The Perfect Carry-On

The perfect carry-on; it’s been 10 years in the making and something I’m always attempting to optimize. However, I feel pretty confident that I have crafted the perfect carry-on, also known to the airlines as the ‘personal item.’ My philosophy is based on buying great product, using pouches to consolidate small items, ensuring you always have the fundamentals handy, and packing everything in the most efficient way possible. People that dislike flying are probably missing a few of these essential items in their carry-on bag. Flying can be fun if you invest in great products that work for you and spend time thoughtfully packing them.

 Click image to enlarge

The elements of my carry-on are broken into different categories.

  1. Purse-in-a-purse

  2. Notepad/pen

  3. The ‘Essentials’ pouch

  4. Electronics

  5. Comfort items

  6. Photography

file-10.jpeg

Purse-in-a-Purse + Travel Notepad/Pen

Purse-in-a-purse; I’m a strong believer that just throwing a wallet into your bag is not the most efficient way. Instead, pack a slim cross-body bag that can hold your wallet and all the fundamentals inside (passport, credit cards, travel cards, etc.) plus your phone and small cosmetics. When you arrive at your destination, you can easily pull out the purse and throw it over your shoulder for easy access. For international trips, I also carry a small coin purse, because most countries do not embrace paper bills for small currency, and having loose change strewn about your bags is super annoying.

Notepad and pen; this is a travel must-have in my book. Perfect for making quick notes or journaling during your trip. Physically writing things down never gets old. I love to shop for unique notepads at my travel destinations. The one pictured is Monet’s ‘Impression Sunrise’ purchased at the Musée Marmottan in Paris.

file-9.jpeg

The Essentials Pouch

The ‘Essentials’ pouch; this has been a practice in-the-making with my Mom and I over the years. There’s so many little things you need on an airplane that you want to be able to access easily without digging through your bag. Mine always includes:

  • Stay clean: Clorox wipes (for those disgusting tray tables and arm rests), Shout wipes (for any unplanned spills on clothing), hand sanitizer (always)

  • Stay fresh: hand lotion, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, chapstick, gum, tissues

  • Stay healthy; multiple forms of Vitamin C. I always take a lozenge before departure and drink an Emergen-C in a water bottle upon landing to instantly re-hydrate.

  • Don’t get hangry; snacks (high in protein) but easy to pack

  • Just in case; blister band aids, nail file

  • The pouch; Container Store Aqua Vinyl & Mesh Pouches are the absolute best pouches for travel (I use the small size for my carry-on essentials and the medium size for my liquid cosmetics).

file-8.jpeg

Electronics

Electronics; it is critical to have entertainment on airplanes. Do not rely on the airline for having in-flight entertainment (otherwise you will be sorely disappointed if it happens to be down) and the journey will seem never-ending. Also remember to charge your devices fully before departure and bring your critical charging cables on-board. Nothing is worse than running out of charge on an airplane.

  • iPad; my rule of thumb is only one device, that is full of multiple forms of entertainment (eBooks, Netflix, Prime Video, Games, Magazines), but just make sure you download everything in advance. I always test play-back by turning my iPad into Airplane Mode at home and make sure everything loads as expected. Also bring a small microfiber cloth to clean your screen for an optimal viewing experience.

  • Noise-cancelling headphones; this is critical. Invest in a great pair and you will not regret it. I prefer the corded Bose in-ear headphones as opposed to the over-the-ear ones, which are not space friendly and prevent laying down comfortably. The only downside of the Bose headphones is that you will need iPhone/iPad adapters to connect to your devices. I also bring along my AirPods for phone calls and listening to music while walking through the airport.

  • Charging devices/cables; someday our devices won’t all require different cords, but until then, get organized with Ribbon Cable Ties. Also bring a charging stick in case of emergencies. Lastly, do not forget your country-specific travel adapters. I always buy the smallest ones possible on Amazon and have at least 3-4 handy.

file-11.jpeg

Comfort Items

Comfort; it is imperative to bring things in your carry-on that will make you comfortable on your flight. For me that includes:

  • Travel pillow; the pillows provided by airlines on long flights cannot be trusted. They are usually flat, lumpy, or completely useless. When flying in Business I bring a flat pillow that can be used for my head or back. When flying in Economy I bring a neck pillow no matter what. Pillows are not-super space friendly, however a trick I recently discovered are these compression packing cubes that will take anything flexible and bring it down in size.

  • Compression socks and water-resistant slippers; I was never a true believer in compression socks until I tried them out a few years ago. What a difference they make on long flights! Also, these water-resistant slippers are clutch. You can slip them on instead of your shoes when walking around the cabin or going to the bathroom. Walking around in just your socks is dangerous territory on a airplane full of nasty forms of liquid on the floors.

  • Sleep essentials; ear plugs and an eye mask are required for good quality sleep. Again, bring your own. Usually the airlines will provide a blanket for long flights, but also have a super-comfy sweater handy for when they crank down the air in-flight.

file-13.jpeg

Photography

Photography Equipment; this is an extra category super important to me. I take two approaches for my camera equipment based on my travel scenario.

