So you need to buy new luggage…

Recently a friend of mine invested in new luggage, and since I travel a lot, she asked me for recommendations.  As someone who takes dozens of trips a year, I’ve gotten my packing and luggage situation pretty stream-lined.  I know some people have circumstances that will require them to do things differently, but I’ve noticed that my other friends who travel a lot tend to have similar habits to mine.  Here’s what works for us, and why.

Rules of Thumb

  • Go for four spinning wheels.  Buying 4-wheeled luggage was a game-changer for me.  It is so much easier to maneuver, I don’t know why people carried suitcases for as long as they did.
  • Carry-on whenever possible.  This is one I learned from my dad, and it’s a must for frequent travelers.  I even carry-on when I go to Europe for a week.  The benefits are huge: you can arrive at the airport later since you don’t have to drop off a bag at the luggage counter; your luggage stays safer (have you seen the way airlines treat suitcases!?); you eliminate the risk of lost luggage; you don’t have to wait for the bag at your destination; and you get extra flexibility in case you want to do something like give up your seat on an over-sold flight.  To me, these benefits greatly outweigh the benefit of having my whole closet with me.  I’ve learned that I don’t wear or use most of that stuff anyway! Plus, everywhere I’ve ever traveled has had stores where I could buy something I desperately needed.
  • Expanding luggage is a plus.  It seems like no matter how nicely I fold things, they always take up more space on the way home.  My suitcase has a zipper that gives my an extra inch or so of space, and I end up using it almost every trip.
  • Pick your color carefully.  My last set of luggage was green and my current set is gray. Both have gotten quite stained – especially in the rare instances where I checked them.  Black luggage can be hard to distinguish from other bags, but at least it ages well.  I think a deep red is also a good choice.
  • Where to shop: I have found great deals on brand name luggage at discount stores like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Ross, etc.
  • In addition to my carry-on suitcase, I always have a shoulder bag that goes under the seat in front of me on flights.  Longchamp bags are perfect for this.  They fit a lot, are lightweight, a pocket keeps valuables easy-to-access, and they zip shut so your items don’t go flying if you hit a patch of turbulence. I usually put my toiletries, computer, purse, and in-flight entertainment in this bag.  Having the toiletries and computer handy makes getting through security a breeze.
  • Buy a la carte.  My last set of luggage was a gift and  it came with three pieces (similar).  I used the big one a few times, the carry-on sized one a ton (until it broke), and I never even took the tags off the smallest piece.  When I purchased new luggage, I only bought the pieces I wanted or needed.  Why buy pieces I’ll never use!?

Brands

  • If you don’t travel a ton and you care more about price than quality, you might want to check out the Amazon Basics line.  The pieces are nice-looking and priced affordably, but I don’t know how they’ll hold up over time. I’ve had issues with cheap luggage in the past – especially the telescoping handle.
  • My luggage is Samsonite and I’ve been really happy with it.  The carry-on that I use all the time is at least three years old and I haven’t had any trouble with it yet.  I got a pretty good deal at one of the stores I mentioned above, and it came with a 10 year warranty.  I made sure to save that paperwork – with the amount of use my bags get, I expect to need it someday.
  • If you’re willing to spend a few hundred bucks on top-of-the-line luggage, Tumi is the way to go.

I hope you find this advice useful.  Good luck shopping and happy travels!

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Miami

One of the best things about Business School is the amazing friends I’ve made.  This past weekend three of us headed to south Florida to celebrate finishing the semester.  Laura, who splits her time between D.C. and Boca, flew down on Thursday and on Friday, Sloane, Zoya and I flew down to join her.  She picked us up at the Fort Lauderdale airport and took us to dinner at a restaurant called El Camino in Delray.

IMG_4124

Laura always knows the best restaurants, bars, and bakeries so it’s no surprise that the place was great.  It had a fun atmosphere, good service, delicious food, and amazing margaritas.  Delray has great nightlife with people spilling out of bars.  We caught a little live music, had another drink, and headed over to Laura’s beach house for the night.  She gave us a tour of the house and the private beach, then we all headed to bed.

IMG_4142We woke leisurely the next morning and went to enjoy breakfast at a beachfront golf course.  The restaurant, Al Fresco, was a gorgeous yellow house with double wrap-around porches.  We sat on the upper level, facing the ocean, and enjoyed a mimosa and breakfast.  If you’re ever in the Palm Beach area, I highly recommend this place. The breakfast buffet, including an omelet station, was only $15 and as you can see the view alone is worth that.  Plus, the waiters are really good photographers.

