2018 Holiday Gift Guide: The Travel Lover

travel lover gift guide

Increasingly year over year, the internet is flooded with gift guides promoting what to buy your loved ones this holiday season. I too participate in the annual tradition of gifting and think the act of expressing generosity to those you love is a beautiful gesture. But as easily as I'll admit to that, I'll also confess that this very practice has made me a bit of a cynic. Society's even-more-extravagant-than-usual push toward consumerism is about as subtle as a sledge-hammer and often robs the attention from where focus should be this time of year. And in a season where I've found so much richness in living more simply, I've really struggled with all the waste and frivolity that accompanies this time of year (buying people things they don't want or need, forests full of unnecessary wrapping paper… the list goes on). I don't mean to sound like the Grinch. In fact, I absolutely love the Christmas season and all the festivities that it brings! But I also feel compelled to speak out against this purely acquistional mindset that perpetuates materialism or steals from the things that bring us more fullness.

While I hope there are more simple moments of togetherness than there are “things” in your holiday season, hear me when I say there is absolutely still space at the table for expressing generosity through the act of tangible giving. Again, I participate in gift exchanges as well! And while I (personally) won't be making multiple gift guides for various profiles you might be shopping for (my area of expertise is travel, so that's what I'm going to stick to) if you're a frequent traveler or you're shopping for one, I do have some helpful input that’s worth speaking to.

For starters, I would love to help you plan a trip! I believe travel and the memories we gain from experiences together is one of the sweetest gifts life has to offer. If you’re interested in booking time with me (for yourself or as a present for someone you love), visit my Travel Planning page.

And if you’re looking for some great travel-related products? I’ve compiled a list of things I own and genuinely love. All of these are great quality and won't be throwaway clutter you're tired of a few months after Christmas (in fact, a lot of them are repeat mentions from the years past when I've done this same drill, which is proof that I'm still using them). It's my hope that if you're in the market for any of these things, this will be a helpful way to steer you toward products that are worth your money and will actually add value to your life. But if not? Direct your funds and energy elsewhere… because at the end of the day, it’s just stuff :)



A classic black leather bag can do no wrong, in my opinion. I pretty much always have these three in constant rotation, depending on the occasion. If I just need a small bag for the essentials, this FashionABLE Menbere cross-body bag (which also helps fight generational poverty through providing economic opportunity for women) is the perfect size and contains multiple compartments perfect for casual travel days. If you’re looking for something a bit more sophisticated, yet hoping to avoid seeming pretentious, this Lipault Paris bag is chic, high-quality and looks a bit more polished. And if you need a roomy tote to carry on a plane or train? This Cuyana structured carry-all tote (and tassel!) is one of my all-time favorites.

If you’re looking for a wider-range of travel bags, be sure to check out my “Best Bags for Travel” post.


I’ve carried this Cuyana leather travel case set for almost 3 years now and both bags are still as good as new. You can choose from a variety of chic colors and add a monogram if you’d like to add a sense of personalization.


I have had the same Aspinal of London passport case for two years now and I love it! Unfortunately they no longer carry my color, however they do have several other beautiful options. Similarly, I recently found The Daily Edited and think their passport cases are also beautiful (Cuyana has some lovely ones as well).


I’ve had a variety of luggage tags over the years, but a few have really stood out among the rest. This classic pebbled-leather one by Cuyana will always be a favorite, along with this classic Leatherology one (which has an option for a beautiful hand-painted personalization). Again, The Daily Edited has some beautiful options (like this) and I also liked the chic simplicity of this one from Nordstrom. 


Wrapping up in cozy layers is the best way to travel (see this post for a more extensive list of suggestions). Some of my favorite pieces I’ve worn for years now, like this cozy cardigan or these adidas superstars. Recently, I’ve fallen completely in love with these Cuyana ponte pants (I am embarrassed to tell you how many days out of the week I wear these here in London…) I also finally got this beautiful Alpaca cape that I’ve wanted for so long now, and it feels so luxe and cozy to wrap up in.


This Cuyana pebbled-leather travel wallet is honestly one of my favorite everyday items I own (I've pointed several friends to this piece and they're now advocates for it as well!) It's perfectly sized to fit in any purse or carry on bag without being too large and bulky. It neatly compartmentalizes your credit cards, travel documents, passport and spare change (plus there are plenty of other compartments where you can keep business cards, a lipstick or other essentials if that's all you want to carry out one night).