  • Approach 1: Carry-on only; if I’m carrying-on both my personal item and suitcase, then I will fit my camera equipment safely inside my roller-bag with my clothes (since I have control over the bag the whole flight and it won’t be tossed around haphazardly by others). This makes my personal item much lighter and easier to carry.

  • Approach 2: Checked-bag; if I’m checking my bigger suitcase, then I will fit my camera equipment into small spinner that also acts as an easy way to push around my personal item (instead of carrying it on my shoulder). This is usually my approach for any international flights, because I will pack an extra outfit and some toiletries in the spinner as well, in case my luggage gets lost or delayed.

Consolidating all your items through the use of great pouches and bags is the fun part. It’s amazing just how much you can fit inside if you are thoughtful about it.

 Click image to enlarge

My purse-in-a-purse, notebook/pen, essentials pouch, electronics, and most comfort items go into my Lo & Sons OG bag. My camera equipment goes into a small Travelpro spinner as previously described. I also use the spinner to hold my travel pillow for extra cushion and protection for my camera equipment.

Picture5.png

If you are thoughtful about what you put in your carry-on and spend the necessary time packing it efficiently, your flying experience is guaranteed to improve! Hopefully these product suggestions, tips, and tricks are helpful for you. Sound off in the comments if you have any other awesome packing tips to share!

Bon Voyage!

My Favorite International Business Destinations

10 years ago, I was just starting my last year of college at the University of Illinois. The Fall semester was focused on interviewing for full-time jobs. After a few ‘industry’ internships, I knew I was ready to try something different. I focused my search on consulting firms and interviewed with all the major players. After all was said and done, I chose Deloitte because of their great culture, competitive salary, and super-organized recruiting process. I couldn’t wait to graduate, move to Chicago, and start traveling…

Flash forward almost one year, and I was in the basement of a hotel in Orlando going through a hellish week of SAP training during a tropical storm…wondering exactly what I got myself into. This also happened to be the week they were announcing our initial staffing assignments. I was ready for my first traveling client, and I had all my frequent flyer/hotel accounts ready. And then, wham…in my inbox comes the email. ‘Your client assignment will be at Caterpillar in Morton, Illinois.’

They always say you never know what to expect in consulting. After four years on the Caterpillar project, I had accumulated way more car miles than airline miles, but I did have a good stash of hotel points. While it was long, it was still a fabulous experience and a great way to start my career (hindsight is 20/20). After Caterpillar, I had the opportunity to travel abroad and domestically with Deloitte. However, I was still doing the Monday-Thursday gauntlet of business travel and the ‘burn-out’ was real.

An opportunity arose for me in the summer of 2013 to interview with West Monroe Partners. Still a consulting firm, I interviewed for a role that was at least 50% travel, which sounded perfect (compared to 100% at Deloitte). I made the leap of faith, and landed in a perfect position that allowed me travel, but also gave me time at home. Since then, I have been so fortunate to travel to some amazing international destinations for work.

It is my personal mission to make consulting sustainable for myself, and I definitely try to live by the mantra ‘work hard, play hard.’ Translating that mindset to travel is a no brainer - leverage any/all opportunities for business travel as a means to incorporate personal travel and exploration. I’m always looking for ways to have fun and explore new territory during a business trip, specifically when traveling internationally. Here are a few of my tips:

  1. Piggy-back your business meetings with a free weekend; this allows you to spend time exploring on your own and gets you over jet-lag so you can show-up to work like a boss!

  2. Aim to pick a reasonably priced hotel that is in the best possible location (close enough to the client, but near-enough to the action); sometimes this is easier said than done, but it’s always worth a shot.

  3. Research a few fun activities in advance that you can slot in your visit; some of my best experiences have been during the week when the crowds at major attractions are minimal.

And now for the fun part, here’s a look-back at my Top 5 favorite international business destinations:

Tokyo, Japan

100 (2).jpg

Where to Stay: The Peninsula; OK, maybe this wasn’t the most affordable option, but YOLO!

Best Non-Work Activity: Explore the gardens of Shinjuku Gyoen in the morning; for an evening adventure, enjoy a night out for cocktails in the Roppongi neighborhood.

Restaurant Suggestion: Isetan Shinjuku; also known as an ‘epachiku’ (a food hall found on basement or top levels of most department stores), a perfect place to relax for a tasty, but informal/inexpensive meal.


London, England

LocalImage (237).jpg

Where to Stay: St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London; a perfect location next to the King’s Cross train station with a beautifully historic exterior; enjoy your morning coffee in their fabulous lobby.

Best Non-Work Activity: Go for a morning walk in Hyde Park or stand outside of a pub for happy hour (like a true Londoner) .

Restaurant Suggestion: Franco Manca; a UK chain serving up the most delicious sourdough pizza. Hip, casual, and fun. Sit on the patio at this location for great people watching.


Toronto, Canada

IMG_1948.jpg

Where to Stay: Delta Hotels Toronto; perfectly situated downtown with great city and lake views; the executive lounge is top-notch as well.

Best Non-Work Activity: Even though it is touristy, take a trip to the top of the CN Tower for fabulous city and lake panoramic views.

Restaurant Suggestion: 360; kill two birds with one stone and have dinner at the top of CN Tower; the restaurant slowly spins so you do not miss-out on any views from your table.


