If you plan to visit Europe in the next few months, make sure you take advantage of the VAT refunds. VAT stands for value-added taxes, which means you can shop tax-free in Europe. Keep in mind that it’s not a 100% guarantee that you’ll get your tax refund back, but it’s worth a shot. I was able to receive mine back from the United Kingdom within a week after my trip, while it took almost 2 months to receive my VAT back from Iceland. I almost figured it would be a lost cause, but two months later I saw the credit back on my statement.
Here are some tips on how to make it easier to claim your VAT:
Bring Your Passport: In order to receive VAT paperwork, stores require that you show them a copy of your passport.
Shop at Department Stores instead of Individual Boutiques: It makes it easier, paperwork-wise, to shop at department stores instead of individual boutiques. If you shop at individual boutiques, you’ll have a new tax claim form for each store and not all of them use the same refund service which can make it more complicated to receive your refund. When I was in London, I went to Harrods and did most of my shopping there. In Harrods, they even have a department for you to turn in all of your receipts from their different areas, and they’ll combine it into one easy tax form for you.
Arrive to the Airport Early: In order to claim your VAT, you’ll need a stamp by customs in order for it to be approved. Arrive early to the airport, as sometimes the customs line can get very long. Without the stamp, it makes it very hard to receive your refund back.
Pack Your Items in an Easy To Reach Area: When you get to customs, the customs officers may ask to see what items you purchased. Make sure you stop by customs first, if your items are in your checked baggage.
Collect Your Refund: Once custom approves your VAT refund, you’re free to turn in your documents to a refund service like Global Blue. There are two ways to receive your refund either via cash or credit card refund. In London, we were able to go to the Global Blue desk and swipe our credit card back. We received a receipt that showed what we would receive back in the form of the refund. In Iceland, you turn in a form with your credit card number, and hope for the best. Depending on the situation, you can also ask for an instant cash refund, but keep in mind that there might be a fee for taking cash. In the future, I plan to do a cash refund unless the refund service swipes my card instantly like in London for the refund. I was worried I wouldn’t receive my refund from Iceland as I hand-wrote the credit card numbers and my handwriting is messy.
If you plan to purchase anything expensive in Europe, it might be worth looking at a VAT refund. Even though you’ll save due to the current exchange rates, you can save an additional 15% – 25%. As I said earlier, it’s not a 100% guarantee, so don’t let the VAT refund put a damper on your trip if it doesn’t pan out. Just think of it as an added little bonus if it does.
I know some travelers don’t believe in spending money on souvenirs, but I’m the complete opposite. I love having some sort of small token to remember my trip by. Below are some awesome and unique finds from my trip to Iceland.
Icelandic Wool: Icelandic wool is an amazing fabric that keeps you warm and is self-cleaning. Almost, all of the shops I visited had gorgeous scarves and sweaters knitted with the wool in unique fair isle designs and fun animal prints. I picked up some items with a puffin print for back home at The Handknitting Association of Iceland in downtown Reykjavik. Be warned: it is pricey.
Lava Jewelry: With so much volcanic activity in Iceland, it’s no wonder they’ve managed to create jewelry using lava. Pick up some gorgeous earrings or a necklace with jewelry made from volcanic rock. I prefer the look of the smooth lava rocks compared to the rough ones as they look like black pearls.
Icelandic Memories Magnets: I love these sheep magnets made from the wool of Icelandic sheep. They’re handmade by a local artist, and I saw them in a bunch of different places. They are a little bit pricey, but you can shop around to find the lowest price: They also come in array of colors, but I like the basic white and black sheep.
When I went to Europe recently, my goal was to travel carry-on only. I didn’t want to worry about lost luggage, since my flight wasn’t direct. I decided to carry a backpack instead of a rolling luggage due to cobblestone streets in Europe. After some research, I decided to go with eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekend Convertible Jr.
This backpack was great and got the job done. Due to my height of 5’3″, I decided to go with the junior version as I didn’t want it overwhelm my frame.
Price – The bag retails for $109.99, but you can always find it on sale as eBags normally has some sort of discount 20% – 30% off almost every weekend.
Storage – This bag has a ton of compartments to fit everything into it even a water bottle! I love the pouch on top to store liquids or any other items you need to reach easily. It also opens like a normal suitcase, which made it easier to pack. I do recommend packing cubes for this bag so you can maximize the space in it. Packing folders didn’t work me, as it basically tootook up the whole interior.
