The Traveler’s Checklist

I have been so fortunate in my life to have had the opportunities to travel. And not only to travel, but to travel abroad.

If you ever get a chance to spread your wings out of your home country, I urge you to take it. There is truly nothing better for your soul than to immerse yourself in cultures that are unfamiliar to you. From the language to the food to the history to the public transportation, it really is just an eye-opening experience.

I recently came back from an amazing trip to Europe with my family and my fiancé. We started in Rome, Italy, where we spent one full day exploring the historical monuments like the Trevi Fountain and the Coliseum. From Rome we traveled to Sorrento, where we stayed for several days and explored the beautiful Amalfi Coast [and lucked out with the most amazing rooms overlooking the Mediterranean Sea]. Our next stop was Croatia – we spent a few days in the enchanting and medieval Dubrovnik, a couple days in Hvar, and one night in Split, where we caught a flight to Munich, Germany, to wrap up our trip at the Oktoberfest [absolutely a must if you plan on traveling to Germany in September!].

Prior to this trip, my last experience traveling overseas was 6 years ago. It’s funny the things that you either don’t notice, or forget, when you travel to other countries. Or maybe things just change over time [likely]. For instance, I don’t remember the water being so terrible. It’s not that the flavor is bad, per se, but it’s so.. mineral-y. It doesn’t quench your thirst! But, the plus side, and something that wasn’t the case the last time I traveled, all of the water in first world countries is safe to drink from the tap [and, often times, from fountains in the towns!], which is a huge relief on the wallet because water at restaurants in Europe is NOT FREE. In fact, beer can actually be cheaper than water sometimes..

During my recent travels, I started to compile a list of tips that I felt like I would want to know if I was about to take my first vacation abroad. If you ask people you know who have previously explored the places you plan to travel, they will give you tons of “things to do, things to see and places to go.” They will rarely, however, give you tips about packing or things that are cultural norms for a country that we aren’t accustomed to in our home country.

My tips for you:

Check “things to do” before you decide on the length of time you want to spend in certain cities/countries. Ask friends, family members, acquaintances or Facebook “friends” for suggestions. Figure out what is a must-see and what isn’t super high on your list. You don’t want to be spending too little or too much time in a place. My mom, unknowingly, decided that we needed two, almost three, full days in Dubrovnik, which was way too long. We really only needed one, as there wasn’t that much there to see. So, research before you book!

Keep an eye on the time of year and what the weather is like, and make a back-up plan in case there’s an intermittent rain storm. We got super lucky on our trip – it only rained in the middle of the night while we were in Sorrento. BUT, the days were cool and we couldn’t really hit the beach like we’d planned. So we explored the town, got some food from the market to have a “picnic” at the hotel, and just vegged for a day. If you don’t mind the rain, then bring a lightweight raincoat [you should bring one anyway, even if it’s not supposed to rain – you never know!] and brave the storms!

If you plan on seeing some major historical landmarks like the Coliseum or the Eiffel Tower, research tickets and tours ahead of time before you book. We were traveling during “off-season”, but the line to get into The Vatican on a Monday morning was already wrapped around The City by 10 am, and all tickets for the rest of the day had just sold out. My mom booked us a private tour which was so worth it because it turns out it was actually our ticket in!

If you’re hoping to do some guided tours while abroad, be sure to check the ratings and reviews of the companies you’re looking into. My family loves to do a bike tour of every major city we visit – it’s a great way to see the entire city, the highlights, and get an awesome history lesson in a small window of time [usually about 3 hours]. It’s great because it allows you to see snippets of everything, and then decide what you want to go back and do an actual tour of. We tried to do that this time, but the bike company we went through ended up being extremely unorganized and not the most amazing experience. We still saw a lot of cool things and learned some amazing historical facts, but it wasn’t the experience we were hoping for. Do your research!

