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. 

A Day In Bath: The Jane Austen Festival

One of the best decisions I’ve made on this trip was taking a sporadic trip west of London to a little city called Bath. Now, if you’re familiar with Jane Austen at all then you’ll probably recognize this city from a bunch of her books, most notably Persuasion, which is pretty much set entirely in the city. Jane Austen did not write Persuasion while she was in Bath but she did live in the city, so the reoccurring placement of the city in her books makes a lot of sense.

And it just so happens to be that Jane Austen was exactly the reason I went to Bath. A couple of years ago I’d heard about The Jane Austen festival and I wanted to go more than anything…but it didn’t really seem reasonable to fly to England just for that. So instead of booking a plane ticket I bookmarked the page on Facebook. And then I completely forgot about it—UNTIL a few days ago. It turns out that somehow I booked a trip during the festival this year. Happy accident, indeed. So on Sunday I jumped on the train and bought a ticket to a couple of events. I’d never been to bath before, or had it recommended to me by anyone so I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. All I knew were the Jane Austen references.

The good news is, I was more than pleasantly surprised by bath and how much it had to offer. Before I left for London I had been researching Jane Austen tours because I knew I wanted to do something focused on her, but I definitely didn’t want to sit on a bus for 5 hours just to see the house she wrote in. I also didn’t want to pay +$300 in order to sit on said bus. I also have a pretty strict rule that I don’t pay over $150 for a day tour, so Bath was a perfect substitution. The breakdown:

$70 – Train round trip

$15 – Jane Austen Centre

$20 – 1 Hour Jane Austen Walking Tour

$40 – Roman Baths + Fashion Museum

$20 – Theatrical performance of Northanger Abbey

Grand Total $165 for an experience that was completely one of a kind, didn’t involve me sitting for long periods of time, and gave me the flexibility to do what I wanted when I wanted. It also saved me over $100. Bam.

My first stop for the day were the Roman Baths which have been a tourist attraction for thousands of years. The Romans built them as a tribute to the gods and swore by their healing qualities. I don’t know about that, and by the smell I wouldn’t say there was any healing going on, but I definitely think they were beautiful.

After I went to the Roman Baths I stopped by The Jane Austen Centre which is a collection of memorabilia and information about Jane’s family life and time in Bath. It really is more of a fangirl’s dream than a museum, but it was a fun time and not very expensive so I’d recommend it if you’re looking for something fun to do. There was also a tea room adjoined which I didn’t have time to visit, but I would definitely suggest checking it out, since I heard good things from those who did go.

Next up was the Fashion Museum which was I knew was going to be my favorite part of the day before I even stepped into the building. As someone who has studied historical fashion since I was five years old, I allotted the most time of my day to this museum. And it was so worth it.

After the Fashion Museum I had a scheduled walking tour as part of The Jane Austen Festival. Little did I know that everyone on this tour was going to be in costume. But hey, you live and you learn. The actual tour was amazing. It was comedy themed with a script and continuing story line that allowed the tour group to “find” different characters around the city and interact with the city. It was like going to a walking theatre production. Which, for this ADHD mind was absolutely brilliant.

After grabbing a quick bite to eat I headed back over to The Pump Rooms for a theatre production of Northanger Abbey which was hilarious because there were only two people acting out the entire production…well, two people and six puppets to be precise. I guess you’d kind of have to be there to realize how mad genius it was.

Overall the day was a complete success that completely wiped me out. In other words, I fell asleep on the train on the way back. But it was worth it. I had so much fun and I would love to come back another year and bring a costume along with me.

