My Whole30 Holy Grails

Whole30 Saving Graces


Without the prolific help of Pinterest, I would have spent my Whole30 month eating nothing but chicken breast and steamed vegetables. Don’t get me wrong, they get the job done, but everyone wants variety when it comes to their meals. I’ve discovered naturally Whole30 options, like Red Curry with Cauliflower rice, and ways to adapt my favorites, like Chicken Fajitas. There are blogs upon blogs dedicated to creating exciting new recipes out there!


Unfortunately, eating healthy in this country doesn’t come cheap. I usually shop at HyVee, as one is located a block from my building. But buying fresh produce and meats 1-2 times a week gets expensive. A friend reminded me of the amazing prices at Aldi, so I stopped in during week 2, and cut my grocery bill in half. Another great way to save money is to decide on 2-3 meals you are going to make that week and have leftovers for the other 3-4 days. It keeps you focused on your diet, as well as on your finances.

Every Day Must-Haves


Larabars are vegan, non-GMO, gluten-free, and so much more. Not all of their bars are Whole30 approved, but the ones that are, are lifesavers when in a pinch for breakfast or a midday snack.


I typically eat almonds but got into cashews during my Whole30. A nice sea salt cashew hits the spot, and the healthy fats keep you full.

Fresh Fruit

I’ve always been a huge fan of fruit, but Whole30 reintroduced me to how delicious it can be. When you cut out all added sugars, fruit really does begin to taste like dessert.


I’ll be the first to admit I am not the biggest fan of vegetables. The one I eat consistently is carrots. Almost every lunch includes carrots and without them, I would have eaten significantly less veggies in my 30 days.


When you cut out pop, sweet tea, sports drinks, alcohol, etc during Whole30, you start to wonder what is left besides water. Whole30 allows water, coffee, and tea. I have always been a tea person, and find it more variable than coffee in flavors. And while I love the smell of black coffee, I can’t get myself to drink it.

Meal Essentials


Luckily, I jumped on the Whole30 bandwagon when they decided to allow all potatoes. This not only meant that I didn’t have to give up my favorite starch, but that I felt much fuller at dinner time. It takes a lot of veggies and meat to get enough calories in the day when not eating carbs like bread, pasta, and rice. Potatoes helped me feel fuller longer and made sure I wasn’t under eating.

Fresh and Dried Spices

Seasonings are allowed with Whole30, but I really began to appreciate adding fresh flavors to my meal with parsley, cilantro, garlic, etc. I’m not going to lie, before Whole30, my most commonly used spice was cheese. I know, cheese is not a seasoning, but that is how I saw it. Now, I enjoy the flavors of fresh spices and garnishes more than cheese. Yep, I said it.

Ground Turkey

If you are like me, eating a ton of meat can get boring and a bit uncomfortable for your gut. I am not someone who eats a lot of red meat, so ground turkey played a big role in my experience. I used it to make bunless burgers, spaghetti meat sauce, and breakfast turkey sausage. It’s a great lean meat that fills you up without weighing you down.

Cauliflower Rice

Welcome to your Whole30 saving grace. Not only is cauliflower rice extremely easy to make, it adds a great texture and heartiness to your meal. When you would use traditional rice, or what a more substantial dinner, this rice does the trick. I use it with curry, chicken fajitas, taco skillets and more.

Zucchini Noodles

Nothing ever has or ever will replace noodles in my life. The texture is one of a kind and it creates the perfect base layer for sauces. Yet, zucchini noodles are the next best thing. Low in calories and mild in taste, these make a great choice for your spaghetti meat sauce or dairy-free creamy alfredo.

“Sweet” Treats

Soy Lattes

Cutting out sugar and desserts was by far the hardest part of Whole30 for me. One of my favorite things to do on Friday mornings is stop in for a vanilla latte and cinnamon roll at Smokey Row. In a day, those options were gone. One day, while dangling from a brittle, tired, long limb early morning, I decided to go to Smokey Row and order a PLAIN latte with soy milk. I was convinced I would hate it. I don’t know to this day if it was the complete lack of sugar in my life or my desperate need for caffeine, but in that moment, nothing tasted better or sweeter than that latte. Soy milk has a natural sweetness to it that makes the latte taste almost chocolatey when mixed with the espresso, and now it’s my go-to coffee beverage.

GT’s Kombucha

Not drinking alcohol is a bummer, so I decided to cheat (but not really). GT kombucha is sugar-free and Whole30 approved. Not only was the tangy flavor great, I got to drink a little alcohol, even if it was only trace amounts.


Fruit smoothies with soy milk are a great treat post workout or for “dessert.”

