10 London Spots You Won’t Want To Miss

God save the Queen. I’ve been to London five times, and I definitely plan on going back, but the great thing about this beautiful city is that every time I go I have a completely different experience!

From food to museums to tours the UK has so much to offer, and I couldn’t be happier than to share with you guys some of my favorites, especially after my last trip where I spent almost a week just doing whatever popped into my mind. Ready to explore this beautiful city? Here are my top 10 spots you MUST visit.

1.Bronte London

Dubbed one of the best brunch spots in London this restaurant stole my heart away with it’s art-deco vibe and beautiful decor. Since Jane Eyre is my favorite book, I also (of course) loved the name of the spot. English breakfasts are one of my favorite things to eat when I’m in the UK, so that’s what I ordered here (and some tea) but there was a full menu of delicious options. I will definitely be going back in the future.

2. Harry Potter Walking Tour:

There are a few Harry Potter walking tours in London, but the one that I can recommend because I took it was the Tour For Muggles, which was a super fun way to see different parts of the city while also seeing famous filming locations from the Harry Potter movies. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and I could tell that she knew ALL the facts about HP. I was also really happy because we visited some BBC Sherlock filming locations, as well. Be still my heart.

3. Stonehenge Day Tour

I’m a huge fan of day tours, because they allow you to see the country-side, which is great especially if you don’t want to drive on the other side of the road and risk dying. The tour that I took in November, when I was in London, was one that went to Stonehenge, Oxford and Windsor Castle. The tour was a lot of fun, and we even broke away at the end of it to visit the Eagle and the Child, which is the pub where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien met as part of their writing society. Pretty awesome history!

4. Museum of Natural History:

I’m a huge sucker for museums and London has some of the best. I had actually never been to the Museum of Natural History until last year, and I absolutely loved it. If you have even the slightest inclination toward science of any kind then you’ll probably find this museum fascinating. The giant whale skeleton attached to the ceiling is pretty impressive, as well. The best part, though, is that this museum is FREE (donations encouraged) which makes it a must see.

5. National Portrait Museum:

When I went to this museum I actually spent four consecutive hours in there. There are paintings from pretty much every point in British (and non-British) history including the famous portrait of Jane Austen and (my personal favorite) the full body portrait of Anne Boleyn. The centuries of history that this building holds is just absolutely incredible, and once again admission is free.

6. Oxford Street

This is the main shopping street in London and it’s absolute magic. Not only is shopping one of my favorite things to do, but the window displays for stores like Harrods are just incredible (especially during the holidays).

7. 221B Baker Street (Sherlock Holmes Museum):

Another museum!? Hell yeah. I’m a huge Sherlock Holmes fan and I was absolutely thrilled when I got to go to the real 221B. This museum is set up like a Victorian era model of Sherlock’s home complete with the appropriate props to fit each of his famous stories. You can, of course, also buy lots of fun Sherlock merchandise that’s exclusive to the museum, as well.

8. Platform 9 3/4

So, with a lot of walking tours Platform 9 3/4 is not included. This is mainly because it’s out of the way from most of the filming locations for Harry Potter, but the good news is that it’s not that hard to get to on your own. Just grab the tube and get off at the King’s Cross Station for all the fun.

9. The Queen’s Arms (Kensington):

This is a great spot to grab some lovely fish and chips and the spot looks just like it was taken out of a Jane Austen novel. To be honest, that’s one of the things I love about London the most. The history of the city spans back so far and so many famous works of literature stem from actual places within it.

10. Victoria and Albert Museum: 

To wrap things up, one more museum that I absolutely loved. This museum I also went to for the first time during my most recent trip. The museum is HUGE and tons of artifacts from all different points in history. My favorite exhibit was one all about the history of fashion…because, duh—it’s so me.

BONUS: Primark. Grab your Harry Potter gear! 

