International Travel Hacks

Monday, June 22, 2015

That's me circa 2010 in Gleneagles, Scotland :)

International travel is an absolute blast. In fact, I actually prefer international flights over domestic ones (one of the many reasons being a guaranteed selection of movies depending on your airline).

I've blogged about international travel/packing tips before, but in this post, I want to round up some of the best ones - a collection of travel hacks, if you will - that I've come across over the years since I first flew overseas about 10 years ago (!!!). I'm dividing them up into categories, too.

With that said, let's get right to it. :)

Before You Start Packing
  • Make sure your suitcase meets regulation weight. You don't want to have to pay extra for your suitcase to board the plane with you, or worse, have to leave things behind. Check out your airline's website for more specific details.
  • On that note, check your phone carrier, bank, and other important places like that to let them know that you'll be leaving the country and to set any international modes/alerts.
  • Make sure you purchase the correct adaptors for your country, and that you double-check to make sure they're the right ones you need.
  • As far as your actual suitcase goes, make sure you bring one that's easy to spot at baggage claim (and won't get easily stolen), like one in a bright color or anything other than black. (EVERYONE carries a black suitcase.) Or, if you do have a black suitcase, just add bright belts or ribbons, or a pom-pom. :) The possibilities are endless. Also, ones that spin on four wheels are great to carry into larger airports.

  • Roll. up. your. clothes. I can't stress this one enough. Rolling reduces wrinkles and frees up TONS of space for more items, especially if you want to leave room for souvenirs. This works best for lighter items (T-Shirts, dresses, light shorts/pants, leggings). I would fold up jeans and heavier clothing, like raincoats.
  • Along those same lines, tiny rubber bands go well around rolled clothes in thinner material so they don't slip. This is purely optional, though.
  • I learned about packing cubes last year, and they're another great way to compartmentalize and further organize your travel gear. Amazon has a great selection.
  • Want to pack things flatter? Try two-gallon zip-loc bags. Pack/roll your items, stick them in the bag; zip up the bag until there's about an inch and a half-two inches open, then sit on the bag to let all the air out before zipping it fully closed. You've just created your own DIY vacuum-sealed bags.
  • Pack an extra change of clothes in your carry-on bag (whether or not you decide to pack checked luggage). You want to be prepared in case your bag gets delayed in transit or stolen.
  • Pack a copy of your passport to put in your suitcase, then carry your actual passport on your person. This is a safety regulation no matter where you fly outside the country.
  • Consolidate as much as you can. This means going for electronic books or a Kindle instead of bringing individual paperbacks, bringing things you can re-wear and/or wash, etc.
  • Make sure all of your liquids and gels are either packed in your checked luggage and/or all packed in a quart-sized zip-loc bag. If you're pressed for space, remember that you can buy a lot of your toiletries when you get to your destination, depending on where you're going. With that in mind, you'll be able to pack just the absolute necessities (like any medicines) and save a lot of room.
  • Plan on wearing your bulkiest items on the plane, like heavier shoes. This is another easy way to free up space.
Plane Travel
  • Don't bring any beverages into the airport (because they'll toss them at security), but it's a good idea to bring your favorite dry snacks from home. Otherwise, you can buy drinks and snacks after you get through security to bring on board. Airplane meals only happen twice, depending on how long your flight is, and you may want to snack on something you enjoy in the meantime.
  • This works for all plane travel, but bring or buy chewing gum if your ears tend to pop/you get headaches easily on planes.
  • Bring fuzzy socks to wear at your seat on the plane. The vents can get really, really cold, and you don't want frozen feet when you're trying to relax on a long flight.
  • I've said it before on this blog, and I'll say it again: scarves make great pillows or blankets on long flights. The same also applies to light sweaters or cardigans.
  • Other things I like to make sure I bring on the plane include:
    • Headphones (noise-canceling or not)
    • A book of some kind (usually my iPad so I can load up Kindle books for an entire trip)
    • LOTS of great music
    • Other things to do (work, getting a head-start on travel journaling, etc.)
When You Get There
  • If you're in need of buying toiletries (toothpaste and/or other liquid items), pharmacies are your friend (at least in Europe).
  • If you take underground transportation, take your time and read signs carefully to make sure you get where you need to go. This also applies to airports and train stations.
  • Make sure you have your camera, because you're going to want to take all the pictures and enjoy every second of your adventure, even after you come home. :)
  • Don't forget to document your trip! A journal is a great idea, and you can even use a glue stick to adhere business cards, programs, brochures, 
I hope these tips helped you out if you're planning on traveling internationally! :) Do you have any other tips? Let me know in the comments.

