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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Review and Giveaway: Travelon Pack-Flat Toiletry Kit

One of the things I keep packed in my travel bag is a toiletry kit. I easily have extras of things I always use and items specifically for trips – like travel-sized deodorant, samples of makeup primer and a pop-out brush. Last month I reviewed Travelon’s Compact Hanging Toiletry Kit that is perfect for one person or short trips for two, but sometimes you just need to bring more stuff, you know? Maybe you have a family that likes to keep all their products together, like toothbrushes, combs and similar, or you are going on a long trip overseas where you won’t want to have to buy expensive things you already have. Whatever the case, the Travelon Pack-Flat Toiletry Kit is large, but not as thick as a normal-shaped toiletry bag, even when crammed full of stuff.

I wasn’t sure we would need something that big for our trip to London and Paris, but looking back on our last trip there, we could easily have used a bigger toiletry bag than what we had – the original Hanging Toiletry Kit from Travelon. Of course, this time around we are more savvy when it comes to packing in general and this bigger bag will allow us to bring substitutions for liquids, like shampoo and conditioner bars and solid lotions. 

I love that it packs in minimal space on top of the clothes in the carry-on bag, but also will fit in a smaller bag, too, like my fancy leopard print Travelon roller bag* that has been discontinued or even the Travelon React Weekender that I use as my personal item for the plane. (Yes, I love my Travelon products and have a long history of purchasing from them.)

As with all the toiletry bags they sell, the Pack-Flat has a webbing hang loop. This one is adjustable, so if you need it to hang on a door knob or a towel hook, you can make it smaller or larger. And if the only place you have to hang it is attached to something else, like a towel bar, you can use the buckle to make it work that way, too. It’s the next best thing to the hook that comes with some of the other bags. Once hung up, you can keep it closed or unzip the wraparound zipper, turn the bag around and see all your toiletries at once, flat against the wall or door, or wherever you choose to hang it.

The pockets inside are large and clear, which means you can pack them with a bunch of stuff with ease. The zippered openings are wide and open with only a little effort – nice when your hands are wet from the shower or you’re fumbling around way too early in the morning – and allow you to get your hand inside them to reach things at the bottom, which is a plus for a lot of people, including men who have large hands and can’t get their fingers into the snugger compartments of other toiletry bags. I know Eric will be able to use this bag with more ease and I won’t come into the bathroom to a counter full of products that I have to then pack back into the bag.

All the zippered compartments are vinyl, in case you have an unfortunate spill. They are easy to clean out and then fill back up. The outsides can be wiped down, too, if you’re prone to messiness. Then there are six elastic loops for eyeliners, mascara and other items you want easy access to, like maybe your toothbrush or razor.

Like to have some items right at your fingertips? There is an outside zippered pocket where you can stash things like lip balm and facial wipes. I love that. What would you keep in there?

As you can see, I packed a ton in this toiletry kit and there is still room for more. That will make it perfect when I get to my destination and unpack my 3-1-1 bag. I can get those items in the Pack-Flat and have everything in one spot for my trip. When I’m ready to move to my next destination, it zips right up for convenient packing and travel.

More information
Where you can buy itTravelon online
How much it costs: $35.00
Colors it comes inblack | blue steel
Other specs420 D. Polyester fabric that is easily wiped down if you spill on it, 12.75 X 7.5 X 3 

Want to win your own Pack-Flat Toiletry Kit from Travelon? Enter below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*This roller bag is the closest thing you will find to my discontinued bag. It’s great! Really roomy and organized for its small size.

Disclaimer: I was provided with the Pack-Flat Toiletry Kit for the purposes of this review, but all opnions are 100% my own.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Infographic: The Evolution of International Tourism

Statistics show that travelers are spending more money this year and are finally deciding that staying home is boring. Now that we're coming out of the recession a bit, people are trying to break out and plan leisure trips. Our next vacation is the furthest from home we've been in 7 years, so it's even apparent in our household, with all our money-saving ideas and saving plan in place, that we are now confident that spending the money on a large trip like this won't break us. 


