International Travel Tips

August is here and summer travel season is coming to a close! I recently returned from two beautiful weeks exploring Istanbul, Greece, Malta and Italy and was inspired along the way to take a few notes on international travel. Obviously not all of these tips apply to every form of travel, or every place you’ll ever go, but they do apply in general and I wrote them to emphasize the difference in domestic and international travel. Please see below for some ideas on how to have a safe, happy international traveling experience.

International Travel Tips

1. STEP Up and Be Prepared

It didn’t matter how many times I told Josh that I would be fine in Turkey, he was very nervous about my trip. So of course he had to be proven correct and we were in the country on the day of the military coup.  We ended up getting out of Istanbul safely and quickly, but I had been prepared in case of such an emergency. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is a free service that allows Americans to register with the nearest embassy while traveling abroad, before even leaving the U.S. The program updates you on security risks and threats, as well as provides the embassy with both your contact and your emergency contact’s information in case of an emergency. Sign up for it once, and then just add any travel plans to your account in the future. I signed up before my trip and it was very easy and reassuring to know the embassy knew exactly where we were and what our travel plans were, as well as how to contact Josh if something was to happen.

I will never stop traveling, there is still so much to see out there in this beautiful, diverse world and I endeavor to see as much of it as I possibly can… But rest assured, I am also going to take every precaution and will always take my plans and safety very seriously.

2. Pack Your Patience

If you travel to Europe in the summer, you are going to stand in more lines than Disney World. In July. On a Saturday.* You’ll stand in Passport Control and Customs and at tourist attractions and subway platforms and taxi stands and…well, you get the idea.  Any traveling requires patience, but traveling internationally requires an extra dose of patience as you fumble your way through foreign languages and unknown cities. Everything seems a little more complicated and a lot more frustrating when you aren’t sure where you are going and you’re out of your element. But that’s exactly why you’re traveling to the unknown! The adventure!

So put on your Patience Hat and try to relax…you’re on an adventure.

3. Maps (I know, actual hold-in-your-hand maps)

Remember maps? We used to have them if we went somewhere that we’ve never been and used them to navigate? Well bust them out if you’re going abroad, even if you have an international data plan but especially if you do not! We’ve almost become conditioned to just depend on our smart phones, but its a good idea to have an actual map if you are in a foreign country dealing with a language barrier. I had a map in my hand throughout most of Istanbul, Athens and Rome and it saved us a few times when someone’s phone wasn’t working or Google Maps was on the fritz. And I am proud to say I didn’t get us lost once! I like these Frommer’s Day By Day books because they give some ideas on what to see in a city, as well as have a convenient pull-out map in a pocket in the back.

I have quite the collection...

I have quite the collection…

4. Try New Things

Listen, I am all for enjoying the comforts of home…but remember, you’re not home. And presumably you left home for a reason. So logic dictates that maybe you should try some new things while you’re out exploring the world. You don’t have to try lamb innards in Sicily, but stepping out of your comfort zone is a great way to experience a new culture and give you a good story to tell when you get back home! We even made sure to check out the McDonald’s menu in each country, if only to compare it to home and see what was considered local fast food. It was fascinating.

lamb guts

Lamb brains, intestines, etc. Tasted like pork.               Sign me up, MTV’s The Challenge!

5. Understanding

Nothing teaches you how to be more understanding than adjusting to other cultures. Small things such as European air conditioning (not nearly as powerful as ours here in the South, FYI) can become big things if you let them. Adjusting to customs such as a store being closed from 1-3, or a city basically shutting down on a Monday, can be difficult adjustments for those of us stuck in our American ways. But again, you have presumably left your circle of the world to see someone else’s – adjust your expectations, take a deep breath, and enjoy it. You’ll be home to your Normal and missing the stunning shores of Greece before you know it!