10 Confessions From A Travel Blogger

If you hate planes this is the post for you. Or, rather, flying. I love planes. Travel in general is usually a bit of a whirlwind, but it can look a lot more glamourous that it actually is. So, to give you a peek behind the curtain I’ve decided to tell you ten of my most deadly secrets:

  1. I don’t like flying
    TBH I’m pretty indifferent when it comes to flying, but I definitely don’t like it. I’m terrified of planes crashing while I’m on them and turbulence scares the shit out of me (sorry for the swearing, mom). But you know…it’s a small price to pay when it comes to having experiences of a lifetime and I have to weigh my fear against my longing to see more of the world.
  2. I eat McDonalds and Starbucks when I travel
    Stop your little judgy-judge self. I definitely do like supporting small businesses but something I’ve noticed about those places is that hey often don’t have wi-fi and are cramped for space. Which if I’m trying to write makes life a little difficult. I also have a lot of food allergies and so sometimes I just want something predictable and easy to choose from. Fun fact: I’ve tried McDonalds in +10 countries and the menus are ALL different! 
  3. I actually really like most hostels
    I know at some point I’m supposed to outgrow hostels, but I really like being around other people who share my love of travel. That being said, I would NEVER stay in a hostel in the U.S. because the culture is completely different, but when I’m traveling around the globe they give me some great opportunities to meet new people and have new experiences. 
  4. Sometimes solo travel gets really lonely
    Even though I’m a class 5 introvert I still get really lonely sometimes when I’m traveling. Most of the time I’m great, and I definitely prefer to travel solo but there are definitely days that are rougher than others. Usually to fix this phase I plug into my Facebook group of girls who travel, try to schedule meetups with my friends or join a walking tour. 
  5. I walk miles and miles and miles
    Something that you don’t really get to see is just how much I walk when I’m traveling. I mean miles and miles and hours and hours. I’ve always loved walking, but I also love the gems that I can find when I’m walking around a city. That being said, I never walk alone late at night and try to stay in mostly populated areas so that I’m safe. 
  6. My favorite thing to do is go clothing shopping
    This is kind of the worst because I’m a backpacker which means that I have basically no room for clothes when I travel…and yet somehow I’m always buying clothes. Usually I’ll just choose a few amazing pieces because of space restrictions, but absolutely love walking through shops when I’m traveling.
  7. I love old churches
    Churches are my happy place. I was raised very religious, and while I don’t hold the exact belief system of religion that I was brought up with churches always bring me peace and anchor me. In Europe it’s also beautiful because these places of worship have been around for so many centuries and the craftmanship is just jaw-dropping. Not defending the history of the church, but there will always be a part of me deeply tied to it.
  8. I make a lot of dumb mistakes and have to laugh them off
    So this morning I tried to get on a train and could not for the life of me figure out how to put the ticket in the machine. No this is not my first time in the U.K. Yes, I have ridden public transportation here before. But for some reason when it came time to slide my ticket in, I went completely blank. The  lady standing in line behind me basically cheerleadered me on until I figured it out but it was a great example of one of those times that I do something really stupid and have to just laugh it off. When you’re traveling around to different cultures and countries this is going to probably happen a lot. One of the most useful travel tools you can develop is humor. 
  9. I have social anxiety
    Let me tell you what happens when I get around a group of people: my mind, body, and soul start shutting down. Throughout traveling I’ve been able to acknowledge this and develop some strategic ways to make traveling work for me even though I hate being around people…especially unfamiliar people. For instance, I’ve invested in noise canceling headphones. I take breaks throughout the day to go back to my hostel/Airbnb. Not optional, I force myself to take breaks. I bring books with me. I plan like nobody’s business so I don’t get overwhelmed when I leave my home base. There is no right way to travel. Customizing your experience so that it makes you happy is the only thing you need to worry about. 
  10. I go to bed really early, and wake up really early when I travel
    You might think that the party life is what traveling is all about, but unless I’m in Copenhagen, this is just not how I travel. Referencing back to my previous point, being around a ton of people is really exhausting for me, so waking up really early (like 6am or 7am) and taking a walk around a city can be a really refreshing way to start my day. In order to do this, though, I have to go to bed pret-ty early which means no late night partying for me…unless I’m in Copenhagen.
  11. BONUS: Jet lag is from the devil
    You may have heard of those people who jet-lag barely affects. I am not one of them. That’s why I’m finishing writing this post at 4am and why the hostel workers were like “Do you have to be up for a flight?” Nope. I’m just terrible at getting my body to cooperate. It usually takes me about three days to get over jet-lag so I usually don’t plan a whole lot of interactive activities during those days. Why? Because I’m not a saint when I’m tired. And now you know.

