Saturday, January 24, 2015

Travel Tips: How to Maximize Suitcase Space

While most college students are well into the swing of second semester now, I've only recently flown back to the picturesque East coast. Here's how I make it back and forth from Ohio to Massachusetts with everything I need, from textbooks to instruments to clothes.

1. Roll clothes and pack strategically
More space + easier organization + fewer wrinkles = win

There's a lot of speculation about whether rolling actually creates more space, but I've found that rolling allows me to pack my clothes more densely, the same way rolling sleeping bags is more effective than folding them.

It also helps to pack heavier items first. For example, I place my textbooks and sweaters on the bottom since my lighter pieces are more flexible--they can fit in whatever holes I need to fill.

If you have any fragile items, such as plastic containers or accessories, I also recommend placing those neither at the top or the bottom of your suitcase to ake sure they have sufficient cushioning on all sides.

2. Fill shoes with socks, underwear, jewelry
This not only maximizes precious storage space, but also keep any of your gems and baubles from being jostled.

3. Wear heaviest and bulkiest clothes
For me, that meant my thick cream sweater that still manages to stay damp after multiple dryer cycles, winter boots, and parka. Layering up also keeps you toasty on the often-chilly flights. Be sure to stay within reason, however; excessive amounts of clothing may make security checks difficult.
Coat, Columbia | Sweater, thrifted | Pants, Old Navy | Boots, Bogs | Scarf, gift (Kohl's) | Backpack, Herschel Supply Co.

4. Use a backpack as a personal item
As long as your second, smaller carry-on fits under the seats, you should be good to go. The space has been surprisingly deep, and I've been able to bring both my violin and stuffed Herschel on board with no problem. Check the space dimensions for specific domestic U.S. airlines here.

5. If flying Southwest, check 2 bags (for free!)
This has saved me nearly every time flying to and from school. Sometimes not everything I want to bring home will fit in one suitcase, so I check a large backpack as well. Southwest is one of the few airlines that allows passengers to check up to two bags free. I've found it the most efficient airline for me for that reason, and also because I can change flights with no penalty. If the new flight you want is more expensive, you simply pay the difference, but if it's cheaper, you get credit. I've actually gotten $30-$50 back before after switching my tickets once exam schedules were released. 

On another note, if your airline does not allow any free checked bags and your luggage is overweight, it's actually usually more economically efficient to check two bags than pay the overweight fee for one. It also makes it easier on the airport personnel transporting the bags.

6. Bring only versatile pieces; consider planning outfits ahead
For trips a week or shorter, I envision what I'll wear each day so I know I'm not taking more than I need. For longer breaks, I simply bring pieces I know I can style in many different ways, such my mint button-down and black skater skirt. In general, I've found it best to err on the side of caution--it feels like a waste to transport clothing I didn't get a chance to wear and working with a limited number of pieces really encourages you to be creative.
7. To check luggage weight without a special hand scale, weigh yourself, weigh yourself holding the suitcase, and subtract the numbers
Save yourself $20 and do some simple math. This is particularly helpful if you have access to a normal scale, but can't see the numbers when you place your luggage on it. It's not entirely accurate, but I've been within a pound each time. Use the space in your outside suitcase pockets in case you do have to remove some weight at the airport.

8. Consider investing in nifty storage pieces
While I've never personally used packing cubes and vacuum bags, I've heard that they can be extremely useful. For me, my favorite travel and everyday companion is this flexible plastic water bottle. When it's empty, it flattens completely and barely takes any space once rolled or folded. I toss it in my bag and fill 'er up once through security.

9. If packing for college, don't bring your entire wardrobe
I made this mistake. I envy my friends who don't need to check any bags at all because they left enough clothing at home. Take a good look at your closet, and ask yourself which pieces are truly staples and which ones you wouldn't mind switching out between breaks. 

I'd love to learn any of your own packing tricks--drop me a note if there's any way to be even more efficient (and a way for me to look less like a high-maintenance, crazy musician at the check-in lines).

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Classic Edge

Blazer, Kohl's | Dress (worn as top), Forever 21 | Skirt, Wet Seal | Shoes, Target kids | Beanie, Nordstrom BP

How to spend 20 minutes brushing your teeth: a guide for the mildly obsessive and compulsive

Materials:
2 toothbrushes
Water
All-natural toothpaste
Floss
A mug
Iodized sea salt
A microwave (or other means of making warm water)

Step one: Brush the whole mouth with just water. Mind you, no toothpaste. Just a good ol' toothbrush (soft bristles preferable) and H2O straight from the tap. For optimal results, use a separate no-toothpaste brush.

Step two: Brush the bottom teeth with a large pea-sized dollop of all-natural toothpaste and your toothpaste-specific brush. Make sure to take care of the insides and backs and pay close attention to any permanent retainers. 1

Step three: Brush the top teeth following the same steps after rinsing the brush and adding fresh toothpaste.

