I’m having a lot of fun perusing the various gift guides out there right now, looking for inspiration for presents for my loved ones. So I decided it would be fun to create my own personal gift guide for the travelers on your Christmas list. These are just a few of the things I either have and love or have been coveting, that I think would make most travelers’ holidays and lives even happier. Also check out my Packing Essentials post for a few more ideas!
For the glam traveler: A Birchbox Gift Subscription
This might sound a little out-there, but hang with me. Birchbox (<– referral link) is a subscription service that sends you a box full of beauty and cosmetics samples every month for $10/month. There’s also a men’s version for $20/month that contains even more goodies. You can choose a 3, 6 or 12-month gift subscription.
My sister gave me a gift subscription to Birchbox last year, and I don’t know if she even realized the depths of her brilliance. Along with the obvious perk of getting to sample a lot of fun products that you might not have tried otherwise, almost everything they send you will be smaller than 3 oz. Yep – a box full of TSA-approved goodies every month! Through my Birchbox subscription I’ve received a travel-size dry shampoo (my favorite), funky nail polishes, and enough travel-size moisturizers, shampoos and conditioners to keep me traveling in style for a long time!
For the globetrotter: A Scratch-Off Travel Map
How much fun is this? The map comes in a solid color, and you scratch off countries as you visit them for a fun, decorative keepsake.
For the organized packer: Vera Bradley Hanging Organizer
I know that I already mentioned this in my Packing Essentials post, but it really is the ideal travel cosmetics bag. If you don’t like the patterned bags, you can find lots of other options at a variety of price points by Googling “hanging travel toiletry bag.”
For the jet setter: A Wheeling Carry-On
Every time I’ve been in an airport recently, I’ve found myself pretty jealous of my fellow travelers zipping around the terminal with those snazzy new carry-ons with 4 wheels instead of 2. They just looks so much easier to maneuver, and I’d love to upgrade to one at some point. Ditto for sleek-looking hard-sided ones like this beauty from Delsey.
For the cold-weather traveler: Lightweight Down or Down Alternative Jacket
Right now, I kind of think everybody should have one of these jackets. I am currently obsessed with my new Mountain Hardwear Thermostatic Jacket. It’s a warm, comfy down-alternative jacket that weighs practically nothing. If you favor down, Mountain Hardwear has a great one too, as does Patagonia.
Why should every winter traveler have one? I just took my first trip with mine over Thanksgiving, and I loved how it kept me warm between the car and the airport, then packed down so small to stick in my carry-on. Most of these are so small that they’ll fold into their own pockets. Once I was at my destination, it was the perfect weight for every activity – somehow it kept me just warm enough whether it was only moderately chilly or quite a bit colder, without ever over-heating. It’s like magic.
For the hands-free traveler: Cross-body purse
I already mentioned in my packing essentials post how much I love my cross-body purse for traveling. The ability to roam around without having to hold anything or hoist a bag back up on my shoulder is very freeing. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to a different style of purse. A few intriguing ones I’ve come across:
I might just order that one for myself as soon as I hit “publish.”
The Sak for around $100 – this one comes in some great color options!
For the armchair traveler: A National Geographic Subscription
A lot of the fun of traveling is reading about and planning your next trip. National Geographic is a travel mag with a bit more substance than many of the others, in my opinion. You might actually learn something while paging through dreaming about your next vacation. Plus, their photos are reliably fantastic.
Those are just a few of my favorite gift ideas for travelers this year. Please share any great ideas you’ve got in the comments!
I’m in the throes of a vacation hangover. And I don’t mean that I’m struggling after overindulging over the holidays (that was Sunday thankyouverymuch). I’m talking about that feeling of withdrawal you get after returning from a lovely time away, when you just don’t want to return to everyday life. I’m no stranger to this feeling, but it’s a bit stronger than usual this time.
Cry me a river, right? I’m only feeling this way because I had such a phenomenal Thanksgiving in Virginia with my family and dear friends. Let’s rewind… I flew cross-country Tuesday night and somehow escaped the flight-cancellation-hell that plagued a lot of holiday travelers.
My travel time flew by because I was deep into a great read - The Fault in our Stars totally sucked me in and I highly recommend it. It’s a tear-jerker though, and I was crying enough that the woman sitting next to me asked if I was ok.
Anyway, once I got home I was thrilled to take it nice and easy. My days were spent sleeping late, lounging around the house with my family and going for a few beautiful runs around the neighborhood where I grew up.
We are already firmly into winter in Colorado, so I loved trotting around Williamsburg, where it still totally looks like fall. I was also tickled by this sign. Yep, this is where I come from.
