14 Ways I Save Money And Travel More: Part II

A while back I wrote about how I save money so I can afford to travel, and since y’all loved it, I’m back with ROUND 2!

I’m definitely not any kind of millionaire, and I don’t have a limitless incomes, so traveling has to be a very intentional priority for me. I don’t budget because I don’t like spending money (believe me, I love spending money) but because there are some things that are just more important to me. It goes like this:

My income + Saving on everything I buy = MORE $$ FOR PLANE TICKETS (yay!)

Disclaimer: My life is my own and these tips don’t/won’t necessarily work for everyone or every lifestyle…duh.

1. Rewards Programs 

Check out the reward programs for the things you already use. Have a credit or debit card? You probably have rewards or perks. If you go to the movies a lot, like I do, then you should check out their rewards programs as well. I also make sure to always get punch cards and things like that from smaller shops because the fact is, they usually don’t expire, and I’ve got a whole lot of free food/drinks for spending money I’d already be spending.

2. Mailing Lists 

So, call me old fashioned, but I actually use the U.S. mail system. This is how I get birthday specials, coupons for artsy sh*t and also how I keep up with the art world around Seattle. You’d probably be surprised how many mailing lists you’re missing out on, and what they’ll send you. (On another note, don’t forget to sign up for email lists)

3. Get High Off Learning

Can I just tell you how much I love taking free learning/educational courses? Not only does it give me a ton to talk about with people, but it also nourishes my mind when I’d probably be out doing something stupid because I’m “bored.” My favorite go-to is Khan Academy, but there are actually a ton out there. A quick Google search can usually find you a million and one to choose from.
*Fun fact: I got my last job because I self taught myself techniques from online courses.

4. No Alcohol Or Coffee

Here’s a fun fact: I don’t drink alcohol or coffee. There are a couple reasons for this, including (but not limited to) the fact that alcohol makes me pass out on the first sip and coffee puts me to sleep (#ADHD) but this also allows me to save a whole ton of money. If I do need to hang out in a coffee shop, or get some caffeine, I usually stick with tea. As for alcohol, I just lie and always say I’m the designated driver.

5. Car Sharing

I’m a huge advocate for public transportation, but I also use car sharing services like Car2Go and ReachNow. Both of these services allow me to use a vehicle when I’m in a hurry, or when I need to transport things like groceries. Overall, it takes such a huge load off my mind to know there’s an independent way for me to get around that’s WAY cheaper than Uber (Car2Go starts at $.35/minute).

6. I Have Roommates

I actually hate the idea of living alone, so this one’s easier for me. As we all know, Seattle’s a pretty expensive city. So to help with the cost, I live with three other awesome women in a house. Some people have issues with this, but as long as student loans rule the universe I think it’s a great way to save money while being able to afford city living. Especially when moving home to your parent’s basement isn’t an option.

7. Cook At Home Date Nights

I really love to cook, but I absolutely hate cooking for one. Seriously, I’ll eat a bowl of cereal for dinner, rather than cook myself a solo meal. That being said, date nights are a great time to step into the kitchen and get yo’ pizza on. The best part of cooking with someone you care about is that it’s inexpensive fun, there’s a tasty end result, and you get to make fun of them, you get to encourage the other person’s cooking efforts.

8. L-I-B-R-A-R-Y

I actually almost broke this rule recently, because I really wanted a book and almost cracked and bought it from Amazon. But then it came from the library, and I reminded myself why I keep things in my Amazon cart rather than allowing my impulsive self buy all the things. Books are my weakness, I’m not gonna lie.

9. Blow Money On Some Things

Here’s the deal. I don’t hoard money. I save money for things that I want (even if that’s for retirement, that’s still something I want…down the road). I do, however, have a list of things that are important to me (plane tickets, shoes, art supplies) so I have a rule: When those more expensive things are available at a great price, I throw down on them. This actually ends up saving me more money because when I don’t feel like I’m depriving myself, which means I’m more likely to save.

Don’t live a completely miserable life in order to save money. It’s about being smarter, not living in a blackhole of misery.

