Perfect packing – the art of the roll

I fashion myself a bit of a packing connoisseur, not nearly as great as this guy, but pretty damn good in my own right.  I’ve managed to fit 2 weeks worth of clothes, shoes, plus snorkel fins in a carry-on.  Applause welcome.

Packing is a gift, and it starts with the very simple question, what do you need?  Not want, but need.  Laying out everything you need gives you an idea of how much room you have left for the “want”.  As a woman, I carry no less than 4 pairs of shoes with me at all times, in my carry-on, with all of my other clothes, accessories, toiletries, etc.  It can be done.

  1. Pack multi-purpose things.  There is nothing worse than realizing you packed a top or a bottom that can only be used once in conjunction with all items that you packed.  Based on the weather, make sure you can mix and match appropriately.  Also, as a woman, pack dresses, they take up less space.
  2. Do you really need those shoes?  Again, I just mentioned I pack with no less than 4 pairs of shoes wherever  I go.  But here’s a tip.  Going on a vacation where you’ll be active?  Think running, hiking, etc.  Buy a new pair of sneakers before you go and pack your old ones.  Then leave your old ones behind, making room for souvenirs.
    1. Also, pack shoes last, as they can be stuffed in random corners of your suitcase
    2. Bringing socks?  Put your socks in your shoes so that socks do not take up extra space in your suitcase.
  3. Roll, roll, roll!  There is something to be said for rolling your clothes.  When done right, your clothes will not wrinkle, and you will be able to squeeze in more with less.
  4. Wear bulky items on the plane.  I don’t know about you, but I’m always freezing.  While you might not be the most fashionable person on the flight, if you intend on bringing a large sweater, hoodie, whatever to your destination, wear that on the plane, don’t pack it.  That goes the same for sneakers.  My husband just went on a live aboard boat experience and everything needed to be in a medium duffel bag.  You bet he was wearing his cargo shorts, sneakers, and hoodie on that flight in both directions to save space.
  5. Packing cubes.  I have a love / hate relationship with these.  I used them for Australia and found them very useful, but on shorter trips, I don’t really use them.  Packing cubes (roll your clothes in them) help you segregate your items, i.e. a cube full of just tops vs. workout clothes vs. fancier items etc.  But I find that they may take up more space in the long run when used.  So if you’ve used packing cubes before, leave your feedback in the comments, I’m curious to hear from you!
  6. Never check these things. Seems obvious, right?  But never check anything you would need if your luggage got lost or stolen. Of course you can replace most of these items while on vacation, but why should you have to?
    1. Underwear
    2. Pajamas
    3. Tooth brush
    4. Make-up
    5. Jewelry
    6. Electronics
    7. Two full mix & match outfits

In sum, pack smart.  Packing light does not mean fashion is being sacrificed, but quite the opposite.  If you pack smart, you can get a great diversity of outfits in one, tiny little carry-on.  Makes it so much easier.  But like I said, make sure you leave yourself with a little room for some souvenirs. My keepsake of choice, a Christmas tree ornament.

We spend 2 weeks in Europe, I get my life in a carry-on (Giants luggage tag), the hubs check his bag.  I'm a machine!
We spend 2 weeks in Europe, I get my life in a carry-on (Giants luggage tag), the hubs check his bag. I’m a machine!

Pic of the Week – The City of Brotherly Love

Three years ago I did something I never ever thought I would or wanted to do.  I begrudgingly moved to Philadelphia.  It was a move that I do not regret.  While I have not nearly explored my adopted city to the fullest, it does in fact have redeeming qualities, and beautiful buildings.  Below is a picture of City Hall.  I want to go back and capture this at night because I love when the clock glows yellow, you can see it for miles.

I fully intend on doing a post on this city down the line, and if there is anything you want to learn about, please leave me a note in the comments!