My lovely runs made me a little disappointed that I wasn’t a runner at ALL while growing up in Williamsburg. My parents’ neighborhood is the perfect place to run – it’s huge (almost as many people live in their community as do in my current town), with miles and miles of bike paths, streets with no traffic and plenty of rolling hills.
It’s also pretty darn scenic. There’s a 4-mile loop around the neighborhood that everyone creatively refers to as “the loop.” Growing up, running the loop sounded like an impossible challenge. Until this weekend, I’d never attempted it, and now I don’t know why. It was a gorgeous, fun run. And I’m not going to lie, it felt pretty excellent to return to the house knowing that I’m currently in way better shape than I was in high school. And have I shown you the water view yet?
A little bit of running complemented a whole lot of fabulous eating. Thanksgiving dinner, of course, was the main event.
My mom cooked a delicious feast, along with a little help from the rest of us.
We had some good family friends over…
And my Nana, in from Boston, rounded out our fabulous group of seven.
Hmm… what else did I do? I had a couple of really fun nights on the town with friends, met my best friend and her hubby at our favorite local coffee shop…
Caught a couple of fabulous sunsets…
Spent an afternoon decorating the family Christmas tree with my Nana, mom and sister…
I can’t even explain how happy it made me to decorate the tree with my family while rocking out to our favorite Christmas carols.
It’s one of my favorite holiday traditions, and definitely the one with the prettiest result. After an afternoon of decorating fun and an early birthday dinner for my dad, it was time for my 10-year high school reunion. Beforehand, I decided to get in the spirit by paging through my senior yearbook.
Re-reading my friends’ inscriptions from 10 years ago had me cracking up and totally ready to party with my classmates. We had a casual reunion at a local bar where I had a blast catching up with old friends and finding out what a lot of my classmates are up to 10 years later.
It was wonderful to hear how well people are doing, whether they’re all grown up with families, still in school, pursuing careers, etc. After a fun, late night, I had a 5 a.m. wakeup call for my flight back to Colorado. I strongly recommend avoiding the high school reunion/super-early flight combo, just in case that option ever comes up for you.
One sleepy travel day later, I was back in the mountains.
So now I’m back to real life (as real as it gets in Vail around the holidays, anyway), until I venture back east for Christmas in a few short weeks.
So, how was your Thanksgiving? Did you go anywhere? When do you suffer your worse “vacation hangovers” – after a visit with family, relaxing beach vacay, or another kind of trip?
It may be a little cliché, but I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity on this lovely Thanksgiving week to reflect on a few of the things I’m thankful for this year in relation to this little blog. In no particular order, I’m thankful for…
You, my lovely readers. When I started this blog, it was with the acceptance of the fact that my parents might be my only readers (Hi Mom and Dad!). In just a little over a year and without devoting a lot of time and resources to growing my readership, I have 140+ followers and know that many more pop in from time to time. And a lot of those people aren’t even my existing friends and family. Wow. Thanks for hanging out, commenting and giving my vacation tales a wonderful audience!
My partner in crime when it comes to travel and just about everything else.
My fabulous friends, especially the ones who join me on trips and hikes that don’t appeal to the above-referenced partner in crime.
My family, for loving me, supporting me and being my friends. And also for living in fabulous locations to visit
My company that pays me well enough to live a lifestyle that I LOVE, plus gives me plenty of those all-important vacation days.
My health that allows me to travel freely, hike far, ski fast and run slowly.
I’m thankful to be spending this Thanksgiving back in my hometown of Williamsburg, VA with my family, old friends and even my high school classmates at our 10-year reunion. I hope that wherever you are today, you have plenty of things in your life to feel thankful for!
While every trip naturally entails a different packing list, there are a few items that I find myself bringing almost every time I pack a bag. I enjoy reading these sorts of lists from other frequent travelers, so I thought it would be fun to share mine. I hardly ever leave for a trip without…
1. My iPhone. I’ve read plenty lately about how smart phones can act as a barrier between ourselves and the places we visit, some advocating that we leave the darn thing at home, or else! I definitely agree that it’s easy to miss things when hiding behind that 4-inch screen. But the fact of the matter is that my iPhone is just so handy for so many things. I use it as a back-up camera, GPS and for apps like Yelp. I definitely try to temper my phone use when I’m on the road, but I just don’t want to leave it at home. Sorry I’m not sorry.
2. A pashmina. It’s a scarf. It’s a shawl. It’s a head scarf. It’s a blanket. It’s cushioning to wrap around fragile souvenirs for the plane trip home. Versatility is king.
