Just Down the Block

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I started the New Year off with a bit of chaos – I moved apartments. I am still in the DC area and I’m not going very far at all. I literally moved two blocks down. The move was a bit of a mess. There was miscommunication with my old apartment and of course it rained. I had assistance from All Star Movers (they’re actually saints and the quickest movers in the DMV) and my lovely parents (though one half was sidelined with injuries). Bits and bobs were moved over the week and my plants got special treatment in their transportation and will now enjoy a sunny spot in my window.

I find moving stressful. Partially because there are so many “what-ifs” and partially because its the end of an era. I’ve moved every year (if not twice a year) for the past six years. Mostly it has been from my parent’s house to college and back or into a suitcase to Australia and back. Things have been accumulated (mostly plants) and things have been tossed (r.i.p. the black leather chair that was older than my parent’s marriage). And I try to prepare, but can never quite get it right.

But I found a few things helpful in making the moving process slightly less anxiety-inducing.

One: start packing before the moving truck arrives. This seems logical and yet you’d be surprised. I started putting non-essentials away about two months before I was set to move out. Then I stopped buying food about two weeks before my move. The week of my move, everything went into bags or boxes, one night at a time. The few days before my move, I did a capsule wardrobe challenge, using only ten items of clothing and packing everything else. And the night before, my loving mother and I broke down my bed and pushed everything the movers would be lugging about into the living room for easy access. It worked. There’s not a whole lot that was left to be dealt with after the movers left and things are packed in a semi-organized fashion.

Two: give yourself wiggle room. It’s tempting to move out the last possible day of your lease, but having a day or two or a week overlap to move helped me stress less about getting everything done in that deadline. I could spend three days moving my plants and my last bits over, rather than three hours. When it started snow/raining, I didn’t have to power through.

Three: cry in advance. I knew that I would end up crying (and I did!) but I figured getting some of those stressful emotions out of the way before the movers arrived would be helpful for all involved. So the night before, I watched a movie I knew would make me cry and I let it out. And then in the morning after picking up my apartment keys, but before meeting with my parents, I cried again. And voila! No tears during the actual move.

Four: let the professionals do their job. Other than bits and bobs and plants, we let the professional movers handle the tough stuff. They figured out how to get things into and out of the two apartment buildings and they carried the heavy things.

Five: know when to quit. There’s a certain point in my day when I have to acknowledge I need to rest. As an introvert, I know that too much socialization will eventually mean hitting a wall of exhaustion that can only be fixed by time alone. After a stressful day of moving, I needed to acknowledge that everything wasn’t going to be put away right then and there. I could rest and handle what was left over the next few days (see tip two).

Can I just say I’m happy I don’t have to do this again until next year?

Winter Essentials

Travel

It’s getting chillier here and I’ve even considered putting on a scarf once or twice. (Disclaimer: it’s definitely still 70 degrees here on a regular basis.) But the cooler temps had me thinking about what I always pack when traveling in colder climates.

Maybe you’ve got a trip to Scandinavia planned or maybe you’re visiting family in Upstate New York. Either way, I hope my essentials might be helpful for your packing needs.

Like I mentioned before, I love a good scarf. My particular favorites have been a big red blanket scarf (R.I.P. – if anyone ever sees one on the DC Metro, let me know.) A good travel scarf should be thick enough to actually keep you warm, should be large enough to wrap around you like a blanket or to create a nice pillow for you. I also recommend getting one that’s somewhat colorful – every photo from my time abroad in Europe included my black winter coat and my bright red scarf. It added a pop of color to my otherwise all black ensembles.

I mentioned my black coat above – I highly recommend a light weight puffer jacket for winter travel. I believe mine is from REI but I’ve also heard good things about the Uniqlo versions. Essentially you want something that will keep you warm, will layer nicely over thicker sweaters, and that you can smush down into nothing when packing your suitcase. Some of these puffer jackets come with a little bag that they smush into. Can 10/10 recommend these for travel – especially if you’re going between temperatures.

I dream of thick sweatshirts and cozy sweaters, but unfortunately they’re quite heavy and unless you’re going to the Arctic Circle, they might be overkill. Instead I would recommend packing layers – lots of layers. The trick to layers is to start thin and work your way out. A thin turtleneck or a tighter tee shirt can be worn on their own or under another thin sweater. That next layer should be thin enough to layer under your coat but could also be worn on its own. I’m a big fan of a thin sweater over a dress with tights. And we all know you’ll be popping in and out of museums and restaurants, so you want to be able to take off layers as you’re reintroduced to the warmth.

I like tights under dresses (and under pants when it is particularly cold), but nothing beats a thick pair of socks. If you’re planning hikes or a walking tour, your toes might get chilly. Grab a thick pair of socks or two and throw them on. Your toes will be happy (and if they’re good quality- warm and dry) and you won’t feel the chill quite as much. I’ve got good pairs from REI in the past and they’re the best.

