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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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,

5 Tips for Traveling With Food Restrictions

I’m the girl who’s allergic to everything.

This isn’t an exaggeration, I often say that if I had been born in any other century I most certainly would be dead. My lungs are made of glass, my stomach can’t process milk protein and I have a combination of animal, seasonal and food allergies.

You may be asking why I would leave the house, if I’m constantly afflicted by such health conditions. But obviously I do. And obviously I go farther than the city I live in. The real key here is management. It’s not easy, but it’s easier once you’ve been coping with them for 26 years.

When I’m traveling, a big question I get is how on earth do I find things to eat?! Especially when I’m in a country where I don’t speak the language, it can be hard to navigate my food allergies, and keep out of hospitals.

Before we start, here’s a list of all the things my sickly self is allergic to.

  • Dairy
  • Soy (technically, but I’m growing out of this one)
  • Shellfish
  • Peanuts (I will actually die)
  • Cantaloupe (true story)
  • Spinach (growing out of this one)
  • Cats
  • Horses
  • Dust, hay, mold, mildew
  • Also. I don’t eat pork (unless it’s insensitive not to)

With all of these restrictions things can get pretty tricky. But here are my top rules for traveling without starving.

Bring Snacks from Home

I never ever ever travel somewhere without around 10 granola bars, a package of beef jerky, almonds and some fruit snacks. Why? Because those three things are packaged, pretty small (since I backpack) and can help me get through a part of the trip where either I don’t want to forage for food, or I literally cannot find anything. I’m also a huge fan of bringing fruit and vegetables on flights to a place. I have lots of other healthy eating tips on my blog post: 5 Ways to Eat Healthy When Traveling

Don’t Eat

You’re might be thinking, “Haha Emilee, you’re so funny.” Which I am (duh). But I’m actually not joking about this one. I really limit the number of meals that I have while I’m traveling because food is not the focus of my travels. That being said, I realize that this isn’t the same for everyone. Some people travel just for the food. But if I can score a hefty breakfast at my hostel then I’ll try to make it to an early dinner (with just light snacks), cutting down the number of meals I have to “figure out.”

Go for the Basics

Every country has bread. This might sound like a no-brainer, but every country has their genius in each country that put together some grain, water and yeast (or even without yeast) and baked it. You know what else each country has? Fruit. Vegetables. Meat (although be careful with marinades and seasonings).
The point of this smart-assery is that if you stick to the basics, you can avoid having problems with the food that you’re eating. For me, I know that dairy is a problem, but I also know that I’m not going to find dairy in a banana. Sticking to the basic food groups, with just a little bit of experimentation, can help to cut out the risk of problems.

Research

That being said, nobody wants to live off of bananas and bread for weeks on end, so research the country you’re visiting and see what food they are known for. If you can find an ingredient list (which you probably can #Google), then you’ll be that much closer to knowing it’s something that you can eat. DO NOT assume that people in other countries are going to know, or care, about your allergies. You might find someone, somewhere, but I spent an entire year living in France trying to convince anyone that dairy allergies are real, so good luck.

Be Prepared

I am deathly allergic to peanuts. Like I will die if I eat them. So it’s important for me to bring along medication or my EpiPen, if I’m traveling to somewhere where this might be a problem. Western Europe isn’t really as much of an issue. But let’s say that I wanted to go to Thailand. Or as I like to call it, the land where Emilee will never go because she doesn’t want to die. In that case, I would definitely have Benadryl with me, as well as my EpiPen, in case something went south. It never hurts to be over prepared, but can cost you big if you don’t take these things into consideration.

On the flip side, know what you CAN eat. Coming from the U.S. I have access to a ton of different food options, so when I travel I can have somewhat of an idea of what I can have. For instance, Indian food works great for me because most of it is non-dairy, and they don’t really use peanuts, and rarely use pork. If I can find an Indian restaurant I’m pretty good to go.

What about you? What are your tips for getting around food restrictions? Leave them in the comments, below! 