3. My grey shawl sweater. My mom gave me this as a gift this summer, and it’s quickly become my go-to traveling layer. Nothing is cozier for a chilly flight, overly air-conditioned restaurant or, apparently, a cold Red Sox game in August. It comes in a few colors but I’ve found the grey very versatile.
4. My Vera Bradley Hanging Organizer. I didn’t jump on the Vera Bradley train when the brand’s tote bags were all the rage in college, honestly finding them kind of ugly. But I did happily accept this hanging makeup bag as a gift (from my mom again I think - she gives me the best stuff!). I’ve used it ever since for trips of any length. I love the separate pockets that can be used for makeup, medication, etc. Plus, the design is super-practical between the plastic pockets, easy hanging handle and soft construction that can be rolled or folded into a suitcase.
5. A water bottle. I drink a ton of water and I refuse to pay airport prices for bottled water, so I simply bring my own empty bottle through security and refill it for the rest of my trip.
6. My Kindle Paperwhite. I fought the e-reader craze for a long time. “But I love books!” I cried. “There’s just something about holding one in your hands and turning the pages!” That’s all still true, but I’m mostly a Kindle convert. I’m a pretty speedy reader, so I love the ability to download a half-dozen books before I leave on a trip. I haven’t had to lug around a heavy carry-on or buy an airport paperback since I converted.
7. Maxi Dresses. They’re my travel uniform, allowing me to go from comfy on a plane to looking polished once I land instantly.
8. My Cannon Powershot s110. I know that most bloggers favor fancier DSLR cameras, and perhaps I could take better pictures if I mastered one. But now that I have my s110, I just can’t be bothered to try upgrading. This little guy takes excellent photos in my opinion. Plus, I love the compact size of the s110. I can slip it in my back pocket, a small purse, or pretty much anywhere I could otherwise fit my iPhone. Portability is key for me.
9. Snacks. I’m hungry all the time, and food isn’t always easily accessible when traveling. My go-to options are Lara Bars, trail mix and nuts.
10. A cross-body purse. I tend to lug around a lot of stuff in my purse while on vacation, so a good, roomy bag is a must. I also love the cross-body style for convenience and the ability to keep my hands free. The bag you see me carrying in almost every post on this blog is by The Sak (yes, the brand that makes those bags made out of ropy material that were big in the 90s) and sadly I can’t find it online, but it’s similar to the Silverlake Flap Crossbody.
So those are my packing essentials – what are yours? I’d love to hear!
With Vail opening today (yay!), I thought I’d post a sequel to my 10 Tips to get the Most out of Your Ski Trip. This one focuses on all of the things I wish people knew not to do on the ski hill. This isn’t intended to be a rant; rather, think of these as friendly hints to have a harmonious time on the hill.
1. Don’t be afraid to look like a tourist. In case you haven’t noticed, skiing and snowboarding are very expensive sports. No need to make them even pricier by buying new gear every year. You might not feel as “cool” in your get-up from 8 years ago as you would in last season’s neons or whatever the heck is going to be in style this season, but who cares? I’ll let you in on a secret: most people will be able to tell that you’re a tourist no matter what you’re wearing. And unless they’re pretty obnoxious people, they’re not going to care either way.
Same thing goes for your equipment – while you might want to upgrade if you’re still skiing on sticks that are two feet taller than you, from season to season the technology doesn’t generally change that much. Heck, I haven’t even upgraded to rockers yet. Think about how much more cash you’ll have to spend on your actual vacation if you aren’t routinely shelling out hundreds on new gear.
On a related note, don’t be afraid to pull out a trail map or ask for directions. You, your companions, the other skiers on the mountain and the ski patrollers will all be a lot happier if you make sure you know where you’re going than if you accidentally end up somewhere you don’t belong and become a danger to yourself and others. On that note…
2. Don’t ski or ride recklessly. This should go without saying, but unfortunately it doesn’t always. I know that it can be nice to let go of a little of your every-day responsibility on vacation. But when it comes to responsibility for your personal safety and the safety of those around you, it’s really never ok to take a break. This is a bit of a touchy subject for me ever since I broke my ankle a few years ago when a snowboarder who was riding way above her skill level flew out of the trees and T-boned me.
Yes, I’m now that grouchy lady who yells at people on the mountain to slow down. But I’m not really telling you to slow down, per se. I love to ski fast! Just don’t go any faster than you can handle. If you can’t stop quickly, turn at any moment and see what’s going on around you, you’re going too fast. And parents, remember that your kids will follow your example and ski/ride accordingly.