Warranty – eBags has a lifetime warranty on it, which is pretty awesome. I lost part of my chest straps during my travels. When I got back, I emailed them and was able to receive a replacement within a week.
Weight – This bag can get pretty heavy to carry around when you fill it to the brim. I don’t recommend this bag for any hikers or backpackers due to the weight.
Hip Belt – It does have a chest belt that works, but I wish the hip belt was better made to help with the weight.
Overall, I highly recommend this bag. For my trip to Europe, I was able to pack a week’s worth of winter clothes and more in it. It also fit perfectly as my carry-on item for WOW airline.
I came to the realization recently that crossbody bags make the best bags for travel. I normally carry a tote bag, but I decided to take a crossbody on my recent trip to Chicago. It was so nice to have both hands free, and I was able to use my crossbody bag as a sling to hold my jacket while touring the city.
When searching for a good crossbody for travel, I wanted to find a bag that was both functional , stylish, and didn’t scream “tourist”.
Below are my favorite bags that I’ve found:
Lo and Sons Pearl Crossbody: This bag has so many different functions packed in to it. It has a special padded pocket for a mini tablet, organizers for your passport, pen, journal, key leash, and more. It’s also made of two types of leather that are both water-resistant and light weight. In addition, it can convert to a clutch. This bag retails for $248, but the site usually has sales and if you sign-up for the mail, you get a code for 20% off.
Henri Bendel Jetsetter Convertible Backpack: I just recently purchased this bag and I love it. It converts from a backpack to a crossbody with the snap of the strap. The version I purchased isn’t waterproof, but the nylon versions are. I debated between the mini and the regular size, but decided to go with the mini since it would be more proportional with my height. The mini holds quite a bit including a water bottle, mini tablet, and camera. It ranges from $250 – $298 depending on the size and fabric. Henri Bendel usually has sales periodically, so be on the lookout for them to snag it at a great deal.
Michael Kors Jet Set Crossbody: I currently use this bag as my everyday bag. It’s been pretty durable against rain. It comes in a variety of colors and different types of leather. It normally retails for around $168, but you can normally find it on sale at department stores though it might be select colors.
I got to start 2016 off with a bang by attending a bachelorette party in Cancun! Even though it was a quick trip, we were able to do a bunch of stuff.
We stayed at the ME Cancun, which is an all-inclusive resort, on the main strip of hotels and resorts. I went to Cancun in August, and this resort was a bit different than the one I had previously stayed at. For starters, it was completely air-conditioned, which was nice. Service was okay, as I usually had to find a waiter or bar in order to get a drink, but the staff was always friendly. The resort was “all-inclusive”, but it didn’t include everything as some food/drinks were not included. I loved the infinity pool as it had a gorgeous view of the ocean. The food was good, especially the hibachi. I unfortunately didn’t get to try all of the restaurants as I didn’t have enough time.
We went to CoCo BONGO, which was a fun experience. If you ever visit Cancun, I totally recommend going to CoCo Bongo at least once. It’s both a live show and dance party all in one. It is a bit pricey, but the price does include alcohol.
We also went to Xplor Cancun which is a fun experience. I was able to go zip-lining, for the first time, and it was such a thrill. I don’t remember the pricing, but you’re able to do a bunch of different activities including rafting, driving an ATV, zip-lining, and more. The price also includes food and drinks which were actually pretty delicious. Don’t forget to do the picture package, as it takes many pictures of you while you’re doing these activities.
I definitely recommend going to Cancun for a bachelorette party!
What’s your favorite place to visit for a bachelorette party?
I recently came back from my first bachelorette party, and it was a great way to kick-off 2016! Since there wasn’t an itinerary given beforehand, I wasn’t really sure what to pack, but I knew I needed my travel essentials.
Tumi Just In Case Travel Duffel Bag: I own the above design, but unfortunately it’s sold out. Even though it retails for $95, you can purchase for a cheaper price at the outlet store. Mine was only $30, so be sure to stop by if you can. I love that this bag folds up into the tiny wristlet, so it makes it easy to pack. Usually, I end up buying to many presents, so I always have to pull this bag out. It’s also made of nylon making it water proof and a good pool bag. Plus, it’s has a zipper and an add a bag sleeve, allowing you to slip it over the suitcase handle instead of carrying it.