10. Stare At Your Finances

Grab a glass of grape juice ’cause shit’s about to get real (sorry mom). Every now and then you’re going to need to take a deep breathe and look over your finances. It’s not fun. Believe me, I know. But if you’re keeping careful track of what you’re spending I promise it will get less painful as time goes by. Some people recommend apps and spreadsheets for this, but honestly I just go through my bank statements. The truth will set you free.

11. Pay MORE For Student Loans

Here’s a fun fact: By paying more on student loans you’re actually paying less on your loans. Your mind is blown, I know. I usually pay an extra 25% on each of my loan payments because as “little” as that sounds, it actually really adds up over the 10 year span of time. See if you can pull a little more money in that direction. If you end up with a chunk of change from some random life, that’s also a great time to make sure it goes toward paying off, rather than partying.

12. Buy Refurbished Electronics…On Holidays

I love Black Friday. Not because I go stand in lines at 3am, but because that’s the time when I purchase my electronics—it’s when I bought my action camera, DSLR, and tablet. Why? Because it makes sense.

If you’re research the electronics you want to purchase, then you know exactly what you’re in the market for, right? Now all you have to do is find the online shop with the biggest sale. Also, whenever you can, try to buy refurbished!

13. Buy Essentials When They’re On Sale, Not When You Need Them

Again, this does not mean hoarding like a squirrel. But there are some things that you’re going to use, because it’s a part of your daily routine. For instance, yesterday I bought makeup removal wipes in bulk. Am I going to use 100 makeup wipes in the next week? No. But I do use them on a daily basis, so I know that if I buy them when they’re $3/pack, instead of $8/pack, I’m ultimately saving money. Have a mental or physical list of the things that you continually use (for me it’s usually toiletries, cleaning and bathroom supplies) can save you a whole lot down the line.

14. Download App Alerts 

A lot of the time people think I’m texting when I’m checking my phone, but usually I’m looking at some kind of alert. No, not from Snapchat (because I hate it…story for another time). I sign up for a few different store apps that send me special promotional deals and alerts when there are coupons or cheap prices for things. This is anything from art supplies to plane tickets to groceries. If there’s somewhere you shop a lot—download the app!

What about you guys? What are your favorite ways to save money? Leave yours in the comment section below! 

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Six Tips To Slay At Thrifting

I was born in the aisle of a thrift shop. Okay, that’s a lie. But I had to get your attention, because today I’m talking about my absolute favorite thing in the world: thrifting.

If you know me from my non-internet life then you probably know that I thrift shop a lot. You probably also know that I’m really good at it.

Thrifting is a culture I was introduced to back when I was a wee lass. I remember thrifting with my mom, and spending absolute hours (felt like years) in the thrift store. Thrift stores were wonderous places where me and my siblings were allowed to roam free. My favorite sections? Books, shoes and craft supplies. Even as a kid I didn’t have much of an interest in toys. I wanted to MAKE things.

As a travel blogger, thrifting is a very necessary part of the lifestyle that I’ve chosen to lead. If I’m funneling my money toward plane tickets, it can’t be flying out of my purse for designer handbags. Thrifting is a lifestyle that enables me to live my best life. And today I’m going to be giving you six of my personal tips on how to thrift shop like a pro.

1. Hydrate, Eat and Pee First

For the love of all that is sacred in this world: Eat before you go shopping. Take care of your basic needs before you even think of stepping foot in a thrift shop. Most stores will have a bathroom for you, but to be perfectly honest not even that’s guaranteed. If I had a dollar for every thrifting trip that’s been ruined because someone who was with me needed to pee or got hungry/thirsty, I would be a very very rich woman. Thrifting is a marathon, not a sprint. You don’t walk in and out in 10 minutes. Prep before you go (sometimes I even bring snacks and a water bottle with me in my purse).

2.  Choose Your Thrift Shop Wisely

There are three kinds of thrift shops I look for.

