A London Birthday To Remember: Royal Day Out

I’ve always been a little over the top when it comes to my birthday so it probably surprised no one that I went fanning into this one in an 18th century dress. One of the best travel resources I started using this trip were Airbnb experiences which are experiences that you can reserve with local artists, instructors, and experts to learn more about a city from the people who live there.

I really love the concept and the experiences because throwing money at a tourist trap is not exactly my idea of a good time. I really love that Airbnb is opening revenue streams for local artists, while providing travelers with unique experiences…like this one!

As I’ve written before, London hasn’t always been my favorite city but this trip has pretty much been a dream as far as experiences. I’m not sure exactly why, but something just clicked this time around…seventh time’s a charm I guess. But real talk. My time in London was absolutely beautiful. One of the main reasons, of course, being this photo shoot from Royal Day Out.

Not only was did this experience allow me to dress up in a eighteenth century dress (with my Vans on, ah yeah.) but it also allowed me to see more of London with a mini tour from my host/photographer, Lauren. Lauren was everything a photographer should be, and really captured the fun that taking these photos should be. She was an absolute ray of sunshine to walk around with, and we had tons of laughs as people gawked, waved and stopped us on the streets.

It was funny  how the whole experience turned out because I thought I would be in a group when I booked the photoshoot, but it turned out to be just me and Lauren. At first it was a little intimidating since she didn’t (for obvious photographer reasons) dress up as well but I got used to it as we walked our way to Kensington Park…which is where Harry and Meghan have their London residence. NBD.

It was funny because I really thought I was going to go for one of the white or light pink dresses and a subtle pink wig (or natural hair) but the moment I saw the blue dress I gravitated toward it. Yes I tried on some pink dresses as well, but it just wasn’t the same. The blue dress fit me like a glove and the rest of the outfit fell together flawlessly. One of my favorite parts was the fan which really helped me with the anxiety of walking around in London in costume. Ha. It also, of course, was a great addition to the look as a whole.

Other highlights of my birthday included having a banana chocolate cake baked for me by my Airbnb host and watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race which is currently my obsession. But I would definitely say that the photoshoot made this one of the most memorable birthdays to date. Someone asked me when the ball was going to be, and no joke-that’s my plan for my 30th birthday. 

5 Airbnb Hosts You’ll Meet While Traveling

Staying with strangers is fun! Don’t tell my mom. Today we’re going to talk about the wonderful world of Airbnb. I love Airbnb because it allows me to travel while I’m on a tight budget. In general, I can spend about the same amount of money as I would for a hostel room, while getting a room to myself #introvertparadise. I also love the freedom of being able to leave my clothes/books in my rented space, rather than needing to pack everything up like you would at a hostel.

All this being said, there are definitely some characters you meet when you’re house hopping. Here are some of the types I’ve found during my travels.

1. The parent

This person is probably a recent empty-nester and they want to treat you like the child they no longer have. This may mean checking in on you more than necessary, asking you what time you’ll be home (when it’s irrelevant to circumstances like locking a door etc.), and reminding you 657 times not to let the cat out of the house. Remember: Take your shoes off when you get in this house.

2. The single girl

This girl lives on her own, but she has an extra room in her house (and doesn’t want to deal with a roommate). She’s probably pretty worldly and uses Airbnb herself when she travels. She might not even be home when you get there, but she’s hidden a key and leaves you a hand written note on your bed stand to say welcome. By the end of your stay with this girl you’ll probably want to be actual friends, and will friend request her on Facebook.

3. The host that could care less

That $10 room you booked? Yeah, this is probably going to be the owner. This host just had some random space available, and threw a bed and some blankets in there to make a little side cash. They will not be checking in on at you at all. And to be honest, they might not even live in the same city. When it comes down to it: You get what you pay for.

4. The above and beyond host

This host leaves you little notes, makes sure space is clean and neat, and offers you little things like tea and bagels in the morning. This host may also provide soaps and shampoos in the bathroom and other little thoughtful amenities. Unfortunately, this host maaaaay overlap with the The Parent, since they often try (a little too hard?) to provide everything for their guests.

5. The grandparents

They might not speak your language, but they’re the cutest little couple you’ve ever seen. This couple will make you a full breakfast in the morning, and make sure you have maps to get around the city. You’ll feel more than a little welcome in their house, and you’ll probably wish they were your grandparents as they tell you stories about when they traveled, and show you pictures of their grandchildren.

Who did I miss? I want to hear you Airbnb stories in the comments below!

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

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

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

Another fun fact: I hardly ever talk about it.

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

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

History

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

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

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

Cool Things to Do

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

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

Accommodations

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

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.

Next Stop: Denver, CO

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Photo cred: Emma Morem

Okay, confession. I bought another plane ticket.

It wasn’t planned. But something I promised myself I would do, once I got back into the U.S., was to explore the places in the United States that I wanted to see (even if it’s just on a weekend). So, I’ve decided to go spend five days in Denver, Colorado this May. Travel is something that’s so important to me. I don’t know that I’m really ever fully happy unless I’m planning a trip, or on one. I’ve wanted to visit Denver for quite some time, so when I saw $100 round trip tickets I decided it was time to take the leap. Honestly, the months of April/May is going to be some pretty awesome.