Paris, France

IMG_3648.jpg

Where to Stay: Renaissance Paris Arc de Triomphe Hotel; a great central location to all major attractions in Paris while still maintaining affordable rates.

Best Non-Work Activity: Climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe early morning or early evening for my personal favorite views of Paris.

Restaurant Suggestion: La Cuisine de Bar; sister restaurant to the Poilâne bakery; come here for the most fabulous croque monsieur.


Copenhagen, Denmark

LRG_DSC04568.jpg

Where to Stay: Copenhagen Marriott Hotel; perfect waterfront hotel with easy access to the city center; the Executive Lounge serves up great wine and delicious appetizers.

Best Non-Work Activity: Explore Nyhavn with the beautiful colored houses; take a canal tour to truly appreciate the city sights by water.

Restaurant Suggestion: Kødbyens Fiskebar; delicious seafood in the historic meat packing district; ask for a table outside for the most authentic experience.


Traveling internationally, especially independently, has been one of the best character-building exercises of my life. Next time you have the opportunity, take the time to plan in advance and give yourself a few extra days at your international destination. The time and monetary investment will be well worth it. Cheers!

The Points Low-Down

Have you signed up for a new credit card recently, but you are unsure of how to maximize your point earnings?  Have you selected alliances within the travel industry, but it is not clear how much your points/miles are worth? Are you ready to redeem your points/miles, but have no clue how to ensure you are getting a good deal?  

For simplicity sake, I am going to universally refer to miles/points as 'points' in this article.

Understanding how to best leverage your credit cards to rapidly accrue points, knowing the value of your accrued points, and learning how to optimize your point redemptions is critical.  By doing this well, you will reap benefits and enjoy fantastic (free) vacations.  Unfortunately, there is a fair amount of nuisance in this process and the answers are not all black and white. However, there are some tips and tricks I will share with you to make the whole process a little more efficient.  Let's break it down...

How can I rapidly accrue points for travel?

You do not have to be a full-time traveler to accrue points within various travel programs.  It's the day and age of travel credit cards and not all cards are created equal.  If you carefully select your credit cards, pay them off every month, and leverage them appropriately to pay for travel and non-travel expenses, the results can be fantastic.  Not only can you increase your credit score (by having a larger amount of available credit), but you can ensure that you have the right card and benefits to maximize earnings.  Here are my top suggestions for leveraging your credit card portfolio to build a hefty slush fund of points:

Select your preferred travel alliances and stick with them; all travel companies are price competitive these days, so it's best to pick your alliances and stick with them.  Instead of simply buying the cheapest flight or hotel, do your research and book early within your selected alliances.  You may not always find the cheapest fare/rate, however the extra money you may spend will be an investment in your next trip.  Every trip is an opportunity to earn points, so any one-off trips on non-core alliances can hinder your earning potential over time.  Focus your spending within core alliances and watch your points add up rapidly!   

Align your credit card portfolio with your travel alliances; there limitless options for credit cards and rewards these days.  If travel is your #1 priority, I highly suggest getting the program-sponsored credit cards.  There are several benefits, most notably, using the card for purchases within the program itself.  For example, the Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card earns 6 points per dollar spent on Marriott hotel stays, which is triple what you would normally earn using other cards.  With the United Explorer Credit Card you get priority boarding and a free checked bag for you and a companion.  These things matter when you travel, and can really make your experience more enjoyable.

Get a work-horse credit card that gives you flexibility; there are times where you may not have enough points within one specific program to buy your next flight or hotel stay.  By expanding your credit card portfolio to include a good flexible option, you can transfer points as-needed or redeem within the program specifically.  Chase Sapphire Reserve is the absolute best card in this category.  It provides 3 points per dollar spent on all travel and restaurants, with most competing cards only offering 2 points per dollar.  Furthermore, the Chase Travel Portal has limitless options for flights, hotels, and rental cars redemptions.  

Here are some of the most important 'rules' I follow for booking and paying for my travel expenses based on my credit card portfolio:

For Hotels: 

  • Always pay for hotel stays with the Marriott Rewards Premier Plus card to earn 6x points for every dollar spent 

For Flights: 

  • With United Silver Status or above: always pay with the Chase Sapphire Reserve card to earn 3x points (since you already get priority boarding and free checked bag based on your status alone)
  • With no United status: always pay with the United Explorer card card to ensure free checked bag, priority boarding, and access to EconomyPlus while earning 2x points per dollar spent

For All Other Travel Expenses (Rental Cars, Taxis, Restaurants):

  • Most times you should pay for your rental cars with the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card to earn 3x points for every dollar spent; but keep a look-out for special promotions within other programs (i.e., Marriott-Hertz)
  • Always use Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card for dining to earn 3x points

What are my points worth?

Once you've accrued points across your travel alliances, the next step is understanding how much they are worth.  Calculating the value of points across travel programs is an art, not a science.  The Points Guy does a fantastic job of calculating valuations and keeping them up-to-date as things change.  The key variables that can affect valuations include:

  1. What is the value of the points when you redeem them?
  2. How much do points cost if you want to buy them?
  3. What are the award availabilities, fees, and change/cancellation policies?

