Friday, December 30, 2016

2016: A Year in Review

2016 was a tumultuous year. But, I think I can still look back on it rather fondly.
This was the year of tackling items on my bucket list. I managed to strike off half a dozen goals.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Savings Accounts (& Growing Your Money)

I thought I'd make this little PSA-style post just prior to the holiday, since this is the time of year we're stretching our wallets rather thin.

We are spoiled. We live in an age of instant gratification which is why we're all constantly looking for shortcuts. I think shortcuts are when you're looking for an alternate route when you're stuck in traffic. However, when it comes to cash, I'm a major advocate of the savings account.

Okay, yes, savings accounts aren't what they were in their heyday. Everyone argues that the interest offered by banks are hardly worthwhile and won't even keep up with inflation. And I agree; my primary bank offers me 0.01% interest. That means that if I have $100 in my savings account, I will earn a penny; that's pretty pathetic. But guess what? The main reason for savings accounts is not all about shoving in a chunk of money and watching it grow purely from interest; if one could survive on interest rates alone, then we'd only have to work for a few years and then watch our bank accounts grow, right? Savings accounts should be a v. active place where you deposit chunks of money on a regular basis. It's about going back to that mindset you had as a child, when you saved money in your piggy bank.

Sure, investing is definitely valuable. But, because I'm v. conservative with my money and I'm not a risk taker, I'm not that keen on playing the stock market. The only real investment I've made is with my 401K and that isn't even that impressive; I put in 6%, simply because that's the maximum percentage that my company will match (they match half up to 6%) and that's enough for me. Yes, I care about retirement but I also care about having a sum of money available now. I could die before retirement and then the efforts of pumping cash into my 401K will be for nought. Plus, as made obvious by this blog, I love to travel so if my money is tied up in my retirement and investments, it would make it difficult for me to go on my three or four holidays per year.
So, I thought I would share some of my tips for managing money and how to "grow" your bank account, sans the risky shortcuts.

Monday, December 12, 2016

4 Beauty Essentials for Cold Weather Travel

Visiting Copenhagen and driving around Iceland was an amazing experience. We had a really great time but it was definitely a bit rough on my skin. The transition from autumn to winter is always the hardest because the cold outdoors, the aggressive heating indoors, and the blistery wind takes a toll on my face and hands. In the past few years, I've gotten more disciplined when it comes to taking care of my skin. Afterall, I'm thirty now and wrinkles are pounding at my door.

Because I enjoy traveling light, I wanted to really pare down my skincare routine; and this was especially important for my Iceland trip because we were staying at a different place every night and I didn't want to fiddle with too many containers of stuff.

Typically before bed, I wash my face with my Clarisonic and then use a mask. After the mask is rinsed off, I'll slap on softener, top it with serum, pat on my eye cream, massage in some face oil, put on a little night cream, and then top it with a lavender mist. In the mornings, I use a creamy face wash, swipe on some toner and face oil, pat on a little honey and gold-infused serum, smear on a little depuffing eye cream, and top it with an SPF moisturizer. But you know, I wasn't really keen on packing 10+ items in my toiletries bag, on top of the other necessities like toothpaste, shampoo, soap, etc.
So, I figured out what I really needed and loved and narrowed it down to just four products.

Monday, December 05, 2016

DIY Clay & Felt Christmas Ornaments

I know I'm a week late in saying this, but I hope everyone (in the States) enjoyed their Thanksgiving weekends. It was busy, but fulfilling, and I still feel the gratitude in my heart for a loving, supportive family. Aww, I'm so sentimental.

Last weekend, we dug our fake tree out of storage so we could switch gears from feelings of thankfulness and turkey burps to generosity and Christmas spirit. The tradition I've made for myself in the past couple of years was to save a handful of vacation days at work and take time off between Christmas and New Years to give myself a lovely little holiday break. During last year's break, my sister and I made a bunch of Christmas ornaments using clay and felt. We decided on 'food' as the theme and made these really cute bits and bobs.
I wanted to share them right away - because of how adorable they were - but I was really patient and basically waited an entire year to share these. This isn't really a tutorial, because we didn't use any patterns or special methods. We just used our imaginations and basic sculpting and sewing skills. But, I thought I would share in case you wanted to give it a go.

Friday, December 02, 2016

1 Week in Iceland: Day 7

Our final few hours in Iceland were the most relaxing ever. We decided to go to the Blue Lagoon on our last day so that we could decompress and soothe our muscles and get in a really zen headspace so that we'd be happy on the flight home, despite the fact we knew we all had to go to work the following day.
We munched on some of the complimentary cereal in the hotel for breakfast and drank some of the complimentary apple juice before packing up our car and getting on the road for the 45 minute drive to the lagoon.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

1 Week in Iceland: Day 6

On our final full day in Iceland, we let ourselves sleep in just a bit. Our first stop wasn't too far from our apartment so we had to wait for the sun to do its thing a bit more before we left. Most of this day was spent exploring Reykjavik, which to be frank, was sort of underwhelming. The rest of Iceland was just so amazing, it was kind of boring to be in a city. However, it was nice to walk around instead of relying on the car.
For breakfast, we took full advantage of our kitchen and made a hearty hash using the leftovers from our dinner the night before.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

