Loving Lately - Travel Edition

I didn't consider myself a frequent or experienced traveler, but a recent work trip has given me a crash course on travel essentials. And when I say trip* I mean countless subway rides, 55 walking miles, 11 days, 10 cab rides, 6 flights,  5 hotel rooms, 4 train rides, 3 countries, 2 carry-on bags... and a partridge and a pear tree. So yeah, I learned a thing or two.

With that in mind, this edition of Loving Lately is about the things that kept me sane during this trip.

#1 - Carry-On Suitcase
Traveler's Choice Freedom 21 Inch Hardshell Wheeled Carry-On Suitcase - $67, at Amazon

I bought this suitcase specifically for this trip. I needed something that was A) small enough for international carry-on restrictions and B) compartmentalized to help keep me organized (and therefore sane). This bag ticked both boxes, and then some. It was small enough for the overhead bin yet rugged enough to survive being checked (I did both). The handle is sturdy and easy to extend/retract. The wheels held up well in the airport and on the bumpy cobblestone sidewalks of Prague. I was very pleased with the different compartments. It was easy to keep my belongings organized, and the zippers and seams withheld a wee bit of overpacking. As I mentioned in the intro, I packed everything for my 11 day trip (including my laptop) in this suitcase and a backpack, so organization and efficient packing was key. I did this because I wanted the option of carrying everything on, plus I didn't want to have to navigate subways, cabs, and airports with giant luggage. Which brings me to...

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#2 - Capsule Wardrobe

When traveling light, your wardrobe has to work harder than you do. I read post after post about packing light, capsule wardrobes, and wardrobe remixing (which you can see on my Travel Pinterest Board). The key take-aways are:
- Pick a color scheme so that everything goes with everything. In my case I went with all neutrals. Denim goes with black, which goes with olive, which goes with chambray, which goes with navy, which goes with brown. Was it the most exciting 11 days of fashion? No, but I looked pretty good and didn't have to bring everything I own.
- Pack items that hold up to multiple wears, since you will need to wear things more than once.
- Keep footwear to a minimum, and wear your bulkiest pair on the plane. Also, pack things like socks and undies inside your shoes to avoid wasted space.
- Bring a few small but eye-catching accessories help create separate outfits
- Layers are your friend! No matter what the season, you are likely to experience rapid temperature swings, especially if you are sight-seeing on foot or otherwise working up a sweat. Include items in your luggage, and on your person as you sight-see, to accommodate rain, sun, cold, etc.
- Take photos of your outfit options as you pack, otherwise your sleep-deprived brain might not remember how to dress you in the morning.
- Make use of hotel services. I brought enough socks and undies for half my trip and had them washed at my hotel. Alternately you can wash them yourself in your hotel sink. I would have done this but I was traveling on business and pressed for time.

#3 - Packing Cubes
REI Expandable Packing Cubes - $15.50, REI

This was my first experience with packing cubes but this Type A girl is in love. Packing cubes enable you to make bundles of like items - underwear, pajamas, workout gear - so you can easily find what you're looking for and unpack/repack quickly. This is crucial if you're hopping from place to place and you don't have the luxury of truly settling in for the duration of your trip. I bought 2 of the medium sized cubes, which is great for a carry-on bag, but REI also offers small and large, which I plan to add to my collection. I bought the REI version because of the mesh material, large opening, and expandable option, but depending on the features you want there are many types of packing cubes on the market.

#4 - Liquids Bag and Travel Bottles
REI 3-1-1- Air Travel Liquids Bag - $5.50, REI
Boston Round Bottle, 4 oz - $1.75 each, REI

We all know how grueling the airport security process is, so let's do whatever we can to make it easier. I picked up this liquids bag and a few travel bottles (all from REI) so I can quickly remove my liquids. Yes, you can use a grocery store freezer bag, but the plastic zippers can break and who wants shampoo on their clothes? Not me. And yes, I hoard hotel shampoo like any red-blooded American, but for longer trips I prefer bigger bottles that can be refilled for my next trip. Also, I learned the hard way that hotel toiletry bottles aren't intended to stand up to rigorous travel, so they're much more likely to leak than a bottle that was designed with travel in mind.
Pro Tip: Keep these in your purse or backpack, not your suitcase with your other toiletries. You want to be able to access this as quickly and easily as you can.

#5 - Travel Pillow
Travelrest Pillow and Cover - $42, at Amazon

You can (and probably will) call me a giant nerd but as soon as I booked my overnight international flight I started researching travel pillows. I spent over an hour poring over reviews and recommendations but I am here to save you the trouble. Buy this pillow. Buy it now.

True, you may look like a giant doofus inflating this thing and then strapping it to yourself, but once you achieve the elusive thing known as airplane sleep you will give exactly zero shits about how uncool you look.