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24 hours in Brisbane

Our Australian adventure ends in Brisbane, where we had just about 24 hours to spend enjoying the city.  And with 24 hours, we accomplished a lot.  Brisbane is easily a city that I could picture myself living in, very similar to that of Chicago.  The Brisbane River is the life blood of the city with so much carved into the riverbeds, be it homes, museums, restaurants, businesses, or boardwalks.  Taking a boat tour of the river is an absolute must.  From the South Bank of Brisbane, tours run frequently, and you can just book your ticket day of, as we did.  The tour is not to be missed.  For two hours we ambled up and down the river, intaking so much information and admiring the stunning architecture and views.  Again, so similar to that of the Chicago Architecture Tours.

After our tour ended, we decided to explore the South Bank.  For a city nestled between the Gold and Sunshine Coasts of Australia, Brisbane has its own man made city beach.  Literally.  With sand.  After checking out the beach and the surrounding shops and restaurants for a snack, we waited in a short line for a whirl on the Wheel of Brisbane.  The wheel is fantastic!  A video plays during your ride pointing out landmarks and giving a brief history on the city itself.  For having only 24 hours in a place, we learned an awful lot about its history.

We then decided it was best to get a little lost.  We left the South Bank and just walked through their CBD, past beautiful museums, popped into the famous Oak Street Casino, and walked until we could not walk anymore, and still continued to press on.

We set out for dinner near Eagle Pier at Il Centro, an Italian restaurant on the waterfront.  We did not have a reservation and were fortunately seated outside with a view of the river and the beautiful Story Bridge, lit in purple on that evening.  After a relaxing meal we set out for our final Brisbane adventure, a ghost tour.  Kind of silly and touristy but no less fun.

On occasion we love a ghost tour (the one in Key West is fabulous), and decided it would be a fun way to get a different perspective on some of the city landmarks that we didn’t get a chance to enjoy.  The tour was really fun, and in true ghost tour fashion had an over-the-top tour guide.  The most chilling part for me was walking through the arcade in the CBD and through a stairwell and a hall.  With so much drama, he sent us one-by-one and mentioned a Shining Style sighting that comes out to scare most passersby.  I had no such sighting but still bristled on the walk.  After the 90 minute walk was over, we explored the city a bit more and then headed back to the hotel.  With a flight home to the states the next morning our last evening was bittersweet.

While we were excited to get home and watch the Sox win the World Series, we loved Australia and talk about going back all the time, heck, we almost stayed there.  Australia is a beautiful country with beautiful people, and Brisbane exudes that.

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Customs House
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High rises along the Brisbane River
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On the Wheel of Brisbane
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Walking through the city – I loved the beautiful and colorful archways
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Story Bridge at sunset
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Wheel of Brisbane
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Wheel of Brisbane up close

Fraser Island – Is that a dingo?

When my husband said he booked us a day trip to Fraser Island I stared blankly at him and said “Okay, great!”  I had no idea what or where Fraser Island was (geography, not a strength), and since Steve was in charge of our Australian honeymoon, I went with it.  Before our trip, I learned that Fraser Island is the world largest sand island.  Located in Queensland, and a world’s heritage site, many tours leave for the island from Noosa Heads, which fit perfectly with our plans.

Fraser Island has a relatively large camping scene, and while you can take a personal car to the island the terrain is tough to navigate and is not recommended for novices or those unfamiliar with the land.  As a result, we decided to go with a tour group, which meant a very early morning for us. The tour started at 600am (good news, the pick-up location was just a short walk from the Sheraton), and we boarded our brightly colored Fraser Island Adventure Tours bus, eager but tired.

The drive from Noosa to Fraser Island is two and half hours long, fortunately, we stopped at Rainbow Beach (close to Fraser) for a bio break and to pick up the last members of our tour group.  The views from above of Rainbow Beach were sprawling and beautiful, however, the true beauty is from the ocean looking up. Though, drivers be warned, Rainbow Beach is known for eating and swallowing more cars than any other beach! More on that later.

After driving onto a barge and crossing a small stretch of water between Rainbow Park and Fraser Island, we had arrived.  On the East Coast of Fraser Island is 75 Mile Beach, it’s literally 75 miles long, hence the name.  And we drove all over it, spotting dingoes, turtles, and a large number of dead birds.  Our tour guide explained that these are migratory birds who fly for hundreds and hundreds of miles to get to Fraser Island and by the time they get here they have no more energy to continue. Truly a sad story.  Apart from the animals (varying in levels of alive-ness), 75 Mile Beach is known for the SS Maheno Shipwreck and the Champagne Pools.  In true Fraser fashion, that’s just a snippet of what’s available on this sand island.

