Packing the Perfect Carry-On

Packing the perfect carry-on bag for a long vacation, or even a weekend getaway, can sometimes prove a daunting task. For the purposes of this post, I am assuming you have already checked a bag or else can cram everything you need into a backpack. If at all possible, that’s the largest piece of luggage I like to take onto an airplane with me.

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The Essentials

After much research, I found the perfect backpack to fit my needs. This L.L.Bean “Tear Drop” backpack only costs $44.99 and was big enough to fit my essentials, and also had enough “blank space” where I could sew on my travel patches. As you can see, I still have space for future travels! The backpack has sturdy, reinforced straps, and also a padded pocked on the inside for a laptop. There are also several pouches on the interior. The bottom portion is great for storing dirty clothes or liquids (as long as they are in a quart sized clear pouch!)

This is not a complete list, just a random assortment of items I’ve found helpful for traveling. So onto my must-brings!

Electronics

First and foremost, don’t forget your phone! I have a super fun case that was sent to me by Very Troubled Child, make sure you follow the link and shop around!

The fun gold shape is a portable charger by BaubleBar for Target, and even though they don’t sell those anymore, Target still sells alot of cute chargers. I only show one, but I usually charge up and take around 3, especially if I will be on a long flight. Along with that is an outlet converter. I think mine came from TJ Maxx several years ago, but you can purchase these almost anywhere. If you are traveling abroad, these are a must have if you want to charge your electronics!

Those beautiful wireless headphones are by Bohm and also double as noise canceling headphones. They come with a cord, though, that you can use to plug into anything that won’t connect wirelessly, AKA airplane screens. We will be traveling on a couple of long flights soon and I can’t wait to use them!

Comfort

I used to laugh at people who brought sleep masks on flights, but after using one the last few times I’ve traveled I am a true believer! Mine is just a basic mask, but I recommend buying the type that “bubble” over your eyes so your lids don’t get smashed down!

Don’t forget to bring your best and most comfortable shoes! For me, it’s my Nike sneakers. It may be more fashionable to wear cute sandals, but when you’re running to catch your next flight or having luggage wheeled over your toes in a crowded taxi line, you will be thankful for the closed toed shoes! Even if you want to change into flip flops for the flight, pack the sneakers just in case.

Common Sense

This will only apply to international travel, but don’t forget your passport case! I purchased my beautiful leather holder from Colonel Littleton. They also carry a “passport wallet”, but for my needs, I thought this would do just fine. Passport cases will hold boarding passes as well, because even though most places accept electronic passes, not everyone does, and you never know when you might just need those paper tickets!

If you are a contact lens wearer like myself, you may decide to just wear your glasses for the duration of your travel. However, I usually pack mine to change into later into the day, since I don’t really like wearing mine all the time. Your eyes will thank your five hours into your flight when you’re ready to sleep and that recycled air is blasting your glasses lenses and not your eyeballs.

The last “essential” for me might not be an essential for everyone, but I’m a nerd, so I don’t leave home without my travel journal. The first time I used one was when I was 12 and my family took a 2 week vacation “out west”. I still enjoy going back to read those journal entries.

Again, these aren’t essentials for everyone, but they’ve helped me out. Obviously a change of clothes, travel sized toiletries, and travel documents are must brings that aren’t photographed here. What do you always pack in your carry-on? Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

Easter in Lilly

Spending Easter in my new Lilly dress!
As soon as this Mila shift dress was added to The Lilly Pulitzer website, I made sure to order one before they sold out of my size! I love the animal print details and the beautiful periwinkle color! Because of my build, I ordered a size up since shift dresses run pretty narrow through the hips. You can buy it here, although most sizes are sold out at the moment. 

I love the zipper detail!
Pretty bows on the hem


Sadly, I have to wear sunglasses in most of my outdoor photos! I wish my eyes weren’t so sensitive to sunlight, but a good pair of shades always helps! I actually bought these at the Schipol airport in Amsterdam on our layover to India. I unfortunately lost my other pair somewhere between there and Atlanta, and knew I would need new ones before we landed again!