Purchase phrasebooks/dictionaries for the countries you are traveling to. While most people will speak English, that is not always the case. We ran into a language barrier several times [even in Italy, where my fiancé speaks a bit of Italian], and the phrasebook we bought was very helpful the few times that we desperately needed it. And, I don’t know about you, but I love trying to learn another language! [***Rick Steves has some great phrasebooks and dictionaries – I got ours on Amazon! (click here for link)]

Don’t forget to buy power adapters! Wherever you’re going likely uses a different type of power plug, so adapters are a must if you want to charge your devices [or use curling irons and hair dryers like us females]. All of the ones online say you need a converter as well, but we didn’t run into any issues while we were abroad. All of our computers, iPads, iPhones, laptops and hot tools converted with the basic plugs we bought [I got this one on Amazon – it was awesome! not only is it a power strip, but it also came with international plugs – we can literally travel anywhere in the world now without having to purchase more plugs].

If you have the space to bring a soft pad or mat of some sort, do it! Oh my gosh, the beds in Europe are HARD AS ROCKS, and for someone who has a soft mattress at home, that was an extremely rough adjustment. If you don’t have room for that, just be prepared!

Craft beer lovers – if you’re craving an IPA, find the closest Irish pub! And no, I don’t mean you have to go to Ireland. There are Irish pubs everywhere! We found them in both Italy and Croatia, and they were pouring lots of yummy IPAs on draft. [We actually did find IPA in Munich, in an Italian restaurant where the non-English speaking staff didn’t even know they carried IPA haha].

Pack only the essentials! My mom likes to do lots of city- and country-hopping while traveling abroad, and I learned quickly that I packed way too much for this trip. If you’re planning on moving around a lot, pack only what you need. The last thing you’re going to want to do is lug a heavy, bulging suitcase all over Europe as you move from place to place. Add to it all the goodies you purchase, and any other shopping you may do [read: leather products in Italy].. Yeah, you get the gist. If you’re not sure what to pack, first check the weather of the place you’re traveling and then go from there. I actually did a little Pinterest research [lots of pins that tell you how to pack for one, two, three or more weeks in Europe, specific countries you’re going to, and time of year].

Figure out the tipping system prior to traveling. It’s so different from country-to-country. In America, people survive off of tips, and 20% is standard. In some countries, it’s considered rude to tip, in others it’s not necessary, but 10% is okay. Also be sure to have cash on you at all times for this reason [and make sure it’s the correct currency – most European countries use Euro now, but some still have their own].

If you plan on traveling sometime in the near future, hopefully these tips help to get you started! Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about travel, places to go, things to see and do, or whatever!

Seattle Birthday Weekend [Plus The Best B-Day Gift, Ever!]

Years ago, I was bitten hard by the travel bug. Given the opportunity, I will jump at the chance to travel – whether it’s someplace I’ve been before [Glenbrook and/or Capitola], or someplace new, I’m allllllll over it.

After spoiling the heck out of my guy for his birthday this last December, he made a suggestion that, moving forward, perhaps our money would be better spent on vacations instead of gifts for our birthdays. I, of course, loved this idea, and so for my BIG 30th birthday trip, we booked a trip to Seattle.

I am usually not a city girl. In fact, country backroads with no neighbors for miles is really more my style. But with Seattle being on the same coastline, and never having visited, it had always been on my bucket list of mainland must-sees. [Sidenote: also NOT a fan of rain, which Seattle is, like, known for. But, it comes with the territory if you want to visit that city.]

Seattle is also known for overpriced [albeit, beautiful] hotels, so Mitch and I lucked out with finding a condo rental that backed up to Pike’s market and was only a block from the harbor. And, with it being off season for tourists, the price was totally right. We arrived at our condo at roughly 11:15 am [highly recommend NOT driving yourself if you can help it, traffic is an absolute joke in the city] – we immediately dropped off our bags and headed to scope out the grounds. We’d read on the rental site that there was a rooftop deck, and since we happened to arrive on a rare, sunny spring day, we wanted to enjoy the weather while we could [in Seattle, you really don’t know how long the sunshine will last].

When we got to the rooftop, we were ecstatic to find that we had unobstructed views of the Seattle Great Wheel and the harbor. There were a couple other tourists on the deck, so we did the customary exchanging of and posing for the cameras, and then headed back to our room to make a game plan for the day [while we had access to our condo, the cleaners hadn’t been there, yet, so we technically weren’t allowed to use the room until 3 pm].

Seattle City Suites – our view from our communal rooftop patio.

