The Perfect Travel Bag | The Otto From R. Riveter

On Saturday I got back from a two week backpacking trip through Western Europe and Northern Africa and throughout that time I developed a love connection with my newest bag, The Otto, from R. Riveter. Now, I am an ambassador for R. Riveter, but they did not sponsor this post, nor did they pay me to say beautiful things about them. This is, plain and simple, my honest opinion on a bag I think that every travel blogger should own.

Over the past five years of traveling I’ve definitely developed a routine for what works best for me. I have my favorite adaptor, my favorite travel document carrier, and my favorite pack. But I’ve never been able to pin down my favorite travel bag (you know, the one that goes UNDER the seat when you fly). And believe me, I’ve tried to find something that works. If you know me, you know I go through clothes and accessories like my life depends on it, so this is probably the sixth or seventh bag I’ve tried. Luckily, I’ve finally found something I can count on. Here’s why:

Heathrow Airport | London, England

The leather handles are one of my favorite feature with this bag because not only does it come with hand straps, but it also comes with a cross-body strap. This is pretty essential because when I already have a 30 lb pack on my back, the last thing I want is to be carrying a cross-body bag with more stuff in it, and when I’m riding the metro during rush hour (without my pack) the last thing I want is to have to hold on to handles.

Stonehenge | England

When I travel I generally pack very minimal, in regards to clothing. I go for muted colors and a few accessories that can get me through photos without looking like I’ve been cut and pasted into each place. It’s really important to me, therefore, to have a bag that shows quality and simplicity at the same time. The Otto is the perfect balance of chic and also something people notice.

Windsor Castle | England

Size really does matter when it comes to having the perfect travel bag, and The Otto wins this category in spades. The elongated rectangular shape is perfect for putting books, tablets, and other necessities in and I found this so helpful during day trips where I had to have everything I would need for 11 hours in one bag.

Natural History Museum | London, England

When you’re buying  a bag you want it to fit into every part of your lifestyle, and that includes being able to transform as a beautiful day bag for work, to a travel accessory fit for Indiana Jones.

The real question, of course, is how much can you ACTUALLY fit in this thing? Well, for science, I decided to try it out. As you can see, there’s quite a lot that can go in, including (but not limited to) my tablet, a novel, my passport, a water bottle, chapstick, my travel organizer, currency from four different countries, napkins, snacks and postcards. Whew! But honestly, one of the best features of this bag is that it comes with a sturdy zipper to seal all of this madness away. Especially when it comes to stowing it under airplane seats (which I did seven times during this trip), it’s invaluable to know your valuables aren’t going to be sliding back to row 33 during take-off.

Casablanca, Morocco

The pockets are another beautiful, and functional, things about this bag. And let me tell you how much I love beauty and functionality. There are two pockets on the outside of the bag that hug the shape so if you put little items like bus tickets in them they’re not going to blow away. In addition there are two slot pockets on the inside (where I kept my keys, chapstick and other little bits and pieces) and a zipper pocket that stretches almost the length of the back of the bag. This zip pocket I actually used as a wallet for change while I was traveling because I never travel with an actual wallet (story for another time).

Girona, Spain

Stylish, dependable and made by military spouses, there really isn’t a way to lose on this bag. I’m so happy to have mine for this and for all of my future expeditions. It really is the perfect travel companion. Until next time!

Girona, Spain

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The Process: Finding Yourself In The Pursuit Of Perfect

Lately I’ve been talking with some friends about the importance of process.

Let’s be honest, as Millenials we’re pretty used to instant gratification. We enjoy products we never see created, from places we’ve never been, made by people we’ll never meet.

It’s not our fault—we were born into this world. But it can become really dangerous when we start to believe that things are born into existence without any type of struggle.  

When people approach me asking why traveling is “so easy” for me, I have to sometimes stop and wonder. Should I talk more about the horror stories that have happened while I’ve traveled? It’s so easy to see the results of my adventures, without seeing the very real blood, buckets of sweat, and actual tears it takes to get those pretty Instagram photos.

But nobody wants to hear about the struggle of being robbed, or losing your credit card, or being sexually harassed in a city. Nobody wants to hear about getting horribly lost or running out of money.

But, here’s the thing: All of that mess? It’s real. The struggle is real (I can’t believe I just worked that into an actual blog post).

