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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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,

7 Days And Counting: UK/Ireland Backpacking Trip 2015

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Quick updates seem to be the theme of my life, right now, but I want to catch all of you lovely people up with the chaotic beauty that my life is right now!

I absolutely CANNOT believe that it’s Christmas next week! When did that happen!?

Another thing that I can’t believe is that I’m going to be flying out to Europe next week. It’s absolute madness. With all of the chaos of changing jobs and holiday busy, I’ve basically just felt like this trip is an oncoming train that I’m about the get hit with. But that’s okay, I like the excitement.

Okay, so I haven’t really told you all very much about this trip (mainly because I haven’t really prepared AT ALL for the trip itself). I’ve been trying to book places to stay in my spare time, bugging friends in the UK/Ireland to help me book places and generally trying to piece together as many things as possible, in the meantime.

One of the best things I can think of, though, is going to be all of the spare time I’ll have for reading. It’s going to be insane. I have an 8 hour layover in Washington DC on my way to London, and then I get to spend Christmas night in Heathrow airport, waiting for my 6am bus because drumroll the ENTIRE city of London shuts down for Christmas and boxing day.

Honestly, there are a lot of things I love about Europe, but the country/city closures are not one of them. I love being able to go to the grocery store on Sundays, in Seattle. In fact, I think I purposely go shopping on Sundays, now, as some sort of completely ineffective way to rebel against “the man.”

I am really looking forward to the holiday, though. I can’t even believe that it’s coming up so quick! Here’s what our itinerary looks like, for now:

12/25-12/26: London

12/26-12/27: Edinburgh, Scotland (Be still my heart.)

12/27-1/1: Dublin, Ireland (I can’t even. I’m SO EXCITED!)

1/1-1/2: Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare!)

1/2 – 1/3: London

Overall, you can see where the majority of my heart/time will be (#IRISHTILIDIE), but I’m so excited to get to see some awesome new places along the way, as well!

Here are some of the suggestions we’ve had for our time in Edinburgh (feel free to add suggestions in the comments section, below!):

  • Edinburgh Castle, Royal Mile
  • Holyrood Palace and Abbey, Royal Mile (with a walk up to the top of Arthur’s Seat for a great view)
  • The Grassmarket for food
  • The National Gallery
  • The National Portrait Gallery
  • Cramond Island (get the 41 bus from Prince’s St and ask the driver to let you know when to get off for Cramond Village. Make sure you check the tide times so that when the tide is out you can walk across the causeway to the island in the middle of the estuary. It’s amazing! Suggested lunch in the cafe in the harbour for Cullen Skink (fish broth) and homemade bread, Scottish food).

I did want to throw out an inquiry to the world of travel, though. I’m going to be in Dublin for quite some time and I’ve done most of the “tourist” things to do, so what are your suggestions!? What have I missed? Literary stops? Old libraries/bookshops? Geekery? Art? Let me know in the comments section, below!

Having this trip to look forward to has really helped me along with the transition of moving jobs and with getting settled in Seattle, in general. There’s something that really settles my mind about knowing that I have a plane ticket to the UK/Ireland. It hasn’t mattered, over the past months that I wasn’t going to be going back for months. What mattered was that I was going to be going back! And I couldn’t be more excited as I set off with two of my closest friends.

 

When Life Pelts You With Lemons…

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I won’t apologize this time, for the weeks I’ve been silent on my blog. Mainly because life has been serving me a platter of lemons, which I’ve had to skillfully squeeze and mix into some very spontaneous lemonade. To make a long story short, I got laid off from my job a couple of weeks ago and it was extremely abrupt and unexpected. The result was buckling down into “go mode” and starting to figure out how I would pay my tribute to the student loan gods (among other bills etc.).

I’m very happy to say that things have worked out well enough that my bills are covered, and although there is a pay cut involved with now supporting myself – I am considerably happier in my new job and more inspired to create, write and wake up in the morning.

So, what else have I been up to?

Well we relaunched our beautiful website The Exploress, which was a lot of collaboration and a lot of hard work – but we did it! I’m so proud of my beautiful team of writers and photographers and I absolutely love being able to work alongside them to tell their stories of travel and adventures.