You all know we're traveling to London and Paris (both on the top 10 international arrivals), but where is everyone else traveling? And if you'll be taking a trip this year, where are you going and how will you get there?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Delicious Eats in Las Vegas

When we visited Las Vegas in June, we were there to enjoy some free things in the city, watch the NBA Draft with other rabid b-ball fans and see family, but we weren't going to go back and not try to find some yummy (and affordable) food. Even though it seems you can stay fore really cheap on the Strip, food prices feel like they've doubled from a decade ago. I made a point to check out our options before we left and planned our meals and activities accordingly.

It's no secret that Vegas is full of restaurants that are owned by famous chefs, and though I wanted to eat at one of Gordon Ramsay's joints, we just couldn't afford it and still eat at one of his restaurants in London. Instead of spending a ton of money on lunch, we chose to stop at Emeril's Fish House for happy hour. Sitting at the bar, we ordered several small plates:

Parmesan shrimp, fried ravioli and rum runner
Crab cakes and olive and cheese plate

A month before we left, I signed up for Groupon Las Vegas and picked up a great deal for a new vegan place called Pura Vida. I'm always up for a tasty and healthy meal, so we hit it up for breakfast. Though the Groupon menu is a bit limited, we found amazing dishes and would have gone back if we had the time. In fact, when we go back to Vegas, even though Pura Vida is downtown, we will be going back. The food is that good and the portions are totally large. In fact, you can order one entree and split it, because they seriously give you three people's worth of food.

Empenadas: You can't go here and not get an order of these
This is a short stack!
French toast with vegan sausage

I always want to visit the Paris and eating there is always a treat. We had planned to eat breakfast at Le Cafe Ile. St. Louis, but we had a change of plans and ended up having a late lunch/early dinner instead. You eat "outside" under the Parisian sky in what appears to be an outdoor cafe in a charming Paris setting. 

I chose the traditional croque madame
Eric got a tuna steak sandwich (not shown, we also had fondue. yum!)

We had been playing the myVEGAS game on Facebook in order to get comps, and one of the things we used it for was to get free tickets to Tournament of Kings at the Excalibur. At almost $70 per person, that's a big savings and it includes dinner and a show. Eat three courses with your hands - soup, entree and dessert.

Everyone gets their own whole chicken, biscuit, potato and broccoli, plus you receive tomato soup before and an apple hand pie for dessert. It's entertaining and delicious.

Of course, no trip to Vegas would be complete without a trip (or two) to a buffet. We hit up the Spice Market Buffet - which I was able to get a 2-for-1 Groupon for - and Riviera's R Buffet.

When you arrive at the bottom of the escalators and join the line to get a table, a photographer jumps in front of you and snaps a commemorative photo of you. Who wants to remember their visit to a buffet? Well, I guess we do, but we took our own picture on our way down the escalator, so $20 saved! You can eat around the world at Planet Hollywood's Spice Market Buffet, and eat any of over fifty kinds cupcakes and desserts. 

Just one side of the cupcake extravaganza!
You can graze from Mexico, Asia, South America and the Mediterranean and then make a plate of cheeses and meats. There's nothing you won't find at this buffet.

We stayed at the Riviera our first night in Vegas. Escalators and buffets must go together, because you have to go up to get to the breakfast buffet here. On a Thursday, it's not difficult to get a table at any time. You can go Eric's route and eat bacon, bacon and more bacon, or you can maybe get a variety of food from the entire spread. That's the way I went.

Potatoes, french toast and waffles
Fruit is always a good choice and you don't have to cut it up yourself
My first plate: If only there was fried chicken, this plate would be perfect
Needless to say, we had a pretty successful dining experience on our long weekend. I would definitely recommend any of these places. I would also recommend a BBQ at Eric's uncle's house, but I don't think they are open for business. Where's your favorite place to eat in Vegas? 

{For more ideas on where to eat and what to do in Vegas, check out my post here.}

Skiing in Soldeu: The Grandvalira Ski Area

The sheer quantity of groomed runs of off-piste trails that are accessible from the Andorran ski resorts is rather daunting, particularly when you consider the Grandvalira ski area which offers over 205km of pisted runs. It doesn’t matter what you wish to achieve from your ski holiday – whether you want to show off your moves in the El Tartar terrain park or you need to master the snow plough on the nursery slopes, Soldeu is one of the most popular bases.