Every month The Points Guy publishes the new valuations and includes 'Notes' on what has changed since the last month/year.  Check out the September update here.  Every month I read this update and focus in on my travel alliances (Marriott, United, and Chase).  

So let me explain how the valuation works.  Each point earned within a program is worth a certain percentage/multiple of a CENT.  In order to accurately estimate the value of your points, you need to first translate the cent to a dollar.  

 *Note: For Chase, I've lowered the value to 1.5 cents since that is what is used on the Chase Ultimate Rewards site when redeeming points; the Points Guy values it higher because there are a lot of other benefits besides just the redemption value that should be considered.  

As you can see, Marriott is the least valuable and Chase is the most valuable.  Why is that?  As I explained above, determining valuation looks at a combination of factors.  Chase Points are very valuable because their availability to redeem is high, they can be transferred 1:1 to several travel partners, and their redeemable value gives you a great bang for your buck.  Marriott on the other hand, is lower because availability to book with points is moderate and redeemable value is relatively low (i.e., it takes a lot of points to book a one-night stay).  This is not to say you should avoid banking points with these programs, though.  Each program has it's pros/cons and it's always good to have a balanced program portfolio. 

Keeping a hearty amount of points across your programs will give you flexibility when it's time to book your next trip.  To calculate the 'Value' of your points, simply multiply your 'Points Accrued' by the 'Point Valuation ($)'.  This 'Value' will now help you understand how much 'money' you have to spend and is the first step to determining how to leverage your points for redemptions. 

points4.jpg
 

How Do I Optimize Redeeming?

Now that we have discussed point valuation, let's talk about how to redeem points.  If you are like the example above and have points in your accounts across programs, the good news is that you have options when redeeming.  A common misconception is that you should always redeem your points isolated within one program.  Another common misconception is that transfer-ability across programs is always advantageous.  Both are not true!  Here are my top options to consider when redeeming points within my core programs:

Earn Marriott Points - redeem Marriott Points on Marriott Website

  • Only good if:  you've confirmed you're getting a good deal (more on this below)

Earn Marriott Points - transfer Marriott Points to United (3:1 ratio); 30,000 Marriott Points = 10,000 United Miles 

  • Only good if:  you do not have enough United points for your flight and the transfer value is high (i.e., your flight is quite expensive to pay for in cash and point redemptions for the flight are available) 
  • Important Note:  the reverse transfer (United to Marriott) does not exist 

Earn Chase Points - use Chase Points within the Chase Portal

  • Only good if:  you've confirmed your desired flight/hotel is available in the Chase Portal, you've confirmed you're getting a good deal (more on this below)

Earn Chase Points - transfer Chase Points to Marriott or United (1:1 ratio); 10,000 Chase Points = 10,000 Marriott Points or United Miles

  • Only good if:  you desperately need the points in your other accounts, your desired flight/hotel is NOT available in the Chase Portal
  • Important Note:  Since Marriott and United point valuations are LESS than Chase, when you transfer 1:1, you are LOSING valuation by transferring; therefore, this option is highly discouraged!

So what is the best way to apply your redemptions and how do you confirm that you are getting a good deal?  I've created an example below focused on hotel redemptions.  In this example, I searched for a one-night stay at various hotels across the Marriott program during the Thanksgiving holiday.  The first step is to note down how many points are required per night - both on Marriott's website and the Chase Travel Portal. 

hotels1.jpg

At first glance, it may appear that Chase Points are more advantageous because they require lower points across the board.  However, remember that the value of these points is different!  You must calculate out the points by the '$ Valuation' multiple we calculated above to understand how much it really costs you to redeem these points.  

hotels5.jpg
 *Note: For the Chase Valuation multiple, I used 1.5 cents instead of 2.0 (from Points Guy), since this is the true redeemable value on the Chase Site

*Note: For the Chase Valuation multiple, I used 1.5 cents instead of 2.0 (from Points Guy), since this is the true redeemable value on the Chase Site

Simply multiply the number of points by the 'Point Valuation' multiple to see how much it 'costs' you to redeem these points across both programs.  Run down the list and highlight the lower cost option for each, and that is the program you should use to redeem your points.  For example, redeeming with Marriott for the W Hotel in Miami is a better choice since it costs $315 worth of points versus $429 if you redeem with Chase.  On the other hand, the W Hotel in Barcelona is significantly more advantageous to redeem with Chase points ($228.32 versus $540 with Marriott).

But let's not stop there.  One additional factor that I always encourage people to validate is the CASH option.  Sometimes using your points does NOT make sense because you won't be getting a great bang for your buck.  

hotel5.jpg

In the example above, I searched for paid stays on the Marriott website and noted the cost per night (green column above).  Then, line by line, I highlighted the lowest cost option and noted the recommended 'Choice' for redemption.  As you can see, the Renaissance in Hong Kong and the Sheraton in Beijing are both better suited to pay for in cash because the point redemption options are more expensive.  While you may prefer to use points regardless of how much cash it costs to redeem, it is always important to check in advance to see if cash may be a better option.  Also, Marriott often includes a 'Cash + Points' option whereby you can use a combination of points and cash to pay for your stays.  Cash options are often overlooked, but should be considered when determining how/when to redeem your points.    