If you are planning on thick socks, make sure they will fit in your boots. Personally, I don’t think a pair of hiking boots is necessary to wander around Paris in the winter but you’ll want a nice pair of flat boots for your travels. I recommend a black pair that’ll make you look chic and European, while also going with everything you’re bringing for your trip. Top tip: wear them around the house or to work a few times to make sure they’re extra comfy before you go.

I bring a well-stocked purse with me in the winter – Chapstick is essential (this one’s my favorite), hand lotion is nice. A good moisturizer with SPF is key. (You can get sunburnt even in the winter!) Sunglasses are also helpful – especially on windy days. Hand sanitizer will keep you from getting sick, but just in case cough drops and emergency Day-Quil are also good to have around in the winter. I also try to take Vitamin D supplements because lack of sunshine really does on a number on me.

My last essential is my phone to double check hours – a lot of touristy spots have different hours in the winter. Double check before you go!

What are your winter essentials? Please let me live vicariously through your trips – where are you heading this chilly season?

Bags over Boxes

Travel

They say travel changes you. And in many ways it can, opening your mind to new cultures and new perspectives, pulling you out of your comfort zone, feeding you new ideas and cuisines. Oftentimes, I don’t see how much its changed me until I get home and settle in for a bit.

One of the stranger parts of traveling is that it has made me a more of a minimalist. (Yes, my mother would laugh at this based on the amount of stuff I have sitting in my childhood bedroom and the amount of stuff she is helping me haul home from London.) But honestly, when you’re planning to move away in six months time or a year, your mindset changes.

You start to ask yourself a lot of new questions like, If it can’t fit in my carry-on, is it really worth it? or Will I ever really use this? or Can this be squished and smushed and still look alright on the other side?

As the last few weeks have been filled with people moving in for college or around the world, I found myself thinking about how five years ago when I packed for college, everything was in boxes and hard containers. The only limitations to my storage was what could be fit in the car on the drive to orientation. My mother, the queen of car Tetris, could make anything fit. The same was true for my second year of college: boxes rained supreme.

It wasn’t until I hopped a plane to Australia that I realized that boxes do not travel well on twenty-something hour-long flight routes. So I began to favor bags and softer containment units. All of those beauty bags that had been collected over the years suddenly had a use. One was for electronics, the other for medicine, another for makeup, one more for haircare, yet another for jewelry, another for miscellaneous things that you always need but that don’t really fit any sort of categorization system. All these tiny bags could be smushed down to fit into the corner of my suitcase or the front pocket of my carry-on in ways that a box just couldn’t. And with that restriction, less things were brought along.

I kept the preference for bags on my semester in Sweden, as I had similar limitations. My travels around Europe continued this, as the question was always Will this fit Ryannair carry-on restrictions? Instead of a specialized outfit for each day, I had to think about which pieces matched multiple items and wouldn’t look wrinkled upon arrival. Some things just didn’t make the cut.

My senior year of undergrad, I was so used to constantly being on the move that it just stuck. It seemed strange to use a box when a bag would work just perfectly. By the time I moved to London, it was second nature to favor bags over boxes.

As I pack up my bags once more for the move home, it would be hard to ignore the other ways that travel has changed me: I’m more independent, I reflect more, I don’t waste time on things that make me unhappy, I make lists and cross things off only to write a new list, I enjoy sitting back and watching people interact, and at the end of the day, my life could fit into a couple of bags within the weight limit of Icelandair’s checked baggage restrictions (I hope).

Making Plans

Travel

I’m an anxious human being. I get places thirty minutes early, I plan out walking paths and bus routes before, during, and after I’ve left the house, and I love lists. So traveling (especially alone) can sometimes be stress inducing, which is why I’ve got this whole planning thing down to a science.

My first step is a browse through Pinterest, or if all else fails a Google Search. Depending on the length of my trip and whether or not every travel blogger on the planet has visited, I can usually find enough to do. (I’ll also find things that might interest my traveling buddy, but might not be my cup of tea, just in case they aren’t the plan ahead type.)

I’ll also do a search of free walking tours in whatever city I’ll be visiting. (I loved my Sandeman’s walking tours and they’re in a good number of places through out Europe.) They’re a good starting point for where ever you are, allow you to get your bearings in the city, and they tend to point out things to do and eat that you might have otherwise missed in your planning.

The next step is to head over to Google Maps. Because Google Maps can be downloaded or used without data, I prefer it over Apple Maps or any other city specific app. A browse through the interwebs has probably left me when a thousand tabs open on my computer, all waiting for me to decide whether or not to visit. My tabs are searched on Google Maps and their location is saved either as a “Star” or a “Want to Visit”. If I’m feeling real fancy, I’ll make a separate map for the trip. I’ll also make a mental note of which things open early or late (a note I’ll revisit once I’m actually there).

