Tips For Traveling On A Budget

I thought that I’d write this post to follow the one I wrote recently about my favorite travel essentials for long flights. This one is all about how to travel ON A BUDGET! Yes, it can be done! And guess what? My husband and I don’t have millions of sky miles or points or anything like that and we still make it work. I created a little list below with some helpful tips.

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Gibraltar…the most beautiful place on earth!

 

1. The most important thing about traveling around the world when you aren’t a millionaire is to SAVE MONEY. Duh. David and I don’t just book trips randomly and whenever we feel like it. We always make sure our finances are in line and that we don’t have any upcoming large expenses like a home project or car repair. If that is the case, we ensure that is taken care of first before setting aside money for travel. We simply save up for a few months or so (depending on what kind of trip it is) and then book it when we’re ready.

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Malaga, Spain…. the Mediterranean Sea is COLD!

 

2. Book trips during the off-season. This makes a big difference. Figure out when the off-season is for the country or state you plan to travel to and save hundreds or even a few thousand dollars by booking during this time. When we were planning our trip to Ireland, we originally wanted to go in the late summer or fall. We quickly changed our minds when we saw that the airline tickets and hotel/B&B prices were OVER 50% CHEAPER if we were to go in March, so we decided to go then. Yes, it was cold and a little drizzly, but well worth the savings! We stayed in some NICE places that were around $80 a night, and they included breakfast. This brings me to my next point.

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Clontarf Castle Hotel in Dublin, Ireland….it was off-season, so this exquisite, remodeled castle hotel was only about $100 a night.

 

3. Stay in hotels/hostels/B&Bs etc. that include breakfast. That is one less meal to worry about. Some places even offer free afternoon tea/coffee and snacks for guests. We definitely took advantage of this at one of the B&Bs we stayed at in Ireland. It was a great opportunity to sit and chat with the owners of the place who were awesome people. Even better if you have friends or family who you can stay with for free! Just be sure to cook and clean for them. :-D

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This B&B in Ireland was owned by a husband and wife who are well-known chefs.

 

4. Don’t eat at restaurants for every meal. I am a huge believer in experiencing a country and all it has to offer by exploring the cuisine and eating at the restaurants. However, this can be very pricey, especially if you’re in a country with currency stronger than the U.S. Dollar. Make a pact to eat out every other day on your trip and buy the rest of your food from grocery stores and markets. Doing that is part of the experience too! In Ireland (I know I keep referencing to this trip, but it was so fun), David and I would buy a loaf of bread, a pound or two of shaved turkey or ham, a few apples, drinkable yogurts, etc. and eat those for lunches, dinners and snacks instead of eating out for every meal. It saved so much money, and we were still able to eat at restaurants a few times.

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Notre Dame in Paris, France

 

5. Check on specials and promotions for museum/monument entry fees. Sometimes certain places (for example, Reginald’s Tower in Waterford, Ireland) will run a deal where the first Wednesday of every month is free to enter. It may not be the first Wednesday of every month for every single museum and monument in the world, but it can’t hurt to check to see when places may do something like this when you are in the process of planning your trip. It’ll save you a few dollars (or euros, or pesos, or pounds) so you can use that money for an extra souvenir or an exotic dessert at a bakery or coffee shop.

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Reginald’s Tower in Waterford, Ireland

 

6. Sign up to “watch a flight”. If you are dying to travel to, let’s say, Greece (ME), but you’re shocked by how expensive the flight is (ME), sign up to keep an eye on it. Airlines will do the work for you and send you emails when prices drop. There should be an easy accessible “watch a flight” option to click on when you’re on the websites that showcase the different flights and airlines.

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Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine

 

7. Try to convert cash while you are still in the states or home country. I’m not sure about other banks, but Wells Fargo (certain branches) will convert cash for you with no massive fees. I did this at the Wells Fargo off Hamilton Mill Road in Dacula. You can always withdraw money from ATMs in foreign countries (ALWAYS CALL YOUR BANK AND TELL THEM YOU WILL BE TRAVELING AND WHERE YOU WILL BE BEFORE YOU LEAVE IF YOU DECIDE TO USE YOUR DEBIT/CREDIT CARD), but then it will charge you somewhere around $5.00 each time you do it. I’m not sure if this happens with all banks, but it does with mine. That is a big fat waste of money, so just do it before you leave. I would rather spend that $5.00 on something useful!

