The Bugaboo Boxer: Hand-Carry and Check-In Luggage as a Single Contraption

In terms of luggage, there are backpacks with wheels and backpack-duffel combinations. But what if you take two separate suitcases–one with dimensions as a carry-on with the other a full check-in size case–and then join them together?bugaboo

That’s the idea behind the Bugaboo Boxer. It’s basically a modular version of luggage. GQ magazine dubbed it the “Lego of the suitcase world.”

Components

The complete set consists of four parts. The first is the chassis. This is the most crucial part, as you won’t be able to use anything without it. All other parts connect here.

Second is the main big hard-shell case that has a similar size to most check-in luggage, and it has a capacity of 64 litres. It also comes with an inner soft bag to organise your stuff better.

The third component is a smaller case that may be used as carry-on, with a capacity of 30.5 litres it also comes with an inner bag. The last part is a laptop bag.

Functionality

The two back wheels are larger than the two front ones, but all four can spin a full 360-degrees so manoeuvrability and mobility is not an issue. You can push the set or pull it.

Travel + Leisure specifies that the chassis may be folded for easy storage or compartment/cargo transport. The Boxer has no digital parts such as electronic locks or a built-in power supply, putting the emphasis on simplicity.

It’s also lightweight, as the suitcase is made with a polycarbonate material. Though they seem sturdy, their walls are a bit thin so bear that in mind when packing fragile items.

Price

It leans more on the pricey side as far as luggage is concerned, but the Dutch company is known for making high-end baby strollers that have excellent quality and design so the price of the Boxer doesn’t come as a surprise.

The chassis comes at $630, with the laptop bag already included. The main case is priced at $460 and the smaller one is at $400. A complete set will cost you almost $1,500.

Here’s a 2-minute video of the Boxer that shows the things you can do with the complete set (credit: les Accrospecialistes)

Reinventing ideas is part of our society’s ingenuity. Sometimes even if a product or service already works, there are numerous ways to achieve a fresh or a different kind of result.

Take movies for instance. There have been countless reboots, retellings, reimagining. Whatever you call it, that’s essentially reinventing the originally published piece. Superhero films are great examples, like the Batman movies.

Games as well have been reinvented. Slingo for one, which in itself is already a reinvention of slots combined with bingo, have been further modified to create Slingo Extreme, which executes the spins automatically after placing the bets for more fast-paced game sessions. All in all, this has helped inspire all kinds of industries in finding ingenious approaches to standard products and improving customer engagement.

More tangible examples include clothing, with which the process of remodelling and reinventing styles is almost second nature. And of course, the luggage we have here which is the Bugaboo Boxer.
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In short, Bugaboo made sure that their first venture with suitcases was noteworthy. Considering the functionality, portability, and aesthetics of the Boxer, it seems like a pretty nice reinvention.

Walking Calle Ocho with Croquetas and Cafe Cubanos

When I think of Miami, I think of mint green and salmon pink. Mint green curved window balconies, mint green golf carts, mint green storefronts and mint green tank tops. Salmon-colored Spanish-style streets, salmon-colored plates, salmon-colored door frames and bike tires. It comes to mind like photographs, a city on the beach gleaned over with a retro Instagram filter.

There is one place, however, that doesn’t fit into the whole mint-and-pink color scheme. It’s a long stretch of street, aptly named Calle Ocho (because it’s on 8th Street), and is known famously as Little Havana. Calle Ocho isn’t exactly flashy; it doesn’t look a thing like the other Havana; it’s not even pedestrian-friendly, really. Upon first glance, it looks like little more than a regular strip mall, the kind built in the 1960s, without any attention to aesthetic or architectural flair. When I think of Calle Ocho, I don’t think of muted pastels at all—I think, instead, of brilliant turquoise, of canary yellow, of cherry reds and grassy greens. I see murals (in Little Havana, it’s not graffiti), splashed on the walls of the aging American storefronts, murals of women dancing, of Spanish words and phrases, of flowers in bloom and evocative scenes of Havana as it might be, because so many of these artists have not actually been to Cuba in a very long time.

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I went to Calle Ocho in June on the heels of my first trip to the Dominican Republic on a new cruise line called Fathom. It wasn’t your typical kind of cruise: over the course of the week, one of my best friends, Alison, and I had planted baby mangrove trees along a swamp to help with pollution, helped build water filters out of clay and silver for needy families, and played with at-risk children at a summer camp in a small mountain town. Now, we were in Miami for two days—and, because I’ve never tried Cuban food before, I’d signed up for a food tour to do just that.

