easy for women. We’ve been raped, defaced, tortured, slandered and brutally killed in our journey for equal rights. And while perhaps not as prevalent in certain parts of the world, these treatments are not just something from the past. And for those of us in the “free” world: Our ballots are our testimonies.

What can we even do to move forward?
You probably already know what I’m going to say.

1-john-418Ladies, it’s time for us to rise up.

It is time for us to speak life, encouragement and power over the next generation, and the generations who came before us. It’s time to embrace a culture that lifts women up, rather than tearing each other down. It’s time for us to introduce ourselves to our neighbors; to hug and care for those who are grieving or in pain.

This is not about politics, I don’t care what side of the “fence” you are, or have been, on. This election is showing us the very real truth behind what airbrushed magazine covers and bright Hollywood lights have done to us. Our nation is crying out for justice. We are hurting. We are stumbling. We are searching for anything to heal our brokenness — even if that means destroying ourselves in the process.

Ladies, it is time for us to rise up.

The next four years will not be easy. Probably for all of us, but it will most certainly be harder for some.

To my sisters who are getting ready for the storm — I stand with you. I will love you. I will protect you. I will speak for you. I will defend you.

Because you are worthy. You are wonderfully made. You are beautifully whole. You are an inspiration. You are valid. You are strong. You are brilliant. You are made for great things. You are powerful. You are so much more than any title.

And we? Together we are immovable, unbreakable and our story will live as long as the stars shine.

Rise up.

 

8 Things That Inspired Me When I Traveled In The UK

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I’ve been to the UK/Ireland quite a few times, and I’m going back in January. My mom’s family is very proudly Scottish, Irish and English so I grew up hearing a lot of stories about these magical places called Ireland and Scotland. I wanted to visit so much that three years I finally packed a backpack and headed out solo. I’m so incredibly glad I did. I’ve met so many amazing people throughout my travels, and I love how different and beautiful each trip proves to be. Here are some of my favorite things about traveling throughout the UK (we’ll do another one on Ireland, I promise).

Glasgow, Scotland: A bun can always go higher up on your head

I’m not really sure if there’s some kind of competition for buns in the UK, but they are no joke. Glasgow is one of the funniest cities you can go to on a winter Friday night because the girls are known for their high buns, and their short skirts. And since it’s Scotland, you can imagine how cold that kind of fashion becomes. As someone who wears their hair in a bun 80% of the time, I was inspired when I went to Glasgow for the first time.

London, England: Pastries as far as the eye can see

I adore bread in all of its many forms, and the UK has some of the best sugary (not savory – that all goes to the French) breads and pastries I’ve ever tasted. I don’t know what the trick is, or how a country manages to tackle pastries with such perfection, but they are simply to die for. Something I’ve learned about Europe is that the flour there tastes so much better than what we have in the U.S. Even just from living in France, the recipes don’t work the same, and it’s so much more difficult to cook using French flour when you’re used to American. I assume there’s something similar in the UK and that what’s there is something from some mystical world, as well.

Stratford-upon-Avon, England : Tomatoes – a nutritious part of every breakfast

Okay, so I’m not sure how many people are already on this train, but I never ate tomatoes (or really vegetables) with my breakfast until I travelled around the UK. Now, I really prefer to have them with some eggs and toast and tea. It’s SO GOOD. English (or Scottish) breakfasts really are just the best, and again, I’m not sure what they do to make the food so good, there, but it really is out of this world.

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Edinburgh, Scotland: Walk Through Cemeteries to Get Writing Inspiration

Okay, Harry Potter nerds. You knew this was coming. A fun fact that I learned when I was in Edinburgh was that JK Rowling stole. Yep. Flat our robbery…of names. It’s true! Many of JK Rowling’s character names come from dead people in Edinburgh cemeteries, including the notorious Tom Riddle aka Voldemort. Brilliant, huh? I’m really excited to go back this January and explore more of the geek side of Edinburgh. I was only there for a day and a half last time and it really was not enough time to satisfy my geekiness. Click the photo below for more info on the cemetery where Tom Riddle is buried.