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Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

 

8. Take the time to look for good souvenirs. Don’t buy the overpriced stuff in airports or hotel gift shops. There are always authentic souvenirs with vendors that set up along streets or at festivals/markets. David and I always buy a Christmas ornament wherever we go–in airports or hotel gift shops we’ve seen some equal to $20-$50 for ONE ORNAMENT. Most of the time you can find similar (if not the same) stuff with street vendors or at markets/festivals equal to a few dollars for one ornament. Do not get suckered into the overpriced tourist trap! Just make sure you purchase something that will be easy to transport back home.

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London, England

 

9. Walk–if you are able to and if the walk isn’t TOO far while you’re in a city. Instead of paying for parking (if you have a rental car), taking shuttles, trolleys, metros, buses, etc. just walk from point A to point B while you’re exploring. It’s one of the best ways to see things plus it’s good exercise–just wear comfortable shoes and find a paper map. You’ll come across new shops, cafes, art galleries and more while learning your way around a new city. Save city transportation costs for something more fun!

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Mayan Riviera, Mexico

 

10. Since I can’t think of any more….make sure you are connected to wifi before using data/making calls/sending texts etc. Be smart with your smart phone. Don’t subject yourself to unnecessary, large phone bills that will arrive a few weeks after you get home. This has never happened to me and I hope it never does! Did I forget any?! Please share money saving tactics while traveling!

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Costa Rica

My Must-Have Travel Essentials

I love to travel. It’s my passion…oh how I wish it was a cheap passion, but it’s not. It requires a lot of patience, money saving and off-season travel (seriously so much cheaper), but the memories that are made are priceless.

Hanging out in London, January 2010

The thought that goes into packing, the moment when you finally land after a long time in the sky, listening to different accents and languages, wandering around a new city, eating the local cuisine….I love it all. My obsession with traveling began in college when I studied abroad in Spain and England. Since then, I’ve been racking up the passport stamps and hope to completely fill the pages soon!

Guatemala, June 2010.

One of the downsides to traveling is the time on the airplane, especially if it’s a 5+ hour flight. It is 2014, why isn’t teleportation available yet?! Kidding. Since I always look for the cheapest price out there when I book airline tickets, that usually means my seat will be toward the back of the plane and in the middle of a row….not fun. I just can’t justify paying extra for a first or business class seat (although if I were upgraded for free, I’d totally take it) when I could use that money to tour a neat museum or monument, buy a unique souvenir or eat at a nice restaurant with my husband or travel buddies. The key is to just survive the flight and keep your eye on the prize….your destination!

Costa Rica, April 2012.

Here is a list of things that have made overseas/long flights more enjoyable/comfortable for me:

1. Neck pillow. This is sort of a no-brainer, but it seriously makes a difference. I used to just rely on the little pillows the airline provides, but I realized those are better for lower back support while a neck pillow is much more comfortable as a head rest. On a recent flight to Ukraine, I used a cheapo one from 1999 that I found in my parents’ garage, but here is a good one. Source.

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2. Comfortable clothes. I honestly don’t know how people can sit on a plane for hours in jeans. I would go insane! I always wear something comfortable but cute, so I don’t look like a complete bum. I like to wear leggings with a tunic or long top when I travel (oh who are we kidding, I wear this all the time). If I’m going somewhere hot, a maxi dress is a great choice.

Leggings and a tunic… all day every day.
Ireland, March 2013.

3. A toiletry bag full of travel sized items. Or you can put small amounts of your normal stuff in smaller, plastic containers, but I think it’s easier to just throw travel sized items in my little toiletry bag. Most stores carry travel sized items (Target, Ingles, Wal-Mart etc.) I always ensure that I have face wash, facial moisturizer, toothpaste, toothbrush, floss, lip balm, travel sized hairbrush, hair ties, body/hand lotion, makeup, contact solution, extra contacts, glasses case, mouthwash. After I typed that I realized that it makes me sound a little high maintenance, but it works for me. I like to beeline to the nearest bathroom when I land so I can brush my teeth, wash my face and moisturize it, put in my contacts (sometimes), and MAYBE put on some makeup so I don’t look too scary. Just make sure everything is sealed tightly and put into plastic bags in case something leaks.

My favorite travel face wash. It became my favorite because it was the only travel sized face wash available at Target when I was shopping for a trip, haha.