Okay so Primark is basically like the Forever21 of the UK buuuuuuuut if you’re looking for Harry Potter gear than you should definitely stop in. Not only do they have gear that’s not available outside of the UK, it’s also so much cheaper than if you bought it at a tourist trap.

What’s your favorite spot in London? Tell me in the comments below!

A Weekend In Casablanca, Morocco

In December I got the amazing opportunity to live out one of my dreams: travel to Casablanca, Morocco. It was funny because when I told my grandma that I was headed to Casablanca she gasped and said, “But Emilee! That’s just in a dream!”

Not true. Casablanca is, in fact, a very real place (although the 1940s movie she was referring to was not filmed there in any way shape or form). My trip to Casablanca took my continent count to four (Europe, N. American, Asia and now Africa!), and checked off country number 16 for me, as well. So, a lot of milestones were met.

I have a pretty strict policy not to stay in places I’m unsure about for long periods of time, so I only actually stayed in Morocco for three days. Of course, now that I know I love it I’m going to go back and stay longer, but you just never know how you’re going to vibe with a place.

It wasn’t until after I’d left Morocco that I realized that I’d completely forgot to actually write anything here about it. Bad Emilee. So, to remedy the situation, here are some of my thoughts on the whimsical city of Casablanca.

Shopping in Morocco is an absolute dream. Why? Because everyone there is brown. Like me. Which means that the color tones on all of the clothes are made for brown skin. Like mine. Which is pretty awesome because that just isn’t the case in a lot of stores where I love to shop.

Moroccan mosaics are something that I’ve always loved, even before I went there. When I lived in France the family I lived with loved this style and I miss all of the beautiful vases that we had. Also, this picture (above) is at a McDonalds. Step up, Seattle.

I feel like even the cats looked exotic. And there were A LOT of them. Cats run around like squirrels do, in Seattle. Except it’s even better…because they’re cats. I really loved seeing the relationship between having all of these felines walking the streets with people. Generally they were pretty well treated, and you could definitely tell that even though they’re wild they had human buddies who were used to seeing them on the street.

I would never make fun of someone who has English as their second language. But corporations? Eh. I saw so much clothing that had half written English phrases on it that I started taking photos. It was just hilariously bad. But then I realized that this is probably how other people feel when they come to the U.S. and see whatever “exotic” script is trending at the time. How about this? If you don’t speak the language, don’t buy clothing that has it written on it.

The Hassan II mosque was absolutely breath taking. I don’t even have words, so I’ll let you just look at the pics below.

To be perfectly honest, I could have probably continued laying in the sun for another week before even considering coming home. But I’m still happy I got a taste of what Morocco has to offer. Cheers to next time! 

2017 Reviewed By Your Friendly Neighborhood Blogger

Welcome to the post every blogger writes, yet most readers don’t give a shit about: my year in review (sorry for the swearing, mom).

Being a travel blogger has been one of the most amazing adventures of my life, but sometimes I still look back at pictures and wonder if I really went there, or did that. Whose life is this? 2017 was a wild ride because I got to travel to eight…yes, EIGHT, different countries.

While I usually only take one big trip per year, I somehow fit two in, and it was an absolutely incredible privilege to check off big list items like Morocco and Denmark (two places I’ve been DYING to go). This year also took me from one of the most traumatic experiences, to some of the most beautiful I’ve ever had. I’m leaving some things behind in 2017 that I’m really going to miss but that’s part of moving forward, right? The end of a year always seems to close a chapter on some things you aren’t quite ready to let go of.

Such is life, I guess. This year has made me stronger, wiser, and as my mom says, “someday it won’t hurt so much.” Until then, let’s live a little stronger, a little more passionate, and really pursue the things that set our hearts on fire. 2018 is going to be such an amazing adventure. I’m already starting to plan some pretty epic road-trips, and I cannot wait to share all of the savory details with you guys. Until then, here is my blogger contribution to the madness of 2017. Happy New Year!!!