 

London, England: Brown eggs are better

I grew up with chickens. And we ate their eggs. Thank god we didn’t slaughter them, as well, but my mom was pretty inclusive of the “fresh egg” policy. Unfortunately while having chickens, we also had a rooster who liked to get it on with the ladies. That being said, there were a couple of times when our lovely fresh brown eggs got cracked open into a pan with a underdeveloped chick coming out. Talk about trauma. It’s a wonder I’ve ever eaten eggs again. Luckily my mom had sympathy for me not wanting to eat brown eggs after that. The funny part was that the first time I went to London I realized there was nothing else but brown eggs in the store. Ha. Kill me. Needless to say, I got over my fear, found out brown is better, and now I won’t even buy white eggs.

Glasgow, Scotland: You will never forget the first time you see an original Van Gogh

I love Van Gogh. I always have, and I always will. Up until 2013, though, I had never seen an original (at least, not that I can remember). Scotland wouldn’t probably be the first place that you would look for an original, but that is (accidentally) the first place that I saw one. In fact there were two. And when I saw them I couldn’t believe they were real. It was a bit like that time I was in Rome and thought, “Wow, that looks just like the building from Gladiator,” as I was driving by the Colosseum.

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Edinburgh, Scotland: Always visit the worst club, with the best people

On the authority of three natives, I have (without a doubt) been to the worst club in Edinburgh. How did such a blessing come about, you may ask? Well, it really comes down to striking up conversations with the locals, rather than always staying with the group. I actually can’t remember the name of the club we went to, but my pesky memory could probably find it if I was back in Edinburgh (#photographicmemory) but I can assure you – it was all it claims to be.

All the UK: Cuppa Tea, Tea, Tea, Tea

I have an addiction to tea and I, first off, blame the BBC. But secondly I blame traveling around in countries where you basically get it shoved down your throat. Word from the wise: NEVER say no when you’re offered tea the UK. Even if you just barely sip it, just take the damn cup.


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Have you been to the UK? Comment below with what inspired or shocked you! 

5 Reasons Being Homeschooled Makes Me Better At Traveling

“What the hell does homeschooling have to do with travel!?”

I’m glad you asked. I know you probably have your doubts…but you’d be surprised how often I pull out my homeschooling skills in order to successfully navigate the world. I was homeschooled from 3rd grade to high school graduation, and it really shaped who I am, as a person. No, I don’t play Dungeons and Dragons, but there are some stereotypes that are true…

NOT THOSE. Sheesh, guys, when was the last time you met an actual homeschooler!? Trick question, because when would you meet someone who never leaves home? Hahahaha — just me? Okay, moving on. Here are five reasons I think that being homeschooled makes me better at traveling.

1. Alone Time:

Okay, so when I was homeschooled I went to a resource center a few times a week. And it was great. Basically it was structured like a regular school, except most of us had parents hanging out in the halls or library, while we went to classes. All the teachers were certified through the state (except for special workshops) and it’s very important for my homeschool cred to note that our parents weren’t the teachers. This was not a co-op. Got it? Good. Moving on.Having a place to spend 2-3 days a week was great, but it still meant that there were entire days where I saw only my siblings/mom. This meant I had to be okay with rollin’ solo. I’m an introvert, so it’s a little bit easier for me, but the reality of travel (especially solo travel, which I do) is that you spend a lot of time alone. Whether it’s transportation from one place to another, or just walking around a city, there are a lot of times when you’re going to feel like one very out of place person in a sea of faces. Luckily, a homeschooler knows how to capitalize on that time. And an introvert knows it’s great for books, journaling, blogging or just thinking about life.

2. Making Random Friends:

On the flip-side, you probably should talk to people when you’re traveling alone. Because otherwise a) Why are you even there?

b) You’ll probably start to go slightly mad.That being said, you know the Homeschool mantra, “Say hi now, because you might not see another soul for days!” It’s on our flag. Moving on.

In all seriousness, it’s really important to connect with people. Hang out with people in hostels, talk to people on tours and really get to know the strangers around you. This is easy for me to do, because I’ve had to choose to make friends pretty much my whole life. There was no luxury of “assigned seating” or “class periods together.” It was talk to this person right now, or forever hold your peace.

3. Self Motivation:

Not to brag, but I basically put myself through the entire educational system from 3rd grade on. Yeah, I had my mom there to give me piles of books, but I think anyone can pretty much vouch that I made myself actually get things d-o-n-e. I’ve always been pretty self-motivated, which is really good, because I work remotely and it’s really important for me to make sure deadlines and projects get done on time. Yes, I have a boss. But luckily I know how to kick myself into action.That being said, I constantly make deadlines for myself when I’m planning to travel, traveling or working on the road. I make it happen because when you’re on the road, as a solo traveler, you either get yourself there, or you don’t get there. There’s nobody to tell you where to go, or wake you up if you sleep through your alarm clock. It’s all about you. Just the way I like it.


