What’s Down That Road?

Note: I have been asked a lot the past year about leaving my successful corporate job and I am finally ready to write about it. I have found so much encouragement, inspiration, and amazing stories from other women’s journeys of pursuing or creating another dream.  As my journey unfolds if it has a positive impact on just one person that would be worth it.

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I don’t remember exactly when or where, but a long time ago (probably 15+ years ago) I bought a card with this quote on it.  At that moment it sparked something in me because I suspect that deep down I was already contemplating whether or not I was on the right path. I bought that card and put it in my office for inspiration and the sheer happiness I got reading it. That card came with me through several promotions and job changes. Sadly, I am not sure where that card is today; it was likely a victim of one of my many moves where I kept downsizing. But I can still picture it clearly and boy do wish I still had it on my desk because I believe that simple card purchase kept that “what if…” alive in the back of my mind.

Everyone has a fork in the road, a point where the decision about which road to take will forever impact their life. One of my most defining, perhaps the most defining, happened when I was 40. And since then I have embarked on a mission of positive transformation.

I spent 20+ years building a kickass career (at least I think it was). I worked my way through various levels of experience in an accounting firm, a small privately held company, and a major international corporation. And I was passionate, dedicated, focused and intense (oh so intense). As a result, I was climbing the ladder, leading, transforming successful businesses, and shaping the future of the profession. As with most jobs, in the corporate world, the pressure to deliver was intense. Coupling that with my type-A personality and desire to succeed, that meant I was working non-stop. And I never really stopped to ask myself if I was achieving what I wanted out of life. I think for so many of us, the every day kicks in and we just go, trying to keep up with the demands of being an adult (and seriously this is what we were so impatient for when we were kids???)

Along the way, I lost myself. I neglected to build and nurture other parts of my life. I let down my family and friends by always putting them second. I didn’t develop passionate hobbies that gave me an outlet. There are two things that I will spend the rest of my life regretting. The first is that I attended my youngest sister’s wedding via Skype because I chose to give priority to a work meeting in DC. My baby sister is one of the most unexpected and precious beings in my life. I am sure I didn’t make her feel that way on that special day. The second is that I missed telling my grandmother good-bye for the last time because I was pushing getting on that flight as long as possible because I had a huge deadline looming. My grandmother was courageous. She is one of my feminist, push the boundaries, don’t put up with bull$#@&, take the world by the horns role models.

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When we were both babies!

I slept too little, stressed too much. Ate too little, drank too many of my calories (ahhh…the complicated love affair with wine). Exercised too little, stared at screens too much. Checked my phone too much, lost myself in the presence of my family and friends too little. It was not uncommon for my hubby to find me madly working away at 2 am because I could not shut my mind down from everything that needed to get done.

I don’t think my story is that different from so many other women (or men) out there and I am simply recounting the every day that so many people live. I don’t write any of this feeling sorry for myself. In fact, it is the opposite. I write this celebrating everything I did accomplish. I write this so incredibly thankful that I have the opportunity to try something else out. I write all of this with the understanding that everything that happened is a result of decisions that I made (or didn’t make). The flip side of the coin is that it helped make me the kickass strong, independent, self-supporting woman that I am today (a job my grandmother, mom, and dad started years ago).

Kerri at AICPA
A career highlight was being invited to the AICPA executive round table for companies shaping the future of the profession. I completely love and embrace my inner tax geek!

And it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Far from it in fact…I had many amazing career accomplishments! I learned from some smart business people to become a smart businesswoman. I also learned how to run a successful business, make tough decisions, lead, inspire (I hope), collaborate, solve tough problems, and keeping moving even when the path forward is not clear. I loved my customers and loved my profession. But I made three big mistakes along the way (well, I have made A LOT of mistakes but for the sake of my dignity we will keep it at three for now):

arrowDefining my success: I was measuring my success by someone else’s ruler. And quite frankly it is rare that we will ever achieve success using someone else’s definition. I was just going, doing what it took and never stopping to ask was I on my path?

arrowLack of balance: I was seeking too much fulfillment, acceptance, and approval from my career. Instead of also filling my cup with adventures, experiences, family, and friends.

arrowSetting boundaries: I didn’t create any boundaries in my life. I did not use the word “no” often enough (to compensate it’s possible I use it a little too much now). Because of this I did not stop often enough and allow myself to rest and rejuvenate.

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The super amazing time I was invited to testify at the White House on the impact of ACA to the American Taxpayer. I am so thankful to have had opportunities like this!

I am lucky because I know exactly when my fork in the road appeared. I know exactly when I had a glaring moment requiring a life choice. And I knew exactly what the answer was…the answer that I needed for me. I might share what that moment was in a later post when I am ready because it is still hard and the emotions raw for me (just keeping it real). But, as hard as that moment was, I am forever grateful because this moment gave me the clarity, certainty, and strength I needed to answer the long contemplated and deeply buried questions of:

arrowIs this my best purpose and way for me to serve myself, my hubby, my family, my friends, the world?
arrowAm I leaving my best and positive mark on the world?

Without trepidation, fear, or uncertainty I knew the answer was “no”. I knew in my end game if I didn’t take this opportunity I would always wonder what else I could have been capable of creating, of being.

So…today it’s been a year since I last swiped my access card. A year since I said some hard and emotional goodbyes to people who had been an unwavering support system for me (I am so lucky that most of them chose to stick with me as friends and not just colleagues). A year since for the first time I didn’t know exactly what came next in my career path (which was also kind of thrilling). But the type-A in me had a plan to discover and create that path. After taking some time to invest in myself, learn some new things and work through some of my needed improvements (which BTW will never end) I know I totally have this!

Taking this fork in my road is turning out to be a good choice…

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P.S.  Are you even a little bit curious about what I am doing today?  Check out this earlier post!  Or check out this series on how I created my plan to figure out what career venture came next!

Feature Photo Credit: The amazing @atlantaaudrey  Follow her on Instagram.

 

Planning Your Iceland Trip

Iceland is a unique trip for most people so preparing for it can be a bit baffling.  Before our trip we were fortunate to get immensely helpful tips and tricks from friends who had previously visited.  So I am combining those with the tips and tricks that we learned during our trip in hopes that this will help with the question “What exactly do I need to know about Iceland and what in the world do I pack?”  

Related Post: Road Tripping Iceland in 7 Days

Tips & Tricks (i.e, Stress Relievers)  

Those little things you wish you knew before you arrived that might make your trip just a bit smoother.

Currency

The local currency is the Icelandic Krona, but worry not because money is super easy over there.  In fact, we didn’t have cash at all during our trip because literally everywhere accepts credit cards.  Even the bathroom stalls (and you do have to pay for some of them!).  This is likely because there are some very isolated areas where ATMs are not available and you would be stranded without a card.  However, make sure that your credit card providers are aware of your travel plans.  You will be swiping a lot and you definitely don’t want to be cut off.  For more tips on foreign currency check out this prior post.

Budget

Iceland is notoriously for its high prices for some basics such as food and drinks. But with a bit of planning this trip is very affordable.

1. Plane Ticket Budget

Getting to Iceland from the US or Canada is really affordable.  If you watch prices it is very easy to get a round-trip ticket for $400 or less on WOW airlines.  What I also love about WOW is that you can schedule a layover in another European city for no extra cost.  So you may want to consider slipping in another destination for a week or two!

2. Food & Alcohol Budget

While the flights to Iceland can be a steal, once you are there it is notoriously expensive. However, with a bit of planning it should not be an issue.  Some of our fav ways that we saved $$$:

arrowAlcohol:  While alcohol prices in Iceland can make you want to jump on the bandwagon for the duration of your trip, there is a solution!  Purchase at duty-free and stuff it in your carry on.  We each purchased 2 bottles of wine and those 4 bottles lasted us all week.

Tip: If you are bringing bottles or wine or plan to buy bottles at the grocery store once you are there, don’t forget to throw a corkscrew into your suitcase.

arrowFood: Usually I love to experience the local cuisine and while we ate dinner out a few times we considered this to be an adventure trip instead of a gastronomic trip so we saved a lot of money by being creative.  