We realized we were both starving, so we decided to do a little exploring and find a fun spot to eat on the water. As we were walking back onto the rooftop to exit the building [the “rooftop” patio was actually more of a side deck for many of the units, including ours, with a back exit access to the upper street], Mitch whipped around in front of me and said, “I have to do this, I have to give this to you now, I can’t carry it around with me anymore.” Being the anxious, panicky type that I am, I immediately felt my stomach drop, and responded “What’s wrong? Is everything okay?” And it was right then and there, in the beautiful Seattle sunlight, alone on a rooftop overlooking the Puget Sound, that he got down on one knee, flipped open a little navy blue ring box, and asked me to be his wife.

My reaction, naturally, was to stammer “Ohmygod” about fifty times, followed by an occasional “Are you serious?!” before he finally asked if that meant “Yes.” Which, of course, it did. We took a few minutes to enjoy the peace, enjoyment and shock [on my end], before we called our families and tearfully [once again, on my end] and joyfully shared the news with them.

Engaged on a rooftop overlooking the harbor and the Seattle Great Wheel

Beautiful views – in more ways than one.

It took us about an hour-and-a-half to call all of our family members, at which point we were seriously famished. We did the customary social media post, and finally left our little rooftop to find some food [and some celebratory drinks, of course!]. We chose a restaurant with outdoor seating on the pier, right at the base of The Great Wheel, where we shared a couple of dishes and each drank a glass of wine. After lunch, we decided to ride the ferris wheel, explore the city area close to our condo, and grab some food and drinks for our room [FYI for any newbies heading to Seattle soon, there are NO liquor stores! We ended up going to a Target that was luckily only a few blocks from where we were staying].

Since the sun was still out, we took some snacks and drinks to the roof and talked about our engagement and our wedding as we watched the sun go down. We had planned on heading back to the room to regroup and get ready for the night, but the minute I got inside and sat down my energy was zapped. It had been an early, emotionally exhausting day. My poor fiancé tucked me in bed early and spent the evening watching sports on TV and eating a crappy pizza from the restaurant downstairs. Such a wild, newly engaged Friday night! Not.

Saturday morning we had a food tour of Pike’s market scheduled, so we were up early to find a cup of delicious, local Seattle coffee before our tour. If you are going to Seattle, I highly, highly recommend the tour we did. Pike’s market is always bustling with not only tourists, but locals, too. The dozens of famous food vendors in the market had lines that were out the door and wrapped around the buildings. Our food tour allowed us to go right up front and grab samples from all of these places. PLUS, we got a little business card that gave us 10-15% off at a whole list of local Seattle restaurants! A bonus, because the food we tasted was absolutely delicious. And we learned so much about the market and its history, which was great for my history major fiancé.

Rachel’s Ginger Beer – they make their own, AND they have mules on tap!

The famous Pike’s Market sign

Had to take a selfie in front of the gum wall

After the tour, we walked to the Space Needle. Prior to our trip, we learned through word-of-mouth about the City Pass, which happened to include a bunch of the attractions we were hoping to see during our trip [and, as luck would have it, it also just so happened to be majorly on sale]. Many of these were on the same block as the Needle, so we were able to knock out three things in one afternoon. The Needle was as you’d expect: really cool to see, and also really touristy. We stayed up top for about 45 minutes – took in the views of the city, snapped a couple of photos, and had a couple beers, of course.

Brews at the top of the Needle.

After the Space Needle, we toured around the MoPop Museum – I don’t think either of us were really that enthused with it [I definitely would not pay full price for a ticket], although the guitar tower in the entry way was pretty freakin’ awesome.

Tower of guitars at the MoPop.

After the museum, we checked out the Chihuly Garden – also kind of anticlimactic and something I wouldn’t pay full price for, but a really neat concept, and pretty cool that a single man made all of the amazing glass sculptures at the studio.

After hitting all of the spots we wanted, we walked back to our condo, had a cocktail, and decided to hit up a spot we’d passed called Some Random Bar for dinner. We had asked around about finding a spot with live music, and we lucked out that there were two. Both Mitch and I love live music, so it was fun to experience that in a different city.