London: A Writer’s Paradise

The first time I came to London I hated it. Like really hated it. The busy backwards streets, the millions of people, the high prices…it was all too much for my little introvert mind. And don’t even get me started on the Tube. At the time, the thought of commuting underground absolutely terrified me.

A lot has changed in the last five years. I’ve visited London more and it has started to feel more like my city. I started to feel more comfortable wandering beyond the tourist spots early in the morning. I learned to look both ways when I cross a street…just in case. And obviously after living in Paris taking an underground metro is second nature to me, now. It’s comical, when I think back, that this year I decided that London was going to be where I spent my birthday. My birthday is a really important day of the year, and I’m pretty particular about how I spend it. I’ve been in London less than 24 hours and I already know I made the right decision…but it’s still laughable.

I bought this plane ticket back in March when a lot of things were uncertain for me. I didn’t know where I was going to live, work or what direction I was headed. I didn’t even have my cat, which is a tragedy to think about. When I saw the non-stop tickets from Seattle to London I knew I needed to jump on the opportunity, but I also knew that with such an unknown future I didn’t know if I’d even be able to get the time off from whatever job I was working six months down that road. So naturally I bought a ticket.

And now I’m sitting in a café in London. Different job, different living situation, different life. The lesson to learn here is that when you make travel a priority you might be surprised how the universe moves to make it happen.

There’s another reason I decided to take this trip, beyond the fact that it’s my birthday on Wednesday and that’s because I wanted to really dive into a writing state of mind. What better place than London? While I’m here my #1 priority is to immerse myself in writing. That could mean learning about writers, sitting here writing while I’m severely jet-lagged or meeting up with other writers while I’m here. Also just having more experiences to write about. I want it all. And I need it.

The last couple years have been pretty intense and amidst those times my writing has dropped off in a lot of ways, which is tragic since all I’ve ever wanted to do since I was a kid was to write. So here I am in one of the greatest cities in the world, soaking up as much knowledge as I can and typing away on my little blog. Let’s see what adventures we can have.

P.s. Tomorrow I’m going to Harry Potter Land…aka Warner Bros Studios London!

6 Of My Favorite European Museums

I am an unapologetic nerd. I was born and raised into a nerdy family, and it’s just who I am as a person. When I travel, this spills over into my itinerary. I love visiting places that have literary significance, historical significance, or just allow me to buff my nerd knowledge. MOST of the time these places are museums, so I thought I would share my top five favs so if you happen to be planning a trip to Europe you can stop by some of my favorite spots. Tell them Emilee sent you. JK I definitely don’t have that kind of sway…yet.

1. Parlamentarium | Brussels, Belgium | FREE

This museum is AMAZING. And that’s coming from someone who isn’t even a part of the EU. At the beginning of your tour you’re given a headset that walks you through the history of the EU, where it came from and how it functions today. I honestly never knew any of this information and it was such an amazing lesson in world history, and also in current economic situations in Europe. There’s obviously a bit of a bias, but I felt like overall the structure of the museum was amazing and very interactive. I think I spent 2-3 hours in there.

 

2. The Louvre | Paris, France | $18.50

I’m sure all of you are SO SURPRISED to see this one on the list. But, really. The Louvre is one of my favorite places on the planet and I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for people to visit it. It honestly will change your life. One of the biggest mistakes that a lot of people make about The Louvre is that they go in for an hour, walk around two floors and say they’ve “been” to the Louvre. You’re cheating yourself with this approach. I would say take a couple of days to go to the Louvre. Go a morning on one day and just sit and look at paintings. Go an evening another day and walk through the lower levels of The Louvre. Look at the Middle Eastern exhibits (which, by the way, barely anyone knows about). There is so much history in this museum it really is a must-see multi day/hour visit. While I lived in France I think I went 6 or 7 times at 2-3 hours a pop…and I still haven’t seen everything.

