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Avec Amour : January 2015

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Packing List for Charleston

We leave for Charleston in a WEEK!

So far my list of places to eat & drink is long... and growing. Poogan's Porch, Cru Cafe, The Black Tap, Fig, Collective Coffee & more.... any I'm missing?

Today, the weather in Nashville got HOT all of a sudden. I'm definitely not complaining, I was just surprised. Mid 60's after weather below freezing for weeks. It made me think - will it be warm in Charleston?

Turns out it will be pretty mild while we're there. Days in the 50's and nights in the high 30's. It's making me believe I don't need to pack a real coat... but I'm probably just lying to myself :)

So here's the packing list so far. 

Spring in Charleston


  • The long black maxi. The one I own is actually a convertible dress that can be worn 5 ways. Full disclosure, I only wear it 2 ways because I don't feel confident it looks right as a skirt on me, but that's ok - it's still been a great piece. It's really thick cotton so it regulates temperature well. It's also great because the material is nice enough for dinner, but casual enough for the beach. 
  • Lightweight tops. I'm planning to bring two light weight tops that can be worn together as layers or separately for different looks.
  • Chunky cardigan. With sunny days in the 50's, I'm unlikely to need a full coat during the day. However, i'm sure there will be shade at times and cold restaurants as always, so a cozy knit is just the trick.
  • Blazer. Instantly dresses up any part of this mix. Even the striped top with jeans and heels will look polished with a blazer. I know southern folk can be proper, so I don't want to be sloppy.
I'm not completely sure of our itinerary, so I have a mix of causal and slightly nicer pieces that can be mixed and matched. I'll also throw a pair of nude tights in my bag to wear under the pink or white dresses at night. It's our Valentine's Day, so I want to have some fun dinner dresses, right? I admit, for a 3 day, 3 night trip, this might be a slight overpack. Looking at it now, I also might swap one dress out for another top (mix it up, travel days, etc). 

Have you ever been to Charleston for a weekend in the Spring? Send me your tips!

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Healthy Travel Snacks

Airport food can be a NIGHTMARE. It's come a long way in the last several years, with great restaurants like Lemonade in LAX or the amazing salad bar from CIBO in La Guardia, but if you're flying to major metropolitan airports like Ithaca, NY, Chattanooga, TN or Rapid City, SD, you aren't left with a ton of options. I cringe when I see one sad kiosk with packaged pastries and a huge pot of 5 hour old coffee as the only food or beverage option. You never want to eat something that will make you feel sick or gross before you get on a 3 hour flight, amiright?

I almost never travel without at least one snack (a girl's gotta eat!), and here are some of my favorites that travel well.

Mix anything you have on hand - almonds, cashews, dried mangos, pumpkin seeds, dried cherries, whatever! The dried fruit is a sweet treat, the nuts are filling and crunchy, and a winner in my book. Here's a great chart to help you build a great mix! The best part is you can make a bunch and snack on it for months. Make up little baggies that are ready to grab & go! 

Fruits and veggies grow outside... so they don't need to be refrigerated for short periods of time. My favorite trick is to buy carrots and apples the night before and cut them up before I leave, never putting them in the fridge. That way they don't get clammy or brown mid-flight. Carrots, celery, apples, bell pepper, cucumbers, oranges, grapes.... whatever strikes your fancy.

RICE CAKES + ______________
Take two rice cakes. Top with nut butter, guacamole, hummus or any other topping. Add salt, pepper, cumin, red pepper, garlic... or whatever you want. I just found this Pinterest board with a ton of great ideas.

Air pop and top with anything you want (I use coconut oil in lieu of butter to make the seasoning stick). It's crunchy and flavorful and fills the salty snack fix!

These bad boys are ready to go and can be picked up at any grocery store.
Sabra makes single serving hummus cups
Justin's Almond Butter makes 1.5oz packs in several flavors
Blue Diamond makes 100 calorie packs of whole almonds
- KIND or Lara Bars are the least processed of the granola bar world
- String cheese is always a winner.

