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Thrifty Travels: Traveling Light

The last two years of my life have been a whirlwind of travel that has taken me from the stark terrain of Afghanistan to the tall buildings and lights of Toronto. And the one thing that unifies those trips and all the places I’ve traveled in between those two trips is packing. IMG_7513

Packing is not my favorite past time, but I’ve gotten pretty good at it. So good in fact, that my friend Andria G. asked me, during our recent trip to Las Vegas, how I managed to get everything into the small tote that I brought. She asked me this while gazing at luggage that was hardly carry-on size.

There are a few simple rules that I live by and they haven’t failed me yet, even when I showed up for a business trip in Florida woefully underprepared for cold weather and had to make a few mad dashes to local Goodwills and a Walmart to get warmer clothes.

Rule #1: Checking bags is not an option. Real talk, airlines stay trippin’ with these bag fees. Some of them are now going so far as to charge for carry-on bags over a certain size. (I’m looking at you Spirit Airlines.)

Rule #2: Take only what you need. If you’re driving, this doesn’t matter as much, but I really hate over packing. Do you really need five pairs of shoes, or will two work? Why take up valuable real estate in your bag, or worse risk having to check a bag, because you think you’ll wear those shoes. Don’t do it. I’ve been known to overpack my make up supplies thinking I’m going to want to do a special face for a night out, I’ve learned this is a trap and have seriously streamlined the make-up I take.

Rule #3: Travel size everything. That clear, quart sandwich bag can hold a lot if you have nothing but travel size IMG_7535products. Even if you use fancy face and hair products, higher-end retailers like Sephora and Ulta typically sell what you need. Taxicab confession: I almost always take the travel size bath products that hotels provide and bring them home to stock my travel size products drawer. My dentist also always gives travel size toothpaste, so I’ve been stockpiling that for years.

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Rule #4: Mix and match. When it comes to packing I usually lay out outfits that go together and then I make sure that if I’m in the mood, I can mix every thing up and create entirely different outfits. Jeans can go from day to night by changing the top. A dress can be dressed up or down as long as it has a flattering shape and doesn’t require ironing. Jazz up an outfit with accessories, which you can bring a lot of without taking up too much space.

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Rule #5: Bring a cardigan or jacket. Airports and planes are notorious for being chilly. Bring a jacket. And if you don’t actually need to wear it, it makes a good travel pillow.IMG_7449

Bonus Tip: Get through security quick. I usually wear a jersey dress or leggings and a tank top to the airport because you usually have to get nearly naked to go through security these days.  Take off your jacket or cardigan before going through the scanner. Don’t wear any kind of metal jewelry or a belt because this is an automatic repeat trip through the scanner. Keep your plastic baggy full of travel size goodies in your hand so you don’t waste time taking them out of your bag.  And if you’re bringing your laptop go ahead and slip it out of its case too. I prefer slip-on shoes and toe socks because I want to take my shoes off quickly and I don’t really care for my bare feet touching the floor. Eww.

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Last but not least: Pack strategically. For me, packing is like playing Tetris. Every piece has its place and the more things fit together, the less likely you are to end up with footprints from shoes, or worse, hair product and toothpaste on your clothes. I prefer shoes in first, soles down or touching other shoes. Layer with make up bag, accessories bag, and night clothes. Layer everyday, walking around clothes and then follow with going out wear on top of the makeup/accessory bag layer, and just like that you’re packed and ready to go!

Hope this helps you lighten your load on your next trip!

— Ricks


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Food for Thought Friday: A Leap of Faith

IMG_4451Three weeks ago, I made the biggest decision I’ve made since I moved to the DMV. Three weeks ago, I decided to quit my job.

Today was my last day at work. And as I prepared for this day, I have checked in with myself repeatedly. I kept looking for fear, but the only thing I kept finding was joy, exhilaration and this otherworldy sense of calm.

In fact, I’m more nervous about writing this post and sharing this decision with the world than I was when I made it.

After 11 years of newsrooms and deadlines, I am no longer a journalist. At least not in the traditional sense. I plan to sustain myself with freelance writing and editing projects, but chasing politicians, and lately generals, for quotes is no longer on my agenda.

I’ll miss many things about the day-to-day grind of the news business, but I’m more excited than I’ve been in a long time about anything.

If I am honest — and honesty is something we place high value on here — this decision was a long time in the making. Over the last half of my career there has been this gnawing sensation that I had I strayed away from why I became a journalist. There was also that feeling that I was supposed to be doing something else.

As you can imagine, Reese and I talk extensively about what we want out of life, what we value and what we don’t. Increasingly, I was frustrated with the amount of personal and professional energy  it took to do my job and with how the news business, in general, is changing. But more importantly, what I believed about who I am and what I truly valued was changing. So much of my identity and who I believed I was had everything to do with being able to say, “I am journalist.”

Over the course of the last year and a half — a time frame in which my best friend died at 32 and my 56-year-old mother was diagnosed with earlier onset Alzheimer’s — I realized being a journalist wasn’t who I am, it was what I had been trained to do. My identity was no longer tied to what I did for a living. The passion I had for the work had slipped and that was starting to show on the job no matter how I tried to cover it up.

After a couple of very uncomfortable conversations, I carried the burden of the choices I had before me to Shenandoah National Park hoping that the quiet of nature would allow me to hear the answer I needed from the universe. On our first night there, thinking about all I needed to do to redeem myself at work left me so frustrated that I struggled to see the quirkiness of Front Royal, Va.

But on the next day, as we prepared to hike and reached a fork in the trail that offered us the option of going left or right, an alternative to redemption at work built in my spirit. “I could quit,” I thought. I quickly tried to dismiss that thought. But it would not let go. I couldn’t even think of doing anything else.  When I finally decided to surrender to the decision to resign, the sense of relief and peace was instant. When I told Reese about it and she said she knew it was coming, my peace was confirmed.

Deep down I knew that this was an opportunity that I was only going to get once. This was going to be my one and only get out of jail card. If I chose to keep going down the path that I was already on, I would regret it. All of this is hard for me to say. I’ve invested a lot of blood, sweat, tears and years in being a journalist, and to go off into the world without any guarantees is so unlike the me I used to be. But the new me has faith that no matter how this plays itself out, whether it ultimately looks like a success to me or anyone else, is not what’s important. What is important is that I realized that life is far too short to not pursue more of what I love and less of what I’m good at. Life is too short not to take a chance, to step out on faith.

Conditions for taking a leap of faith are not perfect. But they never are when you do something like this. That’s why it’s called a leap of faith. I’m going to have to make real money to pay real bills — an adventue to be sure. But a favorite rhetorical question of mine is “What would you do if you could not fail?” My work on answering that question starts now. I’ve got a plan, but I’m sure what God has in store is better than anything I can imagine.

Because something in my spirit is asking, “What if you take this leap of faith and you are successful beyond your wildest dreams?” There is only one way to find out.

Wish me luck.

— Ricks