Honey, I’m Home

Travel

It came to my attention that a friend who shall remain unnamed has lived in the DC area for a few years and never ventured down to my favorite place in the metro area: Old Town Alexandria. I was personally offended. I think Old Town is one of the coolest part of the DC area. And if you love history, hate crowds, and always want to be surprised, Old Town is the place for you.

Getting There: The excuse I was given was that Old Town was too tough to get to. Which is bull. When Metro hasn’t shut down all of the Virginia stops, you can get to Old Town easy peasy on the Yellow or Blue line and hop off at the King’s Street stop. The walk from the metro isn’t horrible and is a straight line down King Street to get to the water front, or you can hop on the free Trolley that’ll take you all the way down King. Parking isn’t ideal, but if you’re keen on a day’s adventure, there’s bike paths that lead straight there from all directions. You can also hop a riverboat from Georgetown and National Harbor.

What to Do: Old Town is filled with history: go on a ghost tour of town, visit Gatsby’s Tavern, wander the cemetaries. It’s also a quintessential walkable area. You can wander down the history cobblestone roads and see historical buildings with just a touch of cute. If you’re on the hunt for that perfect birthday gift or that not-too-touristy present to bring back home, there’s plenty of boutiques and cute shops all up and down King’s Street that are fun to just pop in and out of. Make a stop in the Torpedo Factory to peek at some local artists’ workspaces. If you’re there in the summertime, the boardwalk is filled with performers and opportunities for people watching. Plus there’s that relaxing sound of the water that just can’t be replicated by an iPhone.

What to Eat: Old Town is constantly updating their food options, with shops coming and going. I’ve got a few favorites that are consistent: for “Chicago” style pizza, go to Bugsy’s. Looking for a Marg and a couple tacos, Los Cuates is a good bet. On the hunt for a classy meal, the Chart House has good food and great views. And to round it all off, there’s nothing better than a scoop (or two) of ice cream for your wander onto the boardwalk: there’s a Ben and Jerry’s, but my personal favorite is the Cookie Dough at The Creamery – just keep an eye out for the bear in the window.

Basically, there’s so much to do in Old Town and it’s just so close to DC that you have no excuse.

How I’m (Working on) Spending Less

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The other day I had a conversation with a friend about job benefits and how terrifying it was to pick a benefits package – it was one of the first adult decisions I had to make that seemed permanent. Right after that conversation, I wrote a check for my rent, looked up LSAT prep classes online, and cooked myself a nutritionally balanced (ish) meal. I was adulting. It is terrifying.

One of the perks of adulting is recognizing that money should probably be saved more frequently than it is spent. I’ve tried the whole budgeting thing before and had varying levels of success, but this time it is real. Thankfully, I have no student loans – shout out to mom and dad for that one. But in a possibly stupid move, I’m considering law school.

The goal is to save as much money now while I’m fully employed so that law school is less of a burden (fingers crossed for a nice scholarship). However, spending money is just so much easier than saving it. If you’re like me and pretending to adult or you want to save up for that trip to Bali next year (take me with you!), I’ve taken some (very basic) steps to save money.

First up was a nice little closet clear out. Maybe you’ve heard of the capsule wardrobe craze or the minimalism movement, but the core idea is to limit how much clothing is hanging on your rail at any point in time. I regularly go through my closet and pull out things that don’t fit or that aren’t my style or that I wanted to fix but never got around to. The move from my parent’s house to my apartment meant a big clear out – my donation pile was embarrassing large, but there’s a satisfaction to going through and clearing all those maybes out of the way. (Feel free to try the Marie Kondo Konmari method or just to do it willy nilly – whatever works best for you!) Despite having fewer items of clothing, I could see every single piece and know they fit – I didn’t have an “I have nothing to wear” excuse anymore.

Next up, all winter pieces were tucked away for the summer and all summer pieces were pulled out and hung nicely. The mentality is that only that which is useful right now is visible. I tucked all my winter clothes in a gym bag I never use and will rotate out my summer clothes when my apartment switches from A/C to heat. An added perk of this organizational update is that when I pull out the clothes from the next season, it’ll be like adding new clothes to my wardrobe – all those sweaters that have been tucked away will be a new surprise. Switching to summer, I didn’t really feel the need to buy twelve new summer dresses because my old favorites came out of storage and I was reminded how much I loved them in past hot weather rather than remembering them as the things that blocked my access to my sweater.

