Tuesday, May 13

A Week in the Life

So, I've been back a little less than a week and I've already fallen back into old routines. For those of you who didn't know, I'm in Oxford right now. I'm on another study abroad trip through ACU and I couldn't be happier. I got into London on Friday around noon, local time, spent a couple days there, and headed to Oxford on Sunday. It's been a quick few days, and it's not like I've seen a ton of stuff, but I'm so happy to be back. Everything I've done isn't new to me so I feel like posting about it would be slightly repetitive, except for Borough Market. I can't even explain in coherent words how much this place is my mecca. For a foodie traveler, this place has it all- fresh vegetables, meats of every variety (and I mean EVERY variety, there was even a kangaroo burger), TRUFFLES, aged cheeses, olives, ales, wines, vinegars, oils, breads, jams, I could probably go on for a day and half and still not cover it all.
 The "official" Borough Market stand, where you can buy aprons, bags, coolers, potholders, and more. I of course, bought a re-usable grocery bag- so much better than carrying around all the plastic sacks from various vendors. ;)

Anyways, I probably spent more there than I should have, but when in Rome (or in this case, London), right? I think the food is my favorite part of traveling. The way things are cooked, what's available in the region, it all part of the culture of a city, of a country, even. I think it speaks volumes about the culture and the way people live, even in this day and age where you can have stuff flown in from the coast and on a customer's plate in a matter of hours. The fact that I see leek and potato soup everywhere I go, and local ciders each have a distinct flavor of their region amazes me because it speaks so much to how the people live.

Other than the food market in London I spent some time in Camden (yay cheap Chinese food and horse-stall shops!) and now I'm in Oxford. We got to tour some things today that I hadn't seen the last time around, and it's so interesting to be learning the true history behind all of the things I walked by without a second thought last time. I'm taking a Europe since 1914 History course here, and these first few days are loaded with readings and assignments while we have a classroom available to us. This Thursday we'll take our first exam and head to London as a class to see the War Rooms and a few monuments before heading out to Germany- Berlin to be exact. After Berlin we'll head to Prague, Czech Republic then Leipzig, Germany to wrap up the school portion of the trip. I'm so looking forward to seeing new things and experiencing new cultures- however not looking forward to the 50 pages of reading I have to present on in just a couple of days. After school concludes I'll be heading with Regan and Hannah to Greece for a nice two-week lounge on the beach vacation before heading back to Abilene (when it comes to this point, I might flat-out refuse to return and just live on an island forever) to work and move into the new apartment. Stay tuned these next few weeks for posts, as I've got some new tech that makes it much easier to post on the go while I'm here. Here's to hoping I'll be better about it than last time!

Monday, March 10

Packing Part 1

So! I haven't gone anywhere lately, and that's totally fine with me. School has been really intense as I finish up the last bit of my Social Work coursework and prepare to start internships next semester alongside the upper level psychology courses I still lack- needless to say, I've been too busy to even think about going anywhere. I've even decided to turn down two trip offers for spring break- one to Colorado and one to Austin in order to just recharge and get my ducks in a row. But just because I haven't gone anywhere doesn't mean I haven't had any fun! A friend and I explored some local Abilene treasures and went hiking at Abilene Lake, which in my opinion is more of a murky, thick, pond at this point. I've also done some shopping (always an adventure) and bought some basics for traveling and business interviews- yay internships! No pressure at all right? And then of course I've booked some things for Europe including the resort (Thanks Liz!) that my friend's mom is letting us use her time share to rent, our flights from Greece back to London, and our round-trip flight to London to get us there and back home to Texas! As you can see, I've been a busy bee. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, we accidentally dyed a cat pink- so there's that.

Anyways, as I near my next big trip to Europe I've been working a lot on packing efficiently and after putting my experience together with the plethora of blogs on packing light- I've decided to do a little 3-part series on packing. First (obviously, this one) is just some general packing tips as well as products that I've found to be crucial to traveling- light or otherwise. Second is going to be a specific packing post for my 32 days in Europe, which I'm packing entirely into a (large) backpack. Last, is going to be kind of a reflection once I get back from Europe on things I could have gone without and things I wish I had taken with me. All of this is in hopes that it will help someone further on down the road. Find out more about my packing essentials after the jump!

Ok, so I tried to photograph everything that's essential for me, but a few things are left out- but not to worry, I'll talk about them at the end! First up is what I pack in! If it's a trip where space is unlimited (ie- a weeklong trip to my parents house), I have a giant floral duffel bag that I got in England at Primark (Why does this place not exist in the US?) for about $30, and it's got wheels and a handle, really it's magical. Other than that, I have two hiking backpacks I like to pack in.