This external charger does NOT mess around. I can honestly charge this bad boy once and it will last me about an entire week of charging my phone and devices- whether I’m traveling or just roaming around London. After getting so annoyed by so many external chargers barely giving me any juice and just being an extra piece of junk I’m carrying around, I have recommended this gem to so many people because I love it so much.


I’m more committed than ever to reducing my environmental footprint and eliminating unnecessary single-use plastic from my life. I’ve loved this travel-specific Swell re-usable water bottle because it’s easy to wash by hand while on-the-go and holds a good amount of water without being too bulky.


These have been a game-changer for the way I pack! Not only do they keep me significantly more organized, I find that they really do save me space in my suitcase because they can compress bulky items down into smaller sizes.


Cuyana gifted me this chic little leather pouch that’s the perfect place to keep your headphones. Even though I asked for air pods for Christmas, I can still easily store those (or any other charging cords) in here to keep them from getting lost or tangled in my bag.


I tried these La Mer hydrating sheet masks earlier this year and was blown away by the difference I felt in my skin. While I’ve certainly tried products before that seemed to work, nothing compares to this level of how impressed I’ve been (truly hydrating without feeling greasy or gross). They’re definitely more of a splurge for a sheet mask, but worth every penny for the difference you’ll notice in dehydrated skin.


I am still carrying two of my Cuyana overnight and weekender totes from years ago that are no longer in stock, because I haven’t needed to replace them (similar options here and here). Additionally, this Leatherology weekend tote has been an amazing addition to my repertoire and has the option to add a beautiful hand-painted personalization detail.

For more items that are my “go to” favorites, visit the “Shop Travel Gear” section of my site. I try to keep my travel recommendations for shopping quite succinct, as I’m a believer in fewer, better things. If you want to do some additional browsing for an item you need that perhaps I didn’t speak to, here is a list of retailers (including some having sales/promotions) who I think provide high-quality items that will last you a long time:

& OTHER STORIES (Currently 50% off select styles)



ASOS (Currently 20% off everything)

CUYANA (Donating 10% of sales to California fire victims)

LEATHEROLOGY (15% off everything using code GIFTS at checkout)

NORDSTROM (Up to 60% off)

THE DAILY EDITED (20% off everything using code CYBERMONDAY20 at checkout)

Whoever you’re shopping for or however you choose to practice generosity this season, remember to not get too swept up in the things that don’t matter. Prioritize taking the time to write cards with meaningful words and share meals with people you love without looking at your phones. Focus on all the things you already have instead of making a list of the things you want to buy. Ask yourself how you can simplify your life to rid the unnecessary clutter and make make more room for the things you value most. Call me cliché, but I actually believe all the way to my bones that’s what will bring you the most joy this season.

Thanks for listening to my soap box and I hope you gained some helpful holiday inspiration in the process! As always, I so appreciate you stopping by.



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Romania: A Transylvania Road Trip


My recent road trip through Romania's Transylvania with my friend Caitlin was easily the most challenging, yet simultaneously delightful trip I've been on to date. Having visited more destinations in Europe than I can recount from memory, I've grown to be quite a confident traveler when exploring any new destination on this particular continent…that is, until I arrived in Romania. Don't get me wrong, this country is stunning and someplace that absolutely deserves a spot on your travel list. But it’s also a destination that requires doing some homework before you go and proceeding with caution for a few different reasons. Should you choose to replicate the itinerary we followed, you definitely want a car (many of these locations are not accessible by train). I highly recommend everywhere that we visited, so here are some things to know before you visit yourself.


I've never experienced more hazards while driving than in Romania. Hitch-hiking is very common here, and those seeking a ride will often stand in the middle of the road. You'll also pass loads of horse and carriages, however there is no shoulder for them so they'll occupy a good portion of the road. The number of stray dogs exceeds anywhere I've ever been before, so you'll also want to keep an eye out for these guys who are often crossing the roads freely. It's also worth mentioning that there are no interstates in Romania, so no road is exempt from these hazards. Finally, the drivers here are aggressive — and passing is par for the course. You may think you're pretty close to the car in front of you, but if there's even the slightest amount of room for another car to squeeze right in front of you, they'll do it. My advice while driving? Take your time and always proceed with extreme caution.


