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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Las Vegas' Neon Museum At Night

In February I went to Vegas with my mom for her birthday. She'd never been to the Neon Museum and had been wanting to for years, so I figured this was the perfect time. If you remember, we went several years ago when we were there in the summer. You can read about it here. That time we visited during the day, so I booked us a night tour so we could see some of the signs lit up. 

The Neon

The "museum" definitely has a whole different vibe in the dark and more like the boneyard they claim it to be. They use external footlights to illuminate most of the signs, but a handful of them are refurbished enough to actually plug in and light up. Here are some of my pics from our visit.

The absence of sunlight can make it a little tough to photograph the signs, especially if you're trying not to blind others on the tour, but they do take on an eerie and magical feel that you don't get in the daytime. It also has the bonus of being cooler at night.

This neon sign from the Liberace museum wasn't here last time I visited, but it's pretty cool, as is the lamp from the old Aladdin. 

Since the Riviera closed a few years ago, they were lucky enough to get a fully-functioning sign that was retired. Because of this, it took a coveted spot in the boneyard and the old Tropicana signed moved to an even better spot on the side of the building, making it easier to see and photograph in its entirety.

Now, I was never fortunate enough to have seen or heard of the La Concha, but their sign is awesome and their matching lobby is as well. It is the same shape as the sign and it comprises the front room of the Neon Museum, making it even more fun and historic.

Have you ever been to the Neon Museum?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Getting Ready For an International Trip

I talk a lot about domestic travel and really only my own international travel, so it’s about time I give you some advice on how to get ready for a trip out of the country. While a lot is the same, there’s just as much that’s different.


So, what do you need to look for, what do you need to pack what should you leave at home and what should you plan for way in advance?

international travel tips

Make sure your passport is valid
Obviously, you need a passport to go to other countries, but sometimes they won’t allow you to enter the country if your passport is close to expiring. That could be a few months and it may be 6 months. Do your research to find out if you’ll be welcomed or turned away at customs. And if you don’t have a valid passport yet, this year it maybe be a bit slow getting one, so you’re going to want to apply or renew earlier than usual.

Generally, you’ll need 6-8 weeks, but my suggestion is not to cut it that close and aim for getting your application in at least 3 months ahead of time. You never know what might happen, and possibly you won’t really need that much time, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. 2006/2007 saw a huge uptick in international travel, meaning everyone’s passports have just expired and they’ll be looking to renew.

You can get everything done at your local main post office. Just make an appointment. If you need to renew, you just need new photos and you can fill out your info online and then send your shots in with your expired passport, which was really easy the last time we did it.

international travel tips

Call your credit card company
Okay, first of all, find out if your card will be useful wherever you’re going. We traveled to Ecuador, only to find out the whole country doesn’t accept Discover Card. Luckily we had other cards on-hand, but that card could have stayed at home. Check which cards have the best foreign transaction fees, because those can really add up if you plan to use the card a lot.

If you can bring and use your card, make sure to notify your bank that you’ll be traveling, where you’re going, and the dates of your trip. Nothing sucks worse than forgetting this and then finding out that your card has been declined because they didn’t know you were traveling and have flagged your card as stolen. It’s easy to fix, but it’s easier to do it before you leave home and have a problem. Actually, this is also a helpful tip even if you’re traveling out of state.

international travel tips

Know the exchange rate
Knowing the exchange rate of the destination you’re going to can really help you avoid overspending. You should know how much foreign currency is in comparison to your home currency, or you may just go over budget even before your first day is up. It also helps when going somewhere you have to haggle, so you aren’t getting ripped off. Before I leave home, I do a bit of Googling to know what sort of prices I should be looking for for certain items, that way I have a little bit of knowledge to start with. If math is not your strong point, don’t be afraid to whip out your phone to do a quick calculation.

photo credit

Pack your meds
Not all medications are the same in all countries. In fact, even normal toiletries can vary from one country to the next. We found this out in France when we left behind our 3-1-1 bag and were out of contact solution. We could only pick some up at an optometrist and the price was outrageous (try $8 for a small trial size bottle).