Just like I love the little details on this dress, I like incorporating jewelry details with my outfits. I love these Kendra Scott earrings, and you can purchase the same style here. My pearls are old, but you can buy another beautiful pearl necklace here. And of course, my favorite bracelet is from Kiel James Patrick.

How to Know When to Buy

Have you ever been shopping and saw a dream item that you knew you had to have? It happened to me when I saw this J. Crew top online:


I don’t usually shop at J.Crew, I’m more of a J. Crew Factory kind of girl. I simply can’t afford to regularly shop the full-priced items, but the J. Crew marketing wizards slipped this top into one of their emails that made its way into my inbox…and the rest is history.

So happy with my purchase!

Spending $88 on a top is no small purchase for me. Here are the three questions I ask myself before making a big purchase:

Have I slept on it?

I don’t buy on impulse. There are the rare instances where I know I won’t ever be back to the store or the item is one-of-a-kind, but this situation doesn’t often occur.

–By the way, these rules apply to any purchase, not necessarily a top or even an article of clothing.–

If I see something that is over my comfortable spending limit, I’ll allow myself three days to think on it. If I’m still considering the purchase after three days, I’ll move on to my next two questions.

How often will I wear it/use it?

An expensive item may not seem so expensive when you consider how often you’ll actually be wearing it or using it. If you can see yourself getting a lot of use out of the item, and not something you could only use/wear once or twice, it may be something to consider. I won’t buy something unless I know I can use/wear it multiple places (work, church, date night). If the item  passes this test (and is clothing), I’ll ask my last question.

–Side note before moving on: Please know that these rules only apply to your “everyday” purchases. I am more lenient with myself if I am purchasing something for a special occasion. I understand that a dress for your rehearsal dinner probably won’t fit the criteria I’m mentioning!–

Is this versatile?

The final question: how many outfits can I make out of this? Can I wear it with shorts? A skirt? Dress pants or jeans? Is this item timeless and not a “trend” that will quickly go out of style? Luckily, my J.Crew berry top checked all of these boxes. I felt that I would definitely get my money’s worth out of this top because I could wear it with literally every bottom half piece of clothing in my closet.

I just love the details!

Remember, these rules aren’t for everyone, they just serve as a guideline for me when I’m out shopping. I hope they help you when you’re deciding if you should make your next purchase!

Rainy Day

A lot of people aren’t fond of the rain, but I find it’s a great excuse to break out my rain boots and favorite rain jacket!

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I found the perfect rain jacket from L.L. Bean last fall before we went to Canada (where I read that a good rain jacket was a necessity). I was lucky enough to find mine for under $20. It was on serious clearance so I thought it was too good to be true, but I have decided it must have been the loud color that scared customers off, because all of the neutral colors were sold out. I think that rain jackets are the one jacket that you can afford to be fun, especially if you don’t get many opportunities to wear it. For my purposes, this jacket is perfect. It’s unlined and has a removable hood (although I always leave it attached). Since mine is no longer available, I’ve listed a few below for you to consider.

L.L. Bean Trail Model Rain Jacket – $80

Charles River Logan Jacket – $70

L.L. Bean Discovery Rain Jacket – $70

Land’s End Transitional Spring Coat – $60

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My other favorite rainy weather accessory are my Hunter boots! I have two pair, but I especially love my green boots. These are the children’s size 6 girl/5 boy. I wear a women’s 7 in the adult boots, and these fit me just fine. I can’t wear heavy socks with them, but if you can wear the adult size without the extended calf (and nothing larger than a 7) then you should be able to squeeze into these! I like them because, as you can see, I have fairly short legs, and the kids boots hit me where the adult boots hit everyone else! They have reflectors on the back, but I don’t mind. The kid’s sizes are also a lot cheaper. I have linked the pair I’m wearing here, they are listed for $80.