Here’s the good news: It’s an invaluable foundation to build dreams on. It teaches us balance, it teaches us discipline, and it teaches us how to sustain success when we reach it.

Reality check: It’s usually not a fun process.

But you NEED to go through those years of making terrible mistakes. Think of it like high school (or college, for me). Remember trying out those weird piercings and ridiculous outfits? THAT is what helped you learn. Without that process, how would you ever know what was you?

My biggest piece of advice: Don’t let people push you into one mold. Trying to fit will only break off the most valuable parts of who you are.

For me this looks something like:

  • Being okay with supporting local indie musicians, while knowing the words to every Taylor Swift song.
  • Rocking my Nikes while being able to catwalk in five inch heels.
  • Loving Legos, conventions, and comic books while ALSO loving pink, unicorns and glitter (let’s be real, sometimes those two coincide).
  • Refusing to allow people to tell me what I should like based off of my skin color.
  • Being just as proud of my African American heritage as I am of my Native American, Scandinavian, Irish and German.

I travel because I want to…because I NEED to, not because people tell me I should or shouldn’t go somewhere. And guess what? It hasn’t been all fairy dust and roses getting to the point where I can find that balance.

Don’t lose yourself in the pursuit of this imaginary perfect. You are uniquely you, and you’re equipped for more than you know.

Tea Talk 7: Kelsey Robson | PhD Student (Ireland)

Kelsey and I met in college my last year at Seattle Pacific. We lived on the same dorm floor (1st HILL!) and I am more than a little happy to introduce her to y’all. Right now this powerhouse woman is getting her PhD in Ireland (yes, IRELAND) and I love seeing her updates about living in my favorite country. We haven’t been able to meet up any of the times I’ve been in Ireland, but that’s the dream. Cheers to the future on the Emerald Isle! In the meantime, here’s Kelsey:

What started your passion for traveling?

My passion for traveling started with my first big trip. I was 17 and went to India for two months with one of my close friends and her family. The experience was eye opening, not only was the language, landscape, and food different. The entire style of life was something I had never imaged. It made me want to see more, and learn about various perspective and life styles around the world.

What’s one travel tip you think the world should know?

Don’t be scared to change your plans! Give yourself time to explore a new place, meet locals, and ask what they suggested to do. You can get suck in tourist traps easily, and I do enjoy tour and museums. Still my favorite adventures have been ones I haven’t planned.

What’s your favorite cultural habit you’ve picked up (ex. food dishes, lifestyle changes etc.)

Tea and biscuits! In Ireland and the UK people love their tea. I would have never had tea breaks before I moved. Now after a long day sitting down with a cup of tea and a chat is a must!

What would you suggest for other women who are thinking about traveling?

Don’t be scared to do it alone! The fear of traveling alone as a women can be very limiting. Be smart leave contact info for friends and family and make sure you check-in regularly. Traveling alone can be an empowering experience. You will meet more people and gain a sense of independence that is truly freeing.

What’s one failure that you learned a lot from, when it comes to travel?

I feel I fail to stay connected with others back home. It is something I truly struggle with, not from lack of love or caring. I simply get distracted and lose track of time.

I constantly set alarms to make calls and send messages to let people back home know what I am up to and check in on there lives, but it is a weakness I’m constantly trying ton improve.

What’s one fear that you overcame, while traveling?

Change, I’ve always hated change; I become complacent very easily. Now I feel that I crave constant change in my life. The thought of stagnancy now scares me more then constantly moving or traveling to new places.

What is your favorite way to travel (ex. plane, train, automobile?) and why?

Plane, two reasons. I love the fact that you can get on a plane, take a nap and wake up in a completely different place in no time! Also the view! Have you ever seen the sunset while in the air, or flown over the clouds, or seen city lights from above. It’s unreal!

What is one piece of advice that you wish you could give your past self?

Don’t be scared to do what you think is right. Advice given from others, no matter how good hearted, it may not be what is right for you. Sometimes you just need to jump on a plane and go exploring, no matter how impractical!

What is one place at the top of your bucket list that you’d like to visit?

Sicily, Sun, beaches and Italian cuisine, it may be cliché but that sounds like a perfect holiday!

Let’s talk about your current trip! What was your inspiration for your adventure?