3. The Sherlock Holmes Museum | London, England | $21

This might be the nerdiest one on the list, but I’m a pretty hard core Sherlockian, and I absolutely loved being able to visit the real 221B during my first trip to London. This museum is essentially set up as the house of Sherlock Holmes with a Victorian style guard at the front door, three levels of Sherlock Holmes related artifacts, and an over-priced gift shop. Everything you could ever want, right!? If you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan like I am I would definitely recommend visiting the museum for photos if nothing else. The whole museum takes about 30 minutes to an hour to go through.


4. Titanic Museum | Belfast, N. Ireland | $25

You think you know about the Titanic because you’ve seen the movie? Ha. Try reliving the entire experience from day one as an immigrant in the early twentieth century to the day the ship sinks. WARNING: This museum is REALLY emotional and there is a really high chance of you feeling feels. One of the coolest parts of this museum is that the admission ticket is made to look like the tickets that were originally made for the Titanic’s maiden voyage. Since I’ve been obsessed with the Titanic since I could read, this museum was absolutely amazing to go through. It’s several floors and takes about 2-3 hours (at least) to walk through.

5. Van Gogh Museum | Amsterdam, The Netherlands | $22

Can I tell you how much I love Van Gogh? If you know me well, I probably already have…but here we are again. I distinctly remember the first time I saw an image of a Van Gogh painting. It was the same feeling I had when I first heard French. So right, and a forever part of my identity. The Van Gogh museum was a sacred space for me. From the first moment I slipped on the headphones for the self-guided tour I was completely immersed and could have been in that world of Van Gogh for forever. Not only is this museum the world’s largest installment of Van Gogh paintings, but it’s also such a personal experience since it’s in the home country of the artist. Must see. I think I spent 2-3 hours in the museum.

6. Natural History Museum | London, England | FREE

This is actually one of my most recent visits, and GUYS, THEY HAVE DINOSAURS! I’ve been to London three or four times before, but I had never visited this museum until November and it was so cool. Basically everything natural history related is in this museum, and it’s broken down into geology, biology and just general awesome. We actually got kicked out of this museum because it was closing, to be sure to get there early. You could easily spend 3 hours in this spot.

And that’s the best of the best! What are your favorite museums? Let me know in the comments!

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!

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. 

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

Day 2: Game of Thrones Tour | Girona, Spain 

Yesterday was such a fun day! I decided to spluge on this trip by booking a Game of Thrones tour north of Bardelona, in Girona, and it was such a good way to get out of my shell and hang out with other nerds. The Medeivel town of Girona is like 2,000 years old so it’s pretty incredible in its own rite, but Season 6 of Game of Thrones was also filmed there and so there’s this whole other dimension of awesome in the city.

Asking random strangers to take pics of me. As one does.

This building was used to stage the big bang that Cersei may or may not have done.

These Arabic baths were so beautiful but the bath house was also so cold. The last thing I’d be thinking about here would have been bath time.

In addition to movie locations we also got to see some real castle ruins that were 1500 years old!

True talent is that this picture was taken by a dad who was balancing one kid on his shoulders while his five year old daughter told him how to take the picture. Shoutout to R. Riveter for my new favorite travel bag!

This is our tour guide. He didn’t actually love Game of Thrones but he loved history and architecture so that made up for it. These are the stairs blind Arya sat on.

Hanging out with my Otto bag and enjoying my golden hand. #kingslayer

This popsicle was actually gross, but the cool thing was that it turned your lips metallic gold as you ate it!

In a way im going to count this as my Thanksgiving. I got to eat tapas and traditional Catalonian food with 20 strangers next to the Mediterranean Sea!

And speaking of the sea. There she is!

Tomorrow I’ll be doing a walking tour around Barcelona so that should be fun! Then tomorrow I’m off to Morocco!

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!