While the Grandvalira ski area can be reached from seven surrounding resorts, including Soldeu, El Tartar and Pas de la Casa, Soldeu promotes itself as one of the best destinations in which to base your group.

Perfect for intermediates, the mountain is jam-packed with wide runs that can be accessed by gondolas and chairlifts that operate throughout the day. Lifts are available across the mountain to ensure runs can be enjoyed by all, from beginners to the more advanced. Recent improvements to the lift service, including a £3.8million investment in a 10-person gondola, takes you to and from nearby El Tartar, while also providing access to tree-lined off-piste trails that remain relatively untouched and powdery throughout the season.

Photos of Grandvalira Ski Resort, Andorra la Vella
This photo of Grandvalira Ski Resort is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Grandvalira is the only ski area throughout Andorra that boasts three snowparks, meaning freestyles are in their element here. Wherever you choose to head on the mountain, you can do so with the same lift pass – make the most of it.

Where you base yourself depends largely on what you want to achieve from your ski holiday. If you love the nightlife, Soldeu or Pas de la Casa would be more ideal while El Tartar offers a quieter side of life where you can chill out at the base of the mountain without having to worry about being kept awake until the early hours. Wherever you choose to stay, this ski area is awesome and definitely needs to be experienced. 

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post on behalf of Neilson Holidays. Find them also on Facebook |Twitter | Google + | YouTube 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Secret Life of a Mobster

Don't forget to enter the giveaway for a Travelon Anti-theft Signature Slim Pouch. It ends tomorrow!

So, I didn’t just go to Vegas and gamble all my money away. In fact, we did very little gambling in the three days we were there, even though it was 120 degrees – not an exaggeration – and we spent 90% of the time inside. One of the things I really wanted to do while in Sin City was eat delicious food (check), do free stuff (check) and visit the Mob Museum. I’ve been telling people about it for a while, but I finally got the chance to go last month and it was pretty awesome. I learned a lot about the history of the mob and posed for a lineup.

I wish I took a pic from inside, too, since it’s very odd to go behind the one-way glass and just see yourself and your fellow suspects – in my case, Eric.

Getting into the museum is not super cheap, but $19.95 was not a bad price of admission for all the knowledge and history you leave with. There are three floors of amazing facts, evidence and interactive exhibits. The building itself is the old courthouse and when it was in use it was the tallest building in Vegas. You can see what a long way the city has come. 

Not only will you learn about the mobsters that are big names – like Al Capone – but also about lesser known names that were a big part of crime in Vegas and other parts of the Mafioso. 

The Mob Museum has the real wall from the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. The bricks were numbered, the wall was taken apart and then moved and reassembled. You can see the actual bullet holes and watch a video about what went down.

Do you know gangster lingo? What about cop slang? Listen in on some calls between criminals or police and see if you can figure out what they’re saying. You also learn that how you got whacked and with what weapon is a message to his family and others who think they might want to do their own thing instead of what the boss wants. 

Even though the mob isn't cool, they did rid the streets of many bad criminals - probably because they were messing up their operations - and also brought the people alcohol and gambling during prohibition, welcome distractions from the daily grind. I was surprised that some of the major crime bosses were taken off the streets not that long ago -within the last decade. You'll see interviews with undercover agents who infiltrated the mafia and pretended to be mobsters in order to take down the criminals from the inside. Those are really interesting. 

The American Dream was not easy to come by for immigrants to this county and when hard work proved to be a disappointing way to make a living,t hey made money the only other way they knew how. They stole it. Irish, Polish and other foreigners formed gangs that terrorized neighborhoods that eventually became more sophisticated and known as mobs. In fact, the after visiting the Mob Museum, I'm convinced that the mobs may have made Vegas what it is today and possibly improved the economy of the nation as a whole. 

Next time you visit, make sure to stop by the museum, which is only one street over from Fremont Street. You'll never look at the city the same way again.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

How to Book Last-Minute Cruises

If you're hoping to cut the cost of cruising this year, why not look for last minute cruises? It's a great way to enjoy a fantastic holiday without breaking the bank and, with the money you save, you could use it as spending money once you arrive. Just think of all those day trips and ice creams you could enjoy!

