The Things That Make Home Home

This post could run on for ages, but I’ll keep it short and sweet.  Everyone has specific things that make home, well, home.  Even if you’re always on the move, I’ll bet you have some things or some rituals that keep you grounded and comforted no matter what you geographical location.

For me, I gotta have my pets.  Two cats (Rigamarole and Stormy Llewellyn) and two rabbits (Porthos and Cosette) share my apartment right now.  Oh, and my betta fish, Merman.  Without them, it’s not home.

Stealing an idea from one of my favorite novels, some people have the gnack of objects meaning that they decorate- nay encrust- their spaces with objects.  I have photos, painting, prints, string lights, camera, tapestries, clothes…you name it, I got it on my walls.  Available surfaces are piled with books and movies.  Scarves and jewelry are draped across my dresser and bathroom shelves.  Cats lay on most things.  I delight in ordered clutter and love looking at my favorite things.

Home is where you can cast off your leg prisons (pants) and let your freak flag fly.  This means yoga pants and old t-shirts, ammirite?  Between wearing scrubs to work and dresses/skirts in my free time, I simply do not have the patience for pants.

Foooooooood.  Enough said.

What makes home home for you?

Things About That Trip to Duluth, MN

I am sitting here, in my “office”, which is actually the neighborhood coffee shop, and I am trying to put together my post about my trip up to Duluth.  We returned on Sunday from a flash-in-the-pan trip up the city and I’ve been chewing on what to write ever since.  I must say that being caffeinated certainly helps with my writer’s block.

Since I’ve been to Duluth many many times it’s not exactly unexplored territory.  Still, I have sights I like to hit, shops to browse, and restaurants to sample.  On this particular trip my cousin let me know about an old church that had been converted into a book and antiques store.  “The prices are dirt cheap,” she said.  Sign me up, I’ve found Valhalla.  I also love to get a sandwich at a local smoked fish shop.  The flavors are unbeatable and I always spend the rest of the year dreaming about that sandwich…  Then of course, there’s my favorite little coffee shop on the north shore, The Mocha Moose.  I began a tradition two summers ago of purchasing whatever mug my coffee drink came in.  The heavy ceramic mugs are made by a pottery artist just down the road!  Finally, there’s the lake itself.  You can’t beat those views of Lake Superior, greatest of the Great Lakes.  Yes, these are some of my perennial favorites of this northern city (there are plenty more, I just don’t have the patience to list them all).

What am I getting at?  I’m not writing a travel brochure for Duluth here.  I had a big list of plans and then life intervened.  I spent most of the trip seeing family members I don’t often see.  Some of whom I can count on one hand the number of times I have met!  It was fabulous getting everyone tether.  Talk about great conversation.  Oh the shenanigans!  On Day 3 my dad had a small health crises.  This certainly changed the trip.  It became a lot less important to see the sights and eat the foods.  We instead enjoyed even more so my cousin’s wedding, a late night of dancing and talking, and a sunrise trip up to Enger Tower.  If you ever want to bond with a relative, wake up before dawn and freeze your butt and your hands off taking photos of the sunrise over Lake Superior.  Then the long drive home, which I mostly slept through.

My itinerary at the start of the trip certainly looked different than the one at the end, but it still ended up being one of those trips we’ll all talk about for years.  Everyone is pretty busy these days (us “kids” all have jobs and hectic lives) so it’s a rare event to gather in one locale for a few days.  I’m so grateful that we did and that it didn’t turn out like one of those terrible movies that chronicles relatives seeking revenge.  Shenanigans, yes, revenge no.

This long winded post brought to you by a cappuccino and a nice table by the window.

How I Didn’t Prepare (Whoops)

I spent so much time preparing to prepare for my trip to Duluth Mn, that actually…I didn’t prepare at all.  It’s quarter to 1 am, my hair is full of pink hair dye, my cats are chasing baby mice, and my bag is half packed.  I am writing this post as I procrastinate.  Which skirt do I bring?  How can I incorporate my vintage blue shirt?  Which shade of lipstick goes best with beaded birds?  All very important questions I am struggling with

Do you ever prepare to prepare so much that when it comes right down to it you have nothing to show for all that prep work?