Continuing the clear out theme, I went over to my emails. My mom jokes that she doesn’t need an alarm because every morning she gets an email from Joanne’s Fabrics that wakes her up. If you’re like me, you get a thousand emails a day from every website you’ve ever ordered online from. Well now’s the time to clear them out – unsubscribing from all those stores you might be tempted by means one less temptation to spend money on things you don’t really need. If you really need a plain white work shirt, you can always go shopping specifically for that. Once I unsubscribed from a bunch of those email lists, the temptations to shop every week were gone. Maybe you’re not a quilter and don’t get those Joanne’s emails, but everyone is on a listserve they don’t need to be on – since typing this I’ve received an email from Keds, Potbelly, H&M, and IcelandAir. The temptation to buy myself a new pair of shoes and a new outfit, grab a sandwich and head for the airport is strong. I’ll be unsubscribing shortly.

Next step was to head to my wallet. I’m trying to transition away from using a credit card for every little purchase and focus on using cash and/or a debit card. There’s limitations to how much cash I have on hand at any given moment, which makes my spending lower. (I also really don’t like handing over cash and receiving change for some reason – it sparks some serious anxiety.) Using a debit card is slightly less successful in this because I do not want an overdrawn charge (again :/). But both keep me in line better than a credit card. Even though I work diligently to make sure I don’t overspend on my credit card, the temptation to pay now and worry later is there. I am trying to build credit, but I’m trying to transition to only using it for emergencies and to pay for a biweekly metro card reload.

Speaking of my metro card – one of my job benefits is a travel reimbursement program that means I don’t get charged tax for my daily travel-related purchases (I think that’s the deal – I could be getting swindled right now. One of the perks of an “adulting” decision.) Each paycheck has a fee withdrawn and I then pay for my Metro card reload and can get reimbursed for that payment. It would be easy to pretend that that reimbursement was new money, but it’s not – I’ve already paid for it in my check. So that reimbursement money has been going straight to my savings account. I try not to look at it and just pretend the money is long gone. Reimbursements and tax returns and checks from Grandma are all going straight to savings, where they can build a slightly higher interest and be saved for a rainy day (a.k.a. the start of law school). I calculate money based on that direct deposit, rather than on the money I’m being reimbursed.

(Quick shout out to direct deposit for saving me from a biweekly trip to the bank).

Every other money-saving step I’ve taken has been relatively small. Like a proper adult, I use my mother’s washing machine (thanks mom!). I try to metro as much as possible rather than taking Ubers or paying for parking. I try to avoid eating out (despite Chipotle being my one true love). In a strange bit of health conciousness, I’ve been trying to work out multiple times a week and thanks to YouTube, there’s a thousand free 15-minute, 30-minute, 45-minute workouts online, rather than paying for classes or a gym membership. I’ve adopted a more European approach to the grocery shop, where I buy for a day or two rather than a week – I make less waste when my fruit doesn’t inevitably go bad, and it’s easier to pop in and out without extra purchases than it would be if I was doing an aisle by aisle shop.

Basically, there’s a thousand ways for me to save money and I’m trying them all. So here’s to hoping we all find scholarships and cheap travel deals.

Five Favorite Things: Apps for Travel

Five Favorites, Travel

As a millennial, I am required to be glued to my phone at all times; it is the first thing I reach for in the morning and the last thing I check before I sleep each night. So it’s only fair that I use it frequently throughout my travels. In keeping with my five favorite things lists, this one’s dedicated to my five favorite apps (specifically for travel, but also just in general).

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Pinterest

One of my favorite apps for planning a trip is the Pinterest App. I usually use Pinterest on my computer up until the trip starts then switch over to the app once I’m on the move. Pinterest is really nice for planning quick day trips, figuring out nice photo ops, or plotting the next stop. It helps to have a specific board created for the trip that will allow you to keep everything neatly in one spot rather than twenty tabs open on your web browser. You can then use the inspo you grab from Pinterest on your favorite mapping tool.

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Google Maps

I love my Google Maps app. I use it daily to check Metro times or to figure out what offices are in the building I’m passing. I hid the Apple Maps as it just wasn’t cutting it. One of my top tips for Google Maps is starring or marking every stop you want to hit on your trip. Once everything is marked you can see what’s clustered together or spread out. And if an adventure ends earlier than expected you can pop into one of your second tier activities. Another tip: download the map for that city so you can use the app off Wifi. Everyone loves a good map app.

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CityMapper

Another great map app is CityMapper. While Google Maps is good for walking directions and general orientation, I find it doesn’t always have the best transit recommendations. Insert CityMapper. CityMapper, while only available in a few cities, has the best recommendations for public transportation. And you can measure how far you’ve traveled by foot, bike, train, bus, you name it. It’s just another good one to have in your pocket.

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Instagram

I know I’ve talked about Instagram and travel before, but it’s actually a pretty good app for recommendations. Whether you’re inspired by a friend’s trip or want to see life through the eyes of a local in insert city here, it’s a good app to show you what’s out there to be seen. There’s a few different ways to use Instagram: you can follow your friends or your favorite celebrities or any of the thousands of travel inspiration accounts to see where you might be interested in going.

file7Another tip is to use the app’s search function to see either hashtags of your destination or to use the actual location tags. You can find music festivals or national celebrations or parades using their hashtags, especially now that every event has an official hashtag. Using the location tag gives you an insight to where something is, how people take photos, or even what the dress code is for the place you’re heading. (I recommend that any nervous about how people dress at their study abroad location check the hashtags and location for their university or town to see what people wear to class.) It’s a really versatile app and makes connecting with your friends so much easier both on your trip and when you return.