Firstly, let's look at how to book last-minute cruises. As the name suggests, this style of holiday deal is based on booking and travelling within a short time frame. Usually, the best and cheapest last-minute cruises are those with departure dates that fall within the next five or six weeks. This means that you'll need to be prepared to book, pay and jet off within a short period of time, so do bear this in mind if you require travel injections or if you're short on cash. As much as you might save money on your booking, you'll still need spending money once you're out there, along with the cost of travel essentials such as airport parking.

If you've already got a holiday fund lined up, the quickest and often the easiest way to search and book last minute cruises is to use a comparison site or a travel agent. Take Thomas Cook for instance. Their website - Cruise Thomas Cook - offers holidays from all the major cruise operators including Royal Caribbean, NCL, Princess, Celebrity, Thomson, and even Viking River Cruises. Put your key criteria into the search panel - leaving it as open as possible in order to get the best deal - and hit search. You can then filter the results by various factors including holiday length, departure date, cost and so on.

This is a great way to find last minute cruises and who knows, a quick search online could lead to your cruise holiday of a lifetime!

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post on behalf of Thomas Cook. Find them also on Facebook | Twitter | Google + | YouTube

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Infographic: How Families Plan Their Vacations

The Travelon giveaway is still open to win your very own anti-theft Signature Slim Pouch. Enter now!

Earlier this week I asked via Facebook and Twitter what your must-haves for an accommodation were and if, like me, it depended on the destination. Generally, I'm happy with free internet, as long as wherever I'm staying is affordable, but when I'm going on a bigger trip, I like to have more included. For my trip to London and Europe - which I officially have all my accommodations and airfare booked - I was looking for places to stay with a kitchen, internet and a washing machine. This might be a lot to ask for, but we'll be gone 2 full weeks and being able to work, check email and do my laundry for free (so I can pack less and save money) were pretty much things I needed to have. Do your needs vary based on where/when you go? Also, how do you choose your destination? 

Your Family Vacation Planner

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pack This: Fresh Sugar Lip Treatments

Don't forget to enter the giveaway for a Travelon Anti-theft Signature Slim Pouch.

I am addicted to lip balm, and not just any lip balm. I happen to only carry around Alba Botanicals lip balm made with soy instead of beeswax. Inconveniently, I can only find it at natural stores around here. I have lip balm everywhere. In my purse, in my toiletry bag, in my office drawer, in my medicine cabinet. It is hard for me to branch out and find a lip color that I can stand up to my need to moisturize my kisser.

The first time Sephora sent me a VIB bonus (yes, I spend way too much money there), I received $20 off my purchase. I thought it was my chance to try something new that might also be a great travel product and help me color my lips while also softening them. Well, I found it. Fresh sugar lip tints are where it's at. It's natural, moisturizing, contains SPF and completes your beauty routine. You can also find Fresh products in stores and through Amazon.

I purchased the sugar plum lip tint with lip polish. The polish smells lovely and exfoliates your pout. It leaves behind a yummy flavor as well. Finish your face with your favorite color lip tint. There are five to choose from including coral, sugar plum, sugar passion, sugar rosé and sugar honey. Great for any look you are going for and any complexion. Pale, tan or ethnic skin tones will find a complimentary color. 
mini size I received with my birthday gift
Fresh lip tints are a fab addition to your travel bag. You get two products in one, which makes your 3-1-1 bag easier to pack, plus they go on smoothly and are fresh and light feeling, so you never feel overly made up. Perfect!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Review & Giveaway: Travelon Anti-Theft Signature Slim Pouch

Whenever I go on a trip, I try to bring a bag that will suit my purposes. Each vacation seems to have different needs and my weekend trip to Las Vegas was no different. Mostly, we would be walking from the car to our activity, but even if I would be walking down The Strip, which ended up happening, I needed something lightweight and secure. I found that in Travelon's new Anti-Theft Signature Slim Pouch. 