1 Week in Iceland: Day 5

Our fifth day in Iceland was somehow the most uneventful and eventful day of the week. It was uneventful because we basically just had two sites to visit and it was going to be a day of mostly driving. But, it was eventful because we punctured a tire and had to replace it. What an adventure!
Because we knew we'd be on the road for hours and we'd be sustaining ourselves mostly on road trip snacks, we took advantage of our kitchen and made a pretty hearty breakfast of eggs on toast. European eggs have the brightest yolks; it makes me think the chickens are really happy.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

1 Week in Iceland: Day 4

True to our pattern, we woke up nice and early on our fourth day in Iceland but for a bit of a different reason than to just hit the road. The farm we were staying on allowed guests to watch them milk the cows in the morning. So, we got dressed and wandered over.
The photos of the cows being milked weren't exactly glamorous so I'm not really sharing any (but I share some footage in my video diary, if you're really interested).

Monday, November 28, 2016

1 Week in Iceland: Day 3

Day 3 started quite early as well. This was going to be a really strenuous day because we had to make it from Hofn all the way to Myvatn and it was our longest driving day at 400+ km (250+ miles). We skipped a few sites (the big one we didn't make it to was Dettifoss) in order to make time for a soak at the Myvatn Nature Baths, which I think was well worth it.
The morning started with a bit of packing and then a delicious complimentary breakfast at Milk Factory; the fresh bread was awesome.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

1 Week in Iceland: Day 2

(Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and coincidentally, my 30th birthday. I'll be taking a short break from these posts and resuming on Monday. Enjoy your holiday, time with family, and eat lots of delicious food.)

Our second day in Iceland is what I will forever remember as the best day ever. We accomplished a lot, saw so many amazing things, and I finally got to cross #1 off of my life's bucket list. We didn't have to wake up quite as early as we did on Day 1 because our first destination was just a 15 minute drive from our hotel.
But we did take advantage of the twilit sky and got there before the sun was actually up.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

1 Week in Iceland: Day 1

Iceland was beyond what I had imagined it would be. Clearly, I did an embarrassing amount of research prior to going because I wanted to squeeze in as much as possible, so I had seen photo after photo, I had watched dozens of videos, and none of it had prepared me for the beauty of Iceland. I made a pretty intensive itinerary before we left, taking into account the sunrise and sunset times, taking advantage of twilight, and trying to schedule our days efficiently so that we could see all that we wanted to see. And even though we didn't get to everything, we saw all the priority sites on our list so I'm calling this trip a success.

It was difficult to take a bad photo there because it was so beautiful. But, the photos I'm sharing won't do the landscapes justice. This blabbery preface is just to say that you need to go. You will love it. I really want to go back, except the next time I go, I want to visit during the summer so I can see puffins and the midnight sun. But I also want to go back during northern lights season.
We flew in on Sunday night, got picked up by the rental car company, got settled in with our vehicle, and then headed straight to our hotel.

Monday, November 21, 2016

24 Hours in Copenhagen

Copenhagen has been on my bucket list for years, but for a really stupid reason. The Little Mermaid is one of my favorite movies (I watched that and Cinderella endlessly as a kid on a bootlegged VHS) and there's a Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen because it's a city greatly associated with Hans Christian Andersen (who wasn't born there but started his career there). Yeah, that's it; that's the sole reason. It wasn't until recently that I realized how ignorant I was. It's a food capital and home to more than a dozen Michelin stars, there are more bikes than people, it's the happiest city in the world, they value hygge, and it's bursting with charm. Learning this made me intensely excited to go.

Because Icelandair was offering discounted flights and they do that special up-to-seven-day layover thing, I immediately took it as an opportunity to explore Copenhagen. This short 24-hour trip was both enough time and not enough time; I got a really good taste of the city but of course, there's definitely much more to see and I want to go back.
We had a five hour flight to Reykjavik, a short layover, and then a three hour flight to Copenhagen. It went by quickly because I slept the entire time. Icelandair was great; we only had to go through passport control at Reykjavik and then nothing at Copenhagen (because of the Schengen agreement). The only downside to this is that I didn't get a CPH stamp in my passport but it's a sacrifice I was willing to make for such a smooth experience.

Monday, November 14, 2016

New York City in Autumn

I'm back from Iceland and I could give you the same spiel about how I'm depressed because holiday is over and how work is dreadful, which it totally is. But instead of being super whiny and forlorn, I'm going to share the awesome day I spent in New York just before my trip.

D and I made plans to meet up for a whole day and enjoy art and food and good company and we followed through on those plans.
The weather was perfect. It was around 50F when I left the house and by the time I met up with D, it was in the 60s.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Election Day

Go vote!
I'm currently abroad and therefore am unable to go to the polls today. But, obviously because this was a pre-planned trip, I did the responsible thing and got my mail-in ballot. I voted about a month ago, and though sliding the envelope into the mailbox didn't have quite the same powerful feeling as punching in the ticket at the polls, it was still really meaningful.