Backpacking trip: Ireland, Scotland, Denmark, Belgium

I started out this year with a solo backpacking trip that was one for the books. Not only did I love going to Loch Ness and Inverness (Outlander fans!?), but I also just loved seeing the highlands of Scotland. During this trip I also had, singlehandedly, the best 48 hours of my life in Denmark (and made some amazing new friends!).

Cosplaying Rufio at Emerald City Comicon
I’ve only been cosplaying for a couple of years, but I’m so obsessed with it that I don’t know if I’ll ever stop. I love being able to represent characters that I love, and I love gender-bending (taking a male character and giving them a female twist). My Rufio cosplay was so fun to take to Emerald City Comicon. Honestly. I live for conventions.

Becoming a Schwinn/ R.Riveter ambassadorThis year I got to be an Ambassador for two different brands: Schwinn Bikes and R. Riveter bags. Both of these brands have a strong backing of supporting people who are out there really living their lives. Whether it’s taking city adventures with my bike, or traveling across the world (or to another world) with my R. Riveter bag, I’ve loved every minute.

Going to my first Renaissance Faire This was one of those last minute things where you’re less than prepared, but more than a little excited for an event. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, to be perfectly honest, but getting to experience my first joust (and ax throwing) was a pretty special event in my life. I also got to throw an axe…so that was cool. In 2018 I’m really looking forward to going again, and this time cosplaying.

Doing a live painting at BumbershootI’ve told this story a few times, but I was told a lot (growing up) that I wasn’t meant to be an artist. I wasn’t “called” to it. Well, this year not only did I continue painting shoes with my Etsy shop, but I got the amazing opportunity to do a live painting at Bumbeshoot, which is a huge music festival in Seattle. Even better? My painting sold!

Creating some super nerdy art projects (Sherlock + Jamie Fraser)There has seriously been so much nerding this year and I’ve loved it so much. From getting connected with my favorite podcast “Three patch problem” to crocheting little nerd dolls to send to friends, it really has just been the best. I’m also almost finished with all of my Harry Potter house scarves, so keep an eye out for those in my Etsy shop!

Going to the Skagit Valley Scottish Highland Games The Skagit Valley Highland Games has become a tradition that I don’t think I ever want to break. It’s so fun to go celebrate my Scottish heritage, eat amazing food and enjoy traditional Scottish dancing and music. It really is food for my soul and this year was great because I won my tickets for having the best photo from the 2016 Highland Games!

Dislocating my shoulder… the third day of summer campThis year was a year for injuries. This must mean I’m getting old. Not only did I dislocate my shoulder (resulting in weeks of physical therapy), but I also got pneumonia, sustained a 102 degree fever for a week, got my heart broken, and had my first ER visit. This year was kind of a constant progression of healing, but it taught me a lot about patience and about how amazing my little tribe of badass women is. Thank you every single person who held me up this year, despite the crazy.

Cosplaying Aquaman after months of planning I started planning this cosplay after ECCC in March and it came together beautifully. I loved being able to think of something and then actually see it materialize. Also, having a faux shoulder sleeve tattoo was pretty badass. Cosplay brings so much happiness to my life, I don’t even know how I ever went without doing it. Cheers to new ideas and great conventions in 2018! 2nd Photo credit to Aubrey Rebecca Photography.

Getting a new job…my dream job!2016 and 2017 I worked 60 hours a week (6am-6pm…every day) to build a resume that could get me my dream job. I’ve always been a writer, and what started as watching Mad Men resulted in me pinning down that ad agency work was the absolute ringer for what I wanted to do with my career. In October, my hard work finally paid, off thanks to some amazing women helping me along the way. I absolutely love my job, and I feel so incredibly thankful for it each and every day that I’m there.

Backpacking trip: Spain, Morocco, England, Iceland
I ended this year the same way I started it: with travel. 2018 will mark my five year anniversary of backpacking, and I can’t believe I ever let people tell me not to do something that brings so much life to my being. I love traveling, and visiting friends around the world added so much value to 2017. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to jump on planes and live out my passion. I don’t take this privilege lightly. For me traveling is the gateway to every other part of my life being inspired, and I can’t wait to see what adventures 2018 brings my way. 

