Travel, Uncategorized

Best Sites for Flight Deals

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Travel has a reputation for being expensive.

And it can be, if you let plane tickets, 100$ per night hotel rooms and eating out for three meals a day add up! The trick is knowing how to cut your travel costs. All it takes is the willingness to do a bit of research!

As flights are generally the most expensive part of a trip, today I want to show you how to minimize those plane ticket prices! The following is a list of the sites I use to travel far and often, without having to spend too much money.

If you are flexible on dates:

Scott’s Cheap Flights is my favorite resource for international flight deals. Once you subscribe (there’s a free version, which I use, and a version with a small monthly fee), you’ll get emails every time a great international deal appears. They go fast, and you’ll probably be travelling during the off-season, but if you’ve saved a few hundred dollars to travel you’ll be able to snag a great ticket!

What I’ve bought from here: $470 round-trip Seattle to Paris, $480 round-trip Seattle to Rome

The Flight Deal for domestic and some international flights. Similar to Scott’s, you’ll get emails about deals. This one is better for travelling to bigger US cities (think Houston, Denver, New York), but occasionally has international deals, like $180 round-trip Seattle-Cabo.

If you’re looking for the cheapest flight during a certain time frame:

 

Kayak and Skiplagged both allow you to search for the best deals within a certain time frame, and will show you the price differences if you are able to shift your flight around a few days (for instance, if you left on Sunday instead of Monday you might save $100). I love using these if I have to be somewhere on a certain day, because even if it’s a busy tourist season you’ll still get the best deal.

What I’ve bought from here: $200 round-trip Seattle to Houston tickets to visit my family

Finally, Google Flight Search works for either situation, because it allows you to browse dates and prices at your leisure. It usually has the best prices for everything, but you have to be careful when you book and make sure the fare actually works. I spent 3 hours on the phone with an airline once only to find out that the $350 round-trip Seattle to Italy ticket I was after was a “travel agent price” and I couldn’t book it unless I was booking for an agency.

What I’ve bought from here: $400 round-trip ticket from Seattle to Reykjavik, sorta on the higher side but the best available for the weekend that worked with my schedule.

Before you buy:

Check the baggage allowance! Some airlines get you by charging extra on these tickets for a carry-on or checked bag, so make sure you know what’s free to bring!

Make sure your ticket is not with Spirit. Not worth the price, I promise.

 

I hope these tips help you get to your next destination! Let me know in the comments if you have other suggestions or cheap flight tips. Happy flying!

 

 

 

Local exploration, Travel, Uncategorized

A Weekend in Portland

As much as I love long periods of international travel, there’s something to be said about spending a weekend in a nearby city.

Last weekend my boyfriend, Landon and I headed down to Portland, a 4 hour bus ride from Seattle. We only had to be there for a few days, for an RRCA (Road Runners Club of America) coaching course I was taking, but chose to tack on a few days for exploration. We spent some time Googling, asked my old cross country camp cabin mate for some ideas (she’s spent a good chunk of time in Portland- check out her blog at isabellanais.com and Instagram: @isabellanais), and hit the road.

Here are our tips for a weekend in Portland!

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For coffee:

Obviously, you have to hit up Stumptown. There is no coffee I have ever tasted that beats this Oregon-based company, and being in one of their actual shops was a no-frills, high quality experience. As we we staying near the Woodlawn area, we also stopped by Woodlawn Coffee & Pastry a few times. They even had French gluten free pastries!

After a cold walk through the city one night, we stopped at Barista, another cafe focusing on quality over decor. Opting not to sit in the handful of high, austere chairs scattered near the window, we grabbed some delicious Americanos and enjoyed their heat as we continued to meander along the waterfront.

I wish I could recommend more coffee shops, but as my classes over the weekend began at 8am, I ended up drinking a lot of Starbucks, as it was open and close to the class location.

For food:

We are health nuts, so we did what we could to stay healthy outside of my coaching class, where I was inhaling hot, greasy pizza. Because really, who can resist free pizza? (If you can, seriously- teach me your ways!)

