McKinney Gypsy Caravan

One part travel blog. One part nerdy history lesson.

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 3)

Day 10 – Rural Northern Spain

Today was a leisurely day making our way from northern Portugal across the parques and mountains of Northern Spain. Mostly just driving goat path roads over mountains and through tiny towns. I tried to grab some shots that might do the views justice, but they really don’t.

We passed through a tiny village with these flower arches over the narrow little mountain road. No idea what are for… but they made me smile. ha There was a guy here outside smoking his morning cigarette in his pajamas at 11am. That made me giggle, too. I could live here if they had wifi. ha

We stopped along the highway at a “cafestore” which is basically a gas station that has drinks and a food counter… which , let me tell you- most gas stations do not even have water or drinks. That was a weird finding. ha I walked into one and it was just a bare store with some motor oil and a guy reading a paper looking at me like i was a weirdo. i said “agua?” and he smirked. no…. so i said “baño?” and he smirked again and told me where it was. haha Apparently, most everyone else in Spain knows gas stations don’t have anything inside. ha I’m trying to figure out how we didn’t run into this issue on our last trip, but multiples this time had this “issue”. Also- another strange finding… a lot of restrooms will be outside of the main building… and with no paper products. No soap, no toilet paper.. but they have a bidet beside the toilet. So, noted and quickly, I started carrying my own toilet paper. ha I still haven’t quite figured out how the bidet fixes everything. Now, you just have A LOT of water dripping off places that want to be dry. haha…i know-TMI.. but seriously. I wonder how most people utilize these facilities.

So, anyway.. this cafestore.. we ordered ham and camembert sandwiches for lunch. Norah had a hamburger and french fries. surprisingly good for gas station food!

Our trek across Spain led us to the town of Ponferrada to the Templar Castle in town. A king gave these castle grounds to the Templars in the 1100s to help protect the Way of St. James, also known as the Camino de Santiago- a great Christian Pilgrimage. (More about that tomorrow) They built more and more defensive structures as their power and their numbers grew…

It was a cool castle. Lots of remodelling, new parts added, etc… but still nice to tour.

Norah pretended to shoot arrows at invaders through the slit windows.

This other little girl that we kept meeting while walking around gave Norah this rock. So Norah was super excited and called it her “lucky rock”

We did find this creepy tv face pointed up to us narrating in angry Spanish when we went into the basement level of one of the rooms and looked over the edge. ha I think I can gather from the Templar clothes, the sword in the case and the creepy storytelling, they were discussing the mysterious missing sword of Jaques de Molay- the leader of the Templar Knights who was burnt at the stake by the King of France (as discussed a couple days ago). Legend has it that the sword is somewhere near or around this castle since de Molay walked the Camino de Santiago and fought here at the castle.

They had replicas of period outfits which I thought was cool. Check out this guy’s shoes! ha

After the castle, we went out to the countryside to our rural tourism hotel- Hotel Via Avis. It was really cool. a 500 year old renovated house turned into a 6 room hotel. The couple that ran it was so sweet. We really liked it and could not recommend it more.

He recommended we go to dinner at this little family place in town that involved us driving down a gravel road… but we found out later that they closed on Wednesdays. So he recommended a second place… then he called to verify they were open.. nope. ha the end he recommended a place in the “big city” of Astorga 15 minutes away. Serrano’s. We were looking forward to a big plate of Spanish pork and sausages like is customary in the area, but the owner said this place was known for mushrooms and partridge… so it was the best we could do. ha It was wednesday after all. How dare we try to eat out on a wednesday in this area? ha

We were one of 3 tables in the place and the 1st to arrive. The waiter recommended a starter called El Cicero, which was basically Iberian ham with duck liver and olive oil. So good.

There was no kids menu and we hadn’t eaten much all day (keep in mind it’s already 9pm because #spain.) so, Norah ordered the Salmon. She was very excited to order “El Salmón” on her own. ha

I had the patridge because the hotel owner recommended it. It was very good and had a rich mushroom sauce.

Kegan had a deer loin with creamed potatoes.

We took a look at the dessert menu and I got what the waiter recommended-La Leche Frita. It was basically a mushy creme brulee. but it was good.

Kegan got some sort of “queso” dessert… which was like a cheesecake.