4. Kindle, books, magazines. I like to bring books and magazines that I already own/bought before getting to the airport since these things are ridiculously expensive in the little gift shops at the gates. I also make sure I’ve already downloaded books to my Kindle that I may want to read so I don’t have to worry about it on travel day. Also remember to save stuff for the flight back home!

Ukraine, October 2013.

5. WATER. This one is very important. I used to think it was a hassle to keep getting up to go to the bathroom, but it is way more important to stay hydrated while traveling for hours and hours. I barely drank any water when I went to Spain in 2009, so I got really sick and dizzy during the last two hours of the flight. I also had a headache that wouldn’t go away for days due to the dehydration. If I sip water throughout the entire flight and for hours before the flight even takes off, I tend to feel so much better. It helps with jet lag too, trust me.

Paris, January 2010.

6. Healthy snacks. Don’t stuff yourself full of simple carbs like pretzels, crackers or chips. They will not keep you full or satisfied. Nuts, hummus/veggie snack packs, apple with a single serve nut butter pack, Larabars, or protein bars are snacks that are both healthy and satisfying that you can eat between meals (if your flight serves them). You can usually find these snacks at the gate…just make sure you don’t buy anything with a strong smell that may make your fellow travelers angry.

7. Music. I like to download a few new songs and save them just for the flight.

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Gibraltar, Summer 2009.

8. Passport holder. My father in-law gave me a simple passport holder so it was easy to grab. It also has a strap so that I can literally wear it against my body. I don’t like digging through my purse (my purse is always like a black hole) for my passport and walking around while holding it in my hand makes me nervous. I have nightmares about dropping it and then it getting sucked down an escalator or the gap between an elevator and the floor… does that make sense? A passport holder ensures that it is always put back in the correct place and that it is safe and secure…oh and easy to find!

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Mexico, May 2011.

9. Eye mask. This is crucial for an all-day flight. It’s misssssserable when the sun is shining so brightly through the windows and you have 7 hours to try to sleep in that condition. An eye mask solves the problem.

10. Emergen-C packets. I swear by these. They are filled with nutrition that you may not get from airplane food and will give you a much needed boost of vitamins if you start to feel icky. Raspberry is my favorite.

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There is my list! Am I forgetting anything? Happy travels!

Journey To Ukraine Part 2

This post is four months late, but I say better late than never! In case you missed my recap of the first part of my trip to Ukraine in October 2013, you can click here to read it. It’s pretty funny and includes mental gypsies. Seriously.

Anyway, after our first afternoon in Kiev, Melissa and I went to bed early since we were so jet-lagged. The next day was Sunday, so we just explored the city, shopped a little (in the cool underground malls), avoided the people dressed up in costumes and the ones holding pigeons who wanted money, and ate some delicious food. Have I mentioned how much I loved Ukraine’s food?! It was a lot of soups and unique chicken/pork/sausage with rice dishes. We ended up going to this cafeteria style restaurant several times during the trip since we could just point to what we wanted instead of confusing people with our American dialects. It was SO GOOD…but I wasn’t a fan of the Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj music blasting. I like their music, but it didn’t really fit with the traditional Ukranian theme and the waiters and waitresses dressed up in Hansel and Gretel-type uniforms. Very random.

The view outside the Kiev apartment. A beautiful sunset.

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Chicago, the only nice restaurant in Berdichev.

The time we spent at Simon’s orphanage was definitely interesting since I have only visited one other orphanage in my life (in Guatemala). It was a very soviet looking building that probably hadn’t been remodeled in a very long time (all of the buildings are like this). It was actually clean and pretty nice on the inside, which was surprising since hundreds of children live there. We met with the director and shortly thereafter, Simon greeted us with big hugs! It was so nice to see him.

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The glittery wall hotel in Zhytomyr.

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He loved looking through my pins on Pinterest.

Luckily we were able to take him with us on the remainder of the trip, so Melissa and I had fun helping him with his English and making him try on the new clothes she bought for him. He also loved playing with our iPhones and skyping family back home.