3. Don’t be cheap. Hear me out. I know that if you’ve shelled out for a ski trip, you have already spent quite a bit of dough. And if you’re not made of money, you are probably trying to save here and there when you can. I totally support that. In fact, take a look at my 10 Tips post for some helpful hints.
But don’t cut corners when it comes to compensating and tipping the people who make your wonderful vacation possible. For instance, if you take a ski or snowboard lesson, realize that the instructor is probably only making about $10 an hour and relies heavily on tips. During the year I taught ski school at Beaver Creek, I can’t tell you how many times wealthy clients who dropped $700/day on a private ski lesson neglected to tip at all or tipped minimally (after telling me how much they enjoyed their lessons). In most cases, I like to think that they just assumed that if they were paying that much for the lesson, the instructor would be compensated generously. Not the case, at least for Vail Resorts instructors. Similarly, don’t forget to take good care of your servers, bartenders, valets, etc. They work hard over the winter season to be able to afford to live here!
4. Don’t forget to take turns in the lift line. Alternating is a very important, if lost, art. Be patient and wait your turn. If you’re new to the sport, just watch what the few rows of people ahead of you do and follow suit. We’ll all get up the mountain soon enough.
5. Don’t stop in the middle of a run. This is actually one of the most dangerous things you can do on the hill. If you’re skiing with a group, it’s expected that you’ll need to stop and re-group every so often. Just choose your stopping places wisely. Tucked off to the side or in front of a trail marker are both good options. Right smack in the middle of a run or around a blind corner are excellent places to get run into.
6. Don’t forget that you’re in one of the happiest places on earth. Seriously, where could you be that’s more beautiful and more fun? Whenever you hit a snag (Johnny’s hands are cold and he won’t shut up about it, you made a wrong turn and found yourself out of your league, you forgot your socks and had to buy a new pair for $40), look around and remember how lucky you are to be on this trip. The current “crisis” will be barely a memory when you’re sitting around the fire tonight reminiscing about your favorite run of the day or that awesome wipeout your husband had.
So hopefully I haven’t managed to dampen your excitement about your upcoming ski trip! Where are you going? What are your do’s and don’ts?
The last night of my Las Vegas trip was by far the most Vegas-y evening of our trip. What does that mean? For starters, we saw a show, went out to dinner, had drinks with new friends and stayed out past 3 a.m. And we had a blast.
We started the night by heading back to Planet Hollywood to attend V – The Ultimate Variety Show. As part of the great deal we got on our vacation in exchange for attending a grueling timeshare presentation, we got vouchers for dinner and a show. There was a list of shows and restaurants to pick from, and the shows weren’t exactly Cirque de Soleil. We were actually pretty disappointed when reading Yelp reviews of our options – lots of 2-star results. So we took the list to our concierge and asked for her help choosing among our mediocre options. She came through because we really enjoyed V. First of all, we were in the very front row.
While admittedly quite cheesy, V really was the ultimate variety show. The host/juggler was funny and entertaining as he presented the acts. Cute tap-dancing brothers from America’s Got Talent and the “Skating Aratas” were the highlights in my opinion, but all of the comedians, dancers, acrobats, etc. were quite entertaining. Who are the Skating Aratas, you ask? Take a look here and stick with it until at least 20 seconds to get an idea:
I was so scared that something was going to go wrong and I was going to get a roller skate to the face. Luckily there were no such mishaps.
There was also a nice element of crowd participation. Having laughed much harder than we expected to, we left the theater for a late dinner.
Again, we were faced with choosing a restaurant among apparently lackluster options. So we went with the one that sounded like the most fun: Las Pampas Brazilian Steakhouse. This was not exactly Fogo de Chao, but for a “free” dinner Pampas was great. I loaded up at the extensive salad bar, and the boyfriend appreciated the variety of meats that waiters brought to our table every few minutes. That said, I would have been unhappy if we’d shelled out the $50ish per person to dine there at full price. Satisfied but not too weighed down, we moseyed down the block to Paris.
I love Paris, so I jumped at the chance to spend time at the next best thing without flying to Europe. We took the elevator to the restaurant at the top of the “Eiffel Tower” to have a drink while enjoying a birds-eye view of the Strip.
The Eiffel Tower Restaurant is a fine dining French restaurant with the prices to match (hello, $290 caviar “trilogy” on the dinner menu). It’s not the kind of place I could see myself eating dinner, but it was definitely a great call for an after-dinner drink.