  1. Thrift shops in well-off areas (thrift shops are donation based, yo—do the math).
  2. Thrift shops that are run by charities (usually these are super cheap compared to chains like Goodwill or Value Village).
  3. Buy, Sell, Trade Shops and Consignment (this is where I buy designer items)

Which type of thrift shop you choose to go to really has to do with what you’re trying to achieve. I really like having statement pieces in my wardrobe that are well made (leather boots, leather jackets, leather purses…okay, so I like leather—what of it?) so shopping at #3 type shops is important, but I usually only go into these once every two or three months. #1 shops are my weekly trips because these are where I can find cool vintage pieces that people who don’t value their dead relations give away for free. One woman’s trash is another lady’s treasure. #2 spots are where I shop for furniture and other home items because big things you want cheap, if at all possible. You can also sometimes find other cool nuggets for really cheap at these (like when I found a pair of Frye boots for $20).

Favorite find — List price: $328 | I paid: $20

3. Know Your Brands

Here’s the deal: Unless you rely solely on vintage clothing (which you might—more power to you) you probably have certain brands in your closet that you’ve bought recently from a normal store. Remember those brands. Take a moment to jot them down. If you don’t have clothing that you love in your closet, then go to your favorite store (whether you can afford it or not) and try stuff on! Does it fit? Great, note the tags and brand. While you’re in a thrift store trying new things can be great, but also knowing what works for you will allow you to make smarter decisions when purchasing.

NOTE: I will admit that I have a bit of an advantage here because I worked at a two different consignment shops in the past, but get to know the feel and look of well made clothing and it will take you far!

4. Sale Days are the Best Days

Fun fact: Thrift stores have sales too.

How do you get to know about these sales? A lot of chain stores have email lists that you can subscribe to for updates on when they have sales, but smaller stores will have sales often just based off of how long an item has been in the store. You can’t always ask an employee outright what will be going on sale, soon, but you can pay attention to patterns (for example, if things that have been there one month are now on sale). There are also often sales based off of item categories (ex. all dresses, shoes). Check stores for calendars of sales dates, or check on their website.

5. Shop in Chunks

Here’s a really big insider tip: I never (ever ever ever) shop an entire store at once (unless it’s like the tiniest shop in the world). Why? Because that is just asking for exhaustion to set in, and this is supposed to be fun, remember!? What I usually do is hit my favorite sections (books, candles, shoes and fabric). Obviously, some days, I go in knowing that I need a pair of jeans or a dress for a party, so I’ll look at those specific sections in addition to my regular ones, but like I said, I’m not trying to pass out from exhaustion. How long do I shop for? I usually shoot for around 1-2 hours.

6. Don’t be Disappointed if You Don’t Find Anything

The beauty of thrift shopping is that you never know what you’re going to find. This also means that you never know if you’re going to find something. Do yourself a favor and don’t pressure yourself into finding that amazing piece the first time you ever visit a shop. Have fun with the experience, and realize that sometimes it’s just for the thrill of the hunt.

*Extra pro tip for introverts: Shop with headphones in and your favorite relaxing music playing. 

Men Who Transplant To Seattle Need These 8 Things

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be moving to Seattle for a tech job. For us Seattle natives, this is a less than happy truth. But since we can’t do a damn thing about the housing market, the best course of action is to laugh. But, enough about us.

This post is about you, the lonely mid-western bachelor who got away from the corn fields just in time to join the western boom of America’s greatest. Here’s a guide for everything you’ll need to know when moving to our city.

1. Buy A Tiny Overpriced Apartment

When you’re making $100,000/year starting, who cares about square footage or reasonable pricing?! Find that apartment you’ve never dreamed of, and throw down that first, last and deposit. It may be more money than most people see in a month, but this is YOUR time to shine. Oh, and make sure your apartment building feels half-way between a dorm and a post apocalyptic office building. We’re all about authentic in Seattle.

2. Buy A Rescue Dog

Now that you have an apartment too small to lay across, you’ll need a canine companion to help ward off SAD (seasonal affective disorder). Thinking small? Nah. Go for the Great Dane. Small dogs say, “This is my girlfriend’s dog that I’m walking for her.” Oh, and make sure it’s a rescue. Ain’t nobody gonna high-five you for a pedigree dog in this town.

Take this dog with you on sporadic walks and to as many festivals as possible. Not only will this help you meet people…who are walking with their boyfriends, but it will also allow you to meet other dog owners (who you should never talk to, just smile awkwardly as your dogs sniff each other).