At one point, we had to drive literally 5 hours to Simon’s birth town, Olevsk. Adoption can be a rocky process with a lot of hurdles to overcome, and we definitely experienced some of those. The side trip to Olevsk was not supposed to happen, but we had to go to complete something with Simon’s birth certificate there. This was an interesting experience. The city was literally crumbling to the ground…the buildings were dilapidated and falling apart while the people were a little scary. Anyway, we had this crazy taxi driver who probably didn’t realize what he got himself into…but let’s just say he was missing some teeth. He was hilarious though and told Leysia his entire life story during the five hour drive. His car was about the size of a Hot Wheels car, which was really funny since me, Melissa, Simon, and Leysia (and all of our luggage) had to fit inside of it. We were crammed in there like sardines. As we were speeding (the driver was literally going 100 mph) down the roads filled with massive pot-holes and passing people left and right (scariest ride of my life), we realize we all need to make a stop at the next gas station. The gas station was fairly nice, so it should have a fairly nice restroom as well, right? WRONG. The “restroom” was a HOLE in the GROUND that was behind a big piece of wood that was shoved into the dirt. It was the most horrifying experience of my life…let’s just say it was time to cover that hole and dig a new one. Melissa and I were crying we were laughing so hard…we had to use these holes in the ground since we didn’t know how much longer we’d be in the car. Simon laughed at us and thought we were crazy and the taxi driver looked at us when we came back to the car and said “EXTREME?!” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

This post is getting kind of long, so I’ll just summarize the rest of the trip. Basically we drove from Kiev to Zhytomyr (Jitomer), to Berdichev, to Olevsk, back to Zhytomyr, and then finally back to Kiev for a few more days. We did a lot of driving, but it was interesting to see all of the behind the scenes adoption stuff go on. We stayed in some pretty neat apartments and hotels (one had glittery walls), shopped, watched a brawl happen in a supermarket over condoms, hung out with an American family from Alabama, visited Kiev’s gorgeous cathedrals, avoided gypsies, ate at a T.G.I. Friday’s, went to Ocean Plaza Mall (the most amazing mall I’ve ever been to), took a ride on one of the world’s deepest metros, and more!

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Stunning cathedrals.

I stayed in Ukraine for 8 days, while Melissa and Simon stayed for 14 since they had to get everything finalized with his passport. On my departure day, I was picked up at the Kiev apartment at 3:00 a.m. by a nice driver named Oleg. He drove me to the Kiev-Boryspil airport and walked me all the way to the check-in desk which was so nice! This was the first time I had ever traveled halfway around the world all by myself (I’ve always traveled with someone or in a group), so I was a little nervous. Luckily I had zero delays and made it to Frankfurt, Washington D.C., then Atlanta with no problems. I was so excited to see David when I landed and got my luggage!

It was an amazing trip. I am so grateful that I was able to go and be a part of my brother-in-law’s adoption and see new parts of the world. It was an experience I will never forget!

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Soccer stadium in Kiev.

Goals For 2014

I am not a huge “new years resolution” person because I think goals and resolutions can be made at any time of year. However, it is nice to look at the new year as a fresh, clean slate! Here are a few things I want to do in 2014.

1. Eat less sugar. I’m sure this is on everyone’s list. It’s something I always try to work on, but I feel like I could do better with this. I generally eat pretty healthy, but my weakness is desserts and sweets (sugar). I always crave something sweet after meals during the day, and I want to break this. If my sweet tooth (teeth?) is in full force, I need to be better about grabbing a low-sugar yogurt, unsweetened hot tea, or a small serving of fruit instead of a handful of chocolate chips. I’ve been better about not keeping ice cream and chocolate bars in the house so I don’t overdo it. I’m perfectly fine with splurging once a week or so on something decadent though. I don’t want to deprive myself…maybe I’ll try some of these delicious looking raw desserts. I’ll just pretend that honey and maple syrup don’t count as sugar ;)

2. “Go the extra mile” at work. Instead of just taking assignments that are given to me, I want to be more proactive and search for more assignments. I am a writer for a newspaper with an awesome boss who loves all kinds of story ideas, so I want to really search for interesting topics to write about. This could mean finding people in my community to feature, researching upcoming events, and more.

3. Save even more money. I’m blessed to have a husband who is an avid money saver. Honestly, he has taught and showed me how important it is to put money away on a regular basis so we can travel and save up for the future. I think it’d be great to put even more money away than we did last year. This means being less wasteful and more frugal (and not taking random trips to Target because we all know that it is impossible to leave the store without blowing at least $50).

4. Practice speaking Spanish. My mom has a Rosetta Stone in Spanish that I’m going to borrow to brush up on my Spanish grammar and vocabulary. I have studied it for so many years and have traveled to so many Spanish speaking countries, so I really do not want to forget the language. It’s such an important language to know, so if you want to practice speaking with me, let’s do it!