  • Breakfast:
    • We bought a variety of breakfast bars and foods with us.  
    • The traditional Icelandic yogurt, Skyr, is super good, affordable, and can be picked up at any grocery store or gas station.
    • Look for guest houses or hostels that include breakfast with their rate.  We stayed at a few places that included breakfast and found it to be quite good.
  • Lunch & Snacks:
    • Like breakfast bars, bring along snack foods like crackers or granola bars in your suitcase.
    • Find a grocery store during your trip and stock up on sandwich items, fruit, and other items that are easy to eat in the car.    
  • Dinner: We did eat dinner out a few times and if you love fish you definitely want to try some since this is one of their specialties (usually caught right off the side of Ring Road!).  But the rest of the time this is how we rolled:
    • Stayed at AirBnB’s or Guest Houses that had a kitchen so we also cooked easy things such as pasta.  
    • N1 Gas Stations are affordable with a surprising array of food such as salad bars, pasta bars, soup, hamburgers, etc..  In some of the tiny villages this is only “restaurant” around so you will see lots of locals there as well.   

Tip: You CANNOT leave Iceland without eating at least one bacon wrapped, cheese hot dog.  Yummy!

Rental Vehicle

Renting a car is pretty much required in Iceland if you want to leave Reykjavik. In fact, Iceland is pretty much a road trip vacation.  The terrain is very rough on cars and the rental car companies are super stringent about any damage to the vehicle.  Honestly, this was one of the biggest sources of stress on our trip.  So if you don’t want to spend 80% of your car time (and there is a lot of car time in Iceland) freaked out about the state of the car, 2 things to splurge on:

arrowAdditional Insurance: At a minimum buy the gravel, wind and volcanic coverage because the risk is real.  We received the same advice before we left and still debated it at the rental car counter but ultimately went with it.  And once on the road, we were so happy we did because it did alleviate some of the driving stress.     

arrowGet the 4X4:  Always the budget travelers we opted for the economy car and ended up with a Nissan Micra.  Cute but definitely not practical even for parts of the Ring Road (we didn’t drive on any F-roads).  We were chasing hubcaps several times as we bounced over parts of the roads (some of our funniest memories but still I don’t recommend it).    

Tip: Many of the roads on the interior of the island are referred to as F-Roads and it is illegal to drive on them unless you have a 4X4 but even then they are known to be quite dangerous.

We were lucky that even though we were missing a hubcap we were not charged additional amounts for car damage.  We heard several people telling horror stories about paying thousands of dollars due to damage.  I promise you both of these will take a lot of anxiety out of your trip.

Micra at Pjofafoss Waterfalls
Our adorable Nissan Micra at Pjofafoss Waterfalls. It was a cute car, but we wished we had opted for the 4X4 even though a bit more expensive. Note our missing rear hubcap 🙂

Cell Service

Iceland is very well connected and there are mobile hotspots everywhere to make connecting to google maps or searching for information on the next destination easy. Even so, though there are remote areas (especially in the North) without wifi.  We both purchased the Verizon travel pass on our phones which at just $10 per day was really affordable.  Check out your phone providers options, but generally, this is pretty easy in Iceland.  For more info on international cell phone plans check out this prior post.

Tip: Even with travel passes on our phones in some of the more remote areas the signal was not always reliable so be prepared with knowledge of your route just in case.

Other Tips & Tricks

Language

Icelandic is the official language but not to worry because nearly everyone speaks English.  Which is a relief because while it is lovely to listen to them communicate in their language, it is not one you are going to master in time for the trip.  As hard I tried I was never able to pronounce a word the same way twice.

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This pretty much says it all when it comes to trying to understand the Icelandic language in time for your trip. This t-shirt made me laugh each time we saw it in a gift shop.
F-roads vs. Paid Tours

Many of the interior roads on the islands are called the F-roads and it is illegal to drive on them without a 4X4.  So if you think you want to venture into them you most definitely want to upgrade the rental car to a 4X4.  However, if off-road driving is not your cup of tea even with a 4X4 (like ours) there are plenty of tours that can take you into some of the amazing interior portions of the island.  

Car Time

There is a lot of car time involved in an Icelandic vacation getting from place to place.  A lot and especially in the north.  The good news is that it is beautiful and lots of opportunities to stop and stretch your legs.  But be prepared for hours in the car between locations (such as downloading any audible books, podcasts, or music playlists in advance).

Chargers

Iceland is in Europe so make sure to bring along converters for charging your devices.  Since there is so much car time this can be a great time to charge up all your devices.  In addition to phone car chargers, a charging pack like this could come in handy for multiple devices or even for charging a.  

What to Pack

You will be spending most of your time in the car or doing outdoor activities so if I had to pick 3 words for packing for an Iceland vacation it would be: warm, casual, comfortable.  I strongly advise against packing cute/go-out clothing because you really won’t have an opportunity to wear them and will wish you had used the space in your suitcase for something more practical.  Everyone you see is going to be dressed similarly so unless you are going out for a night on the town in Reykjavik anything other than comfy outdoor gear and you will be wayyyy overdressed.  

arrowLots of Layers: You will be shedding or adding clothes between sitting in the car and getting outside to explore.  Plus depending on the sunlight it can get “warm”.  So layers of shirt, sweater, and a jacket is definitely recommended.

arrowCold weather accessories: Hat, gloves, scarves, and socks (warm and at least calf length)  

arrowBase Layers – Merino wool base layers are the best, but any base layers that you have definitely bring along.

arrowRain/Wind Gear: A jacket that doubles for both rain and wind protector as well as an umbrella.  It rained the whole time we were there and many areas are very windy. But even if you are lucky enough not to encounter rain you will be getting close to a lot of waterfalls and so the rain jacket comes in quite handy on a daily basis.  

arrowCold Weather Jacket: Down jackets are really the best, but regardless of material you will want to have a warm jacket, especially in the winter.  It can always come off if needed.  We were there in late September and with the rain and chilly weather we often wore our rain jackets over the top of our cold weather jackets and that kept us comfortable.

arrowMaterials: Cashmere and wool are the best cold weather materials to keep you warm so pack those if you have them!

arrowHiking Boots/Shoes: Not cute, fashionable wanna be hiking shoes but durable comfortable hiking shoes (and they can be cute…I have a very cute Salomon pair). Unless you are just poking your nose out of the car to observe (and I certainly hope not) you will be doing lots of walking over rough terrain.  And the area around waterfalls is really slippery so you want a good grip.

arrowBathing Suit – While you are not likely going to jump in the ocean you most definitely want to slip into at least one hot spring while you are there!

arrowTowel – This definitely comes in handy if you are going to stop and dip into hot springs.  Even at the larger lagoons/hot springs the towel rental can be expensive (around $5).  Plus depending on your accommodations towels may or may not be included.  I threw in a camping microfiber towels from REI which is super thin and fast drying making it perfect.

arrowMap of Iceland – Throw it back to 1995 and bring along an old-school map of Iceland.  Audrey brought one along this Michelin Map and it came in quite useful a few times because when cell service was under 3G our GPS was not always reliable.

arrowCamera – This is one of those vacations that would be perfect to turn into an animated flip book because just about every square inch is a photography dream (whether you are a novice or a pro).  So make sure to bring along your photography equipment (camera, tripod, or other fancy schmancy stuff you have).  For some vacations your phone is enough, but for Iceland you will really want that camera.

arrowFood & Such – Don’t forget to add any food items or corkscrew that you are opting to bring along.

arrowToiletries – Add a packet of tissues or wet wipes to your toiletries along with a ziplock bag.  There can be long stretches of road without access to a restroom so if you have to stop on the side of the road you will be really glad you have these (and you do not want to leave behind any litter).

Bonus Pro Tip:  Car doors can double as privacy shields if you have to make an emergency roadside stop.  

Tip: If your itinerary is going around Ring Road and moving accommodations every day or two remember that you will be hauling your suitcase out of the car and repacking A LOT.  I definitely recommend packing as light as possible.  If you can find guesthouses or AirBnB that has access to a washer and dryer this will also help you limit what you need to bring. By packing just 2 outfits each we were both able to get everything in a carry-on suitcase.  For more on packing light, take a peek at this earlier post.  

Planning Your Trip

Iceland 2017 Map
Kerri & Audrey Iceland 2017 Itinerary, Route, and Places Visited

So I am just going to put it out there…you won’t be able to do it all.  I am convinced you could live there and not do it all.  There are infinite things to do and to this day I still see amazing pics on Instagram of all the things we missed and I am green with jealousy.  So while everyone puts together a “Top 10 List” keep in mind that is from their trip and they probably missed all kinds of things too.  Just driving down the road in Iceland is an experience and you will want to stop every 2 miles (seriously, just wait and see).  