I moved to Ireland almost three years ago to study, then stayed to work, with the advantage of being able to travel around Europe easily. Now I recently moved to Northern Ireland for a PhD program. I believe if you are career driven you still have plenty of opportunity to travel the world!
What has been the best/toughest part of your current trip?

Being away form family. I love hanging out with my parents and going to all my cousins birthday parties. But I only get home once or twice a year, its hard to be away from the people you love.

What’s one thing you’ve learned from your current trip?

I’ve learned how to drive on the other side of the road! Sometimes it’s still scary, especially for my passengers, but I’m getting the hang of it! haha

What’s one thing you’ve learned about yourself from this trip?

You learn how strong you are when you are away for long periods of time. I’ve had to learn how to drive, medical systems, education systems etc which is frustrating when it is different from what you know. But you just keep going and realize everything can be resolved in strides.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Don’t wait just do! I find myself over thinking my ‘next trip’ constantly. But sometimes you have to stop over analyzing if it is the right time, take a chance, and explore!

U.S. Cities You Should Definitely Visit | Pittsburgh, PA

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post that contains affiliate links to hotelplanner.com. I received compensation in exchange for writing this blog post, although all opinions are my own. 

I’m a West Coast girl through and through. I love the Pacific Ocean, living in a mountain surrounded city, and celebrating random Scandinavian holidays. But I’m also a huge advocate for exploring your own country. I’ve been to 42 U.S. states, and I’ll definitely be visiting all 50. In the meantime, I’ve started this series to explore other cities I think you should know about. You may have caught my last post about Richmond, Virginia. Today, I’m talking about Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

History

One of the most interesting parts about Pittsburgh is its history of rebellions. Just reading about them made me want to write 10 historical fiction novels. Here are just a few facts:

Whiskey Rebellion: This ain’t no Boston Tea Party, but it’s a great example of how important alcohol was. In 1791, taxes were raised on whiskey to offset the debt from The Revolutionary War. Needless to say, peeps weren’t so happy to see their whiskey targeted by higher taxes, so they fought back. Ultimately, 500 farmers marched against the government, and George Washington himself headed over to calm them down. This rebellion is a defining factor in establishing U.S. political parties.

City of Steel: Starting in the 19th century, Pittsburgh was known for American manufacturing, including the production of iron, brass, tin, and glass. But what really sets Pittsburgh apart is the steel industry, which began in 1875.

Pittsburgh Railway Riots: Right on the tail of steel production were the Pittsburgh Railway Riots. They were a result of the government once again trying to offset debts from the Civil War. These riots were pretty rough, with burning buildings and dead people, but they started planting ideas for the workers’ unions of the future.

Cool Things to Do

As a pretty sassy city in its own right, there are some pretty cool things to do in Pittsburgh. Some of the coolest include:

Andy Warhol Museum: Ready for a splash of culture? The Andy Warhol Museum hosts the largest collection of the artist’s works, and it’s an absolute must if you’re in the area. The museum has everything from saturated prints to hands-on art creation techniques that you can try. Don’t miss out!

Robot Hall of Fame: If you’re geeky like me, then you’ll definitely want this one to be on your radar. It’s located in the Carnegie Science Center’s Roboworld section and home to all types of robots, including C-3PO, Gort, and WALL-E.

Canton Avenue: Did you know that Pittsburgh is home to the steepest street in America? Honestly, since I’m from Seattle, this looks pretty normal. If you want to get a serious workout, then this just might be the spot for you.

Accommodations

If you’re looking for a place to stay in Pittsburgh, try an adorable Airbnb. If you’re in more of a hotel mood, pop over to HotelPlanner Pittsburgh to find amazing spots like the Renaissance Pittsburgh. It was lifted stone by marble stone in 1906, before the invention of the crane. Maybe I’ll see you there!

Why You Should Stop Waiting To Be Happy

When I was in fourth grade I learned the meaning of my name.
My little introvert self was at sleep-away camp, which I distinctly remember hating because I was constantly surrounded by other girls. Well…I loved camp, I just hated the giggly-socialness of pre-teen girls 24/7.

One day, while I was in the camp snack shack, I found a little bookmark that I fell in love with. On the front there was this magnificent floral design (let me tell you how much I love floral designs) and my name, on the top there was a pink braided string, and on the back there was a bible verse. The verse was Proverbs 30:31 and the definition said this:

Emily: “Diligent one.” One who strives. One who is eager to succeed. 

