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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Tea Talk 9: Chelsea Elzinga | English Teacher (Luxembourg)

Chelsea and I met in college, and honestly from the start I knew she was one of the coolest people I’d ever meet in my life. This girl is the definition of driven, passionate about life, and has a healthy sprinkle of Beyoncé swag. We both loved French culture, and years after college actually ended up living in France at the same time, which was such a beautifully weird coincidence! Now she resides in Luxembourg where she’s teaching English, as one does. I’m so excited to introduce this powerhouse woman to you all—here’s Chelsea!

What started your passion for traveling?

My passion for traveling has always been about moving beyond the limits of my comfort zone. It is an activity (or lifestyle, I suppose) closely tied to my love of language. For my first trip abroad, I went to France by myself at the age of eighteen. Living with a French exchange family was difficult even after five years of French classes because I often felt awkward when I couldn’t express myself. My happiest moments were when I got to explore alone. That was an important first-time travel experience and invaluable life lesson. Although I was a little pre-occupied by my linguistic insecurity at the time, it ended up transforming my confidence, pushing me to pursue French that fall at university, and has impacted every step of my journey since.


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

Make language learning part of your travel preparation and/or itinerary. While your ego may shrink with every butchered pronunciation that struggles out of your mouth, the synapses in your brain are beginning to form new paths of understanding. You become stronger! You don’t (and likely won’t) master another language for one trip, but knowing numbers, how to ask where the bathroom is, and basic phrases will serve you immensely while you travel.

On a recent day-trip in Germany, I was able to just barely communicate with the waiter after a few weeks of my beginner’s German class. It was my first time using German outside the classroom, and it was completely imperfect. Nevertheless, it’s a moment I feel really proud of thinking back on!

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

Owning next to nothing. Hah! I can fit most of my possessions (save for about five massive boxes of books packed in my parent’s storage –sorry mom and dad!) into three suitcases. It can be scary to not have a stockpile of goods at your disposal but it is also freeing.

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

Pick your destination carefully – not just because it looks good on Instagram or somebody else wants to go there. Foster your interest in a travel location via passion-driven routes such as literature or travel writing, or perhaps through cuisine or film. It will make your trip especially meaningful if you’ve put a little sweat into learning to appreciate and contextualize the place before you’ve arrived.

The other side of this argument is that there’s something special about just showing up somewhere with no clue as to what you’re going to encounter! Having done it both ways, I’ve always been more surprised and delighted by a place after having invested in some pre-departure research, however.


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

Learning how to rearrange my goals when traveling in a group versus solo-traveling. Sometimes the right group of people is magical and emphasizes everything about the trip without effort. Other times, the group encumbers each step of the journey. I’m still learning how to be more flexible when it comes to ‘getting the most’ out of a destination when traveling in groups. Maybe it means we’ll go to a crappy pub for the sake of accommodating eight people. Chances are, it’ll still be fun.

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

My fears around travel are usually related to social anxieties: Will anybody want to hang out with me? Will I be lonely? These are the same fears I’ve had since first-grade. Traveling alone has nurtured my sense of self. The people I’ve been fortunate to meet while traveling and living abroad have each impacted me and I’ve been surprised at how welcoming people are. Now, I’m much less concerned with maintaining a tight, insular social group where I feel understood, and instead I seek to meet a wide variety of people and hope to understand more about them. Inevitably, friendships form.

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

Whichever is the most convenient! In Europe, the train is often the simplest way to travel with much less hassle involved in comparison to airport travel. Planes have always felt a bit violent to me: they hurtle you so nightmarishly through the air and confuse your sense of being in the world! Plus, they’re just scary and I could fall out of the sky. (J) A calm, quiet train ride allows you to watch each mile of landscape as it goes by from your window. No turbulence, and no take-off or landing. Of course, trains can be a bit too slow if you’re trying to get from Rome to Paris, for example…

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

Take fewer pictures. (This is advice for my current self as well.) My automatic reaction is to grab for my phone before I even allow a moment to sink in. What am I even going to do with all of those pictures anyway??? One challenge I have for myself is to go on a trip and take, like, seven photos per day! I’d imagine the experience would be different if I wasn’t always preoccupied with getting a great shot.