In Summary

Determining your travel alliances upfront and sticking with them, leveraging your credit cards to accrue points strategically, and doing simple math to optimize your redemptions can be game-changing tactics.  Put all of these strategies together and you have the formula for increasing your leverage to book amazing vacations -- for free!  Next time you are getting ready to book travel with your points, spend a bit more time analyzing your options to ensure you are getting a good deal.  That way, you can feel confident in your decisions and sit back and relax your well-deserved vacation!

Reach out to me directly for a copy of my spreadsheet to help you do these calculations in minutes!  

My 'Not-So-Obvious' Cruise Packing List

Hey all!  It's been a hot minute since I've written a blog post.  The first half of 2018 has been a whirlwind, most notably wrapping up a major project at work and making a condo move.  While I have not spent much time traveling and blogging, it was a season focused on home.  

This was a season of refinement, of acknowledging there were multiple sides to me that were equally true...most significantly, I love to travel and I love my home.
— Tsh Oxenreider, At Home in the World

But alas, here I am, three days away from jetting off to Europe for a summer vacation that I have been looking forward to for a long time!  We booked our cruise two years in advance.  Crazy?  Maybe...but the glory of booking early is that you can always reschedule if the dates do not end up working for you.  We could not pass up the opportunity to experience the newest and biggest ship in the world, Symphony of the Seas!  We secured optimal flights, amazing rooms on the ship, and have had plenty of time to plan for our trip.  

Cruising does require some pre-planning in terms of packing.  With a variety of excursions (beach, land, sea) and plenty of activities on-board, you want to be prepared with everything you need to make it awesome.  For clothing, my best advice is the following:

  • Pack a daytime outfit that aligns well with your planned excursion/activity.  This could be a swimsuit/cover-up/flip flops for a day at the beach or hiking shorts/tank top/walking shoes for a day on land. 
  • Pack a few comfy outfits for afternoon relaxation.  You will usually come back to the ship ready to shower and chill out before dinner.  Something good for a siesta or enjoying a cocktail on your balcony is key.
  • Pack a dressy outfit for dinner every night.  Cruise ships have scheduled 'smart casual' nights and usually 1-2 'formal nights.'  Getting all dressed up and enjoying great food and wine is one of my favorite parts of cruising! 

I've highlighted some of my other cruise essentials below, which I believe are not so obvious when you think about packing for a normal trip!  These are all things that have personally come in very handy on past cruises.  While you do not want to over-pack, there are certain things that are very practical and will make your trip more enjoyable.

Cruise Luggage Tags:  You will receive tags that you have to print in advance and attach to your suitcase.  Buy these plastic covers to protect your paper tag and you won't have to worry about your tags or bags getting lost.

Sea Bands:  These pressure point wrist bands are a life saver if there are rough seas.  I usually wear them for the first few nights to adjust to being on the water, but they are useful at any point during the trip if you start to feel sea sick!

Pool Towel Clips:  All cruise ship towels look the same.  Differentiate your chair with these clips so you remember where you sat.  They also are very handy to keep your towel in place for top-deck lounging where it can be very windy!

  Lightweight/Collapsible Backpack :  This is key for daytime excursions. A collapsible one will take up little space in your suitcase and also can serve as an extra travel bag for any purchases made along the way.    Sunglass Cord :  These are so clutch.  If you have invested in good quality sunglasses, make sure you have these to protect them from falling off.  They also come in super handy when you are popping your glasses on/off to take pictures.     Waterproof iPhone Case :  Ok, this might be a little nerdy, but having a waterproof iPhone case will allow you to snap away during water activities and not worry about your phone falling in the drink! :)

Lightweight/Collapsible Backpack:  This is key for daytime excursions. A collapsible one will take up little space in your suitcase and also can serve as an extra travel bag for any purchases made along the way. 

Sunglass Cord:  These are so clutch.  If you have invested in good quality sunglasses, make sure you have these to protect them from falling off.  They also come in super handy when you are popping your glasses on/off to take pictures.  

Waterproof iPhone Case:  Ok, this might be a little nerdy, but having a waterproof iPhone case will allow you to snap away during water activities and not worry about your phone falling in the drink! :)

  Sea Salt Spray : Getting up every day and fully doing your hair is not always feasible or a good use of time.  Use sea salt spray to bring out the natural waves of your hair for daytime activities!     Tinted Sunscreen :  Same story applies.  Fully doing your makeup every morning is not practical, especially given the outdoor activities you will likely be doing.  Use a tinted sunscreen as a foundation and keep the rest simple.     After-Sun Lotion :  This stuff is clutch.  It smells heavenly and will make your skin feel great after a day in the sun.  Take the time to apply it daily...your skin will thank you.  

Sea Salt Spray: Getting up every day and fully doing your hair is not always feasible or a good use of time.  Use sea salt spray to bring out the natural waves of your hair for daytime activities!  

Tinted Sunscreen:  Same story applies.  Fully doing your makeup every morning is not practical, especially given the outdoor activities you will likely be doing.  Use a tinted sunscreen as a foundation and keep the rest simple.  

