April Favorites

Sunday, April 29, 2018
April has been a very special month. So many atypical things have happened this month that I'm sure I'll probably never see another month quite like it. Because of all the excitement, this month has been much more about experiences and events than about things, and so it's only natural that my favorites reflect that.

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First up is something I'm sure you've all seen coming. Traveling. I love it. I love seeing new places, learning about their history, checking out all the local museums and art galleries and eating all the tasty foods a place can offer. I've been lucky enough this month to get to not only travel, but travel internationally which just amplifies everything fun about traveling. I'm positive I'll travel again, but for now I just want to soak up what a privilege it has been and how nicely a two week break from the real world has treated me.

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And now, hurdling back into the real world is my second favorite of the month -- starting a new job. Previously I was working the same job I've had for almost seven years. I loved the people I worked with and took a lot of pride in the product we were creating but it was time for a change. I'm now working for a much smaller team and I'm the only mobile developer at the moment. It's a lot of pressure at the moment, but it's a huge opportunity for me to spread my wings, become a lot more self-reliant and expand my knowledge base. Everyone has been really welcoming and helpful so I'm optimist about my future there. Bonus -- I'm not working in the travel industry!

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On the other side of the spectrum from all this newness, I've been really enjoying settling into and returning to things I know and love. My return to the gym after taking a break for vacation has been really positive. I've been taking a more laissez faire approach and doing a little of whatever I feel like each day. Normally that method hasn't resulted in my best efforts being put forth, but something about it now has me pushing myself harder than I have been lately and really feeling motivated while I'm in the midst of a workout. I've started listening to music again during workouts (a weird thing to have stopped doing now that I think about it) and I think that's really helped me eek out just a few more reps. I'm sure this style won't last forever for me, but I'm loving focusing on just the muscles I want to right now and just the types of exercise that get me all jazzed up.

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Lastly, I've been feeling really good about my slimmed down, curated skincare and beauty regime. Traveling really makes you pick and choose exactly you enjoy and regularly use, and I don't feel any desire to going back to an expanded regime. A cleanser, hydrating serum, moisturizer and sunscreen have been all I've used for my skin and it's definitely loving it. No acne, no congestion, and no dryness. Maybe it's just the added humidity now that's getting warmer, but I don't feel like tempting it. As for makeup, a simple tinted moisturizer, concealer, brow gel, mascara, and maybe some blush and highlighter if I feel like it have been getting me through everything and with a fresher look to boot. I just love the feeling of loving what you have and wanting for nothing. I hope to find ways to spread that feeling throughout all different aspects of my life!

See you in May, which hopefully will be much calmer!

Lessons From Vacationing

Sunday, April 22, 2018
Vacations are typically supposed to be about relaxing, exploring, eating basically everything in sight and definitely less about life lessons, but sometimes you can't help what you get.

When we were prepping for this vacation, I spent a lot of time gathering ideas. Finding cultural things to do and see like museums and historical sights comes really naturally for me (thanks history minor), but I struggle to know what's good to eat and where or what the cool neighborhoods and shops are. Thankfully we've got social media for that these days, and so I went all in. I spent a lot of time saving Instagram inspo for places to visit and things to eat, reading city guides on all kinds of people's blogs and creating big lists of things to do, all nicely grouped together by location. You can even take a look at all my plans and ideas here! By the time we took off, I felt more prepared for a vacation than I ever have before.

But like anything in life, you can plan as much as you want but you will always run into differences between your expectations and your reality. Don't get me wrong. Everything on this vacation went according to plan, we had no major issues with and enjoyed every single place we saw, stayed and ate. There was absolutely nothing at all to complain about and we truly enjoyed our trip.

Instead there was just the matter of reconciling what I thought I'd want to do with with what I actually enjoyed doing.

I think I let the shiny, alluring perfection of social media coerce me and I lost sight of what I know has always enamored me with traveling. I wanted to live a slice of that "it girl" life that I'm so used to seeing online. So much of social media is about appearances -- the coolest cafe, the prettiest food and the trendiest shops. Truthfully, a lot of the times social media can be spot on! We went to a very Instagram-famous eclair place in Paris where the treats were delicious and oh-so beautiful and it was completely worth the trip. Several meals in Brighton were also social media recommendations that entirely lived up to their hype. But there were also several things on my list that at the end of the day, just weren't for me.

Being a cool kid can be exhausting. Couple that with traveling, which can also leave you feeling a little like a stranger without a real home (even when you're having a great time!), and cities with millions of people everywhere and it quickly all be a little too much for little old introverted me. I did enjoy what places I ventured to when I was feeling brave enough to wade through crowds or worry about my appearance but my desire to visit those places also tapered off quite quickly. And you know what? That's completely okay.