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My super cute striped dress is from Old Navy and is on sale for $20! They have the dress in several colors, and I would recommend it if you are looking for something casual and comfortable. My rope bracelet is from a favorite shop of mine, Kiel James Patrick. You can buy it here for $40. I wear this with everything, and being a neutral color it’s so versatile!

 

 

 

 

Nepalese Adventure

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Get ready…this is a long, long, long post. Almost as long as our 15-hour flight.

When we told our friends and family we were headed to Kathmandu, Nepal after our quick Taj Mahal detour, we received a mixed bag of responses. “Won’t that take two whole days to get there?” and “What’s in Nepal?” were the main questions, but when asked the inevitable, “Why?”, we would say “To see the world!” Honestly, there aren’t many “world-famous” attractions in Nepal, at least none that compare to the fame of the Taj Mahal, but we knew that Nepal was a place that many people haven’t visited, and it’s a place that is so unlike anything we’ve ever visited before. We toyed with the idea of visiting Cambodia and seeing Angkor Wat, but after my husband saw pictures of the spiders from that area, our decision became much easier!

Our Air India flight from New Delhi was a short hour and a half, but even on such a short flight we were still fed lunch. Once we landed, we walked into the airport from the plane and straight to the most hectic customs/immigration area I have ever seen. The kiosks to print your “Visa Upon Arrival” were fairly simple to use, but were quite laggy and there was not much order to the lines for them. Once we finally printed out our visas, we made our way over to the currency exchange counter. This was the ONLY negative experience we had in Nepal, and I will teach you the lesson we learned the hard way. There are signs that clearly state that they take Visa credit cards to exchange for the Nepalese Rupee, however, the agents very much want American dollars for their drawers. We made the mistake of pulling out our wallets while at the counter, and I’m sure the agent caught a glimpse of our cash. We wanted to use the card and save our dollars for later, but he had already seen our money, and when we asked to use our card, told us they didn’t take credit cards. We pointed to the sign above him, and after standing in a stare-down for probably 30 seconds, he huffed and snatched our credit card. He ran it and told us it was declined, which we knew was incorrect. We knew he had us where he wanted, and there wasn’t much we could do, so we handed over our cash. Not a great way to start our trip, but just a helpful tip for those traveling…DO NOT let them see your cash. Tell them you have none, and that you only brought credit cards. Also, once you are outside the airport, hold on to your bags. A man who was standing with our taxi driver offered to carry ours, and in the huge hustle and bustle that is the chaos of the Kathmandu airport, we allowed it. Once we were seated in our taxi, the man asked for what is the equivalent of $10. For carrying our bags literally 20 feet. Again, hold on to your bags.

After a very crazy introduction to the Nepalese way of driving, we were dropped off a our hotel, the Kasthamandap Boutique. If you are ever in Kathmandu, please stay at this hotel. We stayed in a “Deluxe” room, so we had two beds, a little extra room, and a delicious continental breakfast included. For about $200 for four nights, we thought that was a pretty good deal! We checked in, booked a tour for the following day, and went to bed without dinner!

Our first stop on our first full day in Kathmandu was to the Swayambhunath Temple, or as it’s sometimes referred to, the Monkey Temple. We seriously couldn’t get over how many monkeys were around us, running at our feet like squirrels or chipmunks! Our taxi driver probably thought we were huge white American dorks, but, in our defense, he didn’t even know what a squirrel was. So…we carried on like dorks.

My favorite part was spinning the prayer wheels. You don’t realize how little you know until you travel halfway around the world and know literally nothing about someone’s religion and rituals. We learned that (after trying to take cute pictures) you have to spin a prayer wheel clockwise, and if there are many surrounding the base of a temple, you have to spin them all! It was only after that that our guide allowed us to take our tourist pictures!