If you're worried about what counts as "liquid" food, try the TSA app to search for the item in question. For example, type in 'yogurt' and it reminds you of the 3.4oz rule, and most yogurt comes in 5-6oz tubs. Decant into smaller containers (remember, the container itself needs to be within the size regulation) or choose a different snack.

By packing healthy snacks, you'll save a ton of money and feel better for your flight! Do you ever bring snacks with you when you travel? Any other great healthy snacks I'm forgetting?

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Monday, January 26, 2015

This Week in Travel Vol.13

There are so many travel blogs & publications I read on a daily basis! Wanted to share some of my favorite links, articles, info graphics and tips from around the web this week.
Happy Australia Day to all! I guess it's technically over for you guys, but I'd happily eat a few Tim Tams with anyone who is interested :) Also, still looking for suggestions on what to do in Charleston!

Here's what's been happening around here this week:
- All about the Southwest Companion Pass 
- Packing for subzero temps (brrrrr!)
- The best FREE museums in London

Hope everyone has a great week!!!


Friday, January 23, 2015

The Best FREE Museums in London

Let's just start this post by clarifying, most of the museums in London are free. I think this is incredible, because art & culture should be shared with everyone. I've skipped many of the major museums of the world, for fear of seeing ONE famous panting and being bummed I spent $25 to do so (cough, cough.... Mona Lisa at the Louvre). But I digress.

London is chock full of museums, more than you could ever see during a week-long visit. And in my opinion, it has some of the best, most diverse museums in the world! Even if you're not a museum person, keep these on your radar if you're caught in a storm or need to warm up.

Here are five (technically six!) of my favorites & they're all free.

The National Gallery

Location: Charring Cross tube station (Trafalgar Square)
This might be my favorite "traditional" museum in the world. It has so many different paintings from the 13th-19th century, and a little something for everyone. I also love the National Gallery because of the beautiful fountains out front in Trafalgar Square. It's a great place to sit and drink a coffee while you people watch. Some noteworthy artists include Monet, van Gogh, Rembrant, Michelangelo, Botticelli, da Vinci, and more.

Victoria & Albert Museum and the Natural History Museum

Location: South Kensington tube station
A little less traditional, the V&A is focused on fashion and design. They have famous fashion designers collections displayed from time to time and they're so cool! If you aren't one for paintings but also don't understand modern art, this is a museum you can get behind. 

And I included the Natural History Museum because it's right next door. Anyone who is into dinosaurs, bugs, butterflies and more will love this. Even if it's not your cup of tea, it's really interesting and worth a browse! I've never been to the AMNH in NYC... but I don't think I'll pay the price tag, because the NHM is great.

Tate Modern

Location: St Paul's or Blackfriars tube stations & walk across the Millennium Bridge
To be completely honest, I don't always understand modern art. At all. What really sold me on this museum was its location (at the end of the pedestrian bridge & looks down over St Paul's Cathedral, just gorgeous!), and the paintings Rothko was commissioned to do for the Four Seasons & instead, he donated to the pieces to the Tate Modern. So cool. 

British Museum

Location: Tottenham Court Road tube station
The British Museum is going to offer a lot of ancient history - truly.  Instead of paintings, think of specially curated artifacts from all over the world. History at its finest.

Museum of London

Location: St Paul's tube station
If you're into London or British history at all, this is the place for you. There's so much cool stuff here, as well as rotating pop culture exhibits (currently it's Sherlock Holmes & Pattington Bear). It's a favorite.
I might be a little bias, but London is the BEST! These museums are so well done, and don't rely on ticket sales. Amazing! 

Have you visited any of these museums during your travels? Which one is your favorite? Did I leave any of the greats out?

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

What to Do in Charleston, SC

Happy Valentine's Day to me :) 

Matt is awesome & surprised me with a trip to Charleston for Valentine's Day! Well, more specifically, we're going the week before. Regardless... I'm so very excited!

Two months into the year and we're already making a dent in the travel bucket list - so I'm a happy camper. 

Full disclosure: I've never been to Charleston... and I don't actually know what there is to do there except eat & explore. It's just always seemed charming and romantic to me. 

There are a few things I've looked up so far, but I'd really love any other suggestions as we explore a new place.