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

I don’t have a bucket list! But, if I had to choose one place to visit say, tomorrow, I’d get on a plane and go to Dakar, Senegal. Because, in this scenario, I have a) decided that it would be a free plane ticket and b) I’m interested in doing something close but not too far from my Francophone tendencies. As a French lit student, I’ve read a lot by authors from Senegal and would love to visit and learn more about this West African country.


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

I’m living in Luxembourg this year as an English teaching assistant through the Fulbright program. I applied to the program in Luxembourg because it’s aligned with many of my own ideologies: encouraging cultural exchange, fostering international relations at the individual level, and providing language education. Next year, I’ll start my PhD in French literature and I wanted to take a pause beforehand to improve my French skills and to also recharge after finishing my Masters.

I chose Luxembourg because I wanted to think beyond the French hexagon and to expand my language skills. Luxembourg has three official languages: French, German, and Luxembourgish, so I have opportunities to learn here that I don’t anywhere else. Luxembourg’s location between France, Belgium, and Germany make it a fascinating place to be linguistically, but also culturally and historically.

The intimate yet international characteristics to this country make it truly unique. For example, this morning on my way to teach at a high school in the Luxembourgish countryside, I accidentally got on the wrong train and went to Belgium. I still made it back for the last few minutes of class. It’s both embarrassing and hilarious that this was even possible.

After my morning in Belgium, I told the story to my English class of fifteen-year-old Luxembourgish students. Although an hour beforehand I had been completely frustrated and upset, the mishap ended with everyone laughing at my groggy-morning commuter fail. Only in Luxembourg are borders so permeable and morning commutes so transnational.

What has been the best/toughest part of your current trip?

Best: Integrating in Luxembourg has been surprisingly easy! It’s an extremely international and multilingual place. I live around a university campus so there are plenty of welcoming people and activities to take part in. I have truly enjoyed meeting people from Luxembourg and from all corners of the world while living here as an English teacher.

Toughest: Being away from people I love. This year is particularly full of “life events” for friends and family back home. The longer I live away from home, the more I realize that I don’t always want to be this far.

 

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

The real meaning of “staying positive.” At some level, it is a mental discipline that I must constantly remind myself of during tiring commutes that test my patience or when grey skies just won’t seem to clear away. If I can mentally remain positive, it completely improves the emotional and physical aspects of my life and—this is something I’m just realizing now—it will improve the lives of others around me. Nobody benefits from one more whiny expat stuck on making references to life back home where food is readily available for purchase at any hour of the day. “Living the dream” does not mean each day is dreamy. However, the more I keep myself from getting negative, the more I am able to appreciate everything about the experience.


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

I’m more adaptable to new situations and environments than I had realized, but I’m also not as independent as I thought. I need encouragement and community with other people to really succeed and enjoy life abroad. I feel blessed to have people from different areas of my life supporting me. I still don’t quite fully grasp how much I rely on the support and encouragement of others, but I’ve been learning that I’d rather ask for help and be vulnerable with people (e.g. Today, I’m worried about x, y, and z and I need to just cry on the phone) than to try and grit my teeth and go it alone.

 

Anything else you’d like to add?

Ultimately, the reason I travel isn’t because I want to have fun or even escape from day to day life. Traveling sharpens and refines my perspective on everyday life, while it also poses many financial, emotional, and mental challenges. I know it is a privilege to travel but it can also be a sacrifice. In the end, I believe travel is an investment. Traveling is an investment that returns ten-fold what you put into it. You’ll benefit personally, but also become a better global-citizen. I think the world needs more purposeful travelers who are willing to do things outside of their comfort zones. In an increasingly fearful climate, thoughtful travelers can become mini-ambassadors of resistance, hope, and cross-cultural understanding.