Monday, November 07, 2016

How To: Plan & Pack Winter Clothes in a Carry On

(If all went as planned) I am currently in Iceland, enjoying my 30th birthday gift to myself. We're attempting a v. ambitious Ring Road trip in seven days; I'm confident we can do it. This is the first trip ever that I've taken to a chilly destination where I need legitimate winter clothing. The closest I've ever gotten to a chilly trip was when I went to Europe in January/February after I graduated school but that was pretty mild because we were in the UK, France, and Italy where it really doesn't snow all that much (though we did experience a freak snowstorm in London the day before our departure because that's just how the universe works).

I haven't ever had to pack loads of bulky, chunky knits and at first I was a bit apprehensive. But then, I realized it was kind of great because I realized I didn't have to pack as many pieces. Unlike tropical, humid, sunshiny destinations, I didn't need a new outfit for each day because I wasn't going to instantly dirty up my clothing with copious amounts of sweat and seawater. Visiting cold destinations means wearing coats constantly so you're going to look virtually the same in every photo anyway; does it really matter what you're wearing underneath? (Unless you're one of those fashion bloggers that get comped trips and you like to travel with giant luggage filled with a thousand outfits, in which case, it probably does matter what you're wearing underneath and you'd probably pack twelve coats. But fortunately, I do not fall into that category; carry on only, bitches!)
So, my strategy for this trip was to pack layers and do a bit of mixing and matching to optimize my minimal wardrobe. I wanted to use my tiny new roller (that I am in love with) and I wanted to pack efficiently but accessibly since we're road tripping. Because we're staying in a new town every night, I didn't want to have to mess up my entire bag every evening to get the items I needed. I mean, I can appreciate those crazy packing strategies people come up with - like stuffing socks inside shoes and saving small items for last so you can cram them into nooks and crannies - but those methods just aren't practical for this trip because then repacking my bag would be way too cumbersome. And honestly, I really don't like those strategies in general because they're not elegant; it seems rather haphazard and probably makes it difficult to locate specific items. But at the same time, I had to be v. strategic because I needed to be able to stuff everything I needed into my tiny bag.

This post is all about how I packed for 9 days abroad in a wintry destination with just an underseat carry on.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Philadelphia: Harry Potter Festival

Happy Halloween! What a fun and appropriate day to share this post. Last weekend, I went to Philadelphia because there was a Harry Potter festival. Apparently it's an annual thing now and it was awesome.

I'm a major Harry Potter fan. The books became super popular when I was in junior high; basically, I began reading them when I was eleven, which was how old HP was in The Sorceror's Stone so I feel like we're peers. I have the e-books on my phone, I have the hard copies on display in the living room, and I love the movie marathons on television. And of course, I'm a member of Pottermore (I recently found out my patronus is a Siberian cat).

I took the sorting quiz on Pottermore years ago and found out that I'm a Slytherin. I didn't want to go all out with a costume (that's just not my style) so for this trip, I just threw on my favorite 'Slytherin Seeker' tee.
Although, it didn't really matter what i was wearing because it was a little chilly, which meant I kept my jacket on the whole time. But I appreciated the autumnal nip in the air after a week of temperatures in the 80s.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Travel Photography Gear

I am an amateur photographer at best; I know the basics and I have a decent camera. But for this Iceland trip, I really want to make an effort to get some really great photos and capture some amazing memories. I'm really looking forward to this trip because of the amazing, unfamiliar landscapes and the v. real probability that we will see the northern lights.

Over the past few years, I've gotten more interested in photography and with every trip, I think my skills are improving. So, for this exciting trip to Iceland, I really wanted to stretch my skills. I knew this would be the ideal trip in which to try something new. When I went to Arizona at the beginning of the year, I definitely ventured outside of my comfort zone. It was the first time I toted a mini tripod on a trip, it was the first time I consciously switched between lenses to line up certain shots, and it was also the first time I attempted time lapses. And it all worked out because it was a road trip-style holiday in a beautiful landscape-heavy locale. I could store my handful of gear in the car and grab what I needed as I needed it, instead of lugging it around with me. The lugging part is really off-putting and the main reason why I don't put more effort into photographing city breaks.
But in Iceland, we'll be in a similar scenario. It's a road trip-style holiday and I expect the landscape to be breathtaking, which will ultimately justify the efforts. I plan on lugging two cameras with me (I have a Sony NEX 5R and 5TL) so that I can set one up on a tripod to do time lapses and shoot video from a wide angle while I use the other camera to do closeups and panning videos. I'm not 100% sure how it'll work out, but I also have my family at my disposal to help.

Monday, October 17, 2016

DIY Camera Poncho (Rain Cover)

I don't know how many times I can annoyingly remind you that I'm heading to Iceland in less than a month, but I'm doing it again. The main point I've read again and again regarding Iceland's weather is that it's completely unpredictable. I've also read that the locals say that if you don't like the weather, you can just wait fifteen minutes.