We booked our trip last minute and we stayed in Iceland only for a week and once we started planning realized that we should have gone for a minimum of 10 days (really 2+ weeks is more ideal).  However, those were the tickets so we did some mad planning!  You can go here to see that places we visited in Iceland.

arrowRing Road – This is the road that circles the whole island and will be the primary route for your journey.  Many of the more popular tourist attractions are in the south (like Golden Circle), which means most people depart Reykjavik taking Ring Road south. However, because of our chosen itinerary, we actually did the opposite and departed Reykjavik going northwest.  

I recommend starting with the Northern part of the island first and working your way to the south because it is more scenic in this direction.  How do I know this you ask?  Well, interesting story!  When we were 60% around the island a bridge on Ring Road collapsed due to rain and that section of the road was closed for the duration of our trip.  We had to turn around and drive all the way back around the island to get to the southern part. We lost a day of our trip, but we were able to see the island from both directions and we found north to south to be more beautiful.

arrowAccommodations – Outside of the main cities and some of the larger villages the typical hotel in Iceland is scarce. Most accommodations are Airbnb, Hostels, or Guest Houses.  I love these types of accommodations because you get a chance to meet more locals or interact with other visitors to Iceland since you are often sharing a common living space.  

For booking this trip Airbnb and booking.com were great resources for finding affordable accommodations almost anywhere on the island.  

Tip: While I often take trips where my accommodations are not booked in advance I would recommend (at least on the first trip to Iceland) booking in advance.  Rooms can be limited in some villages or a long distance outside of a village.  We were there in a low season so there were open rooms, but in high season this could be a challenge.  But also be flexible, you never know when you may run into a car or nature issue and requires you to change your plans without notice.

Other super-cool accommodation options that are available are camper vans and tent camping.  While we did not do that on this trip I have done both of these in prior vacations and had a blast. I highly recommend them as a great way to have an adventure vacation.  Iceland has a lot of campgrounds in which you can have both a camper van and a tent.  My next trip to Iceland will likely involve a camper van.   

Iceland Cheat Sheet
Iceland Cheat Sheet – This is a pic I snapped at the airport when we arrived. Its stuffed full of good info about Iceland that we referenced several times during our trip! It might also help you pick the time of year you want to visit!

Most Importantly…Have Fun!

Best of luck with planning an amazing Icelandic adventure and if you have any questions send me a note and I will help out as much as I can!  Or on the flip side if you have an Icelandic tip or suggestion send it to me so I can add to the list (with reader credit of course).

bon voyage

P.S. To check out our Icelandic adventure, visit this blog post: Road Tripping Iceland in 7 Days.

Road Tripping Iceland in 7 Days

As one of the current hotspots for travelers, Iceland had my curiosity piqued and it was on my travel list.  But to be honest, it was not at the top.  As someone who already lives in 4 -5 months (minimum) of winter, I usually want to go to sunshine and warmth for vacation, not in search of more cold.  However, one of my girl travel sidekicks, Audrey, had it high on her list and when we both started itching again with the travel bug and airline tickets were crazy cheap for both of us, the deal was sealed!

Preparing for our Iceland trip was an adventure in and of itself.   So I wrote an accompanying piece about our lessons learned and tips & tricks to help you with planning a fabulous Icelandic adventure if you want to jump ahead!  

Our Iceland Adventure

Beautiful, otherworldly, spectacular, rugged, jaw-dropping…just a few descriptors that come to mind when trying to describe Iceland.  Despite rainy weather, missing the island’s east side and the Highlands due to an unexpected bridge outage (what is an adventure without a few unplanned mishaps), and losing some missing car parts (oops!) our seven days there exceeded all our expectations.  (You can read a bit more about our mishaps here in the next blog post about planning your Icelandic adventure)  

I can’t wait to share with you what we discovered!  

Northern Iceland

Kirkjufell Mountain

Located on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula next to the village of Grundarfjordur, Kirkjufell Mountain is said to be the most photographed mountain in Iceland.   The view of the mountain is stunning from the road, but I recommend taking the very short walk up to Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall where the view is spectacular.  As a photography hotspot, definitely expect to encounter tons of cameras and tripods, especially at sunset with the backdrop of the sunset and when the northern lights are on display in the winter.  But this should not keep you from visiting if you are in this area of Iceland.

Kirkfujell Mountain Iceland

Godafoss Waterfalls

Over 98 feet wide Godafoss Falls translates to “Waterfall of the Gods”.  According to local legend, when Christianity became the official religion of Iceland in the year 999 – 1000 a pagan priest threw his statues of the Norse gods into the waterfall after converting to Christianity.  We stayed nearby one night and the falls were so gorgeous we visited twice! 

Iceland Godafoss Falls 

Husavik Village

One of the best places in Iceland to whale watch the small village of Husavik was founded in 870 A.D.  According to the Icelandic Sagas, Gardar Svavarsson was the second Scandinavian to reach Iceland and founded the village after his ship was stranded by a storm and he was forced to spend a winter here.  When he departed, he left behind some of his party who settled the village.  But he was so inspired by Iceland that he did return.

Husavik Village

Since neither of us had seen whales up close and personal in the wild, we decided to take a whale watching tour.  While spotting a whale is not guaranteed, we had 7 sightings of Orca whales!  This expedition had us both giddy with excitement and can definitely recommend if you are on the fence about taking one.

Audrey Whale Watching
In addition to seeing whales who wouldn’t want the chance to strut around in this awesome outfit for 3 whole hours!!

We used Gentle Giants for our whale tour and I have to say they were amazing!  I am sure the other tour companies are also great, but we really enjoyed our tour and the staff was so friendly and let us pepper them with questions!  We learned a lot during our voyage about whales and their habits.  For instance,  did you know what the underside of the tail of an Orca is unique to the whale like a human fingerprint?  These unique markings are used to identify whales and track them all over the world.

Orca

Photo credit of Audrey Ann Photography.  Follow Audrey on Instagram

Lake Myvatn (& Surrounding Area)

This massive volcanic lake that was created approximately 2300 years ago when a volcano erupted.  It is a huge nature habitat with some many different experiences that it would be possible to spend several days here alone exploring.  We did spend the majority of a day exploring but reluctantly had to leave to keep with our itinerary. Recommend stopping by the visitor center in Reykjahlid where they are awesome at helping you figure out what to go see based on your interests.   

Lake Myvtan

Photo credit of Audrey Ann Photography.  Follow Audrey on Instagram

Star Power: Apparently many scenes from Game of Thrones are filmed in the Myvatn Lake area so they may look familiar to some.  However, I am apparently one of only 7 people on the planet who has never seen an episode so it was all new to me!

Grjotagja Cave (Lake Myvatn)

The lava cave has an underground that for many years served as a bathing pool but was closed in the 80’s due to the temperature of the water rising above 50 degrees Celsius (122+ degrees Fahrenheit).  However, it seems that as of recently it may possible to bathe it again depending on the temperature which would be awesome!  So that might be worth checking out if you are visiting the cave.

afterlight    

Not to be missed is the view from the top of the caves which has a large fissure dividing the ground and an amazing panoramic view of the mountains and you can even see steam rising off of the geothermal pools in the distance.

Grjotagja Cave Top

Namafjall Geothermal Area (Lake Myvatn)

Also known as Hverir this area has a spectacular array of colors created by sulfur crystals and boiling mud pots.  It feels like you are stepping out of your car and into the planet Mars.  You can walk around in this area and there is even a small hiking trail.  Friendly warning: There is a very strong sulfur smell but it’s totally worth it and besides you start to get used to it after a few minutes.  

Namafjall Geothermal Area

Dimmuborgir (Lake Myvatn)

Called the Dark Fortress of Myvatn, Dimmuborgir is a massive lava rock formation field that was created 2300 years ago when molten lava for the volcanic explosion flowed over a pond.  The formations were created when the water that was trapped beneath the lava turned into steam that escaped through vents in the lava.  You can wander through the formations by following the paths that have been created.

Dimmuborgir at Lake Myvatn.jpeg

Hofdi Peninsula and Kálfastrandavogar Lava Pillars (Lake Myvatn)

One of the few places we visited that was full of gorgeous vegetation and trees, the Hofdi Peninsula has beautiful walking trails that provide spectacular panoramic views of the lake.  The peninsula also provides the perfect way to see the free-standing Kálfastrandavogar lava pillars.  These free-standing pillars were created the same way as the Dimmuborgir formations.   