Rainbow Row
This reminds me of Notting Hill in London, so I'm sold. Cute little colored houses all in a row... adorable. Any must see's/must do's while we're there?

Waterfront Park
Gorgeous waterfront park... what's not to like? If I can bring a bottle of wine to enjoy the sunset I might never leave.

King Street
Apparently this is the go-to place for shops! And it's very adorable. As is the rest of the city. Which shops should we check out?

The only lighthouse I've ever been to is on Sanibel, and I've always loved it. There are two in the Charleston area and I'd love to check them out.

...oh, and a Ghost Tour, of course. 

We're rookies at this Charleston thing, so I'd love to hear your suggestions! Especially any good food (specifically vegetarian food or brunch places), cool bars, or sights to see? Comment below or shoot me an email!

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Southwest Companion Pass

Ever since I heard about the Southwest Companion Pass, I've been CONSUMED with getting it. I neeeeeeeeeeed it! Do you have it? If you do, I'm incredibly jealous.

Since I was in the dark about this, I thought some others might be, too! So I've done my research and found out HOW to get it, and WHY it's awesome!

The only way to get the Companion Pass is earning 110,000 Rapid Reward Points in one calendar year. This means January 1 - December 31. It's January 21, so let's hit the ground running with this New Year's Resolution :) 

The 110,000 RR points must be in one person's name. These points cannot be transferred from another Rapid Rewards account. You can't have 55,000 in your name and 55,000 in  your spouses name..... all 110,000 have to be in one name. No exceptions.

The Companion Pass is eligible for the rest of the calendar year (so, 2015) and the entirety of the following year. Which means as soon as you earn it this year, you're in the clear for the next year, too! Awesome.

The Companion Pass is only eligible for ONE person.... which you can change three times. So for example's sake, if I signed Matt up as my companion (duh!), I could switch it to my best friend, but still be able to switch back to Matt. It gives you one option, but just be careful you don't mess it up!

The Companion Pass is eligible for EVERY flight the holder books. SO, if I pay for my flight with money or miles, it doesn't matter - Matt comes with me for free. Please note that the "companion" must be with the holder of the pass, so he doesn't fly for free unless he's with me. 

110,000 points is enough for an average of 9 free flight segments. Reward flights start as low as 6,000 points (one way), and go up to about 18,000, depending on when/where you're flying (I looked at a bunch of different flights to get a sample). So even if you only earned the companion pass in December 2015, you have 110,000 free points to fly the next year - so you can pay for YOUR flights with points and your companion is still flying free. That's an incredible deal in itself.

There are several ways to earn points:
  • The largest (and easiest) is to apply for the Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card with the current bonus offer of 50,000 RR points (if you spend $2,000 in the first three months of having the card)
  • You earn 2RR points / $1 spent directly with Southwest (a $200 flight = 400 RR points). Please note this needs to be purchased DIRECTLY with Southwest (on their website or phone)... not through a 3rd party website or travel agent.
  • You earn 1RR point/ $1 spent on the card on everyday purchases (a $35 tank of gas = 35 RR points)
  • You earn the RR points for every flight you take with Southwest (this is not dependent on having the Southwest Credit Card)
  • You earn RR points by shopping through the Southwest Shopping portal. You sign in & do your regular online shopping... but for extra points. Nordstrom is 5points/$1 right now, iTunes is 3p/$1, and Sephora is 4p/$1. 
  • Please note if you do your spending on the credit card, you'll also get 2points/$1. If you drop $50 at Nordstrom, you'll get 100points for the credit card and 250points for the shopping portal, making your $50 worth 350 points
Let's do a little math. 

If you sign up for the RR credit card and are approved, you'll start at 50,000 points. If you book 12 Southwest segments (6 round trip flights) this year ON the credit card, average $200 per segment, each and average 1,000 RR points (12 segments total), that's an extra 16,800 points. Putting you at 66,800! 

Now, if you do $50 a month of shopping through the Southwest portal on the credit card, even at only 3point/$1 offers, you still will earn an extra 250 points per month, or 3000 points for the year... putting you at almost 70,000 points!