La Croix

I hated La Croix. I thought it was dumb bubbly water that only smelled good and tasted bad. Once again, I was craving a fizzy drink and reached for it at the grocery store, thinking I would hate it. Turns out, when you don’t consume sugar, everything else tastes sweeter. For the first time, I could actually taste the natural essence in the water, and I still have one with my lunch every day. For me, it’s a great way to stay hydrated while feeling like I’m being bad.

I hope this was helpful to you on your Whole30 journey! I still maintain a Whole30 diet 5 days a week (or as best as I can), because I do truly feel better when I eat better. If you have any tips or Whole30 holy grails, share them in the comments below.


The Secret to My Side Hustle: Making Freelance Work

How I Got Started

I wish I could say I started freelancing because I always wanted to be my own boss, or that I just wanted to work on my computer while traveling the world. But, that’s not the case. After losing my first job (which you can read about here) I was waitressing long hours, pulling double shifts, and I decided to start freelancing social media and blog work for a family friend’s business. This allowed me to not only cut long waitressing hours but helped me continue to practice the skills I learned at my first job. From there, I worked with a few more clients and ended up getting my now full-time job after interviewing for a short-term freelance position! Funny how things work out sometimes…

Freelancing with a Full-Time Job

I have been freelancing for three years this coming summer, and I have been at my full-time job for two of those years. Considering I first interviewed with the company for a freelance position, they have been gracious enough to allow me to continue my freelance work, as long as I don’t freelance during work hours and am not working for a competing company. Many full-time bloggers, social media, and marketing managers are not allowed to freelance, but working for a small, tightly-knit team like mine is a benefit in this instance (and many others).

Freelance Schedule and Finding a Balance

Finding a balance between freelance work, full-time work, and a social life is something I struggle with, even three years later. While I was waitressing, I had time during weekday mornings or afternoons to get freelance work done, leaving nights and weekends open.

Now, with full-time work and three freelance clients to juggle, I spend most of my time doing work on Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons. This is not ideal for everyone, but it works for me. If I know I have a particularly eventful weekend ahead, I work after dinner on weeknights so I can enjoy my two full days of freedom. I do my best to make working weekends enjoyable. I make a big breakfast, have a large cup of tea or coffee, and listen to music while I work. In a way, it can be relaxing, even more so because I’m basically being paid to sit in my pajamas and write.

Managing Freelance Money

When I mention to people that I freelance and also work full-time, they think it’s appropriate to ask my rate and how much money I make per month total. First of all, rude. Second of all, a magician never reveals her secrets or her finances. But if you are a freelancer, or are considering freelancing in any capacity, knowing how to manage and organize your income is important. The vast majority of the money I make goes into my savings or rainy day fund, while a small portion goes toward my day-to-day spending money. It is important to me to put away the majority of the money I earn to help me afford the life I live and want to live in the future.

A Little More Work Equals a Lot More Play

You may look at my life and think, “All work, no play.” That is sincerely not the case. I view it as, “A little more work equals a lot more play!”

I love my freelance work and the opportunity to grow my portfolio, expand my skills, and continue to challenge myself. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the added financial stability. The majority of the income I make freelancing helps me take care of boring, everyday adult responsibilities like building savings, starting a ROTH IRA, keeping my credit card spending at bay, etc. But it has also allowed me to save up for amazing trips, concerts, and events, all while keeping the financial peace of mind.

I will have taken trips to Austria, Colorado, and Scotland this year alone, not because I am bad at managing money, but quite the opposite. I could say I am lucky to afford the life I live, the trips I take, and the adventures I embark on, but, in all honesty, I’m not. It’s not luck that has given me the life I have, but hard work. Luck may have started me on this journey, but hard work has kept me on the path.

If you have any questions about getting started with freelancing, networking, picking up new clients, etc. leave a comment below!

Austria Highlights Image Gallery

Hello! I know I have been absent recently. I was away, visiting my friend, Amy, in Austria in mid-March and have been recovering from my “travel hangover” ever since. Not only have I rediscovered my sanity and a normal sleeping schedule, I’ve finally gone through my photos from the 8-day trip that spanned 5 cities.

Here are a “few” of my favorites.







If you enjoyed this image gallery post, let me know! If you want Austria travel advice, to-dos or sample itineraries, post a comment. Up next on the travel docket: my 5-year study abroad reunion this May in Scotland. Stay tuned!

My Whole30 Experience

Yes, you read the blog title correctly. I am one of the millions (Maybe? I didn’t do any actual math) of people who started the Whole30 diet and came out the other end alive and, believe it or not, well.

