Friday, August 23, 2013

How to Use Airmiles for Last Minute Flights

If you're a frequent traveller chances are you have at least one airmiles card. You probably also know that trying to use your excessive amount of airmiles for anything other than skipping lines or avoiding baggage fees is a complete nightmare.

Up until this week I had never used them for anything, but out of desperation I tried something different that surprisingly worked. I needed a flight from Amsterdam to Portland for next week. My dates weren't very flexible and I could not afford the $1700 the airline was trying to charge me (for an economy seat!). Of course my computer told me the first available award ticket would be for October.

Out of frustration I called the airline (don't do this if you can avoid it, most charge you for booking over the phone) to see if there was anything at all available. After 10 minutes of searching I was informed it was impossible. However, I already had it in my mind that I would be getting to my destination no matter what so I then had the travel agent go through airports on the west coast until he miraculeously found a flight to San Francisco for the exact dates I wanted. Then I just booked the short connecting flight using miles for another airline.

Trying out of state airports might seem obvious but it's something I had never thought to try. Domestic flights are so much cheaper and easier to work out than paying full price to get to your exact location. I'll definitely be trying this again next time the online booking service tells me there's "no available flights for your selected dates."

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Harry Potter: Warner Brother's Studio Tour

This past week I did something very exciting for any long time Harry Potter Fan: I went on the Warner Brother's Studio tour in London. The tour contains loads of original props, costumes, and full sets and takes about 3 hours to get round (although I could easily have spent many more hours if I'd been by myself!). 

The most amazing part for me was really seeing how much work goes in to producing big budget movies like these. Obviously I didn't think it happened overnight, but I never considered the thousands of hours it takes professional architects, artists, designers, animal trainers, and everyone else to put it all together and the tour really gives you an insight into all the different elements.

I'm not a die hard Harry Potter fan (I never lined up a midnight for the books or movies) but I do have very fond memories of reading the books in my childhood, so you definitely don't have to be the biggest fan to really enjoy the tour. Overall it was amazing and definitely worth the £30 price tag! 

I took about 100 photos but I don't want to spoil it for anyone who wants to go on the tour themselves so I've included a select few below.

Prop food that was laid out in the Dining Hall

Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour on Diagon Alley

The Potter House

Gryffindor Common Room

Professor Umbridge's Office

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Drugstore Makeup travel essentials (for hot weather)

My hot weather and travel makeup is much simpler than my everyday makeup, but when I'm out in the sun all day the last thing I want is to feel my makeup sliding off my face. Instead I wear these few basic products to make myself feel more presentable but still like my skin can breathe!

1. Face powder with an SPF. 
As someone with oily skin, sunscreen and foundations just do not agree with me in the heat, so I use a powder as a substitute. Also, my skin tends to be better in the sun (in terms of not breaking out) and with a bit of a tan I don't really feel the need for foundation

2. Waterproof mascara

Personally I use waterproof mascara year-round, but it's definitely a must if you're going to be getting in the water.

3. Eyelash Curler
Not everyone will agree that this is an essential, but I curl my eyelashes even on days when I'm just wearing mascara because I feel it makes my eyes look so much more awake.

4. Chapstick

I cannot be bothered with lipsticks or anything of that nature when I'm travelling. They'll end up melting in the heat and getting ruined. I love this Nivea chapstick in particular because it is pigmented enough to double up as a cheek stain and contains SPF.

5. Concealer
I only really wear concealer in the evenings when I'm on holiday and if I need it. I don't use a special concealer in the heat, just my favourite Revlon Photoready concealer with a bit of powder over the top.

Make up removal

What you use to remove your makeup (particularly in the summer) is just as important as the products you're using.

Personally I use a homemade olive oil makeup remover for my eye makeup like this one. The idea of tugging at my eyes with cleansing wipes or rubbing cleansers containing alcohol all over my eyes (read the labels - even most "gentle" cleansers contain some kind of alcohol) just doesn't seem like a great idea to me.

When I did use eye makeup removed though I really like MAC's Tranquil Cleanse Off Oil:

For my face I tend to use a cleanser with salicylic acid just to make sure I'm killing any bacteria that's built up on my face from the excess oil (ew). I love the Neutrogena Oil Free Acne Wash year-round but it makes my face feel even more fresh and soft in the summer months.

That's it! I don't bother with foundations, blush, eyeshadow etc during the summer months. I used to pack them when I went on vacation but as soon as I went out with a full face of makeup I instantly regretted it.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Minimalist Makeup Collection

In the past couple of months, I have been trying to make the transition to a minimalist lifestyle for a variety of reasons and this week I tackled my overflowing makeup collection and this is what I've managed to pare it down to. Obviously everyone's definition of minimalism is different and this may seem like a little or a lot. To me minimalism means not having any possessions which aren't used on a regular basis (which is very different from some people's approach of not owning anything that isn't 100% necessary, but that's a bit too far for me...maybe one day!).

Anyway, below is my minimalist makeup collection (yes, this is now every item of makeup I own!). I don't find myself wanting for any products or missing things I've gotten rid of and I love that everything fits in a small makeup bag on my dresser so I never have to worry about forgetting things if I'm taking a trip or going to get ready at a friend's house. This would also be a good starter makeup kit if you're just getting into makeup. Enjoy!

The makeup:

1. Benefit Hoola Bronzer
2. Rimmel Stay Matte Foundation in Ivory
3. Maybelline Super Stay 24h Foundation in Light Beige
4. Maybelline Undereye Brightner
5. YSL Red Lipstain No. 10
6. Maybelline The Falsies Volume Express Waterproof Mascara in Black
7. Revlon Photoready Concealer
8. Maybelline Line Stiletto Liquid Eyeliner in Blackest Black
9. Miss Sporty Kohl Eye Pencil in Savage (I literally just picked up the cheapest brown pencil in Boots to use on my eyebrows and this works great). 
10. L'Oreal Eyeshadow Quad in Beige Trench
11. MAC Rebel Lipstick
12. Max Factor Mono Eyeshadow in White Sation

The tools:
1. Tweezers
2. Model's Own Eyelash Curlers
3. Pencil Sharpener
4. MAC 109 Contouring Brush
5. Chanel No. 2 Eyeshadow Brush

Your minimalist makeup collection may look different depending on your tastes. I personally don't like blush or wear lipstick during the day, so I don't own blush or daytime lipstick colours (although I do wear lip balm during the day). Hopefully, I will be content with this kit and keep my promise to myself not to buy any makeup other than to replace something when it runs out.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tips for the solo traveller

source: Tumblr

Having just returned from my very first solo travel experience, here are some things I wish I had known  before leaving:

1. Plan, plan, plan. I'm a very laid back person and when you're travelling with a group of friends getting lost on the way to your hotel, missing a boat, or getting stranded in a foreign city all seem like exciting adventures and so I usually don't feel the need to plan out every detail of a trip. These things are markedly less enjoyable when you are travelling alone so make sure you plan out where you're going to go and how you're going to get there, rather than just winging it.

2. Budget carefully. Unfortunately, a lot of things in this world were built for two meaning hotel rooms are likely to be much more expensive if you're staying in them alone. Hostels are a good alternative. Personally when I'm alone I would prefer to stay in a hotel unless I could find a safe and reputable hostel in a central location (I have stayed in some horrific places in the middle of no where with friends and they are definitely not places I would be comfortable staying alone!). Especially if you are going somewhere off the beaten track, some of the cheaper hostels can often end up being fairly quiet making the experience even eerier. This is just a personal preference as a female traveller, but I would recommend thoroughly looking in to the location and reviews of anywhere you're going to be staying.

3. Print out walking maps before you arrive in your destination. This is definitely something I would never normally take the time to do, but you may find your phone doesn't work, where you're staying doesn't have wifi and the language barrier is extreme. In which case, knowing where things like internet cafes, supermarkets and attractions are from your hotel can be incredibly helpful.

4. Speaking of the language barrier, do research on the local language. It's always a good idea to take a guide book and learn a few key phrases so you can at least greet and thank people, but make sure how likely it is you are going to be able to communicate with people at all if you don't speak the language. In many European cities you will be able to communicate with shop owners and waiters in English, in others you will struggle. For example, I naively assumed I would be fine in Rome not knowing any Italian but there were many restaurants we ate in where I would not have been able to order if I hadn't been with an Italian speaker. Make sure you know these things before you go and plan accordingly.

5. Remember you don't have to accommodate anyone else when you're travelling alone! Don't like museums but always visit them because you're used to travelling with an art lover? Skip them! If you get to a city and decide you want to spend your days wandering around, enjoying the sunshine and eating and ditch your itinerary, then do it!

6. Most importantly, don't be afraid to try things just because you're travelling alone! If you meet a group of tourists in your hostel and they invite you to a bar crawl, go! (if you want to, obviously). Don't  be afraid to try nice restaurants, spas or anything else because you're alone either. This was a silly worry I had before travelling alone, particularly eating in restaurants by myself but I noticed there were usually a few other people eating alone, often reading a book. I had honestly never noticed other solo travellers before I travelled alone!

Hopefully I will be taking another trip in the near future and I will definitely try to plan (and budget!) it better next time. Overall travelling alone is a great experience and perhaps equally enjoyable to travelling with friends.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Central Park, NYC & My Favourite Restaurants

I visited New York just before Christmas and although the city was awash with Christmas shoppers and business people, during the day Central Park was a picture of tranquility. I went for a run every day  I was there and each day stopped to take a photo at almost the same spot.

My trip was only a few days and mainly consisted of eating my way through the city so I thought I'd share a selection of my favourite places I ate while there. Although I tried a couple of places on my Travel To Do List (I would highly recommend breakfast at the Parker Meridien for a nice treat and delicious French toast!), 3rd Avenue in Midtown turned out to be my favourite place to hang out at night. My personal favourites were as follows:

Pie Face: We may have gone here every night after dinner for dessert...  (It was the holidays!). Their Lamingtons and mini apple pies are particularly delicious.

Blockhead's Burrito: Very laid back and more of a bar atmosphere than restaurant. I have to admit when I first stepped in it was because the restaurant I wanted to go to was booked for a party and I was slightly skeptical, but everything was very fresh and delicious! The portions are huge, but somehow it was so tasty I managed. Very wallet friendly and a good place to hang out after work.

Nana Sushi Lounge: I may be slightly biased seen as this was the first time I had tried dinosaur rolls (sushi restaurants where I'm from are not particularly adventurous) but everything I ate was delicious.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Current Beauty Favourites

The Body Shop Strawberry Body Butter

Daily moisturising often just feels like another unnecessary step in my routine and, in my quest to never get out of bed a second before I have to, it often gets forgotten. However, since wearing this I have gotten so many compliments and "mmm you smell like strawberries" remarks. That, added to that fact that it truly does smell lovely, but not overpowering at all, has made me apply this every day since I got it in my Christmas shopping.

Sensationail at home Gel Manicure Kit

I have been wanting to try gel nails since I first heard about them a couple of years ago. I loved acrylic nails in high school but they wrecked my nails nails and have since slightly fallen out of fashion. However, the $50+ price tag of getting gel nails done professionally in my town has always put me off.  $60 is hardly cheap for a manicure kit (plus $11) for every additional colour you get, but the Sensationail at home gel manicure kit felt a lot more justifiable to me.

I may do a fuller review on this when I have my camera back, but essentially: the entire process takes about 15 minutes, it looks just like any salon manicure, and I did not struggle with the removal at all. If you're someone who likes to wear glitter nailpolish a lot, removing the gel was about the same difficulty. The two negatives are that one of my nails chipped after about 4 days and the set definitely didn't last for 2 weeks (I would say it was more like 7 days). However, that was only my second application, I'll see how they turn out this time. And second, if you're a nail polish junkie like me you might find their colour range slightly lacking. I purchased the pale pink kit and additional dark red and blue colours which were the only ones that really caught my eye. Overall, I will definitely continue using the kit, but I don't think it will replace my regular nail polish use any time soon. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Los Angeles Trip

Santa Monica Beach 
Life is different in Los Angeles. Every other person you meet will be an aspiring actress or singer, usually with a day job as a waitress or cab driver. I spent most of my time in Malibu and Santa Monica and have to admit that L.A. is nothing like I expected it to be, but I loved it nonetheless.

This was my first trip to Los Angeles where I had complete control over what I wanted to do so I felt obligated to do all the perhaps cliched and touristy, but time-honored traditions, including dinner at the Ivy, shopping on Rodeo Drive and Melrose Avenue, visit the Kodak theatre, the Walk of Fame, the Viper Room, Santa Monica Pier and a lot of other things. Here are a few photos from my trip and some recommendations on where (and where not) to go.

The Ivy: I can't even remember what I ate, I think it might have been spaghetti. Essentially, it was nothing special. It was very cramped and you pay a lot for average food (although I am very spoiled when it comes to good food).

Rodeo & Melrose: Rodeo drive tends to be a little out of my price range, but Melrose is much more eclectic and affordable. Unfortunately my favorite store there Gas Bijoux closed down last year.

The view from Hollywood Hills
Hollywood & all the jazz: I've done a tour of Universal Studios before, so this time I went on a tour around the rest of Hollywood. From the Walk of Fame and Kodak Theatre to celebrity homes and a view of downtown and the Hollywood sign, it really went everywhere. I love going on tours, not because I'm particularly interested in celebrity homes but because it's a great way to see the city.
By a mile, the best place I ate was Geoffrey's in Malibu. It's an restaurant in Malibu with an ocean-view, a perfect place for lunch or breakfast. The food was delicious, healthy, and reasonably priced. Plus with the beautiful summer weather it's wonderful to sit out looking over the ocean and feeling the gentle breeze while you eat.

Cab drivers were by far the most interesting people I met while in L.A. One turned off the meter and took us on a tour of Santa Monica. I told another that I lived in China a few years back and he proceeded to tell me how the Chinese government was sending students to UCLA to learn to build weapons. I was not aware that such a class was offered there. Regardless, it made for some interesting commutes.

Photos of where the rich and famous come to pay thousands for a piece of leather & where the rest of us come to gawk ;)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Must See: Portland's Grotto Festival of Lights

Having not set foot in a church for some time I was slightly skeptical at the thought of visiting Portland's Catholic Grotto for their annual Festival of Lights, but the promise of thousands of sparkly Christmas lights drew me in. What is a divine sanctuary by day is transformed over the holiday period to a beautiful show of lights, carolling, and storytelling. I ended up staying to see two of the musical performances that were going on that evening, one of which was a traditional choir group and the other of which was a bluegrass band! I highly recommend it to anyone visiting the area over the holidays. And if you don't happen to live nearby, here are some pictures for you to enjoy anyway.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ten Days in Spain

I think I need to move to Spain because the whole country seems to operate on the same sleep schedule as me. Sitting out at restaurants and bars until one in the morning on a Tuesday night is how life should be.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Places I want to visit in 2011

Instead of resolutions, here's a list of places I want to visit in 2011.
The first couple are realistic and there's one that is really just wistful thinking.

New York. I've been before, but obviously there still tons to see and I have found some ridiculously cheap flights.
Despite having lived in Europe for 13 years of my life, I have never been to Paris. This is the year that changes. Hopefully this will be my first trip of the year as my friends and I have plans to go in early spring.
Do I even need to explain why I want to go to Bora Bora? Highly unlikely to happen in the near future, but it's top of my list of places I must visit eventually.

That's it! I don't think the list is too ambitious (except perhaps the last one) and is totally doable within the next year.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2010 in Pictures

As a perfectionist, I always find it hard to say that a year was good,. A year is far too long an amount of time to be able to classify it as one thing. Parts were great, parts were utter rubbish, there were bits that made me laugh, bits that made me cry, bits I'll never forget, and bits I hope I don't remember.
I will say that 2010 was a year of change. Change is something I'm quite used to, but this is the first real year it's been change I've dealt with by myself. It's the first year I've gotten to do whatever I like and really just had myself to answer to. With that in mind, I'm happy with the choices I've made in this past year.
So without further rambling, here's a summary, in pictures, of where I went this year.

There was a little bit of England
And a lot of Scotland
And of course, I can't forget the beautiful west coast. Somewhere I still consider a bit like home.

There were also two weeks spent in Spain where I didn't take a single photo. You can just guess how lazy that holiday was.

So if I had to classify traveling in 2010, it would definitely go in the "good" category. Although there were no more regular family holidays, no more getting everything paid for, and we did get stranded in airports on a few occasions, I had fun, I got to choose where I wanted to go and do and I saw a lot of wonderful places.

Hopefully 2011 will bring lots of new adventures for all of us.
Thanks for reading!


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