Tea Talk 11: Diana Anderson | Travel Enthusiast

Meet Diana, goddess of travel. This girl has known me since…since, probably longer than anyone outside my family. We met at church when we were like five (I don’t know honestly know the exact time we met, but it pretty much spans my memory) and we were best buds right away. After high school we didn’t get to see each other nearly as much, but a few years ago we accidentally reunited in London and had an awesome time. Thank god we both grew up to love traveling and all things British. The best. I’m so excited to introduce you all to my friend, and travel aficionado, Diana!

What started your passion for travel?

My parents took me on my first 22 hour road trip when I was 11 months old down to Southern California. We went once a year every year for the following twenty years. Between those, we travelled to two countries and thirty eight states both by car and plane. I guess I never stopped.

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

Be nice! I’ve received countless upgrades just by being patient and understanding. I’ve witnessed people in the customer service industry – especially at airports – get yelled at for trivial problems that are completely out of their control and, being as they’re human, they tend to be more generous with those that don’t threaten them.

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

The essence of relationships being above all else. Seattle is known for the Seattle Freeze so that’s what I’ve been used to, but in moving to the East Coast and traveling throughout Europe and Australia it is apparent how much other cultures value their relationships with their families and friends. This has significantly enhanced my quality of life.

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

Do it. Be smart, but go for it. I started traveling solo when there wasn’t a lot of information or groups so I felt like I was flying blind. Luckily times have changed and at this point there are so many resources and people that have gone before you that are willing to answer any questions. And if it’s fear that’s holding you back, my motto has always been “The worst thing that can happen to you, can happen in your backyard”. Sounds bleak, but don’t let your delusions of comfort lull you into complacency.

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

No amount of planning is going to prepare you. I’ve passed out in the streets of Paris due to dehydration, gotten a concussion in several theme parks, sprained an ankle, lost all means of contact to family back home, been stranded with no money, been robbed. You just have to roll with it and get inventive.

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

Speaking to other people. The first time I went international, I was alone and didn’t speak to hardly anyone despite it being an English speaking country. That fear has absolutely worn off.

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

Train! I have a love affair with airports but any airplane trip longer than three hours makes me crazy. I once took the TGV from Cannes to Paris and instantly fell in love.

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

Keep going. Don’t let other people get in the way of traveling because it feeds your soul and you can’t help others if you’re not helping yourself first.

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

Belize. At the start of my traveling, I spun a globe and my finger landed on Belize. I have to go just to say that I have.

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

I have this delusional habit in which I decide to go somewhere but don’t lock down any logistics until the last minute. I’m going to Europe in May, with at least a stop in London to see my sister and niece, but other than that, I have no idea yet. When I know I need to get away, I start planning and let it figure itself out.

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

I was with someone else. I’m a planner and I’m stubborn so this was not going to be easy from the get-go.

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

Not everyone likes to travel the way that I do. Up until this trip, I’d only gone on trips with my family – who taught me how to travel – and church groups – who dictated how I travel. Traveling with one other person for fun was difficult not only when we had personal arguments but when we realized we wanted to do things differently. Traveling, like relationships, is something you have to compromise on if you want to do it with someone else.

What’s one thing you’ve learned about yourself from your most recent trip?

I learned that I still need to improve how I visit new cities. I let my jet lag or my willful ignorance keep me from exploring and that has been a big hinderance. Since then, I’ve taken several small trips and tried to force myself out of my comfort zones. It’s been very rewarding!

Anything else you’d like to add?  

Travel isn’t how Instagram models make it out to be. It’s not all pretty pictures from glamorous hotel rooms, but it’s in the gritty sleeping-in-the-tub-to-avoid-bedbugs that you gain the real benefits. Solo travel teaches a person a lot about themselves and that’s why it’s so incredibly important to do.

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 April for the next feature!

What I’m Currently Obsessing Over: March Edition

This past month has been a whirlwind, but I’ve found some super amazing finds along the way. So naturally I thought I would share them with you guys, because what else is this blog for than to rant and rave?