I’d be lying if I said that transitioning back to “normal” life in the U.S. has been easy. I don’t think I could have anticipated how much I’d changed during my time in France. Coming back, it was so difficult to just be my “normal” self, again. I think it’s only been recently that I’ve started to realize that going back to my old normal shouldn’t (and can’t) be the goal, here. I was a very different person before I moved to France. I had different priorities, I approached life differently and I my overall personality was different. But some shit (sorry, mom) went down, in France, that changed me a lot.

Some of it might have been for the better, and some not so much. But, regardless, I AM different and I think it’s taken me almost a year to realize that. Luckily over the past nine months I’ve built a pretty awesome life that I’m pretty happily settling into. Is it perfect? No. But it is something that makes me happy to wake up, and it’s completely different than anything I would have ever thought I would have. But that’s okay. It lets me do awesome things like buying plane tickets spur of the moment.

Back to Denver: I have never been to Denver and I’m not sure whether I’m going to Airbnb it, or if I’m going to Couchsurf, but I’m so excited! I definitely need suggestions of what to do/where to go from all of you who have been there/live there! I’m looking for restaurant suggestions, museums, parks, geek things, and any other little spots!

Here’s what I have so far:

Cheers to another adventure!

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.

 

My Heart Lies Over The Sea

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I haven’t posted in a million years, and there’s a couple of reasons why.

Life is moving by at the speed of light, compared to what it used to be (even before I moved to France). I’m working my 8-5, M-F, saving up for my next big adventure and planning out my (very quickly approaching) next temporary one – backpacking though Scotland, England and Ireland!

All of this being said, things are pretty hectic, in general. I’m taking French lessons, again, and I’m getting ready to relaunch the website I’m an editor for (The Exploress)! In addition, I’m painting away to my little heart’s content, with orders coming in to my Etsy shop – which is so much fun – but MAN, life is hectic.

Lucky for me, my little holiday adventure back to the UK/Ireland is fast approaching – we’re only a little over a month away! I CANNOT wait until my feet touch ground again in Ireland. I’ll probably just have to spend a couple hours sitting by the Liffey and staring at Dublin (which I do pretty much every time I’m there, since I can never wrap my mind around the fact that I’m there for real…seventh time’s the charm?).

But most of all, I just want to have time to read and to write and to think straight without any distractions. American life is so much faster than I remember. It’s so crazy and a bit like an animal stampede for fresh feeding grounds. I don’t know if it’s always been like this, or if it just seems like this more after how slow my European life was, but I don’t think I like it.

I do love my life, and all of the activities. But there’s something very concerning about the constant mad rush FORWARD! FORWARD! FORWARD! It seems to me, that in our lust for progress, Americans have forgotten to ever enjoy what they have achieved – no matter how great it is.

Exhibit A: I have an iPhone 4s. It works fine, with the exception of the battery starting to wane, but no other problems. It takes perfectly nice photos, it makes great phone calls, it works with all the apps that I need, and yet (somehow) I’ve managed to slip FOUR generations behind in iPhones, while living abroad, and boy would you know it here. I’m not sure exactly at what point the piece of technology gripped so preciously between our finger tips, became our token of success, intelligence and forward thinking but it has. And I find that disturbing. Why? Well, I do think there are some people who actually use a phone as advanced as the iPhone 7 – but let’s face it, 98% of us barely knew any of the features on our 4’s. So why are we in this constant upgrade mode? Most people would be better off spending the money on a vacation to somewhere beautiful, but instead we stampede to the closest phone store and set up a payment plan to put us even more in debt. Why?

I read an article the other day about how science shows that we’re wired to actually gain more enjoyment from spending our money on experiences (ex. travel) than we are spending it on objects (ex. phones) – but how is it that this information does little to nothing to actually inspire change in our spending habits?

A lot of questions, I guess. But I would like you all to know that when I originally sat down to write out this blog post I only intended on posting pretty pictures of Ireland, and leaving it at that. So much for the plan. As life continues to tell us to rev our engines louder and louder in the ears of our neighbor, I guess I just needed to sit down for a moment, with my little blog family, and talk about how odd it is to seem to be so in between worlds. I’m not sure if I’ll ever fully feel like I’m home in the US or in Europe, but my heart (to steal a phrase from the movie Brooklyn – which you should all see) is now, at least, halfway over the ocean, isn’t that better than nothing?

When I called my grandma to wish her a happy anniversary, last week, she asked me why I could never be content. I don’t know the answer. And maybe the reason for not having one, is because my heart feels so flooded with questions. I’m not sure if out there, someone, is perfectly content with where they are, how their life has shaped and why things are the way they are – but I know I’m not that person. My heart longs for other places more than I can ever describe. I don’t know how to explain the feeling of happiness and fulfillment that I’ve tasted, but that I’ve never been able to hang on to. The reality of this life is that I may not ever know the answer to any of this.

In the mad dashery I’m left simply wondering how to ever find balance with the knowledge of what’s out there and the present position of being planted here…at least, for the moment. Ignorance is bliss, or so they say. And maybe it is, but part of me hopes that somewhere, sometime, I’ll remember how to feel at home, again.