Fossil RFID Passport Case:I’ve been wanting a cute passport case, and Fossil’s case does that and more. It has a special RFID lining which helps your passport be protected form unwanted scanning. In addition, it has credit card slots so you can store your chip credit cards in it too for protection. It does retail for $45, but I managed to snag mine at 40% off at dillards, so always be on the look out for sales. There are other options that I saw on Amazon if you need it right away.
TSA Travel Safe Lock: Before I go, I always make sure my luggage is locked, as I don’t want anyone snooping in my suitcase. Also, it sort acts as a small safe for me, when I leave it at the hotel. You can probably find one for under $12, and it makes a great luggage identifying when you’re looking for your bag at the baggage claim.
Travel Power Strip: When I first brought a travel strip on a trip with my friends, they all thought it was a waste of money until we could only find two outlets at the hotel room. This one at The Container Store is a great price at only $5.99.
In addition to the above, I also need the following:
Refillable Water Bottle: Most airports have a water bottle refill station, so I always bring one instead of having to spend money on a soda.
Luggage Tag: I make sure every single bag has a unique tag on it.
Pop-up Hamper/Travel Laundry Bag:I always pack both! I use the pop-up hamper during the trip, and once I’m ready to leave I pack it all in my travel laundry bag, so that my dirty clothes doesn’t contaminate my luggage with germs.
On my recent trip to Orlando, my sisters and I participated in Disney’s Pin Trading. It was a really fun experience that allowed us to interact with some Disney Cast Members and collect unique souvenirs. We’re looking forward to doing it again, the next time we visit Disney. Prior to the the trip, I had a vague idea of pin trading due to reading some Disney Boards/Blogs, but I thought it was pretty expensive. Typically, pins can retail at around $8+, and a starter set including a lanyard starts at $20+.
Luckily, we stopped at the Disney Character Warehouse in one of the Orlando outlets, before venturing to Disney World. We were able to snag a 2015 Pin Starter set (1 lanyard and 4 pins) for $10. My sister also purchase a set of 2015 Pins for $15, which gave us around 3 more pins each to trade.
Below is my pin collection: I’m a big fan of Pooh, so I tried to collect as many cute Pooh pins as I could.
The steps for Disney Pin Trading is pretty easy:
Meet a Disney Cast Member wearing a lanyard or other pin accessory with trading pins.
See if there’s a pin on their lanyard with your favorite Disney character/icon/ride/etc… that you would like to trade for.
Trade your Disney pin with them.
Here are my tips on Pin Trading:
Visit the Disney Character Warehouse before heading over to the parks. – We were lucky that we were able to find such great deals on trading pins, especially a starter set. Plus, if you’re in need of some pins, they’re usually marked at least 50% off retail. This is a great way to get some pins that you can use later to trade for the ones you want.
Buy From Ebay, but beware of counterfeits and fakes. – If you know beforehand that you’re going to Disney, see if you can find some cheaper pins on Ebay. Just make sure that the seller is selling authentic Disney pins. Do some research before purchasing, as a Cast Member won’t trade you if your pin is a fake. This seller sells a lot of 25 pins for $50 which equates to around $2 a pin. The seller is one of the recommended Ebay sellers from some of the Disney Boards. It might seem pricey, but if you’re splitting it with others, it’s much cheaper than buying a few sets at the Disney Parks. Also,you can use any lanyard to stick your pins. I recommend it be at least 1″ – 1.5″ wide as some of these pins are bulky.
Pick a Theme – Picking a theme beforehand, such as your favorite character like I did with Pooh, will allow you to focus on collecting that one collection of pins. This will save you some money as you’re not trying to collect everything (ie: needing more pins to trade), and trading only when you see a pin for your theme.
Don’t Expect to Trade for Exclusive Pins: If there’s an exclusive pin, like the ones from Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas, go ahead and purchase it. It’s very unlikely that a Cast Member will have this pin for you to trade. It’s better to just purchase it, and spend more time enjoying the Park, than trying to find a Cast Member with your pin.
Most importantly, Have Fun! Pin trading was pretty cool, because I can look back at some of the pins and remember where I was when I traded for it. If you’re looking for a unique Disney souvenir, consider Pin Trading. It might be better than getting a t-shirt, as you can use it again later when going back to Disney. The pins also work great as push pins for a cork board!