Hofdi Peninsula & Kalfastrandavogar Lave Pillars

Photo credit of Audrey Ann Photography.  Follow Audrey on Instagram

Icelandic Highlands: A total of 40,000 sq km the Icelandic Highlands is one of the largest uninhabited areas of Europe and has some of the most amazing beauty in Iceland (such as Landmannalaugar and Hekla Volcano).  Due to the unfortunate Ring Road closure while we were there we lost our day to visit Landmannalaugar but we did drive through a small slice of it between Husavik and Hofn.  The rugged, uninhabited beauty is just…wow and at the top of my list for my return trip (yup, that is definitely going to happen).    

Iceland Highlands

Southern Iceland

Golden Circle

One of the more popular tourist areas in Iceland you can expect to share space with a lot of people (in contrast to the hours you can spend on the road with few signs of other people).  However, it is popular for a reason and so we spent a day exploring it and the surrounding area.  Despite the numerous selfie sticks (I have an abnormal hatred of selfie sticks), it was worth it.

Gullfoss Waterfalls (Golden Circle)

A 2-tiered phenomenal waterfall and is one of the most powerful waterfalls in the world (more powerful than Niagra Falls!).  And to add to the mystical beauty of the waterfalls rainbows are created by the mist and sunlight. In fact, Iceland is full of rainbows so if you are looking for a pot of gold this is a good country to search.

Gullfoss Waterfalls

Geysir Geothermal Area (Golden Circle)

Several well-known geysirs are in this area, including Great Geysir.  Since it has been dormant since 1926 the chances of seeing it erupt are pretty slim.  But not to worry because it’s neighbor, Strokkur Geysir, erupts approximately every 10 minutes and has a trajectory of 66 to 132 feet so it’s pretty impressive to watch!

Strokkur Geysir

Kerid Crater Lake (Golden Circle Area)

Formed around 6,500 years ago this crater is almost perfectly oval and its beauty comes not just from the gorgeous blue of the lake at the bottom, but also from the rocks of red and orange along with the colorful vegetation that grows within the crater.  Kerid is on the way to the Golden Circle so definitely worth swinging by on your way.

Kerid Crater Lake Iceland

Photo credit of Audrey Ann Photography.  Follow Audrey on Instagram

Note: There is a nominal fee of just 500 ISK (around $5 USD and $6 CAD), but don’t let this deter you!

Fridheimar Tomato Farm:

Ok, so not a site but definitely worth a visit, because one has to eat after all, right? Fridheimar is a tomato and cucumber farm that grows their produce in these amazing and gorgeous greenhouses that are kept warm by the geothermically heated water.  So pop in and have possibly the best tomato soup and Bloody Mary’s in the world (seriously, in the world).

Fridheimar Tomato Farm

Pjofafoss Waterfall

Our most off the beaten path site that we visited.  We were not sure the Nissan Micra would survive (Audrey had to convince me a few times not to turn around).  However, put this under the “Totally worth it even if we could have driven off a cliff” checklist.  We arrived at this waterfall just as the sun was setting and we were the only people there. This is why I love the path less traveled; it is when you find the most spectacular treasures.

Pjofafoss Waterfall

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Located right off of Ring Road it is one of the highest waterfalls in Iceland at 60 meters (197 feet).  One of the really unique things about this waterfall is that you can walk behind it into a small cave with the water tumbling down in front of you.  Super cool, but make sure you wear a rain jacket and hat because you will get wet (but completely worth it).

Note: You do have to pay a nominal fee to park and see the falls.  Pay at an automated machine with a credit card.  Don’t just park alongside the road to avoid paying because they are pretty aggressive about giving tickets (and they should be).

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Secret Lagoon Hot Springs 

Located in the small village of Fludir and dating back to 1891 the Secret Lagoon is the oldest swimming pool in Iceland.  While it is far less crowded than Blue Lagoon, it is not quite a secret anymore and you are likely to be sharing the pool with other people.  We were there at night, but it does have a feeling of being in nature and you can sip on a wine or beer while relaxing in the cozy waters enjoying the night sky.   

Secret Lagoon.jpeg

Drangshlid

Right off the side of Ring Road, a series of houses and barn embedded into the bottom of a mountain that has a lot of elf folklore surrounding it.  Elves or no elves these old houses are charming.

Drangshlid

Reynisfjara Black Beach

One of the most famous of Iceland’s black-sand beaches due to several unique formations.  The first of those is the basalt columns.  This unique column wall was formed as a result of the cooling and cracking of thick basaltic lava flow at the surface.  

Reynisfjara Black Beach - Kerri

Photo credit of Audrey Ann Photography.  Follow Audrey on Instagram

The second is the Reynisdrangar lava formations off of the shoreline.  According to legend, these are actually two trolls that were trying to pull a ship out of the ocean but were caught by daylight, turning into stone.  

Reynisdrangar Lava Formations

And finally, the basalt column cave which you can slip into for a unique view of the basalt columns.     

Kirkjufjara Black Sand Beach

Black sand beaches are a result of the lava flow from volcanoes but may not actually be sand!  They can also be small black pebbles and these pebbles are quite beautiful. Kirkjufjara has several lookout points with very different views and both are quite stunning.

Kirkjufjara Black Sand Beach

Blue Lagoon

We were on the fence about visiting Blue Lagoon due to many reviews that thought it was overrated, expensive, and too touristy.  However, in the end, we decided to go to the Blue Lagoon because it would be the equivalent of not going to the Eiffel Tower when in Paris.  So we literally hit it up on our way to the airport and we were both so glad that we did!  We purchased the base level tickets, each bought one drink, and we were able to keep the cost reasonable.  But it was an amazing experience and while there were lots of people there, we didn’t find it to be overcrowded as they control the number of people allowed to enter.  Plus our skin was super fabulous after the silica mud mask that is included with the ticket (and we both splurged for the algae mask for an extra $4). However, the state of our hair with all that silica in it after flying back home and letting it air dry was a completely different matter.  I should have taken a selfie cause it was a pretty…ummm…unique look!  

Blue Lagoon Iceland

Photo credit of Audrey Ann Photography.  Follow Audrey on Instagram

Iceland Bonus

One of the most famous things about Iceland is its horses.  While they are smaller than the typical horse we are used to don’t you dare call them ponies.  Once you see them you will know why…they are gorgeous and majestic, and regal.  More importantly, they are friendly, love people, love being pet, and are everywhere on the island!  So make sure you stop (and stop often) to give some attention and love to these beauties.

Icelandic Horse

Until Next Time Iceland

And there you have it!  That is our journey through Iceland.  It’s like stepping off the plane into a whole other planet.  And it should have been higher on my bucket list.  I will definitely be back because there is so much left to explore due to our short trip, rainy weather, and missed the eastern side of the island. But it’s ok…because now I have lots of reasons to return!   

All the places we visited and our route are shown on this map, but if you have specific questions feel free to ask!

Iceland 2017 Map
Kerri & Audrey Iceland 2017 Itinerary, Route, and Places Visited

Iceland or Bust

So I am starting my must-see list for next time and I will keep adding to it as I discover more!  I am sharing with you in case they are places you want to check out as options for your trip.  If you have any “you just can’t miss this” places send them my way to add to my “Iceland or Bust” return list!

Western Iceland

  • Western Fjords
  • Lóndrangar Cliffs

Eastern Iceland

  • Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
  • Northern lights
  • Vatnajokull National Park
  • Klifbrekkufossar Waterfall
  • Bustarfell Red Houses

Southern Iceland

  • Thingvellir National Park
  • Fjallabak Nature Reserve: Landmannalaugar and Laugahraun Lava Fields
  • Myrdalsjokull Glacier Park
  • Take a Glacier & Ice Climbing Hike
  • Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

Next Post: Preparing for a Trip to Iceland

If you are anxious to start planning your trip to Iceland and want some insider “been there done that” advice compiled from our trip visit the blog post Planning Your Iceland Trip.

bon voyage

Making 2018 Intentional

To Resolution or Not to Resolution..

Staying the same is kind of boring…easy and comfortable, but boring. It just so happens to be that time of the year when we all are thinking about how to be even more spectacular (I happen to think we all have some spectacular in us at this very moment).   So I will just put it out there that I am not a fan of NYE resolutions.  Often made spur of the moment and out of excitement (or pressure) they are often not changes we are truly committed to (fingers pointed in this direction).  Which then means they are forgotten or pushed aside with the reality of everyday life and then later used as a weapon to beat ourselves up.  At least these are my observations in my very scientific study of myself, family, and friends.  

