To Check or Not to Check Luggage

Each time we begin packing for a trip, Justin and I always have this question: do we check our luggage or carry-on?

While it seems like a simple decision to some, we usually struggle. When I was younger, I never thought twice about checking my bags. I didn’t want to lug around my huge suitcase anyway. After my first trip to Europe, my opinions drastically changed. During my layover and customs inspection, I waited so long for my bag to arrive that I almost missed my connection!

Looking at the big picture, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if I lost my luggage or continued on without it. Obviously, the contents were just material items that could have been replaced; however, I would have been disappointed to lose some of those sentimental souvenirs.

For a few years after this instance, I didn’t want to gamble with my time or belongings. I started to bring my bags into the cabin. Even though this forced me to learn how to pack a lot lighter, carrying-on gave me peace of mind. In addition, it also saved me money. Most airlines have started charging additional fees for customers deciding to check their bags underneath the plane.

I will say that there are some challenges with cabin luggage as well. When we choose this option, we always stress about our boarding. We want to make sure there’s room for our belongings above our seats. We have been on several flights where bags have had to be checked last minute. When this happens to us, I always think that our suitcases are going to remain on the jet bridge.

We have also learned that sometimes it’s just not possible to carry-on. For example, during our trip to Iceland, we needed so many Winter clothing items and accessories. We just could not feasibly pack all of our puffy gear into such small suitcases–even though I REALLY tried! I knew this was the right decision, but I was still incredibly ambivalent. So, Justin placed a Tile locator in our bag. This eased a lot of my anxieties! We had a few tight connections, and we knew our luggage arrived with us each time. I also noticed during this trip that we didn’t have to wait long for our bags to drop onto the carousels. These airlines have definitely improved their processes!

Overall, I believe that this decision is different for every person and trip. I think if I had to choose, my preference would be to carry-on due to cost and ease of convenience; however, if I do decide to check, I will always utilize my Tile and bring a few essentials in my purse–just in case! Whatever I decide, I always make sure to have extra room for new clothes or souvenirs. For this reason, it’s imperative that I pack a collapsable backpack. You never know what you’ll find out there!

Do you prefer to check or carry-on?

Beach Trip Packing List

Summer is quickly approaching, and a few friends have asked me what I bring for those trips to the beach. For this reason, I have listed my essentials below.

First and foremost, a good sunscreen is imperative for any summer trip. I have really sensitive skin; so, I like to use Avene Ultra-Light Hydrating Sunscreen. This is the only product that doesn’t give me acne afterwards. As for the rest of my skin, I like to use the Coppertone Sport Sunscreen Lotion. While it’s easy to grab the spray, I feel like the lotion provides much better coverage. Don’t forget to reapply, though.

In addition to sunscreen, proper attire is also important to a successful summer trip. I always pack 2-3 swim suit options, a few cover-ups, a baseball cap, and cheap Old Navy flip-flops for the pool/beach. I also like to bring a couple of sundresses, a cardigan, and nicer sandals or wedges for night time. Other clothing items that I have with me include: shorts, flowy tops, a pair of jeans, and sneakers for activities.

Finally, if there’s room in my suitcase, I like to have a few additional accessories on my packing list. For my seaside vacations, I like to take a beach bag and possibly some water toys. While most resorts will offer a towel service, I sometimes pack my own or a small blanket just in case. One of my favorite “extras” to pack, though, is my dry bag. I like to use this water-resistant pouch to contain any wet items for the trek back home. It’s so nice to not worry about my luggage getting damp!

Summer 2019 is almost here, and hopefully you are going somewhere exciting. 🙂

Group vs Independent Travel

Lately I’ve been seeing travel advertisements plastered all over the Internet. Several of these agencies provide “guided group tours.” This means that the company will arrange major transportation, accommodations, and events at each destination. Customers can go alone or with friends/family; however, there will most likely be others traveling along in the group as well.

Although it may seem challenging, “independent” travel is always an alternative option. With these vacations, a person–or even a group–can explore the destination without a tour guide or “required” scheduled activities.

I have done both types of trips. I thought this would be a great opportunity to share my perspectives on each of them.

My Experiences with Group Travel

When I was younger, group travel worked well for me. I didn’t know anything about planning an international trip. It all seemed so overwhelming. Booking with these companies is so simple. I basically just showed up for an amazing experience abroad! I also ended up seeing places that I would not have originally planned for myself.

My first trip to Europe with a tour!

When choosing to go on one of these tours, customers are signing up to an adventure with strangers. This is a gamble. On one trip, I met amazing people and created close friendships. On another, my companions barely spoke to me. Luckily, I have always traveled with at least one friend. So, others never really put a damper on my personal experiences. However, I don’t know if I could say the same for those who come to the trip alone.

On every tour, a guide leads the group though the itinerary. This person can definitely make or break the vacation. They provide insight into the culture and history of each destination. They are also utilized as resources for restaurant recommendations or free time activities. A personable leader is imperative. On the other hand, a mediocre guide can really affect the trip’s dynamic.