I had the pleasure of visiting Hot Springs, AR and visiting Buckstaff Bath House. It was great to experience a part of history that was so popular in the 20s.
Buckstaff is located on historic Bath House Row in Downtown Hot Springs. I wanted the most authentic experience, so I chose to go with Buckstaff. They offer different types of services, and I went with the Whirlpool Mineral Bath. They’re only open at certain hours, so you want to make sure you get there early in order to ensure a spot.
The Whirlpool Mineral Bath consists of the following:
Tub Bath :This was relaxing. You sit in a tub soaking in the mineral water from the Hot Springs. They also have bubbles so it was really soothing. Towards the end of the bath, one of the attendants comes in and scrubs you down with a loofah . My skin felt really great after this.
Hot Pack: This was my favorite part of the whole experience. Your attendant brings you over to lie down on a bed and places hot towels, drenched in the mineral water, on areas that need attention. I asked to do my lower back and feet. It felt so nice, and I didn’t want to move on from it.
Vapor Cabinet: the cabinet was basically a metal steam room that you sit in and your head sticks out of it. I could only do it for a few minutes, before I felt like passing out from the heat.
Sitz Bath: This was an interested tub. It’s basically a chair that you sit in, and you just soak your bottom in it. It was nice, but after a while I wanted to move on.
Needle Shower: I wish I had this shower head. You’re in a shower and sprayed in all directions that it feels like a massage on your body. You only get to be in it for a few minutes, before you have to move-on.
If I come back to Hot Springs, I plan to do this again. It was a nice relaxing treat, and costs less than a massage. Plus, my skin felt really great after it!
I recently came back from my vacation and had a wonderful time in Boston/NYC. While there, I noticed many people carrying Longchamp’s Le Pliage tote bags everywhere on the streets.
Before my trip, I had never heard of Longchamp, but after seeing this bag, I realize I wanted one stat! It’s a lovely waterproof bag with a zipper. The tote bag I had brought along only had a magnetic snap to hold it together and wasn’t waterproof. Many celebs are fans of this bag including:
It currently retails for $145 for the large and $125 for the small. Thought the price might appear to be steep, this bag appears to be a good investment for travel and everyday use.
I’m waiting for a sale or a retailer like T.J. Maxx or Nordstrom Rack to snag one of these bags.
I was introduced to LUSH products on my birthday last year. Before then, I had no idea what LUSH was. LUSH is an a beauty company headquartered in the United Kingdom. Their specialty are bath bombs and bubble bars that will make your bubble bath truly enjoyable. I love that LUSH products are fresh, handmade, and made with organic, non-toxic, fresh ingredients.Plus, LUSH doesn’t believe in using containers and have created items like their solid shampoo that is super eco-friendly since it has no bottle as packaging.
Full-size versions of the solid shampoo/conditioner/soap and half-size versions of the massage bar/sugar scrub. Plus you get a tin for the shampoo/conditioner and a cute scarf.
Here are my 5 Favorite Lush Products:
Joy of Jelly Shower Jelly: I love this body wash. It can get messy and slippery, but I really love the scent. Plus, it’s really fun to play with. I love to refrigerate it before I use it for the cold feeling. I also smush it in to a loofah to get a better hold of it and it exfoliates my skin real well. It retails for $5.95 for the small size.
Heavanilli Massage Bar: I use this as a solid lotion bar. I love to moisturize this on my feet and put on a pair of cozy socks. Plus, the scent of vanilla is lovely. It retails for $9.95.
Sweet Lips Lip Scrub: If you have dry or flaky lips, then you get a jar of this. You just use your finger to swipe it against your lip and it will help exfoliate the flaky bits from it. You’ll end up with smooth lips. It retails for $8.95.
Trichomania Solid Shampoo: The coconut scent is wonderful and it really lathers well in my hair. All you have to do is swipe it against your hair when it’s wet and a beautiful lather is created. It retails for $9.95 A plus of their solid shampoo is that it’s easy to travel with.
You’ve been Mangoed Bath Melt: I don’t really use this product as a bath, but instead as a shaving bar. This is like a solid lotion soap for your body. I rub it on my legs before I shave and it makes my leg super soft and smooth. Plus, the scent of mango is super yummy! It retails for $5.95.