I was pretty happy to find out I was given a strong name. To this day I’m a huge fan of name meanings and giving kids names with a legacy they can grow into. I guess my mom did a pretty good job because I felt like someone had just told me I was actually Wonder Woman. I bought the bookmark from the little shop and kept it in various books for probably close to a decade. Ever since, I’ve done my best to live up to it.

One slight problem. Constantly striving is great for the short-term, but how do you make this into a sustainable lifestyle? How do you keep pressing forward to the next big thing, without having a mental breakdown?

Simple: Find balance.

Not simple: I’m not naturally gifted with the ability to enjoy life.

I know, I know, that doesn’t seem to make sense. But, bear with me. See, I’m a fighter. And while that’s great (sometimes), it also means I’m hot-headed and impulsive and I’ll take a swing even when life is trying to help me. It’s a family curse: mistaking turmoil, for authenticity.

I come from a very hard working family, and it’s a lot to live up to. We were raised being constantly reminded of our family name. It meant something. It still does. Most importantly, we were constantly reminded so we would aspire beyond the limitations of past generations.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not a blog post about not working hard, because I do and I advocate for others to do so as well. BUT. Lately, I’ve been challenged to learn another lesson: How to be kind to myself. Maybe this sounds too full of fluff for you, and maybe you’re like “What does this even have to do with a travel blog!?” but I think it’s really important that you all understand that the girl behind the keyboard is a mess under construction, as much as she is a world traveller and general bad-ass (your words, not mine).

I push myself really hard. And sometimes that’s great, because feeling like you’re moving forward is one of the best feelings in the world. But what if you’re moving forward in the wrong direction? Over the past six months I’ve had to make some really huge decisions and I’ve had to let some really important things in my life go. We’re talking foundation pillars being pulled out of the life I thought I was building. It was rough, and took a lot of tears and prayer to make the decisions.

But here’s the thing. As cliché as it might sound, letting go of those things has allowed my life to be filled with so much more substance. More laughter. More opportunities. More love. More books. More Art. More friendship. Just more.

I’ve always been the type of girl who likes to have a plan. But in the past six months I’ve been challenged to walk by faith, and faith alone. We’re talking, I had no back-up plan. Just the conviction of my heart and a million and a half prayers into my pillow at night. Something please work out. 

And it did. And I can honestly say I’m happier today than I’ve been for over two years. The future is looking bright, I’m regaining the use of my right arm (#crylaughsmile) and I have some absolutely awesome things to share with you guys in the near future.

We’re gonna be okay. Listen to that little voice that tells you what you really should be doing. Chase happiness, and most of all: be kind to yourself. I’ll be here to cheer you on.

U.S. Cities You Should Definitely Visit | Richmond, Virginia

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post that contains affiliate links to hotelplanner.com. I received compensation in exchange for writing this blog post, although all opinions are my own. 

Fun fact: I’ve been to 43 U.S. States!

Another fun fact: I hardly ever talk about it.

I’m a big advocate of traveling within your own country, as much as you do internationally, so I’ve decided to do a mini-series on some of my favorite state capitals. First up? Richmond, Virginia.

Let me tell you a little bit about this beautiful city. I visited back when I was a kid, and even then I remember loving it because of all the history. That’s one thing I wish we had more of on the West Coast. Of course, we have history, but it doesn’t go back as far as the Eastern United States. Here are just a few nuggets about Richmond, VA.

History

  • It’s the third capital city for Virginia, after Jamestown (been there!) and Williamsburg (been there!). Richmond became the capital in 1780.
  • Remember Patrick Henry? Well, his famous speech of, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death,” happened in Richmond!
  • There’s an epic statue that features George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Andrew Lewis, John Marshall, George Mason, and Thomas Nelson Jr.
  • Thomas Jefferson designed the state capitol building! Cool, huh?
  • Pocahontas lived here! That’s right, the princess herself.
  • The first African American governor was from Richmond: Lawrence Douglas Wilder

When I was a kid, I used to be obsessed with colonial America, so I loved popping over to Williamsburg (less than an hour drive), when my family visited Richmond. I honestly don’t think I’ll ever forget Williamsburg. I still have an “E” shaped bar the ironsmith there made for me, on my wall… 16 years later.