What to Wear on Planes: Summer Edition

Monday, June 15, 2015

I'm going on a super-big trip soon (stay tuned for more info and posts on that later!), and I'm already thinking of what I'm going to pack and also what I'm going to wear on the plane.

Whether you fly international or domestic, what you wear on the plane matters, since you'll either need to be comfortable, or efficient, or both. Plus, this changes when you're in specific weather, too. In the summer, you'll want to take into consideration the heat outside and varying levels of air conditioning on planes and in airports or other transportation.

Here's a sample outfit, built for a particularly long day of travel (I'm talking about 12 hours or more):

What to Wear on Planes: Summer (Long Flight)

And here are some clothing-related travel tips (for both ladies or the guys in the audience):
  • Depending on the length of your flight or how much you're packing, you may want to wear your bulkiest items on the plane. I'm talking about thicker jackets/cardigans/sweatshirts, boots, thicker shoes, etc.
  • Scarves make for great blankets and/or pillows in a pinch.
  • It wouldn't hurt to bring a spare, simple change of clothes in your carry-on luggage, just in case your luggage gets lost or delayed in transit.
  • Bring comfy socks on the plane. You'll want to take your shoes off on longer flights, but the A/C vents by your feet can get really, really cold. (Just keep in mind that if you walk around the plane in flight, you'll want to put your shoes back on, so slip-ons are a good idea for that reason.)
  • Minimal jewelry is a good idea to help expedite security. Again, so are slip-on shoes.
What do you wear on planes? Do you have any favorite tips for travel wear?

How to Protect your Blog and Keep It Online

Monday, June 8, 2015

My blog was deleted last Friday without my knowledge.

It was just for a few hours, but it was still scary to try to pull up my blog and get an error message saying that it no longer existed. I found out later that the reason behind my blog suddenly disappearing was because my university email got deleted. I was distraught, but thankfully, we got it resolved (thanks, Dad!).

So, how can you prevent something like this happening to your online space? Your blog contains what you love, so it's important that you take care and make sure that it's secure. Here are my quick tips for doing just that.

(Disclaimer: [S]iW is on a Blogger format, but I'm sure you can apply these tips to blogs on other platforms, too.)

  1. Do not associate a long-term blog with a temporary email. I actually can't stress this enough. I've been blogging in this space for a year and a half, but if my email account were to be deactivated, that year and a half's worth of content would be gone off the face of the internet. So, whether you create a Blogger, Wordpress, or Tumblr blog, or anything else, make sure it's on an account that's going to stick around, especially if your blog is affiliated with your work.
  2. In the event that you do need to transfer things over to another email address, make sure that you know how to do so. The help section for your particular platform should be able to help you there.
  3. Back up your blog, back up your blog, back up your blog...and back up your blog. Much like you would back up important files onto your hard drive, backing up your blog adds a layer of security you can tap into in case your blog gets lost in cyberspace. Again, just check out the help section of your blog platform for more information on exactly how to do this. 
I hope these tips helped you out! Do you have any other way that you back up your blogs? Let me know in the comments!

May Book Wrap-Up

Friday, June 5, 2015

cover credit:

I apologize that this is a little bit late, but I read a couple of books during the month of May that I wanted to quickly review and share with y'all. I didn't read quite as many books this past month, but I still wanted to share them because 1) one of them has been in my TBR pile for awhile now, and 2) the other is my favorite of the month.

Without further ado, let's jump right in. :)

Spell or High Water by Scott Meyer

This is the sequel to Off to Be the Wizard (which you can read my review of here), which I absolutely adored. This sequel didn't disappoint at all. While there was a change in the format (with more POV switches than its predecessor), I still enjoyed the humor, the heart, and the overall joy this story had to offer. Martin was still a fantastic protagonist, and the supporting cast - which expanded a whole lot this time around - was a blast, too.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Oh Yeah, Audrey! by Tucker Shaw

First of all, this cover is the cutest. Props to the graphic design team for that. Second of all, I wanted a cute and fluffy read to finish during a weekend, so I picked this up and finished it within 24 hours. It's a short love letter to fans of both "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and Tumblr as a whole, and it reminded me a whole lot of Girl Online by Zoe Sugg, but with an Audrey Hepburn/retro twist. The story wasn't quite as involved, though, and it left me wanting more, but it was still a quick, fun read.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

What books did y'all read last month? Any favorites?

Thoughts on Pages #17: "Paper Towns"

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

cover credit: amazon

It's been a really long while since I've read a book before its movie adaptation came out.

Also, I'd been curious to try a John Green novel out.

Dear reader, here are my thoughts on Paper Towns.


Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs back into his life—dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge—he follows.