Now all that's left is 40,000 points to earn. If you spend $40,000 a year then you're SET. You might not think you spend that much, but chances are you come pretty close! It comes to just over $3,000 a month on the Southwest Credit Card (I'm only into responsible credit card using.... only spend it if you can pay it off!)

A few notes:
  • If you're buying for 2 - which if you're not, the companion pass is a little useless anyway - you will get the double points for money spent, just not their actual flight points. So, buying 12 segments for 2 people, puts you up to 24 segments total at $200, making your points earned 9,600 points... or 21,600 points. The new average would be 71,600 before any portal shopping or regular spending on the credit card. 
  • If you're traveling for work, see if you can purchase your own flight and invoice the company. Every extra point counts!
  • This companion pass would work best for someone with a business parter (if you travel together often), a married couple/seriously dating couple or a family with kids. If you mostly travel alone or with a variety of different people, this wouldn't make much sense for you. 
  • Choose the person who will fly the most often - for example, I travel solo for work more often, so I in theory will earn more points in the calendar year.  
  • You can use up to $15,000 in balance transfers to the Southwest Card in the first three months that WILL gain you points. However, they're at a 3% rate, so I would not advise it.
You guys.... we can do this. With a little strategy, you can work your way to dozens of free flights! Who's with me?

More on Cheap Flights:

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Packing for Sub Zero Temperatures

I travel a lot for work & it's a lot of fun! The major reason I travel is for photo shoots... which isn't as glamorous as it sounds, because they're always on farms :)

It's a lot of classic pick-ups, horses, barns and wheel barrows. 

Fashion is minimal as we're outside in the dirt all day, however, I still want to appear professional (enough) & dress appropriately. My typical photo shoot uniform is jeans, v-neck t shirts, thin plaid shirts and my rain boots. The thin long sleeved shirts protect from bad tan lines & add an extra layer on a chilly morning. The rain boots keep my feet dry in muddy areas (or, um... not worry about horse poop on my shoes) and can be rinsed off easily at the end of the day.

one of the models getting a bit friendly!

Up until now, our photo shoots have been in the 60's-80's, weather wise. My main concern was wearing light, breathable fabrics so I wouldn't overheat on long days! But now.... we're headed into a snow storm to see farm life in the winter. SEND HELP!

Like the other photo shoots, it will be long days outside.... but this time, it's in the snow and likely sub zero temperatures. I've had to pick up a few items to prepare & hopefully prevent freezing my tush off.


Sorel Boots - These are by far the warmest thing I've ever worn. Fur lined & completely waterproof. Absolutely incredible. I can be in several inches of snow and stay dry!

Wool Everything - Wool socks, merino wool sweaters (the first 3), wool beanie, wool scarves. Wool is not only warm, but it has moisture wicking properties. This means even if you start to sweat or get wet, the water will be pulled away from your skin & keep you warm. It doesn't hurt that there are so many cute merino wool sweaters out there! (Check J.Crew, Madewell, etc)

Layers - I am planning on wearing thermal leggings & a thermal vneck top underneath all of my clothing. I've never thought jeans were warm on their own, so these will definitely help.

Long Down Jacket - While my snowboarding jacket would keep me very warm and dry, it is only waist length. The extra long down jacket will really help me stay extra warm... which will be necessary!
It's going to be so pretty... but SO COLD! Any tips for standing out in the snow for 10 hours? Brrrrr.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

This Week in Travel Vol.12

There are so many travel blogs & publications I read on a daily basis! Wanted to share some of my favorite links, articles, info graphics and tips from around the web this week.

Seriously... obsessed with getting a Southwest Companion Pass. I always assumed it was just a 1 free flight pass (not worth working so hard for!), but have recently learned once you earn the points, you can have your "companion" fly FREE for the rest of that year and the following year. In theory, you could have almost 2 full years of free flights for your spouse/family member/best friend. INCREDIBLE! Has anyone achieved this honor?

Here's what's been happening around here this week:
- What Shoes Should I Pack?
- Can I Trust Airbnb?
- Advise for Traveling with Kids

Hope everyone has a great week! The sun is shining here and I hope it is where you are, too :)


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Advice For Traveling With Kids (From The Best Moms I Know!)

I couldn't resist this picture, it's too hilarious (I found it here).