Unicorn Horns and Dinosaur Tales: Adventures in Edinburgh, Scotland

In the land of unicorns, I needed a miracle. Two days ago I flew into Scotland and it has been such a relaxing and rejeuvenating time here. The first time I came to Edinburgh everything was kind of a whirlwind, so this time I switched things up to give it one more chance; different travel situation, different hostel, different part of town. I’m so glad I did because everything has been amazing.
To start things off, my hostel literally looks like I’m staying in 221B Baker Street, which of course makes me very happy. The carpet is gloriously red pepper red with beautifullly intricate floral wallpaper and red velvet curtains to the sides of each room’s windows. Every time I go up or down stairs there’s just a sort of magic that happens as I walk up the original (stunningly beautiful) spiral staircases. This hostel was advertised as “not a party hostel”and I’m so happy I jumped on that boat asap. The reception closes at 10pm. The common room closes at 10pm. And pretty much all of the lights on our residental street are out by 10pm.

This means that getting a goodnight’s rest is a lot easier. Although I’ve been fighting jet-lag more this trip than I usually do. This morning was the first “normal night of sleep.” And that means I went to bed at  9pm and woke up at 3:30am. Solid.

But I do feel much better, today. When I first flew into Edinburgh I checked into my hostel and then pretty much immediately went to  bed for 10 hours. It was a riveting day. By the time I woke up, it was 10pm and the entire world had shut down, so I spent some time online, then went back to sleep.

Yesterday was much more eventful, and brings me back to my need for a miracle.

The morning that I left Dublin I found out that my phone had stopped charging, but after trying a different cord it finally started. Which left me with a problem. How was I supposed to charge my phone? The obvious answer was that I wasn’t going to be able to, since I couldn’t take the working cord with me. So when I got to Edinburgh I bought a new one, thinking my problems were solved. Why are problems never easily solved, while traveling?

The cord didn’t work.

And since my phone is not only a communicative device, but something I use for music and photos while traveling, I was pretty upset. So I just left it plugged in the wall while I pouted, praying for a miracle (aka PLEASE CHARGE!). After a couple of minutes I saw that the battery had raised 4%. But there wasn’t a charging symbol on the phone. Weird. I checked back a while later and it had gone up a couple more – cool! Relief washed over me, but when I checked back an hour later it had only gone up 1%. Yeah, 1.

The moral of this story is be more specific in what you wish for. I got my miracle, my phone is charging, but at  rate of 1- 5% per hour. Yep. This is real life. In context, my phone is almost 4 years old and so it was time for a new one, but I was hoping to make it through this trip before shelling out for one. The phone had other plans.

Other than the phone crisis of 2017, yesterday was a lovely day. Scotland has been completely sunny (if windy) since I’ve been here and it has been glorious. Snow is on the forecast, but I’m hoping it won’t be enough to delay my flight out to Copenhagen tomorrow.

Yesterday I continued a project I started in Dublin, where I meet someone for coffee/tea in every city I go to. This has proven (already!) to make this trip amazingly more enjoyable and I definitely plan on writing up a blog post on the amazing women I’ve met. I already feel so inspired by them and I know you will, too!

Pre my tea session I got terrifically lost trying to find a rather obvious statue of Sherlock Holmes. I’m not going to play coy here, I literally walked right past it. And while I can probably partially blame that on the jet-lag I think it’s also safe to say that I “saw but did not observe” my surroundings.

I did finally find the statue, after stopping in for a cup of tea at a literal hole in the wall coffee shop, and it was such a great feeling of accomplishment. If I had had mortime I would have loved to stop in at the Conan Doyle pub across the street, as well. I would also like to note how much I love that I can just order “a cup of tea” and everyone knows what I want, here. No fusions, no ice. Just a cup of tea (meaning black tea for those of you who are wondering what on earth I’m spouting on about).