Mentioning, writing, or even pondering about a “fad” diet tends to invite people to insert themselves and their opinions into your decision-making process. So, before you dump all of your preconceived, and possibly misinformed, opinions regarding restricted and elimination diets on me and the community of people who choose to live this lifestyle, let me explain.

Keep in mind that I am writing only about my experiences, which are unique to me. My experiences are similar to some and vastly different to others. If you are considering trying a Whole30 diet, for whatever reason, know that this isn’t a complete guide or user manual for the overarching experience.

What is Whole30?

To put it simply, Whole30 is a sugar, dairy, grain, legume and alcohol-free diet.

Whole30 was created in 2009 as a 30-day elimination diet to help people suffering from a myriad of health issues and discomforts. The goal is to eliminate foods commonly known for causing inflammation and irritation in the body for a full 30 days, then slowly reintroducing foods one at a time to see which foods or ingredients may be causing you discomfort or flare-ups.

It is important to remember Whole30 does not have to be a complete lifestyle change. It is a method for resetting your health, developing better eating habits, and, most importantly, learning what foods work for your body and which ones are actively working against it.

Why I Chose to Try Whole30

As someone who has tried going gluten and dairy free in the past to help with AD symptoms, I was always skeptical of elimination diets and the effect it would have on my autoimmune disorder. After writing my first blog on my AD, an old friend in PA school reached out with great information about a diet option for autoimmune disorder sufferers called the Wahls Protocol. This diet is a new take on a paleo diet. Terry Wahls, a doctor, and MS patient saw amazing results in her symptoms, even reversing some of them, with the diet plan she created with autoimmune conditions in mind.

This diet is extremely intimidating at first glance and, knowing myself, trying to jump in with no lead up to an extreme diet would be setting myself up for failure. After doing more research and talking to my aunt, a fellow AD sufferer, I landed on Whole30. An elimination diet with a deadline made it mentally more manageable. After years of taking medication in increasing doses and no end in sight, I decided to take matters into my own hands. If prescription medication isn’t helping, how could a change in diet possibly hurt, right?

Initial Impacts of Whole30 on My Body

Before I began the official 30 days, I decided to ease into the Whole30 lifestyle gradually the week before. I attempted to eat 2 out of 3 meals according to Whole30 guidelines. During this first “practice” week, I felt a little more fatigued and head one bad headache day, but nothing as jarring as the first week I went gluten-free.

The most noticeable, initial impact Whole30 had on my body was my digestion during the first 7 days. I was irregular, too regular, bloated, puffy, and bit sluggish. This is completely normal, and by the end of week 2, my digestion and bloating were better than it had been in years. While my bloating and gut discomfort don’t directly correlate to my AD, this was an added benefit for sure.

I was also among the people doing Whole30 who experience some acne and skin changes during the first few weeks of the diet. Yet, this is common for any major change to diet, whether you are eating healthy or eating poorly. I had some acne flare-ups and more oil production, but nothing ghastly. This also calmed down in the last two weeks.

Whole30 Impacts on My Autoimmune Disorder

My main objective going into Whole30 was seeing how it would impact my symptoms. I have had consistent flare-ups the entire time I have been on methotrexate. With little success attempting to fight the symptoms, I thought about trying to attack the source of symptoms: inflammation. I had a few small spots when I started Whole30 and was amazed to see no further growth and no new spots show up at all during those 30 days. I was still taking methotrexate during the Whole30, so this is not a direct comparison between symptoms when on just methotrexate and symptoms while doing just a Whole30 diet. Yet, it was extremely encouraging to see this progress and makes me hopeful that, over time, I may be able to reduce my medication dosage while eating a majority Whole30 diet.

Whole30 Impacts on Weight and Well-Being

My main goal for Whole30 was to see improvements in my AD symptoms, but I’d be lying if I said weight didn’t factor in at all. I think I was successful in completing my first Whole30 because my main goal wasn’t weight related. Whole30 even says not to count calories, step on the scale, or measure yourself during the process, which is refreshing. This diet isn’t about how you look, but how you feel.

That being said, I ended up losing 8 pounds during those 30 days, which falls into the healthy range of losing around 1-2 pounds a week. Having plateaued at the same weight for the past 5 years I was excited about seeing the number dip again!

But weight will always be just a number. I am much more impressed by the way I felt at the end. I felt more energetic, my skin cleared up, I was sleeping better, and I didn’t feel like I was going to die without sugar and dairy, which was the biggest surprise of all.

What’s Next?