Why is this pillow awesome? Let me tell you:
- It inflates and deflates really quickly. I was only planning to use it on my overnight flight, but it's so easy to use I ended up using it on all 6 flights.
- It's great for sleeping, but also for times when you want to curl up and read/watch a movie.
- It's designed to roll up on itself and snap closed, so you can snap it around your luggage handle and save space in your bag.
- The pillow alone is good, but you need to get the cover which is much softer and WASHABLE. Do you really want to keep your drool and airplane germs forever? No, you don't. Plus the cover has memory foam inserts to make it that much cushier.

On top of all that awesomeness, the inventor/CEO is super nice. After I received my pillow I received an email from the inventor thanking me for my purchase and offering his help if I had any questions or issues with my pillow. He went on to say that if I was happy, to please leave a positive Amazon review, and if I thought the pillow deserved 5 stars he would send another pillow to anyone of my choosing. I left the review and gave him the address of Russ, my co-worker and recent travel companion who had complained that he was never able to sleep on planes. Not only did Russ receive his pillow, but he received it THE NEXT DAY. Talk about customer service! Needless to say I will go out of my way to tell anyone and everyone to buy this pillow, because I have been blown away by this company at every turn. And just so we're clear, other than the free pillow I sent to someone else, I was in no way compensated for this review.
#6 - Cross-Body Bag
Auxiliary - $108, at Stitch

This bag was my 30th birthday gift to myself (along with my tattoos) and I got it knowing it would be great for traveling. Cross-body bags work so well because they don't slip down your arm like shoulder bags do, which makes them easier to keep up with and harder to purse-snatch. I've already got several Holly Aiken bags and I love that the vinyl is durable and easy to keep clean. This particular bag is the perfect size for traveling. Small enough to tuck inside a backpack - remember the 2 carry-on items rule! - but large enough to carry your everyday essentials, plus a passport, travel guide, even an e-reader.

#7 - Pocket Map
London Tube and Walk Map - £4, at Quickmap and in local gift shops

When I'm traveling I prefer to keep my phone in my bag, for many reasons. Constantly having it in my hand drains the battery, provides an easy target for theft or mugging, and, if I'm being honest, increases the chance that I'll drop it. Considering how clumsy I am, that's probably the biggest risk to all my valuables.

Anywho, this thing was a life saver, and easily the best bang for the buck of my whole trip. It was only £4 ($6.40), with a tube (subway) map on one side and landmarks and tourist attractions on the other. It even had a 20 minute walk radius on it, making it very easy to gauge distance and decide whether to walk or take the tube to my next destination.

#8 - Comfortable Shoes
Steve Madden Synicle (similar) $140

Did I mention that I walked 55 miles over the course of this trip? That's a lot of walking. Your definition of comfortable might differ from mine, but wear whatever you consider comfortable. Technically my running shoes are the most comfortable thing I own, but I can't bring myself to look like a dorky sneaker-wearing tourist. So boots it is. The high shaft provides warmth, and the leather is forgiving. I wouldn't wear these to stomp around in the snow, but a light rain won't hurt them. And if your hotel offers free shoe shine, like mine did, take advantage and give your boots some TLC. What little splatters and scuffs I had picked up were buffed right out.
Wearing shoes with buckles and zippers isn't the most convenient choice for the security process, but I didn't want to waste the space in my bag. I also packed 2 small pairs of ballet flats (to wear at the office and in my hotel) and a pair of rain boots. The rain boots ended up being a bust since the weather was nice, but you'd be crazy to risk a trip to London without rain-friendly shoes.

#9 - Free Wi-Fi

Despite buying an international phone plan, I had zero cell service the entire time I was in Europe. Meaning I couldn't communicate, at all, unless I had access to Wi-FI. So picture me lurking inside coffee shops, bus stations, etc just to send a precious text or email. We all know I'm obsessed with Instagram, but that had to wait until I was back at my hotel. No cell service also means no phone calls, so all communication with my family had to happen over Facetime.

#10 - Currency Conversion App
GlobeConvert Free - Free, in app store

If you're going anywhere with foreign currency you really need a currency converter. Otherwise you have no idea just how fast you're burning through your souvenir money. (Hint: it's fast.) I recommend this app because you can save your frequently used conversions, such as British Pounds to US Dollars, to your favorites list. Plus, it's free!

*In case you're curious (and so I can remember it later), here's a rough itinerary:
Wed 11/05 - Work a half day, fly from Raleigh to NYC
Thu 11/06 - All day conference in NYC
Fri 11/07 - (Mostly) free day in NYC, overnight flight to London
Sat 11/08 - Arrive in London at stupid o'clock in the morning, free day in London
Sun 11/09 - Free day in London
Mon 11/10 - UK bank holiday, free day in Winchester with Russ
Tue 11/11 - Fly from London to Prague, train from Prague to Brno
Wed 11/12 - Full day at Brno office
Thu 11/13 - Full day at Brno office, train from Brno to Prague
Fri 11/14 - Fly from Prague to London, planned free afternoon but collapse at hotel, asleep by 8 pm
Sat 11/15 - Fly from London to Raleigh, with a layover in NYC

**As usual, none of this content is sponsored and I don't use affiliate links. I genuinely use and love all of these things and want to share them with you. If I ever get sponsors, you'll be the first to know.

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