The first one, the larger one, is the Deuter Transit 50. You can buy it from several retailers, but after some online coupons and things that I found (just Google coupons for "store", you'll find plenty), Tahoe Mountain Sports had the best price. It's got a detachable duffel bag strap, as well as having a pocket for the backpack straps to zip up into. It's also got a removable day pack and a separate zippered space at the bottom- which were the two things I was looking for in this new backpack- the day pack for obvious reasons and the bottom pouch for shoes- to keep the smell and mud away from my clothing. The second backpack is an REI Traverse 30- which is obviously REI's personal brand. As you can see, the design has changed a bit since I bought mine three years ago- but I would still recommend it for a smaller pack if you want one for weekenders or are just a fantastically light packer. A lot of people might be thinking that $180 (which I paid much less than that for both of these) is a ridiculous amount to spend on a backpack- but it really isn't if you're planning on packing for five months in this thing, and then carrying it yourself all around various cities. Getting the right backpack is crucial to not only maximizing space, but your health. Carying a cheap backpack can really injure your back if it's too heavy, and both of these backpacks have waist straps that help take part of the load off my shoulders, as well as adequately padded straps. You can click over to where I bought each of them for full specs. Wow- obviously I could write an entire blog about the backpacks- it's just really important to find the one that's right for you- do a LOT of research, and don't just order stuff online. Go to REI and try on backpacks, find out what is comfortable for you. They even have weights to put in the backpack to help you really imagine what it's going to be like lugging these things around all the time.

Next are a few things that I consider to be for international travel only, though I suppose if you were flying or staying in a hostel in the United States, these things would be helpful then too.
1. ID tag for your luggage. I got mine from Target and it's a special ID tag that has a QR Code- which to me is a universal language (this may or may not be ethnocentric of me). It makes me feel a bit better knowing that even if they can't read what's written on the tag, they could scan the QR code and translate the information on your phone.
2. Locks. I have two different kinds here, one from REI (which is no longer available that I can find) that uses a card with holes to open it and another from Target or somewhere that's a combo lock. Both locks are TSA acceptable- which is really important, because if TSA can't open your bag, they're going to be upset with you. TSA acceptable basically means it has a keyhole that TSA will have a key for- I guess it's like a universal thing, that every agent has the same key.
3. Inflatable neck pillow. Neck pillows are really important for long car rides or flights, but especially if you're packing light, you don't want to be stuck lugging it around forever. This way, you can deflate it and put it at the bottom of your bag and forget about it till the next flight!
4. Map. This may seem silly with technology now, but when traveling internationally, it's REALLY expensive to use maps on your phone, and while many coffee shops have wifi, to me it's easier to have a map of the city I'm in with me at all times. Most tourist shops will have free paper maps, and if they're not free, they're generally super cheap- they're not mean.

Next is stuff to keep you organized. For me, traveling is insane, I'm dropping my bag in a locker, locking it, and setting off to explore the city. I don't want to spend 30 minutes looking for the right jacket or untangling my jewelry in order to get the one that I want.
1. Eagle Creek Specter Cubes. I have the compression set and the packing set- both I've found to be super useful! They are a bit pricey, so if you're thinking about investing, make sure you shop around to see who's having a sale.
2. Straws. As odd as this sounds- straws are really useful for packing necklaces! I saw this on Pinterest a while back and I'm so glad I did because it's kept my necklaces from getting tangled, a true time saver.
3. Jewelry organizer. Honestly, this is one of those plastic nails boxes from back when I was in junior high and thought that stuff was awesome, but if that seems odd to you, I'm sure amazon has a variety of cute organizers to choose from.
 4. Lined Toiletries Bag. Mine is from Soap and Glory and came in a set of 3- works great and is cute to boot. This is really important- because if you're packing liquids of any kind, if you change altitude, your bag gets squished, things open, whatever, your clothes are all getting messy- it's a nightmare. The Specter Cubes aren't waterproof like most toiletries bags, so if you pack liquids in them, they'll just leak out.
5. Other bags. Ok, so this is for those that don't feel like dropping coin on the Specter cubes- and these things work just as well. What's underneath the jewelry organizer and toiletries bag is a cloth bag that a sheet set came in. I use this for shoes, to keep mud or whatever else from getting on other things- but you can just as easily use this to organize your clothes if you have a few of them.