Guatemala 2010

5. Spend more time with family. I live about 45-60 minutes from various members of my family, so it can be difficult to get together with them on a regular basis. Gas isn’t cheap, so frequent treks across the metro Atlanta area isn’t exactly convenient (this goes back to the saving more money thing). Luckily, there are a lot of neat places that are halfway between our homes where we can meet. Carpooling and switching off whose house to meet at will help, too!

My family and I in NYC.

6. Eat more omega-3′s. I’m always trying to work on this! Foods rich in omega-3′s include salmon, tuna, and other various types of fish. I am really bad about taking my fish oil supplement, so eating more fish seems like a better solution. I do eat a lot of sushi with salmon and tuna, so that’s good, but I really think I should try to eat it at least once or twice a week (I only go out for sushi once every month or even every other month). I just can’t seem to make seafood taste good when I cook it at home. Any tips on making seafood at home not taste fishy?

7. Complain less. Instead of making negative comments, I need to think of something positive. I think being content and grateful for what I have is important as well.

8. Get outside more! Now that I’m an adult in the real world, most of my days are spent inside, working. I think this is the case with everyone! I’m also a member of a YMCA, so I workout inside, too. I really need to take advantage of pretty weather days and spend more time outside. Fresh air is so good for the soul! The vitamin D isn’t so bad, either!

What are your goals for 2014?

2013, You Were Awesome

I seriously cannot believe another year has come and gone. It seems like each year goes by faster and faster. I wish time would slow down a bit! Here is a fun recap of the biggest moments of my 2013. It was a great one!

January 2013. Since my husband works in law enforcement, he sometimes has to work on holidays. It stinks, but the holiday pay isn’t so bad! He had to work on New Years Eve last year, so I spent it with my bestie, Christine! We went to dinner with her fiancé, John and then went to watch fireworks. The fireworks were a bust, so we went home to watch the ball drop! I’m all about a low key NYE these days.

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February 2013. David and I went to see Beauty and the Beast at the Classic Center in Athens. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen! I forgot to take my camera on this adventure, so there are no photos to show. Sadness.

March 2013. David and I flew to Ireland for an amazing adventure. He planned the entire trip, so it was nice to sit back and enjoy one of the most beautiful countries in the world. We started off in Dublin, then drove across the country to the west coast to visit the Cliffs of Moher, Shannon, Ennis, Newmarket on Fergus, and more, then ended our trip in the south of Ireland in Waterford, Tramore, and Kilkenny. Oh, and just in case you’re wondering, we did drive on the opposite side of the road (we meaning David). Of course he had no trouble at all, he succeeds at everything he does (I’m not kidding, it makes me jealous, haha). It was one of the best trips of my life and I’d love to go back someday! I am so thankful for the ability to travel and see the world!

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April 2013. The month where the weather FINALLY starts to consistently stay warm. We enjoyed lots of nature walks with the dogs and prayed for temperatures to stay above 70 degrees (I am not a cold weather person). I also chopped off all of my hair, which I will never do again–I missed my long ponytail and the ability to get out of the shower and let my hair air dry. I couldn’t do that with short hair. April is also my birthday month, and I celebrated the start of my 25th year out and about in Athens with some awesome people and some delicious sushi.

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May 2013. There were lots of fun celebrations during this month–my mom’s birthday and mother’s day! We had fun eating boatloads of Greek food with my mom’s side of the family on mother’s day. We also celebrated David’s 26th birthday by–you guessed it–going out for sushi and our 2nd wedding anniversary with a delicious steak dinner at home. I love being married to my best friend!

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June 2013. David and I traveled to Panama City Beach, Florida for some scuba diving adventures! It felt so good to be back in the water after a pretty long hiatus. We had a blast playing with the fish, sharks, and crabs 70 or so feet under the water. In between dives we laid out in the sun, swam in the crystal-clear water, ate carrots, hummus, and rotisserie chicken in the sand, and just enjoyed one of God’s most glorious creations–THE BEACH! I’m pretty sure it took months for me to clean the sand out of my car and suitcase from this trip. We also celebrated father’s day–with my dad at a sushi bar (big surprise) and BBQ chicken with my father-in-law!