“I don’t call them New Year’s Resolutions, I prefer the term ‘Casual promises I make to myself that I am under no legal obligation to keep” – Funny e-card

“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans” – Peter F Drucker

Now with that said anyone who knows me knows that I am definitely a fan of goals and making life changes.  I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to make positive changes in their life.  These changes can be small like learning a new skill/hobby or trying an activity outside of a comfort zone.  Or they can be a big change like moving, changing jobs/careers, going back to school, ending or starting a relationship.  But regardless I believe that life changing decisions have to be tackled when you are ready, not because the calendar flipped to a day with a new ending digit.  

Anytime is good for change..  

Only you know when you are truly ready to tackle a change.  Because let’s be honest, changes or new challenges are hard.  If they were easy concepts like resolutions would not exist.  And if you do take the plunge before you are ready the commitment and smart decision making are difficult.  Knowing you are ready doesn’t mean you have all the answers, know the final outcome of the change, or that you are not nervous as heck.  But instead it is a feeling of peace that you have this, you can do this, regardless of how it turns out you will land on your feet a better person on the other side (with maybe a few more tough lessons learned than you anticipated), and some excitement that you are beginning a new journey.  Regardless of the size of the change, no one knows when you are ready except you.       

From the time the idea of taking a pause on my 20+ year career came up until the time I actually did it, took 2 years. Two years of wrestling with the idea, rationalizing all the possible outcomes, talking with my confidants until I was blue in the face (and they wanted to run the other direction when they saw me).  But I knew when I was ready and when I was at peace with the decision.  I know the moment I thought “If I don’t do this, I will regret this when I am at the end of my life.”  I knew that with 100% certainty even though I was scared to death and I didn’t have all the answers for how it would turn out (apparently my crystal ball is still on backorder).   And I have been committed, I am all in 100% through all the fun days and the not so fun days.  And I can measure what a better person I am for following through on my commitment but only when I was ready.  

“Be patient.  You’ll know when it’s time to wake up and move ahead” – Ram Dass

“And suddenly you know…it’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings” – Meister Eckhart

“You gotta know when it’s time to turn the page” – Tori Amos

Starting Change – Building a Plan

The other intimidating thing about change is that it can seem so big or overwhelming.  Good news: because change really happens slowly that means you have time!  Time to tackle it one step at a time.  As a self-confessed type-A personality I am a big fan of plans and I LOVE the sense of accomplishment of checking an item off the list.  Look at your goal and break it into chunks that you can actually manage.  Then each time you accomplish one you can move onto the next.  It’s the best way to actually get moving.

So for example last year one of my goals was to start a blog because I love to write and I needed a creative outlet.  For several months I stared at that goal written down in my planner and wondered how to even start.  I knew nothing about setting up a blog, writing a blog, or even how to publish it.  And it sat there for several months while I focused on other things which were also on my goal list.  But it was always in the back of my mind.  So finally in July my moment arrived when I was ready to tackle blogging and commit.  So I broke it down into smaller goals to make it manageable:  

  • July: Research blogs, read about them, find blogs I like and observe them, make notes of why I like them.
  • August: Research blog platforms and templates and choose an initial design
  • September: Watch tutorials, take webinars, and start setting up my website
  • October: Start writing content and get feedback from a few people
  • November: Keep writing and learning more about the capabilities and setup of my website
  • December: Start to publish my blog

And then each week I had an even smaller goal to support the monthly goal.  It took me 6 months of work before I publicly publish my first blog.  But I did it at a pace that fit in with the rest of my life, was achievable in pieces, and each month I could check off another item.  And even when the time came for me to publish that first blog I was nervous as a snowball in summer because even though I had worked so hard on it I was making myself vulnerable in new ways.  I was more open to feedback and criticism, but I also believe as painful as it can be which also is the only way I will continue to grow and get better.  But I also feel a burst of pride, joy, and accomplishment when I publish a new post.  Even if it’s only my family and friends that read it out of obligation.   

“You need a plan for everything, whether it’s building a cathedral or a chicken coop.  Without a plan you will postpone living until you are dead.” – John Goddard

“A goal without plans is just a wish” – Antoine de-Saint Exupéry

My Resolutions/Goals:  

So my resolutions or goals are constantly evolving but I know what I am starting off 2018 focusing on.  So in the interest of holding myself accountable I am sharing:

  1. Launching my rental business
    • Finishing the renovation of our new investment property
    • Defining my list of services and offers for my guests that will differentiate me (because I never want to be another “me too” in anything I do)
    • Building out my blog to support my business endeavors and to continue to get joy from the creative outlet.
  2. Character Building
    • Practicing patience with awareness (seriously no one on this planet is more impatient than I am)
    • Learning to collaborate more positively and effectively with my hubby on our new business venture (you would think that by now he knows my ideas are thoughts are always the right ones)
  3. Purpose:
    • Spending more time with my family (the hardest part about living so far away from them)
    • Fostering the relationships that are positive influences in my life and letting go of negative ones (I am really bad about investing in the wrong relationships)   

Note: I reserve the right to change or modify my resolutions/goals as my story for 2018 unfolds and I learn more.

Something new I started in 2017 was to pick a word that I wanted to focus on with my thoughts and actions.  I learned about this in my voracious reading of achieving a balanced life and it just resonated with me and I loved the concept.   

  • Breathing (word #1):
    • Definition: to pause, as for breath; take a rest
    • My first word because I needed to learn to stop, take a breath, release stress, and learn to let go and move forward.  And hence the name of my blog thanks to the creative genius of my sister.
  • Presence (word #2):
    • Definition: The state or fact of being present, as with others or in a place.
    • And then my word evolved into the idea of being present.  I was epicly bad at being in the current moment, I was missing out on so much, and that was not fair to me or the person I was with.  
  • Intention (current word):
    • Definition: Purpose or attitude toward the effect of one’s actions or conduct  
    • I have recently felt ready to tackle a new word and this is the one that comes to mind over and over.  I want to approach the things I choose to spend my time on with intention.  Not waste it on things that don’t bring me joy, happiness, or closer to accomplishing a goal.  

I have become much more deliberate in the way I live my life over the past year instead of just letting it happen to me.  The result has been more joy, control over my life story, deeper sense of accomplishment, and eagerness for each day.  No matter where you are in your life, my wish for you in 2018 is that you are also experiencing life with the same happiness or that you are tackling the changes you need to start your journey there.  

Happy New Year!!   

P.S. As always I love to hear from all you guys about how you choose and tackle your resolutions and life changes.  Your tips, tricks, and things that give you confidence to move forward.  I love finding new ideas from others that I can use!

The Art of Packing a Carry-On Bag

Travel days requires putting all the worldly possessions you need access to in one bag and (if you are lucky) one that does not create a pain in your neck (literally).  The conflict of weight vs. inconveniently missing items is scarily similar to a 3,000 piece jigsaw puzzle.  So with a few years of trial and error under my belt here are my recommendations for what goes in and and what stays out of the carry-on bag.

arrowInclude in Your Bag

  • Electronics: We all juggle our connectivity and productivity across the multiple devices of phone, tablet, and computer.  And depending on the purpose of your trip you may need one or all of them.  But heavens they are heavy, so think about what you will really use on a trip.  I used to travel with all my devices but got tired of lugging around what could double as a gym weight.  So as much as possible I try to travel with only my iPad or laptop depending on the trip.
  • Wallet and Identification: Yeah, so you are not getting on the plane without identification.  But believe it or not…I have forgotten my wallet…more than once.  And it isn’t fun.  So definitely checklist worthy.
  • Beauty Supplies: A small bag of beauty pick-me-ups that are needed for a quick refresh.  My bag includes: Hand cream, lip balm, toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, beauty blotters, and pressed powder.
  • Portable Charger: A lightweight charger to give a phone or tablet a second wind is a good investment for preventing moments of panic over a dying phone.  
  • Phone charging cord: These days most airports and planes have USB chargers and they are lightweight it is a no-brained to throw one in.  
  • Reusable water bottle: Buying water in the airport is super expensive (not to mention horrible for the environment) and most airports are really great about having bottle refill stations. I love this Platypus flat water bottle my sister put in my stocking last Christmas because it takes up absolutely no space in your bag when it is empty. 
  • Snacks: Throw in your preferred munchie as a much better alternative to airport or airplane snacks.  Granola or baggies of cereal make easy snacks to put in a bag.
  • Headphones/Earbuds: It definitely stinks to be stuck on a plane having to listing to chatter around you or without a way to prevent boredom during take off or landing. So headphones is one I definitely try to double or triple check that I have.
  • Travel Wrap/Blanket: Temperature is a finicky thing in airports and airplanes and shivering your way through a flight is no one’s definition of fun.  Plus, it can help on longer flights for making you feel more comfortable and cozy in your seat.  My fav travel wrap comes from Mur Sea and they have several different styles to choose from. 
  • Business/Contact Cards: You never know when you are going to sit next to a super cool person that you want to exchange contact information with so make sure your cards are within easy reach.
  • Other (As Needed) Items: Not every flight requires these items, but did not want them to be overlooked just in case!  
    • Book: If you are like me and just can’t get into the e-readers you might want to throw in a book.  But personally I rarely take a book on a flight with me simply because of weight and size and other electronic entertainment options that are available.  
    • Notebook and pencil case: for jotting notes when those fabulous ideas spring into your head and you need a quick place to jot them down before you forget
    • Glasses/Sunglasses: Throw in as required and needed!
    • Medications/Jewelry:  Anything that you want to make sure arrives at your destination with you should go in your carry on, not checked luggage.
    • Pillow Ear Plugs, Sleep Mask, Cozy Socks:  Everyone is a bit terrified of sleeping on a plane and what crazy thing you might do (or at least pretty sure I am not the only one with this terrorizing thought.)  But sometimes it’s unavoidable for longer or red-eye flights so these might make you feel a bit more comfy.
    • On the Move Shoes: If you are going straight from the plane to a work meeting racing through the airport in heels can be painful.  So slip a pair of flats or flip-flops in your bag so you can easily switch them around.