The chef came by to see how we liked our meal and gave Norah this pretty flower. The chef spoke great English. the wait staff did not. Where was he the last hour??? ha BUT… that’s OK, anymore in Spanish I feel pretty comfortable when we travel and can usually do just fine conversationally.

The waiter decided to pour us two glasses of what appeared to be port to go with our desserts. In the end I asked him what it was- he said it was a “wine typical of the region” called Limonata. A red wine, with lemon and orange juices and spices mulled together. It was VERY good. I’ll have to try to remember this for another visit to the area.

We drove back to our hotel at 11pm and crashed. 🙂 Last day tomorrow! and some amazing steak.

Day 9 – Guimaraes, Braga, A Guarda

This morning, we left Porto and our comfy hotel to head to the town of Guimaraes, the birthplace of Portugal, as it is known, because Portugal’s first king- Alfonso Henriques was born here and the major decisive battle that gave Portugal it’s true independence was fought here….and it was Alfonso Henriques vs. his own MOTHER, Queen Theresa in 1128. Talk about family problems.

We were here to see the small, but incredible castle in town. I found it interesting because there was literally a 3 story tower castle built in the center and defensive walls and towers surrounding, with space in between and a wooden bridge connecting the two. I dont have great photos because I left my camera’s memory card in my laptop last night. Doh! Seems to happen once every vacation. Today was the day. I tried to retrace our steps and get a few photos with my phone once I realized it.

Inside the tower was pretty cool. They had a historical timeline and a replica of the original treaty that created Portugal.

Alfonso Henriques was actually born in this castle…they had a very life-like cardboard cutout of him inside. Who knows if this is really what he looked like or not since he lived in the 1100s.

They even had a little corner for kids. Norah was obsessed with wearing this helmet and holding the sword even though she was a little too short to get her big head into the helmet. ha

She said “hey mamma. Take my picture with the Kings. It’s like three kings of Portugal and Queen Norah of Portugal.” well, at least she’s grounded. lol She also told our Uber driver the other day that he would see her on TV one day. and then told another waiter she was going to be President one day. The kid’s got goals.

On our way out of town we did a drive by of the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Consolação e Santos Passos, a beautiful church from the 1300s and manicured garden square

We were now headed to the city of Braga to see the Bom Jesus do Monte church, one of the most famous sites in Portugal.

This church was constructed as a pilgrimage site. People still come to this day and climb all the steps on their knees, praying at each station of the cross on the way up.

However, for those of us that just enjoy the architecture of cathedrals, they have a funicular tram that is completely energy neutral and water powered that has been running since the 1800s that can take you to the top of the hill.

After Bom Jesus, we crossed over to Spain to visit some celtic ruins that had been too far out along the coast on a previous visit to Spain, so we had skipped them previously… but going up the north coast of Portugal made it just an hour or two away… so we visited. The site is in a town area of A Guarda and is called Santa Tegra.

The people indigenous to this area for 2000 years prior to the Romans conquering the area around 19 BC were Celtic. Celt-iberian to be exact… but Celtic. Their local Iberian culture of housing, jewelry, etc was called Castro culture.. and these round hut houses are now called Castros. Supposedly this mountain-side city of possibly up to 3000 of these houses was the last holdout against Roman forces on the peninsula. Classical writers like Pliny the Elder wrote of the Celts at “Mount Medulio” and a heroic last stand here. Medulio meaning Golden… and the largest gold mine in Roman civilization history, Las Medulas is less than 100 miles from here… (we visited it on our last trip to Spain)

It’s easy to see why this high point surrounded by ocean and the mouth of a large river on 3 sides would have been selected for strategy and safety.

They have reconstructed 2 of the castro houses to show what they would have looked like.

After Santa Tegra, we headed towards our hotel. It was out in the mountains..and being honest was pretty terrible. Not bed bugs terrible, but just like someone built this nice fancy modern spa hotel 10 years ago and then hasn’t done a bit of upkeep since. The parking was far away and bags had to be carried up a steep hill and no offer for assistance because the hotel literally had 3 people working the whole place. Carpets all stained up, keypads for the room lights and stuff shorting out. Restaurant offered like 5 dishes and there was literally one guy running the entire thing… no iron in the room, no extra pillows or blanket for the pull out couch for Norah. Like I said, nothing GROSS…. just annoyance after annoyance. Trying to be super fancy… but just not pulling it off. ha BUT- they did have an small indoor pool in the spa area. I normally wouldn’t have let her swim in the spa… but it was empty and their info had kid hours, so I let her. Definitely the highlight of her trip.. except maybe the McDonalds. haha She spent an hour and a half in the pool until the end of the kid hours, then we sat around for an hour and a half waiting on the restaurant to open.