Caitlin befriended some Romanian locals when she arrived in Bucharest a few hours before my flight got in. They told her to be very careful with the car rental process, as some Romanian companies will try to scam you. They suggested we record a video walking around the entire car to show the state of it when we picked it up. Simply marking pre-existing scuffs on paperwork isn’t always enough (so they told us) because some companies have been known to tweak the paperwork and charge you for damage you aren’t responsible for. Finally, they told us to insist on a receipt when you return the car to show what the final total will be so there are no last minute surprises.


I definitely fell under the category of "ignorant" on this particular topic prior to visiting and learning the difference first hand. These titles are often conflated and confused and I felt silly trying to differentiate who the gypsies were while I was visiting. There are definitely stereotypes that are centuries old at play here, and part of the confusion is due to the fact that Romania has one of the largest percentages of Roma people (but not all Roma people consider themselves gypsies). Confused yet? I sure was. To learn more about the Roma people, watch this quick video, but my takeaway is that:

  • Roma people are a traditionally itinerant ethnic group living mostly in Europe and originating from the northern-Indian sub-continent (they are colloquially known as Gypsies, however this term has become more of a negative title associated with crime, which doesn’t apply to all Roma people).

  • Romanians are simply citizens of Romania, which does include the Roma people, however, not all Romanians are Roma.


We obviously aren’t fluent in Romanian and we didn’t have much of an issue at all with the language barrier (almost everyone in the cities spoke wonderful English and even in the rural areas most people spoke enough for us to get by on). Per usual, I always recommend learning how to say thank you, at the very minimum, in the local language, which in this case is “mulțumesc”. For currency, you’ll definitely want to have some cash (Romanian leu) as more rural areas didn’t accept cards, however lots of places in the larger cities have no issue with cards.

Now that some of that need to know information has been addressed, let’s talk about the itinerary. We had about 5 days total in Romania and chose to spend it accordingly:


After customs, getting our luggage and sorting our rental car at the Bucharest airport, it took us over 4 hours to drive to Brasov (Google maps will likely tell you something closer to 3.5, however with traffic and driving a bit more slowly because of all the aforementioned hazards, it added another hour to our drive.) Brasov is an incredible town known for its medieval Saxon walls and bastions. The cobbled streets, lively cafes and kind-hearted people won us over straight away!

We stayed in the Old Town for 2 nights (which I highly, HIGHLY recommend) at an Airbnb (link here) that was clean, safe and so affordable (we’re talking $27 per night!) Since it was already dark when we finally got into town, we didn’t do too much exploring, however we found an amazing dinner spot that is an absolute must-try while in Brasov: Bistro De L'Arte. All the food was farm to table and incredibly delicious (and again… so affordable!)

QUICK SIDE NOTE: I recently acquired this beautiful Lipault Paris Plume Elegance Leather Medium Satchel Bag which has become a dream for travel. I first spotted this brand while shopping in my favorite neighborhood in Paris and have wanted one ever since (it’s high-quality and Parisian-chic, yet without the pretentiousness of some high-end designers). So if you’re looking for a timeless, elegant handbag from Paris- I highly recommend it.


The next morning we woke up early to grab breakfast and explore the town in proper daylight! We had amazing berry pancakes at La Birou Bistro (and our server was so nice and helpful about telling us what all we needed to see/do in Brasov). After roaming around for a few hours, we hopped in the car to drive to our first stop of the day.

While driving, we kept pulling over to take photos of the scenery, which was so beautiful!

romania transylvania road trip

We finally arrived to Bran Castle, which was built in 1382 and meant to be what Bram Stoker based his inspiration for Dracula on. The foliage this time of year (mid-October) was incredible and it was so fun to see the castle decorated so festively right around Halloween! I highly recommend touring it when you visit, no matter what time of year it is.

bran castle dracula romania

After exploring the castle and the little town around it, we hopped in the car to head back to Brasov just in time to catch a beautiful sunset from the rooftop of Aro Palace Hotel. They had an incredible view of the city (especially with the foliage this time of year!) and a great wine selection too—it’s a great spot to grab a drink before dinner and watch the sunset. For dinner on our second night we found local spot in the Old Town to eat some traditional Romanian cuisine: Cârnați (garlicky pork sausage) and polenta.

