Monday, 30 July 2012

Backpacking Packing Guide: Capsule Toiletry Collection

Let me tell you, when it comes to packing, I have a PROBLEM. I've always been a 'heavy' packer. In fact, last summer, both suitcases I took to the USA with me were overweight... I don't remember how much by, but the luggage allowance was 23kg per bag, so I was carrying OVER 46kg. As if that wasn't bad enough, on the way home, I checked in three items of luggage. The first two were 23kg each and the third was overweight, once again.

I don't know what's wrong with me, I've just always wanted to take a variety of options abroad with me. Plus, I'm really into cosmetics and toiletries and they are naturally very heavy to carry in a suitcase, so I guess that's why I've always been so bad at travelling light. Imagine my horror when I realized that 'backpacking' isn't just the name for what young people do when they're travelling the world, but it actually means that you carry a backpack as your luggage. Just one.

After my initial shock, I decided to man up and comprise my toiletries into one small capsule collection. Here is what I came up with...

*Wide-Tooth Comb, Dove Spray Antiperspirant Deodorant, 2 Razors, Contact Lenz Holder, Neutrogena SPF15 Moisturiser, Liz Earle Toner, Synergi Contact Lenz Solution, Head&Shoulders 2-in-1 Shampoo and Conditioner, Frizz Ease Hair Mousse, Electric Toothbrush, Boots Cotton Wool Pads, Wet Ones Wet Wipes, Johnson's Moisturising Cleansing Wipes, So Hooked on Carmella Perfume by Benefit, Nivea Sun Lotion SPF 20, Dove Roll-On Antiperspirant Deodorant, Acuvue Contact Lenses, Oral B Floss, Colgate Total Toothpast... PHEW*

Now, I'm sure this still looks like a lot to you, but for me, this was the bare minimum, my absolute necessities. I felt like I couldn't do without any of these products. Like, how could I get by without my toner??? Or what would happen if I didn't have my hair mousse to hand??? I dread to think how my teeth would rot without the use of floss.

In hindsight, having returned from my trip, I have now realized that many of these products are luxuries. Sure it was nice to have them, but they weighed down my case a tonne and took up loads of un-necessary space. Also, it took me ten minutes longer to shower and repack my bag than it did for everyone else which is a real pain if you're wanting to grab the first few toasted marshmallows from the campfire!

So what do I NOW think is totally and completely vital for backpackers? Here's my simple list:

1) Comb or hair brush
2) Roll-on antiperspirant (lasts MUCH longer than spray on!)
3) Razor
4) Sun lotion which can double up as moisturiser (SPF30 AT LEAST... getting sunburnt is agony and NOT fun when you're away from home... I had to learn the hard way in Los Angeles...)
5) 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner
6) Wet wipes (for just in case the showers look like the kind of place you'd feel dirtier getting out of than you would getting into. Also good for removing make-up if your skin isn't too sensitive.)
7) Contact lenses and solution
8) Toothbrush and toothpaste

See, simples. Some of you would still take even less, but these were the things I felt were genuine vitals rather than just things I like. When you're travelling no-one cares that your curls aren't defined, or you don't smell like vanilla and coconut eau de parfum. Even with over-packing the toiletries, I managed somehow to compact them all into a couple of bags. Obviously, I just packed my wipes and cotton pads directly into my case as they were easy to squish inside shoes and smaller pockets.

*You can even catch a peek of my cosmetics capsule in the top right corner of the picture... I'll be writing about my collection very soon so keep watch.*

So there you have it: How a Beauty Girl Capsulizes Her Toiletry Collection. Have you ever been backpacking before? What would you consider your absolute essentials? What should I have left at home?

Love and snuggles

Sunday, 29 July 2012

City Review: Los Angeles

*Going on a journey...*

About five weeks ago, I was lucky enough to have experienced the glamour that is Los Angeles California during my USA adventure. I'd never been to the West Coast before and was somewhat apprehensive about not being cool or pretty or rich enough to fit in with the 'beautiful people' who we see so often on popular television shows such as 90210. Would everyone be searching for an audition opening? Would I spend most of my time trying to dodge out of the way of the paparazzi? How many celebrities was I likely to run into?