They eat sooooo late here. ha First table we could get was 7:30. and it takes every bit of 2 hours to eat in Spain… so you end up going to sleep with a giant belly of food. Definitely couldn’t do it every day.

They only had a couple starters, so we both got Cream of Asparagus soup with a quail egg.

I had the octopus, of course. ha I’m obsessed.

Kegan had the baked codfish (Bacalhau), which he said had great flavor but was full of bones that he wasn’t thrilled about.

All in all, a good day with lots of sites. Tomorrow’s day…being honest… is mostly just to get us back into the north of Spain where there is a restaurant that is considered by some to have the best steak in the world: El Capricho. I made reservations 3 months ago. haha So…. more about that on Thursday when we eat a late lunch there… Wednesday will be lots of scenery of the northern mountains and forests of Spain and a stay in a tiny rural village in a remodeled 500 year old house.

House Sales, Packing and a short stopover in Indiana

We were really lucky to own a home in a really quick moving real estate market…so our house was sold within 10 days! (Still about 9 longer than I thought it would take).  So now came the tedious task of packing it up and figuring out how to get everything to Ireland…and how to get rid of the things we knew wouldn’t make sense to take…or wouldn’t fit in our new small little cottage house.

Our poor house went from clean and put together for sale:


To this: haha


A lot of people have asked how we moved our stuff to Ireland..for us, it was actually easier than when we moved stuff anywhere in the US. and because of our close proximity to the ports on both ends, shipping our stuff via shipping container on an ocean cargo freighter was cheaper than moving it between states with a mover in the US. sad… We struggled with finding a company that would just ship a container… almost everyone I contacted wanted to pack the container for us… which of course was going to be crazy expensive… and probably would not have packed it as well as we did ourselves. Also, most companies wanted to deliver the container and you had to have it loaded in under 2 hours. We knew this couldn’t possibly happen, especially given that the container was 5 feet off of the ground on a truck trailer… We finally found a company that would drop the container off, pick it up 5 days later and would let us pack it ourselves…plus they were up front in their pricing model and fees…so as long as everything arrives- they were amazing. haha

We had the choice between a 40 ft full size container or a half-container that was only 20 feet long. Since a 40 ft would’t fit in our driveway and would have meant loading up loads of UHaul trips to go fill it, coupled with the fact that we don’t have that much room in Ireland, we decided that we were going to fit everything we owned into the 20 foot container…. and if it didn’t fit, it had to go! So, needless to say…a lot had to go. haha

Luckily my mother had just bought a new house, so it was sort of serendipitous that almost every piece of furniture we were going to sell or give away, she could use!

We needed so many packing blankets to pad all of the furniture, because we had learned our lesson previously from using PODS and moving stuff ourselves that the little road bumps and repeated rubbing pretty much make it useless to move anything if not completely wrapped up and padded.

Luckily, Kegan found a couple listings online for used packing blankets… so we saved a bunch of money because they were $9/piece at Harbor Freight and we needed 70+ of them haha


The truck arrived on time, even if the driver did back it up into the roof of the garage. we screamed at him to stop when we realized he wasn’t planning on it… and he only dented in the guttering thankfully. moron.

IMG_4526Some of us were more thrilled than others about the whole packing experience

IMG_4632erin in box

Halfway Through


Almost done!fullcontainer

We finished up loading the last item AS the semi pulled into our neighborhood at 7am…so we didn’t have time to do a final walk through to make sure we didn’t miss anything. we did really well! we only forgot one box. it just so happened to be the box that contained every pair of shoes I owned. lol  (I did later manage to fit all but about 6 pair into our luggage that we took with us on the plane…so just an excuse to buy new shoes.)