But other than that we were pretty good. We stocked20171119_195124.jpg up on healthy staples at Whole Foods for most of our snacks/meals (budget travel, anyone?). Bulk nuts, Lara bars, carrots and celery with this delicious local hummus, opal apples, mandarin oranges, boiled eggs…

But of course, we also wanted to eat out. Portland is known for having some delicious and healthy fare, so we stopped by vegan restaurant Blossoming Lotus and were in awe. The whole menu was incredibly creative, all vegan and with plenty of gluten free options. My boyfriend had this amazing curry with tempeh, and I had “live nachos” with cashew cheese. For dessert we split an apple pie and some truffles. The whole thing was divine and we felt wonderful after, which was the best part.

Finally, we hit up Kure, a juice/smoothie/acai bowl type of place a few times. The first time I ordered an AMAZING turmeric latte with ashwagandha and reishi- delicious and so healthy. I tried a green detox drink, but it was a little too lemony and sour for me. It’s probably very effective as a detox juice if that’s what you are looking for, though!

The acai bowl we tried was Kure’s “Bowl of the Gods”, which was not only delicious and filling but also looked pretty.

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For outdoor adventuring:

My boyfriend got to do a bit more exploring outdoors than I did, as I was inside drawing up marathon training plans and differentiating between lactate threshold and tempo workouts. Still, we both were able to spend some time hiking through the arboretum at Washington Park– that’s in the photos you’ll see below. Landon was able to explore Macleay and Mt Tabor as well, which sound beautiful and soul-filling. Beautiful places in nature just do that to you…

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All in all, we were able to make a great weekend out of it. The draw of Portland for me, other than all things running-related, is the abundance of healthy eateries and the spirit of outdoor adventuring.

Have you ever been to Portland? Where would you recommend? Leave your ideas below!

Travel, Uncategorized

7 tips to make your first solo trip a breeze

So you’ve gone on road trips with your family, beachy vacations with your friends, and even stayed in a neighboring town for a weekend with a friend or lover. Now you’re starting to itch for a further trip, a bigger adventure… you’re thinking maybe you want to go overseas.

And… you kind of want to go alone.

I’ve heard from a lot of my friends recently that they are nervous about taking a solo trip overseas. As someone who has done this multiple times, I cannot recommend it enough- but I can understand that it might not be the most comfortable for everyone (check out my post on embracing discomfort!).

However, I am of the firm belief that if you want to travel, you should let nothing stop you. Sometimes that means having to go it alone! So here are my best nuggets of advice, to help ensure your first solo trip is a wonderful experience instead of a stress-filled nightmare.

***real quick: these tips are for people that are nervous to travel solo for the first time. if you are not nervous, DO NOT worry about this list, just buy the plane ticket and go!***

TIP #1: Stay close(ish) to home!

If you’ve never left your small hometown in Ohio, don’t make your first big trip a backpacking excursion around the edge of the Sahara desert. Start with somewhere that will give you the confidence to keep traveling after this trip, like London or some big city in Canada. Get out of your home country, but head somewhere that’s not that drastically different. This way, you’ll still be overseas but you’ll experience less culture shock.

TIP #2: Go to a bigger city.

Bigger cities have more resources for travelers, and are generally easier to get around on foot or by using public transportation. There’s usually also more to do, so going bigger basically just makes your trip easier and more engaging.

TIP #3: Stick to your language.

Again, we are working to minimize the stress of this trip. Trying to ask for help when no one understands you? Stress-FULL. So. Take your first trip somewhere that speaks your language, so that if you need anything you can be sure people will understand you!

TIP #4: Do your research.

Research the area- the currency, a map of the places you’d like to see, the cab fare from the airport to your hostel… make a plan! You shouldn’t always travel with a plan- spontaneity is fun. But for your first trip, the more you know, the better you’ll feel. Then you’ll get there and realize oh, I know this- this is easy! Knowledge is power, and the experience of feeling capable abroad will build your confidence for the future.

TIP #5: Get social.

Stay in a hostel with other travelers, or at an Airbnb with locals. Ask people to take pictures of you when you’re out being tourist-y. Get comfortable chatting with strangers and it will make the loneliness of going alone a lot less, well, lonely.

TIP #6: Know what to do in an emergency.

You will probably be fine. But just in case, make sure you know the local emergency number and, if abroad, the location of your country’s embassy. Covering all your bases will help you relax and enjoy the trip.

TIP #7: Trust yourself.