Well, before my flight even touched down on US soil, the exciting news that Chad Michael Murray was on my plane after having already seen Jessie J at the airport left me eager to pound the pavements of West Hollywood in search of the next star. Sadly, my third and final celebrity viewing of my stay occurred later that night as on a stroll back to my hostel from the nearest Taco Bell I saw one of the girls from an early season of America's Next Top Model. End of excitement.

Not really though, my stay in Los Angeles was everything and more than I'd expected.

*My bed at the hostel... sharing a room with 15 others I wanted to be able to keep a close eye on all my stuff, so kept it ALL on the end of my bunk bed. Paranoid, much?*

I stayed at the Banana Bungalow hostel in West Hollywood. Although the room was exceptionally cheap, I was quite concerned about meeting my fifteen (!) fellow dorm buddies, but soon after the introductions were made I felt comfortable with almost all of them. The ones I spent the most time with include Jayne from the UK, James from the USA, Dawn from Ireland and Sam from Australia. The hostel was very inviting in its decor, although the bedrooms and bathrooms were in serious need of renovation and the rickety old bunk-beds were death-traps. Nonetheless, Banana Bungalow soon became home and I made there what I hope will become friends for life. Expect to run into many Aussies and Kiwis at this hostel as its packed full of them. As for the staff at the Banana Bungalow, they were often friendly but equally disorganized, ill-advised and occasionally pervy which is manageable unless there's a serious problem. When one of my close friends who had rented a 'private' room had a strange man enter her room at 4am and crawl into bed with her as 'security' had given him a key when he said he was her boyfriend, management didn't handle her very well. In fact, my words were, 'They couldn't organize a p**s-up in a brewery' because they didn't really know what to say or do about her upset. Having said that, I never had a personal problem with the staff or the hostel itself and actually loved Banana Bungalow myself!

*Jayne and James*

*Dawn chillin' on the sightseeing bus.*

*Me and Sam <3*

The hostel is conveniently located a five minute walk in one direction from the Vintage and Alternative Fashion Stores of Melrose Avenue and a five minute walk in the opposite direction from The Grove shopping mall which offers all the big-brand fashion retailers, including Forever21, Abercrombie and Fitch and MAC. Needless to say my wallet was groaning as my budget-brain supported my will-power enough to avoid spending until I was to reach New York.

*Vintage shopping...*

*Abercrombie and Fitch at The Grove... isn't the building so pretty?*

When I wasn't looking around the shops, I took the City Sightseeing bus in order to hit up the local sights and I was not disappointed. Mann's Chinese Theatre, the Walk of Fame, the Pantages theatre and more offered tourist locations which are known world-wide. As if that's not enough, I was able to buy a hot-dog at Pink's, the number one fast-food vendor of choice for some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. And it was delicious!

*Mann's Chinese Theatre...*

* ... The Hollywood Walk of Fame ... *

* ... Pantages...*

* ... Pink's Hotdogs ... *

* ... I ATE THIS :)*

Venice Beach is a place I'd heard of so many times before that I absolutely had to see it for myself. After negotiating the public transport of Los Angeles, me and my friends made it to the beach in just under an hour. What looked like miles of sand stretched out in front of us as the tide was out far. Walking to the sea in the comfortable heat with a breeze playing around us, we worried that the water would be full of sharks and other beasties. The water was so clear we could see our own feet and although the odd stray seaweed wound its way around our ankles, we were not savaged by piranhas. The water was slightly nippy though... not that we cared after mindlessly burning under the sun's rays. Be careful at Venice Beach as the breeze will make you forget that the sun can be nasty.