The last day of packing, our housekeeper Nilda stopped by with her kids to wish Norah a happy birthday. (because it WAS Norah’s birthday! ha) She’s the best. IMG_4605 IMG_4611 IMG_4614 IMG_4616

Norah wished for “Mavis makeup” for her birthday….so I had to find a way to do Hotel Transylvania dress up makeup with the 5 or so makeup items I still had unpacked haha I think I did ok!IMG_4622

After it was all packed up in the container, we had the final clean up, dropped by Coral Springs to pre-sign all of closing paperwork and headed on up towards Indiana. Kegan headed up towards Ohio to drop the Penske rental truck of furniture off with him. It must be hard to be a part of this traveling family.


After we got to Indiana, Norah got to go see Uncle Kaleb at the fire station! IMG_4679 IMG_4690 IMG_4689

We had to drive to Frankfurt, Kentucky to get a vet certificate for moving Izzy overseas. Hands down, the hardest part of an overseas move: bringing pets! geesh. Now, we could have used a shipping service, but I quoted it out at it was going to be $2700 to use an “all inclusive” pet shipping service… OR… you could get some stuff yourself and ship the pet United Cargo for under $600. So, obviously, we chose to do it ourselves. That could be a blog post in itself… but in short, it required going to a local vet, getting a tapeworm vaccine within 5 days of travel, then taking that paperwork to a USDA Aphis vet, which there is only 1 per state… and the Indiana crazy cat lady was on vacation…so her backup is Kentucky. So, driving to Kentucky, then taking all of that paperwork, with your dog in an approved carrier (also…soooo many rules on this) to the cargo area of the departure airport. To jump ahead a bit, when we got to the airport, the lady told us we were missing a domestic form (that i assumed we didn’t need since we already had the more in depth international form) and we had to haul tail over to a local Chicago vet to get a form filled out and get her dropped off on time. Then when we got to Ireland, United gave us totally wrong info on where to pick up the dog, so we “lost” her for a couple hours haha When we did locate her, it was at a vet’s office 10 minutes away and they had no idea they were supposed to be receiving her because United never told them she was coming and I had to pay another $300 for the Ireland import and vet services…so in hindsight- I can see why people use the services!!! But all is well that ends well. 🙂

Back to Indiana- after the Kentucky trip, we did some fishing at Rob and Sherri’s house. My dad bought her an R2D2 fishing pole for her 4th birthday, so we invited some people over for some kid fishing and some campfire food. IMG_4693IMG_4708 IMG_4700

We had Norah’s 4th birthday party on Saturday. She said she wanted to be “just like Rey at a Star Wars birthday party” back when the new Star Wars movie came out… and of course the nerd in me was OK with that! haha She does think its “Bo-Bo Fett”, “Dark Vader”, and she thinks “Storm Trooper” is one single guy’s name…but hey- I still call it a win. hahaIMG_4730IMG_4739

We spent Sunday with as many people as we could fit in and then headed to Chicago to drop Izzy and then board our plane. Pretty uneventful other than the last minute vet cert we had to go get. We got to our gate with 30 minutes to spare and got Norah a Happy Meal just in case it was a while until she got another… and like any typical 4 year old… chicken nuggets make the world go round. 🙂

You always know you’re flying over Ireland. That green patchwork is pretty distinct.irelandflyover

We arrived, found dog eventually and headed towards Ciara’s apartment- our stop for the next 4 days until we head to Sweden for the vacation I booked on Black Friday last year. I may have worn everyone out 🙂

IMG_4778 IMG_4777

The McKinney Gypsy Caravan is on the move again

Hello everyone!
It feels like its been forever since I’ve done any blog posting…in reality its only been about 6 months… but a lot can happen in 6 months! Like, making a life-changing decision to move across the world. haha

So, that being said- we made the decision a couple months ago to jump in head first and relocate to Ireland at the end of August.

Usually the first question I get when I say that is “Have you ever been there?”. I find this humorous…I mean I know we’re adventurous… but I think you’d have to be crazy to move someplace you’ve never even visited, right?? To be truthful, we haven’t been there as much as most people who would uproot their life and move across the pond- but we’re pretty familiar with what life in Ireland will be like.