Brasov Romania Rooftop


The next morning we woke up early to check out of our Airbnb and drive to Sighisoara (about 1 hour and 45 minutes from Brasov). This little town was a great spot to stop for lunch to break up our drive to Sibiu (where we would spend the next 2 nights) and was a dichotomy of beauty + grit. The old town in the upper part of the village looked like it was straight out of a storybook, while the outskirts had crumbling roads and facades. After spending some time exploring, snapping photos and eating lunch at Vlad Dracul Restaurant, we hopped back in the car to finish our drive to Sibiu.


I adored Sibiu. Grit, glamour, charm, history... this place had it all! For starters, the Germanic architecture and pops of color that are peppered throughout this old town will win you over straight away. But there is also a coziness and charm to this town that you can’t quite articulate properly…

After we checked into our incredible Airbnb (linked here…. again, so cheap!) we explored for a few hours before the sunset. By pure luck, we stumbled upon the most darling restaurant, Kulinarium, where we had an incredible dinner (very centrally located in the upper town). After too much food, wine + dessert, we tucked in for the evening before another day of exploring.

sibiu romania
sibiu romania


Day 4 was certainly our most adventurous. To start, we hopped in the car and drove to Castelul de lut, which is made purely from clay, sand and other natural ingredients. It’s reminiscent of a Hobbit house and a “must” while passing through the Sibiu area (it’s only about an hour away by car!)

Our next stop was a bit more complicated to get to. In fact, it was named one of Condé Nast Traveler’s “Sexiest Road Trips of Europe” — driving to Bâlea Lake. With loads of hairpin turns along the Transfagarasan Highway, you won’t be lacking any adrenaline on this drive. We almost didn’t add this into the itinerary because driving in Romania was scary enough without adding mountainous drop-offs into the mix, but I’m SO glad we did… it was truly incredible and something I’ll never forget.


On our drive back to Sibiu, we saw loads of Roma/ gypsy communes that I don’t have photos of (largely out of respect). Wanting to really get a sense of life in this area, we parked our car down the road and walked into one of the villages (although we didn’t make it a very long trip). There was so much unfamiliarity and we were warranting a lot of stares from the people, so we decided to turn around shorter than originally planned. While I am all for immersing yourself in the local culture while traveling, I also believe in showing respect while doing so. I think this kind of scenario is better to enter into with some sort of connection instead of forcibly intruding on their life. Additionally, I was still learning a lot about the difference between gypsies and Roma and Romanian people, so given my naivety it also didn’t feel very smart to stick around an area that could have been potentially dangerous.

Romania was incredibly humbling for reasons like this. Having traveled quite a bit and knowing people from all sorts of different countries, cultures, religious backgrounds and economic classes, I thought I was a pretty globally enlightened person. Until suddenly, I was extremely aware of my western, white privilege: always having access to a car, the internet and other means that I deem "standard" which actually, are quite a luxury to many people in the world. I think if I were traveling to a remote part of Africa or a country where I naturally had a third-world association with I may have been less surprised, but I didn't anticipate having this revelation in Europe. While Romania absolutely has educated and affluent citizens, it also has a lot more poverty than I expected to see. Perhaps that sounds ridiculous to you. And trust me— I felt so stupid at various points on this trip when I found myself asking "Is this a safe area?" (when really, it had nothing to do with safety and everything to do with my pre-conceived notions of what a "safe" area should look like). I'm willing to own up to my ignorance because I think that's the point of traveling— to learn about the world and the people in it. To realize how different we all are. To open our eyes to privilege and give us perspective we didn't know we needed. To help us get outside of our egos and self-centeredness and realize what other stories are playing out everyday. It serves a far greater purpose than merely providing a backdrop for our Instagram backdrop.