Because there is a v. good chance that we'll be caught in some sort of precipitation (likely rain in early November, there is a potential for snow but v. unlikely), I thought I should buy some sort of weather protection for my camera. I was browsing on Amazon but everything looked kind of crappy, reviews in general weren't that stellar, and I didn't want to pay for something that looked crappy with bad reviews. Since the rain covers just looked like plastic bags anyway, I decided to make my own.

I was inspired by the rain covers that had openings for your hands too, so I decided to go beyond the dozens of tutorials out there that just require a singular hole in the bag.
You'll need:
1 x one gallon ziptop bag
2 x sandwich or one quart ziptop bags
packing tape
+ lens hood

Monday, October 10, 2016

Starting a New Travel Journal

On my most recent trip (to the UK and Greece) I finished my travel journal. It took me six years, but I did it. I already had another Moleskine lined up (I buy them if I see them on sale) so I set it up as the successor. I made a little title page, set up a table of contents page, and added my credit card and bank emergency numbers to the back, the same as my original journal. Something different I did was to add in a generic packing list to use as a reference and make it a little easier when I'm planning.

My new journal is the same as the old except it's a soft cover. I'm a little apprehensive to see how it holds up - the edges are getting scraped up already - but I appreciate how much lighter it is.
And even though I'll do my best to keep it tidy and well organized, I have a feeling I'll get kind of complacent here and there and get messier and messier with time. But you know, I actually kind of like that; it's more organic and real.

Monday, October 03, 2016

New Destinations: Copenhagen & Iceland

I'm about a month out from my 30th-birthday-present-to-myself trip to see the northern lights; you might remember me blabbering on about how it's #1 on my bucket list. I've been doing my best to learn the Danish and Icelandic pronunciations of various words and confusing city and site names and I'm still doing a spot of shopping here and there, trying to pick out warm (but still cute) clothes that will help me weather (pun intended) the potential feels-like-below-freezing temperatures we might face on our Ring Road road trip.
I thought I would share my planning strategy for this trip (especially since it involves navigating the Ring Road in six days) because it's been an interesting process.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Socarrat Paella Bar & Doughnut Plant

A few weeks ago, I met up with my friend D to have some dinner. We had originally planned to go to a floral wreath-making class but they cancelled it due to lack of interest; boo. Since I'd already mentally scheduled that Tuesday evening as a night out anyway, I decided I would still make the trek into the city (a v. easy one via train) so we could spend some time together and do what we do best: eat and gossip.
I left work a little early to catch the train; I was going the opposite direction of commuters so I had the luxury of a quiet, comfortable ride in.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Comfy Airplane Outfits

I got back from holiday a few weeks ago and it is the most depressing feeling ever to have to go to work and not have my awesome Greek island trip to look forward to anymore; although, I can now look forward to Iceland in November. Everyone has been commenting to me that it seems like I'm always on vacation and I've been replying, "I wish!" Admittedly, I have done quite a bit of traveling the past decade of my life, though a good portion of that is due to work and that's not really leisurely.

I've flown on airplanes enough now - I hopped around four flights this past vacation - that I have some "uniforms" that I'll throw on depending on the occasion. I also have some major rules that I like to follow to make my time at the airport and on the airplane as easy as possible.
And I thought it would be nice to talk about comfy clothes and traveling a bit more before I have to whack myself back into reality.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

48 Hours in London: Day 2 & Video Diary

On our last day of holiday, I was sort of sad that it was over but also kind of happy to go home to see GM. I think that's the best part of having a dog: you know you're going to get the biggest, happiest welcome home ever, even if all you've done is gone out to check the mailbox.
Wanting to wind down and prepare for the flight home, we kept our last day really low-key. We didn't have many major plans, especially because the handful of ideas I'd had for our last day we had already done the day before.

Monday, September 12, 2016

48 Hours in London: Day 1

London is my favorite city. It's huge, there's loads to do, and the accents melt my heart every time. I made a list of not-so-known sites, so we did our best to mix those into some of our favorites and in the end, I feel like we did so much in the short time we were there. In fact, our health app said we walked 12+ miles on one of the days, which was the most we did all trip.
A lot had changed since the last time I was here back in 2010. The main difference, I suppose, was that I actually had some money to spend this time around but the other huge difference was how much better the food scene was. I think I had one of my favorite meals of the trip here, though I think my favorite meal changes on what I'm currently craving at the moment.

Friday, September 09, 2016

48 Hours in Mykonos: Last Bits & Video Diary

I probably could have jammed these last bits of Mykonos into yesterday's post but it was just so long and photo heavy, I didn't want to overload too much in one go. So, we'll just keep today's post really low-key and short and sweet.
Our flight out of Mykonos was at 14:00 so we decided to spend our morning just relaxing by the pool. We grabbed breakfast and then changed into our swimmies and chose the best sunloungers. For me, that was one in shade so I could read Harry Potter from my iPad since I was already super tan from our beach day. M chose one in full sun to grab a few more rays before we left Greece.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

48 Hours in Mykonos: Day 2

For our full day in Mykonos, we decided that we would hit up one of their famous beaches. We'd done a little bit of research on where we wanted to go but ultimately ended up heading to a beach that was easily accessible via bus from our hotel. The bus stop to Paradise Beach was a two minute walk so that settled things pretty quickly; the alternative would have been to walk into town to the main bus stop but we weren't so keen on that.
Even though we woke up bright and early, as usual, we were limited by the bus schedule (which didn't start running until 10:30) so we killed time by reading out by the pool which is obviously the best way one can kill time, am I right?