4. A Love of Learning:

If I won the lottery, I would become a professional student at Oxford. I love learning more than anything in the world. Which is why I have tutors “for fun,” subscribe to PBS instead of Netflix and have accounts with every online learning site. I love history and science and geography and art and writing and languages. That’s just me (and Hermione, who I share a birthday with – fun fact).This comes in handy when I’m traveling because it makes me infinitely curious about the places I go. It also makes the places hold a lot of value for me, and when other people see that, I think it’s a lot easier to make friends with the locals (unless you’re in Paris, where they hate everyone – jk…sort of). This also has helped me to learn the “secrets” about places, because when you make friends with locals you get taken places tourists never get told about.

5. Trying New Things: 

There is a disclaimer on this one, because I’m not a huge fan of trying new food. That has more to do with me being allergic to everything on the planet, though, and less to do with a lack of interest or willingness to try.What I do love to do is weird things that nobody else will do. I travel with a pretty open “yes” policy for trying new things (safety first, of course) and that’s led me to have some pretty interesting stories. I’d share them now, but where would the fun be in that? You’ll have to keep reading along on the blog to find out.

BONUS

Not taking ‘no’ for an answer:

I wasn’t ever shut down by teachers growing up. There weren’t “dumb questions,” because the only person I could ask was myself, or my mom (who is, in fact, a certified teacher).  I love proving people wrong, and I love finding ways to do things that people say can’t be done. I think a lot of this has to do with the way I was raised… and it probably also has something to do with the hotheaded Scottish blood in my veins.

4 Ways To Travel Without Leaving Home

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What if I told you that you can travel without ever leaving your neighborhood? 

Traveling is a big part of my life. Obviously. I spend hours each week blogging, researching and Tweeting about it. But the reality of the situation is that not everyone can just throw some stuff in a bag and hop on a plane, which is something I’ve been very fortunate to have done on multiple occasions. Right now, however, I’m in a bit of a hiatus for travel, or at least long trips, because I’m paying back the student loan gods and getting settled after a year of living in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

But back to you. I know there are a lot of you who love travel, but may not be able to right now, so I thought I would share some of my tips for curing (at least temporarily) the travel blues. Ready? Okay, here we go:

Postcards

You know, those tiny little scraps of paper that you pray will go where they’re supposed to because, let’s face it, there’s no return address. Yep, those. I love postcards and I probably always will. When I was a kid I used to had a penpal, and that’s probably where my love for snail mail originates from, but I think I also just like being able to talk to people without talking to them (if I’m honest) #introvert.

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The best part of sending/receiving postcards is that you don’t have travel somewhere in order to send them. No joke! Try out a website like Postcrossing to send and receive postcards from people all over the world. How does this work?

1. You go to Postcrossing and sign up.

2. They send you the addresses of a few people to test your commitment.

3. Once those people receive your postcards (which you’ve written a little code from the website, on) you start getting postcards and so forth and so on.

One time I got a postcard from Germany that led me to making a new friend in the U.S. and it was awesome. You never know what you’re gonna get!

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The wall of my bedroom in Paris.

Read

I know, I know, now I sound like
5th grade.Outlander-TV_series-2014 But it’s TRUE! Reading is an amazing way to experience other cultures and places without ever having to leave your house (literally, just order them on Amazon – you don’t have to ever leave…except maybe health reasons).The best part of books (other than that they’re relatively cheap) is that they can actually inspire you to travel to other places, and make your trips more fun.
Right now I’m reading the Outlander series, and I’m seriously considering going to Scotland just so that I can visit all of the places. It makes you appreciate a place so much more when you’re able to associate happy reading memories with the real life places.

Have a Penpal

IMG_0389One of the best ways to get to know people who are different than yourself is to do just that…get to know people who are different from you. I’ve had a penpal for most of my childhood and again for the past year. She lives in Liverpool, England and due to the crazy of each letter taking 1-2 weeks to get from point A to point B, we don’t talk too often, but it’s the most exciting thing in the world to get a letter in the mail from England once a month!