How To [Not] Contain Your Excitement For Your Next Trip

Your trip is approaching.  It feels like you have been waiting forever.  Time has slooooweedd waaaayyy down.  Or maybe you just got an alert that airline tickets to your dream destination plummeted and you jumped right on that and voila!  Trip booked.  Either way, you probably have lots of excitement/energy/travel ideas just busting out of your very pores and you need to do something about it!  Here are some ways to [not] contain your excitement:

1)Read a book set in your destination. Not a travel guide or backpacker’s guide, an actual novel set there.  As the characters experience the city/landscape, so can you.  Plus, now you can go to those same places and geek out about it!

2)Do read a travel guide or backpacker’s guide.  Even if you have been there before, you didn’t see everything.  If nothing else, you can sit in your favorite coffee shop and subtly let everyone know where you are going.

3)Plan ahead.  What will you need?  Cold weather; how’s your comfy sweater collection?  Damp; got waterproof boots?  Hot and sunny; invest in quality sunscreen.  Laying out what you want to take is not only practical, it’s actually a fun way to get into the groove of you where you are headed!

4) Write about it.  Do you have a travel journal?  If not, get one.  If you do, jot down some thoughts on what you hope to see or do.  It doesn’t matter if you actually make a solid plan for this to happen, but when you get where you are going you might look it over and think, ‘Oh yeah, I did want to do that!’  It’s also fun to look back after your trip.

5)Fire up the ole’ internet machine and read about what other travelers say about your destination.  If you are reading this blog then you must know there are a wealth of travel blogs out there and there is bound to be some good info from fellow travelers that can help advise you on health, safety, what to skip and what not to skip, and probably anything else you wanderlusting heart desires.  Check them out!  You can really go down the rabbit hole that is Instagram if you type in #yourdestination.  Yeeeaahhh, be sure to set aside plenty of time for that one.

6)Share your itinerary with a loved one so that a: someone knows where you are in case you get into trouble, and b:you can talk about how excited you are!
Okay, since my trips to MN and CA are fast approaching I am going to go do all these things- BYE.

Urban Exploration

In between every trip there is time at the home front, time you wish you were out exploring the streets of Berlin, hiking the Rockies in CO, or eating delicious Thai food while experience Ha Long Bay.  Well, luckily for me my hometown is not only very accessible by bike or on foot, but there is also an amazing Thai restaurant named Ha Long Bay where I can get my spicy veggie fix.  One can, if they are curious enough and adventurous enough (and I promise you, if you are a traveler by nature, you are both of these things) always find spaces to explore right outside your door. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

I found this all too true sign in a shop around the corner
There are some really lovely gardens in my neighborhood!
Bilbo (and J.R.R. Tolkien) was right, although my neighborhood and my city are actually quite safe.  I choose to think that he was actually referring to the fact that you never know what crazy thing might sweep you off your feet.  Since I moved into my current apartment in February I have discovered a lagoon, a stream, some natural springs, and several parks that I never even knew existed even though they are right off a main road.  I’m guilty of getting stuck in a routine, but actively trying to break that habit has yielded new favorite cafes, coffee shops, and bars.  I almost always extremely low on cash, so just putting on some clothes I love and getting outside with my Nikon is an affordable and rewarding way to spend my time.  I can’t always be somewhere fabulous, but I can make the most of being an Urban Explorer right here at home.

Visiting the boat house across the street at sunrise.
One of the neighbors has serious style.

On Toilets

img_1690Okay okay, so when traveling you are almost guaranteed to need to use the “facilities” sometime when it is extremely inconvenient. If it’s an emergency you may be at the mercy of whatever passes for a toilet near at hand. Using the toilet when traveling can be a harrowing experience. I remember when I was eighteen and went on a ten day excursion to China being introduced to their system of rating bathrooms with stars; five star, four star, etc. Not only that, but their standards of what constitutes a five star rating. Coming from the US when I think of a five star rating I think luxury hotel or fancy restaurant. In China the five stars appear to represent a shiny bit of metal framing the hole in the ground that is the toilet, and a trash can next to it for your “used” toilet paper to boot! Sometime you might even be provided with the toilet paper! If not, you had better hope that your friend remember to bring some, or at least have a packet of tissues to hand. I think I blocked the memory of the some two or three star toilets from my brain.