Really, the biggest way to get over being nervous about solo travel is to prepare for what you can, know what to do if something goes wrong, then throw yourself into it and understand that it will be a learning process. But there are so many benefits. You get to follow your own schedule, do what you want, eat/drink/sleep whatever, whenever…. Your first solo trip, if done well, will inspire you for a lifetime.

So… where are you going? And when?

 

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Local exploration, Uncategorized

how growing up in a family of outdoorsy camping nerds fostered my love of international travel

In retrospect, the realization that my parents were travelers at heart should not have surprised me… my siblings and I were all named after beautiful places (Kenai is an Alaskan peninsula).

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I grew up in a family that loved anything related to the outdoors. I have many memories of sliding down a giant plastic fish at REI, or messing with bike horns while my dad shopped for gear and talked shop with the guys at the store. Many a childhood weekend was spent either bringing my mom coffee and playing at a park after she finished her long run, or spending hours “geocaching” (google it) in odd places.

Of course, as any good outdoor family is known to do, we also spend a large amount of our family free time going on camping trips.

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We camped all over the Pacific Northwest, from the sand dunes of coastal Oregon as far inland as Wyoming. The names of many of the places we visited blur together in my memory, as do the places themselves. When I was little all I was really aware of was the climate of the places we were heading towards. For mountains I knew it was going to be cold and wet and we’d go hiking a lot, and I knew the beach meant lots of sunscreen and seaweed (salt water taffy, too, if I got lucky and we stayed somewhere small and vaguely touristy).

In addition to our frequent camping trips, we traveled a bit for my parents’ athletic endeavors (San Diego for the Rock n Roll marathon, a tiny town in Idaho for a marathon with so few participants they hand-made the medals, Canada for the Ironman triathlon), and headed to the Methow Valley several times every year.

By the time I reached middle school, my younger siblings and I had seen an astonishing amount of nature in the US. We had gone on walks on Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker and probably some other mountains I can’t remember. We had visited the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, accidentally got stuck in a herd of bison at Yellowstone National Park, stayed in a yurt, a million tents and eventually a tent trailer when my little brother was born.

Basically, I grew up travelling constantly.

Here’s the funny thing: until recently, I didn’t even realize it.

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When I hit a certain age (ahem, puberty) I became a complete pain-in-the-butt whenever I “had” to go camping. I complained all the time about how much I hated staying in tents, why couldn’t we stay in a hotel for once? and how I really wish we would actually go somewhere exciting, instead of just looking at more “stupid” trees.

My parents tried to accommodate my desires by doing things like tacking a day in San Francisco onto our trip through the Redwoods, but the truth was we didn’t have the kind of money that would enable them to fly us to Paris or Milan, the places I really wanted to be.

It didn’t help that at the time I was beginning to harbor dreams of becoming a fashion magazine editor in New York City, and was aspiring to the jet-setting lifestyle of my idols. Camping definitely didn’t fit into the image I was trying to adopt.

This was my usual camping expression at this point…

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As much as I may have outwardly seemed miserable, part of me was always able to appreciate the places we went, the fun we had, the things we saw. In retrospect, what an amazing way to grow up. I can’t believe my parents were willing to spend years doing this for so many years with three young kids, and eventually three pre-teens and a newborn.

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As I’ve grown older and toppled into this wanderlust-filled lifestyle (my travel plans for 2018 are super exciting, stay tuned!), I’ve begun to think more about how I came to be this way. I was actually on a walk and smelled something that reminded me of campfire smoke while I was thinking about this, which is when a whole load of memories came flooding back to me, things I’d never considered because I had decided I was the kind of person who “didn’t like camping”.

I remembered making s’mores in a million different places, under dusky grey skies and in chilly forested campgrounds where I would have to inch from the warmth of my sleeping back out into the cold with a flashlight, clenching my mother’s hand, just to pee.

I remembered looking up and seeing so many stars it seemed impossible, tucking my flashlight away for a moment so I could see every last one as they blanketed the pitch-dark sky.

I remembered the morning sounds of my parents frying sausage on the camp stove, pushing open the tent flaps or crashing through the rickety door of our tent-trailer into the dewy morning to receive a cup of hot chocolate in a bright yellow plastic mug.