Step four: After cleaning the brush again, do a final sweep of both the top and bottom teeth with a third dollop of toothpaste.

Step five: Floss. For maximum efficiency, pull floss across the left and right sides of the mouth at the same time once past the front teeth. Finish up with any tricky permanent retainer flossing--floss threaders may or may not be necessary, depending on the space between the retainer and teeth

Step six: Throw a few pinches or shakes of iodized sea salt in a mug. Fill 'er halfway up with water. 
Step seven: Throw the mug and contents in the microwave for 24 seconds (or just use really warm water). Remove mug from microwave. Lightly shake the mug back and forth to facilitate quick dissolving of the salt. 2

Step eight: Use the warm salt water solution as mouthwash. Swish 'er around, spit, and repeat until mug is empty. Rinse the mug out one complete. 

Step nine: If applicable, clean any non-permanent retainers with brush and toothpaste, and place in mouth.

Footnotes:
1. Rinse and spit whenever necessary. Also, brush with the upmost care and thoroughness--spend at least two minutes on each brushing cycle.
2. If you're in a shared restroom (college or a camp), several people may have entered and exited the restroom at this point. The same people may have even entered and exited multiple times. You may get a couple funny side glances and inquiries. Pretend as if what you're doing is perfectly normal; eventually, others will find your toothbrushing habits both amusing and endearing.

Congratulations, you have now completed my nightly routine.

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I'm a meticulous person--whether it's brushing my teeth, composing emails, grocery shopping, blogging. 

I feel compelled to write something grand and philosophical in each post, but I'm slowly beginning to realize it's okay when I haven't untangled my reflections well enough to express them quite yet. It's okay to have a short snippet accompanying a photoset for a blog post, or a long rambling that isn't the grandest or most philosophical, as long as it's genuine and relevant. It's okay to spend a little less time obsessing over the wording in emails or best value and quality in groceries. It's okay to--well, the toothbrushing is non-negotiable.

But really. It's both healthy and okay to maximize efficiency and efficacy.

It's a process, and I'm learning and trying my best.

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While on the topic of efficiency and efficacy, I wanted to let you all know that I've switched to Disqus for comments. I truly appreciated all your insightful and encouraging words on my last post, and a few of you brought up some points that really prompted me to think; I've responded accordingly back on the post. Before, I used to reply to any questions or constructive criticism back on the commenter's blog, but I've realized that it's much more effective for the entire dialogue to be in one place. This way, any other readers can view the discussion and perhaps find responses to similar points they may have. Even better, you'll receive a notification if I reply, unlike the blogger system.

This weekend also marks the last I'll spend in my hometown before the start of second semester, which means I'll have less time to blog. I'll be unable to visit your sites as frequently, but I do plan to try my best, and I do plan to keep comments enabled this time--I want the dialogue to continue. In my opinion, comments should be less quid pro quo, and more about leaving insight, staying in touch, or remarking on content you found truly resonant or thought-provoking. I would rather leave one genuine, thorough note that requires time and thought than ten empty pleasantries. True to my mildly obsessive-compulsive personality, of course.

If I'm going to do something, I'm going strive to do it well, and make it as meaningful--and efficient and effective--as possible. 

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Friday, January 9, 2015

Sponsorships: A Reflection and Commentary

I had originally planned to bring your attention to my new sponsorship policies in yesterday's post, but the general topic felt heavy enough to address in a post of its own. Then, I received an email today that confirmed the need for a separate post. The email, from relatively well-known online retailer Oasap, requested bloggers to post fake, pre-written, sickeningly sugary reviews on three of Oasap's Amazon items. Those who followed suit would then be rewarded with "a gift."

I was appalled and offended by the request itself, but only sadness can describe my reaction when I followed the links. It was dismaying enough that Oasap's marketing team had the audacity to ask bloggers to act dishonestly, but even more deeply disappointing that a few of them had actually complied. (Google Doc of screenshots and links here).

It would be easy to heap the blame on Oasap. It would be too simple to criticize the company for its unsavory marketing tactics and leave it at that. But it's beyond clear that the problem rests on both sides--both retailers and bloggers have played a part in this unhealthy, self-absorbed relationship.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not completely innocent.

I'm definitely not proud of how I've allowed companies to use my blog as a blatant advertising board in the past. Was a post about a shoe brand with specialized soles really necessary? Was a glitter eyeshadow post really pertinent when I don't usually wear makeup? Was a post raving about a wholesale website really sincere when I had yet to shop there?

I admit that I've let my better judgment slip before. I admit that I've allowed the appeal of a free item or a paid post corrupt the true purpose of this blog, which is to inspire and be inspired--not to pollute the internet with platitudes in exchange for personal benefits. 

There is nothing inherently wrong with sponsorships. They can be plenty good when used correctly and judiciously. In my opinion, the original intent of collaborations is to promote brands or items with which bloggers truly resonate, and to honestly review things that perhaps didn't work out. Sponsorships should be genuine expositories--not a way to build personal wardrobes, not a way to feel validated as a blogger. 