arrowConsider Putting in Checked Luggage (or carry-on suitcase):

  • Computer power supplies are large, awkwardly shaped, and often add unnecessary weight.  Unless you will be on a long flight, using your laptop and the battery will not last, this is one item you can put in your suitcase.   
  • Books that you are not going to read while on the plane
  • Electronic devices you are not going to use (only in a carry-on suitcase)

arrowOther Recommendations

  • Charge all your electronics a few hours before leaving home plug in all your electronics and get them fully charged.
  • Make sure you have downloaded your preferred entertainment to your devices.  Whether it’s an Audible book, latest edition of a fav podcast, or a TV show do so before leaving home since airport connections can be slow or unreliable.  
    • Tip: Many airlines now have apps for the in flight entertainment so check the app store for your airline and download before hopping on the plane.
  • Keeping your electronics with you  probably goes without saying, but checking them in luggage is not a good idea of multiple reasons.  So keep them with you but only travel with the devices you really need.
  • If you are going old-school (and that is totally cool) with a paper boarding pass take a pic of your boarding pass just in case it gets lost along the way to the gate.  It happens more than you might think and it helps with getting a reprint at the gate.

So there you go!  My items I just can’t live without for the duration of a flight.  And if any of my fellow travelers have any other items or tips & tricks would love for you to share them with me!

bon voyage

afterlight (3)

Tips for Traveling Abroad the First Time

So here you go!  Off on your first adventure abroad (gosh I remember mine like  yesterday) or maybe your first one in a long time.  But either way you are about to embark on a fabulous adventure.  And you are so excited!  Except for those few unknown things that just might be causing a bit of anxiety.  I remember those days and how I was so worried something would go wrong.  And some of them did go sideways!  But I have survived to tell the tale and hopefully share a few “first timer” tricks I have learned along the way.  Now these items are just part of my travel prep checklist and don’t steal any of my pre-trip zzzz’s.

arrowForeign Currency

My friend Ali is about to embark on her first trip abroad and her #1 stress is making sure she has access to money.  And for good reason, no one wants to spend part of their vacation hunting for a Western Union after a desperate phone call back home for funds.  So to help prevent being stranded without access to money:

arrowCredit & Debit Cards – Take more than one card so that if you do run into problems with any of your cards you have a back-up.  But there are a few tips to help prevent those problems:

  • Call your card providers before traveling abroad to inform them of your plans.  This will help prevent your transactions from being denied, flagged for fraud, or deactivated mid-trip.  With fraudulent activity on the rise financial institutions are constantly (and thankfully) on guard for flagging what appears to be fraudulent transactions.  But this also means they may shut down your card as a precaution especially if they are unaware of your travel plans.
  • Be sure to ask about all fees related to foreign transactions on your cards. Some cards can still have really steep fees when it comes to foreign transactions and you don’t want the unpleasant surprise once you are back home of unexpected and excessive fees.

Tip: Some cards are definitely more foreign fee friendly than others so if you are going to travel abroad regularly it might be worth checking into some other card options.

arrowCash & ATMs – While many places in the world (even some unexpectedly remote ones) accept credit or debit transactions there is always the chance of running into cash only situations or very limited access to ATMs.    

Bringing at least a bit of starter cash.  You have a few options for accessing foreign currency:

  • Visit your bank ahead of time to get cash in the foreign currency.  If you are going to a more remote location this might be the safest bet. .
  • Bring cash that you can convert at a Currency Exchange which are very easy to find in all major airports and cities.

ATM usage – not all cards can be used at an ATM and some have exorbitant fees if you do use them.  So make sure that you understand which cards can be used at an ATM and  the fees related to withdrawing cash vs just using it as a credit card.  

Even with as much as I travel and even though I notify my credit card companies in advance, I have had cards deactivated mid-trip.  This could have created panic except that I did have a reliable fallback card and access to some local currently.

Tip from reader Jenn BBI’d add to your credit card tips that once you’ve identified your Foreign transaction free card and notified your issuer of your travel plans never let a merchant convert the currency for you – let your card issuer do it! We were asked almost every transaction in Ireland which currency we wanted to use and hands down it was better to let them run it in Euros and let the bank do the fee conversion free.

arrowForeign Language 

Language is a barrier that can be very intimidating when traveling, but this definitely should not stop you!  If you really take the time to listen to people speaking in their native language it is beautiful and charming and one of the best things about traveling.  One of the most courteous things you can do when traveling abroad is to learn the basics of the native language.  

When traveling abroad Anglophones are pretty fortunate that in larger cities many people speak at least some English.  But do not take that for granted as in some more remote areas this may not be the case.  Plus your host country will appreciate the effort you put into learning some of their language.  A few apps that make learning the basics both easy and fun are:   

  • DuoLingo
  • Mosa Lingua
  • Tiny Cards

I also love that these apps make finding the time to take a lesson easy.  Only have 5 minutes, no problem!

In addition, make sure that you have a translation app, such as Google Translate, downloaded for those instances when you do need some help.  At least I know that I always want to know what I am ordering off of the menu or exactly how the metro works before hopping on!    

arrowPacking

Packing is one of the most dreaded parts of any trip and because of this 99.9999% of us over pack (guilty!).  But lugging around a huge suitcase can actually complicate your trip and make it more overwhelming than it needs to be (voice of experience).  This is really an area where the golden rule of “less is more” really does apply.  

Tip: Before you even start packing ditch the idea that you need a “new and fresh” set of clothes for each day.  It just simply is not true.

arrowClothes: Should mix and match and each piece used in a minimum of 2 outfits.

arrowShoes: take up way too much space so pack only 1-3 pairs.  And comfort is the most important feature of most vacation shoes.  It’s hard to spend a day exploring when your feel are screaming for mercy.  

arrowToiletries/Cosmetics: Simplify your routine as much as possible so that you are not lugging your whole bathroom with you.

arrowPlug-ins:  If you are bringing along items such as hair dryers, computers, phone chargers definitely make sure you check the electric voltage and pack the necessary converters.

One of the best pieces of advice given to me and I still recall when I am in a packing frenzy is don’t sweat it because if you forget it you can just buy it there.  The only thing you absolutely must have is yourself and your passport everything else is generally available at your destination.  Think of it as a perfect reason buy another super cool as a souvenir.  I love saying..”Oh these shoes?  I just grabbed them at a boutique in Paris..”!

For a more in-depth packing tips & tricks on each of these items, check out this earlier post.  

arrowAvoiding Jet Lag 

It’s real and if you are traveling more than a few hours in time zone differences you need to be prepared.  When doing an international trip to a vastly different timezone (4+ hours) sleep habits can definitely put a kink in your plans.  Heading out on a new adventure is so exciting and it can be hard to imagine falling asleep on the plane, but as much as possible use your plane time to adapt your internal clock.  

For example, most trips to Europe from North America are overnight flights that last 6 plus hours.  By sleeping on the plane (even staying awake for the airline meals is definitely not worth it) you will wake up in the morning hours of your destination and it will be easier for your body clock will be able to adapt to the new timey.  This will let you maximize your time exploring your new destination and prevent sleeping in until noon wasting half of your day.   

Tip: Pack a sleeping mask and ear plugs in your carry on bag make it feel cozy (or as cozy as possible when sleeping with 199 of your closest strangers).  