After-Sun Lotion:  This stuff is clutch.  It smells heavenly and will make your skin feel great after a day in the sun.  Take the time to apply it daily...your skin will thank you.  

  Versatile lightweight scarf :  For the evenings, you will likely want a scarf or light jacket to bring to dinner.  Pick a neutral color like black or grey that will go with many of your outfits.    Small Clutch :  You do not need a purse on the ship.  However, pack a clutch for your phone, camera, lipstick, room key, etc.  I bought this specific one for my trip and I love it!     Wine :  Yes, you can bring your own.  Most ships allow you two bottles per stateroom. Pickup a few bottles before you board the ship...and excuse my shameless plug for Kimmy. :)

Versatile lightweight scarf:  For the evenings, you will likely want a scarf or light jacket to bring to dinner.  Pick a neutral color like black or grey that will go with many of your outfits. 

Small Clutch:  You do not need a purse on the ship.  However, pack a clutch for your phone, camera, lipstick, room key, etc.  I bought this specific one for my trip and I love it!  

Wine:  Yes, you can bring your own.  Most ships allow you two bottles per stateroom. Pickup a few bottles before you board the ship...and excuse my shameless plug for Kimmy. :)

While this is not my full packing list for cruises, it should give you a head start for the things that may not be so obvious!  And just remember, the glory of cruising is that you can bring a larger suitcase, unpack ONCE, and enjoy your amazing floating hotel for the duration of your trip!  

Follow my adventures over the next two weeks on the Symphony of the Seas in Spain, France, and Italy on Instagram at Get Out There Travel

Cheers!

Debunking Cruise Myths (Keeping You From Your Dream Vacation)

It was 2012 when I first discovered the glory of cruising.  My family wanted to do a Spring Break trip together, so we researched and headed off on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas (at that time, the biggest cruise ship in the world)!  We cruised through the Eastern Caribbean and visited Nassau, St. Thomas, and St. Martin.  It was a fantastic vacation and one that kicked off a lifelong love of cruising. 

   2012,   The amazing Allure of the Seas, part of the Royal Caribbean Oasis-Class, docked in Nassau, Bahamas

2012, The amazing Allure of the Seas, part of the Royal Caribbean Oasis-Class, docked in Nassau, Bahamas

Since that cruise in 2012, I've been fortunate enough to experience four more cruises that were all unique and equally enjoyable.  In t-minus 56 days, I will board the newest and biggest ship in the world, Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas for it's debut season!  This upcoming trip has inspired me to a write a series of blog posts to share my love of cruising in hopes that it may inspire you to take the plunge and experience what may be your best vacation yet!

   2012,   Cruising through the Eastern Caribbean on the Allure of the Seas

2012, Cruising through the Eastern Caribbean on the Allure of the Seas

You may wonder where all my excitement about cruising comes from because 1) you've had a bad cruise experience in the past or 2) you're skeptical of cruising from what you've seen/heard or 3) or you've simply never prioritized cruising as a vacation option.  I hope that this post will debunk those myths that are holding you back and help you see cruising in a different light.  

   2017,   Royal Carribean's Jewel of the Seas sunrise arrival in the US Virgin Islands 

2017, Royal Carribean's Jewel of the Seas sunrise arrival in the US Virgin Islands 

Cruise ships are crowded, confining, and can't possibly hold thousands of people comfortably.  

This is my favorite myth because it was one of my biggest fears early on.  I do not particularly like crowds and I assumed it would impossible to not be surrounded by people at every moment (in the dining rooms, at the pool, getting on/off the ship, or simply walking around).  The truth is, cruise ships are specifically designed to drive efficient movement of people and to ensure that no space ever feels crowded.  The corridors, stairways, and elevators are thoughtfully located to move people through the ship.  Additionally, the newest ships are taking innovation seriously and coming up with ways to make their spaces light, airy, and wide open.  Specifically, Royal Caribbean has done a fantastic job adding elements that truly make the ship feel like a city on the water.  The Oasis-Class ships have a park-like atrium (with real greenery and flowers), open-air theaters with wonderful views of the ocean, and my all-time favorite feature, the Solarium.  The Solarium is a spa-like, kid-free zone, perched at the front of the ship that is truly unique.  It is a slice of heaven that keeps me coming back time and time again!  

   2015,   Anthem of the Seas Solarium view in the Bay of Biscay (Spain)

2015, Anthem of the Seas Solarium view in the Bay of Biscay (Spain)

I'm either going to get norovirus or seasick.

While norovirus stories make the news every year, the total number of passengers who fall ill on cruise ship is a fraction of one percent (1).  The truth is, the sanitary regulations on ships are very strict and every part of the ship is cleaned consistently.  Cruise ships are in fact much cleaner than most of the public spaces we visit on a daily basis.  Be prepared to use hand sanitizer before all your meals and plan to wash your hands more than normal to be safe.  But all in all, cruise ships are usually completely spotless and the crew is always hard at work making the spaces clean and comfortable!  Ok, so I might not get the stomach flu, but what about seasickness??  This was my second fear prior to cruising.  I tend to get motion sickness, so I was a little apprehensive.  I proactively use Sea Bands on all cruises for the first 1-2 days to get my body adjusted and I'll pop them on if the seas get rough during the trip.  While predicting and preventing rough water on your cruise is impossible, my most important advice is to make sure you are cruising in locations during their peak season.  Yes, it is more expensive, but there is a reason for that.  For example, you might get a smoking deal on a cruise in the Western Caribbean in August-September, but that is the heart of hurricane season, so you will be taking your chances!  Doing your research in advance and picking the right time to cruise is very important!