And speaking of adventures – in just a couple of weeks, I’ll be headed out on my very own (with two of my best friends!) backpacking adventure around England, Ireland and Scotland. I’m so happy I could cry. Our itinerary consists of four stops, at the moment. We’ll be starting out in London, jumping on a bus up to Edinburgh (no trains – thanks boxing day), flying over to Dublin and then flying over to Stratford Upon Avon (where Shakespeare is buried!).

This trip is coming at the perfect time, and I’m so happy for it to be a bit of respite from my American life. It has been kind of hard to get back in the swing of fast-paced crazy U.S. life, but I’m doing my best and overall I’d say I’m pretty happy with where I’m at, right now.

I’ve started a new job, which is remote, so I’m working today from a beautiful coffee shop near my house. I’m working on social media and marketing with them – which is a bit of a dream come true, because I get to write and come up with marketing schemes. I love being able to take both branches of work and really dedicate myself to the overall mission of the company.

Oh! And I do have a couple of upcoming trips, apart from my UK one, that I’m really excited about:

I recently took a road trip to the Olympic peninsula and that was both beautiful and balming for my soul. You can see some of those lovely pictures below. And NEXT weekend I’m taking a snowy adventure to Leavenworth! I’m so excited for so much beautiful snowy goodness.

Oh! And I’ll be headed over to San Francisco, for a week, in January! So really the whole travel life style is working beautifully, at the moment. The thing I’ve learned about travel is that if you make it a priority (and better, if people know you’re the type to jump at the opportunity), the adventures will come to you. I promise to keep up more on the blog, since the storm seems to have calmed for the moment *knock on wood*. Especially while I’m backpacking – I plan on smothering you all with stories and whimsy about my adventures.

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Plane Ticket, December 2015: And The Winner Is….

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Today I’m challenging myself to write a blog post during my lunch break. It has been way too long since I’ve really updated you all on my travel life, but never worry – there is a trip in the works!

As you all know, I’m quite the solo traveler. I love to travel alone, and I think I may always, BUT there is a time and a place for changing one’s habits. This time the time is December 24th, and the place is – of course, IRELAND.

That’s right, I’m heading back to my favorite Island and this time I’m bringing my crew of two – two of my very close friends, with me! I’m so excited for this upcoming adventure for so many reasons.

  1. I get to show them all of my favorite spots in Ireland, London (and maybe even elsewhere – who knows!?)
  2. I get to introduce my two lives – European and American together and my friends in the UK/Ireland will get to meet my two best friends!
  3. It’s going to be awesome. Honestly. I’m so excited.

The plane tickets have already been bought and now all that’s left is for us to wait a few months! I honestly could not think of anything more perfect than spending Christmas in London and New Years in Dublin.

Honestly, when I found out this adventure was even a possibility my heart felt like it started to beat for the first time in three months. The past months have been such a whirlwind of crazy. I’ve had two jobs and three houses to live in and I’m finally ready, I feel, for things to settle where they are for a bit of time.

It was icing on the cake for me to find out I would be spending the Christmas holiday season with some of my favorites!

Have any suggestions for where we should go!? Message me with your favorite spots in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and London and we’ll try to make it over!

In the meantime, here are some of my favorite pictures from Ireland – I’m so excited to go back!

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See you soon, Ireland!

5 Things I’m Happy I Paid Extra For

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If you like to travel smart, like I do (aka with basically no money) then you probably want to be smart about the little “extras” you buy when you travel. It can be really hard to know what you should pay the additional price for when you’re out traveling the world, so I thought I would let you all in on some of the little somethings that I paid extra for, and that I didn’t regret! Ok, ready? Let’s go!

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Walking Tour, Berlin: 

This was the highlight of my Berlin trip. Since I was traveling in an off season it was just me, one other girl and our Australian tour guide, who was amazing. The tour I took was about the Nazzi regime in Berlin, and was fascinating. I don’t know how my tour guide remembered all of the 3 HOURS worth of information, but he did. He also was the one who clued me in on the football match happening the next day, for which I am forever grateful. I just never would have known the history around the city without taking this tour, and I’m so happy I decided to do it! Oh, and the tour was FREE! (But, of course, you can tip your tour guide) Look for the blue umbrella!

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Headset, Van Gogh & Ruks Museum, Amsterdam: 

I normally don’t pay the additional 5 or 10 euro to pay for the headsets at museums, but I decided to “splurge” while I was in Amsterdam, and I paid for them in 2 museums. I was SO happy I did. Mainly because when you’re in a museum like the Van Gogh Museum you really need (I think) to know the stories behind many of his paintings. I feel like I know Van Gogh so much more, now, having heard about the inspiration behind his works and the beautiful paintings that he created.