If you’re still a little skeptical that pen pals are for kids, take a peek at the website that I used to get mine: Letter Writer’s Alliance. They’re dedicated to making sure snail mail stays in business, and it’s a pretty awesome community. Not only can you get matched with another member (lifetime membership is $5) but you can also check out their awesome letter writing merch (not required to write, just awesome) as well as local meet-ups and other events.

Social Media Groups

You know what they say: the people you surround yourself with influence your behavior. The best part of social media is that you can choose who you’re around and gain inspiration that way! Obviously, Twitter is my biggest inspiration with all +5,000 of my travel buds, but I also love Facebook groups, as well. Instagram is (obv) a really good source as well, but I’ve never really been in to Instagram, so that’s not as much my scene. Try looking at these Facebook Groups (or even join a couple!) for travel inspiration galore.

Travelettes : Launched in 2009, Travelettes is an online magazine/ travelblog/ network for and from girls who love to travel.

Nomadness Travel Tribe: The Nomad•ness Travel Tribe, created by Evita Robinson, stemming from her travel series Nomad•ness TV, is an online social community of travelers and expats all around the world. In the Tribe, they come together to share stories, advice, dos and don’ts, in an interpersonal setting. The majority of our members are bridged by an urban background.

Americans in France:

Irish Central: IrishCentral is America’s number one news website for Irish news with over 3.5 million readers a month. (Also one of my favorite newsletters to get!)

Mama Loves Paris: Brilliant ideas, inspiration, fun and fab photography for families living or loving Paris life.

Jetting Around: Jetting Around by Pola Henderson is a blog dedicated to cities and their culture. In addition to writing, Pola hosts a weekly city travel discussion on Twitter called #JAchat (Fridays, 1pm ET) and international networking events for travelers, JA Café: Travel Talk Over Coffee.

Travel Noire: Travel Noire is a digital publishing platform that creates tools and resources for the unconventional traveler.

The Exploress: Inspire | Share | Educate | Together we are a global community of young, creative and adventurous women who share a burning desire to travel.

Why Tina Fey is Wrong – You Shouldn’t Have It All

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The other day I was clothes shopping and spent close to a millennia in the store…but only 3 things. SHOCK. Despite what my American upbringing echoed in the back of my mind:

“You should have bought it all!”
“You’ll look better walking out with overflowing bags on your arms.”
“How do you call yourself an adult without being able to splurge on payday?”

I wasn’t “sad” that I had “only” found a few things – I was elated. Why? Because what I bought was what I really really wanted. It wasn’t because I was broke, it wasn’t because nothing else worked, it was because I only bought what I was really passionate about.

I know, crazy.

Yesterday I went to the grocery store. And while I was there I had to wonder: Why are American grocery stores the size of small villages? Have you ever been in a European grocery store? There’s like 8 aisles and one option of each thing (Yes, even in Paris). Why? Well for one thing, it’s because they don’t have to worry about organic – it’s all organic. The other is because life in general is more straight forward. You get what you need and then you move on with life.

And while we’re on the topic, have you guys seen that “Impulse Buy” Tina Fey commercial, if not watch it, below.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a BIG Tina Fey fan, but every time I see this commercial I think about how intense the culture of, “I can, therefore I will,” is in the U.S. Not saying it’s always a bad thing, just that it’s problematic, in that it creates this idea that all that is going to make you happy.

Clarification: I am no proponent of the kind of minimalism that Scandinavian countries advocate for. I know that works for some, and high-five to them, but that is NOT my aesthetic. I love having tons of art supplies, and bookcases overflowing with vintage/sketch books. But, something that I think has really stuck with me, from living in France, is that you don’t NEED to have every version and every color and every brand of something, in order to be happy. I mean, I basically lived out of two suitcases for A YEAR (and one of those suitcases was just art supplies) and I was perfectly functional.

During that year I had a lot (probably too much time) to think, and I was able to really analyze what was and wasn’t important/necessary in my life. Essentially, I learned what makes me happy. And, the emphasis here is what makes me happy (this is not a guide to making the world happy, again).