I could still feel the trails beneath my feet, hear the wind in my ears as my mom and I ran across the bluff trails in Humboldt, California, which led me down a long path of similar memories… that one run in the middle of nowhere that led us onto some old and sketchy train tracks, when some guy hollered at us from a truck… those endless hills that led to a beautiful lighthouse. Running barefoot along the edge of the ocean, running through forests and alongside scenic roads…

I started remembering other, arbitrary things- the sounds of jets from air shows we hit up on the road, the time my sisters and I thought it would be fun to jump in the ocean at Haystack Rock, get soaking wet, then roll around so sand stuck to every inch of our bodies. I can still recall my parents’ looks as we ran up to them, screaming “sand monster!” while they tried not to think about how much sand we were about to track into the tent (we were still finding sand in odd places three days later).

I could go on and on about the memories I have of growing up hugging trees, naming rocks and giving them names before bringing them along on hikes as “pets”, piling in the car at the end of the day just to speed off towards a better view of the sunset…

But the point is that it made me realize how much my parents actually set me up with my love of traveling and exploring.

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Every instance of frustration with dirt, lack of hygiene, limited food availability, being tired or hungry or I don’t even know what else I found to complain about… All of it gave me the skills and personality to benefit my travel adventures today.

Because of my lifetime of camping and road trips, I am able to adapt to new situations, roll with the flow, whatever happens.

Because it’s how I grew up, I prefer to spend my time exploring, seeking new experiences, looking out at the world and then jumping into it.

I still prefer to hang out in bigger cities, but I’m comfortable roughing it. I know how to travel and enjoy it on a budget, which has enabled me to get out and go more places than if I had to spend half my monthly salary on one week in a hotel room.

It may seem obvious to some, but this was a revelation for me.

I had made myself into the person who hated camping.

Who knew it would have the greatest hand in shaping the person- the traveler, the explorer, the adventuress- I would become?

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Just some things to think about, and some beautiful memories I wanted to share.

How did you become a traveler?

Travel, Uncategorized

embracing discomfort

Travel is often uncomfortable, and you know what?

That’s okay. It’s supposed to be.

There are, of course, the vacations you take in order to have fun, unwind, relax and have a drink on the beach. There are family trips and trips with friends that can be relaxing or challenging in their own ways.

But the kind of discomfort I want to discuss today is the kind you encounter when you board a plane, alone, to a completely foreign country.

This discomfort comes in the form of a pendulum’s swing, an emotional roller coaster veering from elation and joy to depression and anxiety, often flinging you from one extreme to the other with no identifiable catalyst.

The challenge this poses to the solo traveler is not to be underestimated. Such drastic mood swings can be frustrating at best and trip-ending at the worst.

So what’s a traveler to do?

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1. Know yourself

Be aware of what is valuable to you. What will you miss? What will you be excited about? If you are the kind of person who is very outgoing and social, don’t plan a solo trip where you stay by yourself in a hotel all week. Stay at a hostel, go to local events and meetups (you can use meetup.com or use Airbnb’s experience feature), or just go to a bar and chat with the locals. See if anyone from your hometown has a friend overseas they could connect you with.

If you are more of an introvert, know that. Maybe you’re staying in a hostel or with a friend or family member, and that’s fine, but make sure you give yourself a little time to breathe. If you really can’t give yourself a ton of time, at least take a moment in the shower to enjoy the quiet, to breathe and center yourself. Or get up 20 minutes earlier and go on a short walk- that adds the bonus of being able to check out your new surroundings!

On the flip side, seek out those experiences you enjoy. Don’t do whatever seems cool or popular, do what YOU want to do. I’m going to Paris in a couple months and although on my last trip there, I checked out all the touristy things, my only desire this trip is to spend some time writing in small cafes, walking around to see the city, and reading anywhere with a view. This might seem boring to some but I’ve learned that this is one of my favorite ways to become immersed in a foreign city.

2. Expect to be emotional

Traveling can throw a lot at you. Your senses are heightened because everything is new and your brain is trying to make sense of it all. As a result, a lot of strong emotions can come from out of the blue. You might be exuberant one moment, but then you see something vaguely familiar, or are challenged in some way (losing a train ticket, mispronouncing something, not understanding the grocery store)… and just like that you are miserable and wish you’d never left home.