I don't have kids. I'm not pregnant. BUT, I know a lot of awesome mamas that travel with their kiddos on the regular & have managed to do it will grace & poise.

I've been asked several times for my advice on traveling with kids, and since I can't speak from experience, I've asked these champions how they make it look so easy! These are high tech mama's, crunchy natural moms, and everything in between. These moms have anywhere from 2 to 5 kiddos, ages ranging from infant to high schoolers! There's a little something for everyone.

Please note: every kid is different, as you know. If it doesn't sound right for you or your kids, then please don't take it to be the only way! Just ideas from other parents who have been there, too.

Entertainment/What to Bring
"We don't have a dvd player in the car, but we let them get one new game on our phones when we will be going on a trip of 3 hours of more. It's very helpful - it makes it more special for them because we rarely get new games!"

"We always have favorite blanket or sleeping lovey with them to help with napping."

"ASTC & zoo memberships! We have a membership to a science center, which is part of the ASTC passport program, which means that we get into a ton of museums & other science centers free. Whenever we are going somewhere, I research where the other ASTC locations are. It works with a lot of zoo memberships as well (research your own membership). It has saved us a huge amount of money and the kids LOVE it! On one 4 day trip, we went to 3 different science centers & 1 aquarium for FREE with the passport program!"

"We have a DVD player that attaches to the head rests. We pack an easily accessible bag with all their favorite movies or ones they haven't seen in a while."

"Each kid gets their own set of snacks. This way, nobody is fighting over the last pack of fruit snacks or handful of pretzels."

"This only works with older toddlers & up, but play car games. They are a great way to pass time & keep them occupied. My husband tells the kids about all the old cars we pass on the road, and they're in awe every time."

"Purchase a few new movies, books or activities for your kids. Movies or activities they've never seen/played with and therefore will be even more exciting and hold their attention."

"When all else fails during the travel time, pull out the candy. I always travel with a stash of lollipops to pass out when they're on the verge of losing it!"

"We try to stick to a normal eating schedule. Ex: leave early, eat breakfast in the car, stop at normal lunch and dinner time so their schedules don't get too messed up."

"Have an agenda and timeline for your days while you're on vacation, but at the same time be willing to stray from it as well." 

"Let your kids know the plan before you leave - make suggestions for their time; 'You'll have time to watch two movies before we get to lunch' - and let them know if anything changes. Kids can cope when they have an idea of what's going on."

"If you have good sleepers driving through the night."

"Having their favorite snacks on hand to minimize stops on road trips or meltdowns on the plane."

"Try to arrive at your destination or stop at hotel around bedtime or right before around dinner. If their eating schedule stays pretty normal then they should nap at appropriate times in the car." 

"Do your research ahead of time if you're traveling to a new place with your family - it will help you stay organized and un-frazzled"

"We try and already have our hotel arranged ahead of time so that the kids know how long before we are stopping AND so that we can make sure there is a pool, crib etc. Letting the kids know they will get to swim in 3 hours usually helps!"
"The way you pack the car is essential! Make sure the adult passenger has easy access to help the kids get snacks, change movies & access the diaper bag."

"Traveling alone with a lap child? Pick a window seat. That way, if your baby is peacefully sleeping, people in your row can still exit without disturbing him/her. If you don't get an ideal seat ahead of time, ask your neighbor & explain why. TRUST ME - everyone wants your baby to have a good flight!"

"We pick a family color for days we fly - with 4 kids, it's a lot easier just to look for yellow shirts! We look crazy, but it's so easy to stay together."

"Always and forever, sit apart on the plane. I've recommended it before, I'll recommend it a thousand times: When flying as a family, have one parent sit with both kids, and another parent sit alone. Switch off every two hours. Actually makes plane travel a joy for everyone."

"We have a chalkboard in our house where I count down the days until our trip. Once our oldest started counting, we started doing the same thing with "hours left on the trip" - every hour that passes, we play a fun song and have a dance party in our seats." 

"Round UP on how long it will take to travel. If it's a 5 hour drive, tell them it's 6 or 7. If your total flight time is 2.5 hours, still round up just in case of delays. It's better to under promise and over deliver, then they're excited to arrive early!"