As the trip went on I found myself caring less and less about where we ate, just oping for sometime unknown, unpretentious and quite frankly easy. I traded shops for more museums and beautiful churches. I wore practically the same comfortable, warm and probably less stylish outfit almost every day we were there. We weren't afraid to spend the nights cuddled up in our Airbnb, eating a carb-heavy "dinner" in instead of out and about at the coolest restaurant. And it all just felt right.

I guess what I'm saying is this. Don't be afraid to be yourself. You don't need to be a cool kid if you don't want to. You can be that nerd that loves history and art and all the touristy stuff a city has to offer, and maybe occasionally take a trip to the trendy cafe nearest your hotel. Be flexible. Prepare for a trip, but know that maybe once you're there you won't want to hit all the places you thought were  must-sees. Try something out of your comfort zone, because now's the time, but know you don't need to stay uncomfortable the whole time you're traveling. Just do whatever interests you and enjoy your trip!

What We Did - London, Paris & Brighton

Sunday, April 15, 2018
We're back!

After a week and a half of traveling, I'm incredibly glad to be home, cooking my own food, sleeping in my own bed and cuddling up with my cats, both of whom are extra lovey and adorable right now. I'm not so glad, however, to have traded in the 70 degree, sunny Paris weather for the winter weather advisory we're currently in, but you can't have it all right? And now, after yammering on about this trip for the last few months, it's finally time to share with you lot what we got up to!


We spent 5 nights in London, staying at an Airbnb in the fantastic Belsize Park area. The first night we got in we wandered down to Camden Town, checked out the market, had a few beers at The World's End, and generally just took our time walking around and back up to our neighborhood, getting the lay of the the land.

The second day started off with a free walking tour starting in Covent Garden. We learned a lot of history from our tour guide and "enjoyed" our first spring English rain. For lunch we had a slice of pizza at Homeslice in Neal's Yard and then wandered through the Covent Garden area more. We went down to Camden Town again for dinner at Wagamama and then sought refuge from the rain in our flat.

Day three kicked off with a visit to my favorite museum, the Victoria and Albert museum. We caught a free introductory tour which gave us a lot more context of the exhibits and the museum itself than we would have gotten on our own. I highly recommend it! After the museum we grabbed some food from M&S and had a little picnic in Hyde Park. Since the weather had cleared up a little bit, we a little window shopping on Oxford street for a bit and then took the tube over to St Paul's Cathedral to do more sight seeing. We saw the cathedral, walked across the millennium bridge, popped into the Tate Modern for a bit, and then walked down to Tower Bridge. By then it was getting misty again so we took the tube up to Hampstead, did a little more window shopping and had dinner at a local burger place before heading home.

The summary of the fourth day is really short -- The British Museum. We spent easily at least 6 hours in the museum, taking several 30-45 minute free tours of specific rooms and doing our own wandering as well. We took tours about Roman Britain, the Enlightenment period, Medieval Europe and the Abyssinian reliefs, all of which were really well done and informative. We even ate lunch in the museum cafe which wasn't half bad! After the museum started closing we headed to dinner at Punjab in Covent Garden for some curry.

Our fifth and final full day in London had all kinds of activities. We walked over to St John's Wood to quickly check out Abbey Road and then headed back to Oxford street again, this time to do some actual shopping. We hit up all the high street favorites and of course Liberty. I only made one small purchase at Liberty and got a couple books at Waterstones -- I had to fit everything in my suitcase after all. We had lunch at Dishoom which was fantastic (and there wasn't even a line!), did some more shopping and then ended the day at the National Portrait Gallery for one of their Late Shift evenings.

And of course on our last morning in London, before catching our Eurostar from St Pancras we had to quickly stop by Platform 9 3/4 in King's Cross. What self-respecting Potter fan could skip that?


Our three nights in Paris were jam packed. Our hotel, Hotel Palm, was only about a 15 minute walk from Gare du Nord so we happily walked in the beautiful, sunny 70 degree weather. After checking in we took our time wandering up to Sacré Coeur and joined the throngs of people sitting on the grassy hill in front of the cathedral, soaking up the sun and enjoying the view. We wandered the streets a bit more afterward, ending up people-watching outside at a cafe for a few pre-dinner drinks, and then grabbed dinner just down the street from our hotel.

The second day in Paris was just as beautiful as the first, even with a small rain shower in the early afternoon. We walked from our hotel to the left bank, heading to Boulevard Saint-Germain. We window shopped for a bit, then grabbed some beautiful and absolutely delicious eclairs from L’Éclair de génie and ate them by the fountain at Place Saint-Michel while waiting for our free walking tour. The walking tour was again very informative and well done -- highly recommended. We ended in a bar, grabbed a few locally brewed beers and then headed to the République area for dinner. The evening was capped off with a river cruise at sunset from the Eiffel tower to the Louvre and back.