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CitySightSeeing, Ride around London, London

The first day I was in London I was handed a pamphlet from the “Original Sightseeing Company.” I didn’t think much of it, but then I read that they were having a sale so I decided to buy a weekend (3 day) pass. SUCH A GOOD IDEA. The buses were hop-on-hop-off so I could catch them all over the city, meaning I used them for sightseeing and for regular transportation, too. I learned so much more about the city, and it was a great way to still be around people, while traveling alone. (It also came with a river tour ride – all for 25 pounds!)

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Sail and Rail Pass, N. Ireland, Ireland, Scotland, England: 

Rather than just fly from place to place I like to see if I can find trains or boats, or other modes of transportation that allow me to see the countries I’m traveling through. Sail and Rail is a great option when going around the UK/Ireland because for one ticket you get all the different modes of transportation covered (whether that’s bus, train or ferry). Also the ferries from N. Ireland to Scotland are beautiful.

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French lessons before moving to France: 

This is a little different from the others, but I still really think it’s important to put on here. I DO NOT know what I would have done without my French tutor before coming to France. I probably would have died. I had a really great teacher, so make sure you find the right one, but it was invaluable to pay for lessons before moving here. While I had taken years of French lessons, I hadn’t said a word in French for so long that it was really important to be able to work with someone who was French and brush up.

Puppy Love

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This darling babe is new in town (he originally is from London) and loves to cuddle, bark at nothing and pee right where you plan to step next. He’s such a sweetheart, and even though he can be a terror, let’s be honest – I love him dearly. Welcome to the family, Joplin! (And no, I didn’t realize there was a cigarette right next to his face…but that’s France.)DSC_1013 DSC_1014 DSC_1017 DSC_1025 DSC_1029

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10 Tips For Traveling Introverts

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Tour Buses in London

On an introvert scale of 1-10 I would probably rate myself at an 8. If I could, I would probably only say 10 words (to strangers) per year. It’s not that I’m shy, per say, it’s just ridiculously important for me to have internal processing time (aka to be left alone).

That being said, how do I travel and keep from being ridiculously drained when I get back? Well, first off, no matter who you are, you’re probably going to be a little exhausted; it’s natural because you’re traveling around different people and places.

But there area some things I’ve learned, that help me stay charged while traveling. So, here are some tips for making an introvert’s journey a little bit less painful:

1. Bring a book:

It’s the oldest and best solution for down time, awkward moments and for escaping crazies. I always try to bring one ridiculously long book with me while traveling. If you’re backpacking, it might be a better idea to bring a Kindle or something lighter, but regardless, I highly encourage books. Not only do they give you a sense of accomplishment when you’ve finished, but they’re great for whipping out to avoid eye contact with random strangers.

2. Bring headphones and plan an awesome play list:

Before every trip I go on I make a playlist of some of my favorite music. Listening to music while I’m on trains, planes and buses is not only calming, but also allowed me to make memories that I now remember, every time I hear those songs.

3. Find a quiet spot in the city you’re staying in:

Every place has their tourist locations, and their not so tourist locations. I would say, look for the non tourist ones. They’ll be less crowded, probably quieter and allow you to sit with your thoughts. These also can turn out to be the most beautiful spots in the city.

4. Don’t feel bad about taking “alone days” to explore:

Sometimes I feel like it’s rude for me to go out and explore on  my own, if I’m staying with a host. This is generally not the case, but it can feel awkward if you don’t have clear communication with them. I would probably not advise disappearing before anyone wakes up (unless you talk to them beforehand) because that could be seen as rude. But a great idea is to have them make you a list of places you should visit, so they’re still involved in your exploration of their city.

5. Bring a journal:

I cannot emphasize this one enough. BRING A JOURNAL. And not just some falling apart notebook (if you really want to, you can, I guess) but bring something you’re going to be excited to whip out and write in. Something that’s you. Personally, I always go for a new journal each time I travel, that way I don’t lose other trip memories if I lose it. I prefer blank page journals because then I can sketch, draw, tape things in or generally do whatever I want, rather than having the restrictions of lined paper.