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

48 Hours in Mykonos: Day 1

Our Mykonos adventure began with a little bit of a headache. We ventured from Paros to Mykonos via ferry and it ran late and we got into a mini argument with the man checking our tickets and it was all a bit of a headache. I also couldn't get in touch with our hotel to let them know that our ferry was late so I was worried our airport transfer wouldn't work out so suffice it to say, I did not enjoy the ferry ride at all.
Luckily, even though the ferry was late, the journey itself was under an hour so it wasn't the worst experience ever.

Monday, September 05, 2016

24 Hours in Paros & Video Diary

Paros wasn't an island I was super excited about, mostly because it was chosen simply as a way to break up the ferry ride from Santorini to Mykonos; I didn't think we could survive 4+ hours on the sea. So, I did some minor research which led me to choose Paros over Naxos (because according to Wikitravel, it's considered the most beautiful island of the Cyclades). Fortunately, it was a lovely surprise how much we enjoyed our short time there.

First of all, the island isn't quite as "spiky" as Santorini or Mykonos, meaning there are no real steep climbs to reach the picturesque towns. We only stayed in Parikia, but everything was settled rather close to the water so we didn't have to get our sweat on constantly as we explored. Secondly, the beaches here are gorgeous and sandy, not gravelly. We walked 5 minutes from our hotel to a beach by the port and it was so beautiful and won my heart as my favorite of the trip. Lastly, the vibe here is so laid back, the hoards of tourists are much more minimal, and the people are so friendly and welcoming. They genuinely want you to have a good time instead of just trying to take your money. It was certainly the most affordable island we visited - the lodging was cheap, as was the food and the portions at restaurants was quite generous - and if I were European and looking for a laid back trip, this is where I would go.
Our journey to Paros started in Mykonos. I booked ferry tickets online a few days prior (since it was high season, I wanted to make sure it didn't fill up).

Friday, September 02, 2016

72 Hours in Santorini: Last Bits & Video Diary

We woke up fresh and early on our final morning in Oia so that we could squeeze in just one more fun activity before we had to pack up and leave. We decided to go for a dip in Ammoudi Bay bright and early so we could have the place to ourselves. We meandered down the steps to the bay at around 7:30. It was beautifully quiet with just a few locals getting ready to set up shop for the day.
And of course it was another gorgeous sunny day in Santorini so a swim was in order anyway.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

72 Hours in Santorini: Day 3

Our second full day in Santorini also started off bright and early. We did a bit of research the evening before about which beach to visit (we settled on Vlychada, pronounced "vlee-kada" with a throaty 'k' sound) so we threw on our suits and settled in for breakfast before meandering to the bus stop.
I really miss breakfast by the sea. I live so close to the ocean and yet, I rarely look at it. Probably because the view of the Atlantic from the tri-state is quite lackluster compared to Mediterranean views.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

72 Hours in Santorini: Day 2

On our first full day in Santorini, we woke up nice and early to explore Oia without the hoards of tourists. We thought it would be a nice way to have a bit more of an intimate experience with the town. There were a handful of other people with the same intentions as well as a few couples getting wedding photography done but in general, the town was lovely in its sleepy state and we definitely savored the time.
Exploring the town was also a nice way to kill time since our hotel didn't start serving breakfast until 8:30 anyway.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

72 Hours in Santorini: Day 1

Our flight to Thira started off with a small snafu: since it was the busy holiday season and so many planes were making their way to Santorini's tiny airport, we were delayed by 2 hours. But, since everyone was headed off on holiday, no one was particularly sour about it. And in fact, while we were parked on the jetway, we were allowed to walk around the plane and check out the cockpit, which was pretty cool.

I do want to warn anyone who hasn't been or whose only exposure to the Greek Islands is through Pinterest that it isn't all glamorous. We did see a ton of unfinished construction, which we assumed was due to the economic troubles the country is experiencing at the moment. Also, the charming picturesque towns you see in movies are isolated to small zones. The rest of the island is just unsettled dusty desert, which you'll notice as you're flying in; this actually shocked my sister who said she was kind of disappointed when we first arrived in Thira. We encountered quite a bit of donkey poop in Oia and Fira; the donkeys are used to haul humans up and down the steeper paths. This made me really sad as the donkeys just stand in the hot sun and they don't seem to be treated all that humanely. Plus, there are a few restaurants that are affected by the smell of the poop so keep that in mind as you're walking around trying to decide where to eat. Lastly, because these are small islands with old plumbing, you cannot flush anything down the toilet; you must put your toilet tissue in a "hygiene sac" and then toss it into the rubbish bin. So yeah, the Greek isles look super romantic on Pinterest and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants but there are several not-so-charming aspects that I wanted to warn you about because hey, this is good information to have. Nonetheless, all three islands that we visited were definitely some of the most charming places I've ever been so please don't let my PSA deter you from going.
The morning started bright and early for us at 4:30, which made me feel a little nauseated but wasn't actually that bad since it was 23:30 back home.