Post my meeting with a lovely fellow traveller I stopped in at the National Museum of Scotland, which is just as impressive as it sounds. Good grief. I only had an hour and a half to go through, but I have a feeling I could have easily spent days in there and still have not fully seen the whole thing. My favorite parts that I did see, however, were the exhibits on the history of Scotland (which was basically just me fangirling over historical events that happen in Outlaner), the fashion exhibits (because I love clothes and I love stitchwork more than anything) and the natural history part of the museum, which was filled with animals that were stuffed and a t-rex skeleton that reminded me of Night at the Museum. Also it was absolutely free to visit, which is a trend that makes me extremely in love with Europe and extremely dissatified with American museums. I just don’t think people should have to pay an arm and a leg to learn about the history of their country, or art. End of rant.

I’m really lucky, this trip, because I’m staying on the other side of what’s called “The Meadows” (#creative) which is exactly what it sounds like, but is also the most serene thing ever. I love seeing miles of green every time I walk back to my hostel, and I love that there are acres of green between me and the tourist bustle of where I was staying last time. All in all I’ve very happy to be staying where I am.
Today I’m taking an adventure up to The Highlands of Scotland, which is probably going to melt my heart, I’ll be so in love with everything. They’re not for everyone, but I absolutely love bus tours around countries. With a good book and an insatiable curiousity for history, they’re one of my favorite things to do.

Have YOU been to Edinburgh (or Scotland)? I’d love to hear any fun stories or things you saw that made you love (or hate) the place. Comment below and share your story! (Like really, I wanna hear all about it.)

What I Pack for a Two Week Trip (Winter)

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Something I love about backpacking is there is no “right” way to do it. You do what works for you. You use the pack that works for you. You go where yuo want to go, and you pack what you want to pack. This blog is definitely not guide of how to be successful at backpacking, in the strict sense of the word. All I can do is tell you about what has made me successful, in my travels. That being said, I thought I would let you all in on what I’m traveling with. The key to packing successfully, when it comes to backpacking, is to remember 3 rules:

1. There are needs and then there are wants. Go with the needs.

2. Going monocromatic means creating more diversity in your outfits (really!).

3. Things seem much more disposable when every pound is strapped to your back for days.

Once again this is not the “how to guide” for success. But here’s what I have in my pack on this trip, so you can have an idea of what I bring when I go on a two week long backpacking trip.


Clothing: 

1 Puffer Vest

7 Pairs of Underwear: I usually pack half the amount of the number of days I’ll be gone…but obviously that’s for trips 2 weeks and less.

Two Tank Tops

2 Bras

3 Pairs of Wool Socks

5 Sweaters

1 Hoodie

1 Pair of Pajama Bottoms

2 Pairs of jeans

1 Dress

1 Pair of Insulated Tights

1 Rain Jacket

1 Wool Wrap around Poncho: So many uses! From being cold on the plane, to needing an extra layer over your bed to having  a great way to change up your outfits.

1 Scarf: Originally I packed 2 but I’d rather buy a new one as a souvenir and onlybring one on the trip.

Earmuffs: It’s supposed to be 17 degrees in one of the cities I’m visiting.

1 Rain Jacket

1 Puffer Jacket

1 Pair of flip-flops: For shower/easy access.
1 Pair of TOMS boots


Accessories: 

Phone

Umbrella

Camera

NeckPillow

Canvas Bag: These fold up tiny, but can be used for groceries and as a purse, when you don’t want to trek around carrying your whole pack.

Book: I know this isn’t exactly sensible for weight reasons, butI really like having something that’s not dependant on wifi or battery life. There’s also always the option of leaving it in a hostel, if you finish it on the trip

Rain cover for my pack

Eye Mask: Because there’s nothing like getting awoken at 4am by your hostel roommate.

 

Toiletries: 

Makeup/ makeup wipes

Mini conditioner, face wash

Earplugs

All the Chapstick

2 Tea bags

Sunglasses

Hand Warmers

Mini deoderant, toothpaste, toothbrush

Travel size laundry detergent (dry)

Matches/First Aid Kit

Whistle and Grapling Hook

Mini Case of Advil

Disposable razor, nail clippers, tweezers

Washcloth

Travel Towel

 

Electronics: 

Adapters for each country

Tablet

Keyboard: I have a keyboard that connects via bluetooth to my tablet. It’s super light, hot pink and my favorite thing ever.