Sunday was my THIRTIETH BIRTHDAY! I woke up feeling on top of the world – I’d finally left my twenties behind, I was newly ENGAGED, and I was enjoying exploring a new city with my fiancé. We headed out to have breakfast at a spot recommended to us by a friend called Local 360, where all the food was sourced from a 360 mile radius from the restaurant. The server checked our IDs, and, discovering it was my birthday, sent over complimentary PB+J Bon Bons. While the food wasn’t anything to write home about, the ambiance was adorable. As many farm-to-fork restaurants are these days, it had a rustic modern feel of reclaimed wood and rusted metals, with antique décor to round out the whole vibe.

B-Day PB+J Bon Bons

We left 360 and wandered back toward our condo to check out the aquarium [yet another attraction I would not pay full price for, but happened to be on the City Pass]. If you have kids, this is a great aquarium to take them to, as it had tons of interactive stations and things for young ones to do. For adults, it’s not very exciting. We breezed through it in about 20 minutes, and decided to hang out in the condo the rest of the day, as it was steadily raining. We had dinner reservations at a restaurant a few blocks from us called Heartwood Provisions. The food was delicious! The restaurant had a really cool open kitchen concept, where you could sit at a counter that overlooked the kitchen and watch as the chefs prepared all of your food. We chose the chef’s tasting menu, which had five courses with cocktail pairings for each course. We opted not to participate in the cocktail pairings, and instead ordered a half bottle of Darioush cab. We called it a night after dinner, as we had a very early flight to catch on Monday morning.

Overall, I had an amazing time in Seattle. The tourist attractions were nothing special, but the city itself was so much fun. Lots of local restaurants – not a lot of chains, which both myself and chef fiancé really appreciate. I wish we could have had one more day to explore more of the restaurants and the night scene, and we were too early to see Orca whales, so it’s safe to say that we will definitely be back.

Confessions of an Overpacker

Summer 2k16: the summer of NONSTOP TRAVELING.


Well, I should be counting my lucky stars that I am even able to travel as much as I have been [thank you dad + grandpa + job].

But, quite literally, I have been home maybe ten days in the last month.


Which normally wouldn’t seem all that bad, but seeing as I have run through my PTO, I have a dog, AND I am trying to move into my boyfriend’s house, the stress of being gone is starting to wear on me a bit. Oh, and yes, I did just move into my apartment in early April. So there’s that..

And not only that, but let’s talk about the annoyance of living out of a suitcase.
[Ladies, I know you know the struggle.]

Now, I’m not talking about the type of living out of a suitcase when you stay the night at your boyfriend’s.

No, I am referring to the constant juggling act that is packing for a trip, returning from said trip, and turning right around and doing it all again – all whilst trying to squeeze in a bit of laundry in between AND accomplish a few basic household chores [I don’t care what anyone says, regardless of whether or not you are home, your house collects dust and grime].

And, let’s be honest. I am a woman. The ability to choose what outfits I will be wearing on a trip, before a trip, is completely lost on me.

Those of you ladies that know how to do this – I seriously applaud you.

I make roughly two to three trips to Southern California a year. I always drive, mostly because I bring Bella [and I would never pay nor subject her to the horrors of flying a pet in the cargo hold of an airplane], but also because I have the luxury of bringing anything with me and as much as I want.

A basic carload to SoCal goes a little something like this:

  • Bella
  • Bella’s overnight bag [yes, she has one; yes, it has her name on it; yes, it also has a Doberman emblem on it]
  • Bella’s bed [because even though Bentley has at least four, she, of course, must have her own]
  • A present for Bentley
  • My purse
  • My backpack with iPad + MacBook + all my chargers
  • An XL suitcase packed to the brim with clothes
  • A duffel bag for just my shoes
  • Another duffel bag for clothing overflow from the suitcase
  • An oversized beach bag for my toiletries
  • My hats, which never make it into a bag because I don’t want them to get crushed

You can imagine how much I enjoy coming home from these trips and having to unpack and put away all of that.

And yet, I still pack like that – every. single. time.

The thought of NOT having options while on a trip stresses me out. What if I’m on a trip where I’ve actually planned out what I’m wearing every day but having a panic attack because I just KNOW that something I left at home would have been a better option?

Yes, this is how ridiculous my train of thought is when it comes to vacations.

So how do I nip this problem in the bud?