Monday, August 29, 2016

12 Hours in London & Video Diary

I'm pretty excited to be starting the recap blog posts of this past trip. It was just the best time ever, mainly because I was more than ready for a break from work but also because I got to revisit London, my first true travel love. I hadn't been since 2010, which was kind of crazy because I'd gone so often in my early 20s; (I first visited in 2008, went twice in 2009, and then again in 2010).

I had been itching to get back to London because I'd heard so much about how the food scene has changed (for the better) and because I really wanted to go and do some under-the-radar activities, the same way I did when I revisited Paris for the umpteenth time. Well, mission accomplished. I'll have a few more London posts after I finish my Greek posts; we sandwiched Greece with a few slices of London bread. But in this post, I'll outline what we managed to accomplish with jetlagged minds.
For the first time, we flew Norwegian and actually really liked it. The staff at JFK were a bit disorganized when it came to boarding, but we found the planes to be really new and comfortable so no harm, no foul.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Philadelphia Weekend

I'm back from holiday today and I'm suffering from the post-holiday blues. Even more so because we flew back last night and I'm back at work today and I'm jetlagged and tired and just miserable to be here.

But, I don't want to start off the week feeling sour. Instead, I want to recap a really fun weekend we had in Philly a few weeks ago.
We were only there for a day, but we packed a lot in and it was so much fun.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Underseat Carry On

Greetings from Santorini! Okay, not really, because I'm actually typing this from the comfort of my own bed, a few days before my departure date. But, as you read this, I will be in Greece (unless something goes horribly wrong; touch wood).

I'm actually pretty excited to write this post because I am obsessed with my new underseat carry on. The quest for this bag actually started just a month ago. I had decided to take one of my weekender totes as my main bag for this UK-Greece trip. However, I realized that on the past couple of trips, I basically ruined my shoulders by carrying tote bags. Florida was an especially fragile example because I'd gotten a bit sunburned the day before we were leaving so my shoulders were already raw.

I didn't want to pack my 21" carry on spinner for this trip because it was too big. My sister and I - for the first time in a while - decided not to share luggage on this trip mostly because the 21" spinner was too big even for us to share (which is what we usually do). So, I started looking for smaller rolling bags and ended up falling for a Nicole Miller underseat carry on bag. I had a $10 Amazon credit anyway, so I bought the 'Taylor Collection' model in tan and I am stoked.
Obviously, the trip I'm currently on will be the first true test and I will report back with any updates, but so far, I am smitten. Also, I don't actually plan on shoving this under the seat in front of me. Instead, I will have a little tote with my iPad and toothbrush and other items that I like to have handy and I'll pop this bag into the overhead bin. However, it's nice to know that it's small enough to tuck under the seat if the bins get full (so that I don't have to check my bag planeside). Plus, we're flying with some budget airlines once we're in Europe and they only allow one bag so it'll be nice to be able to squish everything into this little guy and not have to bother checking bags. I did pay the ‎€10 for a checked bag, just in case (because it's something ridiculous like €25 if you decide you need it at the airport) but I'm glad I won't need it.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Surviving a Long Haul Flight

Later this week, I'm headed off on my summer holiday. We'll be spending quite a bit of time in airports and on planes, which are probably two of the most uncomfortable parts of a vacation, unless you're fancy enough to be part of some airline club and have enough money to fly first class (and I mean the fully reclining, jealousy-inducing first class; not just the front-of-the-plane first class).

As someone who prides herself on being frugal when practical, I've never flown in any class other than coach. And though I'm thankful that I'm on the smaller side so the width of the plane seats and the amount of legroom allotted to us in peasant class isn't as uncomfortable as it could be if I were larger, it still sucks.
But the experience is mostly what you make it. So, I thought I would share some of the ways I like to pamper myself to give my brain the illusion that I'm happy and comfortable, instead of squished like a sardine in a flying tin can full of recycled air.

Monday, August 01, 2016

DIY: Turn a Dress into a Jumpsuit

I'd purchased a dress online a while ago because it was super cheap but when I tried it on, it gave me Pilgrim/Pioneer vibes. I had gotten it to wear to work, since I figured a midi dress would be good and appropriate for the office but it was a bit too conservative - on the side of ugly conservative - so I decided I would turn it into a work-appropriate jumpsuit.
This isn't exactly a tutorial because it will really depend on the piece you're starting with. But, I have some guidelines and tips to share.