Charging cords for everything…and I mean everything

Extra batteries

Mini flashlight

 

What are some things that you love to travel with? Comment below with your “must haves”!

Why I Stopped Lying about being American when I Travel

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When I was a kid we spent every Memorial Day Weekend at a magical lake. Okay, so the lake wasn’t magical, but the memories I have there, are. Three whole days were filled to the brim with canoeing, archery, finding newts and beaver dams and building “survival fires.”

But one of the best memories I have from those trips, happened at the end. It was a tradition we called, “Stone Soup.” You might have been told the story when you were a kid, or been read the book, but in case you’re not aware of the tale, here’s a recap:

Once upon a time there was a boy who came to a village, seperated by differences. He promised the villagers he could make a soup that would amaze and astound them, because he had a magic stone. Since he was a stranger, and they had trust issues, they thought about kicking him out of the town. But they were kinda sorta also bored from village life, so magic sounded like a welcome distraction. So…they let him try out his magic, and probably whispered some threats about what would happen if he didn’t live up to his promises (but they wouldn’t put that in a children’s book, now would they?).

Anyhoo, he told the villagers that the only way the magic would work is if he had the right ingredients. Those went something like this: vegetables, meat, spices, flour etc. 

Sound familiar? Yeah, those are all the ingredients people use for soup. 

But the villagers weren’t so bright, so they each offered up what they had, and threw it in the pot, and they were amazed by the bubbling, beautiful soup that came out of all of his efforts. 

The point isn’t that the boy was kind of a fraud. It’s that, when everyone comes together, and brings what they have, magic happens. When I was a kid, this meant making some pretty delicious soup.

Now, as an adult, I kind of feel this way about hostels. I know, I know, that was a jump. But hear me out.

When I get to a hostel, I literally have no idea who I’m going to meet. I’ve been coming to the hostel I’m in right now for over 3 years, and the experiences have never once been the same. For instance, this time I’m up writing at 3am, because jet-lag is a monster that’s trying to ruin my life.

Yesterday was the first day of my backpacking trip (#Europe2017) and last night I got to talk to some of the girls in my hostel room. I’m a pretty strong introvert, but I absolutely love meeting new people when I travel. Two of the girls in my room are from South America, and one is from Mexico.

I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t tension when she when she found out I was American, and I said,”We’re neighbors!” Because there definitely was.

As we talked more, though, we figured out we had a lot in common. Like we’re both hostel jumpers on the second act of our twenties. We both like going to bed early. We like to laugh at drunk people on pub crawls, rather than being the drunk people. And we both love to travel.

Travel brings people together. It’s the “magic stone” in the pot of life that requires nothing except that you contribute an open mind, and your own experiencs. It’s amazing to think back on the people I’ve met, even in this one hostel. People from literally all over the world who are brought together to learn, laugh and make some (sometimes embarassing) memories.

This is also the reason I’ve decided not to lie and tell people I’m Canadian on this trip. I know, you might snort thinking,”Why would she lie?” Well, little ducks, it’s because not all Americans are the golden children we wish they could be. And Canadians are hella chill. Seriously. I could hug the whole country.

Despite it being a pretty easy thing to pull off, because my accent sounds pretty similar, (especially to people with English as a second language), I think it’s more important than ever for me to say I’m American.

Why?

Because the reality is that our country has showed the world a very dark side of itself. And while I know that we can spit quotes about majorities, the reality of the situation is that the rest of the world is not exactly thrilled with our choices. Heck, I’m not exactly thrilled.

That being said, I really do think it’s so important for Americans who travel to claim their country (and yes, I know I’m not the only one who’s lied). It’s important for us to show people that Americans are not represented by the hate they see in media.

It’s important for us to take time to laugh and talk and make weird secret handshakes with people from all over the word. Because the reality is, you could be the only American they ever meet. Think about that for a second.