My Whole30 ended right as I went on vacation to Austria, where I spent 10 days eating and drinking whatever I wanted. I didn’t feel as terrible as I expected, but I also didn’t feel great. I was bloated, sluggish, and definitely irregular. What surprised me the most was that even though I was indulging in chocolate cakes and pastries every day, I didn’t miss them or the taste as much as I thought I would. Maybe my taste buds changed in the past month, or my body just didn’t crave sugar as much because I wasn’t feeding it sugar anymore. Either way, I learned that while I wanted to eat all of those things, I didn’t really need them.

Now that I am back from vacation, I’ve decided to commit to Whole30 again, at least 5-6 days a week. I felt better, looked better, and saw improvements in my condition. Yet, it’s okay to have a day or two to give into cravings if they should arise. I’ll see if this new plan works or if more tweaking needs to be done.

As long as you continue to listen to your body, success will surely follow.

Packing for a 10-day international vacation

Packing Essentials

In order to pack smarter, you need the right equipment. I pack everything for my trips into a standard carry-on suitcase that is expandable if more room is needed. Going to Austria in March is a bit of a chillier affair, and fitting larger sweaters and bulkier clothing into a small carry-on can be difficult. The solution? Compression bags. You can find these bags on Amazon, Walmart or Target for less than $10. You roll up your clothes, stuff and seal the bag then roll the bag the release any trapped air. This helps cut the bulk of your clothes in half! I ordered mine from Amazon for $9.99.

Investing in a toiletry organizer is also essential. Because I check my carry-on bag, I put all of my toiletries in my carry-on so I avoid having to unpack my bags going through TSA. My bathroom bag unfolds and comes with a hook so I can hang it up and get to everything I need quickly. I found mine at Walmart!

A few other small items to take that makes packing for coming home easier is plastic bags for your dirty shoes, a laundry bag for dirty clothes and dryer sheets to make sure the stink from old clothes doesn’t seep into your still clean clothes.

My Spring Vacation Wardrobe

Packing for spring comes with its challenges. The weather can be finicky and you are likely to be wandering around in the rain, maybe even snow, at some point. Yet you could also get a few warm days as well. The key to packing for a spring vacation is choosing options that are all in a similar color scheme and that can be easily layered. This makes it easier to pack fewer shoes as well, as one or two pairs of shoes will be able to go with every outfit.


  • Flannel
  • Black, blue and tan sweaters
  • Black cardigan
  • Gray vest
  • Heather black and black/white striped long sleeve shirts
  • Black and white half button down top
  • Red Tie Top
  • Green Patterned Top
  • Chambray button down dress
  • Blue jeans, black jeans, and olive jeans
  • 2 sets of pajamas
  • Socks, bras, underwear


An easy way to dress up a seemingly boring vacation wardrobe is with jewelry and scarves.

  • Belt
  • Black tights
  • Warm scarf
  • 2 patterned scarves
  • Gold and silver stud earrings
  • 2 dangly earrings
  • 2 necklaces
  • Simple gold and silver rings


With a simple wardrobe color palette, your shoe needs simplify as well.

  • Black rain/snow boots
  • Gray Converse
  • Black booties
  • Tan slip-ons


Everyone’s toiletry bag looks different, but if you’re curious as to what I pack, keep reading.

  • 3 oz shampoo/conditioner
  • Facewash
  • Deodorant
  • Perfume roller
  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrush
  • Toner
  • Moisturizer
  • Night cream
  • Cotton pads
  • Cotton swabs
  • Makeup removing wipes
  • Bar soap
  • Razor
  • Dry shampoo
  • Hairspray
  • Hair ties and bobby pins


When traveling I try to keep my makeup simple day-to-day: a little concealer, powder foundation, bronzer, eyebrows, and mascara. But I also pack an eyeshadow palette and a few fun lipsticks for the nights I plan on hitting the town for a nice dinner and drinks.

  • Primer
  • Concealer
  • Powder foundation
  • Bronzer
  • Highlighter
  • Eyeliner
  • Mascara
  • Eyebrow pencil/gel
  • Eyeshadow palette
  • 2 lipsticks/lip liner
  • Beauty sponge
  • Brushes
  • Setting spray

And that’s that! If you want to follow my travels next week as I galavant around Austria, follow me on Instagram at marissa_gaal, or like my Facebook page for updates!

What’s in my bag(s): Backpack and purse packing for travel

Welcome to round three of unsolicited travel advice! This week, I am writing a few blogs about what I pack in my bag(s). Today, I’m going to give you a behind the scenes look at what I wear to the airport, and what I pack into my backpack and purse when flying and prancing around my vacation destination.

IMG-4030Airplane Attire

I typically wear leggings or sweats on a plane, but as I am getting off the plane and onto a train to Austria when I land in Germany, I decided to put in a bit of effort so not to be embarrassed to be seen outside of airport walls. A comfy sweater, jeans, and shoes that are easy to slip on and off are key.