Our second stop was Patan Durbar Square, an ancient collection of buildings built in the 1600s that were badly damaged during the 2015 earthquake. My favorite part of this site was the beautiful architecture and craftsmanship that was created by hand. Metalwork and wood carvings made up the beautiful temples that we walked through. Our taxi driver hooked us up with a guide that walked us around and told us about each building.

Our third stop was Pashupatinath Temple. To be honest, I agreed to see this site because I had read that it was one of the top places to visit in Kathmandu. It’s the oldest Hindu temple in the city, legend saying the temple dates back to 400 B.C. , so we gladly paid our $10 a person (a hefty price in Nepal!) to enter. It was only after we walked through that we saw the sign, Hindus Only. So, we walked around the grounds instead. As we walked across a bridge we saw smoke along the side of the river. Our guide told us that bodies were being cremated. And he wasn’t lying. We literally saw the burning remains of bodies. And once the burning was done, the ashes were pushed into the river. All of that smoke in my picture is from the cremations going on below us. Let’s just say we didn’t breathe very deeply here.

Our final stop was Boudhanath Stupa, the one of the largest in the world. This was definitely a favorite, and a must-see for anyone visiting Kathmandu. The pictures don’t do this structure justice, it really was magnificent!

On our second day we took a tour that I booked through Viator.com, and one that I would recommend! We left our hotel around 10am and were driven to the highest point in the Kathmandu Valley, Nagarkot. I had read that this was the best spot to view the Himalayan mountain range, and, if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of Mount Everest. We weren’t so lucky, but our guide pointed to a cloud and said “On a clear day, that is where the peak is.” So we just pretended that we saw it! After we took in the breathtaking view, we hiked down for several hours through tiny villages where the people live very simple, quiet, farm lives. Our guide told us that, although the people didn’t appear to have much, they were happy up here, away from the chaotic and dusty Kathmandu.

After eating my only authentic Nepalese meal (vegetarian Momo, basically dumplings), we toured the Changu Narayan temple, the oldest Hindu temple in Nepal built in the 4th century.

On our last day, we visited Kopan Monastery. This is a place situated on the outskirts of Kathmandu where people from all over the world come to study. Like Nagarkot, this place is so far away from the loud city center and the air is actually breathable. They allow visitors in to tour the grounds, but we managed to sneak into a class on meditation!

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I will say this, Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport definitely lives up to its #3 Worst Airport in the World rating. I can’t imagine this place in the summer, because even on a 60 degree January day the tiny waiting areas lined with windows were beginning to feel like small ovens. However, our Qatar Airways flight to Doha, Qatar was pleasant. I researched ahead of time and found out that if your layover is longer than 8 hours, the airline will put you up for free in a hotel, complete with meal vouchers. They take care of all visa issues and whisk you way from immigration and customs to a nearby, four star hotel. We were given an executive suite on the 27th floor of the Movenpick Hotel, and were allowed to use our meal vouchers for room-service cheeseburgers and french fries! I wish we could have had a full day in Doha instead of one night, but it was definitely what we needed before our 15-hour flight back to Atlanta.

 

Incredible India

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Yes, we did it. We took the exhaustingly long journey to India just to see the Taj Mahal! Granted, we were headed to Kathmandu, Nepal after, but I couldn’t justify going all the way to Nepal and NOT seeing the Taj Mahal in the neighboring country of India. I knew the chances were small that we would ever be that close again.

We landed in New Delhi at midnight on Monday morning (after leaving Atlanta on Saturday afternoon and having a 5-hour layover in Amsterdam). Even though I had already applied before we left and had our E-Tourist visas in hand (which I strongly recommend), we still had to wait in a long and slow line to get our passports stamped. Then, after all that time in line, we still had to wait on our bags from the carousel. Then, after that, we had to wait in another line to exchange our currency. India doesn’t allow foreigners to carry rupees into the country, so we were forced to wait until we got there to exchange. I wouldn’t advise doing this at the airport since commission fees are through the roof, but this was really the only option for us. Another fun fact, because of their recent money troubles, India will only allow foreign tourists to exchange up to 5,000 rupees per person. That meant we could only get about $120 total. I know that sounds like a lot for one day, but I can’t imagine visitors who are planning to stay for longer making that last very long.