   2015,   Anthem of the Seas sunset near South Hampton, England 

2015, Anthem of the Seas sunset near South Hampton, England 

People go on cruises to overeat bad food from mediocre buffets.

Cruise lines have made significant strides in elevating their dining experiences over the last several years.  In fact, cruising has now become a way to enjoy fine-dining at sea.  Cruises now offer multiple restaurant choices on-board.  From your morning pick-me-up at Starbucks, to your quick salad from the buffet for lunch, to a five-star dining experience for dinner...there is seriously something for everyone.  While the traditional approach is to have a set dinner time every night in the main dining room, cruise lines are starting to introduce flexible dining times and specialty restaurants.  My suggestion is to use the set-dining time for days you are at-sea (no excursions) and book reservations for the specialty restaurants when you have a full-day excursion or want to enjoy a later dinner.  Hands-down the best dining experience I've had was at Jamie Oliver's restaurant on the Anthem of the Seas.  It was so good, we went back twice during a one-week cruise!  Another interesting fact is that cruise line portion sizes are actually quite small compared to America's standard restaurants.  They do this to avoid wasting food, but it also can prevent you from over-eating.  You can always ask for seconds of anything, but their standard portions are just perfect!  And do not worry, you will be getting plenty of steps in during your cruise vacation to curb your calorie intake and there are a multitude of options for exercise on-board!  

   2015,   Anthem of Seas dinner at Jamie Oliver's with epic charcuterie boards

2015, Anthem of Seas dinner at Jamie Oliver's with epic charcuterie boards

I won't spend much time in my cabin, so I should book the cheapest option. 

I have had the chance to experience a wide variety of accommodations on cruise ships.  From the sofa bed in my parents room, to staying in an interior room with no windows, to a balcony room with an obstructed view of the lifeboats, to a prime balcony room with perfect ocean views.  Picking the right room is imperative!  After experiencing all the different room types, I now know that mid-ship (length and height wise) is the ideal location to avoid noise or wavy conditions and balcony rooms are must.  Save your pennies and splurge for a balcony -- it is worth it, I promise you!  Rooms are small, but spacious and have perfectly sized closets and storage for all of your belongings.  One of my favorite aspects of cruising is the ability to unpack your suitcase once and spend the next several days arriving at amazing destinations without having to exert any effort or planning!  Do not get me wrong, I love vacations where you have a logistical plan to get from one place to another and enjoy planes, trains, and automobiles along the way.  However, there is a great luxury in having the cruise ship be your floating hotel.  It takes away the stress of packing/unpacking and puts the onus on someone else to get you where you need to be!  In addition, there is great joy in opening your curtains every morning and being SO excited to see where you have arrived overnight.  New ports, new sights, ocean views...just amazing! 

   2016,   Celebrity Reflection selfie from our balcony room

2016, Celebrity Reflection selfie from our balcony room

A one day excursion is not nearly enough time for me to enjoy a destination. 

Planning excursions is one of my favorite thing about cruises.  There are so many awesome things you can do during your day on land.  Cruise lines offer many options, but you are always open to researching and finding your own excursion for the day.  My strategy includes doing my own research on Trip Advisor to learn what the best attractions are in the location.  Since you only have one day, you need to be picky.  Find the excursion that showcases the highlight(s) of the place you are visiting and pick the best option (which is usually not the cheapest or shortest by the way)!  From there, I will check out what the cruise line is offering, and if I don't find anything that lines up with my research, I will book independently.  Many local tour companies cater to cruise visitors, so they are familiar with the schedule and always ensure to get you back to the ship on time!  Finally, if you visit a location that you feel like one day was unjustified, you can always add it back to your list for a future visits.  For me, that was the island of Antigua in the Southern Caribbean.  One day on a catamaran circling the gorgeous island was just not enough -- I will be back there one day to soak in the beauty for a longer duration!

   2017  , the beautiful island of Antigua during a daytime catamaran excursion 

2017, the beautiful island of Antigua during a daytime catamaran excursion 

Well hopefully by now I've convinced you to book a cruise or at least consider it for your next vacation.  SO many of my favorite vacation memories are from my past cruises.  It's always an adventure!  You get to see and experience so many interesting things and you come home rested and rejuvenated from the loads of fresh air.  Whether you are a cruise newbie, had a bad first experience, or simply need some inspiration, reach out to me!  I'd love to help plan your next dream (cruise) vacation.  

   2017,   Jewel of the Seas doing a 360 degree turn to see the sunset in St. Lucia.

2017, Jewel of the Seas doing a 360 degree turn to see the sunset in St. Lucia.

The ocean is waiting ...Get Out There.