You represent your entire country. Obviously not all of the time, but I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to say it’s probaby more often than you think.

In each country I’m visiting, this trip, I’m making it my goal to sit down with someone who lives there, to just talk about life. That might not sound groundbreaking. But if you can change someone’s life and the lens they view the world through, I’d say that’s pretty huge.

So take time to listen, and take time to tell your story. More now than ever. Because you might never know the impact that late night bunkbed chats in hostel rooms might have.

 

Going it Alone: A Letter To The Solo Exploress

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I wrote this letter about 3 years ago when I had just started to travel solo. I was still so uncertain of how big a role travel, and backpacking, would play in my life. To be honest, the letter is as much a letter to myself, as it is to other women travelers. Since 2013 I’ve backpacked around 10 more countries, taken numerous trips within the U.S. and I’m still madly in love with “getting out there.” But it hasn’t come without feelings of doubt, or skepticism from others. It felt appropriate, coming up on the 3 year anniversary of  my blog, to post this one again since it still rings so true, today.

Dear Exploress,

In your life there are going to be people who tell you what you “should” do. In most cases, it won’t be with negative intentions or purposeful neglect to your feelings. But, hands placed on your shoulders, concern built in their eyes – they will try. If and when these people find you, I want to give you one piece of advice:

Listen to them.

Listen, ponder, wonder and question every word that spills out of their unassuming mouths – riverbanks trying to contain the flow of your own untamable ambitions. Think about their words. Gnaw on them again and again until you truly understand the marrow of what it means to make your own decision. Then, throw them out. For they are of no further use to you.

As you plan and scheme and chart the direction of your own decision making, remember the words of those who doubted you. Remember the people who told you that you couldn’t or shouldn’t; every person who tried to pour into your mind their own doubts and limitations. And as you think on these, also remember that you are a conqueror, more than able, and born to be set apart.

Then, take a step. Fall with the freedom of knowing you have weighted the reasons, excuses and deliberations; and they have been found wanting. Walk forward and be guided by the northern star of your own intellect and courage. For, remember, castles are seldom built by staying in our own valleys; dare to dream of venturing to the highest hills.

Remember who you are: a woman fully competent, fully capable and stubborn to a fault. Plan. Plan like you’ve never planned before. Spend every minute researching the world you’re about to travel into, so that when you step outside your front door you can throw the guidebook to the side, and enjoy your experiences fully.

Make friends with everyone. And I mean everyone. Bus drivers, taxi drivers, hotel staff, baristas, post office workers, random people you meet in museums and that mom with a stroller at the bus stop. Keep your ears open, your mind clear and your possibilities endless.

Experience the culture. Don’t ever block yourself off in the comfort of a hotel room or the emptiness of an American chain restaurant. Eat the local food (I don’t care how gross it sounds), go dancing – always go dancing, look for events in local papers and billboards. No matter how tired you are, remember:  You only need 8 hours of sleep, and you have a TV at home. Get outside! Parks, museums, art galleries – go.

Write down everything and send yourself (home) postcards with notes of encouragement. Remember, you won’t be here forever, but the memories will. Remind yourself of your accomplishments, so when you’re feeling lost a week after getting back, you have a piece of mail to remind you that it was only one passport stamp, and there are many more adventures to come.

And last? Stop making excuses.

If you have the ability to hold a job, you have the ability to save money. If you have the ability to save money, no matter how long it takes, you have the ability to buy a ticket to somewhere and go on an adventure. Be smart with your traveling. Challenge yourself to save as much money beforehand so you don’t have to worry about it when you’re exploring.

You are a woman, not incapable. You are an Exploress, not unable. You have intellect, an open mind and a heart that loves – use them. And while you’re standing there, looking at something more beautiful than you could have imagined, meeting people who open your mind to more than you could have grasped before – breathe; deeply and slowly. Remind yourself, “In this moment, I am happy.” And then, as you start to walk toward the beauty that’s before you, remember all those people who told you it couldn’t be done – and smile.