I don’t like to plan out my day(s) until I have arrived, unless necessary. Exhaustion levels, weather, and the chances of finding somewhere new to explore all keep me from being that Type A. I do, however, find myself booking things I know I want to do in advance. This way, I don’t have that nagging feeling in the back of my head that something will sell out between my planning and my actual trip. (Most of the time it’s not a worry, but you never know. Better safe than sorry!)

Side note: I, personally, like printed versions of everything. From plane tickets to admissions tickets to hostel business cards to maps of the city (if I can find them for free), I’d like to have a physical copy. It means that even if my phone dies from taking too many pictures, I’ll have what I need to cope. It also means I’ll have something to stick in my travel journal when I get back home to remember my trip!

Once I’ve booked everything, starred everything in a map, and triple checked what time my bus/train/plane/car leaves, I can worry about packing. For day trips, I always empty out my purse and refill it. If it’s not essential, it’s not coming with. My Waitrose card and the twelve pens that sit at the bottom of my purse are removed. For longer trips, I pack what I think I’ll need a few days in advance, then repack the night before. That way my last minute panic of forgetting my *insert crucial item here* is done while I can still find it, rather than once I’ve already left the house.

The day of my trip, I’ll take an allergy medicine, just in case, make sure I’ve grabbed any last minute items (chargers, headphones, book or kindle, chapstick, etc.), and I can head out the door.

Packing Light

Travel

Thanks to Ryanair I have mastered the art of packing light. No matter the weather or the adventure, I can squeeze my life into a backpack and a purse, ready for takeoff. It’s a talent I’m quite proud of, developed through the years, solidified in a serious of rules. Do I break these rules every time I travel? Why, yes! But I like to think of them as guidelines for success.

Rule Number One:

Checked luggage is a sign of weakness. If it cannot fit into my two allotted cabin bags, it will not be coming with. No checked bags. (The exception to this rule is any trip longer than two weeks, like moving to a new country.)

For my recent road trip, I had to not only manage the airline requirements, but also the fact that there would be five of us stuffed into a tiny European car for long stretches of time. Excess luggage would not do. I managed to pack all of my belongings into my purple Jansport backpack. (If you want a reliable bag that’ll hold all your belongings for years to come, Jansport is your new best friend. My mom has one from her time in college; they last forever.)

Rule Number Two:

If you’re worried your bag might burst on your trip, bring an extra bag with you. Most tote bags will roll up tiny and can be used doing the trip to carry around what you need for a day or to store food in during your road trip. Just because you need to condense for the flight, doesn’t mean everything needs to be squished at your destination.

Additionally, bring along plastic grocery bags. They’re a necessity if you don’t want all of your clean clothes to smell like your dirty clothes. You can also use them to wrap dirty sneakers or wet bathing suits.

Rule Number Three:

I wear dresses just about everyday when I can, but I understand that hiking in a dress may not always be practical. For our road trip, we went from city life to chilly mountains to hot summer weather in just two weeks. So everything I brought had to be versatile.

Layers are your friend. Bring along a tee-shirt and a sweatshirt and a long sleeve shirt that if necessary can be worn all at once. Scarfs are also handy as blankets and neck warmers, and a winter jacket that can fold up nice and small is also convenient for inconsistent weather travel.

Everything can be worn more than one time, as well. Sure your Instagram feed may start to look like you’ve traveled the world all in one day, but you don’t need a separate shirt for each day of travel. Your plain black tee-shirt can be worn multiple times. Mix and match what you have, depending on the day.

Rule Number Four:

My grandmother follows the general rule that if a piece of clothing can’t survive a whirl through the washing machine, it won’t survive on her. My rule is that if a piece of clothing won’t look nice after being rolled and smushed in a backpack, I don’t need to bring it.

My dresses are all jersey or cotton or rayon (essentially, not silk or cashmere). If it holds a wrinkle, it ain’t coming with me. If you’re unsure if your clothing will survive the trip, squish up your shirt or your dress in your hands for a minute; does it smooth out after a shake or two? Pack it. If it’s still full of wrinkles or you’re beginning to wonder if Spain has overnight dry cleaning, leave it in the closet.

Rule Number Five:

With few exceptions, you will be able to do some shopping upon arrival. On our road trip, we skipped bringing along hotel sample shampoos and made a stop for shower essentials in a local grocery store. If you’re traveling with others, your hair can survive a few days of cheap shampoo split between the group. (Do be warned that sunscreen is not popular in many places. Thailand and Croatia, for example, were both lacking in sunscreen.)

You don’t need to bring along your medicine cabinet during travel. My personal opinion is that makeup isn’t necessary on vacation to begin with, but that’s just me. Deodorant, though, should absolutely be worn at all times, in all weather conditions. Please and thank you.