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July 2013. We celebrated the birth of our country at Lake Hartwell in South Carolina. We enjoyed an attempt at wakeboarding, boating, tubing, jetskiing, tanning, eating, and swimming. The weiner dogs loved it too! July was actually a pretty important month because I left my beloved teaching job at Elite Academy to work for a newspaper full-time. I decided to make the switch because my hours are flexible and I make my own schedule at the paper, which will be better for us in the long-run. Plus, I am a writer (I have a BA in Communication Studies) and the pay was much better. I sure wish I could do both teaching and writing, but I can’t…luckily I can substitute teach on some Fridays when I finish my newspaper work for the week! I am so grateful for my job!

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August 2013. This was a pretty packed month, and I loved it! We hiked to the top of Table Rock in South Carolina (8 miles total) with our two dachshunds. It poured for two hours during this hike, but it was still an adventure. I went to Spartanburg, South Carolina to visit my bestie, Christine, and help her get ready for a new school year (she’s a school counselor). She also came back to Atlanta for a weekend and she and I explored every nook and cranny of our hometown. Sometimes it’s fun to explore the city you’ve been around for so long and see what all it has to offer. The end of August included my aunt Susan’s wedding celebration at Lake Lanier’s University Yacht Club, my very first muddy obstacle course race, Primal Rush, which was at Crow’s Lake in Jefferson, and lastly, the Hero’s Ball at the Braselton Stover House. I also stomped grapes at Chateau Elan’s Annual Vineyard Fest, where I enjoyed the King of Pops booth more than the wine.

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September 2013. I traveled to New York City with my family. We explored the city that never sleeps and went to the U.S. Open. We saw lots of famous tennis stars and even met a few of them. I’m so sad that I didn’t meet my Rafa :( Huge thanks to my parents for taking my brother and me on this amazing trip! It was a blast and I secretly want to live in NYC. David and I also traveled to Jekyll Island, Georgia for a nice beachy getaway one last time before summer officially ended. We had perfect weather and big waves, too! We also celebrated my dad and brother’s birthdays as well as the homecoming of Caleb Igor, my new brother-in-law who was adopted from Ukraine!

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October 2013. I was blessed to be able to travel to Ukraine with Melissa, my father-in-law’s wife. They had already brought Caleb Igor home, and Simon Nazar was next. Melissa was originally going to get Simon by herself since my father-in-law had already been in Ukraine for five weeks and was finally home with Caleb. I went with her to accompany her and be her English speaking buddy. It was an amazing trip! We spent time in Kiev, Zhytomyr (Jitomir), and Berdichev and I was able to see all of the behind the scenes adoption stuff happen. It was fun to bond with Simon too! This was also the first time I traveled halfway around the world by myself (I’ve traveled a lot, but have always been in a group or with someone else) because Melissa and Simon had a longer stay due to passport issues. I flew from Kiev, Ukraine to Frankfurt, Germany, to Washington DC, to Atlanta. It was such an adventure! I am so thankful for that trip. When I returned home, I was surprised to see a brand new closet that was built by my father-in-law and husband while I was overseas! My group of friends from middle and high school also had a fun reunion in October. It was so great to see everyone and catch up!

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November 2013. I attended my first wild game night (which was for my job) and tried all sorts of creatures (quail, frog legs, elk, quail eggs, etc.), and while I really wasn’t a fan of the food, it was still fun! David and I took a trip to the north Georgia mountains to enjoy hiking, mountain towns, and the beautiful fall foliage with our dogs. Hiking trips to the mountains in the fall bring me so much joy. I wish the fall season was longer. We also found out what it’s like to be a parent of two teenage boys, which is actually really fun. David and I stayed with our brothers who were adopted from Ukraine while my father-in-law underwent a medical procedure (all is well!). We listened to lots of music, ate a lot of food, and burned leaves (the boys did this, not me). I really missed them after being with them for 4 days straight! We ended the month with a “friendsgiving” celebration and Thanksgiving with our families.

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December 2013. I love December! A month filled with Christmas cheer, family time, and cozy warm fires in the fireplace. My brother-in-law graduated from Georgia Tech with his masters degree. He did this while working full-time, so we are all so proud of him! David and I also participated in the Braselton Run For Reading 8K race which took place during 40 degree weather and pouring rain. Despite the weather, it was a really great race and we both actually got 3rd place for our age groups. We attended a few Christmas parties, went to the magical nights of lights at Lake Lanier with a big group of friends, and my best friend since 3rd grade got ENGAGED. I am going to be her maid of honor and I am so excited for June 28th. I was honored to help her pick out her wedding dress and the bridesmaid dresses, and we even had a little party for her to kick-off the celebrations! What an awesome month.