In all honesty, I will probably continue to pack this way for trips in which I am able to drive.

But for airplane travel, and due the fact that checking extra bags and heavy bags costs an arm and a leg, I have been forced to cut back and actually prepare outfits for my trips [quelle horreur!].

What’s a girl to do?!

Ah, well, in the simplest terms – PLAN AHEAD.

Yes, this means actually thinking about the trip you’re going on, looking at the weather, and visualizing what you think or know you will be doing while on the trip. Are you going out to dinner or staying in a place where you’ll prepare your own meals? Are you going somewhere tropical or cold? Will you be doing outdoorsy activities or just hanging out inside every day? Etc, etc.

For example, I just got back from a trip to Arizona. I was only gone for three days, and I knew the days would be hot, the evenings warm, and I knew we’d be lounging around and cooking our own food. I packed a few sundresses, two pairs of shorts, a couple of shirts and bathing suits, and some clothes to sleep in. Threw in my toiletries and a hat and I was set. Easy peasy.

Alas, I guess this means I actually must plan for trips now.. *Le Sigh*

Would love to hear some packing tips from any of you travel pros out there!

My Little Slice of Paradise

If you live in Northern California (or, more specifically, Sacramento or San Francisco), then you’ve undeniably heard of Lake Tahoe.

If you haven’t, well.. You’re clearly living underneath some sort of rock somewhere in the middle of the ocean on a deserted island.

For those of you who are dwelling on that deserted island, Lake Tahoe is a breathtakingly beautiful pool of blue water nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It lies smack dab on the state line that separates California from Nevada. And if you’ve ever had the luxury of visiting, you probably never wanted to leave.

Okay, well, that’s my own personal feeling.

To say that Lake Tahoe is my happy place is an understatement.

Driving up the highway into the mountains, I can literally feel my day-to-day stresses evaporating into the thinning, pine scented air. Even my distaste for slow drivers can’t bring down that consuming feel-good vibe.

If you’re a visitor to this enchanted place, you’re more than likely going to be staying at one of the stateline casinos in either North or South Lake. Or perhaps you have the privilege of bunking with friends who have a house somewhere along the lakeline. Whichever the case, there is plenty to do and you will undeniably enjoy yourself.

When I’m in Lake Tahoe it is impossible for me to sleep in. Even my subconscious doesn’t want to miss a second of this magical place. And, true to form, this morning I was up at seven, bright eyed and busy tailed and ready to start my day.

And as I sit on my deck, looking out at the glassy water and enjoying a cup of French Roast coffee (caffeinated, of course), I’m thinking that this place is just too special not to share.

I mean, sure, Tahoe, is absolutely beautiful no matter where you stay. But Glenbrook.. Well, it is its own special kind of place. When you’re here, you don’t even feel like you’re in Tahoe.

If I’m being completely honest, Glenbrook is basically my drug. In Glenbrook I feel no pain, I have no sadness, I have no worries. Nothing else in the world exists except for this place and everything it has to offer. The days here feel too short because no matter what I’m doing, I’m euphoric.

I’ve had the luxury of traveling to other countries, and, yes, there is nothing like submerging thyself in another culture, BUT, there really is no place like Glenbrook.

It would be selfish of me not to share my absolute favorite place on the entire planet earth with you.

If you’re looking for a place to stay in Lake Tahoe (and you have deep pockets – forgot to mention that part), it would be shameful not to look up Glenbrook.

I can guarantee you that you will not regret it.

Heaven Sent

I am by no means religious. I do not believe in a higher power, and I don’t believe that an unseen “being” has control of every single person’s destiny. I don’t knock it, though. I’ve discovered that having faith in something can bring a lot of people peace and purpose.

I DO, however, believe that there is Heaven on Earth. And it is known as Lake Tahoe.

I am blessed and fortunate enough to have a beautiful home on the east shore of Lake Tahoe (the “Nevada Side,” as those who frequent the lake deem it). Our three-story townhouse is nestled among many other homes and condos along a private beach just north of Zephyr Cove. My dad’s family has a place as well – an old, large cabin just down the beach that comfortably sleeps 15-20 people. This past week, my family and I rented the “Big House,” as the cousins call it, and spent a week in the glorious paradise of Lake Tahoe.