Tip: Once you arrive at your destination as tired as you may be try not to take a nap or go to sleep the first night before 9:00 pm local time to help keep your body in the correct timezone on day 2, 3….

arrowCell Phones & WiFi  

Although in my younger career days I was known to run around frantically looking for a cell phone signal, I am going to bet (or at least hope) that on vacation most are looking for a much needed break from having our noses glued to our phone.  On the other hand it is nice to still have access for staying connected to family, getting directions, or researching your next adventure.  While not so long ago this was quite difficult and expensive, now it is often easy and affordable to maintain connectivity with a bit of planning.    

arrowCell Phone Plans

  • Short term trips – Most major cell phone companies have very reasonable travel access or passes.  Just make sure you contact your provider to find out your options and pricing and select an option before leaving.
  • Long  term trips – When we are gone for more than a few weeks we often find the local cell provider and purchase SIM cards with set amounts of data.  For some people this might be a lot because it changes your phone number, but it can definitely be worth it for longer trips. 

Tip: Recommend that you buy your SIM card for a large local company and not one of the small options you see in the airport or on the street to ensure you get the proper support and installation of the SIM card.

Tip: For Canadian’s international or travel passes are notoriously expensive from Canadian providers so we have found that it is cheaper for my hubby (who has a Canadian plan) to buy a SIM card.  Since I have a US plan I have a bit more flexibility in choosing the best option than he does.

Tip: If you are planning to get a SIM card at your destination make sure that your phone is unlocked.  

arrowWiFi – Make sure you read about the level of connectivity for your destination, but so many places now have WiFi access.  In addition to public WiFi many shops and restaurants can have WiFi available for their customers.

arrowInstant Messengers – Make sure you have instant messengers installed that only require WiFi to communicate in case texting is not an option or you need to control your data.  Options such as i Messaging, Facebook Messenger, and Skype will work just fine.  

Tip: In Europe What’s App is wildly popular.  So if you are headed to Europe any local people (such as AirBnB hosts) will want to communicate on What’s App so worth downloading before you go.

arrowOther Tips

arrowInternational Drivers License – If you are planning to rent a car to get around make sure you check the requirements as many countries require an International Drivers License.  These are relatively easy to get and do not require a test, but do require a properly formatting photo.

Tip: In Canada you can get your International Drivers License at a CAA location and a bonus is that they are also equipped to take your pic in the proper format.  Plus you get your license on the spot!    

arrowReader Tip from Kim S: I find it handy to print addresses in which I need to know to show cab drivers, this is critical in non English speaking countries! Imagine ending up on the wrong side of Tokyo because you can’t pronounce the address correctly!

Tip from reader Philippe P: Another idea is to screen shot the addresses so they are available on your phone.

There you go!  The top items people ask me about when they are traveling abroad the first time.  But absolutely none of them should cause any anxiety if you take a few minutes to plan and prepare in advance of your trip so you can spend your energy on maximizing your adventure!  

bon voyage

P.S. If you have any other things that create stress for you when traveling abroad and how you handle them, would love it if you shared with me so I can update the list!

Siblings Tour Eiffel
My first trip abroad in 2009 began my love affair with Paris. What you don’t see in this pic are my bloody and bandaged feet, massive suitcase I had to haul around on the trains, and the stress of coordinating communications with myself and my siblings. #wishIknewthenwhatIknownow

Packing (Wine Optional)

I get questions regularly from family and friends on how to pack since I have evolved into a semi-pro.  Since I am packing for a 2.5 week vacation I thought this would be the perfect time to share my process.  This particular trip includes stops in DC, North Carolina, and a tour through California from San Fran to San Diego.  And I managed to pack in carry-on sized suitcase.  Full disclosure: this does not include cycling clothing & gear as that gets packed in the bags with our bikes but it does include my other “stuff” for the 2.5 weeks!

Minimal packing is a skill.  Seriously, I wish I had learned it years ago as I get flashbacks to my first trip to 10-day trip to Europe in which I took two massive suitcases that covered every single possibility that might occur and proceeded to haul them through planes, trains, and automobiles.  Across multiple countries.  And countless walk-up apartments in Europe.  This is the trip where I became intimate with packing regrets.  

In the many years since my packing style has been forced to evolve.  Forced.  

arrowReason 1: Years of being a business traveler made over-packed bags obnoxious. Especially when everyone else I was traveling with had carry-on luggage and had to stand around baggage claim impatiently waiting for my bag to arrive.  And then when I did have a carry-on I had to be sure I could lift it into the overhead compartment without giving an innocent bystander a concussion.  

arrowReason 2: Multi-week cycling trips in Europe in which we literally had to carry all our possessions on bikes from location to location.  The very first time I went on one of these trips and my hubby announced that I could only take 4 outfits for 2 weeks (2 cycling outfits, 2 regular outfits) I almost had a meltdown.  And you can just imagine what he said about my items for my daily beauty routine.  Our relationship almost came to an end over this discussion…but as usual in the end he was right.

And let’s be honest…I usually didn’t even use 50% of what was in my suitcase.

So after coming to grips with my ridiculous packing habits, I began to hone my skills in minimalist packing.  It took some trial and error to get it right…leaving out things I really did need and bringing things that I still didn’t use.  Today I am pretty good at efficient and minimal packing. I spent 3 months living in France in just one regular sized suitcase and a super small carry on (really backpack with wheels for my weekend excursions).  Even I was impressed with myself.  But I used everything I had and because of picking mix and match pieces never felt deprived with my outfit selection (and a few purchases in French boutiques helped :-).

arrowClothing

  1. Pick things that mix and match.  Everything should be able to be part of a least 2 outfits if not more.  So pick your colors and patterns carefully.  For example as my packing came together for this trip I ended up with a navy, off-white, and black theme with a few pops of color added by tank tops, scarves, and accessories.   
  2. Myth: Lose the idea that you can’t wear an outfit more than once during a trip.  Yes you can. Just plan the when carefully.
  3. Myth: You don’t need multiple outfits per day unless there are special events going on.  So pick clothing pieces that are versatile between activities.  
  4. Workout clothes take up a lot of space so be honest with yourself…are you really going to use them on this trip?  If you are definitely pack them, but if it is an overnight work trip jam packed with commitments you could probably save the space that those shoes will take.
  5. For longer trips, if possible choose an AirBnB or hotel that has easy access to a washing machine so that you can easily wash undergarments and work out clothes.  That means that you don’t have to pack multiples.  I generally keep a small packet of laundry detergent in my bag in case I have access to a washing machine (which sometimes turns out to be the bathroom sink in a pinch)
  6. Shoes, shoes, shoes.  Still my biggest challenge.  I just can never have enough shoes but gosh they take up sooo much room.  So keeping it to 2 – 3 pairs can be tough but this is where outfit coordination can also come in handy.   
    1. Formal Shoes: 1 pair of dress/work shoes or 2 if a multi-day trip.   
    2. Comfortable Shoes: Generally flats but something good for lots of walking in airports or events outside of work.     
    3. Flip-flops: Thin and bendable so they don’t take up much space but usually they are needed for hotel rooms.  Some people do pass on these but I have seen too many hotel rooms not to.  Or perhaps in the summer months or warm locations flip-flops and comfortable shoes can do double duty.
    4. Sneakers: If you are going to work out or perhaps these are another option to perform double with your comfortable shoes.  

Tip: To save space, if possible stuff the shoes with things like socks or tights.  Not only does this help keep the shape of the shoes it saves tons of space!

  1. Warm layer: Often it is necessary for a warmer layer in the plane, mornings and evenings.  So try to pick one scarf, jacket or sweater that will look nice with every outfit because like shoes they take up a lot of room.

arrowBeauty Items/Toiletries

I keep a permanent bag of toiletries ready to go so I just have to move it around between suitcases and never spend time putting it together.  This has been one of the practices that really lowered my stress for packing so I highly recommend it!

Tip: Buy a clear TSA compliant bag that you keep everything in so that you can just grab it and throw it in the security bin if carrying on your luggage.

arrowLiquids: Lotion, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, hair styling products, skin care products, toothpaste.

Tip: Regardless of if you are checking luggage or not the 3 oz rule is a good one for liquids to also minimize space.  So invest in lots of bottles and keep them full of your must have liquids.
Tip: Even though hotels usually have items such as body wash and lotion I still always transport with me for simplicity so that my toiletries bag does not have to be changed each trip.  Plus sometimes they just don’t and I am not willing to sacrifice my moisturizing routine.

arrowBeauty Routine: My on-the-road and at-home beauty routines vary.  My on-the-road routine is much simpler with fewer steps to save time and space.  However, If you are like me you are not willing to compromise on things such as skin care so find a good, but simpler set of beauty products for travel.  At home I use Rodan & Fields but when I travel I use the Josie Maran argan oil products.