6. Be Ready to Have Your Outlook Changed (and let it)

Believe it or not, the rest of the world does not revolve around the United States. I know, I just blew your mind. But I think as a nation we tend to have a very U.S.-centric mindset and I believe it holds us back as a culture. Traveling internationally exposes you to so many new sights and sounds – but it also can expose your ignorance and biases, if you let it. It is much easier to say “Nope, we don’t want your refugees” while sitting at home…and an entirely different experience to watch them line up at the Athens docks, waiting to escape their war-torn country with children and everything they own in the entire world in their hands. It may not change your mindset, but it will give you a level of understanding you simply could not achieve from your couch. Or seeing soldiers with automatic weapons walking the streets in droves and feeling an overwhelming feeling of gratitude that we live in the United States and are not experiencing military coups (insert Donald Trump presidency “that’s an inevitability” joke here) or a police state. I am so lucky to be an American, and nothing hammers that point home quite like exposing my heart and mind to different cultures and countries.

everywhere meme

Alright, that sums it up for now! I know I’ll never be done traveling or learning, so I presume I may need to come back and update this list as time goes on. In the mean time, I encourage you all to travel and join me in a life filled with new experiences, cultural awareness, and adventure!

Do you have any tips for international travel? Any trips planned? What’s on your Travel Bucket List?

 

 

*Don’t go to Disney World in July. That’s just good advice.

How To Make Laundry Detergent

Yes, it’s true – I make my own laundry detergent. I know what you’re thinking – “What?! She doesn’t have 19 kids and counting, why would she do that?!” Well the short story is that I’m cheap. The slightly longer story is below with instructions on how I make mine!

Pin this image and save for later!

Pin this image and save for later!

1) The Why

It’s a pretty predictable story: I saw it on Pinterest, tried it once, and realized that it’s not only cheaper than buying laundry detergent but it’s super easy. A 100 fluid ounces of Tide is $12-$14 and that’s 64 loads of laundry. If you do four loads of laundry a week, that Tide should last you about four months. I realized that for $14.46 (the cost of my laundry detergent materials) I could do laundry for three times as long because you only need two tablespoons per load! Plus, you’ll have leftover materials for the next batch, so it’s actually closer to $10 after you use up the remaining ingredients for batch number two. Not to mention the added benefit of not having to lug huge containers of detergent home from the store…

2) The When

One batch can usually last me about a year.  I made the batch I am currently using in JULY of last year. Now, part of the reason it lasts me this long is because I still do all our workout clothes in a sports detergent designed to eliminate sweat, odors, and make our pricey tech shirts and dri-fit gear last longer (If you take care of them, you don’t have to buy more, which makes that sports detergent worth every penny). I also have a weak spot for the smell of Tide Febreze, which is how I still do our sheets…but otherwise, I do all our laundry with this concoction.

3) The How

Container:

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Gosh, wouldn’t it be so pretty in one of those big hurricane jars? Like the magazines? Yup. Probably would be. But here’s my Sterilite plastic bin that I bought at Target for $6 because I’m super classy…and my laundry detergent is hidden behind a closet door so I’d rather function over form.

Ingredients:

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Grate your bars of soap until you have 4 cups – I’ve found that one bar equals about 2 cups…so if you buy a 3 pack, you’ll have a bar leftover for your next batch. That is officially the hardest part of this entire process.

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Combine the 4 cups of grated soap with 6 cups Borax, 4 cups Washing Soda, and 4 cups Baking Soda.

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Use two tablespoons per load!

Pro Tips:

– You’re going to have leftover ingredients towards your next batch of laundry soap – rather than keep the 3 or 4 half empty boxes and extra bar of soap cluttering up my laundry area, I combine them all in one container and write myself a note of what I need to add to the batch and store that underneath my sink until A. I need to make my next batch or B. One of the ingredients I need goes on sale or I have a coupon for it and I’ll pick it up and add it in.

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– I bought a measuring spoon set at the Dollar Store so that I could have a dedicated Tablespoon to leave in the detergent.

– I decided on my last batch to add a cup of Downy Fresh Protect ($5-6) because I had a coupon for it and I really like how it adds a nice fragrance to the detergent. Totally optional.
And that’s it! I know it seems “extreme” and really cheap to make your own laundry detergent…but I hope after you’ve read this that at least it doesn’t seem difficult as well! I have continued to make my own because its remarkably easy as well as saves money. And I love not worrying about buying it for an entire year…that might be the best part!

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Disney World Planning Tips

disney meme

As a frequent Disney World guest, I often get asked for tips on how to plan a trip to The World and decided it was time to put it all in one place. Now, this is very much a starter session in planning and covers the basics – the idea is to answer this question:

“Ok, I want to plan a trip to Disney World – where do I start?”