Barcelona, Spain Day 1.5

The beginning is always the hardest, and this trip is no different. I left Monday afternoon, flying to Iceland, and hopped three consecutive flights before I made it to Barcelona. I’m just going to say: 2\3 of those flights I almost missed…which has NEVER happened before. But I think my lack of preparation for this trip showed in my sluggishness to get it underway.

The reality of jet lag after traveling that long hit me like a ton of bricks last night when I fell asleep at 6pm, and didn’t wake up until 6am this morning. The good news is that this is actually what I suggest for getting over jet lag, because it beats the alternative of forcing yourself to stay up for 12 hours straight. This morning I feel so much more refreshed. And this hostel has Nutella and toast for breakfast so really things are quite good at the moment.

This trip was not planned as much as my past adventures because I bought the plane ticket back in March; during a year that would turn out to be one of my most shifting. When I bought this plane ticket all I wanted to do was get away. I felt trapped in a dead end job, I had just escaped a terrible relationship and I just wanted to get out of Seattle. That is hardly the case anymore, and I think it really is a testiment to how much your life can change in six months.

Whereas I thought this trip would be the perfect escape when I bought the tickets, I’m now feeling some of the most severe homesickness I’ve ever had on a backpacking trip. Like I said, I know that it’s always worse in the beginning and the feeling will subside as I start to explore more, but I also think it’s important to write about: travel bloggers get homesick too.

So what am I doing on this trip? Well, I currently have 10 days of madness ahead of me, with two more in Barcelona and then on to Morocco and London. I’m so excited for London I can barely contain myself so it’s going to be hard to keep focused on my other two destinations before then. I’m also super excited to add my fourth continent, Africa, to my passport during this trip!

Today, in Barcelona, I’ll be taking a day tour up to Girona which is a Medeivel town that has been used in the filming of Game of Thrones. The whole tour is Game of Thrones themed so I’m pretty happy about getting my geek on. Tomorrow I’m going to go explore museums, so overall I think hanging out in Spain will be pretty fun.
More updates to come!

10 Awesome Happenings From 2017…So Far

The last 6 months have been a sham. In today’s world it’s pretty easy to write a list of 10 terrible things that happened recently… in fact, you can probably write up 10 terrible things that have happened this week #America. But, in the spirit of being my opposite self (known pessimist) I’m going to encourage us to focus on the positive.

I think it can be really easy to focus on all of the not-so-great things in the world, and while I am not advocating for ignoring those (at all!) I am offering a 5 minute read break of some pretty cool things that have happened, but that can easily be overlooked. But don’t let it stop with me! I want to hear all the beautiful things that have happened in your lives, as well. In the spirit of celebration, share yours in the comments!

1. The apocalypse didn’t happen

Okay, so this one might seem a bit extreme. But, yo. Shit went down in January, and I think we can all agree on that (sorry for the swearing, mom). But can I just say something, really quick? I’m proud of you guys. I’m proud of my allies who post signs in their yards saying that they support people who look different from themselves. I’m proud of the people who don’t stand around ignoring homophobia or xenophobic remarks on public transportation. I’m proud of the women who take their daughters to protests with signs that say, “WE ARE HERE. WE ARE WATCHING. WE ARE NOT GOING ANYWHERE!” I’m proud of my science friends who march for knowledge. I’m proud of my friends who sat in airports and said, “No. Fear will not rule how we treat our neighbors.” I’m proud of you guys.

2. I found out what I want to be when I grow up

This is the year when I finally figured it out. I know what I want to be when I grow up! And no, it’s not a brain surgeon—sorry mom. I graduated in 2010 with a Degree in Journalism and literally no idea what I wanted to do with my life, other than have people stop asking me what my five year plan was.