If you take meds, make certain you pack them in your carry-on. If they get lost in a checked bag, you might just be out of luck. I also always add enough of my normal allergy pills, aspirin and other pain relievers. It won’t take up much room and if you need it, you’ll have it on you and not have to go hunt down an equivalent that you have to mime your way through. Plus, you won’t have to spend way too much on it.
Alert your mobile phone carrier
If you travel with your phone, make sure it works where you’re going. We have been able to change our plan to an international one during months we’ve traveled out of the country. That way we can use our phones to call home, get around and get on the internet. Now, texting is usually crazy expensive on these plans, so I just let everyone know that I’m not available and contact everyone who’s important to me through Voxer, which works on WiFi. It’s free and works just as well as texting with the added benefit of being able to send “voicemails” through the service.

international travel tips

Dress like a local
Okay, so this may be different depending on where you go. I love good travel clothing, but I don’t want it to look like travel clothing. If I were coming to Portland from elsewhere, that wouldn’t be a problem, because everyone here dresses like that, but almost anywhere else, I want to blend in. Why? Because I don’t want to be pegged by thieves as a tourist.

Look for clothing that looks nice, but also has all the bonus features of a good travel item, like breathable and moisture-wicking fabrics. Something that dries quickly is always a plus. I’ve learned the art of layering, too, so that way I can pack light, take a bag of core pieces and still look great everywhere I go.

Bring a travel bag that doesn’t look like you’re trying really hard to keep people from stealing everything you own, because they will try. Travelon and Lewis N Clark have wonderful bags that are pretty, but also have anti-theft that isn’t in your face. I use mine at home and on all my trips. You’ll be seeing many of these bags reviewed on the blog over the next couple of months, and some have already been reviewed.

international travel tips

Brush up on your language skills
I'm a big believer in trying your best. You aren't going to learn an entire language before a trip (unless you've been practicing for years), but make sure you know as many key phrases as possible: Please, thank you, hello, goodbye, where is x, left, right, can you help me?, I don't understand, how much is...?, and I'd like x. If you can order, give a greeting, get directions and purchase something from a vendor, you're doing pretty good. I find that if you at least try, you make a much better impression and more people are willing to help you and interact. If you don't have time, at least download Google Translate to your phone, so you can communicate at a base level.

Those are just a few things you should think about while planning your next international trip. I'm gearing up for a trip to Scotland (and possibly a quick jaunt back to London) in 2019 for a cousin's wedding, so I'm getting excited to make it back out of the country again and seeing somewhere new.

Where will your next trip take you, or what's number one on your bucket list?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Review: Secura Anti-Theft Convertipack from Lewis N Clark

Do you ever wish you had a travel bag that you could use a variety of ways? I have a few packable totes and a duffel, but they aren't really extra strength or made for combating thievery of any kind. Also, only one of those can convert into something else. Hot on the heels of Lewis N Clark's new line of travel bags, they've really gotten into the crux of what travelers want. 

The Secura Convertipack is classy looking, anti-theft and can be worn in three different ways, depending on how you feel that day. The bag is unisex and is perfect to go from airplane "personal item" to day bag on any trip. 

Wear it as a crossbody or a shoulder bag. The adjustable strap is made to work for just about anybody, so whether I carry it, or my husband, the length is just right for either of us. The Secura is a good size, but not too big that you dump it in your hotel room the second you hit your destination in favor of a smaller bag. This is a thing I've done often, so only having to carry one bag instead of packing a second is really helpful to me.

Inside the main compartment are a few handy little card holders. This allows you access from the top of your bag wherever you go, which is not only convenient, but makes it impossible for them to fall out. The slots are RFID-blocking, too, so your information is double safe. Now, I didn't pack that much into this bag, because I chose to add my normal purse things to it, as I would carry it on a day out sightseeing. Think it doesn't have enough room? See that sweater I'm wearing in that picture above? I rolled it up and stuffed it inside the Secura and it still zipped up easily. 

There's this large zippered pocket inside the main compartment. To show you how big it is, I put my iPad mini in it with the cover that makes it twice as thick. It fit with room to spare and once zipped up, you couldn't tell it was even in there. I'd definitely take that with me on the plane, but I've also taken it to coffee shops to do a bit of work around Portland as well. See how much extra space is in the main section? Maybe you need to take a scarf along, or some extra little kid clothes, or snacks, or a bottle of water (or two). You'll have no issue making it fit.