After their all-nighter ends and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues—and they’re for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees of the girl he thought he knew.

(Synopsis from Goodreads)


My favorite character of the bunch has to be our main protagonist and hero, Quentin, better known as "Q" throughout the story. Not only was he my favorite, but his character development was also my favorite. He's your typical high school guy, but he's endearing, and the way his story panned out made me want to stick with him throughout his story.

More on the supporting cast (including Margo) later.


Florida is such a fun state, and I've been to Orlando quite a few times in my life, so it was fun getting to read about sunny South Florida. It's a vibrant backdrop to such a subtle story. Orlando during the day (especially the metropolitan/tourist areas) contrast the various abandoned buildings that scatter this story. Each abandoned place has individual significance in the plot, which I thought was kind of neat.

Later on, when the story switches settings for a road trip, I got a pretty great picture of those various places as I was reading.

My Thoughts

Okay. I'm not going to spoil the ending, but I may wander into some spoilery territory, since I can't really see myself really getting my thoughts out without at least a couple spoilers. So there you go.

Basically, here are the things I liked about this book:
  • Q's character development
  • The "cute moments" sprinkled throughout the story (mainly the SunTrust Building scene and the SeaWorld dance).
  • The analysis of Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" and how it tied into the plot.
And here are my only complaints:
  • I was not a fan of the profanity. (And I know for a fact that you can have a great story without so much profanity...granted, in this book, it was about PG-13 movie level, but still.)
  • Every. character. in. this. book. is. so. selfish.
Yep. Every character (with the exception of authority, like teachers and police, which was fascinating to me) is self-centered in some way, and to some degree. Even Q, who - bless his heart - was so obsessed with Margo that I was frustrated at him for not being aware of his parents while he was off gallivanting (or straight-up skipping school and lying to his mom about being sick while barely batting an eyelash), or his friends when they succeeded in their own right.

Sure, some of the characters were legitimate jerks, but some of the main supporting cast (I'm talking about Ben, Radar, and especially Margo) weren't necessarily always looking out for others, either. In fact, it's actually pointed out quite a bit in this book how self-absorbed some of them are.

But here's the upside: Q comes to find that once he does reach out beyond himself, he's actually a lot more aware of who his friends and peers are, and, gradually, he's more willing to pursue a normal life as opposed to the more nomadic one that Margo seems to want (based on her childhood history of running away). That's an idea I can stand behind.

But that idea was so clouded by a plot that kinda honestly fell flat for me. While I loved the Walt Whitman parallels, sometimes the story felt deeper than it actually was - a boy looking for his enigmatic crush. Then, it would kinda jump into high-school territory to match its main players, which felt odd against the depth that the plot was wanting to reach.

At the end, I give Paper Towns 3.5 minivans out of 5.

I had originally found out about John Green's work through his YouTube channel, Vlogbrothers, which he runs with his brother, Hank. In fact, I had tweeted a link to his thoughts on adaptations (based on questions he'd gotten about the Paper Towns movie) awhile back, and it's great. I wouldn't mind reading another John Green book sometime in the future, since I did enjoy his writing style. I just want to try a different story.

Have y'all read Paper Towns? What'd you think of it? Are you planning on seeing the movie?

Also, want to see what I'm planning on reading and my reading goal for the year? Check out my Goodreads page! As always, if you have book recommendations for me, feel free to leave them in the comments, too. :)

(P. S.: DFTBA)


Monday, June 1, 2015

It all started with a tweet. Specifically, a tweet off of Hayley Williams' (of Paramore fame) profile. If I remember correctly, she tweeted about being excited for a new album by a little band called Twenty One Pilots.

Fast-forward to about a month later, and a few good friends of mine recommend Twenty One Pilots to me. I then assume that if my friends like it, and one of my favorite singers likes it, it must be pretty good, right?

Y'all, I didn't know it then, but I stumbled upon a new favorite band.


"Blurryface" is twenty one pilots' newest album, which only just dropped last May. I really like some of their older stuff (specifically, tracks off their "Vessel" album), but the very first track I heard was "Tear in My Heart." After that, I was pretty much hooked.

I would say it's an alternative album, but it's not punk, and there's certainly a solid mix of rock and electronic elements. I can't pin it down to a single genre, but there's definitely something for everyone in "Blurryface."

Favorite tracks:
  • Tear in My Heart
  • Stressed Out
  • Fairly Local
  • The Judge
  • Doubt
  • Hometown
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars. This album makes a fantastic working soundtrack from start to finish, and it's easy to find tracks you love out of the bunch.

Have y'all heard of Twenty One Pilots? What do you think of them? Have you discovered any new bands lately?