I gave myself five years to do whatever the hell I wanted. I traveled the world, lived in another country and in different states. I worked for a non-profit, I took more internships than I can count. I was a nanny. Giving myself time to grow was one of the best gifts I think I could have ever given myself, and it works! I finally figured something out. Stay tuned for more details!

3. I took a trip to Europe 

Every year, since I started solo backpacking, I’ve tried to take a trip back to to Europe. Why Europe? Because it’s my heart. I don’t know how to describe it, really. But when I’m there (almost regardless of the country) I feel like I’m at home. Since 2013 I’m kept my promise to myself and this year I went to Denmark, Scotland, Ireland and Belgium! I’m so excited because I’m actually going to get to go TWICE this year, which I do not take for granted, at all. What an insane and unimaginable gift. I’m so excited.

4. I went to a clothing exchange 

Hands up if you like clothes! As someone who has more than I probably should, and a Degree in Fashion Design, I’m a 100% clothing and shoe lover. This month I got the opportunity to meet up with some other stylish ladies, and we exchanged clothing and stories and laughs. The best part was that all the extra clothes got given to an awesome non-profit that helps out women coming out of domestic abuse situations!

5. I hosted a craft night…and it was f*cking awesome (sorry, mom)

Me and a friend tried to join a knitting group about a month ago and when we got to the damn coffee shop (sorry, mom) we found out that the group wasn’t meeting anymore. We had been waiting to go for weeks, so we were pretty upset to find out we couldn’t get our knit on.

Solution? Host a craft night at my house so we DEFINITELY have a place to create and geek out. AND IT WAS SO FUN. One of my passions in life is bringing together magnificent, strong, creative women and having them all meet and talk to each other. What an awesome event for us to get to craft and laugh and drink wine and just have a great time!

6. I’ve hung out with eight estranged friends

I’ve talked about this on here, before, but my New Years Resolution was to grab coffee with someone every month, who I hadn’t seen in a long time. So far we’re 5/5 and I already have a couple coffee hang times scheduled for June.

This has honestly been one of the coolest resolutions, because it is TOO easy to lose touch with awesome people who may even live close, but are just eternally busy. And I get it, we’re so busy with life that we don’t have time for relationships with people, anymore. But let’s swim against the tide and battle those loneliness statistics (looking at you, Seattle—we’re #5 on the list).

7. I went to an awesome birthday dinner for my Grandpa

My family is borderline insane. And the great part about saying that is that we all agree, so I don’t have to apologize. That being said, we still get together and we still celebrate the occasional event. This April, we had a glorious celebration for my Grandpa’s birthday, and it was the actually a lot of fun! Maybe we’re growing out of some of our crazy?

8. I had a sleepover with my friends

Yep. Like an old-school sleepover. The brainchild of my brilliant roommate, we built a blanket fort out of our living room, watched Knight’s Tale, and ate pizza. Of course we had all types of girl talk and tons of laughs as well. The best part? It was at my house, so I still got to go to sleep in my own bed. #adulting

9. I didn’t adopt a cat…but I did get a cat sitting job

In March I got out of a pretty long term/serious relationship and as all sane recent breakup-ees do, I immediately went on the hunt for a cat to distract me from all of my woes. Thank the universe that nobody let me get one (because practically speaking I am technically allergic to most of them…broken hearts make you do weird things). The GOOD news is that I got a job cat sitting, which is awesome because I get to play with cats, get paid, and I still can breathe at home! Win-win-win.

10. I took a personal finance class…and it was awesome

Call me crazy, but why is personal finance not a required class in college? I mean, no wonder this country has so many financial problems. Ask any millennial and all we know is that if we don’t pay the student loan gods we get in trouble. What about retirement? What about balancing a budget sheet? WHAT ABOUT TAXES!? Okay, so that last one is probably more important to me because I work at an accounting firm, but come on America, where are we supposed to figure this stuff out!?