You'll need:
dress you don't much care for
a pair of shorts that fit you (and that you enjoy the fit of)
sewing machine (or needle & thread)
thread in suitable color
ruler/measuring tape

Monday, July 25, 2016

Planning #1 on My Travel Bucket List

A few weeks ago, whilst I was procrastinating on Facebook, I saw a sponsored ad. It was one of those things where my friends had 'liked' something so FB showed it to me but ultimately it was a commercial. Anyway, it happened to be for Icelandair and it was basically a promo for reduced fare flights to various cities from $449.

It was fate because I had been toying with booking flights for our trip to Iceland this autumn and the best I had found so far was $555 and even that was a hacker fare (where the flights to and from would be booked separately to save $100) and I had even signed up for notifications (through Kayak) for any price decreases. 

Basically, the sale was only for a handful of european cities. But, the great thing about Icelandair is that you can plan a layover (up to 7 days) in Reykjavik either to or from your destination. So, I gave us 24 hours in Copenhagen and almost 7 days in Iceland. The flights really did end up being $449 for round trip tickets including fees and all that jazz.
This is extra exciting for me because I specifically picked Iceland as a little birthday trip for myself (in addition to being our annual Kim family vacation where my sister and I treat our papa to a nice holiday). I will be turning 30 this year - excuse me while I go nervous-vomit and cry about aging - and I wanted to do something kind of big. I wanted to knock my #1 bucket list item off as a huge hurrah: I want to see the northern lights.

Monday, July 18, 2016

So Professional

Earlier this year, I studied for, took, and passed the PE exam in civil engineering. Along with earning my degree and getting a job, it's one of my top accomplishments in life. Yes, I am now a Professional Engineer (in the state of NJ).

I'm not an ambitious person so I wasn't that keen on taking the test. Plus, I really, really despise studying (I think I likened it to torture the last time I briefly mentioned this exam hullabaloo) and because we don't really 'stamp' things at my office, I didn't feel pressed to take it. However, my boss insisted and it was technically written in my offer letter so I finally took the plunge.
This story actually begins a few years ago. I filled out my application, got five of my former and current bosses to fill out references for me, sent in transcripts and my FE exam results, and then I waited. I waited for basically a full year before the office got back to me saying I could finally take the test.

I'm writing this post as a personal post for myself, highlighting the way I feel about my accomplishment, but also so that I can share some anecdotes in the hopes that it may help fellow applicants who get overlooked and tossed around by their local administrators.

Monday, July 11, 2016

DIY Travel Accessories

Last year at H&M, they had these thin vinyl travel document holders which were cute and tempting but too flimsy to actually purchase (even though they were only $3). I had been toying around with the idea of making my own for a while now - even before I saw the cheap ones at H&M - and I finally got around to it.

I had several criteria for my ideal version. It had to be light and compact. I didn't want any frills. It wasn't supposed to be a substitute for a wallet; I was mostly looking for a cute way to hold onto boarding passes and train tickets. I also wanted it to be a way to safely store my passport and travel credit card (the Capital One Venture, which I exclusively use when I am abroad) at home.

I decided I wanted to go with a pale pink (because I'm stupidly girly like that) so I sourced some faux leather on Amazon and grabbed some gold embroidery thread and a few other bits and bobs. Then, my sister asked me if I'd make her a luggage tag. I had enough faux leather to reupholster an armchair (it's sold by the yard) so I thought why not? And then she decided she also wanted a passport cover so I'm turning this into a full on DIY travel accessories post.
You'll need:
faux leather
clear vinyl
needle & thread
invisible ink fabric marker
ribbon/twine/leather trim
puffy paint

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Citi Biking & Momofuku Noodle Bar

I hope everyone had an enjoyable Independence Day and long weekend. It kind of sucks that next year, the 4th will land on a Tuesday, so we'll have the weekend, go to work for a day, and then have off, and then go back to work. Although, I'm never going to complain about having a free day off from work so moot point.

Today's post is all about a day back in June. I made plans to meet up with my dear friend, D, in the city to bike, go to an art show, have some delicious food, and enjoy each others' company. If I had started this blog in my early 20s, it would be chock full of New York adventures, especially considering I lived there for about a year, but these days, I have less energy to drag myself out there. Even though I've always felt like a city girl at heart - I know NYC better than I know my own home state - I guess I'm just getting old and ornery. Luckily for me, D is always inviting me to awesome art shows, which gives me a valid reason to trek in, and then we usually turn it into a day of food and adventure. Thanks, D.
We opted to spend the day riding bikes. We managed to bike the entire length and width of the island. I parked on Riverside near 110th, we walked down to the Citi Bike station on 83rd, rode all the way down to Chelsea, rode across to 1st Avenue, and then backtracked. It was quite a workout.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

96 Hours in Florida: Day 4 & Video Diary

Our final day in Florida was definitely the most relaxing. We had about half a day to kill before we had to board a flight back home so we decided to take advantage of our hotel amenities and do a nice spa day. We didn't actually book any treatments; we just used the sauna, steam room, whirlpool, and private saltwater pool and tried to get as chilled out as possible before heading to an airport full of chaos and crying babies.
For whatever reason, we were lucky enough that the spa day was totally complimentary. Normally it's $30 per person but the spa attendant had us sign in and then told us that entry was free for us that morning. That really put us in a great mood.