Although the guide will not hold up the entire cohort for tardiness, I feel like there is still a lot of waiting with this type of experience. For example, at the beginning of one trip, we sat in the hotel lobby for hours as the others in our group continued to trickle in. This was brutal after a long flight.

My Experiences with Independent Travel

Justin and I have always explored on our own. Even though it requires extra efforts researching and booking activities, I really think it’s worth the work!

First, it is usually much cheaper for us to travel independently. With discount travel sites, we have discovered some great deals. I recently compared prices on a trip we took. I found that we paid HALF as much as the group rate for the same itinerary! So crazy.

In addition, I love the flexibility of independent travel. We have the freedom to explore at our own pace. If desired, we can choose to find a tour guide for certain events or places. On the other hand, we can skip activities without feeling like we’re wasting money or missing out.

My recent trip to Europe with Justin!

Final Thoughts

Overall, while the convenience of group travel is enticing, I think that traveling independently is a much better experience for us. By doing the work, we can use the money saved for extra excursions or even another trip entirely. I feel like we can see more of the world this way! In addition, with the influx of travel sites and blogs, online planning is so simple these days. For these reasons, I definitely don’t believe that a guide is necessary for an amazing and unforgettable vacation.

Have you ever gone on a group trip? If so, what do you think about them?

What’s the Deal with Groupon Travel?

Thoughts and Discovery

A couple of years ago, Justin and I were scrolling on Groupon and found some really good deals for trips–even international ones. We had used the discount website for purchases and other experiences, but we weren’t quite sure what to expect for travel.

As we searched through the options, a voucher for a trip to Dublin, with hotel and airfare included, stood out. Justin had studied abroad in Dublin the previous summer; so, if the Groupon somehow didn’t work out, we thought we could figure out other accommodations.

After some discussion, we decided to give it a try, and we booked it! I could not wait to get to Ireland!

Our Challenges Faced After Booking

If the customer lives on the East Coast or in a city with a lot if international flights, these Groupons can be a simple way to travel. For us, however, living in Arizona, we find that it can be a bit more complicated planning our trips.

A lot of the time, these vouchers will include airfare out of JFK, Boston, or maybe LAX if we are lucky. So, if we do end up booking one of these Groupon deals, we have to find our own flights from Arizona or see if the travel company offering the voucher is willing to help us reroute (for an extra fee of course).

We usually like to book our own airfare, so that we can explore another destination on our way home. I really like when we stop on the way home, because it gives us a break from flying, and I feel like I have an easier time adjusting to the time changes.

Thoughts on the Experience

Our trip to Dublin turned out great. We were booked with a decent airline without any delays or cancellations. In addition, our accommodations were good, and our hotel was located in the heart of the city. It wasn’t incredibly fancy, but it was nice for the price we paid.

Our particular voucher included flights from JFK, so we decided to explore New York on our way back to the desert. Although NYC was incredibly chilly, we had a blast! We even went to see Wicked on Broadway.

Would We do it Again?

Overall, we were happy with the deal. Since our trip to Dublin, we have traveled to Iceland as well as Thailand through Groupon deals!

I have to stress though that with these kind of vouchers, flexibility is imperative. Any modification in dates or airport can increase the cost of the voucher. This is why researching average expenses is essential.

Also, I believe that it is always important to read the fine print of the deal. Some Groupons may include extra excursions or guided travel, where as others do not.

Groupon has been awesome for some of our adventures, and hopefully we will have new ones to look forward to soon! 🙂

What’s in my Carry-On?

Over the past few years, I have experimented with various bags and packing strategies. Even though I usually pack my clothes in roller bag for the overhead compartment, I believe that having a good carry-on underneath the seat in front of me is imperative to any trip.

I have found that my Longchamp bag works the best. It’s spacious and easy to carry without being incredibly bulky or heavy. I call it my “Mary Poppins’ Bag.”

Below I have listed my essentials:

  • Passport/Wallet/ID (RFID Protection)
  • My Google Pixel 3 for photos and music (I subscribe to Spotify. I highly recommend!)
  • Headphones (I have the rose gold Beats that are both bluetooth and wired for airplane TVs)
  • Chapstick
  • Hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes (because germs)
  • Over the Counters (Advil, Tums, any necessary medications)
  • Eye Masks (for some added moisturizer after landing)
  • Colgate Wisps to freshen up
  • My Kindle
  • Travel Pillow (tied to the outside of my bag)
  • Travel blanket/pillow Snuggie set
  • Pen (for any forms upon landing)
  • My Coach packable backpack (for any souvenirs or exploring)
  • Waterproof camera (depending on the excursions)
  • My Fossil Smartwatch (usually wearing this 😉 )
  • My Laptop
  • Any cables for electronics in their organizer

What do you like in your carry-on?