There are a couple things you can do to offset these moments. First, remember to breathe in the moment. It’s easy to get stressed about little issues when you’re on the road, but a lot harder to solve them if you’re all worked up about it. Remember that you are capable, you are going to be fine, and then get to work solving whatever is going on. If you are lost, ask somebody for help. Miming often works when you don’t speak the language. People are generally kind and willing to help.

If you’re lonely, let yourself feel it, but again- breathe and then work on putting yourself together. Don’t lay around in your Airbnb looking at pictures of your hometown. Get out and explore. Remember why you are traveling. I doubt it was because you wanted to lay low and feel sorry for yourself.

If you really miss something, remember that you can always go back home. Just don’t let your emotions control your experience. Make a plan for what to do when you’re down- use that time to do something quiet and refreshing, like a hike or walk in a beautiful park. Use your energized moments to get out and do the louder things, the ancient structures and city centers.

Remember that however you feel, it will pass, and it doesn’t mean you should give up on your travels. Just be smart.

3. Do it anyway

Once you understand that you will feel down and out of sorts or elated and joyous in turn, you have much more control over your experience. Knowing yourself and how you react so different situations is powerful, and travel will teach you that.

You will be uncomfortable.

But when you return you will have changed.

You will know what you can deal with, from being lost, losing your passport, realizing how much you miss having a home and being around so-and-so, etc. You’ll also have witnessed some of the world’s beauty, seen how other people live their lives and connected yourself to something greater than yourself.

You will have a much harder time learning all these things without the inherent discomfort of traveling solo.

So do it.

Get out of your comfort zone.

Explore the world.

Find out who you are

and grow.

Local exploration, Uncategorized

the best 7 coffee shops in downtown Seattle

Seattle is known for its abundance of coffee houses. Whether you’re into small businesses, organic coffee or brand name giants, there’s something here for you.

So with such an embarrassment of riches, where is one to head for the best coffee experience in downtown Seattle?

Hint: it’s not Starbucks.

Here are some wonderful options for you to duck into if you find yourself in this coffee-obsessed part of the world.

ANCHORHEAD

This cozy little hideaway is tucked into the main floor of an office building next to Westlake Center. It’s always warm and clean, the coffee is delicious and their pastries and snacks are made in-house (gluten free granola with house-made almond milk, anyone?).

Best for: getting a spot of work done on your laptop, quiet conversation with a friend, refuge from a stormy day

Spotlight drink: whatever new thing they’ve got on the menu, whether it’s a seasonal pumpkin spiced drink or a pistachio matcha latte.

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WHEELHOUSE

Though it doesn’t look like much from the sidewalk, Wheelhouse boasts some delicious coffee. If you can make your way past the all the construction in this part of the South Lake Union area, this place is worth a stop.

Best for: chatting away, visiting on your lunch break, grabbing a coffee for your walk around South Lake Union

Spotlight drink: lattes on the weekends- one of the employees can make latte art shaped like a CAT and it is amazing.

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CAFE LADRO

This is the best cafe near the waterfront because tourists can’t find it. Do your local grocery shopping at the market and then duck away from the crowds into this gem around the corner on Pine.

Best for: working in silence, avoiding tourists, people watching

Spotlight drink: order a cappuccino- it will be served to you properly, in a small cup on a wooden tray with a tiny spoon and bite-sized sugar cookie. It will be delicious.

STORYVILLE 

However, if you’re okay with a crowd, sneak past the flower shops and bookstores at the entrance to Pike Place and head upstairs to Storyville. Avoid peak hours to ensure you get a seat in one of the couches by the window overlooking the water. Hang out long enough and you might get served a free slice of fresh chocolate cake, a wonderful ritual at this location.

Best for: views over the water, conversation with strangers, comfortable couches, real food- not just cafe snacks

Spotlight drink: a simple Americano with a few of their house-made salted caramels.

ESPRESSO VIVACE 

The closest coffee shop to REI, this bike-filled spot situated right between downtown and Capitol Hill serves great Italian coffee. They’ve even posted instructions on the counter so you know how to consume your espresso.