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Wow, 2013 was a great year. I cannot wait to see what 2014 holds! I’m looking forward to our 3 year wedding anniversary, a big trip this spring (we haven’t decided where yet, but it is going to be somewhere warm and tropical with ample scuba opportunities), and my best friend’s wedding on June 28th. Bring it on!

Journey To Ukraine, Part 1

This post is almost a month late, but I say better late than never!

From October 5th-13th I traveled to Ukraine with Melissa, who is my father-in-law’s lovely wife. A little over a month before we left, Melissa suggested that I go with her since the original plan was for her to go alone to pick up Simon Nazar, her second adopted son. The reason why my father-in-law couldn’t accompany her on this trip is because he had already spent five long weeks finishing the adoption process for Caleb Igor, their other adopted son. He was more than ready to return to the land of green money and the English language :-) Melissa thought it’d be nice to have a travel companion who speaks fluent English!

After discussing work plans with my boss, we hauled our mega-sized suitcases down to Hartsfield-Jackson to begin the very long journey halfway around the globe. Once we arrived at the airport, we checked in, said good-bye to our husbands, and went through security.

Our flights were Atlanta to Washington D.C. (approx. 1 hr and 30 min) Washington D.C. to Frankfurt, Germany (approx. 7-8 hours or so), and then Frankfurt to Kiev, Ukraine (2 hours). I will say that the flight from DC to Frankfurt was AMAZING. We flew Lufthansa and were treated like royalty. Oh and it was the biggest plane I’ve ever flown on–it was a double decker! I’ve flown to Europe several times and this was by far the biggest. All flights were smooth with no delays! We did encounter one minor glitch once we landed in Germany. Once you land, you exit the plane via stairs. Then, you and 400,837 people get onto this little bus that takes you around in circles. Once you make 50 circles around the airport (I’m exaggerating a little bit), you finally step off into the airport where there are approximately 1,000,000 people running around like crazy. And there were also about 40 different lines of people for who knows what. We were trying to find our gate to fly to Kiev, but were a bit turned around. Melissa asked three different people where to go, and THEY WERE ALL WRONG! We went to get our passports stamped and the German police were like “UMMM…you are in the wrong place!” So we had to backtrack…and eventually found our gate with enough time to spare. Thank goodness! It is so funny to laugh about now, but we were panicking at the time!

Exploring in Kiev.

Kiev was such a fun city to explore. I love the underground malls!

Once we arrived in Kiev, it was 3:00 in the afternoon (8:00 a.m. Georgia time). A driver collected us from the airport, drove 30 minutes into the city, and checked into the apartment. After NO sleep on the plane rides (I usually doze off for a few minutes at a time, but cannot get quality sleep), we were feeling quite delirious! We decided to get out and walk around Kiev for a little bit so we wouldn’t fall asleep too early. Random thought–I was totally expecting the weather to be freezing the entire time, but it was perfect. Highs were anywhere between 50-60 degrees, so it felt nice to walk around–not too hot and not too cold.

Funny story. Melissa and I were hungry a few hours after our arrival, so we went to this traditional Ukrainian restaurant that is cafeteria style. Melissa had been to Ukraine several times before, so she knew of all the good places to eat, shop, etc. I happen to adore any type of international food, so I was excited. After we got our food and sat down (I just pointed to the food that I wanted…I speak NO Russian or Ukrainian), I noticed this odd woman sitting by herself at the table next to us. She was either singing or talking to herself, I couldn’t really tell. She was also dressed very…um…strange? Just think random pieces of bright colored fabric draped all over her body. She had crazy hair that was piled on top of her head and a FULL SET of GOLD TEETH.

So Melissa and I are minding our own business, just eating and talking quietly, until this woman leans over and says something to me in her language. I just stare at her blankly and say “I’m sorry, but I speak English”. She proceeds to look at me like I am crazy (when really she is the crazy one) once she realizes I’m a foreigner. She then says something else, and starts to raise her voice. I just stare and Melissa and she stares right back. We have NO IDEA what she is saying.