Now, let's look at the front zippered compartment. This is where you put things you use a lot. I kept my lip balm, some mints, a pen, cash, my phone, my "room key" and my passport in there. Still, plenty of room if I wanted to add travel docs, a game or some snacks. 

I like that the zip goes 3/4 of the way around, making it easy to find items and to get them out. I also love that it has a dedicated room key slot. I'm forever losing mine in between my credit cards. It's smart to have them separate. Of course, you can always use it for other things as well. 

I love this awesome slot pocket, because it not only fits my new giant smartphone (Moto Droid Z), but it also fits your passport, at the same time even!

Okay, now to look at the security part of this bag. Both compartments have locking zippers, plus the substantial strap has a stainless steel cable running through it (no slash and grab happening here!), plus has these really hardcore locking clips that I just love the look of. The hardware is gorgeous and super functional. 

Worried about someone snatching your bag while out to dinner or wherever else you are? Unclip one side of the strap, wrap it around something large, like this chair arm, reattach it and lock it in place. Unless someone is willing to run off with that chair, or wants to spend more than a few seconds trying to take your bag and its contents, they are going to go after someone who has a more accessible bag. 

The locking zippers are easy to use, but the clip kind of hides a bit in its own little pocket, so it's not immediately identified as an anti-theft bag (you totally want that when you travel) and it makes it harder for anyone to attempt to work it, especially when you're wearing it.  The bag also has slash-proof construction where needed, meaning no one's going to be able to make off with all your valuables, no matter what. Lewis N Clark uses something called Magnaloft fabric that is both lightweight and flexible. It's also extremely thief-proof.

I didn't forget about the fact that I told you that this bag can be worn 3 different ways. I've told you two, but not the third. Everything on this bag was designed with total use in mind. The Secura has a heavy-duty handle on the top back. It's not just good for picking up off the floor. Nope, when you move your shoulder strap from the top rings to the bottom rings, you can loop it through this top handle and turn it into a cute little backpack.

I've found that backpacks are coming back in popularity, but there will always be someone who prefers the feel of a backpack while they travel. I find that it works better in some situations, like when you want your hands free to take pics, or you're wandering a museum and are looking closely at things and don't want to fuss with your purse. As you can see above, it's quite fun and functional. I thought it was really comfortable to wear and, as you can see, my bag is now stuffed with my sweater from the earlier picture and it isn't bulky or stressing the zippers. 

I really love the look of the Secura and the creative use of the strap to give it many different ways to wear it. So, even if you trade off carrying it on your trips, it is customizable for anyone who wants to use it. If you're looking for a Mother's Day gift, you can't really go wrong with a bag like this. It can also work as a Father's Day or Graduation gift, too, since it's so classic and unisex looking. 

Additional Details:
Where can I buy it? On the Lewis N Clark website or Amazon
How much is it?  $51-69.99
What colors does it come in? Black (shown) | Plum
Other specs: 10.5" x 8.5" x 3.5", tested to cut-resistant EN388 standards, durable nylon exterior with water-resistant PU coating.

Connect with Lewis N Clark and learn about all their great products:

Disclaimer: I was provided with the Lewis N Clark Secura Anti-Theft Convertipack for the purposes of this review, but all opinions are 100% my own. This post also includes affiliate links.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

More Cheap Eats in Las Vegas

By now you know that I hit up Sin City at least twice a year. It's not because I love to gamble, though I do, and it's not because I love to eat, which I also DO, but because we have family there, the Travel Goods Show takes place there and we go with friends to watch NBA Summer League games there. I just got back from the Travel Goods Show last weekend, and I'll be bringing you an ungodly amount of reviews in the next couple of months, but I also strayed from my business travel a bit to get out and enjoy Vegas during the three days I was in the city.

eating cheap in Vegas
Gelato flower from Amorino on the Linq Promenade
Vegas changes so frequently that one year you may find something awesome and then find it gone, and even replaced, when you go back the next...or even months later. I found two new restaurants that weren't even sort of there when I was there in February. Crazy. I just wrote a post on eating for cheap in Las Vegas when I got back from that trip but there are more ways to be a high roller at the food table without spending like one.