1. Do Your Research

Well, you’re here, so you’re off to a good start! The first thing I say to anyone that is planning a trip to Disney World is “do your research.” Sometimes these trips are once in a lifetime, sometimes they’re once a year – do you really want to spend it waiting in a line you could have avoided or being miserable because you’re starving? Disney is known for their customer service and they’ll certainly do everything they can to accommodate you but there are limits to everything (see #4, dining reservations). Look at park maps, become familiar with your hotel choice, decide what attractions are “must see”… all of this before you even go!

2. Hotel

Since you’ve done all your research now, you know that staying onsite at a Disney hotel comes with a few unbeatable perks:

  • Extra Magic Hours – early entry or late stay at the theme parks
  • Transportation – free bus, monorail and boat system … If you stay offsite, be prepared to spend $17/day to park
  • Fast Pass Plus bookings – you can book your Fast Passes 60 days in advance, rather than 30 days you get when staying offsite
  • Magic Express – shuttle to and from the airport, complete with luggage delivery to your hotel room
  • Immersion in the Disney bubble – your hotel is themed and you never need to leave the magic!
  • Convenience – staying onsite allows for parties to more easily split up for scheduling around the needs for different family members – Dad can hop a shuttle and go back to the hotel with the baby for the afternoon nap while Mom takes the older kids on Space Mountain.

Can offsite be cheaper? Can it be more appropriate for your family if you have different needs? Absolutely. But be sure to add up all the extra costs and consider the importance of convenience.

Goofing around at Value Resort Pop Century - features a giant foosball table! Starts at $95/night in off season.

Goofing around at Pop Century – the hotel features a giant foosball table! It is considered a Value Resort and starts at under $100/night in the off season!

3. Park Tickets

Tickets are sold in both day passes and multiple days and of course the more days you stay, the cheaper the extra days get. Currently, one day will cost you $105…but two days is $192.  The price per day starts to significantly drop after 4 days – a 5 day ticket works out to be $63/day, or $315 total. So what you’re saying is Disney wants you to stay longer and buy more Mickey Pretzels? *gasp* Yes.

3b. You can add a “Park Hopper” option to your ticket for anywhere from $50 (1 day) to $65 (5+days) so you can go into more than one park in a day. If you do not add this option, you cannot go into both Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom in the same day on one ticket. Park hopping is a personal preference, but with the introduction of Fast Pass Plus, I have found that it is often not worth the money for ME. But you and your family may love hopping around and just doing a few rides or attractions before moving to a different park. Or if you are only at Disney for a few days, park hopping is the best way to squeeze more into your trip. Plan out your days and go from there to decide whether it is necessary.

4. Dining Reservations

It is a rare day that you can walk up to a sit down (table service, in Disney World lingo) restaurant in Disney World and eat a meal without waiting. In all the times I have gone, I can count on one hand the times in the last five years that I have been able to quickly get a table at a restaurant in the parks without a reservation, and all those occasions felt like miracles. There is an online reservation system as well as a phone number that makes it easy, and you can do it 180 days out from your hotel reservation. And 180 days is necessary if you are going during a peak time, or if you are trying to get one of the high demand restaurants (Be Our Guest, Cinderella’s Royal Table, etc).

I cannot stress this enough: Make reservations. The LAST thing you want is a hungry toddler (or a hangry mother) and nowhere to sit down, enjoy some air conditioning and relax with some Mickey-shaped food. Nothing ruins vacations faster than being hungry.

Mickey-shaped food tastes better. #fact

Mickey-shaped food tastes better. #fact

5. Fast Pass Plus

SIGH. I don’t love the recent changes and can probably write an entire list of what I dislike about it the new program, but I’ll stick to the facts for now:

  • Fast Pass Plus allows you to reserve attractions and entertainment in advance. For instance, you can book a Fast Pass for Space Mountain and you will get a window of time in which you need to report to Space Mountain, skip the regular (stand by, in Disney lingo) line and ride.
  • Or you can book a Fast Pass for the parade, and you get seats within a small cordoned off area where you can see the parade and not be continuously and purposely nudged by  a stroller in the back because you’re 30 and maybe it’s as important to you to see as it is the toddler and the toddler’s Mom is resentful that you thought to get your spot on the sidewalk 35 minutes before she strolled over.
  • Guests are limited to three pre-chosen fast passes per day and can only be used in one park. One additional Fast Pass can be booked AFTER you have used up all three of your fast passes. You can book your Fast Passes online, on the My Disney Experience app, or in the park on the day of your visit.
  • Even though I have found several problems with the Fast Pass Plus system, using it is an absolute must and be sure to book them before you arrive.