The next question is usually, “Is it for work?” No, not really. Although, it did start out that way. I did a little freebie consulting and proposal review for the government of Ireland’s health initiative a little over a year ago and began making some Irish connections, knowing their country is getting ready to embark on the electronic health record journey that the US did .  That led to some face to face meetings back in February and lining up a long term Meditech project outside of Dublin. So, we were pretty much going for work for a year or two… until the facility decided to pause their project and wait a year or so before continuing. I think that we were both so committed to going and excited about that adventure, that when the opportunity wasn’t there, we started discussing the feasibility of going anyway! ….and here we are.

I’ll continue to work remotely for now for a few clients that I have active, continue to run the business from Ireland and hopefully use this as a catalyst to finally take more of an admin role and less of a lead consultant role over the next couple of years. (Now, that being said…I’ll probably end up doing the exact same thing I do now in Ireland as soon as the first opportunity is offered. I just cant turn down work. haha)

“Do you have a place already?” Yes. and no. We bid on and won a house at auction back in May. We paid our deposit and have been waiting on final contracts until this week (arrived in the mail today!) So, once both parties sign, we will be legally bound to purchase the purchase- and they will be legally bound to sell it. So, it’s in the works… but with as slow as things move there in real estate, I’ll be surprised if we officially own it by the date we go over on August 29th.

I don’t have any great pictures of the house, but you can view it from Google Maps here:

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It needs work inside, but it is just perfect. I have big plans for this little place. I’ll make sure the entire remodel and move project is documented here as we go.

Lastly people ask if we are really that scared of Donald Trump. haha The answer to that is YES. GOD YES… but not the catalyst for our move.

We have a lot of small reasons that added up to this making sense but some of the main reasons were that we love to travel…and Europe is a great jumping point for travel to just about any place. Instead of 3 plane tickets costing $3k or more to go for a trip…. most tickets are under $100/person. We can get to Paris in 1.5 hours and $60 round trip. You just cant travel from the States like you can from Europe.

Another major factor is our long term plans. We wanted to get ourselves to a low cost of living so that early retirement and homeschooling Norah are options for us. Not to get too political or critical….but it really is getting harder and harder in the US for the middle class to get to a point of retirement just due to the little things that add up. Housing prices, utilities, cell phone prices, cable, health insurance, homeowners insurance, property taxes, rising cost of food, etc… just to LIVE means you need a significant amount of monthly income- more than afforded on social security…and more than most people will have at retirement. Not to mention the cost of a college education for 1 or more children… the prices for college are just laughable at this point… and I just cant see pouring 100k or more into a 4 year “experience” for an 18 year old. (I am well aware I don’t HAVE to pay for any of it… but that’s a responsibility we want to take on as parents).

Enter Ireland:

This country house and barn on 2 acres was the equivalent of $72,000. Granted, it needs updating and remodeling…so the final price will be around $100,000. However, then we own it. Like, own it. No property taxes annually, no homeowner’s insurance (At least not in the way we know it in the US). Water is “free” but now has a new tax they have started… 2 years worth of back water tax on this house that will be owed when we acquire it is $90. So, something….but not what we pay. Electric is a competitive market with options…and discounted prices when you sign up- like DirectTv here. ha Plus, their temperate climate (although way colder than Florida!) means no AC needed… and the house has a cozy little wood stove/fireplace and oil fired heating with radiators, keeping bills down.  A SIM card for your cell phone with unlimited data, text and minutes is under $30 a month. Food is cheaper than it is in the US and such a higher quality- fresh milk, fresh local eggs, local butchers with meat raised and butchered in the same little town.

Healthcare is free once you’re a citizen (which will take 6-7 years to attain) but in the meantime, you can buy top of the line private insurance that has maternity coverage, mental health, prescription drugs, orthopedic clinics, etc… for $200 for the whole family a month. Compare that to the $600 we pay here for the equivalent of major medical. And that insurance works everywhere in the world except the United States. That should tell you something about the status of our health system.

Also, college. Now Ireland doesn’t have free college. It will cost you to study there…but not like the US… but being a part of the EU (and no- Ireland is not a part of Brexit…Ireland is it’s own country haha) you can travel, work or live in any of the 27 EU nations. That means Norah can choose college anywhere in Europe, some of which are free or very low cost if we attain Irish citizenship.