Next up- my beauty products. This is important for some people. For others- they just throw whatever they grab first in to a bag and that's a-ok, you do you. For me, this is close to what I use on a daily basis, but I know for some girls this is an insanely small amount of beauty products.
 1. Eyeshadow Palettes. I have a couple Wet & Wild shimmery pallets that I like to use because they're cheap and swatch similar to a few of my fave colors from the naked 1, 2, & 3, all of which were way out of my price range. ELF also has some great travel size palletes, not to mention a hundred different brands offer things that are more customize-able. Also pictured is Naked Basics, which I never leave home without.
2. LUSH. Let's just get all these products out in one fell swoop. Happiness- which is what I use as a liquid gold (or according to them bronze) eyeliner. Then there's the shampoo bar- and I honestly don't remember which one is pictured, but Jumping Juniper and Soak and Float (which was introduced to me as Smoke & Whiskey, which smells accurate) are both fantastic as well. Then there's Jungle Bar, a solid conditioner, which works for pinched travel, but honestly I'd rather have my regular deep conditioner. Next is No Drought, their dry shampoo, which is great and not in an aerosol can, which can't be taken on an airplane. Toothy tabs in various flavors- these things are awesome, and grab them while you can! The sales rep at Dallas Galleria said they're rumored to be discontinued soon. A scalp bar and soap sample- the scalp bar I can't find anywhere and might be a UK item since various countries have their own stuff- I got it in Oxford and haven't seen them since. Each Peach lotion- lotion bars are a must when my skin is being put through various climates, sunny days, and lots of other harsh conditions. Buffy- exfoliating, moisturizing, and magnifique. Last but not least is Mint Julips- a lip scrub that I can't live without. OK! I promise I wasn't paid for that LUSH plug, their stuff is just all solid and fantastic for traveling especially since they sell tins in the store that fit their products perfectly. (However, if a LUSH rep were to see this and want to thank me for promoting their products with some free swag, I would definitely never turn it down.) With LUSH products I don't have to worry about hitting liquid limits, which I'm always concerned about.
3. Basic Makeup- for me this is mineral powder and tinted moisturizer (both Mary Kay). Brown eyeliner in a felt tip pen form (ELF) and black eyeliner (Mary Kay). Mascara- whatever I happened to have picked up from CVS at the time. Urban Decay Lid Primer. Burt's Bees Lip Balm. Lipstick Queen Sinner (by Poppy) in Red and Pink, as well as matching lip liners from Walmart.
4. Body Spray- I always carry a small one from Bath & Body works, always something citrus. I've heard solid perfumes are great, but I've yet to find one that comes highly enough recommended from friends to spend the money on them. I'll probably end up trying to make my own with some shea, soy, and essential oils before the big trip comes around.
5. Deodorant. I almost always wear a man's deodorant, for several reasons. One, it works better- let's be honest, if I'm walking around with a giant backpack and the sun beating down, I'm going to need something that works. Secondly, generally if I smell like men's cologne and I'm traveling alone (and this is advice I'd received from someone else originally), I don't get hassled as much because they're always thinking about a man that's with me that's probably right around the corner. I wish the world weren't this way, but it is, and a feminist rant is now that this post needs right now. (:
6. Makeup Remover- this is just whatever brand I happen to pick up, but Mary Kay has dry makeup remover sheets that are "just add water" kinds of things, so that's one less thing to force into that quart-sized ziplock!
7. Hair ties and bobby pins, in a small ziplock. I don't use the fabric hair ties when I travel- just the small black rubber ones- they work just as fine for me.
8. Ok, last thing in this picture is a small tin, up on the top, that's moisturizer. I use Nivea soft, but use whatever you use- it's just nice to have it in a smaller travel sized container (this was originally packaging for earrings from Target).

Last are my miscellaneous items that I travel with- all of which are important.
1. Water bottle. This one is a Camelback and has the filter straw on it, because you can never be too safe!
2. Flashlight- because I've gotten caught in pitch black parts of town too many times to be comfortable.
3. Eyedrops and contacts.
4. Hair Clip.
5. Travel makeup mirror. This is from Mary Kay and stands up so that I can adjust the angle.
6. Eco Tools travel brush kit. This one is really great and even has a mini-kabuki!
7. Vitamins. Especially when traveling, you're wearing your body down by exposing it to new germs that it's not used to, not to mention you generally push yourself past what you do on a daily basis. Staying healthy while traveling is important, and be sure to take with you the types of things recommended for the region.
8. Travel Hair Tool. This one is really cool. I generally let my hair do whatever, but sometimes I like to dress up, especially when I'm having fun in a new place while traveling. This one is special because there's a switch that changes it from a straightener to a curling wand, it's miniature, and it's meant to handle dual voltages- International travelers rejoice! It's seriously the best purchase I've ever made.

Last couple things not pictured are Burt's Bee's cuticle cream, which I never leave home without. A nude, a bright and a Sparkly nailpolish (generally OPI Taupe, Revlon Apricot, and Sephora Gold), and Sea Salt Spray, currently using Got 2b's.