R.Riveter: The Hobby

In honor of International Women’s Day, R. Riveter highlighted The Hobby which is my newest bag from them. I’ve already used this bag for multiple outings, and I’m obsessed with the emerald green color of mine. It perfectly matches my Slytherin heart. The Hobby was named after Mrs. Oveta Culp Hobby who was the first secretary of the U.S. Health Department, Education and Welfare, first director of the Women’s Army Corps, and a chairperson of the board of the Houston Post. Basically she was a BAMF.

Koe-Zee Embroidery 
I just bought one of these beautiful embroidery hoops and it is just so perfectly perfect. Obviously I bought the one with the middle finger and the roses, but there are a lot more *cough* mild designs as well. What I really love about these designs is that she’s PNW local, and obviously I can’t emphasize supporting local small businesses enough.

Sock Panda (sponsored)

Fun fact: I wear super weird socks with my normally all black/neutral wardrobe pretty much every day. I was super happy that Sock Panda sent me some socks to try out, mainly because I love having fun and weird socks on under my 9-5 business wear, but also because the mission of the company is really cool: For every pair of socks purchased, another pair is given to homeless shelters, low income senior centers, hospitals, and under-privileged classrooms throughout the country. Also, they sent me dinosaur socks and how can you argue with that?

Paper and Slate Candles

So yes, I’m a huge literary nerd (especially classic literature) and when I found out that Paper and Slate was going to be creating candles based off of characters I just about died. Currently I have the Elizabeth Bennet candle, and the Emily Dickenson (my favorite!). I’ll probably end up grabbing another one once these melt into oblivion based off of me burning them nonstop.

Note: You should also check out Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party…because I love it. Also, The Case of the Guilded Lily. Okay, I’m done.

Arbitrary Muse Comics

I found out about these ladies a couple years ago, and when I saw them at Comic Con this year I knew I needed to buy all of the things. I think I walked away from there with four comics and some other swag. It was awesome. What I love the most about these comics is that they’re inclusive both on the race and sexual spectrum. It really is a breath of fresh air and I couldn’t love their historical take on storytelling any more.

What are you guys currently obsessing over? Let me know in the comments! 

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!

Black Panther Knocked My Socks Off, Here’s Why *Spoilers*

Yeah, yeah. You’ve heard that Black Panther is a great movie. But then again every year we’re given a list of “great movies” by The Academy aka The Oscars and half of those are shit (sorry, mom…but they ARE) so how are we supposed to know fact vs. hype!?

Well, I’m here to tell you that Black Panther is not a hype movie. It is, in fact, an absolute masterpiece. Now if you haven’t seen this movie already get off your phone/computer and get your butt to the nearest theater. I’m not responsible for spoilers spilling out throughout this post. You’ve been warned.

1. Non-traditional roles

I love that from the beginning the roles that each character plays aren’t defined by what they look like or what gender they are. My empowerment gauge, as an African American woman, was pretty much breaking as I was watching this movie and what I loved the most about that is that it wasn’t forced. Nobody was trying to write empowerment into this movie. The very fact that the characters were given actual characters instead of stereotypes was enough in itself.

Image result for black panther, Nakia and t'challa

2. Costume magic

Crying over clothes is not anything new to me. I’ve loved fashion and costumes since I was old enough to walk *cue video of me strutting in dresses from the 80s and my mom’s high-heels when I was four years old*. The costumes in Black Panther are on a whole different level. I mean, seriously. WHAT. Every stitch, every accessory, every bead and face painted dot. I’m tearing up right now. The detail that was put into this movie’s production is unprecedented. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it before, and I don’t know if we’ll ever see anything like it again—we can only hope.

3. The great and powerful Shuri

Shuri is the superhero we’ll never deserve. A princess (aka T’Challa’s sister) is the perfect blend of sass + intelligence with the fashion sense of a style god. Shuri is the tech genius behind Wakanda’s source power and she basically invents everything in the country. From start to finish her character completely steals every scene she’s in and I honestly think there’s a very good chance I’ll be cosplaying her in the future.