So, here’s what I learned and continue to implement in my day to day:

Languages are my passion:
I’ve always loved learning other languages (except Spanish, which for some reason I CANNOT pick up) and I love exploring the cultures that come with them. Studies show that learning/speaking other languages can actually make you happier for a multitude of reasons, including reducing stress, helping you feel more connected to other people and of course there’s the “chocolate cake high” that comes with learning new words. Regardless of what the motivation is, I love the idea that we can add so much value to our lives for (especially with online resources like Duolingo etc) little or no money.

“If we spoke a different language, we would perceive a somewhat different world.” –

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Art makes me whole:
While I was in France the two things I chose to spend my pitiful allowance on was postcards (another passion of mine!) and art supplies. Why? Because I literally start losing my mind if I can’t create art. Whether it’s painting or drawing (I learned in France, I actually can draw) I love having art as a meditative part of my life. Hop over to my Facebook page if you’d like to see what I’m currently up to, or you can check out my Pintrest board to see some of my drawing projects from France.

Learning new things enriches me:
Three words: Khan. Coursera. Skillshare. These are the trifecta of my learning (with perhaps some PBS worked in there) and I love taking classes, picking up new skills and learning about the world around me.

Khan Academy
was one of my favorite resources when I was in France, because it’s totally free and you can take classes on a million different subjects, including Pixar animation (also, because I’m a Trekkie – ha). I’ve taken ALL the history classes, and I regret none of the time spent. They also have science, art, coding, and math (gross – but if you’re into that kind of thing).

I also love Coursera, although now they’re starting to charge (but you can find hacks by Googling how to get the classes free). Coursera allows you to take academic classes from universities and professors all over the world, which I also think is amazing.

And lastly Skillshare is amazing for learning new creative things like drawing, photography and even cooking! I’ve learned so much from this resource, and the monthly subscription rate is about the same as Netflix/Hulu (but way more valuable, in my opinion).

Books are beautiful:
The Christmas before last I spent my day wandering Paris, and buying a bunch of classic literature. Why? Because for some reason, in Paris, the cheapest books to buy (we’re talking like 1 euro) are the classics in English. Needless to say, I’ve now read pretty much all of Jules Verne and Jane Austen. Books don’t have to be super expensive (especially if you’re finding them used) and yet they have the amazing ability to transport you all over the world and on a million different adventures. I’ve always been such a bookworm, but I think there was definitely a post college (or even during college) period of time when I forgot how much I loved them. I don’t have as much time now, because obviously I’m not a kid running free, but I do try to make sure to carve out 30min-1hour of reading time, each day. What am I reading right now? The Outlander series, and it’s making me want to go back to Scotland real bad.
WARNING: These books are mammoth.

I don’t need a million friends:
Okay, so let’s talk popularity contest. Why, oh why, do we have to feel like we need a million people who you’re “best friends” with? Unknown. But it’s a thing. And, as a proud introvert, it’s a lie I’m not buying into, anymore. I love me time, and I love alone time. It’s when my brain is settled and happy and free and I come up with my best ideas and creations. I do love the friends that I have, and I do love meeting new people, but not under the pretense that if I don’t have 12 friends I’m Snapchatting every night I’ll shrivel up and die like a raisin. Nope. I’ve had to fight hard for it, but creating that space, and bringing in only people in who understand that I need alone time has made me much happier than a thousand friends ever could.

My faith is really important to me:
My faith, like meditation or exercise, is something that keeps me whole. While I’m not sure that I would describe myself as specifically one denomination, Christianity is a really important part of my life, and one that inspires and strengthens me, daily. It’s not perfect, and neither am I, but it’s something that no one can buy, trade or take away and that makes it an invaluable treasure in my life.

What about you guys? Yeah, shoes are awesome, but what else makes you really glow with happiness? Comment below!

Memoirs of A French Au Pair: 1 Year Back In The U.S.

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This time last year I was packing my suitcases and planning on getting the hell out of France. I was so over it. I was over my job. Over my living situation and over the idea that I had made the right decision moving there in the first place. In short, I was over it (and everything that ‘it’ encompassed).

If I sound like an angsty teen here, I apologize. And then I unapologize. Because life is hard sometimes, and we have a right to look up to the heavens and shout, “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING BRINGING ME HERE!?” There was a lot of that when I lived in France. And that’s okay. Because I don’t believe that God wants subservient robots and I strongly believe that he likes us having real dialog with him. Even when things are hard. Especially when things are hard.