"Don't pack a whole suitcase of diapers. Pack enough for 2 days & buy more once you arrive."

"Make sure to put the kids in slip on shoes to help with making potty stops faster (or so they can get comfortable on the plane)"

Older Kids
"This is passed down from my mom. When we were children and on a 20 hour car ride, we earned $1 for each hour of peaceful travel. It was how we earned our spending money for vacation!"

"We use layovers to get rid of excess energy. I have the kids do jumping jacks & play charades or I Spy - save the iPad & coloring for when they're stuck in a seat for 3 hours." 

"Assign an older kid to be attentive to a younger kid, with something special at the end of your trip: like a special date with mom, or baking his favorite treat. Also, this helps them feel responsible not only for their siblings behavior, but their own. Start 'em young!"

Just Do It!
"My best tip for good travel with kids is to do it often. My kids are awesome road trippers and we are pretty convinced that a lot of that has to do with the fact that we have done so many. From 1 hour trips to our cross country trips, it makes a huge difference to start young and have it be a normal thing for kids to know how to sit in a car (or plane) for a while."

"Keep it easy. Stay laid back and don't let them drive you nuts- at least not externally. My kids get less annoying the less I flip out at them."

"If your kid is having a terrible time on the plane, don't stress. Do the best you can! Most people are kind, and those who aren't... well, you'll never see them again!"

"Plan to stop when you all need a break and have a few things planned for along the way if it's a road trip."

"Have fun. It doesn't have to be stressful, and sometimes WE are more stressed out about the trip than they are."

There you have it, ladies and gentleman - advice from some of the best! What are your best tips for traveling with kids? I'd love to hear them!

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Which Shoes Should I Pack?


We all love them. But they take up SO. MUCH. ROOM. in your suitcase. Packing less almost always starts with shoes, because unfortunately, they take up the most space (especially in winter). The research I've done, talking to others along with my own trial & error, I've found that 3 is the magic number. The trick is choosing shoes that serve multiple purposes. Which shoes should you bring on vacation? Here are some combinations I've found work for different occasions. We might not have the exact same style, but use this as a jumping off point and adjust for your own needs & preferences! Let's talk about how to pack less shoes when you travel.

When it's cold out, the last thing you want is freezing feet! However, you still want to maximize space whenever possible!

Power Players for Winter Shoes
Sleek boots can go from the office, to a party, to brunch. Choose a neutral color (black or cognac) that will go with almost everything!

Beautiful flats are definitely your friend. While they aren't going to be heavy enough for somewhere like Montana, they will work in most places! I am really lusting over Tieks lately, because they lay flat and can fold up into a purse. Perfect for city travel, when walking kills your feet! Does anyone have a pair they can tell me about?

While sandals and flats don't take as much room, there's still no reason to overpack in the shoe department. 

Power Players for Summer Shoes
Beautiful sandals, rather than flip flops, can cover you in several situations - you can run around town in them, take them to the beach, go to a casual dinner & more. They're not appropriate for a business meeting, but that might be your only place! Once again, neutral flats will take care of a situation like the office or a nicer occasion. Unless you're a true heel girl, you can always sub in beautiful flats for things like work or weddings. Wear what makes you comfortable & feel great!

REMEMBER - leopard print is considered a neutral! Neutral doesn't have to be boring ;)

Don't let this be you!
Minimal Sneakers
I waited to pick up a pair on sale at DSW ($30 for last seasons minimal Nike's!), and it was the best decision I've made in a long time. They flatten easily & are half the size of my Brooks running shoes. 

Packable Flats
Like the Tieks in the photos above. I really want them! Then you aren't worried about your suede flats losing shape (I'm sure I'm not the only one).

Wear Your Largest Shoe
This might go without saying, but wearing your riding boots when you travel can be really helpful. If you're in a backpacking situation (or when we visited 4 cities in italy over 2 weeks) and are in transit multiple times for your trip, you might want to consider only bringing that ONE pair and perhaps a 2nd pair. I ended up only wearing my larger boots because I didn't want to shove them in my bag. Looking back, I should have left my 2nd pair at home.