I think a lot of us like traveling places that feel "safe." Places where they speak our language or where we can order our usual drink at Starbucks that we know we'll like. But it's my hope, no matter where you travel, that you'll stretch yourself outside your comfort zone and embrace trying things that are new and unknown. Sure, it sounds cliché. But I believe that this simple practice of opening your mind and giving way to something unfamiliar has transformational powers that can tear down some of the most divisive walls that exist in our world today.

sibiu romania

Excuse that diversion… back to our itinerary. We drove back into Sibiu for one final evening in this charming town. We explored the narrow streets and let ourselves get lost before finding a cozy spot for dinner at Crama Sibiul Vechi, which is located in a wine cellar and decorated with traditional towels, plates and jugs. The menu offers authentic Romanian dishes like chicken soup, polenta with cheese, pork sausages, sarmale and papanasi. It was a great last meal to wrap up our time in this darling town.


The next morning we woke up early to make the trek back to Bucharest. Since the drive was rather long, we decided to stop in Sinaia (about 3 hours from Sibiu) for lunch and some sight-seeing in the afternoon. The main attraction here is Peleș Castle, which is a Neo-Renaissance castle in the Carpathian Mountains. It was gorgeous with all the foliage and there were loads of cute little restaurants in the area we passed as we drove in and out of town.

sinaia peles castle romania

After taking it all in, we hopped back in the car and drove another ~2 hours to Bucharest to return the car (with a lot more terrifying driving as we neared the city). We opted not to go into Bucharest and spend more of our time on this trip in the quaint villages instead. Given an early flight the next morning, we stayed near the airport at Aviator Boutique Hotel, which was actually quite cute and had a great little restaurant to have one last Romanian meal! They also had an airport shuttle which was very convenient given the fact we had already dropped the rental car off.

Overall, Romania was an unforgettable trip that stretched us and kept us on our toes, but mostly showed us a beautiful corner of the world that we had so much fun exploring. I 100% recommend visiting and would be more than happy to help you plan your own trip - book a travel consulting session with me if you’re interested in learning more.


Hope you found this guide to be helpful and thanks as always for stopping by!



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Malta Travel Guide


Nestled between Sicily and the North African coast lies Malta, a Mediterranean island that’s a concoction of various cultures. It was ruled by the Romans, Moors, Knights of Saint John, French and the British before finally becoming its own country in 1974— and the multitude of influences is evident at every corner you turn. From the same red phone booths as you’ll see in England to the Italian-inspired cuisine, Malta is a delight to those who crave cultural variety and global influence. My friend Mollie and I recently spent 3 days here with Visit Malta to learn as much as we could about this beautiful island.

For starters, don’t let the size of the island mislead you… there are loads of towns and villages to see! We squeezed so much into such a short period of time (I think if you want to see and do all of these things, plus some others we missed, you should plan at least 5 days). It’s also very close to Sicily and makes for an easy ferry to hop over there before/after if you want to make a longer trip out of it. Regardless of how long you plan to stay in Malta, here are some highlights I think you simply can’t miss.



Malta’s fortress city is also the country’s capital (and was named the 2018 capital for culture in Europe!) I think this is hands-down the most convenient area to stay while visiting if you want to be centrally located and conveniently positioned near areas that are walkable and great for dining or shopping. This area is rich in sites to see and explore, has so many intriguing historical buildings and it’s narrow colorful streets are so fun to get lost in!


We had dinner at The Harbour Club on our first night in Malta and it was hands down my favorite place we ate on the entire trip! It has gorgeous views of the fortress and a menu thats inspired by Mediterranean and French cuisine. Sit on the upstairs terrace for gorgeous views and delicious food + wine to watch the sunset.

harbour club

While my favorite thing we did in Valletta was honestly just getting lost in the streets, be sure you don’t miss these specific sites while planning your itinerary:


Build in the late 1500s by Girolamo Cassar, this cathedral used to be the Conventual Church of the Order of Malta and is gem of Baroque art and architecture. Today, this church is still an important shrine and a sacred place of worship.


This residence provides a unique insight into the customs and traditions of the Maltese nobility over the last 400 years and has historical items (silver, paintings and furniture) on display in their private home. The highlight for me was their darling pet parrot, Kiku, who waves and says hello to all the visitors.


If you’re looking for authentic Maltese cuisine, look no further than Ta’Nenu. We had an incredible lunch here while exploring Valletta (be sure to try the ftira: a ring-shaped, leavened, Maltese bread with loaf, usually eaten with fillings such as sardines, tuna, potato, fresh tomato, onion, capers and olives.)