Defining Your Travel Philosophy

IMG_1511.jpg

Travel Philosophy

Defining your own personal travel philosophy is a critical step in achieving fantastic vacations.

Auguste Rodin, a famous French sculptor, was on the forefront of modern art in the late 1800's.  Ever since I visited the peaceful Rodin Museum Gardens in Paris in June 2010, I've come to love his work.  His sculptures are unique and emphasize the individual.  The Thinker, one of his most renowned pieces, is often used as an image to represent philosophy and celebrates the greatness of individual character.  I can only imagine what The Thinker is pondering, but I really hope it's travel...  

WHY PHILOSOPHY

Defining your unique and individual travel philosophy is an important foundation to set.  How you think about travel, and all things that go along with it - money, timing, structure, and locations - will define how successful your vacations become.  You do not have to have all the answers or a detailed plan for every vacation, but the fundamentals matter.  Your unique travel philosophy will evolve as you reflect and determine what makes you happy.    

THE GREEN STUFF

The most common barrier to entry for travel is money.  Unfortunately, travel gets a bad rap as being expensive, which, no doubt, it can be.  However, a little planning can go a long way.  Determining how much you want to invest in travel is very important.  If you are serious about it, 'Travel' should be a line item on your monthly budget.  If you are receiving a paycheck twice a month, there are two chances to save money for travel.  Multiply that across 12 months, and you have 24 opportunities to invest.  My philosophy is to start small and make it formal.  

  • Create a separate savings account:  Use an existing savings account or setup a specific travel account.  I prefer the latter, giving me the peace of mind that I have a nice stash protected for travel purposes. 
  • Setup a direct deposit from your paycheck:  Start with $25 a pay period, and you have $600 a year for a major domestic flight or three nights at a nice hotel.  Increase to $100 per pay period, and you have $2,400 a year for an amazing week-long trip.  
  • Be smart about it:  For the months you are traveling, plan ahead for additional wiggle room in your budget. You will remove the anxiety that comes along with money, which will allow you to focus on enjoying your well-deserved vacation!

TRAVEL STYLE

No, not your outfits.  My definition of a travel 'style' is specific manner in which you desire to experience travel, no matter the destination.  Travel is a very personal experience; one that looks, feels, and transpires differently for each of us.  Lay out your fundamentals in advance, especially when you are traveling with others.  The success of your vacations will improve dramatically with a little upfront strategizing.  Your travel style will evolve to your own unique philosophy over time.

  • Planning:  Do you prefer a set itinerary with pre-planned activities or do you prefer playing it by ear and defining your itinerary as you go?  My philosophy is to always have an itinerary drafted in advance, with the must-do activities scheduled prior to departure and plenty of open time slots to be flexible!  Create a visual itinerary that allows you to see the trip come to life.  I like to use Excel to drive a nice structure.  
  • Activities:  What specific types of activities would make you most excited about your trip - adventure, outdoors, relaxation, culture, shopping, food/wine?  My philosophy includes researching a location for what it is known for most and incorporating those activities first.  I'm a big proponent of booking in advance - a lot of time the major attractions require this, so plan ahead to not miss out. 
  • Structure:  What does a perfect travel day look like for you?  Do you wake up early and hit all the hot-spots before they get busy or would you prefer to sleep-in, enjoy a great breakfast, and plan your day accordingly? My philosophy includes building a daily itinerary with one major activity, at least one great dining experience, and always setting aside time for a nap or relaxation.  

HOW TO FILL YOUR BUCKET

The traditionalist ideal that that you have to be ready to 'kick the bucket' before you can start planning and executing your dream vacations is a falsehood.  However, nowadays, our millennial-filled society seems to have gone to the extreme.  Alas, the overflowing bucket.  There is an abundance of people with really long bucket lists, and no plan to achieve.  Why? 

  • Now or bust:  People view a bucket list as a comprehensive list of activities, experiences, or opportunities to achieve within a lifetime, and we end up worrying about how to accomplish them all.  Or, even more common, we start thinking about what may change in our lives preventing us from actually making it happen.  Get clear with yourself on your most important travel desires and start forging a path with them in sight.  
  • 3-5 year horizon:  Assess a mid-term horizon to understand which trips are realistic to take based on where you are at in your life.  Draft a 3-5 year travel plan that includes 'bigger picture' trips and smaller trips that can be executed more nimbly.  Every year evaluate where you stand.  Will they all happen within 5 years?  No.  But get them written down and your chances of execution will be much higher.  
  • Plan:  Bucket list trips do not come to life overnight.  Spend the time doing your homework, saving your money, and aligning the trips to what is happening in your life.  Research the months that are ideal to travel to those locations and align this with your own personal calendar.  You may have to put some stakes in the ground in advance, and hold to them, but the preparation horizon will result in a fantastic trip.   

BECOME 'THE THINKER'

Just as Rodin celebrated the individual, each of us deserves to invest time in defining a travel philosophy that is unique to us.  Feeling great about your vacations does require investment, planning, reflection, and some trial and error.  There is always room for continuous improvement in travel, even for the most seasoned traveler.  In the meantime, start stashing those precious dollars, begin defining how your dream trip would transpire, and dump your bucket and start anew.  The world is waiting, Get Out There.