Tip: Pick multi-functional products as much as possible.  One of the reasons I love the Josie Maran line is because in addition to simplicity they are also multi-functional.  I use the classic Argan oil as moisturizer for my face, hands, and lips but I also replace my Moroccan Oil hair product with the Argan oil and it works fabulously.  

arrowHair Styling Equipment: These take a lot of space so think about if you can substitute yours with the equipment from the hotel.  If you are staying in accommodations that don’t offer these items then pack as few as possible (do you really need a dryer, curling iron, and straightener).  Or if you travel enough I really suggest investing in travel size items.

arrowSuitcase Readiness

There are things that I just keep in my suitcases at all times so I don’t have to worry about forgetting them:

  • Umbrella
  • ID tags
  • Lint Roller
  • Dirty Clothes bag

arrowGeneral Tips

arrowIf you have a trip coming up that is creating packing stress (seriously, it’s a thing!) start pre-packing in advance, especially for big trips.  This way you can add items to the pile and take away as you change your mind.  When I recently took a trip to Iceland and was only taking a small carry-on I began pre-packing 2 weeks in advance as ideas came to mind.  When it was time to pack I just threw it all in the suitcase and zipped it up.  Bonus: No stress at all and I didn’t forget anything critical or pack anything unnecessary!

arrowKeep a master packing list so that you don’t have to recreate a list each time you travel desperately making sure you didn’t leave anything off.  I have multiple master packing lists depending on the types of trip: Business, Vacation, Camping, etc. and I cannot tell you how much easier they make my life when getting ready for a trip.

arrowIf you can’t carry it don’t pack it.  Seriously.  Do a weight test on your luggage before you walk out the door and if you cannot lift it enough to carry up a set of stairs…de-pack something.  Big mistake is to assume that someone will help you with it and then before you know it you in the metro station, after midnight, stuck at the bottom of the stairs because the escalator is broken and you have to figure out how to climb 57 stairs with a suitcase that feels like Shamu is stuffed in it.  Been there done that.  Not fun.   

Honestly packing is no one’s favorite activity and it creates stress, anxiety, bad moods, and excessive wine drinking.  So anything that eliminates stress is awesome because no one needs to start an important work trip or a fun vacation as a stress ball.  Minimal packing provides so many benefits that for me it is a no-brainer.  Easy-peasy to get around with my bags, daily outfit selection much easier each day when you have minimal choices, and you get to be creative and stretch your wardrobe limits!  

If anyone has any tips that make their packing process just a bit easier would love to hear them so I can steal them for my process and add to this suggestion list for others.

P.S. For anyone wondering how I survive 2 week cycling trips with only 4 pieces of clothes…there is a secret.  After my first melt down over the 2 outfits for 2 weeks rule my hubby gave me a compromise.  After the trip was over he would take me boutique shopping to buy new outfits.  DEAL!  Oh and I lose the hair routine…completely lose it…I refer to this time as “hair-cation” where anything can and will happen with my hair style.

bon voyage

 

My Own Fairytale

Today is my favorite anniversary of our history.  Our first date!  Or as my hubby referred to it: “Le début de la plus magnifique histoire d’amour” which translates to “The beginning of the most beautiful love story”.  Seriously no one does the language of love better than the French.

Back Story

I met my hubby 6 months before our first date.  I had just moved from a small town to Atlanta to start a new job for a large international corporation.  On the 3rd day I attended an internal conference with attendees from the business units all over the globe.  I spotted him on the first day during the opening session and he immediately caught my attention.  Definitely not where my focus should have been just starting a new job, but I just couldn’t help it.  Over the course of the next few days I spotted him several times and finally on the final day I gathered my courage and introduced myself to him.  I learned his name was Philippe and he lived in Montreal, Quebec.   I proceeded to chatter away for the next 5 – 10 minutes but with little response from him.  So my deflated ego and I gathered our dignity and walked away.

Six months later there was another conference in Orlando, Florida we were both attending (I know cause I stalked his name on the attendee list).  My heart once again did a big jump and pitter-patter but, remembering the previous lack of interest,  I tried to keep it under control.  Finally, at one of the evening events my colleague and cohort, Shannon, marched me over to him to start a conversation.  To my great surprise not only did he remember me, he seemed excited to see me???  That both gave me a bit of optimism and also baffled me a bit.    

The next evening the festivities went a little late and I spotted him leaving the event.  Fueled by the courage of a few glasses of wine I stopped him so when he walked under the guise of discussing a joint project.  For the next 30 minutes I proceeded to babble away on this topic.  Most of my family and friends will tell you with a few glasses of wine I can do the equivalent of a Shakespearean monologue without taking a breath (but the topic is usually nowhere near as profound).  All I remember after this is him removing my hand from his arm and telling me he really needed to go to bed.

I had an early flight the next morning and when I woke up and ran through the events of the prior evening in my head I inwardly groaned.  Clearly I had overstepped…again.  On the plane I recounted the previous evening to Shannon and even she agreed that was not a very good sign.  Sigh…clearly I am a train wreck when it comes to interacting with this guy.  Back at the office I proceeded to write a very professional note of apology.  There. Done.  Moving on.  Or so I thought.

Within an hour he responded and I had to gather my courage  before I opened the email.  I was practically peeking between my fingers.  I had to re-read the email a few times and then call Shannon over for confirmation.  Summary: He apologized for leaving so abruptly and that it was only because he had a 7 am presentation.  He suggested that next time we have a glass of wine (or two) together.  Wait stop…was he flirting with me???  Was this possible after all my faux paux pas???  A few more exchanges ensued before Philippe suggested a first date, but the question was how since distance was clearly part of the equation.  Turns out that Philippe has a meeting in chicago the following week and he tentatively suggested to me that I meet him there.   Well Chicago is a hop, skip, and a jump from Atlanta.  Chicago, here I come!   

Side note: During our early conversations the mystery of Philippe’s very different reactions to me between our first and second meeting were solved.  Turns out that the combination of my speed of talking, southern accent, and english as his second language he had no clue what I was saying when I introduced myself in Atlanta.  After Atlanta, he had emailed me but mistyped by name so I never received it.  When I didn’t respond he took it as a brush off.  Talk about crossed wires!  To this day Shannon still takes credit for our blissful happiness because she forced me to talk to him the second time.

First Photo Together
Our first photo together came on our second date in Athens, GA which was a month after our first date. And also my first mountain biking experience. in which I biked right off the side of a bridge into a brier patch.

December 7 – Our First Date

We arranged to meet at baggage claim and oh my was I nervous!  How do I greet him? What should I say? Did I pack the right things?  Fortunately with the French greetings are easy!  Cheek kisses (they find our American hugs to be bizarre and too invasive of personal space)!  Fortunately he want in for the cheek kisses before I could stick my hand out to shake his.  Cold and snowy, Chicago gave a perfect romantic backdrop to our adventure!  After checking into the hotel, we walked to a restaurant and he held my hand along the say “ so it wouldn’t get cold”.  We chatted away at the restaurant and all was going well until I got way too animated and knocked the bottle of wine over onto his designer suit. Seriously???  Mortified.  Horrified.  How many things could I possibly do wrong with this guy???    

Apparently he has a high tolerance level or found me amusing because he kept our date for the next night.  As my penance, I took his suit to the cleaner the next day while I adventured around the city and he attended meetings.  After delivering to him his good as new suit, he took me to my first hockey game (Blackhawks vs. Dallas Stars).  And I got the full experience: beer, hot dogs, and a bloody fight right in-front of us with the glass panel falling into our laps.  He explained the details of the game to me but I heard not a word, I was focused on the charming french accent.  

After 2 flawed but perfect evenings together it was time to go back to reality.  At the time we had no clue what would happen next because there some big, immediate obstacles including working for the same company and distance.  But regardless of what did or didn’t happen next, we had that snowy Chicago adventure.     

Spoiler Alert: We had several bumps and challenges to work through along the way but we figured it out and still marvel at how it all worked out when so many circumstances were betting against us!  Kind of makes you believe in fate…   

Second Date
Our third date was in Mont Tremblant, Quebec 4 months after our second date. I had to up my outdoor game with him and now the outdoors are a big part of how we spend out free time.