Best for: after-dinner espressos, working when your deadline is coming up, pretending you’re Italian, in-depth coffee knowledge

Spotlight drink: espresso, in a ceramic cup, drunk in two quick sips

UPTOWN ESPRESSO 

Whenever I’m in Belltown, I stop into this spacious cafe. In the summer the floor-to-ceiling windows become open doors, and in the winter you can stay warm and dry inside. They’re open late, serve delicious coffee, and have free Wi-Fi- always a plus.

Best for: late night cafe, delicious espresso drinks, feeling like you’re at home

Spotlight drink: the Generra, a mocha with orange zest. If you think oranges and coffee can’t go together… try this.

CAFÉ SUISSE

One of the only (maybe the only) true Swiss places downtown, the owners of this shop work the espresso machine, serve gluten-free pastries and croissants imported from Europe, and also run a European goods shop connected to the building. Don’t expect the quickest service from here- but go if you want to step out of Seattle for a minute.

Best for: gluten free pastries, kind baristas, laid-back vibes and European goods

Spotlight drink: authentic Swiss mocha

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***BONUS ROUND: Coffee AND Chocolate?!***

Kakaoanother South Lake Union spot, and Indi Chocolate, which recently moved from the underbelly of Pike Place into a new waterfront space, are two wonderful chocolate shops with espresso machines and seating. You can’t go wrong with either. You’re welcome.

Which one are you headed to next? 🙂

Travel, Uncategorized

why minimalism enhances your travel experience

MINIMALISM.

It’s 2017, you’ve heard of it.

Whether you’ve seen The Minimalists’ documentary, Marie-Kondo‘d your life, or think it’s a silly millennial thing… you’ve heard of it.

Minimalism is, as I understand, eliminating unnecessary STUFF in order to truly enjoy, experience and appreciate your life. You can apply the concept of having less to the things you physically own or certain less tangible aspects of your life (though we won’t get into that here).

Whatever you think of utilizing minimalism for your general lifestyle, you can’t deny it makes travel simpler.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you…

  • didn’t always have to pay to check a bag at the airport?
  • never had to worry about overflowing suitcases?
  • could instantly find whatever you’re looking for in a bag?
  • always had room to bring home a keepsake?
  • spent more time exploring than worrying about getting your stuff around?
  • could explore on layovers without having to find a place for your luggage?
  • never had to worry about your clothes wrinkling from lack of space?

YES. Yes it would. So here are the ways you can start embracing minimalism while traveling…

First, simplify your wardrobe. Even if you love fashion and changing up your attire all the time at home, keep a separate set of clothes to travel with. Buy items in neutral colors, like white, grey, black, blue, green or brown. Invest in a few high quality pieces that are super functional, instead of bringing a million layers. For example, instead of having to don a different jacket for rain, wind, or cold, get one black (goes with everything) hooded, lined raincoat.

This already sounds simple, I know. But if it’s so simple, why are you still overpacking??

All you need to carry with you on any trip shorter than a month, depending on climate, is 1-2 shorts/pants, a handful of shirts, a good coat, maybe a hat, a solid pair of shoes and some undergarments. Again, invest in a high quality version in each of these in a neutral color and you won’t even have to think about what you’re putting on in the morning, because it’ll always look good and be functional.

My next tip is to bring less tech. So many people carry around an assortment of chargers, cords, wires, etc, for just a few electronics! The easiest way to fix this is to just bring a laptop with a wall charger (make sure you have the right charger for the country you’re going to!) and a USB cable.  Charge everything (camera, phone, iPod, whatever) by connecting that cable to your computer.

In that vein… One extra electronic thing that’s worth being along is some kind of e-reader. If you’re like me and can consume 6-7 books while traveling, especially on trips with long flights, do your back a favor and consolidate them into an e-reader, so you aren’t lugging a library around all the time.

Beyond clothes, a camera and some entertainment for the journey… what do you really need? Are you going to a big city or modern town? Chances are, if you really need anything, you can buy it there.

When you use the idea of minimalism to reduce the amount of things you have to worry about carrying with you and looking after, you free up more space to truly enjoy your travel experience. The less unnecessary travel gear you buy, the more money you have to eat out at that beautiful place on the Seine, or to go on a camel tour in Marrakech.

Next time you travel, really think about what you’ll need when you’re abroad. It’s always worth it to be able to spend more energy on enjoying the trip.