3. Find Someone On A Dating App And Never Meet Them 

Love has nothing to do with it. Not knowing anyone after living here for six months has everything to do with it. Hop on that Bumble or Tinder train and get your text on. It’s time to find that distraction you’ve been looking for (especially since the wifi in a state penitentiary works better than yours).

The key is to never (and I mean NEVER) meet up with this person. I don’t care how much y’all have in common. Drag them along month after month after month and deny having the free time to hang out…even though your social life consists of spending the last four nights cleaning Great Dane pee out of your thousand dollar throw carpet.

4. Get Rid Of Your Car , And Single-Handedly Support The Uber Industry

Say goodbye to Bessie, it’s time to list that Lexus and live the real Seattle life—via Uber. Now, I’m not saying anyone…and I do mean ANYONE else, who lives here, does this. But as a transplant, you have your own unique mindset for living in a new and strange city. And speaking of filling that lonely void in your life: Why not have a driver to talk to as you travel one mile down the street? Never ever use public transportation. That’s for the sane.

5. Complain Daily About How Bad The Weather Is (Oct – Apr)

Now this one is seasonal because, as we all know, your work had you interview in August so you were mesmerized by the lush green surroundings and light summer breeze. But by the time you moved here in October? Things started to get real dark, real fast…literally. Like, we’re talking lights out at 4pm.

We may have just had the coldest wettest winter on record, but thank GOD you’re here to remind us how amazing your home state is. Wow. I wish I too could live in such a paradise. I’m so sorry you’re trapped here. Speaking of…

6. Keep On Reminding EVERYONE Where You’re From Is Better 

Remember the good old days? When you lived back in that town you hated, and felt trapped in? *Sigh* Those were the days, huh? Now that you’ve moved to a new city, it’s your chance to disregard absolutely everything you hated and really take advantage of those rose-colored glasses.

But, whatever you do, don’t keep this to yourself! You need to tell every. single. Seattle-ite how much better the last place you lived was. Don’t hold back! It’s not like you willingly came to this city, and are eating through our resources and sky-rocketing our housing market. Keep spreading the good word!

7. Only Make Friends With Other Transplants

Repeat after me: Transplants are my only safe friends.

Seattle people are scary. They don’t hug strangers on sidewalks, or high-five you when it’s dark and you jump out from behind dumpsters. Honestly, it’s amazing this city has socially survived.

Your best option? Don’t talk to anyone who’s actually from here. Just keep going to the same overpriced downtown bar every day after work, and get plastered with those six guys who also moved here from forgotten states. Oh, and forget exploring social events in Seattle neighborhoods. Remember: If it isn’t sponsored by a name you recognize, it’s not worth going to.

8. Get Off Your High-Horse And Admit This City Is Amazing

I wish I’d made up the above circumstances, but they’re all taken from people I’ve actually met. Don’t be that guy. Hopefully, after a while, you’ll be able to admit this city is kind of amazing. We’re a bit rough around the edges, but look into our history—Seattle was built by Scandinavian fishermen, loggers and harlots. Honestly, it’s a miracle we’re still standing.

Take some time to get to know us! I know it’s not what your other transplant friends are doing, but go to the MOHAI and learn about where we came from. Seattle people are like our weather. Amazing…but it takes us some time for us to warm up.

How I Paid Off My Plane Ticket To London…In 1 Week

Oh, travel, how I love thee. But my bank account does not. Sound familiar?

Let’s get real for a second: I do not make a lot of money. That being said, I’m pretty good at managing the money I do make. So much so that people often think I make a lot more than I actually do. How? I hack every single thing. ALL THE HACKS.

It all started back in my mom’s kitchen when my brother was explaining to my child self about “inherent value.” I guess there are advantages to having siblings that are five years older than you, because I actually learned a lot during that conversation. The main lesson was this: value is determined only by what people are willing to pay. Nothing is actually “worth” anything.

When it comes to travel, this is huge because I’ve decided that I just WILL NOT pay $1200 for a plane ticket to Europe. No.