Black Panther4. Shit we haven’t seen

Praise the great and glorious Marvel gods, there were actually several moments in this movie where technology or situations went BEYOND what we’ve seen in any Marvel movies before. As a writer/storyteller I usually predict 99.9% of the things in movies buuuuuuuut I was super pleasantly surprised by the plethora of new things that popped up. This included seeing a car that’s being driven from another location, by another driver and bad-ass armored Rhinos to state just a couple. I mean come on!

5. There are actual consequences to actions

Like yeah, some people die in other superhero movies but it never really MEANS anything. It usually just feels like a way to push the plot forward. One of the things that I loved so much about Black Panther is that there were very real repercussions for choosing a side. People died. And I think that it’s really important in today’s world to see that doing what’s right doesn’t always mean a path of flowers and roses. It means there are consequences, and shit goes down. Rise up.

6. T’Challa + Nakia = <34Evr

Something that I thought was really beautiful in this movie was how T’Challa doesn’t ask his love interest to give up on her dreams when he asks her to be with him. In fact, he creates a way for them to be together while still pursuing their individual callings. To me, that is the height of romance…especially when we’re talking about strong, “stubborn” women.

7. Africa isn’t a country

One of the coolest parts of this movie was the acknowledgment of different types of African culture, expressed particularly through the clothing. I loved seeing the variety that was represented!

Have you seen Black Panther, yet? Let me know what your favorite part was in the comments below! 

February Goals: Spend Less, Live More

I wouldn’t consider myself a heavy spender. That being said, the last couple of months were way more expensive than my usual crazy, so I decided to take February to reevaluate my spending. This also came in the wake of 101 medical bills from October when pneumonia tried to kill me. Healthcare in America:

When I first got the idea to take a month off from unnecessary spending I wasn’t really sure what the outcome would be. I had to stay away from thrift stores because let’s be honest: #addicted, and I had to start making some changes to my routine. Here’s how this ish went down:

Think About Routine The Night Before

The LAST thing most people want to think about at night is the fact that they’re going back to work the next day. That being said, this actually can save quite a big of cash. Since I work in the middle of downtown Seattle there are a lot of temptations for food places that eat up your paycheck before it ever hits your back account. So, every night, while I’m cooking dinner (this has also helped to inspire my cooking haha) I pack a lunch. Just like good ‘ole K-12. It might seem childish, but it’s saving my adult monies so I can use them for adult things…like comicon tickets. Duh.

Start Caring About Other People More

One of the things I wanted to focus more on during this month was to start putting money toward other people. But I wanted this to be very intentional and targeted, not just passing out money on the street (although there is a time and place for that). For the past couple of years I’ve been following my friend Stella’s journey as she’s continued building her non-profit 22Stars. What they do in Uganda is absolutely incredible, and I’ve wanted to support them for so long…but I’ve never had finances to back that up. Well. I finally did it. I’m SO excited to now be a long-term education sponsor for a little Ugandan girl. I would HIGHLY suggest looking at the profiles of other children who still need sponsors. The fact that $20/month sends a child to school is just crazy.

Stop Going To Thrift Stores

Okay, so obviously I love thrifting and there’s no way that I’ll stop entirely going to thrift stores. But for the month of February I decided to be more intentional about going, and so far I haven’t gone at all. There’s a simple reason for this fact: I don’t need anything. And while it’s more of a hobby than anything else for me, I always want to be really concious about managing my habit so it doesn’t go down the road to crazy. I’m not trying to star in Hoarders.

Reminders Of What ACTUALLY Makes Me Happy

While spending money is sometimes necessary for making some magic happen, a lot of the most beautiful things in life are free…or, at least, I already have what I need to make them happen. For example:

  • Hot cups of tea
  • Knitting
  • Cuddling up under blankets
  • Painting
  • Cooking
  • Gardening
  • Writing
  • Reading

All of these things make me super happy, but don’t actually cost me a whole lot of money (if any). When I’m stressed, bored, or just looking for something to do out I’ve turned to doing one of these things, rather than surfing Amazon for useless Pusheen stuffies that I just don’t need…or do I?