We had a very early start on our third and last full day in Paris. We went to the Musée d'Orsay and used the Eurostar 2-for-1 deal. Seeing all the impressionist paintings was incredible, and even the museum itself was beautiful. After the museum we went to see Sainte-Chapelle which was easily the most breathtaking thing on the whole trip. The huge, intricate stained glass windows date from the 12th century and are completely awe-inspiring. Once we finished drooling over the windows we walked to Notre Dame, passing a little bird street market (???). Mass was happening while we toured Notre Dame which added a sense of realism to the grandeur of the whole church. To rest for a bit we headed to Jardin du Luxembourg where we sat in some chairs and sunbathed and people watched. We had to be up really early the next day for our train, so we grabbed some croissants, a baguette, cheese and some wine and headed back to the hotel.


After an early Eurostar trip, a tube ride and another hour long train journey we arrived into Brighton. We were too early for check in at our Airbnb so we just headed down Queen street to the seafront. After a long weekend in Paris we were very good at people watching so we practiced a little more from the sea front while we waited, this time doing a lot of dog watching as well. After finally checking in we walked to Hove to grab fish and chips from Wolfies. To close the night we grabbed a few gin and tonics at The Gin Tub, which has become a serious contender for rank as my favorite bar ever. They have a huge number of gins available, the garnishes were beautiful and you order from an old school phone on your table!

Our only full day in Brighton started with a trip to Billie's for breakfast. Their portions were huge, the prices cheap and the food was delicious. After stuffing ourselves, we worked it off by walking to the Royal Pavilion to take a gander. Then we wandered around North Laine, hitting up Snooper's Attic, Abode Living, Utility and many other cute shops. To take a break from the consumerism, we walked the beach a bit and enjoyed the sun peaking through. In lieu of breakfast we grabbed some lattes and a snack from The Flour Pot bakery which was fantastic and then went back to the flat for a little rest. For the last dinner of our trip we walked back to Hove and had some delicious pizza at Fatto a Mano.

Before heading home we filled up on bagels from Bagelman and a few lattes from Small Batch Coffee. After checking out the duty free section, a 7.5 hour flight home we were back stateside in Chicago for a lovely stay with my aunt and uncle.

Planning An Overseas Adventure - London, Paris & Brighton

Sunday, April 8, 2018
I've been blabbering on about my upcoming trip for so long now that it's high time you guys get to see some actual trip content! When this goes live I'll be in Paris, probably stuffing my face with an unsightly number of the beautiful pastries from Sébastien Gaudard near our hotel. We will have just wrapped up a week in London, my favorite city in the world, and will soon be heading to Brighton to wander around North Laine and check out the beautiful Royal Pavilion. When I'm on vacation I just want to be feeling laid back, relaxed and free to leisurely wander from sight to sight, not stressed out about where we'll eat next, what we want to do or how we'll fit it all in. Having a vacation that's actually relaxing is totally possible, so long as you put in a bit of pre-vacation planning. Let's take a look at how I went about planning our overseas adventure and what plans we came up with!

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The Nitty Gritty

The first step to any adventure is of course just committing to doing it. Nothing becomes very real to me until we've got transport and accommodation booked. To kick that off, we first had to nail down some dates. Pick an off-season time to save yourself some money and time you might have otherwise spent jostling your way through crowds. Make sure you check the weather where you're going too, so you don't end up booking your trip right in the middle of monsoon season or the coldest parts of the year (unless of course you're into that?). Local holidays and customs are important to check as well, or you might end up in Paris in August when practically everything is closed!

Flights are probably going to be one of the biggest expenses if, like me, you're crossing either the Atlantic or Pacific. While Europe has tons of budget options for flying internationally, they're only starting to pick up in America. We booked through Norwegian Airlines and got some really insanely cheap prices, but we also looked at Aer Lingus and Wow Airlines. Make sure you read the baggage restrictions and whats included with your ticket really carefully when you're booking a budget airline, because you often have to pay extra for almost every other little thing.

When looking for a place to stay, I'm sure all of you probably instinctively know to hit up the Airbnb app. In every city we're going to on this trip the Airbnb options were so much cheaper than hotels, but always check! Don't forget about local bed and breakfasts or even hostels if you're really looking to travel cheaply.

Tools Of The Trade

After you've nailed down where you'll be going and when, it's time to dive into what to do while you're there! To organize all the info I'm going to search for, I make a board on Trello with a list for every city I am going to visit. For every place I find interesting, restaurant I want to eat at or great link I find, I'll make a card for the list. At the end of all my research it's really easy to start organizing all the individual tips into an actual plan by making a list for every day of the trip and arranging the cards appropriately.