But how do I do it? As a social experiment (because in another life I was an anthropologist), I bought a plane ticket about a week ago…and then decided to see if I could “pay for it” in a week. Here’s how I did it:

1. Price Alerts

I’m signed up for a couple different types of price alerts. I set price alerts on Skyscanner for specific cities I want to go to. This means that when cheap tickets are flying out of that specific city I get an alert! I also subscribe to Scotts Cheap Flights (email newsletter/price alerts) which periodically sends me “cheap ticket” alerts. The thing about these is that they aren’t always for flights going out of Seattle, so you have to sift through them a little, to find your city. But when you do find one? BAM! I just paid $350 for a round trip ticket to London.

2. Work yo’ butt off

We all have jobs. In my case I have about five jobs, but I always encourage people to find alternative incomes that they can tap into, if they need a spare buck. For me, it’s:

  • Selling my art in my Etsy shop
  • Babysitting (shoutout to care.com)
  • Picking up extra shifts at work
  • Freelancing (copywriting via UpWork)

For this past week I really called in the reserves on this one, because I needed to make some quick cash to meet my “deadline.”

3. Prioritize

I once heard a saying that the fastest way to make $5 is to fold it up and put it back in your pocket (or something like that) and I wholeheartedly agree. Making cutbacks is a great way to finance your passions, like travel. For this experiment, I didn’t count the money I saved, but I wanted to point out that being really intentional about purchasing groceries, clothing, coffee etc. really does add up!

The Breakdown:

Here’s how I paid off my $350 plane ticket, in vivid technicolor description: Drumroll, please!

  1. I babysat an awesome Star Wars obsessed 8 year old | $70
  2. I took a couple of freelance copywriting gigs | $157
  3. I took two extra shifts at work | $70
  4. I babysat a couple other cool kids | $90

TOTAL = $387

And with my extra $37 I might even buy a Starbucks travel mug while I’m in London.

Cheerio,

The Truth About Interning At A Non-Profit

The year after I graduated from college I lived with eight people in a three bedroom apartment on the beach. True story. I was working for a non-profit called Krochet Kids International, which works to empower women in developing countries, such as Peru and Uganda, to rise above poverty through employment and financial/job training. The company is honestly just amazing, and you should definitely take a hop over to their site, if you haven’t heard of them before (or even if you have).

I’ve been thinking a lot about my time in Newport Beach, lately, and how much it turned me into the person I am today. It was one of those turning points in my life, that sent me down the path I’m on now, and I’ve really grateful for that opportunity. Here’s what I learned from my time there:

1. People Matter

When situations get crazy in your personal life, or in the world at large it can be easy to stop thinking about others, and start focusing more internally. I get it. We’re human and we want to protect ourselves. But building a turtle shell existence is not going to help or save you. What it will do is harden you to the things that are going on. Traveling is important to me, whether I’m taking a day trip or a weekend vacation because it introduces me to all types of people, traditions, cultures and places where I don’t “belong.” It makes me feel small.

Maybe it sounds crazy to want to feel this way, especially in America’s power and success obsessed culture, but hang with me for bit while I explain. When I lived in France I felt a lot of emotions, but one of the biggest ones that I remember was frustration. France is unique to western Europe in that a lot of people won’t speak English to you, if you try. So, if you don’t know the words for how to express yourself you’re just left standing stupid. Personally I think it’s healthy to feel stupid sometimes. It puts things in perspective. Moving back to the U.S. obviously I have a lot of advantages, being from here. I speak English, obviously, and I know the cultural do’s and don’ts of living here. But I’ll never forget how humiliating it was in France to not know the word for something. I’ll also never forget how grateful I was when someone stepped in to help me communicate. The word relief doesn’t even begin to explain.

When I’m here I reach back to those times, when I see someone struggling in a culture/country that’s clearly not the one they’re most familiar with. Why? Because people matter, and when it boils down to it, we’re all just trying to feel valued and accepted.

Coolest bosses ever?

2. I Am An Introvert…And That’s Okay

Living with 8 other people was insane. We had a tiny kitchen, a tiny living room and I shared a bedroom with three other people. Personal space was not a thing. To be honest, looking back, our accommodations were probably borderline, if not definitely, illegal somehow. But throughout that time I realized the importance I have for a quiet place, and quiet time. I spent time on the beach and in parks just simply sitting and journaling and reading. Those were things I always had the luxury of easily doing growing up, because I grew up in a house of very quiet/almost hermit-like people. But when I lived in California I had to very intentionally make time for the things that were important to me. I had to make time for me.

What did I learn from this? Well at the time, that I need my own space (hence never sharing a room with roommates again) but also that it’s not only okay for me to be introverted, it’s actually great! A lot of people misunderstand that introverts are “lonely” when they’re spending so much time alone, but that’s usually not the case. As an artist, and a writer I need that alone time in order to make and create things. Creating and building is how I feel fulfilled and happy. No need to worry about this hermit.

3. There’s Always A “C” Option

I have this chronic condition where I always want to “do the right thing”…to the point where sometimes I do the wrong thing because it’s the rules, and the rules must be right, right? Wrong.

After my internship in the OC I wasn’t sure what my next move would be. Would I continue to live in California? Would I move back home? I had panic attacks for a good month before one of my friends sat me down and reminded me that it wasn’t “Should I stay in California” vs. “Should I move home.” There were so many other options – one of them being “neither.” While this sounds so obvious, as I’m writing this, I remember being completely astounded at the time. It opened my mind to so many other possibilities for what the next step could be. To this day, when I’m comparing one thing against another I remember to consider option C – neither one.

4. It’s Not The Work – It’s The Team

Most entrepreneurs will tell you that they quit their day job of 40 weeks to pursue working for themselves for 80 hours a week, and are so much happier. Well, while I was working in California that really was the reality of the situation. While I wasn’t working for a business that I started, I was working for one that had a clear goal and mission to help other people. And let me tell you: we WORKED. We worked weekends and week days, and nights and early mornings and it was insane. I remember working alongside the founders at Krochet Kids as we worked so hard to build this brand to help others who most of us would actually never meet. I learned so much about honest hard work and how much a common goal can bond strangers together.

Most days I was flat out exhausted. But it was also one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. Because, when it comes down to it, how long you’re spending doing something is not what wears you out, it’s what it is that you’re doing, and who you’re doing it with.

5. Reach For The Stars

My internship with Krochet Kids International was not a spur of the moment idea. For three years I had dreamed of doing it, while I was in college. I loved the brand and everything that it stood for and I thought that working for such a passionately invested company was going to be the pinnacle of my existence. The only problem was…I was terrified to apply. Why? Because if I didn’t get it, that was it. That would be the end of the dream that I had held onto for so long. And what if I did get it? I would have to pack up/get rid of everything that I owned in order to move to another state and live/work with people I didn’t know.

Having now moved/lived/worked in France, it’s crazy to even think how scared I was of the potential to move a couple states away, but at the time it terrified me. It’s moments like this when you have to take a deep breath, and let your heart overtake your mind. Usually I’m not an advocate for heart over mind decisions (shout out to my overly analytical Scandinavian-American upbringing) but if you hear that little voice pressing you toward something so much that you’re thinking about it for three years? Honey, you need to do it.

Throughout so many of my travel decisions I’ve been so scared to fill out the applications, apply for the visas, board the planes, start life over, but each and every time I’ve seen my life blossom in ways I could have never imagined, before. Don’t be afraid to take the leap, you never know what adventures life could have in store.

The best. #interns

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! 

How to Pick a Perfectly Awesome Hostel Every Time

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My hostel last time I was in Edinburgh (I’m taking the picture from in front of Edinburgh castle).

11 countries down, four more next month. You could say I’ve stayed in my fair share of hostels. Love them or hate them, when you’re traveling on a budget, they’re a necessary stop along the way. Lucky for me, I love them. In fact, many of my favorite memories come from various hostels around the world.

Like that time I got cooking lessons from a super cute Australian guy, or the time I stayed up all night talking to an older Hawaiian lady about age and what it means to travel when you’re no longer “young”, or when I ended up engaged to a Scottish guy for a night. And that’s not even to mention the countless day tours I’ve gone on with people I’ve met in the hostels.

There’s something beautiful about people from all over the world coming together in a common place to break bread, play games, go on tours, and exchange stories. I’ve made so many good friends from my travels, that I’d say that staying in hostels is right up there with my other favorite way to find international accommodations, Couchsurfing.

But how do you find a good one?

The reality of the situation is that not all hostels are created equal. So how do you find one that isn’t going to cost you an arm and a leg in exchange for bed bugs and crazy parties that keep you up until 4am?

Well, to be honest, sometimes it’s luck of the draw. But overall I’ve had great experiences by using these tips for finding the very best hostels:

Actually Read the Reviews

Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. You’d be surprised how many people gloss over these. Don’t be that person. Before my last trip my friend and I were reading reviews for a place (Airbnb) and person after person was complaining about the same. exact. problem. Cockroaches. Okay, gross. But I think this was a really great example (even without being tied to a hostel) of how people don’t read reviews before they stay in a place…or at least don’t pay attention to patterns if they are reading them. But don’t follow this trend. There’s a reason they’re there, and ignoring them could literally leave you sleeping with disgusting little bugs. Take the extra 15 minutes to skim through the review section.

Look at What’s Offered

I travel with a towel so having one provided isn’t necessary. BUT staying in a place with no Wifi (yes, those really exist – feel free to gasp in horror) is not an option, since most of the time I’m working while I travel. Different things are important to different people. Make sure you’re not going to be hating your stay because essentials are being left out. Here are a few things I look for on every posting:

  • Breakfast (Is it included?)
  • Lockers (Where can I put my valuables while I’m sleeping?)
  • Accessible kitchen (Can I make my own food if I want to?)
  • Linens/pillows (Some places charge you more for bedsheets.)
  • Wifi/Internet (Non-negotiable for me.)
  • Showers (What’s the situation? Check it out before you assume.)
  • Location (It really is everything…but we’ll talk more about that, below.)

Location, Location, Location

Here’s the deal. If you pay $10/night, but you’re miles away from anything you want to do, you’re going to spend as much time/money on transportation as you would have on getting lodgings closer to the city center. No matter how much travel-know you think you have, ALWAYS google the address of a hostel, before booking. It takes an extra 5-10 minutes to see what’s in the surrounding area where you’re potentially staying, and saves you a whole ton of stress, once you’re there. This is also when you can see how difficult it is to get to it from the station or airport you’re coming into.

Ask Around

I love social media because I get some of my best recommendations from my friends on Facebook and Twitter. Don’t be shy! There are people out there who have been where you’re going, and WANT to share info and help.  Wouldn’t you rather take their advice on a great place to stay, than end up somewhere sketchy? Who knows? They may even have a friend who will take you in for a couple of days (money saving 101).

Lockers

Okay, so it’s not something anyone wants to talk about, but the fact of the matter is that things get stolen, sometimes. It does happen in hostels, and while it’s never happened to me, personally, I’ve definitely heard stories. But before you throw your hands in the air, know that there’s a rather easy solution. Most hostels have some kind of locker system (but again, never assume) where you can store your valuables. Most of these require a cash deposit of around $10 (for a deposit which you get back once you leave), so make sure that you have cash in the currency of the country you’re visiting before you show up at the hostel.

Think Before You Spend

Depending on the hostel, the prices for different rooms can vary drastically. For instance, when I was looking today I noticed that a room with 6 beds was only $1.50 more per night than a room with 8 beds. Okay, let’s do the math. Is it worth $1.50 to have two less people in the room? Hint: The answer is yes. Make sure you’re comparing the prices of the rooms that you’re staying in before idly clicking away at things that you think you need. Do your research and you’ll be rewarded!

There are lots of ways to book hostels, one of my favorites being HostelWorld. I use HostelWorld the most frequently for numerous reasons (mainly because you only have to pay a deposit down when you book, rather than the full amount). One of my favorite hostels I’ve stayed in, though, was one found by a German friend in Berlin. It wasn’t on HostelWorld or any of the other big sites, and maybe that was part of its charm. Oh, and it was $70…for the entire week.

Your turn! What tips do you have to find that perfect hostel? Share your tricks for success in the comments below! 