We also grabbed coffee and a croissant from Cafe Castille one morning, which was a lovely little find!

malta cafe


On our second full day, we caught the ferry to Gozo: another island in the archipelago that makes up Malta (and the former home of the famous Azure Window, which fell down in 2017 due to stormy weather).

gozo malta

Our first stop in Gozo was Xaghra to visit the Gantija Temples (which are the oldest free-standing structure in the world and one of the most important archeological sites of the Maltese islands). They were build between 3600 and 3200 B.C. and excavated in 1827. While walking along the grounds, we saw locals selling prickly pears, which are plentiful on the island of Malta (be sure to taste them for yourself while visiting!)

malta prickly pear

After the temples we proceeded to Marsalforn to visit Calypso’s Cave, which overlooks the gorgeous red sandy beach of ramla l-Hamra. Legend has it that this cave is the same one that Homer mentions in his famous ‘Odyssey’ where the beautiful Calypso kept Odysseus as a “prisoner of love” for seven years.


Before heading back to the main island, I’d also recommend paying a visit to these attractions in Gozo:


This structure is a shrine to Our Lady of Pinu and contains paintings of the Assumption to Heaven of Our Lady. Legend has it that in 1883, a woman from the village heard her voice at this same site and it rapidly became a centre of pilgrimage.


While the Azure Window no longer stands, there is still so much beauty along this area of the island. Hop on a boat (there are loads running from Dwejra you can catch) and marvel at the stunning geography and landscape.


All roads in Gozo lead to Rabat, which is also known as the island’s capital city. This old Citadel is visible from almost the entire island. For centuries, it served as a place of sanctuary whenever the island was under attack.


Rikardu produces his own wine and cheese (the cheese is INCREDIBLE) from his vineyard and farm. He sells and serves the produce in his shop/restaurant in the Citadel along with other local products. Rikardu also offers visiting tourists a milking and cheese-making experience if you’re interested, but at the very least- enjoy lunch here!


cafe del mar

We stayed in St. Paul’s Bay at Hotel Santana, which is in the northern region of Malta and near most of the best beaches. Had the weather been a bit better (we had a lot of wind and a few patches of rain) it would have been great for those looking to be conveniently located to places to bask in the sun. Since we were exploring so much more than relaxing, I think in hindsight staying in Valletta would have been more ideal in terms of convenience. Nevertheless, I’m glad we got to experience St. Paul’s as well! One afternoon when the weather cleared up, we had a lovely time at Cafe Del Mar: a beach bar with beautiful views and pools. If you’re looking for a great place to soak up the Mediterranean sun, I highly recommend coming here!


I loved exploring The Three Cities. They were some of the most charming bits of our entire trip! They aren’t as popular as other areas on the island but offer an authentic slice of life and showcase palaces, churches, forts and bastions that are far older than what you’ll find in Valletta.

If you love strolling through charming streets that are a bit more quiet than the touristic city center, make sure you pencil in plenty of time for these three gems!

three cities malta

We also had an incredible lunch at Don Berto in Birgu, which had dazzling views of the harbor and delicious Maltese cuisine. I definitely recommend coming here

Don Berto Malta


malta doors

We ended our trip in Mdina, which may have been the most charming little town of them all! Mdina’s history goes back to more than 4000 years and it was here that the Apostle Paul lived after being shipwrecked on the islands (be sure you visit the Cathedral of Mdina, which is where he stayed and where later, became a bunker to shelter thousands of locals in safety during bombings of WWII). 

Also, while in Mdina, sure you stop for a slice of famous cake from Fontanella Tea Garden  (it also has beautiful views from the terrace upstairs!) And of course, allow plenty of time to wander the idyllic streets and bask in all the charm of this village. 

While visiting Malta, you simply must try a traditional pastizzi, which is a savory party filled either with ricotta or mushy peas (we opted for ricotta and it did not disappoint!) These can be found all over Malta, but we happened to try ours while strolling through Mdina. 


There is a lot more I could say about Malta, but I hope this gives you a helpful starting point to plan a trip to this beautiful island! If you’re interested in help building your trip/itinerary to Malta (or anywhere else) be sure to contact me to book a travel consulting session!

Thanks for stopping by and stay tuned in the weeks to come for a recap of my time in Romania, Bath, The Cotswolds and other recent adventures!



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