Northside Cafe SLS

Northside CafĂ© & Chinese Kitchen
I was dependent on my feet and the monorail for transportation on this trip, because I was spending almost all of it at the Convention Center. Well, I was lucky enough to decide breakfast was needed and noticed that the SLS hotel and casino had a 24 hour cafe and it was just the next stop on the route. I made it to a couple appointments I had scheduled and then headed over to check out Northside (and the SLS that I had never been to) and start the rest of my morning right, before talking to more people at the show. It was a great decision. 

Northside Cafe SLS

Northside Cafe SLS

The cafe is a modern version of your favorite 50s diner and they gave me a whole booth to myself. Everything on the menu is around $15, which is a score by Vegas standards now. I ordered the popular banana pancakes and crossed my fingers. They came out fairly quickly and had large pieces of banana baked into the pancakes. You get 3 large cakes per order and you can easily share with someone else if you aren't starving or are looking for something to soak up your bad choices in the middle of the night. The pancakes came with a dollop of real butter and a bottle of warm(!) syrup. I was in love. I'm definitely looking forward to forcing people to return with me for another meal (or two). 

{If you're looking for a good coffee shop, The Perq is right around the corner in the SLS and one of the best I've found on The Strip.}

El Dorado Cantina las vegas

El Dorado Cantina*
When you hear that a restaurant shares a parking lot with one of the largest strip clubs in the city, you do a bit of a double-take. I mean, why? But I'm open-minded and have been to my fair share of strip clubs, so I'm willing to check it out. Also, the restaurant was the site for a media dinner, so how could it go wrong. My Uber driver on the way there told me "You're going to love the food here!" My driver on the way home asked how the strip club was, because he'd never heard of the restaurant. El Dorado is continually included in the top 10 best Mexican food restaurants list, so it's a must try. It has its own entrance, so don't wander into the strip club looking for it.

El Dorado Cantina las vegas

The owner of El Dorado is lovely and the chef came out to give recommendations. He's from Mexico City and gives an upscale twist to classic street foods. Your guacamole is fresh made tableside. My phone decided to hate all video, so I only got a few stills of it being made. I was told that I MUST try one of their margaritas. You can order the house margarita or one of a handful of other kinds. Not being a big drinker, I ordered the strawberry margarita, which came with a beautiful fresh strawberry on the salted rim. 

El Dorado Cantina las vegas

They brought us out a sampling of the restaurant's appetizers, which we all dug into. All the offerings were delicious, but I could have made an entire meal of the bacon-wrapped seafood-stuffed shrimp. O. M. G. I can't wait to go back just for those. We all tried to order something different so we could taste a bit of everything (bloggers, right?). I had looked online at the menu beforehand and was interested in the cactus tacos (total yum!). My new friend to the right of me ordered the lengua (tongue) tacos (spicy yum!) and another new friend across from me ordered the carne asada. Everything was amazing and HUGE. 

El Dorado Cantina las vegas

Go with friends, order an appetizer, split some mains and then you'll hopefully have room leftover for dessert. If you like flan, and even if you don't, this is some of the best I've ever had. I often refer to flan as 'slimy', but this one was creamy and thick and the way I always want to eat flan. They also serve mini churros with caramel and chocolate dipping sauces, tres leches cake (ftw!) and deep fried ice cream. By the end of our meal we were all clutching our stomachs, but we still grabbed spoons to taste all of the desserts. You know, for science. Most of the entrees run $13-16 and are totally shareable if you have a smaller appetite or order something else to go with. 

Seattle dog

Haute Doggery
I love strolling the Linq Promenade. You can watch people, find desserts, duck into several casinos, get a drink (hello! Vegas.), have your Instagram pics printed, go shopping, ride the High Roller, and stuff your face. I was on my way to meet family and friends at The Flamingo for a birthday celebration, so I hopped the monorail and got off at the Linq to try the new Haute Doggery. They have fancy dressed hot dogs and are right next to Gordon Ramsay's Fish & Chips. The decor is bright and fun and it's hard to choose from their assortment of mouthwatering sounding dog selections. 