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.

How To Staycation In Seattle

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It’s a pretty universal fact that Memorial Day Weekend is synonymous with taking camping trips and vacations in celebration. But this year we decided to stay put while everyone else travelled, which I know is shocking. But our weekend actually turned out to be such a great success, that I thought I would share our “staycation” details so that others looking to enjoy the beauty that is Seattle can, as well.

We started off our weekend with the greatest vacation of all: sleep. I think a lot of people underestimate how relaxing sleeping in really can be. So, rather than partying all night long on Friday we watched a quick episode of Vikings, and went to bed early. The best.

Breakfast/Brunch

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If you’re ever looking for the perfect brunch, stop by Morsel on 15th in Ballard. Not only is this spot one of our new favorites, but all of the recipes are made on site, and you can taste the difference. I ate the “Fast Break” (without the cheddar) and it was so good, I literally couldn’t stop eating it. What makes it more than “just” a breakfast sandwich is the homemade tomato jam, which (to be honest) I was skeptical of. Shame on me. It was perfection.

Daytime Activities

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Seattle is actually a great city to spend Memorial Day weekend in, because we host one hell of a party, known as “Folklife.” Not only is this a great place for food, fun and music but it also has a distinct hippy vibe that comes from our ‘cultural heritage.’ Oh, and lots of weed. LOTS. The best part is that it’s hosted right under the Space Needle and runs the entire weekend, which means FREE fun whenever it fits into your schedule.

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Our second activity for the evening was to seek out something that still had cultural significance, and was completely new for both of us. We found this at the 2016 Madaraka celebration at the Experience Music Project (EMP) downtown. We were pretty happy that this event was taking place and that it was right next to where Folklife was. After enjoying some Folklife funk, we headed over to the EMP. For those of you who don’t know, Madaraka is an Kenyan holiday that’s generally celebrated in June, but we were lucky for enough to be at this celebration, which was benefiting One Vibe Africa (which I would encourage all of you to check out!). We absolutely loved the musicians who represented all different parts of Africa and the African/African American communities in Seattle.

dsc_4391One of our favorite acts was Nik West, who is a brilliant funk goddess and was absolutely brilliant. She’s, perhaps, best known for her work with Prince, and she rocked the stage with a tower of purple hair, braided in mohawk. Check out her videos on YouTube for a taste of her amazing sound. I was so in love that after her first performance all I could say was, “That was perfection.”

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Morning

Sunday started out with a work meeting that I had to go to, but afterward we headed over to our local farmers market for some lunch. Then it was off to the movies! We walked over to our local movie theater for a matinee showing complete with popcorn and juice (because we’re old, yo – soda is so 5 years ago). We chose XMen: Apocalypse for our movie, because every weekend deserves a little bit of geek in it. The movie, we decided, gets a solid 6.5 stars. It was fun to go to, but overall nothing too exciting. I was pretty sad with the lack of character development for Storm, who is basically the reason I went to the movie. Such a loss.

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Dinner Time

After a little British Invasion via “The Great British Bake Off” our next stop was for a little taste of Italy, with a new restaurant called Pasta Bella. We’d never been to this restaurant before, but we were looking for something new and pasta sounded like perfection. The restaurant was amazing. Our starter was out of this world. And was an olive, tomato, onion, garlic dip with toasted butter bread. Amazing. I also had some yummy spaghetti and overall the restaurant will definitely be re-visited. And even better was that we snagged a Yelp $20 voucher!

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Movie Night

To top off the night, it was my night to choose a movie and chose to watch Begin Again, which stars Keira Knightly and Mark Ruffalo and was a really fun watch. The story follows a the musical lives of a producer, guitarist, musician, Adam Levine and James Corbin (obv. under different names). It was a really fun movie, and I would definitely recommend watching it, if you guys have the opportunity.

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Relax. We slept in, I got a little bit of work done and that we topped it off with a BBQ with friends. Oh! And I finally finished reading my first Descender volume, which is an amazing comic you should all read. I’m such a firm believer in taking a day of rest, so I was just fine chillin’ out for this day. And there you have it. The end of a perfect weekend. Cheers!