Tea Talk is a monthly series featuring extraordinary women who travel around the world! If you know someone who should be featured, or would like to be featured yourself, shoot me an email at morehouseemilee@gmail.com or post a message on this blog post! Join me again in December for the next feature! 

 

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.

U.S Cities You Should Definitely Visit | Baltimore, Maryland

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. 

The East Coast has always been one of my favorite places, mainly because I’m a huge history nerd. For this round of cities you should definitely visit, I’m talking about Baltimore, which I last visited when I was about 10 years old. Whew! Do I feel old? Yeah, maybe a little.

I’m really excited to talk about Baltimore because I have a gentleman friend from Maryland who gave me the deets from a native’s perspective. Ready to get knee-deep in pink plastic flamingos? Let’s go!

History

To start off, I think it’s important to mention that the state sport in Maryland is jousting. You read that right: jousting. Baltimore might not seem that old, but it’s been a city since 1729. Here are some of my favorite historical facts about Baltimore:

l A Mixed City: Baltimore used to be right up there with Ellis Island as the second-largest point of immigration in the U.S.

l The U.S. Flag: The original Star-Spangled Banner Flag was designed in Baltimore by Mary Pickersgill. Today, there’s a museum in the home where her family once lived, and I want to visit so badly. This is the flag that inspired our national anthem. Girl power!

l Cool People: Fredrick Douglass, Billie Holiday, and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall all lived in this city, leaving amazing legacies in their wake. Babe Ruth was also born in Baltimore. There’s also a pretty cool museum in Baltimore that you can visit if you’re a baseball fanatic.

Cool Things to Do

While obviously having a pretty groovy background, Baltimore also has a pretty awesome scene right now. First off, I must tell y’all about a little friend, “Natty Boh,” who’s a big deal in Maryland. The National Bohemian brewery logo is the head of homie sir. Another logo you’ll see frequently in Baltimore is the “Utz girl,” a doll who represents a brand of chips I’ve never heard about (#westcoast). Anyway, Natty Boh is a big deal in Maryland. If you’re visiting, be sure to stop by the billboard that’s been up since 2007, where you can spot the huge logo in person.

If you want to party like a Baltimore native, you’ll want to head down to Ocean City. If you want to say you’re going to the beach like a native, try something along the lines of, “I’m going downy oshun.” Yep, that’s a thing. Don’t be surprised if you hear it. What is Ocean City? It’s basically miles of beach and a wooden boardwalk with your typical shops and restaurants.

Accommodations

Looking for a place to park your motor? Try staying in either an Airbnb or pop over to HotelPlanner Baltimore to find hotels like the Holiday Inn Express. This one is particularly awesome because it’s built in the Old Town National Bank, and the interior is to die for.

Wherever you stay, I hope you love every minute of your time in Baltimore. The friendly people and unique culture make Baltimore an absolute must stop on your next vacation. See you on the other coast!

10 Thoughts I Had Watching LOST For The First Time

Recently, it was brought to my attention that I’d made the life-shattering mistake of never seeing the show LOST.

To be fair, this isn’t entirely my fault. I wasn’t allowed to watch the show when it first aired (I was 13—not a whole lot of arguing power), and by the time I was old enough to watch it, I wasn’t really interested. I remember friends talking about characters when I was in high school…but honestly I was really busy trying to graduate early from college and just never really watched TV. Pity me.

Anyway, to remedy this soul-wrenching loss to my existence I took it upon myself to watch the show. Even better, I decided to watch the show and record how I felt about it. Today I finished the first season, and dammmmmnnnn why are there so many episodes!? Anyway, here are the rest of my thoughts:

1. What is this vortex of a fandom I’m about to walk into? Someone please send help.

2. Where is Jeff? 


3. But wait. Is that Belle from Once Upon A Time? Yes, it is. And she has a hobbit and an elf with her! P.s. Is it legal for someone to fly when they’re 8 months pregnant? 4. But wait. Why are there 46 people, and we only see 10?