During my semester abroad in Botswana, Africa a friend got food poisoning when her host family in the week-long village stay (the rest of the time we stayed in dorms on campus) didn’t wash their hands after using the outhouse. In the middle of the night, when faced with the onset of violent diarrhea, poor Diana was faced with the choice of using the bucket in her room or tripping the house alarm on her way outside to use the outhouse. That is, tripping the house alarm AND being greeted by dozens of cockroaches scurrying away from her flashlight in the outhouse.

Much more recently I was visiting with some friends who had come to my hometown and had booked a room at a very upscale hotel. The theme was concrete and the design scheme was very industrial. The room embraced the “open concept” theme so completely that the bathroom had a sliding barn door and the walls did not go all the way up to the ceiling. If someone needed to drop of deuce or go number one everyone was well aware. Awkward.

I travel on a budget and get away with staying with friends, family members, or in hostels, so I haven’t spent much time in fancy hotels (or even regularly priced hotels) but I’ve seen photos of fabulous bathrooms on various destination blogs. One can usually escape scarily local bathrooms by holding it until they return to their hotel refuge. To those who rough it, I say cheers to you! Cheers to you for remembering to bring your hand sanitizer! Cheers to you for throwing a spare roll out TP or a packet of tissues in your bag! And cheers to you for getting a load off your mind and living to tell the tale!

Packing

I have two trips coming up within the next few weeks and I find that the way I am packing for them is vastly different even though they are both fairly brief trips and both within the continental US.  I think it reflects the way I view the destinations as well as my level of comfort/apprehension about both.

Trip A: Duluth, MN- my cousin’s wedding.  In my family we log a lot of hours up in the northern part of Minnesota since my mother’s family is located there.  Duluth is a favorite destination for us since it is familiar, exciting, and never boring.  Duluth is an industrial city at heart since it is located on the tip of Lake Superior, greatest of the Great Lakes.  There is a very busy harbor there and much of the iron ore that is shipped from the US goes through Duluth.  Ever heard of the Edmund Fitzgerald?  Yeah, that was from Duluth, and there are plenty of others like it that didn’t sink.  In recent years Duluth has undergone gentrification in parts of the city opening it up to the tourism business.  It combines a big industrial city with the beauty of the north woods.  ANYWAY.  For this four day trip I have 1. Fancy dress 1. 1. Nikon 1.Ipad 1.Set of pj’s.  3. Pairs of shoes AT LEAST.  All necessary toiletries, lots of earrings options, and several books.  Whew.  I think the whirlwind of events is causing my brain to go into “dress like a winner” mode, meaning that I need to have options for every possibility.  Wedding reception?  Need something fabulous (like a stunning embroidered/beaded bird dress I bought from Anthropologie last winter and still have not had an occaision to wear it to!).  Waking around a lake that is known for its frigid temps? Sweaters.  Boots.  Hat?  Family gathering?  Comfy skirt, bright shirt.  OH THE POSSIBILITIES.
Trip B: San Francisco, Ca- my favorite city.  The city of my dreams.  Hallowed ground.  It’s not hyperbole, I really love the City by the Bay!  This is also for a wedding, but the majority of the trip will be an opportunity for me to stretch my legs and enjoy a solo visit where I can spend as much time as I want in the Golden Gate Park/City Lights Books/ various cafes etc without worrying about anyone else’s schedule.  I’ve been reading about the slow travel phenomenon that other bloggers have been waxing eloquent about and I think that sounds fabulous.  For this trip my packing is significantly simpler.  1. Dress (yeah, just one!). 2. Pairs of shoes 1. Nikon 1.Ipad 1.Book 1.Travel journal.  1.Set of pj’s.  Various toiletries and jewelry.

As I said, I think my level of apprehension plays into my packing list, but maybe not in obvious ways.  Duluth is a second home and since I will be roadtrippin’ with Ma and Pa I know that I will have room to bring all the extra little travel luxuries I want.  Yeah it’s a short trip, and yeah there are not a lot of unknowns, but by nature I collect items and let very little go, so I am the type who always overpacks.  In this case I can let my freak flag fly and bring pretty much whatever I want.

San Francisco, while being the city of my heart, is also a city in which I will be a solo traveler staying somewhere new and hitting the pavement with just me, myself, and I.  I never like to check luggage, so everything I bring with be in my carry on.  I fly Southwest, so that means I get two carry ons.  See my earlier post about backpacks to see my trusty luggage!  I was inspired by THIS post from the Travelettes to bring just one dress for the whole trip.  Not only does it takes the stress out of trying to find the ~perfect~ dress to wear to the wedding as well as what to wear every other day, it gives me more room in my luggage and a fun little thing to write about during the trip.  I have much more anxiety about my SF trip, so simplifying is key. My dress, my trusty Nikon, my backpack, and I will set out to get lost in the most beautiful way in my favorite city.  I can’t wait.