Don't Bring Doubles
Please PLEASE don't. There's no need! Two pairs of neutral flats... Why? Two pairs of heels when you have 1 formal occasion? Think practically. And remember, if you don't wear it at home (or they aren't broken in!!!!!), you won't wear it on the road.

You can avoid this!!!
Shoe addicts... I know this sounds like a deal breaker for you... but I know you can do it! :)

What do you tend to overpack?

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My Dream Dinner Destination

Food & travel certainly go hand in hand. We're always looking to try new & traditional foods when we visit new places! After all, what is Seattle without its coffee, Philly without its cheesesteaks, or NYC without pizza & bagels?! 

When I think of my dream dinner destination... I can't pick just one. SO I thought it'd be fun to take a trip around the world, course by course.

I'd start with a glass of wine in Gordon's Wine Bar in London. They have an extensive collection of wine, and the atmosphere is unlike anywhere I've been before! It's an old wine cellar that has been there for a century. It's slightly drafty, but is cozy & quaint, just like it should be.

I'd start in Santorini, Greece. When I arrived on its black volcanic beaches, I ordered a Feta & Cucumber salad. I imagined it would be a bed of lettuce with some diced feta & cucumbers. Luckily for me, it was literally a block of feta cheese, drizzled in olive oil & herbs, and served with sliced cucumbers on the side. A little bit of a misunderstanding on my part, but it definitely worked out in my favor! I will forever love Greece for this.

I'd come back home to Nashville and have the vegan tortilla soup at Taco Mamacita. If I was a carnivore, I'd get the chicken version because it looks delicious, but their vegan version (confession: I ask for added cheese!) is fresh ingredients covered in delicious tomato broth. It warms me up from the inside out! 

Main Course
Without a doubt, I'd turn that plane back to Europe and have Trofie al Pesto in Manarola, Italy. Trofie is a local pasta that is similar to gnocchi - potato & flour, a little more dense than traditional pasta, and DELICIOUS! It took a little research to figure out why we were seeing it everywhere, but I'm glad we tried it! Not to mention the pesto is made completely of local - as in less than 1 mile away - ingredients. The pine nuts, olives & basil are so incredibly fresh, you'll never want to eat another pesto again.

After the Trofie was done, I'd hop on a train and head to the Swiss Alps for chocolate. Swiss chocolate is so incredibly smooth, it will blow your mind! I've only sampled little bits & pieces, but I'd love to do a full chocolate tour. Yum.

I'd love to jet over to Turkey to try their namesake coffee. I'd have no idea how to order it... but I'd love to learn!

The best part about dining all over the world is picking up on the interesting nuances of how other countries operate. Italians stand at counters & quickly devour espresso and a pastry for breakfast, but their dinners are long and leisurely, filled with bottles of wine, several courses and slow conversations. 

Sometimes, finding something to eat can be a real challenge! When visiting Morocco, everything was written in Aribic and HOPEFULLY French (which I have some chance of understanding), but there was a lot of pointing and shrugging of shoulders (which usually results in laughter :). Ashley mentioned it was a similar situation in Thailand.

Ordering food in a different language can be exciting, terrifying, and everything in-between. When I was in Paris with my friend Sharyn, we just ordered random things off a menu with no idea how to translate. She ended up with a bowl of assorted meats & sauerkraut. We're both vegetarians now (funny enough, shortly after this meat experience...) so it's important to know what what you're ordering!

Advice for Travelers
Guide books can be very helpful. This is how I learned to say "sono vegetariana" (I am vegetarian!) and "Niente carne, per favore!" (no meat, please!) in Italian, so I could at least avoid meat in my food.

This would also be helpful if you have an allergy (nuts, shellfish) or intolerance (gluten, dairy). You never know what a secret family recipe might entail.

Finding websites that are equipped with translation software is so helpful. When a business use it, you can visit that businesses website & see directions, menus and anything else in your own language! It's so helpful when businesses use this type of software, rather than making questionable translations from free sites that don't make any sense (we've all seen them!)