On the sponsor side, offers should be a way to garner honest opinions and exposure for the brand--not a means to exploit bloggers. And they should definitely not encourage breaches of integrity.
Before this update, my only guideline for sponsorships was "all brands and items must reflect my personal style and I will express my honest opinion." This statement is still the core of my sponsored posts philosophy, but I've added a qualifer. 

In an effort to be as authentic and genuine as possible, I will now only accept no more than 6 sponsored items a year, and will no longer write any compensated introductory posts. 

Furthermore, as a challenge and experiment to encourage greater growth this year, I will limit myself to only 4 posts featuring sponsored pieces, including the recent eShakti skirt and a previously-accepted offer from Firmoo. So, for the remainder of the year, I may only participate in 2 more collaborations.

This way, I must now consider all offers with more scrutiny. Do I truly resonate with the company? Will the item really enhance my content? How will this post affect my readers? How will it influence my blog's voice? What message will I convey? 

It is my hope that brands will no longer see bloggers as mere advertising tools, and bloggers will no longer see brands as a way to enhance their wardrobes. Yes, there are many bloggers and brands who do uphold the highest integrity when it comes to sponsorships, and I admire and applaud them for it. But from my observations, the general attitude is toxically self-serving.

It needs to change, and I will do my very best to do my part. 

I've made mistakes--I've been disingenuous, selfish. But I'm learning and striving to improve, and I ask you to hold me to it.


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Final note: this post is not intended in any way to shame or pressure anyone. I simply hope to prompt an open, healthy dialogue about one of the many conundrums of blogging.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Elegance: eShakti Tulle Skirt Review

Note: in case you were wondering, yes, this is a pre-haircut post
Skirt, eShakti (cream color sold out) | Sweater, Kohl's | Necklace, Nordstrom BP | Oxfords, DSW
The tulle skirt in this post was sponsored by eShakti. All opinions are my own.

While working retail is time consuming and undeniably hard on the legs, I do appreciate the excuse to dress up over break. There aren't many places where I'd be able to wear a tulle skirt on the job.

I got this ballerina-esque gem from eShakti, an online retailer best known for their classy silhouettes and customization options. Since I selected a skirt this time though, I opted for standard size 4 instead of my personal measurements--the two were basically the same. I did request for the the skirt length to be shorter, however (16 inches, to be exact). At 5'4", mid-length skirts tend to swallow me up. 

Throughout the whole process, I was really impressed with eShakti's customer service. I had actually orginally ordered a dress, but had forgotten that eShakti's dresses and skirts tend to run long on me. When the dress arrived, "above the knee" length turned out to be just below my knees. At that point, since the material for the dress was low, I was prompted to choose another sample. That's when I stumbled upon this skirt, and made sure to request a shorter length. The second time, however, there was an actual processing error--the "short" skirt went well below my knees. I clearly have the best luck with online shopping.

But third time's a charm--for this skirt, they requested the exact length I wanted, and I got just that. I shipped the other two pieces back with the return label they emailed me, and then I waltzed happily to work in a skirt whose length was just right (I'm feeling some Goldilocks and Three Bears vibes right now, haha).

Moral of the story? EShakti pieces tend to run long on those who are more petite--make sure to verify exact skirt length when you order. If something does go wrong, however, rest assured they strive tirelessly to make it right. 

All in all, I recommend the company. Their clothing features a wide range of styles, prices are resonable for the quality, and while shipping is fulfilled by DHL, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the samples arrived. It's also extremely simple to redirect packages online with DHL--I had sent the first two samples to my home address; even though this was early December, I assumed I would be well into break by the time they arrived. Luckily, the text notification told me to prepare for a package, so I hopped online and redirected it to my school address, which only delayed arrival date by a business day. Total processing and shipping time ended up being just a few days over a week (including weekends!), impressive for international deliveries. 

And even if you're cheap like me, there are plenty of options in their Overstock and Clearance sections. My personal favorite is this vintage-style, burgundy tie-neck dress for just under $30. With $10 shipping and the $35 new register coupon (opportunity expires tomorrow!), the total would be just $5. Unfortunately, sizes are limited for this dress, buuut if you're a standard size 6...

Despite the length complications, this skirt is without a doubt my favorite eShakti piece thus far. I look forward to incorporating it into my everyday wardrobe and feeling delightfully overdressed and ballerina-like and elegant. 
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Update: I noticed that the links were acting funny, so here are the actual ones you can copy and paste.
Navy version of tulle skirt: http://www.eshakti.com/product/CL0030827
Clearance: http://www.eshakti.com/Products/Clearance
Overstock: http://www.eshakti.com/Products/overstock
Burgundy dress: http://www.eshakti.com/Product/CL0031769_OS/Tie-neck-poplin-dress