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75 Mile Beach seemed endless on our trek

For a sand island, inland there are two things of note.  One is the redwood style forest.  Literally growing into sand are massive trees.  I thought I was back in the Redwood National Park and couldn’t believe that a rain forest so lush and so dense could grow on an island made of sand.  It was mind blowing.  Secondly, Fraser Island has over 100 freshwater lakes, including the often visited Lake McKenzie.  The water is so pure there that it is said to be fabulous for your skin.  I naturally made sure my whole face got drenched in its crystal clear waters.  Do I look younger?

Redwood style trees in the interior of Fraser Island
Not the best pic of the “redwoods”, I couldn’t find the one I wanted so this will have to do.
The beautiful Lake McKenzie
The beautiful Lake McKenzie

Driving through the interior of the island to get to these lakes and forest, you can tell why it’s not really safe for drivers who are unfamiliar with the terrain.  Between tough, narrow one lane unpaved roads, and quick moving sand, it was comforting to be in the hands of a professional.  Plus seeing a few abandoned cars certainly helped solidify our decision to go in a group.

Our journey didn’t stop at the lakes and forest, we also explored the Pinnacles and Eli Creek. The Pinnacles reminded me so much of Bryce Canyon, as the colorful reds and yellow sands rose above the dunes.  It was crazy to me that a small island could have so many uniquely different geographies and attractions.  It seemed like Fraser Island was a microcosm of Australia itself, placed into one beautiful beachy / foresty location.

fraser island 8Eli Creek is a small stream with a strong current, so you hop in on one end and get to float all the way back to the beginning.  We had a lot of fun on this lazy river and meeting people from fellow tours during our stop there.

Lean back and let the current take you away on Eli Creek
Lean back and let the current take you away on Eli Creek

After spending about 7 hours on Fraser Island, it was time to head back.  The tides were in our favor as our tour operator decided why take roads, when you can drive on Rainbow Beach to get home???  He mentioned how the people drive on this beach all the time, but most don’t pay attention to the tides and that so many cars get abandoned or need to be towed off the beach at a later date.  He even showed us a postcards to that affect that showed all the abandoned cars in a single year.  You could probably fill a few calendars with abandoned car photos.  Despite that funny little anecdote, Rainbow Beach is truly stunning.  We marveled at the beautiful colors captured in the cliffs of the beach, understanding where it got its name, and simultaneously hoped that our driver really was well versed in the tides.

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Apparently, dingo sightings these days are fairly rare on Fraser
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Our snazzy tour bus
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Maheno Shipwreck

Pic of the Week – Venezia

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Campanile di San Marco

In honor of my upcoming trip to Southern Italy, I wanted to post an almost 10 year old throwback from my time in Venice.  I was shocked that Venice ended up being my least favorite of the Italian cities I visited on that trip, despite being the most unique geographically.  I think with more time and better preparation that very well could change, as I was such a travel novice back then.  With that being said, I certainly loved being on the canals and enjoying the view.

Noosa Heads – Wait, where am I?

When planning our Australian honeymoon, we knew that Sydney was a must, and so was the Great Barrier Reef, after that, we had no plan.  After looking at our map of Starwoods in the area, we settled on Noosa Heads because of a recently revamped Sheraton.  Doing a little research, we learned that Noosa was their version of the Hamptons, with surfing, beautiful beaches, a national park, and close to Fraser Island.  Fraser Island?  We’ll get to that in a later post.

We arrived late in the evening at Noosa, and checked in.  We were upgraded to a duplex, pool facing suite, with a downstairs living room, patio, and powder room, and upstairs with a master bedroom, balcony, and huge bathroom.  Like a bathroom you only dream about when watching HGTV.  To put it bluntly, the hotel was stunning.  The next morning, we were excited to start exploring.