There are a couple things I wish were a little different. Guns being the main item. Growing up in the US, having a gun in the house for protection gives you a little peace of mind. In Ireland, you cant own a firearm without a distinct reason to own one…and personal protection isn’t a reason, especially if you aren’t a citizen. So that will take a little getting used to… also, cars are taxed by the engine size so owning an SUV or a van or a truck might mean you pay $2000 a year to register it vs about $200 a year for a little hatchback car. So, we have already picked out our car for Ireland: a 2011-ish Honda Fit. will run us about $8500. Also, I had to promise Kegan he can buy an old Land Rover Defender or a Toyota FJ40 at some point for making him sell his Toyota FJ Cruiser here before we head over. I told him we would discuss when the house is finished. haha

So…overall, it totally fits our short and long term goals…and gosh darn it, the Irish are just awesome people…and it really may be the most beautiful place on the planet. I hope anyone who can, buys a ticket over to Ireland and visits us and lets us show you around some of our favorite spots. And who knows…in a year or two, we may be moving everything back going “well, that was fun… but it’s just not for us”…and thats OK. 🙂

That being said, the original use of this blog to share vacations every six months or so will likely change….and I totally understand if you don’t want your email inboxes cluttered up with weekly posts from me about little trips or home remodeling.  Feel free to unsubscribe and I will not take it personally in the least!

I actually bought a new website domain that is more fitting to our lives:

I’m working on moving all of the blog over to the new domain and ending FreshInnocentsAbroad… but I still have to see how that will work for the subscribers, I may have to have you resubscribe in the future, but we’ll tackle that when we get there.

Before we leave south Florida, we decided to do a little “staycation” next week and see all of the things in Florida a good tourist would see. Another post to kick off that trip is coming tomorrow.

It’s Packing Day!

Friday is the day. We head out Friday evening for a two week trip to Italy. We have direct flights from Atlanta to Rome (which was part of our decision to go! Direct flights are really great when traveling with a three year old!)

Since everyone’s favorite post last trip seemed to be the packing tips, I figured I better not disappoint this time either! 

This trip’s goal: 2 weeks, 3 people, no checked bags.

One of our biggest lessons learned from our last trip was that lugging full size suitcases around when every night is a different house or hotel was not much fun…and beyond that, there just isn’t the same storage in a European car vs an American car. With 4 of us in an SUV we barely had room to put our bags.

So… That means 2 weeks of toiletries in plastic zip-lock “TSA compliant” baggies, as well. 1 per person. 

I’m pretty particular about hair and face products so just “using the hotel shampoo and conditioner” like all the other posts I read recommended doesn’t work for me. Plus we aren’t staying in hotels; we’re staying mostly in local apartments booked through AirBnb.

eBay was my best friend for this. I just searched for samples of my have-to-have items. Packets of my shampoo and conditioner were available 10 for $10  

My Wella hair oil is too big, but eBay saved me again- 6 sample vials for $8  

Face lotion- eBay. (I’m not going to price this one for you for fear of you all thinking I’m crazy. Let’s just say when something works, you splurge a little. Ha)  

Norah’s hair also requires particular products so I found a travel version of the Wen product we use on her hair and filled an empty travel container with her “women of color” hair creme. (I kid you not. lol)

You don’t have to go on eBay if you save the bottles from hotel visits or beauty product samples… Even if you don’t like the products, the containers can be useful.

We repurposed this face scrub sample jar into a hair putty holder for Kegan   

Also, Target has a huge travel section and you can usually find small versions of the major brands of items.  

Another area people get frustrated packing in a ziploc bag is perfumes. Kegan found this amazing stick perfume at Victoria’s Secret over 5 years ago and it’s still my travel go-to…although I admit it’s seen better days and is down to the last nubbin.   

If they don’t make your signature scent in a sample size and you have to have it- get one of these bad boys. You set it on top of your bottle and pump it into the travel size. If you do get one, I’d recommend the rollerball kind because those cheap spray tops wouldn’t be as consistent as a standard perfume bottle and you don’t want to walk around smelling like a hooker. Rollerball. You’re welcome.

Last liquid I had to pack was an elective. Since again, we aren’t staying in fully equipped hotels, an iron and ironing board isn’t always readily available. I filled a spray bottle with Downy Wrinkle Releaser and bought this cute little travel garment steamer. I’ll let you know how well that does by the end of the trip.  