My backpack includes everything I need to be comfortable, entertained, and, if need be, sedated on a long flight. If I am going to be stuffed into a seat like a sardine next to a stranger, I’m going to make the most of it.

  • Comfy Socks: I talked about this a bit in the last blog post, but they really make a world of difference when it comes to comfort level.
  • Extra underwear and bra: When traveling internationally, your travel time is much more than the 8+ hour flight. Sometimes you are traveling for upwards of 15-20 hours total. To combat the grunge of non-stop travel, I always pack extra undergarments to feel fresher when a shower is out of the question.
  • Change of clothes: This is just an iteration from what is listed above, but if you are planning on hitting the town running when you land, have extra clothes to change into when you disembark the plane, or in the off chance your luggage gets lost.
  • Headphones/Earbuds: Whether you are listening to your own music or watching the movies on board bring your own headphones.
  • Charger: A lot of my media is pre-downloaded on my phone. I always take my portable phone charger with me on the plane. Make sure it is charged in advance!
  • Outlet converter: I always pack my outlet converter in my backpack in case I have a layover in a different country and need to charge electronics. Also, a precaution in case luggage is lost.
  • Books: Duh.
  • Deodorant: Again, to combat the airport and plane stench.
  • Toothbrush: No one wants fuzzy teeth.
  • Snacks: There are plane snacks and meals, but these are nice to have handy if you aren’t a fan of your options or if you have dietary restrictions.
  • Neck Pillow:  This is a “do or die” necessity.
  • Water Bottle: I hate trying to balance a cup of water on my tray table. Bring your own bottle with a lid to make life less complicated.
  • All my pills: Zinc to combat sickness, melatonin to help me sleep, Dramamine for motion sickness, the list goes on and on.
  • Brush, hair accessories: Bringing little things like a brush or hair tie can help you feel refreshed right before or after you get off of a long flight.


These items don’t need much explaining, other than the fact that I am constantly in fear of being hungry and without food to eat so I pack double snacks in every bag.

  • Mints/Gum
  • Wallet
  • Passport
  • Boarding Passes
  • More Snacks
  • Chapstick
  • Cash
  • Extra headphones

Hopefully, this gives you point of reference when packing for your next trip, stateside or otherwise. Friday I’ll be laying out and posting each item I’ll be packing for my trip next week to Austria, along with my tips and tricks for fitting everything I need for a 10-day European vacation into a standard size carry-on bag. Stay tuned!

If you want to be kept up-to-date on my travels in the coming weeks, follow me on Instagram @marissa_gaal.

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My Basic International Vacation Essentials

Hi again! Glad you found your way back. Wednesday I gave unsolicited advice about how I survive airport hellscapes and international flights. Today, that unsolicited advice continues. The topic: my must-haves for an international vacation.

Number 1 International Travel Essential of All Time

Dry Shampoo. It is the beginning and end of every “must have” list for travel, be you man, woman or child. After getting off an airplane, we all look like greasy Pringles chips that have been held captive in an aluminum can for 8+ hours. GET. DRY. SHAMPOO. It helps your hair last longer so you don’t almost short out your hair dryer and straightener every day. Plus, who has time to wash their hair when there are sights to see, food to eat, and vats of wine to drink?! My go-to brand is Batiste.

You can find it at Target, Walgreens, Walmart, etc. – $3-$5.

International Vacation Essentials

Portable Phone Charger

Now that Apple has spilled the tea on phone updates and how they kill our battery life, be sure to take a portable phone charger with you when you are out and about. If you are using your phone to navigate, get on wifi at coffee shops or communicate with family and friends back home, this is a must.

I use the iMuto charger from Amazon because it holds 4 iPhone chargers – $18

Outlet/Voltage Converter

Even if it is your first time traveling and you are only planning on hitting one country/continent, look for an all-in-one outlet converter. This way you don’t have to rummage through five different converters to find the right one. While it’s difficult to do, try and find an outlet converter that also has a voltage converter. This way you won’t burn out your hair tools, which you should always put on the lowest setting to start when using a converter!

This is a great, cost-effective, all-in-one outlet converter – $11

International Data

When I first traveled to Europe, international data wasn’t an option for me. Now, if you are an iPhone user, and you have your data on in another country, you automatically have phone service. If you are Verizon user, this costs $10 for each day you use your data. I recommend going this route if you are traveling to a new country for the first time, or want to be able to make contact with other people on the trip easily. Granted, free wifi in shops, hotels, and restaurants is much more common in Europe than it is here, so there is always that free option!