6. MagicBands

MagicBands are Disney’s version of the ultimate Key to the Kingdom. Your MagicBand is your park ticket, hotel key, Fast Pass Plus reservations, Disney Dining plan, and you can even link a credit card and pin to it so you don’t have to carry anything into the parks. You can program a pin when you get there for the credit card, but don’t worry – the actual band contains no personal information – it has an RFID chip inside. You will get to choose your MagicBand color when you book your onsite hotel and it will be shipped to you for free before your vacation – otherwise you can purchase a MagicBand in the park if you would like to.

My yellow MagicBand, self-decorated with a Sharpie to support my Bruins!

My yellow MagicBand, self-decorated with a Sharpie to support my Bruins!

7. Packing

It occurs to me as a write this that I should probably also do a list on what I personally pack for a Disney vacation. But I’ll give you the basics:

  • At least two pairs of comfortable, worn-in shoes: You’ll be on your feet more than usual and your feet will thank me when you are able to switch up the footwear. I routinely walk 15,000 steps in a Disney day.
  • Rain gear: If you want to buy a quality $10 Mickey poncho at the park for the inevitable afternoon shower or water ride, knock yourself out. I’ll be buying several from the dollar store that I can immediately throw away after the shower ends and I’m walking around in a portable sauna. Have you ever tried folding up a wet poncho? Buy one you don’t mind tossing after Splash Mountain.
  • Gum: If gum is a must, then pack your own. It isn’t sold at Disney because gum on the ground is so not magical. Which reminds me – don’t throw your gum on the ground. It isn’t magical at Disney or in the parking lot when I step on it and curse your inconsiderate existence.
  • Food: Yup, you can bring it into the parks. No glass containers or alcohol or the normal no-nos…but you absolutely can bring in your kid’s Goldfish and make them happy.
Dole Whip with Rum...in the rain...in my $1 poncho.

Cheers! Dole Whip with Rum…in the rain…in my $1 poncho.

8. Be Prepaaaarrrrreeed.

I know. I already told you to do your research. But it feels right to start AND end this list with that sentiment. If there is one thing you take from this post, it is that you absolutely cannot expect to “just wing it” at Disney World and still have a magical time. Every moment you spend planning will be worth it when you have those park maps memorized, a lovely buffet lunch with Mickey and you’re skipping to the head of the line with your Fast Pass.

Here are some blogs and sites that I have found helpful in the planning process:

Pin this image to share my list!

Pin this image to share my list!

And my final thought –

Remember the importance of expectations and what it means to be on vacation. You will not fit everything in on one visit. Absolutely impossible. Prioritize and plan accordingly so that you can have a fun, relaxed trip!

What’s your number one Disney Planning tip? Have a trip to Disney World planned soon or know someone planning one? Share this list!

 

**All prices quoted for tickets and parking are subject to change**

Moving Tips & Tricks

This week we moved for the second time in eight months. That’s right — I had just finished unpacking when it was time to pack up my entire house again. And as practice (and OCD organizational tendencies) makes perfect, I did everything I could to make my second move in less than a year stress-free and painless. All my hard work paid off when I overheard the movers (people who do this for a living y’all!) complimenting my process and organization. And thus this list was born. Here are my top 14 tips for an organized move:

1. Don’t start too early

Listen, all you’re going to do is be living in chaos with boxes everywhere and not being able to find anything if you start three months before your move date. Plus, as SOON as you pack up that waffle iron that you never use, the kids will beg for waffles and you’ll be diving back into sealed boxes on the hunt for waffle perfection. You don’t need that stress in your life.

2. Don’t start too late

If you start packing the weekend before your Monday move date, it’s not going to get done and you’re going to go into panic mode and lose/break things. Only you can decide what’s early enough based on the time you have to spend packing and the amount of junk going in your trunk. Start early enough to finish the night before without anything to do the next day but zip up the overnight bags and last minute box.

3. Buy mover’s packing tape

I wish someone had told me this in college when we moved all the time. Professional movers use this brown packing tape and it is SO much easier to both apply and remove. You don’t have to use scissors to cut it and when the time comes to open your boxes, you usually can peel it right back without using a box cutter or scissors. It is MUCH better and easier to work with than the packing tape you buy at a drugstore and ship packages with.