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Been

I’m not gonna lie, one of my favorite things is adding a new country to my list. I’m at 29 countries as of writing and always plotting how to add more. But somethings I struggle to remember where I’ve stopped before. Thankfully there’s a super simple app for that. It’s called Been and it creates a map of the countries you’ve visited (as well as the states visited in the US for those of us trying to hit all 50). It’s really easy to use, doesn’t require WiFi, and it’s fun to see what ‘percentage’ of Europe you’ve hit after your trip. Plus you can take a screenshot and send it to your friends to compare your journeys.

There’s a thousand apps out there (probably more) which you might find useful or a total waste of space – it’s up to you. Other favorites are Duolingo for learning basic phrases, Splitwise for splitting costs between friends, Facebook Messenger for messaging family and video calling on WiFi to both computers and phones, WhatsApp for texting, YouTube and Netflix for entertainment, 1010! for a quick and mindless game, and of course, the Camera app for snapping your memories.

One last tip: make sure you download as many apps before you leave the U.S. (or your home country) as some apps aren’t available to download or set up outside your country of origin.

 

Roadtrippin’ 101

Travel

Whether you’re headed for the beach or a music festival, someone somewhere deemed summer the perfect opportunity for road trips. Immortalized in films and tv shows as a freeing experience, there’s few things as painful as being shoved in a car with a friend and all of your worldly belongings, hoping traffic isn’t this bad for the rest of your 12-hour journey. Despite my distaste for the realities of road trips, I figured I’d share how I’ve managed to survive them thus far.

Plan accordingly. Factor in bathroom breaks and rush hours into your drive time. If you’re gonna hit a major city at exactly 5 p.m., maybe a bathroom break before the mayhem is appropriate. Or maybe you’re visiting a friend on the first weekend of summer vacation – maybe avoid those roads that head straight to the beach. I also have a rule that if you’re making multiple stops, you never want to drive more than three or four hours a day in a row. Sure, that final day may have to be a horrible six-hour drive, but if you can avoid three days in a row of seven hours in the car, you should.

Dress appropriately. Sure it may be chilly at home, but cars heat up. People are hot and sweaty, and it’s pretty gross when you hop out of the car at Grandma’s house to give her a sweaty hug. Short sleeves and layers are your friend. If you run cold, grab a blanket. Wear shoes that aren’t too smelly and are comfortable. Comfort is important because if you’re anything like me, you will inevitably end up snoozing at one point and it ain’t fun to nap in your tightest jeans. I also recommend socks, even if you’re in sandals, but my toes are always cold so I might be biased.

Snackage is key. Hungry people require more stops on the road, so be prepared. A salty snack and a sugary snack will cover basic cravings. I’d avoid chocolate in case of meltage, anything particularly stinky, and anything too messy like Baked Cheetos or powdered donuts. This isn’t to say you should bring a full twelve-course meal. Instead, these snacks should cover you between gas and dinner stops. Hydration is also important. A bottle of water for each person will cover basic needs. I avoid coffee or anything that’ll spill and leave my car smelling of bad milk, but up to you on that one. I would also leave the straws at home; not for environmental reasons necessarily – just because I drink five times faster with a straw and then have to pee five times more frequently.

Pack an activity bag. My mom instilled the power of an activity bag in me since I was a wee thing. Bring along technology and technology free entertainment. Kids might enjoy a toy or a coloring book, while adults might like a Sudoku puzzle or that magazine you’ve been meaning to read. Knitting needles or a crochet hook for those crafty folks will keep your hands busy. Grab a notebook for keeping track of every state license plate you spot or to do a quick game of hangman in the backseat. Boredom can kill a road trip in thirty minutes, trust me.

Music is crucial. I’ve probably said it before but I don’t trust technology. I’d rather go old school with a few prime CDs than rely on my phone. Plus I’d rather save the charge for directions and finding the closest Dunkin Donuts for my random cravings. I recommend having everyone in the car contribute a CD or two that they enjoy (if people still own CDs like my family) and avoid CDs of contention (in my family, the Beatles and Grateful Dead stay out of road trip playlists). I’m a big fan of Stadium Arcadium by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Sam’s Town from The Killers. Other good ones are Hozier‘s first album, Signs of Light by The Head and the Heart, Lord Huron’s Strange Trails, and anything by Elbow or Passenger. Or make your own mix CDs – really lean into the throwback. Anything you enjoy and can sing along to or jam along to.