*Look how happy I was before I got burned to a crisp.*

Los Angeles by night was... interesting. Depending on what you're into you can have a really great night. The hostel organized a night out to a local bar called Boulevard 3. The club was very cosmopolitan with beautiful professional dancers, fountains and great music. However, I felt that the drinks were far too expensive ($7 for a bottled beer???) and also I felt like the prize cow at the meat market. Which might well be the least flattering description I've ever used for myself but its true. It was clear that most men in that club were there because they knew that young internationals go clubbing there so they spend most of their night trying to 'woo' you with what I have come to recognize as American sleaze. No, I'm not saying all American men are the same or use the same techniques, only that there are some who do and I've never experienced that kind of forwardness from any other nationality thus far. I'm talking comments like, 'Hey baby, you caught my eye instead of all these girls, you're the most beautiful star in the room' before they hand you a drink they've already bought for you. They grind against you for a maximum of one song before trying to drag you to a sofa, the whole while calling you 'baby' and telling you you're 'incredible'. Then, they try and slobber in your mouth. RANCID. If you're a guy who uses these kind of tactics in a club, take my word for it, IT DOESN'T WASH WITH BRITS. In fact, a friend of mine punched one such guy straight in the nose.

Otherwise the people of Los Angeles were very nice and accommodating, always happy to give directions or recommend a restaurant to tourists. They're great if you don't mind hanging out with aspiring actors as Hollywood really is the land of showbiz, most of the locals I mixed with were trying to take a big bite of the fame-pie. That being said, I felt like their ambition made them even kinder than none fame-chasers as they tend to be friendly to anyone for 'just-in-case' the person they're talking to has connections to someone 'big' in the industry.

I had a fantastic time in Los Angeles and will definitely be heading back again. The weather was hot but not humid, the style cool yet laid-back, and the city has a lot more to offer than the preconceived idea of cookie-cutter Celeb-land. So what do you think, is LA for you? Have you ever visited before? Have you ever written a city review before? If so, I'd love to see it! Please leave your link in the comments box and I'll check it out.

Love and snuggles

Vintage and Alternative Shopping In West Hollywood...

Approximately five weeks ago I was roaming around on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles not really knowing what to expect at all. I thought perhaps I'd find handfuls of expensive boutiques and designer labels... I almost had visions of myself playing Julia Roberts' role in Pretty Woman as the snooty sales assistant on Rodeo Drive snubbed her, assuming that she wouldn't be able to afford anything in-store. Daunting.

So imagine my surprise when I found that Melrose Avenue is California's vintage and alternative fashion hub. As I strolled down the street, I spotted independent vintage stores selling everything from genuine military jackets through to a variety of novelty sunglasses that even Sir Elton John would be proud of.

Because this was in the first few days of my trip, I wasn't able to invest in any of the timeless fashion items on sale in the area. However, I took photos to remind myself that one day when I have a bunch of money, I absolutely have to go back and spend FAT dollar! Here are some of the pictures I snapped...

*Not a vintage shoe collection exactly, but I had to take a photo of them because they were so pretty!*

*So so many... desperately want some for autumn/winter 2012*

*I loved how this vintage shop was organized like a regular first-hand store rather than a jumble as most are*

*This colourful collection of tube tops and bodycon skirts really caught my eye*

*Some of the store's coolest leather jackets, each with so much character!*

*This store had EVERYTHING*

*Ok, so I have no idea what I would ever wear a dress like this for... However, I thought it was absolutely beautiful. I wanted to buy it because it reminded me ever-so-slightly of something Kate Middleton might wear to an Royal evening event. Anyone else seeing that?*

*I could have spent hours looking through all of these accessories...*

*I loved the loft-esque store design here.*

*How cute are these shorts? All vintage denim, dyed into a rainbow of bright colours.*

*I almost wanted to call this the Topshop aisle because everything on the rack looked like pieces you'd spot in Kate Moss's A/W collection a couple of years ago. Know what I mean?*

Who knew that Hollywood, somewhere so often assumed to be fixated with image perfection, would offer such an awesomely shabby array of vintage stores? This is definitely the place to be when you are ready for a rummage and have a few hundred dollars in your pocket for a spree. The best thing about Melrose in comparison to many UK vintage shops which I've been to was that on every rack there were about five things I wanted, whereas usually I find myself hunting through a pile of rubbish in order to find a gem. Also, there are a few chain stores on Melrose, but most of them aren't your normal North American stores such as Abercrombie and Fitch or Hollister, but alternative trend-concious locations like Urban Outfitters and American Apparel. 