How do you pack for your trips?  Do you find you pack differently based on how you feel about your destination?

Beautiful Duluth!
The San Francisco Dress

Want Someone to Pay For Your Trip?

I recently stumbled across a little known program called Diverbo.  It’s a sort of English immersion camp that either adults or children can attend.  The program lets people in Spain or Germany go to speak English with native English speakers in order to improve their language skills.  That means that they need YOU native English speakers, whether you’re from Ireland, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, or the USA.  Check out the link for for info and to learn how to volunteer!  It looks like you need to:

A) Pay your own airfare, wah wah.  But hey, they pay for your accommodations!

B) Be fairly flexible with travel dates.

C) Be willing to mingle with all kinds of different people from different nationalities.

You don’t need to speak Spanish or German, but it probably wouldn’t hurt.

Necessary Literature

I love to read and I love to write.  I can’t abide those e-books (because hello, the joy of holding your favorite book whose pages are all soft, or that brand new book with that new book smell!) so I generally devote a good portion of my baggage to books and journals.  I don’t like checking bags- it costs extra money and I’m always afraid that my luggage will be lost- so that means everything I need goes into my two carry on backpacks.  I need to be selective about what I bring to say the least.  If you’re someone who loves to write either their own blog posts or just their own account of their travels you might enjoy grabbing a copy of 642 Things To Write About from the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto.  You can get a new copy on Amazon for about $8.00. This book seriously helps with writer’s block, not to mention giving you an opportunity to write great things to look back on after the trip. My copy is the tiny version, which I picked up last summer on a trip to San Francisco.

I have a travel journal that I began back in 2009.  It was a gift from a relative; sturdy, black, a good size.  Now it’s encrusted with stickers from my travels and full of off little bookmarks and dried plants.  I bring that journal absolutely everywhere, even if I don’t end up writing in it as faithfully as I want to.

If the first journal wasn’t enough and the writing prompt book, I also have my regular journal.  I’m not the girl who writes in it every day, or brings it on every trip, but it’s just such a beautiful journal I like to have it along when I have the luxury of space.

Finally, I need at least one good book to read.  I usually finish it at some point, which gives me an excellent excuse to buy another one somewhere along the way!

Backpacks Vs. Purses

 

imageDo you ever look back at your awesome travel photos and see…you with a crossbody bag making an awkward wrinkly mess? Or maybe what should have been a carefully calculated travel-chic look ruined by the one and only purse you brought? Or how about when you bought a few items that would NOT fit into your little bag, so you spent the whole day lugging them around? There IS a solution: the backpack.
I am not a purse person. I don’t care to invest vast sums of my precious and hard earned cash into them and I never remember to keep an eye of for the latest in stylish bags anyway. When I was eighteen and getting ready to move out of my hometown to go off to college my mother bought me a backpack from a tried and true company out of Northern Minnesota. Since that day I have taken that backpack on every vacation, weekend excursion, camping trip, and overnight event I have gone on. That dusty, faded, travel worn back has been to Africa, Asia, and Europe. My pack and I scaled Kgale Hill in Botswana with it, and lugged my laptop and books from class to class over four and half years. There is a bite mark in one of the leather zipper pulls from a friend’s rabbit, and one zipper pull that I lost in the middle of an intersection on Castro St in San Francisco.
This backpack is marvelous…but also a little bulky. I admit that I have smacked more than one innocent bystander on an airplane or train when I turned around. I knew that I needed something small for day trips. A pack for my pack, if you will. A purse simply would not do! After a few months of product research I found a Scandinavian country that not only makes eco-friendly and hardy backpacks in several handy sizes, they also HELP SAVE ARCTIC FOXES. Obviously this was the investment for me.
I urge you, my fellow traveling friends, to give up your awkward purses and turn to an item that sits comfortably between your shoulders, look chic out in the woods or hitting the pavement of your favorite city, and which will hold your books/tablets/phones/latest purchases. I have switched over the contents of my life to backpacks and I have not looked back.

Want to learn more about my packs?  Find them  HERE and HERE.