This post was originally published on The Exploress blog September 27th, 2013

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! 

5 Ways To Eat Healthy When Traveling

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Dublin is the starting point for a lot of my travel stories. And when it comes to learning how to eat right, as a traveler, it’s no different. Before last year I had stumbled around the globe, trying to guess how to check off my food pyramid while traveling. But it wasn’t until I was staying at a hostel in Dublin, that I found out the secret of doing so. One of the things that I’ve always loved about staying at hostels is the exchange of ideas and stories. And amidst the buzz of knowledge I met some pretty awesome people, last spring.

Last year I spent a full two weeks in Dublin, and I learned a lot about cooking in a hostel setting from some of the pro-hostel guests (those who live in the hostel) – starting when a friend came out of the kitchen with a full on salmon dinner and vegetables. Australians.

But it wasn’t until this morning, while I was reading a Facebook post from one of my friends that I realized what a global (pun. ha. ha) a problem this is. Eating healthy while traveling in HARD! So, I thought I would share some ideas and tips that have personally helped me to travel a whole lot healthier.

1.Research Beforehand: Here’s the deal. If you’re staying in a hostel, or couchsurfing – check out what cooking resources you’ll have accessible to you. Some of the best memories I have from Couchsurfing have been around making meals with my host. Don’t shy away from asking to cook a meal (even if it’s simple)! Hostels should tell you online whether they’re equipped with a full, partial, or no kitchen. Plan accordingly. The key is to not be surprised when showing up. If you know what you’ll have accessible, you can make the most of those resources. If you’re staying in a hotel, don’t think you’re off the hook, either. Usually hotels will have refrigerators that allow you to preserve your grocery finds, and you can still plan out healthy non perishable foods to have on hand.

2.Go To Grocery Stores: This was some of the first advice I received when I set off on my first backpacking adventure. Not only is it important for eating healthy, but it will also save you a LOT of cash, in the end. Eating out is expensive, and while it’s definitely fun sometimes you should also be aware that the local grocery probably has some great healthy options that will save you money and keep you on the path to healthy travel. *Pro Tip: Leave your non-perishable food in “shared food” spaces, rather than throwing it out when you leave. Help out the next hostel traveller!

My General Shopping List:

Fresh fruit/veggies
Meat bought on a daily basis
Soup
Salad in bulk
Oatmeal
Bread bought daily (rather than buying a whole loaf, which I know I would eat, I buy rolls etc.)
Eggs
Pasta/Pasta Sauce
Some kind of preserved meat like salami
Nuts (Almonds, most of the time)
Granola Bars
Butter (not to go crazy, but because I like a little with my breakfast)

3.Cook For Yourself: Look up some recipes, and find some favorites that will work well without a ton of ingredients. A lot of hostels will have basics (oil, salt, pepper, sugar) but I wouldn’t count on anything else. Something great is recipes that include throwing all ingredients in a wrap of foil and putting it in the over. Easy clean up, easy eating and usually they don’t require a whole lot of seasoning (but are oh, so yummy!). Try some of these tasty options, next time you travel.

4. Invest In Some Tupperware And Ziplock bags: Here’s the deal. From the time you step on the plane, you’re going to have people pushing terrible food options in your face (think airplane food – don’t do it). The key is to have a better, yummier and healthier option, instead. I usually take 3-4 ziplocked snacks on the plane with me including cut up veggies, pretzels, dried fruit (or natural fruit leather), turkey jerky, almonds and a bottle of water (fill it up after security). I also always take a water bottle and some bags of healthy snacks with me while I’m walking around or on tours. The biggest temptations happen when you’re FAMISHED and not thinking straight.

5. Change Your Mindset: Here’s the thing. You’re never going to be able to do something you constantly tell yourself you’re no good at doing. So change it up! Realize that you’re entitled to eat right, and that just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you’re entitled to “break the rules.” Healthy living isn’t a punishment, it’s a privilege. And eating healthy while you’re traveling is a reward you’re entitled to.