If you aren’t from California or Nevada, and you’ve never been to Lake Tahoe before, you are probably wondering what all of the hype is about. After all, there are lakes EVERYWHERE. While this may be true, Tahoe has a certain aura about it that locals just can’t get enough of.

First of all, it is only two hours from Sacramento. In two hours I can go from a stifling 100 degrees to a comfortable 80 with an offshore breeze. In that same two hours, I can go from miserable, wet rain to beautiful, white snow. Winter or summer, the weather in Tahoe is ideal. And the place is just beautiful. No matter where you are on the lake, the views are immaculate.

photo 3 (1)

The picture above was taken last week in Glenbrook, Nevada at sunset.

photo 3

The above is a photo taken from the famous Thunderbird Lodge, located off highway 29 between Sand Harbor and highway 50.

Another wonderful thing about Lake Tahoe – there is SO much to do!

I’ve been going to Tahoe my entire life. My grandparents bought their condo in the late 1970s, and before that, they brought my dad and aunt up to the cousin’s house every year since as far back as they can remember. I can safely say that the magnetism of Lake Tahoe runs in my blood. It’s beauty and how I’m drawn to it are ingrained in my being. However, because of this, I have spent little time playing tourist. I drive straight to my house in Glenbrook, and then I don’t leave until it’s time to drive back down to Sacramento.

Recent new developments have made South Lake Tahoe a prime tourist trap. In the summer, wandering the strip, window shopping and trying all of the fancy restaurants in the Heavenly area are fun things to do. These options are also available in winter, but it is significantly colder and much more uncomfortable. Guests all around Lake Tahoe can rent anything from jet skis to boats, paddle boards to paddle boats. Anything water-related can be rented and used for pure enjoyment.

There are various restaurants scattered around the lake that, in addition to regular access, also have boat access. Boaters can float right up to the dock and tie up their boat while they enjoy a “Wet Woody” (a famous Tahoe cocktail) and a fantastic brunch in the beautiful Tahoe sun.

Various other activities include camping, zip-lining, riding the gondola at Heavenly in South Lake, horseback riding, paddle boat cruises, and tours of historic points around the lake.

Just a short car ride down the road from my place in Glenbrook is the historic summer home of George Whittell, also known as Thunderbird Lodge. It is best seen from the lake side, as it is completely invisible from the road, but once on the property the views are breathtaking. The home tour itself is not so spectacular – but learning about its original owner and his weird “quirks” is definitely worth looking into.

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photo 5

The two above photos were taken from the property of Thunderbird Lodge, overlooking Lake Tahoe from the east shore. The top photo shows the gazebo, which allows an almost 360 degree view of the lake. The bottom photo is of a well, which was built for fun, not for actual purpose.

The Thunderbird Lodge gets its name from Whittell’s famous and beautiful wooden boat, which can sometimes be seen cruising around the lake with a boat full of people. The Thunderbird can be rented by anyone for the price of probably your first born child, but jetting about the like in a pristine and classic wooden craft is an experience unlike any other, I am sure.

photo 1

photo 2

The top photo is the entrance to Whittell’s house (or Thunderbird Lodge), and the bottom photo is taken in the boathouse on the property – a rear view of the famous Thunderbird. This summer, the boat is out of commission – the lake water is too low to launch it, and, conveniently, its engines broke down and cannot be repaired without funding and donations.

Although Tahoe offers a wide variety of entertainment options, my favorite thing to do when I am there is just relax. If you’re fortunate enough to stay somewhere with beach access (ahem, the California side is heavily rock-ridden with only dock entrances to the lake), I highly recommend a comfortable beach chair and a good book (and a large bottle of sunscreen; the thin air will fry your skin in no time at all). There is no better paradise than lounging on the beach and just letting time go. And, of course, a cocktail in one hand doesn’t hurt, either.

Whatever your choice of entertainment may be, Lake Tahoe is without-a-doubt one of the most beautiful places that America has to offer. While pricey, it is worth every single penny to be able to enjoy the wonders of nature and a truly serene and wonderful place. I highly recommend a stop in Lake Tahoe, if you ever have the opportunity to come out this way.

**To donate or visit Thunderbird Lodge, visit