Spend More Time With People

People. Gross. Yeah, so I’m a pretty hardcore introvert, so there are like seven people I like in the whole world. But, you know what? I’m still human…which means that interacting with people is a necessary part of my existence. What have I done to remedy this? Well, first off I’m trying to be more intentional about spending time with people I really enjoy, and I’ve also been spending time interacting with my lovely followers in the Twitter-verse and through various online groups I’m part of. I also got a new pen-pal which is awesome x 1000. What have I learned from this? Spending time with people who make you happy makes spending money a whole lot less of a priority. Because people are awesome! In small and manageable doses.

Now, February is only half-way done so I’m hoping and praying that I’m actually able to stick to this scheme, but we’ll see. I have fallen off the “eating out” bandwagon once already, but generally it’s going super well and I feel better balanced. Have any of you ever done a spending freeze? Let me know how it went in the comments!

5 Airbnb Hosts You’ll Meet While Traveling

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

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

1. The parent

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

2. The single girl

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

3. The host that could care less

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

4. The above and beyond host

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

5. The grandparents

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

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

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. 

How 2017 Helped My Millennial Problem

December 31st, 2016 I gave up on something I had done for the past 20 years of my life—I gave up on New Years Resolutions. I decided I had enough of telling myself I couldn’t do things. I was sick of trying to break habits, and pick up skills that had nothing to do with what I wanted to do with my life.

January 2nd, 2017 I was sitting at my desk realizing how alone I felt. I had been working 60 hours for the past year, and I had managed to isolate myself in a toxic relationship, and away from people who valued me. I remember sitting at my desk and thinking, “It’s been so long since I’ve seen my friends.” And when I say long, I mean years.

After living abroad for a year, I had lost contact with a lot of people. In addition to the fact that we were all living our adult lives, I was 5,000 miles away. Not exactly the recipe for strong friendships. When I moved back to the U.S. I pretty immediately began working like a maniac, to make up for some debt from living in Paris, and I started dating someone a month after being back. It was insane.

So here I am, starting a new year and feeling like shit. Hello, 2017. All I wanted to do was hang out with people who made me happy. So I made a promise. Not a resolution, but a promise to myself. I didn’t have a whole lot of extra time (re:working 60 hours a week), but I did have an hour a month. I decided that once a month I was going to meet up with someone I hadn’t seen in a long time. I made a list, and got real with myself. This needed to happen.

And it did.

Every month this year I have grabbed coffee, tea, Skyped, or hung out with someone I hadn’t seen in forever. People who make me happy. People who get me. People who I would be friends with, even if the sky fell. No agenda, I didn’t get anything out of it—I just sat down and had coffee.

Now let me tell you how this changed my life.

My generation (millenials) is one of the loneliest to ever exist, despite the fact that we have more access to people than humanity has ever had before. Think about it—I have access to connect and talk to millions of people every day. It’s insane. And despite that fact, we have higher rates of depression, anxiety and just general unhappiness.

Slight detour: Remember those people who made you happy as a kid. I’m talking about the friends who you raced worms with. The puddle jumping buddies. The non-agenda I just like you friends? Okay, cool—hold onto that thought for a minute. 

When I started to meet up with people who I had no “reason” to meet up with, I started to see myself different. The people I chose are all people who have inspired something in me, when I met them. Maybe it was creativity, or drive, or laughter, or (to be honest) just plain geekery. Whatever it was, it was those people who I just click with—Kindergarten style.

Every time I met up with one of these people I re-discovered a part of myself…and I had a lot of fun. Like, so much fun. Honestly, I am so honored to have these people in my life. This project also spurred on other community creating ideas, like a monthly girls “crafternoon” which honestly gives me so much life.

What I’ve learned from this “project” is that so often we get too busy for people, and we forget how much value they can bring to our lives. I know there’s a huge emphasis on maintaining certain lifelong relationships, like romantic or family…but you know what? Don’t undervalue friendship. Don’t undervalue how rich your life can be from being around people who just get you.

Collaborate with them, grab coffee with them, plan movie nights with them. Create the opportunities to have your life enriched and I guarantee you’ll see results. And anyway, this is so much better than starving yourself for some crazy weight-loss goal. 

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

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!