If you do your research on local cuisine, you can decide ahead of time if there are traditional meals you'd like to try! You'll also know if the food is meat laden, spicy, full of fish, vegetarian friendly and so on. There will be less surprises (in a good way) and you'll have a few tasty dishes to look forward to.

Language is so important when it comes to food! You never know what you'll end up with otherwise ;)

Have you ever ordered something crazy by accident in a foreign country? I'd love to hear about it!

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Can I Trust Airbnb?

Can I trust Airbnb? 
How do you know if Airbnb safe? 

I've been asked these questions many times by people who haven't tried the delight that is Airbnb, and my answer is YES - you can trust Airbnb. However, just like anything else, a little research & information will go a long way. 

Personally, I'm an Airbnb fangirl - we use them all the time, and have had nothing but WONDERFUL experiences!

From my own experience, Airbnb is very trustworthy, for a few reasons.


The person hosting (them) & the person BEING hosted (you) both leave reviews. This can be inclusive of anything - I usually mention that the photos were exactly like the space, or if it was even better in person, if the host was good at communicating, if check-in was easy, and if it was clean & comfortable. 

Read reviews and see what other people have said! And if you're not totally comfortable, pick a place that has MANY good reviews! As with everything, one bad apple can spoil the bunch, but they're pretty easy to sift through when everyone else is leaving rave reviews. 

Airbnb Verified Photos
Many of the Airbnb room photos are 'verified', which means it was taken by their photographers. It's an extra level of reassurance knowing that an Airbnb staff photographer took these photos, rather than the person listing their home shooting only the good angles! We've all been to the hotel that looks wonderful in photos but is dumpy in person, and the verified photographs take the guess work out.

Verified photos will say so beneath the explanation (like the photo on the left). It will be absent if it's not verified (like on the right).

Money Exchange

All money is exchanged through Airbnb. You don't have to give a random stranger your credit card, which is ALWAYS comforting. (This processing is part of the Airbnb fee you'll notice mentioned). One note on this; depending on where you're staying, please keep in mind there might be a random cash charge (which should be mentioned in their 'blurb' on their posting), but it's not the norm. Airbnb rooms all over Italy had a type of tax (a tourist/housing tax), of $3 per person, per night. If you're uncertain of a random tax, check other listings in that area. Italy, for example, had it on every single one - no matter what. Just be practical. If it sounds fishy, it might be, just do a little extra research.

That being said, here are some things I would look for in a potential place to stay!

Entire Home 
If you're feeling unsure about being in a stranger's home, choose "entire home" in your selection. There's no need to worry about awkward conversations in the hallway or a shared bathroom. 

Some "private room" listings have a completely separate entrance,  bathroom, the works - they're just attached to the house (such as a basement or mother-in-law suite). If you're unsure, message your host!


You can always message hosts and ask how far they are from the airport, shopping, restaurants, etc. Many will have that listed in the notes about the property, but if it's not there - just ask. Airbnb gives you a green bubble of "approximate" location, but you can ask the host for cross streets or a landmark to give you a better idea of where they're at.
Keep in mind paying a little more for a better location can save you money on taxi fare & car rental.


When we used Airbnb in Italy, our hit list was washing machines, wi-fi & heat! Each place lists what they have, so check it out and make sure it meets your needs. Free wi-fi is pretty standard, but make sure it's listed. Some have cable, some don't.

If you are renting a car, make sure there is a place for you to park or easy street parking nearby. This is one way we've found Airbnb to be an INCREDIBLE deal. Wi-fi & parking at a hotel can be anywhere from $10-$50 per day EACH. Staying a long weekend can add hundreds of dollars on top of expensive nightly room rates.

The Airbnb community is a very sweet one. We've always had wonderful, kind hosts, people are helpful & awesome! We've had people leave us flowers, chocolate, bottles of wine... it's really fun. 

Airbnb has a great section on their website on how to prepare yourself as a guest. This can answer some other questions you might have if you're still feeling unsure! If you would like to ask me any questions, or feel there's something I missed in this post, send me an email. I'd be happy to help!

Also, if you're a first-timer and are looking for some Airbnb credit, look no further! If you use my link, we will both get $25 towards travel. It's really win-win.

I LOVE Airbnb! Do you? Have you used it before?

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