When I moved to France I thought it was going to solve all of my problems. I was sick of seeing people get engaged/married or posting baby pics on Facebook and I decided to DO something with my life. So I quit my job, bought a plane ticket and went (way harder than that, but you get the point). Then the first bad thing happened… and then another. And another and another and another and finally I started to wonder if I had made the right decision? Had I done something with my life, or had I ruined the perfectly good life I had already had?

Risk.

I’m not usually a very risky person. In fact, I would go as far as to say I adore being comfortable and secure. I don’t gamble. I don’t really like taking chances. I’ve ordered the exact same flavor of bubble tea at the exact same place for six years. It’s who I am. I like knowing what I’m getting into. So when I felt the extreme push in my life to move to France, I felt so certain that it was a divine intervention. Let’s be real, it pretty much had to be.

Fast forward nine months and my little idealistic dream boat had been battered and thrown into the shoals. It wasn’t painted and glowing with idealistic promises, anymore. That shit (sorry, mom) was borderline Titanic-post-iceberg status. All I wanted to do was to run away. So I did. And I’m okay with that decision, but I what I did next was wrong.

I tried to ignore and repress and never ever ever think about France.

In fact, I can honestly say I’ve been almost entirely removed from my experience up until the last couple of weeks. It’s very rare that I’ll talk about my experiences there. In fact, I basically don’t talk about that year, at all. At first I told myself that it was because I was too busy or that I had too much on my plate. But the reality was that I didn’t want to have to think about the fact that I had failed at something (or, at least, my definition of failure). France was not magical, fun, beautiful, a fairytale or anything like Audrey Hepburn described it. That’s a tourists dream. Not this expat’s reality.

And at the end of it all I’m still not sure that I have an answer for, “What I learned.” I know that I’ve become a much different person, because I can see it in the reflection of the people who were closest to me, before I moved. Since those changes were gradual they’re much harder for me to personally distinguish.

But I have changed. And I can feel it.

This year back in the U.S. has been one of the most hectic and crazy that I’ve ever had. At times I’ve felt like I was drowning in an ocean, too overwhelming to overcome. Other times I’ve felt so overwhelmingly loved and supported. Overall, this has been a year of drastic highs and earth-shattering lows.

I can’t even believe that one year has already passed. On the one hand it feels like no time at all, and on the other I feel like five years has passed in the course of one. Such is life.

It’s taken almost the entirety of the year for me to finally start having some pieces fall into place. A lot is still up in the air, but things will hopefully click, soon. Over the past year I’ve been bouncing between more jobs than I can count, I’ve moved four times, and I’ve been dutifully pay off the debt (Paris is hella expensive) that I incurred while living abroad (halfway done!) in addition to my student loans (also halfway there). If there’s one thing I learned in France, it’s that I NEVER want to have to think about student loans again, and the sooner they’re gone the better. I hate how “normal” it is for people my age to have tens of thousands of dollars in debt before they really even start their adult lives. It’s basically nonexistent in so many European countries, and I cannot wait to be done with them for good.

The highlights of this year? I’ve gone to three conventions, which was something I had placed on my bucket list while I was living in France. I’ve taken one trip out of the country (Scotland, Ireland, England) and three smaller trips (soon to be four) within the U.S. I’ve seen Riverdance (twice!) and Lord of the Dance, I started a Star Wars painting that will someday be awesome, and I started the process of writing/putting together a comic book with one of my friends. All in all this year has been so incredibly hard, but I’m so thankful for the friends who have held my hand, wrapped me in wool blankets with cups of tea and given me comic books to help me through.

Moving back from France was a really hard decision. It was a hit to my pride (because I honestly didn’t think I would ever come back) and it was a life lesson in how much I actually do need others to make it through this crazy circus called life. Today I was looking at pictures from just two years ago and it’s insane to think about how different things are, now. I was a completely different person. From my ideals, to the way that I approach life, I can honestly say that basically nothing is the same. Maybe this transformation will prove beneficial in the upcoming year. Maybe it won’t. But the point of this long-winded tale is: Fail you might, but try you must.

So here’s to one year of making shit work (sorry for the swearing, mom). The past few years have been just about anything other than what I thought they would be. And that’s OKAY. I give you all permission to be confused, and angry, and elated and to feel torn in a hundred different directions. Life doesn’t have to be exactly what we plan, we just have to be ready to keep moving forward, not matter what is thrown our way.