After all was said and done, we arrived at our hotel a little before 3am. We took the fastest showers we had ever taken, and after an almost sleepless night, we woke up to catch our ride to the train station at 7am.

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Our train from New Delhi to Agra was less than two hours, and I wouldn’t advise traveling to Agra any other way. Your seats are assigned and the car is air conditioned with a bathroom, although we never visited it. The train serves breakfast (and dinner on the way back) and gave us each a liter of water both ways (bottled water became our best friend).

We arrived at the extremely chaotic train station in Agra, and this is where our guided tour began. I STRONGLY recommend booking with a tour company. Our driver was waiting at the station with our names on a sign, so we were able to quickly leave the loud, screaming line of taxi drivers behind. After explaining to our guide that I really felt we should wait until a little later to see the Taj, for fear of fog, he agreed we would see the Agra Fort first. This was an incredible structure that was built BEFORE the Taj Mahal and is still used by the military today. We walked around for over an hour marveling at the beautiful structure, and only 20% of the complex is open to the general public. This is a MUST-SEE if you are planning to visit Agra. It costs 550 rupees per person, or almost $12 for two people.

Then we made our way over to the Taj Mahal. Our driver let us out as close as he could, but in an effort to preserve the complex, the government won’t allow motorized vehicles within a certain radius. This was no problem, because the weather was in the 60s and breezy, and the walk is quite short. Our guide warned us of pickpocketers and scammers, and was able to shoo away people trying to sell us cheap goods. Once we were at the gate, he went and got our pre-paid tickets from the window. This is another great aspect of having a guide. He knows exactly where to go and who to talk to. If we would have done this on our own it would have been much more difficult. We breezed through the line and made it through “security”, a small walk-through metal detector and quick bag search, in less than two minutes. Based on everything I had read, I was expecting horrible crowds and long wait times. This was the first good surprise of the day for me.

As we walked through the gate, the red colored building above, and had our first, full view of the Taj, I cried. I had prepared myself to see a hazy, smoggy view of the Taj. I had read from countless bloggers that the site was overcrowded, overrated, and smelly. But after months of planning and worrying and thousands of dollars spent and miles traveled, we were finally here at one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and it was perfect. Our day couldn’t have been clearer, the crowds were lighter than a slow day at Disney World, and there were no offensive smells around. So, of course I cried! Our tour guide told me it was OK, and that a lot of people did, unsurprisingly. I’ve read a lot of people say that the scaffolding on the tower takes away from the beauty, but I found myself not even paying attention to that, anyway. I couldn’t take my eyes off the main tomb, which is where all of the beauty is, anyway.

Our guide was incredible. He knew how to take great, professional looking shots. However, he persuaded us to get our pictures taken by a “professional” there, which turned out to be his “uncle”. I’d read about this scheme, but we decided that, since he would give us a CD of the shots, it was worth the time and money. I’m glad we did, because there are several spots, namely the Diana Bench, that would have been impossible to get a picture without the photographer there. He took time to get several poses (although I felt a little awkward with everyone watching), and made sure people didn’t get in the frame. He spent maybe 15-20 minutes and then allowed us to walk around with our guide while he developed the pictures.

If you want to walk in the courtyard area of the Taj, they give you little slip ons to put over your shoes. We had no wait to get inside the tomb. I’ve read about long lines for this, but we walked right in. I kept marveling about how low the crowds were, but our guide didn’t seem to surprised. He said that weekends are usually busy, but coming on a Monday was one of the best days to be there. We walked around the outside of the tomb for a while just staring at the beautiful marble and jewel artwork. I’ve honestly never felt such an unrealistic feeling. The Taj Mahal is really a place that you only read about; you don’t actually think one day you’ll be touching it.