5. For being the ONLY doctor, Jack sure gets sent running off into the forest of death a lot. 

6. Charlie + Drugs = Still a better love story than Twilight.

7. Game of Thrones wasn’t first.

8. So, um. When’s Sawyer gonna start a book club? 

9. Go home, Jack…10. …and take Kate with you.

BONUS: There’s a shocking lack of lens flares for this being produced by J.J. Abrams.

All in all the show is a fun adventure, but in a weird way I wish it was grittier. There’s a whole lot of “implied” without a whole lot materializing…but maybe it gets more intense as the seasons go on (shut up—don’t tell me). Until then, I guess it’s just me, Netflix and the little dog I’m babysitting.

P.s. She doesn’t like Jack, either.  

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! 

U.S Cities You Should Definitely Visit | Minneapolis, Minnesota

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. 

Welcome to round FOUR of U.S. Cities You Should Definitely Visit (or USCYSDV…which sounds ridiculous)! In case you missed my previous posts, you can check them out here:

Richmond, Virginia,
Bernalillo, New Mexico
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

This episode we’re gonna jump over to the Midwest (pass the Tater Tot casserole). Don’t freak out if you’re a coastal girl/guy, like me. One of my good friends is from Minnesota AND I happen to have been there — it’s not that bad. In fact, there are a ton of things that make Minneapolis easy to check off your travel bingo card (y’all have one of those, right!?)!

History

(Photo courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society)

Minneapolis has kind of a quirky history because historically it was known for its grains — flour to be specific. Known as the “Mill City” or “The Flour Milling Capital of the World” back in the 19th century, this city grew from a population of 13,000 to 165,000 from 1870-1890. And we complain about people moving to Seattle, rapidly (#snap).

Anyhoo, the city has grown into a Mecca for gluten since the forerunner to General Mills raised its flag in 1856. Long live Cheerios!

Cool Things To Do

You might not know a whole lot about Minneapolis culture, but once you’ll get there you’ll probably fall in love. Honestly, if it was by an ocean I’d probably be moving there myself. Here are some spots you shouldn’t miss:

Tattersall

Hipsters put yo’ hands up! 
This spot is just about everything you could ask, with an Edison light on top. Tattersall Distillery was recommended to me by some Minnesota natives, and I’m pretty excited to try it out next time I’m in town.

Minnehaha Falls

Okay, so part of the reason I love this is because of the name. How can you NOT smile!? This waterfall park (stretching 170 acres!) is beautiful, and I love that there’s a waterfall just hanging out in the city. Go forth and soak up some green.

Minneapolis Institute of Art

Minneapolis has established itself as an art central, and a lot of that ties back to the Institute of Art. The museum has exhibits and exhibitions varying from 1700s England, to the Jazz Age. You’re not gonna want to miss out on this classy spot when you’re in town.

The Gutherie Theater

Located right on the Mississippi River The Gutherie Theater is the top recommended location I’ve heard about. The theater is a self-professed, “mix of classic and contemporary plays” this is a go-and-see-anything-and-everything kinda spot. If you’re feeling in the theater mood, don’t miss out!

Accommodations

If you’re looking for a place to stay in Minneapolis, try either an AirBnb or pop over to HotelPlanner Minneapolis to find amazing spots like The Commons Hotel which looks like something straight outta Mad Men.

Wherever you choose to stay during the frigid winters or sweltering summers, you’re sure to get some true Midwest hospitality. AKA people are super nice. Could it be just the thing to break the Seattle Freeze? We shall see.

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!

Six Tips To Slay At Thrifting

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

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

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

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

1. Hydrate, Eat and Pee First

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

2.  Choose Your Thrift Shop Wisely

There are three kinds of thrift shops I look for.

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

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

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

3. Know Your Brands

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

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

4. Sale Days are the Best Days

Fun fact: Thrift stores have sales too.

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

5. Shop in Chunks

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

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

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

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

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.