Luckily there was a free personal finance class that was offered near me, and it was like four hours of empowerment. I highly recommend looking into your local community centers (or this one was at a church—shoutout to Quest) to see if you can take one. Believe me, it’s worth the time investment.

11. I have an art exhibit going up tomorrow! 

Bonus! I have an art exhibit going up at Irwin’s Bakery tomorrow and I’m so excited! I’ve wanted to have an exhibit for a while, and it’s so awesome that the dream bubbling around in my mind is actually becoming real. If you have a chance to stop by definitely do, if you can’t, you can check out more pics (and a video – woot!) on my Facebook page.

Tea Talk 3: Mikayla Jane | Travel Blogger

Mikayla and I met through an random email she sent to my inbox. True story. It really was some kind of divine out-of-the-blue experience, and I’m so glad she contacted me, because she’s awesome! Originally from near Sydney, Australia, Mikayla started her travel journey when she taught English in Cambodia. Now she travels the world blogging and sharing her travel advice and adventures!

1. What started your passion for traveling?

My family has always travelled and so I was exposed to a life of adventure and various cultures young. My first flight was when I was just 9 months old. My own personal journey started with a year teaching English in a Kindergarten in Cambodia. I was fortunate enough to be able to travel all over the country on my holiday breaks and taste test Vietnam, The Philippines and Singapore as well. This kick started my traveling dreams, got my wanderlust juices flowing and encouraged my stubborn independence.

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

Just do it. Now, right now. You will never be as young as you are today. No excuses, just make it work. BUT maintain (or gain) your common sense. Spontaneity doesn’t mean stupidity.

3. What’s your favorite cultural habit you’ve picked up?

I’ve eaten the best Indian food of my life in Cambodia! I would order from my favourite restaurant at least once a week, and it got to the wonderful (yet slightly embarrassing) stage where when they answered, they already knew my name, address and regular order. Now, back home in Australia I can’t go more than 2 weeks without a good curry! Those lentils and naan bread just get me every time!

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

Again, just do it! You will gain so so much. You’ll blossom into a wonderfully independent, strong, witty, cultured woman. Educated far beyond what any university could have taught you. Please, don’t be afraid. Use your common sense, and listen to your intuition. My biggest lesson in living in a third world country for 12 months is now knowing when it’s time to move on. I was well and done with Cambodia at the 6 month mark. I don’t regret a single moment, but if I was to re-do it, I certainly would be wise enough to know when to quit and strong enough to do so. If you don’t feel safe, happy or stable, move on, there’s no shame in quitting for your health and well being. Also, question everything.


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

It’s hard to put down just one thing. I’d like to say, though, that through every fail I’ve made, it’s turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Nothing (so far) has been so bad that I regretted a situation or decision. Yeah I may have made a wrong move here or there, or may have forgotten a passport in Paris…. but it never turned out so bad that i couldn’t smile or even laugh about it later.

6. What’s the best and worst part about traveling solo?

Best: You can do WHATEVER you want, WHENEVER you want. You want to shop for 12 hours, do it. You want to lounge by a pool all day, do it. You want to cram 6 activities into 24 hours, do it. You want to take silly selfies and staged pics for a travel blog, DO IT.

Worst: Alone time can be very very very very…. lonely. Sometimes all you’ll want to do is go out with girlfriends and laugh the night away, but instead you’re all alone in a hostel dorm with nobody wanting to talk to you. Don’t be too disheartened by this though, it’s truly a blessing in disguise. Oh, the lessons you’ll learn….

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

Traveling alone on motos. It took me 9 months on tuk-tuks before I got up the courage to jump on a strangers bike, straddle him, wrap my arms around their waist and completely put my life in their hands. It was cheaper, and much more fun, and sometimes I actually felt safer. But the stories I heard, could easily have been my name instead.