The concierge mentioned there was a beautiful hike in the National Park, in walking distance from the hotel.  In fact, everything was in walking distance of the hotel.  The main street was adorable, littered with boutique shops, al fresco style restaurants, and on the other side, a gorgeous beach with big waves.  With our sneakers on, we headed toward the hike.  The hike was up a large hill, half trail, half wooden stairs, overlooking the beach, beautiful mountains, and various swimming holes.  The views were incredible, and the hike was fairly easy.  Upon reaching the top, the trail continued down the other side of the hill into another stretch of beautiful beaches but we chose to head back due to a hunger and an overwhelming need to go swimming.  It was here that we discovered our favorite lunch spot, Zachary’s.  Their arugula, pear, and parm salad dressed in a thick balsamic covered in grilled chicken was large enough for two.  We became regulars overnight.  One Monday during lunch, I watched the Giants get their first win of the season against the Minnesota Vikings while eating lunch.  The time difference and sports never lost it’s initial luster for us.

After lunch we decided to rent paddle boards.  This was a unique experience.  After standing up and falling a few times, I paddled out a bit further to discover I was surrounded by hundreds of light blue jelly fish.  I didn’t even bother standing up again, despite a few Australians trying to coax me up and shouting words of encouragement.  They weren’t close enough to see the terror of jellies waiting for me if I fell. I think it’s time for a new paddle boarding experience though, no?

It was back to the beach for some relaxing, and it is a beautiful beach.  In fact, there are multiple beaches in Noosa Heads.  Along the Noosa River and by the Noosa Spit Recreation Reserve, there are beautiful beaches, heavy winds perfect for kite boarding, and a view that will blow your mind.  We explored all sections of Noosa, and spent many an afternoon lounging by and walking along the reserve, watching the people, the puppies, and the kite boarders.

Noosa has a lot to offer, there was no want for nightlife or restaurants, and in nearby Noosaville, there were also wonderful restaurants and bars to enjoy.  We loved iS Tapas Bar in Noosaville (unfortunately no website to link to).  The sangria was delicious and the food was just as tasty.  Everything was either in walking distance or a short drive away, and on week three, I was a pro behind the wheel.

Noosa was a great relaxing stretch of time, and for anyone heading to Australia, I would highly recommend it, especially the proximity to Fraser Island, a really cool and fun day trip, coming up on the blog next week.

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Hanging out by the Noosa Spit
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Looking out at the beach from the entry to the National Park
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Toward the start of our hike, repping my BU Terriers
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Admiring the view
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Pups travel in style, Noosa Spit edition

The AirBnB Surprise

I’ve written about AirBnB twice before, once as we were about to embark on our first ever position as host, and the other afterwards, refreshers here and here.  As we hosted our third group of people, an unintended consequence hit me square in the face.  AirBnB is so much more than a hosting or rental site, it’s a site for making real in-person connections.

After our first hosting experience, the Austrian family that called our home their home for a few days invited us to theirs.  “Come to Austria,” they said, and we certainly want to take them up on that.  Additionally, our latest stretch of guests, a wonderful pastry chef who currently calls Miami home, promised to help us plan a visit to her native Atlanta, when my husband has a conference there in early 2016.

This blog is a travel blog, and while I’ve barely scratched the surface of seeing the world, I had no idea that AirBnB would work to bring the world to me.

Happy Hump Day!

Pic of the Week – Sunset over Sydney Harbour Bridge

I’ve been writing a lot about our Australian adventure recently, as so much of that trip was filled with “pinch me” style moments.  Is this real?  Are we really here?  Am I really staring at these beautiful Sydney landmarks?  Yes, yes, and yes.  And in the spirit of keeping those pinch me moments at the forefront of my memory, here is the beautiful Sydney Harbour Bridge at sunset.

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Sunset over Sydney ❤ ❤ ❤

Pic of the Week – St. John

We’ll call this pic of the week a big tease.  We are in the midst of posting on my Australian honeymoon so we will get to St. John in a little bit, but until then, enjoy the incredible beauty is that Trunk Bay.

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Beautiful Trunk Bay, St. John, USVI. Is this place even real??