Monday, June 27, 2016

96 Hours in Florida: Day 3

We had booked in to snorkel again at John Pennekamp, but unfortunately by that time, the storm had made its way far enough north that the winds were too strong for safe snorkeling. So, we again had to maneuver our day and make another Plan B. We decided we would still go to the park but we would pick a new activity.
The weather was actually kind of perfect. Even though the current was strong, we were glad that the sun wasn't beating down on us.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

96 Hours in Florida: Day 2

Day 2 started out with a bit of a disappointment. I had booked a ferry to the Dry Tortugas but thanks to a tropical storm that was making its way around, waves were 6 to 7 feet high and snorkeling visibility was going to be non-existent. We got a refund and then sat in our car for a few minutes trying to figure out what to do. We had even taken Dramamine in anticipation of the 2+ hour ferry ride so we knew we needed to do something equally exciting.

We decided we would just make our way north (since that night we were staying in Key Largo anyway) and try our bet snorkeling either at Bahia Honda or John Pennekamp. We made some phone calls during our drive and found out that Bahia Honda was still too close to the storm so they canceled all of their tours but we managed to book in for John Pennekamp.
We made our way north at a pretty leisurely pace (we had time since we'd gotten up so early to check in for the Dry Tortugas) and ended up having a really fun day, despite the hiccup.

Monday, June 20, 2016

96 Hours in Florida: Day 1

My long weekend in Florida was something I really, really needed. I think the necessity was due to the fact that I spent a solid six weeks studying for an exam earlier this year and it burnt me out. I really hate studying. Okay, I know everyone hates studying, but I really hate it. In junior high, in high school, while I was at university, I didn't really study. I went to classes and did the homework and that was enough to get me through any testing and midterms. But, in this particular case, I was taking an exam encompassing a plethora of topics, 90% of which I hadn't even thought about since my days as an undergrad so studying was a necessity. Well, thank goodness I put in some effort because I passed! But, the stress of studying, the stress of an 8-hour long test, and the stress of waiting a month to find out the results took a toll on my already aging body. Plus, add in my 45+ hour week, going on random business trips (one of which required me to show up at the airport at 5AM and got me back at the airport at 10PM), while still trying to maintain some semblance of a social life and you see, I really, really needed this trip.
It was a deliciously relaxing trip for several reasons. For one, looking at palm trees is like taking a Valium; it automatically puts me in a relaxed and happy mood. Secondly, we got a rental car which meant we could mosey along at our own pace. We gave ourselves a v. loosely defined itinerary - I say loosely because we booked a different hotel each night so we just had to make our way to our beds by the evening with no other true set plans in between. Basically, we went into relaxed-holiday-mode as soon as we touched down in Fort Lauderdale.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

48 hours in PA: Day 2

We got home pretty late after star gazing so Day 2 started out a little later so we could sleep in a little. By "a little" I really mean "a little" because we were up and at 'em by 8. We had plans to visit some more waterfalls so we ate a hearty breakfast to fuel up.
It was another hot day so we filled a cooler with ice, packed a bunch of water bottles, and also packed a little picnic lunch.

Monday, June 13, 2016

48 Hours in PA: Day 1

Over Memorial Day Weekend, my family and I drove a few hours into Pennsylvania so we could have a quaint weekend away and do some hiking with the dog. I'd read about one of the best star gazing spots in the world, at Cherry Springs State Park, so I booked a hotel in the most convenient nearby town, Williamsport, which was actually an hour and a half away. But, it was the only town with a pet-friendly hotel and enough of a bustling civilization to prevent us from feeling like we were in the boondocks.

Leading up to the weekend, the weather was questionable - the forecast said thunderstorms possible - so we were hesitant to even go in the first place. But, I wanted to get away and I wanted to go on a little mini break with George Michael again so we just went for it.
It was a great decision because the weather was sublime (albeit, a bit humid) and we had an amazing time. We did a couple of hikes and ate lots of watermelon and burned hundreds, maybe thousands of calories climbing and sweating in the heat.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Ramapo Reservation

I'm so happy it's summer! So currently, I'm in Florida for a long weekend just to enjoy the beach and snorkel and relax. My last holiday was a long weekend in Arizona, which was similar in that it was a pretty active trip but pretty different in terms of climate and the specific activities we enjoyed.

The trip was somewhat impromptu in that we booked it on a whim and only three weeks out. I guess I didn't really give much thought to the fact that I'd have to be parading around in a swimsuit without any prep time. So, I decided I needed to hurry up and at least try to get somewhat in shape and that our usual weekend hikes just wouldn't cut it.

So, we filled a backpack with water bottles and some snacks and made the drive out to the Ramapo Reservation. I'd read about how extensive the trails were and how dog-friendly it was and I was immediately sold.
Even though it's a 20 minute drive (compared to our usual hike which is just 5 minutes away), it turned out to be completely worthwhile. We all had a blast.
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