Suddenly, this random man from England (we met him in line for the food once he realized we spoke English) gets up from his table and starts YELLING at her in Russian. Um, ok, cool. She starts YELLING back at him and shakes her water bottle in his face. This is happening on either side of our table, with Melissa, me and our food in the middle. Meanwhile, everyone in the restaurant is staring at us because they obviously knew what she was yelling about (and Melissa and I had no idea because neither of us speak Russian or Ukrainian). The English man ran off and grabbed the restaurant manager and a security guard…and there was more yelling…in Russian. The woman ended up leaving. I SO WISH I WOULD HAVE TAKEN A PHOTO OF HER! She was a HOT MESS. Melissa and I laughed and laughed, especially when the English man said “the lights were on, but nobody’s home!” regarding the strange woman.

After she left, the English man told us she is a gypsy. Apparently she was saying something to me that was “offensive”. Sorry lady, but you have gold teeth and are clearly mentally unstable, so you really didn’t offend me. He wouldn’t tell us what she said, I guess because he didn’t want to offend me…I kept telling him I didn’t care, but I guess it was that bad! Lol. I have experienced gypsies before in Spain…very odd.

So all of that happened in our first two hours in Ukraine! It was quite the experience. The next day consisted of shopping, exploring, and eating delicious food. Ukraine definitely has some AMAZING FOOD! Stay tuned for part 2…more adventures to come!

My Nightly Facial Skin Care Routine

My friend Allison, who blogs over at All That Glitters recently shared her nightly facial skin care routine. I find this type of thing fascinating and I always learn a lot from these posts about new products I may want to use on myself. If you are interested in beauty products, definitely check out her blog because she knows her stuff!

I thought I’d share my current nighttime facial skin care routine. I will say that I do switch up my products from time to time because I like to try new things. I tend to get sick of a product by the time I run out of it and am ready for something else. Here goes!

First of all, I always wash my hands before caring for my face to avoid bacteria. Allison mentions this in her nightly facial skin care post too.

If I happen to be wearing makeup (most days I go without), I like using these makeup remover towelettes. Right now I have the generic Target brand, but I’ve tried the Neutrogena, YES! To Cucumbers, Burt’s Bees, and a few other generic brands and like them all. They smell fresh and do an excellent job removing all of the makeup from my face, even my eye makeup. The towelettes are actually very gentle around the eyes, so I don’t have to worry about stinging.

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This next thing is sort of a bonus step, I just thought I’d share my experience with it. I recently acquired this Clinique “Take The Day Off” makeup remover for “lids, lashes, and lips” that works really well. I just pour a little bit onto a cotton round and rub it around on my eyes, and it takes everything right off. I personally only use this on my eyes because it seems like it does a better job taking off harder to remove makeup like mascara. I don’t purchase this regularly, my friend Christine gave it to me when we cleaned out her bedroom, so I thought I’d give it a try. Thanks Christine!

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After removing any makeup from my face, I wash it with some sort of face wash. Lately I’ve been using this Burt’s Bees Deep Pore Scrub, and I must say that I love it. I think this is my favorite face wash I’ve ever used, but there are so many more out there that I still want to try. I have used this product before and go back for it every few months–I love Burt’s Bees because everything is so gentle, natural, and it really works. This product contains exfoliating beads, and it has made my skin look and feel great. I highly recommend this!

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After I dry my face by lightly dabbing it with a towel (One time, I heard at a Mary Kay party that drying your face roughly with a towel is very bad for your skin), I add moisturizer. Lately I’ve been using this Alba facial moisturizer and I love it. It smells like summer time and makes my normally very dry skin soft and smooth. I still have a lot left in the container, so it looks like it will last me through winter time when my skin tends to become SEVERELY dry. We’ll see how it works. I think the summery smell will help me endure winter!

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I also like to use organic, virgin, and unrefined coconut oil as a moisturizer as well. Smells and feels amazing, it’s just a little bit greasy. Pick some up for a good price at Trader Joe’s.

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This isn’t really part of my skin care routine, but I do swear by this contact solution and want to share my thoughts about it. I’ve always used generic contact solution, but I recently tried this Opti-Free brand and LOVE it. I always had problems with contacts stinging when I tried to put them in for the day, which would make me late. This is so frustrating. Ever since I started using Opti-Free, my contacts go in so easily and my eyes feel great. I have had no stinging issues! Hallelujah!

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After my face is moisturized and my contacts are out, I rub this Burt’s Bees (can you tell I LOVE Burt’s Bees?) night cream on my eyes. I’m not really sure if this is actually working, but I like to think that it is, ha!

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What is your nightly facial skin care routine? Care to share any great products?