Physical Maps

Even if you do plan to use your phone to navigate to specific sites, having a physical map of the city you are in is more helpful than you would think. Your phone gets you from one place to the next, but it doesn’t show you on a larger scale where everything is located in relation to each other. A map of the area can show you the most efficient way to travel from site to site and it makes a great memento to bring back with you!

You can find these maps at airports, hotels or souvenir shops.

RFID Wallet

Pickpockets are common in larger cities, and they can smell out tourists quickly. But they aren’t just snatching purses anymore. Some people have access to scanners that can read your credit card information through your wallet and purse. For this reason, I carry an RFID wallet with me wherever I go now. They aren’t big and clunky like they used to be in the past.

This wallet holds your passport, cards, ID, cash, change and even boarding passes all in one place. Plus it’s cute to boot. You can use it as a wallet or carry it as a clutch.

I found mine on Amazon – $14

Snacks & Water

In Wednesday’s blog, I talked about the money saving benefits of having food and a water bottle on hand for airports and flights. The same is true for when you have your boots on the ground on vacation. Sometimes you may not be able to find a café or restaurant open when you’re walking around, or you just need something to tide you over until dinner. Keep some granola bars in your purse and your water bottle handy.

Many restaurants in Europe use bottled water that costs around six euros. Bringing your own water isn’t looked down on in this case. Or, if your me, take the 6 euros you’d spend on water and get yourself two nice glasses of their cheapest wine.

This water bottle collapses and fits right into your purse – $10


Before you leave, convert your money at the bank for local currency. I don’t care if you called into your credit card company about your travel plans. Shit can go south very quickly. Also, depending on the size of city, shop or restaurant you are visiting, some places may not take cards. You can use the cash as a safety net, or a way to keep track of your spending so you stay on budget.

If you don’t exchange the money prior to leaving, you can exchange your US currency at the airport when you land as well.

Tours and Media

You know the entertainment and media we talked about on Wednesday’s blog? You don’t want to pack that away yet. If you’re visiting multiple cities in a country or plan on taking trains to nearby cities, you’ll want your music, podcasts, and books on hand.

Another great tool you can use is pre-downloaded guided tours. Instead of paying a tour guide to show you around, you can find free/cheap pre-recorded tours that you can download to your phone.

Thanks for checking in twice this week, and I hope these tips come in handy during your future travels.

Next week I will be posting on Wednesday and Friday as well. Wednesday I’m going to show you what I pack in my purse and backpack for an international flight and vacation. Friday I’ll showcase my true talent: what and how I fit everything for a 10-day spring European vacation into a standard carry-on suitcase.

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My Basic International Flight Essentials

Okay, hi. I am trying something a bit different for the next few weeks. I leave for Austria in a little over two weeks for vacation, and my mind is constantly preoccupied with packing lists and checking off to-dos. Having lived in Scotland for three months and traveled to Europe twice (soon to be thrice) in the last five years, I thought I would take time to impart my limited and biased traveling tips and tricks onto you.

I will be posting today and Friday. Today’s blog is all about my basic international flight essentials, how to survive TSA, avoiding overpriced airport food and drink, and making an otherwise uncomfortable 8+ hour flight a bit more bearable.

Airport/Flight Essentials

Collapsible Water Bottle & Snacks

Airports are miniature chasms of hell, where you are trapped in purgatory with screaming children, people who take up three seats at the gate to take a nap, and overpriced everything. There is no reason to spend over $20 on a bottle of water and expired Chex Mix snack packs.

Take a collapsible water bottle with you. They take up little space in your bag and the water you put in them is FREE. Also, despite rumors, you can take food through TSA and onto the plane. I have seen families with pre-packed lunches meander through checks with no problems. Take snacks that are filling like, Cliff bars, homemade trail mix, or even beef jerky. Plus, part of your plane ticket price includes one, most likely two, meals plus snacks and drinks. You won’t be starved on the plane, I promise.

Check out this cheap collapsible water bottle from Amazon – $8.99

Earbuds & Headphones

One important thing I learned from my travels is that despite their cute, well-cushioned design, spending 8+ hours with earbuds in can actually be painful. I would suggest taking earbuds AND headphones for a long flight. Not only are headphones more comfortable, but they let the person next to you know you don’t actually care about her compression socks or clay jewelry Etsy shop.

These cushy headphones from Amazon are a bestseller – $39

Neck Pillow & Eye Mask

Whatever you do, do not buy a neck pillow at the airport. They are overpriced and pathetic. I’ve recently discovered the joy of a self-inflatable neck pillow that is great for a number of sleeping positions on a plane. Try to find one that supports your chin or the back of your neck, so you aren’t constantly bobbing forward and wake up with neck pain. Self-inflatable ones take out the hassle of actually blowing it up, and are super easy to store in your backpack.