8. What is your favorite way to travel and why?

A plane. The feeling of take off and landing is beyond words! I get a stupidly large grin across my face just thinking about it. SO many emotions in these tiny few seconds of the journey. Happiness, wanderlust, fear, excitement, nerves, adrenaline, yearning, homesickness, all bundled up in that lurch of the wings grabbing onto the wind.

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

Life doesn’t have to be a mission to complete and judge yourself on. Just enjoy it. Though 22 year old Mikayla is still grasping this, I hope some day she learns it and completely lives in the present, enjoying every ray of sun the days have to offer.

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

Oh, so so many….hmmmm… well i guess the experience that sits at the top of my bucket list is cuddling a Highland Cow. OMG they are just so adorable and I just want to squeeze it so tightly!! So I need to go to Scotland very soon to tick this one off!

11. Do you have any upcoming trips? Where to and what will you be doing?

A cruise to the Pacific Islands. Myself and Curtis (my partner) plan on doing nothing but eating, napping, drinking Pina Coladas and repeating. I mean it, I hope absolutely nothing interrupts that routine. After such a hectic couple of months over the Christmas break, we just want 5 minutes to relax and enjoy each others company.

12. Anything else you’d like to add about yourself?

I am no one special. I always get asked ‘how did you do that all by yourself?’ You can do it. You can travel. You can learn. You can run. You can soar. You can achieve. You can succeed and you can exceed all expectations. Go out and smash your goals! Chase your dreams and never stop creating more! Be you. You are your biggest asset. You have nothing stopping you, but you.

Follow Mikayla along on her adventures on her blog, or at any of the links below! 

If you, or someone you know, would like to be featured on a Tea Talk, comment below! Tea Talk is a monthly series that is published on the 15th of each month. Join me again on April 15th for our next feature! – Emilee

What I Pack for a Two Week Trip (Winter)

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

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

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

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

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


Clothing: 

1 Puffer Vest

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

Two Tank Tops

2 Bras

3 Pairs of Wool Socks

5 Sweaters

1 Hoodie

1 Pair of Pajama Bottoms

2 Pairs of jeans

1 Dress

1 Pair of Insulated Tights

1 Rain Jacket

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

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

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

1 Rain Jacket

1 Puffer Jacket

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


Accessories: 

Phone

Umbrella

Camera

NeckPillow

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

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

Rain cover for my pack

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

 

Toiletries: 

Makeup/ makeup wipes

Mini conditioner, face wash

Earplugs

All the Chapstick

2 Tea bags

Sunglasses

Hand Warmers

Mini deoderant, toothpaste, toothbrush

Travel size laundry detergent (dry)

Matches/First Aid Kit

Whistle and Grapling Hook

Mini Case of Advil

Disposable razor, nail clippers, tweezers

Washcloth

Travel Towel

 

Electronics: 

Adapters for each country

Tablet

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

Charging cords for everything…and I mean everything

Extra batteries

Mini flashlight

 

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

Going it Alone: A Letter To The Solo Exploress

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

Dear Exploress,

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

Listen to them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And last? Stop making excuses.

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

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

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

How to Pick a Perfectly Awesome Hostel Every Time

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My hostel last time I was in Edinburgh (I’m taking the picture from in front of Edinburgh castle).

11 countries down, four more next month. You could say I’ve stayed in my fair share of hostels. Love them or hate them, when you’re traveling on a budget, they’re a necessary stop along the way. Lucky for me, I love them. In fact, many of my favorite memories come from various hostels around the world.

Like that time I got cooking lessons from a super cute Australian guy, or the time I stayed up all night talking to an older Hawaiian lady about age and what it means to travel when you’re no longer “young”, or when I ended up engaged to a Scottish guy for a night. And that’s not even to mention the countless day tours I’ve gone on with people I’ve met in the hostels.

There’s something beautiful about people from all over the world coming together in a common place to break bread, play games, go on tours, and exchange stories. I’ve made so many good friends from my travels, that I’d say that staying in hostels is right up there with my other favorite way to find international accommodations, Couchsurfing.