IMG_4139After breakfast, Laura took us to Worth Avenue for some shopping and then to The Breakers Hotel.  As you can see in the photo above, The Breakers is absolutely stunning.  It sits right on the water and has beautiful architecture with exquisite detail. The ceilings in particular took my breath away.  She showed us around a bit and then we stopped for a drink at one of the bars there. You can’t really tell from the picture below, but the bar was an aquarium with live fish in it. It was fun to watch the clown fish play under our drinks.

IMG_0020That afternoon we said goodbye to Laura and headed down to Miami.   We checked into the Loews Hotel in South Beach and changed into bikinis.  Before anything else, we needed some lunch.  Sloane had the perfect spot- Taquiza – a taco stand that was practically across the street.  We walked up and I immediately spotted a woman kneading blue tortilla dough in the back.  Handmade tortillas are always a good sign.  I ordered a few tacos, and they were all simple and delicious. They were ready in minutes, and gone in a few bites.

With some food in our bellies, we spent the next couple of hours partying in the sun.  Eventually the sun started to set and it was time for dinner.  I won’t recommend the dinner restaurant, since it made Sloane and I sick and put us out of commission for the night.

IMG_4176Fortunately, we woke up feeling much, much better so we were able to take advantage of the complementary banana boat ride offered by the hotel.  They gave us silly helmets, but it was an amazing time.  It was a real challenge to hold on as we bounced across the waves.  By the end, my eyes stung from the salt water and my knuckles were white, but I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

We spent the rest of the day lounging by the pool and drinking pina coladas, until we had to finally call and Uber and head to the airport.

IMG_4170It was such a fun and refreshing weekend, I feel like a new woman.  We’ve all solemnly sworn to do this trip again when the weather here in D.C. turns cold.

 

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Seafood 101

67590E6B-2F0A-4857-84F3-5D2A464296B3Last Friday night I took a cooking class called Spring Seafood 101 at L’Academie de Cuisine.  I’ve enjoyed almost every cooking class I’ve ever taken, but this chef was particularly impressive for her vast knowledge.  The author of several books, she closed the class with a fascinating mini-lecture about olive oil, delving into the significance of acidity and the cultural customs surrounding the olive growing and cultivation.  She really knew her stuff, and she taught us how to make four simple but impressive and delicious seafood recipes.

IMG_6500

The first thing we made was a seafood stew.  The chef made the dish at the front of the classroom, talking us through each step. There was a big mirror above her so that we could see what she was doing on the counter.  Then we got into groups of three and made our own at a station in front of us.  It was the first time I’d ever cooked squid before and I was surprised how easy it was.  This was a great, practical recipe to learn because it was simple, delicious, and it’s the kind of thing that can be altered based on what seafood you have available.

IMG_8655IMG_0546IMG_3943

The next thing we made was the branzino. I think I will replicate this at home sometime when I am having guests over. It looks elegant but is so easy. We just chopped up some herbs, mixed in olive oil, coated the inside and top of the fish with it, and baked it in the oven with some chopped fennel and tomatoes. It was delicious and also very healthy.

IMG_3945IMG_3948IMG_3951IMG_3958

IMG_3961The third thing we made was monkfish in parchment. We used the same herb mix and I didn’t love this one as much, but I was glad that she taught me the technique because I used it to cook salmon this week and it was really easy and turned out delicious.

IMG_3954IMG_3956IMG_3957The last thing that we made was my favorite – a shrimp tartini. A tartini is basically an open-faced sandwich.  I’ve already made this recipe several times since the class because it was so easy and delicious.  It’s just some french country bread, herbed cream cheese (Boursin), sliced cucumbers, and shrimp. We sautéed the shrimp in olive oil with herbs de Provance and a squeeze of lemon.  Based on the simplicity of it, my expectations were low but it really impressed me. I am not exaggerating when I say I have made it three times since then.

IMG_3959IMG_3969IMG_3970The class had some amazing helpers to pour us wine and clear dirty dishes.  It was a really lovely night and would be fun for a date or a family with older children. I heard about this class through CourseHorse.com.  They have a TON of classes in cities around the country, and they’re not all about cooking. They also offer them for languages, beauty, fitness, IT, and more.  Don’t you think learning new things adds a certain richness to life? I certainly do.

 

Posted in DC, food, Healthy meals & snacks, Indulgences, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Arlington National Cemetery

DSC_0526

Tulips, with the Lincoln Memorial, National Monument, and Capitol building in the background.