Moving Tape

4. Buy Smart Move tape

The movers from 8 months ago used this tape to organize and I thought it was so brilliant. I even bought more this move because I thought it made the unloading process so much easier for both the movers and me — no one had to ask me where anything went! Best invention ever and worth every penny.

Moving Labeled Tape

5. Labels

I was inspired by the Smart Move tape to make color-coded labels for all of the boxes. I used the colors of the tape to coincide with a package of Post-It flags I had bought and was able to stick to each of the labels. It worked really well and insured that I could just label one side of the box, Smart Move tape the top, and be able to know which room the box went into just by seeing any side of it. The labels are just mailing labels that I designed with the name of the room and three lines for contents. I used the Post-It flags to mark the furniture so it was color-coded by room as well.

Moving collage

6. Have a ‘Last Minute’ Box

There are going to be things that are not packed, but also don’t technically belong in your overnight bag – extension cords, nightlights, tape, household cleaners, paper towels, etc. All of these things need a home and having an empty box or tote ready on the morning of your move will help you not have anxiety about where to cram all the “extras.”

7. Have a system

Now, this is a “whatever works for you” situation… but my system includes this small screwdriver tool – I use it to keep from losing the end of the tape, and also use it to “cut” the tape after I have it stretched across the box. I basically just stab the center of the tape with the screwdriver. It breaks the tape pretty evenly, I don’t lose the end, and I don’t have to fuss with scissors. It is very efficient. Nothing makes you want to stab yourself in the eye with the scissors you keep misplacing more than losing the end of the tape every time you seal a box.

Moving System

8. Carry a packing basket

I used a basket to carry everything I need to pack with from room to room. You can pretty much see what was in mine, but it included: Tape, Screwdriver tool, scissors, labels, sharpie, Post-It flags, pen, gallon Ziplock bags, quart Ziplock bags.

Moving Basket

9. Have a ‘First Open’ Box

The First Open box features all of the things you might immediately need at your new home. It is useful to have all of these things in one place as soon as you arrive so you can start settling in with the essentials – toilet paper, trash bags, toiletries, power strips, tape, Sharpie, pen/paper, scissors.

First Open Box

10. Saran Wrap

I bought a roll of cheap Saran Wrap and wrapped anything we owned with drawers, with whatever was in the drawers still inside. I wouldn’t do this with your collection of paperweights, but it worked especially well for these plastic drawers (with my scarves, hats and gloves in them) as well as my crafting cabinets. Saran Wrap is much easier to cut off than tape, and it doesn’t leave behind any sticky residue.

Moving Saran Wrap

11. Trash Bags

Packing in trash bags is never classy, but sometimes it’s just necessary for the bulkier items. I wrapped the bottoms of our Shark mop/brooms/Swiffer in a trash bag and used painter’s tape to wrap the handles together. I also separated our hanging clothes with trash bags to both protect them and organize them.

Moving Trash Bags

12. Ziplock Bags

I used these for everything. I bought gallon and quart sizes and used them to wrangle my junk drawer, makeup, utensils, spices, measuring spoons/cups, liquid cleaning products, desk trays of office supplies, etc. I only used a box of each and it was the best $5 I ever spent.

Moving Ziplocks

13. Foam Plates

I used foam plates to help pack and protect my real plates and am happy to report it worked like a charm! I stacked a foam plate in between each real plate, did four at a time, and then wrapped all four in paper. All of my plates survived and I didn’t have to use a ton of paper. Plus, the leftover foam plates went into my ‘First Open’ box, which was very useful for having something to eat off of at the new house.

Moving Foam Plates

14. Designate rooms with signs

Because I had been so organized with packing (color coded, labeled), I was able to put signs on the door to each room so that the movers didn’t have to ask me which box or piece of furniture went where. The movers were able to call out “Green!” to each other and know that “green” meant whatever they were holding went into the Guest Bedroom, blue to Master, etc. This greatly expedited their process and they were very appreciative of the ease in which they unloaded the truck. And I was appreciative of not having to run around and shout orders as to where each bookshelf went.

Moving room label collage

Alright, there’s my list of moving tips that I think may help you to a stress-free move – Feel free to pin or post this list so that others can benefit from my numerous moves – someone ought to! Any moving tips or tricks you can add to my arsenal for the next move?