Melrose Avenue is now my new favourite place to shop in the USA and I'll definitely be heading back there some day. Have you ever found such a surprising vintage shopping district before? Do you enjoy vintage shopping? Or have any tips for those who aren't used to scouring the racks for hidden staples?

Love and snuggles

Guess Who's Back... Back Again... GabriellaSofia's Back... Tell A Friend...

Hello there, loyal readers!

That's right, I'm back from my six week jaunt across the United States and boy do I have a lot of content coming up, I almost don't know where to start... I thought I'd keep this simple as a quick update before I launch back fully into blogging tomorrow.

My flight arrived back yesterday and with it being an overnight flight I slept most of the way, so was able to use yesterday hanging out with my grandparents, giving my parents and sister their little presents I'd brought back and watching the 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony. Naturally, I couldn't get to sleep until about 3am this morning due to the time zone differences between Stoke-on-Trent and New York City and didn't wake up until 1.30pm today... whoops!

Today was your average just-got-back-off-my-holidays type day as I spent most of it unpacking, eating pizza with my sister and watching The Help on Sky Premier (its become one of my favourite films since seeing it in the cinema and the book is incredible too. In fact, I think I'll be reviewing them both on here very soon, so keep your eyes peeled.) I actually applied for a job today too, but its nothing spectacular so I'm not even going to go into it. I'm basically just looking for a full-time job which I can work at in order to save money for more travelling since I've definitely got the wanderlust having spent the past few weeks away.

So how was my trip? Unsurprisingly, I had a fantastic time. I'll be writing many posts over the next few weeks which I've had in mind while I've been away, but the short of it is this: I met so many amazing people from all over the globe, Yosemite was the most breath-takingly beautiful place I've ever been too, Forever21 still makes my life worth living, the USA has a LOT more culture than people generally believe and I have realized once and for all that I absolutely, definitively HATE early mornings. I'm hoping that little list has left you wanting more, as here is a breakdown of just a few post ideas I'm working on at the moment, to appear over the next couple of weeks...

1) Review of G Adventures (the tour company I travelled with)
2) How I Comprised My Whole Fashion and Beauty Wardrobe into One Backpack
3) Peek Inside My Travel Diary
4) Review of City Sightseeing Hop-on-Hop-off Tours (I used the company in both Los Angeles and San Francisco)
5) Vintage Shopping in the West Hollywood Area
6) City Reviews of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Fe, San Antonio, Las Vegas, Memphis and New York City.
7) A handful of Outfit of the Day posts including San Francisco Shopping, What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas, Nashville Cowgirl, New York Date Night, New York Sightseeing and more.
8) USA Adventure Shopping Haul
9) Pros and Cons to Travelling Alone
10) USA National Parks review... this will include Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Monument Valley, Death Valley, Carlsbad Canyons and Shenandoah.
11) Highlights and Lowlights of My USA Adventure

And then there will probably be tonnes more also, but that's all I could remember right now! You'll just have to bear with me as I get back into the swing of things with my blog and catch you up on all the things I've been wanting to write about since I left the UK. There are tons of non-USA adventure posts I have planned too... if you want to grab a glimpse of what they might be, go check out my To-Do List... I promise I'll get started tomorrow :) Until then, here's a picture of me casually hanging out with a dog at the Grand Canyon. As you do.

*MANY more photos soon to come!*

Thanks for waiting for me to get back. Knowing I have loyal readers to come home to made it so much easier when it was time to fly home.

Love and snuggles