If you are someone who struggles to sleep with any light peeping through, invest in an eye mask. Planes never lower their lights completely, and it is beyond annoying to try and sleep when the person next to you has their screens at full brightness. Also, another tactful way to ignore your seat mate’s rambling.

Plush self-inflatable neck pillow from Amazon – $20

Blackout eye mask from Amazon – $10

Slip-On Shoes & Warm Socks

This piece of advice is nothing new, but please, for the love of whatever god you worship and for the love of the people behind you in TSA, wear slip-on shoes. They can be slides, a slip-on sneaker, flip flops, booties, sandals, hell even socks with sandals. If I have to watch one more wanna-be Real Housewife untie her gladiator stiletto heels at TSA, someone is going to end up with a shoe in their ass.

If you opt out of the socks and sandals look, I suggest packing warm socks in your personal bag. Airplanes are a unique climate. I am always cold, but slightly sweaty from the faux leather seats. If you sit near a window, one half of your body may be numb by the time you land. Having some fuzzy, designated airplane socks is a small luxury that makes an otherwise uncomfortable travel experience a little cozier.

I wear these shoes from Target to the airport – $24

Find warm fuzzies socks at Target here – $3


This is a small add-on to your TSA toiletries bag, but if you are a contact lens wearer like myself, these are a godsend after waking up on the plane and your contacts and eyeball have fused together. Any box store will have these for you!

Supplements & Vitamins

Packing supplements and vitamins may seem frivolous and something to leave off your endless packing list, but hear me out. Jetlag, on top of breathing 100+ strangers breath for hours on end, is going to affect your immune system in one way or another. Here’s a list of vitamins to consider:

  • Melatonin: It can help you fall asleep on a long flight and when battling jetlag
  • Zinc: Taking these once a day, in general, helps keep your immune system in good order
  • Dramamine: If you are motion sick, these are great. Pro tip: Take one when you get home after a night of drinking to reduce hangover symptoms (you’re welcome).
  • General painkillers: Jetlag can cause headaches, and constant walking can cause soreness. Pack these as a precaution.

I pick up most of my supplements and vitamins from Target or Walgreens.

Entertainment & Media

Flying is a great time to catch up on shows, movies, books, etc. But come prepared. Without wifi on the plane, make sure anything electronic is pre-downloaded. Download your favorite movies and shows off of the Netflix phone app, save your new podcast episodes, and download your Spotify playlists. Pack a few books you’ve been meaning to read or upload the audiobook to your phone. If you are going to be using your phone a lot on the flight, be sure to put it on battery save mode and take a portable charger. If you want to emulate my cool airplane vibes, take some knitting or crochet to keep your hands busy as well.

If you need some good, quick reads for the flight, here are a few suggestions:

If you want to check out a few new podcasts to pass the time:

Thanks for stopping by early this week! My Friday’s blog will feature my basic international vacation essentials. You can read about what you need for your hotel or hostel, and what to take with you while you’re out and about.

Next week I will also be posting on Wednesday and Friday. Wednesday I show you what I will be packing in my purse and backpack for my 10-day European vacation. Friday will feature what and how I pack all of my clothes, shoes, toiletries and more for a 10-day European spring vacation into a standard carry-on suitcase!

I'd love to hear from you!

Prioritizing Health Over Weight

Like most people, I have experienced weight gain since leaving high school, and again since leaving college. In attempts to combat the weight gain, I’d go through spurts of exercising and eating well, then give up when I didn’t see results soon enough. After dozens of these cycles, and only quite recently, I learned I was approaching my weight and health from the wrong angle.

I just want to lose three pounds…

Ever since putting on the “Freshman 15” I thought I was bound to be unhappy until I could undo the damage I had done with an endless meal pass during college. I’d lose a few pounds, gain a few pounds, feel defeated and decide I was never meant to be happy with my body. I’ve avoided putting on a swimsuit for two years. I refuse to wear shorts and spaghetti strap shirts in the summer because I’m self-conscious of my legs and arms. I’ll wear jackets in 80-degree weather because I’d rather be covered up than comfortably dressed. I thought if I could lose those pesky pounds I could wear what I wanted to wear, be more confident and comfortable in my own skin, do away with insecurities and be genuinely happy.

But that’s bullshit. I shouldn’t let an insecurity keep me from wearing what I want to wear or doing what I want to do. I was making the choice to be unhappy and to put life on hold until I reached some arbitrary goal. No one was constraining my life but me. It wasn’t a matter of changing my weight, but my mindset.