6. Plan out as much of your trip beforehand: 

Here’s the thing – the more you know, the less you have to ask. If you’re not huge on running up to strangers to ask for directions, make sure you have maps, apps and directions to and from where you want to go. It will also just save you time.

7. Bring a camera:

When I have my camera around my neck, I feel invincible. I have no idea why it happens, but I feel so much more confident about exploring, and talking to people, if I have my Nikon around my neck. This is also great for having your camera ready for taking pictures at any and every moment of your trip. I always suggest taking more pictures, rather than less. You can always delete pictures, but you can’t go back to that moment, once you’re home.

8. Don’t only plan on staying in major cities: 

Major cities can be exhausting. I had dreamed about going to London my entire life, but once I got there, I realized it was so much bigger than I had thought. Not that I didn’t love it, because I did.  I was just exhausted after I left, just from the sheer volume of people that were constantly around. I was definitely glad I had spent some time in smaller cities, as well, so I could fully enjoy myself.

9. Force yourself to hang out with people: 

Back to London, again. The first day I arrived there I stepped off the train, after 8 hours of riding down from Scotland, and straight onto another train to take me to a Cuban Salsa dance club. Was I exhausted? Yes. Did I want to curl up and have three days of silence before I hung out with people again? Yes. But I forced myself to interact with people because I realized that I wasn’t going to, necessarily, have this opportunity again. And you know what? I loved it! While there are some times it’s good to relax, I would always suggest trying to push yourself out the door for opportunities you might not have again.

10. Get out of your comfort zone:

The thing about traveling is that it’s SUPPOSED to stretch you. I don’t believe there are any truly great traveling experiences where people haven’t been taken out of their comfort zones and pushed to try something new. Whether that means trying some traditional food ( I highly suggest Haagis), or taking some dance lessons native to that place, make sure you’re pushing yourself to make memories worth looking back and loving.

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La Prochaine Aventure//The Next Adventure

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Traveling is addictive. Before I even step on a plane I have plans for a hundred more places I want to visit. It is my firm belief that everyone should have a bucket list, so here are some of the top places I want to visit before I drop dead.

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1. Morocco: “Here’s Looking at you kid.” I’ve wanted to go to Morocco for as long as I can remember and not only because Casablanca is my second favorite movie of all time. I absolutely love the mixture that is represented within Morocco. It’s basically a mixture of three of my favorite cultures: French, African and Arabic.

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2. Camino de Santiago (France/Spain): I’m so excited to do this! This trip is one of the few that I’m insistent on doing with someone, however, which is the main reason it’s being saved (although, I can’t wait!).

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3. Norway: This fits under the category of “Places I’m ethnically from”. I’m a big believer that knowledge is power, and the best way to know yourself is by exploring your heritage. I’m going to try to get this and Denmark checked off my list of places I’ve been while I’m living in France.

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4. Denmark: Same as above, this is my heritage and I’m extremely excited to get to explore this beautiful country.  

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5. Egypt: Honestly, I think Egypt is one of the most interesting places on the planet. I’m a HUGE history nerd, so going to this country is an absolute must for me. I won’t go into details about how obsessed I was growing up, just that I may or may not have dressed up as Cleopatra more than 5 times in my life.

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6. Germany: I’m part German, so I really want to go visit Germany. This trip will also probably be with someone, because it’s not a country that I’m at all familiar with, but I think it’s going to be amazing.

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7. Ghana: Two of the five kids I nanny are from Ghana, and I would love to see the country that has become so close to my heart while looking after them! I’ve fallen in love with Ghanaian culture by being surrounded by two amazing boys who have stolen my heart. I can’t wait until I get to adventure to their home country, someday.

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8. Italy: One word: Calcio. 

Another word for translation: Football.

And one more for Americans: Soccer.

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9. South Africa: Is it wrong to want to go somewhere just because of the accents? No? Good. Because that’s one of the main reasons I want to go to South Africa. I have a friend from South Africa and I absolutely love just listening to her talk, which probably is weird for her, but South African accents are my absolute favorite (right next to Irish and Scottish).

latvia_flag10.Latvia: The only country in Eastern Europe, I’ve wanted to go here for a while now. I think the country is so beautiful, and Latvian is one of my favorite languages to listen to (even though I can’t understand one word of what they’re saying).

Also: This is one of my new favorite songs. So beautiful.