Another tool I find extremely helpful is Google Maps. Everybody surely already knows how helpful they are for finding where things are, but you can also make your own maps with pinned locations. I made a map for each city and added everything I put on my Trello board. If you do that, it's really easy to see what's near each other and figure out good groupings of things to do in a single area. Here are the maps I created for London, Paris and Brighton. I've got way more things pinned on this board than I could accomplish in this trip, but for me these are more about options. If I find myself in a certain area I can easily see what other fun things are nearby, or pick a restaurant to go to.

To find great places to visit or eat, I pour through all my usual guidebooks -- 36 Hours: Europe, Wallpaper* City Guides, 500 Hidden Secrets of... books. Lonely Planet is great for knowing what to see, and oftentimes cooking magazine websites like Bon Appetit have a lot of good recommendations for what to eat in various cities. I even found some good tips from Buzzfeed this time! I also check out blogs for tips. Some of my favorite sources for this trip have been The Anna Edit, Lily Pebbles, Adventurous Kate and What Olivia Did.

After a few hours of searching, I usually have a good list of ideas. Here are some of my ideas for our trip to London, Brighton and Paris:

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London Ideas

London Transport Museum
Victoria and Albert Museum
Hampstead Heath
Free walking tours from New Europe Tours

Granger & Co

Oliver Bonas
Liberty London
Jo Malone
The Ordinary

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Paris Ideas

Musee d'Orsay
Le Jardin de Luxembourg

Du Pain et des Idees
L'as du Fallafel
L'Eclair de Genie
Le comptoir

La Tresorerie

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Brighton Ideas

Royal Pavilion
Hove seafront
Brighton Palace Pier

Fatto a Mano
The Flour Pot
Cin Cin
Boho Gelato

Workshop Living
Abode Living
Our Daily Edit

March Favorites

Sunday, April 1, 2018
When this goes live, I'll be touching down in London for the start of my two week vacation! I'm unbelievably excited to go back to the city I love so much and share it with my boyfriend this time. The anticipation has made it so hard to stay in the moment lately, but I've tried my hardest to stay present and appreciate some favorites.

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My Bullet Journal

Lately I've been mentioning how crazy this month has been about every other minute. The only reason I lived to tell the tale is due to my trusty Bullet Journal. I've really settled into a system that works well for me and isn't too complicated or labor intensive. I can quickly get set up for the week and I tote it around with me everywhere I go. I've had so many random things pop into my head in the middle of the workday or right before bed and my Bullet Journal has been the perfect place to record those fleeting thoughts and make sure I actually do something about it. Packing lists, schedules for cleaning and house renovations, info pages for things I've researched -- it's all packed in my little life-saver notebook. If you haven't already hopped on the Bullet Journal bandwagon, I highly encourage you to check it out.

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Topshop MOTO Raw Hem Straight Leg Jeans

These puppies are one of my first spring wardrobe acquisitions and I haven't been able to wait for actual spring weather to break them out. I've worn this jeans probably 20 days out of the 31 in March. I love the raw hem, which hits about an inch and half above my ankle (I'm 5'6"), the high waist and the mid blue wash. They fit true to size and they're surprisingly comfortable considering how high the waist is. I can already tell they're going to be my go-to jean from here on out and I might even be picking  them up some other washes.

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library books book reading bookshelf spine cover covers

The Library

I love books. I always have. I have distinct memories of wandering my elementary schools' libraries, reading certain series over and over, and staying up all night to read the newly released Harry Potter book until my mom would bring me breakfast in the morning. I definitely have a healthy selection of books in my house, but every time I go to the library to check out some new ones I'm amazed by the simple fact that I can read so many different books for free. The library even lets you research your genealogy on Ancestry.com, use the internet and read current newspapers and magazines, all for absolutely no money. Hardly anything is free anymore! This month alone we've checked out novels, cookbooks and reference books, in physical form and as ebooks. For my upcoming trip I plan on checking out a few more ebooks to cut down on my luggage weight. I really hope you guys keep in mind all that's available to you and support the libraries in your area -- they need all the help they can get lately!

Fit & Fearless Podcast

After revamping my fitness routine in February I started looking for more motivation to keep me going this month. Tally, Zanna and Vic from #GirlGains on Instagram have put together a really personal, informative and supportive podcast over on BBC5 live. They've covered all kinds of topics from weightlifting, to nutrition and eating disorders, to prenatal fitness and yoga. I've blazed through their episodes, which are all about 30 minutes long and I'm already ready for season two!

I hope you all are having a wonderful start to April and I look forward to sharing my trip with you!