Other ways to save on liquids space is to use a stick deodorant instead of a gel or a spray, since it doesn’t have to go in the baggie. Also, you can find this non-aerosol hair powder that is a dry shampoo and root volume in one.   

I won’t say I skimped down to basics on makeup, but did only take the minimum I needed to not feel like I was camping 🙂 I mean, selfies. Right?  

(You haven’t had too much wine-the photos are blurry. My iPhone camera broke just in time for vacation and will only focus less than 6 inches away. I effectively have only a macro lens for this trip.) 

Luckily, my big buy for the trip came in two days ago and I get to review my new Betabrand Storrist Pack!
This backpack appealed to me for a lot of reasons. First is that Betabrand is basically a company founded through crowdsourced innovative products (Work pant Yoga pants, Chef jeans with breathable grommets, RedEye travel cardigan with its own pouch for travel- good stuff)

Also I liked it because it was made for a city bicyclist to pack everything for the day and evening including a computer and your camera gear.  


The inside has a bottom compartment- which opens from the front and includes a padded organizer for your camera and lenses  


Then the top section is a giant open compartment for clothes that rolls down like a grocery sack to secure everything with a heavy duty strap. 

Since I wanted my small travel camera bag for daily use for the trip I opted to not use the included padded organizer this trip, instead using the bottom section to stack all my pants and some PJs for easy access and using the top for my Day 1 clothes when we get to Rome and my camera bag.

The back laptop slot will hold my Galaxy Note tablet since I’m going without a laptop. Yes. You read that right. But in full disclosure, I feel better about it because I know our friend Kate is bringing her MacBook Air and she’s coming with us as our Norah evening babysitter for a few nights out during the trip. So it’s not a total cord-cutting. But I still have a little anxiety about it.

The back pocket also holds my Atlas and notes about our itinerary. Very handy.


Lastly-we have to have milk for Norah and it worked out well in Ireland to have a cooler for various cheese and meat we errr…meet…along the way that wants to come on the trip with us. So based on the recommendation of friends (Looking at you, Shallbetters) we bought a PolarBear Collapsible cooler in a clearance color.
I packed all of Norah’s stuff for the plane in it for the trip over along with a collapsible shopping bag, so when we get ready to use it as a cooler, I’ll have a tote bag for her stuff as well.

So, in the end: not a bad amount! An umbrella down the side of the backpack, Norah’s blanket strapped down to the outside and Barbie supervising the whole endeavor. 

 Lastly, if you’re still reading what has turned into a monstrous post, I thought I might give some ideas for how to pack two weeks of outfits in a carry on. Full disclosure: I packed half my clothes in the blue suitcase, The rest is all of Norah’s stuff and the rest of mine is in the backpack- but I am sure it would have all fit in the blue carry on.
Some tips-take them for what they are worth. First off, choose a color scheme and go with it. Black or Brown. Then you can pick one other main color as well. I chose Black and Navy. Almost all my pieces coordinate around those 2 base colors so I can mix and match.

I decided that I was going to get by with only my 2 pairs of Tieks ballet flats because they not only pack super small, I can walk for days in them they are so comfy! (I was lucky enough to receive a pair as a gift from my stepmom Sherri that got me hooked. Thanks again!)

  I’m taking one black dress that can be paired with sweaters or scarves for nice dinners out if needed.

By taking two really thin shirts that coordinate with the yellow sweater, I have two other options.  
 Same here- two similar colored shirts/scarves give me two options with this heavier sweater for cold days
A Navy cardigan allows me to match the above shirts and pants for a different look , too.  
 And these similar sweaters with dark red allows for mix and matching as well. 

The greatest thing about the plaid scarf is that it’s so big, it doubles as my blanket for the airplane!

 I also have an inflatable travel neck pillow that folds flat in case I do actually get the chance to sleep on the plane. 

Well, I hope something here was useful!

A long post to kick off what will probably be a lot of long posts this trip as there is just too much history to cover in Italy! Just Day 1 in Rome walking through the excavated Roman ruins could span textbooks! The art inside the Galleries Accademia in Florence alone needs a book – and has lots of them! But I’ll try to boil it down to enough highlights to pique your interest for your further research or questions. 

Thanks for following along with our trip! Look forward to sharing our experiences. 🙂

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