I finally settled on the Seattle Dog with grilled onions, cream cheese, chili aioli and jalapenos. I also got an order of fries and a soda, all of which only cost me $16. The fries could easily be shared between two, because I certainly couldn't eat more than half of them. My dog was perfectly dressed and I was actually able to eat it without the fork and knife I thought I needed. It wasn't so overstuffed that everything fell out onto my lap when I bit into it. The crinkle fries weren't anything special, but they were a great match to the flavorful dog. 

The restaurant is small, but your food comes in a nice little box tray in case you want to wander down the promenade to find somewhere else to enjoy your haute dog. I liked that the dogs didn't have that hard snap that people often love, but I find off-putting. All dogs run around $6 and some change, but you can also order a burger or other sandwich.

That's my round-up for food from this trip, though I did eat other places/things. These are just the ones that stood out and I would return for, especially for the price. 

Do you have a favorite cheap eat in Vegas?

*Disclaimer: my meal and drinks were comped for this visit to El Dorado, but all opinions are 100% my own and I will be returning because I enjoyed my entire meal.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Review: RFID-Blocking Phone Wallet from Lewis N. Clark

Sometimes, you just want to leave your purse at home. I have those days. I want to just run to the coffee shop or take the dog for a walk or I'm out to dinner and don't want a purse getting in my way, but need a way to carry my phone, cards and money. It's hard to find something like that that will hold everything you need, still be small, have a strap and also go with casual or dressy outfits.

phone wallet

Lewis N Clark knows the struggle is real. Since expanding their travel line into bags, they've come up with some very lovely pieces that you won't want to travel, or even commute, without. You've seen the WEA Carry-on Tote that carries your giant laptop and everything else you need to either take on the plane or back and forth to work and they have applied that same chic look to this little phone wallet that you'll want to take everywhere.

This bag is meant for your phone and to make life easier, but that also means you can carry some cards, cash and a few other bits and pieces with you. I grabbed the things I can't live without and stashed them in this bag. Surprisingly, I could have had a few more items in there and not stuff it. The front zipper pocket is for those things you want to get at quickly: cash, gum, lip balm, mints. I love the way the zipper arches, so you don't have to cram your fingers into a tiny opening in order to get your stuff out.

The main compartment is for your phone, cards and other items you have to walk around with.

There are three card slots, 2 wit RFID-blocking technology. Your information won't get stolen, whether at the bar or the airport. There is a nice light colored interior that allows you to see inside. The zipper arches along the one side, giving you easy access to the contents. You can see the couple things I like to have with me, which obviously won't all fit in my pocket. 

The phone pocket fits almost all smart phones. You know a larger slim one will fit, but I decided to show you my old clunkier phone. You could probably fit both your phone and mp3 player inside if, like me, you don't keep all your music on your phone. See how fat that phone is? Slide a battery back-up in there with your normal size phone and you're ready for anything.

I'm sure you're wondering how wide this little bag is with all the things I stuffed into it. Well, here you can see that it's really still pretty slim and manageable. It's big enough to carry your necessities, but small enough that it won't annoy you to wear on your wrist.

I wanted to see if bills would fit in without being folded (some people are weird about that sort of thing) and they do, with a fraction of an inch to spare. And if someone randomly gives you a check (woot woot!), it'll fit in there too.

Once you get to your destination or you switch to a bigger bag, you don't necessarily have to unpack this one. In fact, the strap is removable and you can just toss it in your day bag, or stash it in your carry-on until you get where you're going. Easy, right? I love this little bag and so will you, especially if you hate carrying a full size handbag. The style is classic and will go with anything you choose to wear, plus will match with all the other Lewis N Clark products you may have or plan to purchase in the future, which I heartily approve of. The quilted front is really pretty to me and gives it a bit of visual interest. And don't forget, Mother's Day is coming up!

Additional info:
Where can I buy it? On the Lewis N Clark Website
How much is it? $24.99
What colours does it come in?  black (shown) | teal
Other specs: 5"x7", dirt-repelling nylon 

Connect with Lewis N Clark and learn about all their great products:

Disclaimer: I was provided with the RFID-Blocking Phone Wallet for the purposes of this review, but all opinions are 100% my own. 
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