I’ve lived in the DC area for a year and a half now and I’ve barely shared anything about the city.  It’s time for that to change! So this morning I walked over to one of my favorite DC sights, Arlington National Cemetery.  Perhaps it sounds a bit morbid to call this place a favorite, but more than most of the monuments it fills me sentiments of pride, gratitude, and patriotism.  It’s also just really beautiful.

DSC_0539DSC_0536DSC_0541

It’s incredibly large, filled with tombstones aligned neatly in perfect rows and meticulously maintained.  Each one representing a man or woman who’s life is woven into the fabric of our nation.  If you aren’t comfortable walking for miles, or if you want to learn about the rich history of the cemetery, there’s a tour where they take you around in the shuttle. I would probably really enjoy it, but I haven’t done it yet. I just wander over every now and then when I have some free time.

DSC_0542DSC_0545

There are several buildings and monuments within the cemetery.  To me, the most interesting one is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  It’s been guarded by a soldier 24/7 since 1948 – through rain and sleet and snow.  Every hour (or half hour depending on season) they have a changing of the guard ceremony, which is very cool to watch (and free!).  I’ve been several times and I really recommend it.

IMG_2557

DSC_0534DSC_0546

No matter how much time you have, it’s a nice place to visit if you find yourself in our capital anytime soon!  It’s also nice any time of year.  Trees are blooming now, it’s also gorgeous with a blanket of snow. Volunteers place wreaths at each tombstone at Christmastime and it’s equally brilliant in the fall.  Just go during daylight hours before the gates close.

Posted in DC, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Flashback to Paris

6A60ECD4-B0BD-406D-80EE-6F5B1441E198Two months after returning from Paris, I finally found the time to stitch my videos together into a little cinematic overview of the things i did and saw.  It will be something I watch when I’m having a bad day and dreaming about better ones. If you’d like to see it, click here.

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Cherry Blossoms in Washington, D.C.

Cherry Blossom 3For a few short days every year, Washington D.C. explodes into bloom with spectacularly gorgeous cherry blossoms.  Local experts compete to accurately predict peak bloom windows. Tourists from around the world flock here, hoping to catch the trees on just the right day.  It’s a big deal.  And last year, I missed it.  But I wasn’t about to let that happen again this year.

Cherry Blossom 4My friend Laura met me at the Jefferson Memorial around dawn.  From there, we strolled around the tidal basin, enjoying the first buds of the season.  The weather has been so weird this year – warm, then cold, then warm again – I’ve heard that it’s damaged the trees.  But even in it’s diminished beauty, it was pretty gorgeous.

Cherry Blossom 1Our fingers froze and we had to brace ourselves against the wind, but it was definitely worth getting up early for.  I’ve heard that it becomes a madhouse later in the day, but at 7:30 AM it was just us and a few runners.

Cherry Blossom 2DC… you may be a cesspool of moral bankruptcy, but you sure are nice to look at.

Cherry Blossom 5

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Seafood Pasta

img_3603

Seafood Pasta has become one of my favorite things to make at home.  Usually I save myself the trouble and buy pasta from the store, but last weekend I had a whole afternoon wide open so I rolled it out from scratch.

I’ve covered the pasta bit here, so I won’t bore you with that, but I will share the sauce with you because it was so easy and so delicious.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 2 Cans Crushed Tomatoes (28 oz. each)
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 bottle
  • 1 bottle clam juice
  • 4 large basil leaves
  • 2 large springs of thyme
  • Mussels, clams, or any other seafood you want to add (scallops or squid would be great)

img_3588

Inspired by this recipe, I started by adding some garlic to a glug of olive oil over medium heat.  As the garlic was starting to brown, I added the crushed tomatoes, the whole bottle of clam juice, basil, and thyme.

img_3590

Let all of that simmer for a while, until about 1/3 of it has evaporated.  When the sauce is almost ready, start boiling salted water for pasta. While that cooks, wash and debeard your mussels and clams.  Be sure to toss any mussels that have already opened.

img_3594

When the sauce is ready, place the shellfish in the sauce and place a lid on top.

img_3597Cook until the mussel shells have opened.

About five minutes later…

img_3598

When the pasta has finished cooking, combine the two and serve with parmesan cheese.

img_3599

I enjoyed mine with a nice crisp glass of sauvignon blanc, and I strongly encourage you to do the same. Bon appetite!

img_3602

Posted in food, Food & Recipes, Home Cooking, Indulgences, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment