How To Travel With Grace

Originally published on petitetibeauty; February 20, 2017

If you’ve been keeping up with me on various social media platforms, then you’ll know that I’ve recently returned from a seven-month long beautiful, incredible, fulfilling, stint living abroad, to a stormy, dreary Northern California. I lived in both Russia and France, and while my internet connections were laughable, the connection I made with the world was not. I’ve always been impassioned for travel, but unfortunately money is a necessary thing to do – well, anything!

Studying abroad fulfilled a lifelong dream of mine, and I’ll get much more into that later. In this post, I want to specifically talk about the amount of international travel I did and how I managed it. I was away almost every weekend of the month. I wanted to see as much as I could and get as much out of my experience as I could, which meant I spent a ton of time on planes and lived out of a suitcase for seven months. I now consider myself a professional.

While the destination of the plane is always incredibly exciting, the actual travel aspect of it is often grueling and boring.  Worse than that, everybody around you is irritated all the time. It can be difficult to keep a level head when your plane has just been delayed for the third time, there’s a screaming baby across from you, and you really don’t want to sleep in the airport. And the one thing I’ve observed from every weary traveler (including myself) is that they are all unprepared. So I want to share with you all I’ve learned from my months gallivanting around Europe. This is going to be a long post, so buckle up!

 

PHASE ONE: PLANNING

So you’ve selected your destination. Where to begin? How to handle it all?

Step 1: Accept that it’s going to cost money. 

While abroad, I had friends who came on trips with me who didn’t want to spend any money, so they ended up just staying in our hostel, hotel, or Airbnb almost the entire day. We’d go out of our way to find free things to do, but our cheapskate friend wouldn’t want to stop for lunch (no matter how scenic the restaurant was or how hungry we were!), which constantly led me to ask – why did you even come? I’m not saying you have to blow your life savings on a five star hotel and private drivers all over Paris, but the sheer fact of the matter is that you’re going to have to spend some money on any kind of trip. The more willing you are to part with money in exchange for an experience, the better your experience will be. However, make sure you’re spending your money wisely. Which brings me to my second point:

Step 2: Select something to sacrifice.

There are three general areas of travel that can be compromised: transport, accommodation, and tourist activities. This is largely personal, but if you’re trying to stay within a budget, these are generally the areas of cost you can cut back on. I, for one, know that I can go two or three days without a really satisfying shower, and I’m not going to be in whatever place I’m staying a ton because I love to go out and explore. However, I enjoy privacy and I’m a very light sleeper. So I frequented hostels and private rooms in people’s homes through Airbnb over hotels. Hostels are a great price point and have a real community atmosphere, although some do have an age limit (usually around 40.) Other hostels are family friendly, and most of them have great locations and offer discounted tourist activities. Most hostels I stayed at offered free walking tours of their city. If that sounds like a good deal to you, I highly recommend hostelworld.com. I made all of my bookings through them, and I was never disappointed with my hostel experience. However, if you have an elaborate morning routine, or just like privacy, you may want to cut back in other areas. There are plenty of low cost airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet in Europe nowadays (I once purchased a flight for 11 euro!) which offer really competitive prices to many destinations. You can also save money by selecting the time of your flight. Red-eye flights are always cheaper and less crowded than flights at peak hours, if you’re okay with it. But you can also often take the train for less money within the same country, a ferry, or even a bus. I would NOT recommend taking a bus for more than, say, six hours – I took a ten hour overnight bus to Aix-en-Provence and it was not fun. But hey, it got us there! I’m planning to make a more in-depth post about the ins and outs of transport while traveling, but I hope this appeases you for now 😉

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View from Останкино Вашня (Octankino Tower), Moscow, Russia

Step 2: Establish some kind of budget. 

Ah! The dreaded word! If you are the kind of person who is naturally predisposed to budgeting,  I hate you. For the rest of us losers who back away from numbers like vampires exposed to sunlight, I have a foolproof method to impart to you. This is how I calculated almost all of my expenses when I was abroad. After you have everything booked, go into your bank account and look at however much you may have. Think of the MAXIMUM amount you would be willing to spend on accommodation. Multiply that by three. That’s now your MAXIMUM amount to use as spending money on your trip. So if you’re going on a trip where you’re willing to spend €90 a night on a budget hotel, and you’re staying for three nights, your total for the accommodation is €270. This means that your MAXIMUM to spend on your trip is €810. If your total for your accommodation is €75, then your total spending budget is €225. Realistically, you won’t reach that amount. In fact, you’ll probably only get to half of it. But if you have that goal in mind, and you’re consciously making an effort to preserve your funds, you’ll end up spending less than what you expected. Of course, this is just an example, and you can feel free to do it any way you like, but this is what works for me!

Step 4: Put together an itinerary. 

Once everything is booked, make a folder that contains one original and one copy of all your tickets and hotel confirmations. Whether the itinerary is just a day by day play of where you’re staying and what time your flights are, or a detailed play by play of your vacation, it is going to save you so much grief once on your travels to have a simple document where you can look up what you need to look up. It takes an hour at most, and it will leave your head calm and clear.

aix-en-provenceAix-en-Provence, France

PHASE TWO: GETTING THERE

The time has finally come. The bags are packed. The taxi is honking. Now what?

Step 1: Don’t overburden yourself. 

You’ll be amazed what you don’t actually end up using on a vacation. Leave the heat tools at home, sister! They’re heavy and they overcrowd you. Throw your hair into a bun, or braid, or wear a hat. I used to be the queen of overpacking, a trait that I’m proud to say I’ve almost shaken off – I still have trouble sizing down the makeup collection. (But really, all you need is concealer, an eyebrow pencil, and mascara. Plus maybe a red lipstick.) Bring items of clothing that are reusable and mix well with one another. If it’s cold, you only need one coat. If you’re going for less than four nights, one pair of pajamas will serve you just fine. It can be very difficult to only bring the bare necessities, but not only does it decrease your burden, it gives you more room in your suitcase to bring souvenirs back!

Step 2: Get everywhere early. Like, two hours early. 

This should be obvious, but still, I travel with people who are fine with getting to the airport twenty minutes before a flight. I think NOT. You may lose some time, sure, but the peace of mind knowing that you have lots and lots of time to get where you’re going is invaluable.

Step 3: Remember that nobody else in the airport, train station, or bus station wants to be here either. 

Don’t complain to the stewardess. Don’t be rude to the people around you. Dress comfortably and bring earplugs and a book, or a sleeping pill if that floats your boat. Listen to relaxing music. I like bossa nova and classical. Something that can instantly turn a getaway from amazing into frustrating is having a rude interaction with somebody else. It’s understandable, but if a baby is screaming loudly, you complaining about it to staff is not going to help and it’s going to put everyone in a bad mood. You should only call on people to help you if you really need the help.

ghentLunch View in Ghent, Belgium

PHASE THREE: ARRIVAL AND COMMENCEMENT

This part’s pretty self-explanatory, but I’ll give you some tips just in case.

Step 1: Don’t be married to your plan.

My mom and I took a trip to Disneyland recently. She’s very Type A and I’m very Type B, so you can imagine that our travel styles don’t always coincide. I convinced her to tear herself away from her itinerary and just see where the day took us after hitting the main attractions. We ended up seeing much more than we would have seen had we stuck to the itinerary. Afterwards, she told me that she was blown away by how much she enjoyed it, because she wasn’t stressing about making it to the next part of the plan.

Step 2: Research the local culture and customs. Respect them.

Sure, the French may be rude, the Russians abrasive, the Brazilians a little touchy-feely for you, but to them it’s part of their culture. Most people will understand you’re a foreigner, but if you treat them with disdain you’re probably going to end up with spit in your drink. Embracing the customs of a place you’re visiting will enrich your experience and in some cases make you new friends! And everybody you interact with will really appreciate it.

spilledblodChurch on the Spilled Blood, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Step 3: Visit at least one place that’s off the beaten path. 

I am of the strong opinion that sticking only to the tourist areas of a destination gives you only the tourist experience. It’s important to be safe, but if you want to really discover the spirit of a location, dive under the surface! Asking a local is usually the best way to go. That’s how I discovered the Amsterdam cat boat, which is one of my favorite places I’ve ever visited. The positively charming Paris Museum of Romantic Life also comes to mind. Take it slow, enjoy yourself, give yourself time to wander. Let your destination envelop you. And lastly, take a ton of pictures!

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The Catboat, Amsterdam, Netherlands

-FIN-

So that’s my guide to traveling with grace. I hope you enjoyed it, and please let me know what kind of travel posts you’d like to see in the future. In the meantime, you can check out my vlogs if you want to watch my travels! Ciao!

With love, Victoria

 

How to Stay Organized When Your To-Do List Is A Million Miles Long

I’m having one of those weeks. You know, the ones where your list of things to do seems to keep growing and growing and GROWING, and the “free time” slots on your calendar start slowly fading along with whatever is left of your sanity...I don’t even have the time to tell you all the things I have to do in the next 72 hours, but I wanted to share my process with you here. It’s no rocket science, but hopefully I can share some peace of mind.

 

Step 1: Write it down.

This one may sound like a no brainer to you, but it didn’t come so easy to me! I have a good memory and I’m usually pretty good about remembering what I have to do. But I’m also a visual person, and it helps me to have something to physically look at once my to-do list goes above ten tasks. It also helps reduce stress levels when you can check a task off and get that great “I accomplished something!” feeling.

Step 2: Break it down.

Actionable tasks, baby, actionable tasks. Let’s say your task is to create a project proposal for a new client in a week. Give yourself a reasonable amount of tasks to do per day, i.e. Day 1 - Brainstorm ideas, choose & develop. Write proposal plan. Day 2 - 1st slide. Target audience & intended outreach. Until you get to Day 3, and Day 4, and before you know it, you’re finished!

 

Step 3: Use tools.

Remember those actionable tasks I was talking about? A digital tool can help save your life with them. I’m personally a huge fan of Google Keep - I like its versatility, and that you can link it to your other google accounts. It’s also not strictly for to-do lists: you can draw, write, and generally do anything you want there. Here’s a screenshot of mine right now.

I’ve also used Cozi, which is great for families or business partners, todoist, and wunderlist. Google has also launched its own to-do manager, which I’ve yet to try but looks promising.

Step 4: Clean.

Ever hear that the state of your space reflects the state of your mind? I may be realizing this about six years too late for my mom’s liking, but it’s very true. I live in a studio and do a lot of freelancing, meaning I mostly work from home. If my space is cluttered, I feel cluttered. Take twenty minutes out of every evening to organize your space. It will help you sleep better and work better. The restorative powers of cleaning are not to be underestimated.

Step 5: Relax.

This can be the hardest thing to remember for very busy people, particularly if you’re working from the space you also live in. Even if you have to schedule it in, give yourself at least an hour of straight up relaxing time per day. Put your phone on do not disturb mode and lose yourself in a book or video game. Eat your favorite ice cream without guilt. When we get busy, it can be difficult to remember you have to stop and smell the roses - what else are you working for?

Top Ten Dreamiest Hotels in the World

Originally published on petitetibeauty; April 8th, 2016

In my time working as an administrative assistant at a travel agency, my bucket list of travel destinations has grown to approximately 8 million miles long. And one of the parts of my job I most enjoy is placing clients in the most unique luxury hotels in the world's most beautiful destinations. Let's take a look at the ten that sent me dreaming.

  1. Le Meurice, Paris

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Former haunt of Ernest Hemingway, emblematic of La Belle Epoque grandeur. What’s not to love? And who could resist that dining room?!

Price Range: $600 and above per night

2. Inverlochy Castle Hotel, Inverness, Scotland

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A genuine castle situated in the gorgeous Scottish highlands on its very own Loch, this is one of the most regal destinations that will make you truly feel transported back in time.

3. La Residence, Franschhoek, South Africa

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I fell head over heels in love with this hotel the MOMENT I laid my eyes on its website. Sadly, our clients decided not to go to Franschhoek after all, but I will one day. Each suite is uniquely decorated in a signature style . It’s the perfect combination of individuality and luxury. And if Sir Elton John likes it, I'm sure it's more than enough to appease we mere mortals.

4. Hotel Imperial, Vienna

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This is another hotel that exhibits historical splendor. Vienna is the place I would most like to visit in the world, and this hotel's vaulted ceilings and glittering chandelier aren't bound to disappoint.

5. Belmond La Residence d’Angkor

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Siem Reap is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and I think this hotel is one of the most beautiful in the world as well. Just looking at it relaxes me.

6. Four Seasons Maldives

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There is no island destination quite like the Maldives. I’ve placed many clients in the Maldives before, and I think that the Four Seasons is an exceptional Maldives resort. Although it runs on the more expensive side, it’s worth every penny.

7. andBeyond Ngorongo Crater Lodge, Tanzania

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Do yourself a favor and check out the pictures of this ultra-cool hotel. Nestled in the Tanzanian mountains in a giant caldera, it retains the culture and feeling of Tanzania. Wildlife sightings are also practically guaranteed, from the endangered black rhino to flamingos, elephants, and lions.

8. The Amanoi Resort, Vietnam

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Vietnam is one of the most beautiful countries in the entire world. Although I don’t think you should limit yourself to one part of Vietnam and miss all the culture and scenery of the country, I do have to talk about how incredibly gorgeous this hotel is. It’s perfect for a relaxing few nights stay on an island, going back and forth from the pool to basking under the sun.

9. Hilton Seychelles Northolme Resort & Spa

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This is a slightly more affordable option, although don’t be fooled – it’s a beautiful one. I actually prefer it to more luxury hotels on the Seychelles (such as the Four Seasons.) The Seychelles are such gorgeous islands, and the Hilton matches its unspoiled tropical surroundings in gorgeousness.

10. The Blantyre Hotel, the Berkshires, Massachusetts

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This hotel might actually be my favorite out of all the hotels on this page. My favorite period of history is the Gilded Age and La Belle Epoque, and the Blantyre is so emblematic of those Edith Wharton summer hotels. I dream of vacationing here one autumn and living out my New York socialite vacation fantasies.