I feel like this post might say more about my beauty routine than how I pack.. but oh well. Hope something I said sparks an idea or helps you plan for your next excursion! Stay tuned later this week for a LONG OVERDUE post about my weekend in Paris last December.

Sunday, January 5

Reflections and Fresh Starts

Ah, here it is, the obligatory reflecting post for 2013, and my often-forgotten resolutions for 2014. I love new beginnings, I'm a fresh start kind of person. We can shrug off the worries of the old year and bring in the new with fresh opportunities and the wonder in our eyes of children. It happens every year- and I love it. This past year was no doubt a difficult one, from the loss we have felt as a family to the hard work I put myself through at school, this past year really took it's toll. Amid all the struggles though- there is one thing that kept me fresh- and that is adventure. Though I spent the entire year stateside- that doesn't mean I didn't travel. Below are a few of my favorite adventures that I got to take in 2013!

Holi Festival at Tarleton State University with Regan, Jessica, Jeremiah, Liz, Audrey, and Andrea

Spring Break in Austin where I got to see my sketchbook that's now housed in the Brooklyn Art Library

 Family Vacation in South Dakota where we visited Nathan, Wall Drug, and Mt. Rushmore

 Austin City Limits Music Festival with Regan and Liz

And now for the resolutions! I'm so bad about writing posts as soon as I get back from the trip, and this year, I endeavor to do so! We have a few weekenders planned (we want to do a weekender in Shreveport this semester- and probably one in Austin, and another in Fort Worth), but the majority of my travel funds this year will be going to my next trip to Europe!

For those of you that don't know, I'm returning to Europe for about five weeks as soon as the spring semester ends- and I am very excited. Before, I did a semester long study-abroad trip that held a full course load of classes- this time, it's a single course done in three weeks. It's a class about Europe in War and Peace from 1914 to 2014, and I am very excited to be learning about the history of Europe while standing where it happened! The trip will include: Oxford and London, England; Frankfurt and Berlin, Germany; and Prague, Czech Republic. After the course ends a friend and I will be meeting another friend in Greece (yes, I finally get to go to Greece!) for my Birthday! Best present to myself- ever. I'm working really hard to pay for the trip, as things like this are quite pricey- but to me, it's worth cutting back in some places so that I can do things like this. I also learned to use my credit card wisely and earn rewards like airline miles and hotel vouchers- which has really helped in preparation for this trip. I still have a few things left to buy- as for this trip I'm not taking a suitcase whatsoever! I'll be backing in a backpack and not checking any luggage in order to cut down on flight costs, and it's a huge challenge to myself- because I never pack light! We've done some strategic planning, using shampoo bars and the like in order to carefully allot our liquid limits, and picked out the perfect backpack that has great pockets, versatile straps, and a detachable day-bag. I'm definitely looking forward to the new experience, as everywhere on this trip (excluding Oxford and London) are brand new to me!

My second resolution is one I've done for a couple years now, but this time I've chosen a more challenging version. I always pick a cookbook at the beginning of the year and cook my way through it. I generally pick small cookbooks- things that are 50 baking recipes or the like- however, this time I've chosen Williams-Sonoma's Weeknight Fresh + Fast by Kristine Kidd. I'm looking forward to trying new things, as I chose this book because the recipes were not only simple, but had a lot of ingredients I've never worked with. I love expanding my cooking skills, and the kitchen has always been my favorite room in the house, so it's only fitting that it becomes part of my resolutions.

Last resolution is to give myself some tech-free time! I'm not quite sure what this is going to look like, because turning technology off in the evenings like so many have suggested is simply not an option for a college student at a mobile-learning initiative campus. I have schoolwork, and that means using technology. I'm bumping around the idea of being Facebook free for one week a month, or maybe organizing some sort of technology free game-night with my friends that's a regular occurrence- who knows. I love that technology has become what it is- it really has made leaps and bounds that blow my mind (did you know that they're developing a 3-D printer to be used in the medical field, to grow new organs!? that amazes me). But I also firmly believe that it's taken away from our face to face contact, that oh-so-precious connection that you get when you are truly spending time with someone, engaging in life, technology can never adequately replace that, and the sad part is, it hasn't replaced it, it's shoved it out of our lives with a quick "ttyl". So this year I'm going to endeavor to become less dependant on my technology, and we'll see how it goes.

Anyways, I'm back to doing domestic things- my last chance before the semester starts. I've already made cookies and enough Prickly Pear Strawberry Jam to last a lifetime! Now I'm on to experimenting making my own chips from various fruits and vegetables! Till next time.