Williamsburg was pretty much my favorite thing ever, after reading the Felicity American Girl Doll books.

Cool Things to Do

But enough about the past (but kinda still about the past)! There are tons of cool things to see in Richmond right now.

  • Hollywood Cemetery: I absolutely love cemeteries, and this one should not be missed. Not only does it host amazing architecture, but it also holds 22 Confederate generals, two U.S. Presidents, and six Virginia governors. It’s second only to Arlington National Cemetery in the number of visitors it receives.
  • Central Virginia Highland Games: I’m all about celebrating my Scottish heritage, and I just found out Richmond has Highland Games that are on another level! They include competitions in everything from harp playing to rugby and once upon a time they had a competition for who could keep a ferret in their pants the longest. True story.
  • Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden: The botanical gardens in Richmond are on another level. The gardens stretch over 50 acres, and include a healing garden, a children’s garden, and more varieties of plants than you can count. It’s definitely a must-see.

Accommodations

If you’re looking for a place to stay in Richmond, you could find an adorable Airbnb, or if you’re more in the hotel mood pop over to Hotel Planner Richmond to find amazing spots like Jefferson Hotel, which has hosted five U.S. Presidents (William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, and Franklin D. Roosevelt)! Have a blast in Richmond!

2017 Blogger Recognition Award

I was pretty excited to recently find out I’d received the Blogger Recognition Award from a fellow blogger, Mandi, who pens the brilliant blog Big Tiny Steps. She’s newer to the blogging game, but how awesome for her to find time to encourage and acknowledge other bloggers she loves?! Thank you!

The requirement for this award is that I write up why I started my blog. If you’ve been following along the past few years, you’ll know that the reason I started this whole crazy ball of wax was because I accepted a job working as an au pair in France.

Throughout my pre-au pair experience I blogged about how anxious I was about moving to another country, and then that grew to the pride and struggles and joys and tears of living 5,000 miles from my home city. France was difficult, but having a platform to write down my hopes and fears, and all 7 million emotions I was feeling, made it so much easier. This also became a platform where I could rely on beautiful people to encourage and make me laugh, even on the bad days. It’s always been an interactive experience for me, and I love that. More than anything, travel is something I want to share with those around me. It’s not about me. It was never about me. It’s about sharing experiences so much bigger than myself with a global community.

2 Pieces of Advice:

1. It’s gonna hurt

It’s so hard to keep writing consistently, because life happens and shit (sorry mom) goes down, and you forget to write (or just don’t want to). Do it anyway. If you started a blog because your heart was screaming for you to write (which I’ve found is often the case) then it’s your obligation to yourself, and the universe, to put pen to paper…or fingers to type keys. Set up a schedule. For instance, when I first started off I blogged twice per week NO MATTER WHAT. It took me a while to figure out what day was best for my audience, but once I got the hang of it, things went better. I’d say it took me about 6 months to get “comfortable” about blogging consistently, and to be honest I still struggle with it, occasionally.

2. HAVE FUN!

Finished is better than done. Your blog posts do not need to be perfect. Not saying you should throw unedited work up on your blog, necessarily, but you don’t need to wait until you’re “ready” to post. Especially if you’re a perfectionist, like me, you’ll probably never reach that point. Just hit the publish button. More than likely people reading just really want to hear from you.

Nominations

Here are my nominations for blogs that I think exemplify this award, whether that be because I admire their bravery in what they write, love their style of writing/blogging, or just can’t wait to see what they post next!

  1. Samantha Deubel Photography
  2. Rise Up Mamas
  3. Samantha Farquharson
  4. Joy Filled Wander
  5. Traveling The World Solo
  6. Very Hungary Explorer
  7. Celeste Noche
  8. 22 Stars
  9. The Wandering Ginger
  10. The Bearded Genderqueer
  11. Katie Geluso
  12. Camino Casamel
  13. Life of Fairy Tales
  14. Mikayla Jane Travels
  15. Madison McGhee 

Now that you’ve been nominated— pay it forward, and spread the love to your favorite bloggers!

  • Include who nominated you and a link to their blog.
  • Nominate 15 other bloggers for the award.
  • Write a story about how and why you started your blog.
  • Give new bloggers two pieces of advice.
  • Provide a comment on each nominees blog to tell them about the award with a link to this post.