The views alone were worth it, and the elegant but contemporary and low-key atmosphere at the bar was a great bonus. And after unwittingly ordering a $16 watered-down vodka soda during V, I was more than happy with a good glass of French wine for $12. Plus I got to enjoy it with this handsome dude.
And we had a perfect view of the Bellagio fountains (made famous at the end of Oceans 11) when they erupted into a choreographed show every 15 minutes.
I don’t think there’s a bad table in the house, but the ones directly overlooking the Bellagio are definitely the primo seats.
Between gawking at the fountains, we also found ourselves chatting with the two gentlemen sitting next to us at the bar. Long story short, we made friends and decided to all head to the Stratosphere together to ride the roller coaster atop the hotel.
I’m aware that if I were on my own or with a group of girlfriends, it would be sketchy to pick up a couple of middle-aged guys at a bar. But since I was with my boyfriend, it’s ok. Right?
Anyway, our merry group of four made our way to the Stratosphere (the hotel on the north end of the strip that looks like Seattle’s Space Needle) and were disappointed to find that the roller coaster was already closed for the evening. At least our quest lead us by this red-carpet-like backdrop, right?
Bummed about the roller coaster but still looking for fun, we opted instead to have a drink in the lounge at the very top of the hotel. There, we were treated to another birds-eye view of Vegas, this one from a greater distance. The twinkling lights sprawled out below us like a blanket until they abruptly ended and the dark desert took over. It was absolutely beautiful but I failed to snap a single photo. You’ll just have to see it for yourself.
From our glittery perch above the city, we toasted to a fabulous long weekend in Vegas. The next morning, we woke up exhausted and satisfied with our trip. I definitely enjoyed our time in Sin City, but was perfectly happy to return to my low-key mountain lifestyle at the end.
Have you been to Vegas? Were you ready to leave at the end of your trip or did you want more?
When planning my Las Vegas trip, I knew that I wanted to spend plenty of time wandering around the outlandish hotels and casinos and soaking in the Vegas-ness of it all. After spending most of Friday locked in timeshare presentation hell, on Saturday morning we were finally free to explore!
One thing I was not prepared for in Vegas was just how long it took to walk everywhere. The casinos and even the shops are designed like labyrinths to keep you and your dollars in, so getting from point A to point B also requires navigating a maze or two. Plus, the hotels themselves are so huge that it can take 20 minutes to get somewhere that looks to be right next door. That said, after trekking out of Caesar’s, we emerged on Las Vegas Boulevard, also known as the Strip.
Walking down Las Vegas Boulevard, I couldn’t help but crane my neck in every direction, in awe of the man-made scenery around us.
One of the fun things about Vegas is that there’s no open container law. We passed dozens of tourists carrying plastic liters of fruity cocktails. Wanting to get in on the fun and knowing we had a bit of a hike to our next destination, we pulled over and grabbed a couple of beers to sip as we walked. Ah, novelty. Eventually we found ourselves at Planet Hollywood, where we planned to eat lunch.
Taking a recommendation from one of my coworkers, we chose Gordon Ramsay BurGR for lunch. We both love burgers, and celebrity chefs are such a big part of the restaurant scene in Vegas that we couldn’t help but try this spot. I was glad that we did. Along with the fun wall of fire, the restaurant’s open layout lent to a fun vibe. And the food was delicious. We started with an order of Jalapeño Poppers.
In addition to coming in festive little shot glasses of spicy ranch dressing, the poppers came with a fun mystery: One was extra hot, and there was no way to tell which one. The boyfriend loves spicy food. I like to try it but usually end up a sweaty mess chugging water. Guess who got the spicy popper.
Once I cooled off, I loved my Euro Burger – a perfectly cooked tender patty topped with truffle aioli, goat cheese, arugula and roasted tomatoes.
We also split a side of sweet potato fries that was WAY more than we could eat. We probably could have skipped them altogether, but they were delicious dusted with powdered sugar and served with a side of honey jalapeño mayo.
It was fairly pricey for a burger lunch for two, but by this point I’d come to accept that everything in Vegas would give me sticker shock.
After such a heavy lunch, I was glad to walk it off. We headed south toward New York, New York.
We debated riding the roller coaster atop the skyline, but couldn’t get on board with spending $14 each for one ride, so we moved on. Next stop was the MGM Grand to see the lions, but apparently we were a couple years late – the lions were moved off the property a while ago. Eventually, we strolled by Paris.
Strolling through their wildlife area, I felt miles away from the bustle out front. The company was a little different, too.
After saying goodbye to the flamingos, we headed back to the Trump to recharge and get ready for one last big night on the town – a show, dinner and drinks!