Putting bodily health over body mass

Throughout the process of trying to lose weight, I discovered I was setting myself up for failure. I was only looking at one aspect of my life, not my overall health. On top of putting on weight, I was struggling to keep my AD symptoms under control with medication, I wasn’t sleeping well and didn’t have the energy or motivation to put in time at the gym. Moving into 2018, I decided the way I felt should be a higher priority than the way I looked.

I set goals unrelated to weight such as how many fruits and veggies I eat a day, how much water I drink, how many hours of sleep I get, the number of days I work out in a week, how often I up my weights in the gym, and slowly increasing my cardio endurance.

Two weeks ago I decided a good place to start listening to my body was completing a Whole30 challenge. I am on day 6 of 30 and finally feeling normal again after a few days of fatigue, bloating and irregularity. Doing an elimination diet such as Whole30 isn’t for everyone, and I am not advocating for or against it. I am trying it in order to understand what foods my body needs, what foods my body doesn’t, how food affects my energy levels, and if this type of diet will help reduce inflammation related to my autoimmune disorder. Losing any weight is a small cherry on top.

Prioritizing how I feel over how I look

The most freeing decision I’ve made since entering 2018 was prioritizing the way I feel over the way I look. Don’t get me wrong, I still focus on the way I look more than I would like, but I am making a conscious effort to push those feelings aside. The idea that pure bliss and happiness waits for you 5 pounds down the road is a myth. It’s rare that we ever let go of our insecurities entirely. Everybody deals with insecurities no matter the shape, size, or walk of life. But we don’t have to feed those insecurities. We don’t have to give them power over our happiness. Do the best you can to feel the best you can and everything else will fall into place.

I'd love to hear from you!

I Don’t Know If I Want Kids, And That’s Okay

Hi. My name is Marissa, I’m 24 and…I don’t know if I want kids. Some people reading this might agree, others vehemently disagree. If you’re my mother, you might be clutching your metaphorical pearls and gasping, “Why would she do this to me?!”

Now listen, I said I don’t know if I want kids. I’m not saying I will. I’m not saying I won’t. It wavers and changes. All I can say with certainty is that I don’t want kids now or in the near future, for a variety of reasons. Those reasons may change, they may not, but they are my reasons and, ultimately, my decisions to make.

Young, Dumb and Broke

While I am young, I am not particularly dumb and broke, and I’d like to keep toeing the line between poverty and living above my adequate means for the foreseeable future. Having a kid tends to drain a lot of economic resources. I know what you are thinking, “There is no perfect time to start a family,” but I’m going to live my life as if there is. Not only do I not have or want to spend the finances associated with raising a small human, I’m not in the place I want to be to start a family anyway, mainly because I don’t know if or where that place exists.

Oh The Places I’ll Go

I have heard many friends, family members, and celebrity talk show guests describe how having a child changes all of your priorities, as they rightfully should. But, what if I don’t want my priorities to change? I’m content with all of my priorities and admitting that my priorities are purely selfish. I entered my 20s with the mindset that if there is any time for me to explore, invent/reinvent myself, and take risks, it’s my 20s. That is where my priorities lie. Four years in and I still have no regrets. I’ve lived in the UK and Alaska, I’ve traveled to Europe twice, I have my dream apartment, a good job, a kick-ass dog, and time to spare. As far as my priorities go, I’m right on track.

The More Babies I Meet, The More I Love My Dog

People tend to compare babies and puppies. They both have very little to no bladder control, they’re cute and squishy, need a specific feeding schedule, and love you unendingly. However, despite my uterus’ best arguments, and she makes some pretty good ones, the more babies I meet, the less I really want one. But, the more puppies I meet, the more I want. At this moment in time, my dog is more than enough to feed my maternal instincts. I’ll be able to force him into cuddles as long as he lives. The same can’t be said for humans.

Why Should People Stay the Same?

As you have probably deduced by my very obvious reasoning, I do not want a kid. Not now. Maybe not ever. Call me selfish, call me lazy. You’re not wrong. But don’t hold me to it. I am not the same person I was 5 years ago. I am not living the life I thought I would be living 5 years ago. And I won’t be the same person 5, 10, 15 years from now.

Asking me if I want kids is liking asking a kindergartener what they want to be when they grow up: the answer will probably change day to day, week to week, year to year.

I shouldn’t be expected to have my life figured out with little over two decades of experience being a human. I’ve been an “adult” maybe 3 years. Let me be confused, let me selfish, let me wander and not assume I’m completely lost. J.R.R. Tolkien said it was okay.

I don’t want kids. Maybe I will someday, maybe I won’t. And that’s okay. Not only am I privileged enough to control when and if I have kids, I’m allowed to change my mind too.