After we left the Taj, per our tour, we were taken to a pre-paid buffet lunch at a local hotel. The hotel was extremely nice and the food was good, too! We then were taken to several local shops where people claim to be 14th generation artisans and that the people who built the Taj Mahal are their ancestors. I’m pretty skeptical, so I didn’t really view these people as super authentic, but the things they made were beautiful. They really sell their stuff, but we walked away empty handed (save a magnet that I bought, after they took us through three other rooms with more expensive items).

Our train didn’t leave until 5:30, so we had almost two hours to kill when we were dropped back off at the train station. Luckily we spotted a sign for “quiet rooms”, rooms for rent while you wait on the train. They are located in an open area on the upper level of the station, far away from the hustle and bustle of the main area. We didn’t rent a room, but we did sit against a wall, unbothered, for a little over an hour before the room-keeper told us we needed to go downstairs if we weren’t renting a room. We didn’t mind, because we had passed most of our time anyway, so we headed down to the train platform.

If I had to give anyone one tip for visiting the Taj Mahal in one day, I would say this. Take a guided tour. If you only have one day in India that you are dedicating to seeing the Taj, try and make it as easy on yourself as possible. We found a tour for $200 total, including driver/guide, attraction tickets, train tickets, and all three meals for the day. It was truly a magical day, and I would advise anyone to take the adventure!

Fall Vacation 2016 Part 3

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Our final stop before we headed home from the cruise was in Philadelphia. The City of Brotherly Love is extremely walkable, so I would recommend wearing extremely comfortable shoes. I wore my lightweight loafers and my feet didn’t even notice the nine miles that we managed to walk! It may sound dorky, but I was really hoping to be able to wear my new American flag sweater from Ralph Lauren, and thankfully it was cool enough for me to layer it with a lightweight button-down.

Our first stop was lunch, and we decided on the historic City Tavern. The restaurant is completely “colonial” themed, they even cook food like people did hundreds of years ago. This means food isn’t quite as seasoned as some are used to, but for me, someone who likes somewhat plain food, it was perfect!

We walked over to Christ Church Burial Ground where Benjamin Franklin and several other signers of the Declaration of Independence are buried. The Betsy Ross house was just down the street, so we popped in there as well for a quick visit!

Elfreth’s Alley was on my Philadelphia bucket list. This street is the nation’s oldest collection of residential homes, and most of them are still privately owned. Each house was gorgeous and historic, and I took a picture of almost every front door. Talk about keeping up with the Joneses!

No trip to Philly is complete without the Independence Hall tour! I will give this piece of advice: don’t book the last tour of the day like we did. I thought it would give us enough time to see the rest of things we wanted by knowing our tour was booked already. The problem is that the giftshop was closing before our tour would let out, and we had to almost run to see the Liberty Bell and documents before our tour started at 4:20, because all of those would be closed by the time we were done as well! Although we did get to see everything, I felt slightly pressured to take in all of these historic sites very quickly, so just remember to give yourself enough time to see these places!

My husband really wanted to see the Rocky statue and run the steps from the movie, so our group set out to find the iconic spot. Since we were based in Old Town, we weren’t really close to this part of the city, so we wound up taking a city bus out here. The steps are located in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum, and the statue is down to the right of the steps. We ran the steps, jumped up and down, and called it a night!

The next morning I got dressed quickly and went to snap a few pictures of some homes not far from our hotel, still within the Society Hill neighborhood. We saw them on our walk back the evening before, but I had to get some shots of them in the daytime!

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Our last tourist stop was in Baltimore, Maryland. All four of us are huge House of Cards fans, so we had to take our pictures in front of Frank and Claire’s townhouse from season 1! Even though the show is set in D.C., it is shot in Baltimore, so there are many other filming locations located throughout the city. We just stopped at this one! This was an amazing vacation where we were able to see and experience so many places, and now I’m just ready for the next adventure!