The Signature Slim Pouch is a perfect accessory for a trip where you don't need to take a ton of stuff with you each day, but I found that it held all my essentials in its four compartments. I've been carrying this bag with me on trips around town, especially to the farmers' market, because it keeps my money handy and my hands free, plus it isn't bulky and doesn't compete with other bags for my shoulder. After testing it out at home, I was ready to take it with me on a real trip. First, let's look at the compartments it has and what you can put in them!

This front slip pocket is designed for a cell phone. It isn't too deep, so you don't loose your phone in it. I found on my trip that I had more things that I wanted to keep handy than my phone, so I stashed my itinerary in there, a coupon book and my show tickets. It made it simple to grab things quickly and then put them away easily. I used the back pocket for my cell phone, since I was only using it to check in on Foursquare and to call my mom. I like that it zipped and I could also toss in spare change that i got when I paid cash for things (darn that sales tax!).

This back pocket is right against your body, so it's handy for things you don't need instant access to, but would also like to be a bit more secure. Obviously, I wasn't needing my phone  a whole lot, so it seemed like it made more sense there. On my trips around town, I generally use it for lip balm and my powder compact.

When you travel, there are going to be a few things you need handy, but don't want out in the open. While I took my other cards with me - credit cards, insurance cards, etc. - I knew that I would need my drivers license, debit card and rewards credit card. These are the ones I put in the RFID-blocking card slots (so no card-reading devices could steal my information). There is also a larger one intended for a passport. I stashed my cash, room key and receipts there while I was in Vegas. It was easy to unzip the compartment and quickly pull out to flash my ID or pay for a souvenir.

The main compartment is fairly large and can hold many necessities. It was very hot on the weekend we were in Sin City, so I made sure to tote around a bottle of sunscreen for reapplication. Antibacterial wipes are always great when you go anywhere, either for germy places or sticky hands. We used them fairly often. I'm very accident-prone. My help I've cut myself mini-first aid kit was an important addition to my bag as well as the normal stuff: powder compact, concealer pen, aspirin, a pen, a snack and tinted lip balm. All these fit in the main compartment and smaller zipper pocket inside, leaving me room for other things I might pick up along the way and my rental car keys.

The Signature Slim Pouch is just that: slim. It is not meant to be packed full of items and still be able to get to everything easily, but it holds your essentials and then some without being heavy or cumbersome.

The front pocket that uses a magnetic closure is very convenient. I used this for my metal card case with my non-essential cards I may or may not need (turns out I did need one of them for something) and my camera. I liked having the quick ease of getting to my camera many times throughout the day and not having to keep fumbling to get to it or carrying it on my wrist and looking like a target to thieves.

In case you think the slim pouch is so slim it might be hard to get things in and out, check out the one side where the zipper comes all the way to the bottom. There's also a nice little piece of fabric that keeps your belongings from falling out onto the sidewalk, that many other bags don't feature. It makes it so much easier to get to things at the bottom of the bag without having to pull everything out. 

Maybe you aren't one that enjoys wearing a bag as a cross body. This bag is for you. You have the option of making the strap shorter to wear on your shoulder, or using it as a waist bag by detaching the side from the caribiner, wrapping it around yourself, or through your belt loops, and then reattaching it. This makes this bag super versatile and a great option for almost every traveler.

Another amazing function to this bag, which has become a staple in all the new anti-theft Travelon bags is the locking zippers. You have a lobster claw clasp on the side that has a little bit of stretch to it, so you can pull it out and clip it through the holes in the zipper pulls of the top and back zipper. This is a deterrent to robbers who just like to stealthily unzip bags and steal whatever's in there. For more outright bandits, the bag has a slash-proof construction, both in the body and the strap. The slash and grab doesn't work with this bag, because of the lightweight mesh embedded in the lining. This is definitely one of the most secure bags I've ever carried and will continue to take it with me on trip, both around town and away from home.

More information
Where you can buy itTravelon online
How much it costs$40.00
Colors it comes inblack | eggplant | truffle (shown)
Other specs420 D. Polyester fabric that is easily wiped down if you spill on it 7 x 9 x 2

Want to win your own Travelon Anti-Theft Signature Slim Pouch? Enter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Disclosure: I was provided with the Anti-Theft Signature Slim Pouch for the purposes of this review, but all opinions are 100% my own.
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