But how do you find a good one?

The reality of the situation is that not all hostels are created equal. So how do you find one that isn’t going to cost you an arm and a leg in exchange for bed bugs and crazy parties that keep you up until 4am?

Well, to be honest, sometimes it’s luck of the draw. But overall I’ve had great experiences by using these tips for finding the very best hostels:

Actually Read the Reviews

Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. You’d be surprised how many people gloss over these. Don’t be that person. Before my last trip my friend and I were reading reviews for a place (Airbnb) and person after person was complaining about the same. exact. problem. Cockroaches. Okay, gross. But I think this was a really great example (even without being tied to a hostel) of how people don’t read reviews before they stay in a place…or at least don’t pay attention to patterns if they are reading them. But don’t follow this trend. There’s a reason they’re there, and ignoring them could literally leave you sleeping with disgusting little bugs. Take the extra 15 minutes to skim through the review section.

Look at What’s Offered

I travel with a towel so having one provided isn’t necessary. BUT staying in a place with no Wifi (yes, those really exist – feel free to gasp in horror) is not an option, since most of the time I’m working while I travel. Different things are important to different people. Make sure you’re not going to be hating your stay because essentials are being left out. Here are a few things I look for on every posting:

  • Breakfast (Is it included?)
  • Lockers (Where can I put my valuables while I’m sleeping?)
  • Accessible kitchen (Can I make my own food if I want to?)
  • Linens/pillows (Some places charge you more for bedsheets.)
  • Wifi/Internet (Non-negotiable for me.)
  • Showers (What’s the situation? Check it out before you assume.)
  • Location (It really is everything…but we’ll talk more about that, below.)

Location, Location, Location

Here’s the deal. If you pay $10/night, but you’re miles away from anything you want to do, you’re going to spend as much time/money on transportation as you would have on getting lodgings closer to the city center. No matter how much travel-know you think you have, ALWAYS google the address of a hostel, before booking. It takes an extra 5-10 minutes to see what’s in the surrounding area where you’re potentially staying, and saves you a whole ton of stress, once you’re there. This is also when you can see how difficult it is to get to it from the station or airport you’re coming into.

Ask Around

I love social media because I get some of my best recommendations from my friends on Facebook and Twitter. Don’t be shy! There are people out there who have been where you’re going, and WANT to share info and help.  Wouldn’t you rather take their advice on a great place to stay, than end up somewhere sketchy? Who knows? They may even have a friend who will take you in for a couple of days (money saving 101).

Lockers

Okay, so it’s not something anyone wants to talk about, but the fact of the matter is that things get stolen, sometimes. It does happen in hostels, and while it’s never happened to me, personally, I’ve definitely heard stories. But before you throw your hands in the air, know that there’s a rather easy solution. Most hostels have some kind of locker system (but again, never assume) where you can store your valuables. Most of these require a cash deposit of around $10 (for a deposit which you get back once you leave), so make sure that you have cash in the currency of the country you’re visiting before you show up at the hostel.

Think Before You Spend

Depending on the hostel, the prices for different rooms can vary drastically. For instance, when I was looking today I noticed that a room with 6 beds was only $1.50 more per night than a room with 8 beds. Okay, let’s do the math. Is it worth $1.50 to have two less people in the room? Hint: The answer is yes. Make sure you’re comparing the prices of the rooms that you’re staying in before idly clicking away at things that you think you need. Do your research and you’ll be rewarded!

There are lots of ways to book hostels, one of my favorites being HostelWorld. I use HostelWorld the most frequently for numerous reasons (mainly because you only have to pay a deposit down when you book, rather than the full amount). One of my favorite hostels I’ve stayed in, though, was one found by a German friend in Berlin. It wasn’t on HostelWorld or any of the other big sites, and maybe that was part of its charm. Oh, and it was $70…for the entire week.

Your turn! What tips do you have to find that perfect hostel? Share your tricks for success in the comments below! 

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.