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The tour started inside Augustín Gainza’s personal art gallery. After I go in and let him know I speak Spanish, he shows me his paintings, many of which depict food customs in Havana in the 1940s. His Havana—the one he so clearly remembers—is stuck in his childhood, as he was born in Havana in 1943 but escaped to the U.S. as a man in his early twenties. He has lived here, in Little Havana, ever since. We chat in Spanish, my gringa Spanish still a little tongue-tied, his a rapid-fire, consonant-swallowing Cuban Spanish, and I ask him if he paints from photographs like Ryan, my husband, sometimes does. Agustín tells me no, never—he paints only from his memories. His work is evocative, reminiscent of Matisse, rendered like a sophisticated child, with lumpy chairs and off-kilter horizon lines. But it is also elegant, depicting taro root and plantain fields, queens of the water, Chinaman working in the sugarcane fields. I love it.

As we have been talking, the other seven participants have entered, awkwardly, as if on the first day of school, wondering if they’ve gone into the right classroom, unsure how to introduce themselves to everyone else. Jennifer, a Miami local who will be our guide for the next two and a half hours as we walk in and out of Calle Ocho together, walks in the door, and I wonder: Am I going to be tasting Havana as it once was, or will this be Havana as it is? Or, has Little Havana evolved into its own evocation of memory and, in turn, come into its own?

  1. Medianoche:

    a pressed sandwich, cousin of the Cuban, with soft challah bread instead of a baguette; eaten at midnight in bars in Havana

We start with picadillo empanadas. Our server brings them out, piled up on a plate, still steaming. Inside is sofrito, a hearty mix of ground beef, peppers, onions, cumin, and oregano, tomato sauce, green olives, and a bay leaf. As we eat, we introduce ourselves—there’s me, travel writer with her notebook out and camera around her neck, a single mom from Miami who just wanted to try some new food, a young recently-graduated couple from Brooklyn who work in international relations, a French couple, who are also journalists, and a couple on vacation with a basically newborn baby. As we eat our empanadas, we talk about what brought us here: wanting to write stories about Cuban food, wanting to try Cuban food, wanting to see a different part of Miami, etc. We all share our favorite foods.

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Then comes out the medianoche, a sandwich sliced diagonally on what looks like flatbread. Jennifer tells us it’s called the “midnight sandwich” because it used to be a popular food to serve at midnight in Havana nightclubs. Though it’s not beans (another food I loathe!), I’m a little nervous about this one, because I know what it’s buttered with: yellow mustard. And I hate yellow mustard. From what I’ve read, to make a medianoche, the sweet Challah bread is swabbed in mustard, filled with roast pork, sliced ham, and slices of Swiss cheese, and topped with mini dill pickles. It’s usually served atop a plate of tiny slivered French fries.

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So, it’s down to me and mustard. I know I’ve got to hold up my fearless travel writer self, and so, holding my breath, I pick it up and take a big bite. All I taste is mustard—that awful, smelly, freakishly yellow stuff—but I smile, say “mmm” like everyone else, and swallow.

Then I basically run back to my picadillo empanada, my sofrito and puffed pastry respite.

  1. Croquetas and café Cubano:

    where you eat small fried croquettes out of a window and drink small, thumb-sized coffee that has more caffeine in it than a large cup of American drip coffee

Our next stop is a window, literally. Here, though, it’s called a ventanilla (“little window”) and the idea is easy: since there are no food trucks here, people pop by little ventanillas to grab easy-to-eat bites like croquettes, coffee, empanadas, and other finger foods. Jennifer takes a large round tray filled with little fried ovals and tiny plastic cups from the woman behind the window and passes them around. We much on the croquetas de jamón first, little fried bits made of a kind of “ham paste.”

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“These are pretty classic snack foods,” Jennifer says, “but this is my favorite thing in the whole world.” She nods at the row of dark-colored drink in the little glasses. “It’s café Cubano.” Café Cubano, apparently, is a type of thick espresso that originated on the streets in Cuba after espresso machines were first imported there from Italian immigrants. What makes it unique, though, is the stream of sugar the Cubans pour into it as its being brewed.

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“You can have it with a little bit of steamed milk,” Jennifer tells us as we all tip our cups and take the shot of espresso in one sip. “That’s called a cortadito.” The ratio is either 50/50 or 75/25 espresso to milk, and it always comes pre-sweetened with sugar.

When you taste café Cubano, you’ll see exactly what I mean. It’s candy disguised as coffee.

  1. Mojito:

    a mint-infused cocktail that reminds me of my first travels and of tropical islands

Normally, I wouldn’t swing from super-strong espresso to an alcoholic beverage in the time it takes me to cross the street, but today, that’s exactly what we do. We go from the ventanilla to a well-established bar across the street called Ball & Chain—a place that, in its heyday, featured such national acts as Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, and Chet Baker. Its storied past, too, evokes the same kind of odd nostalgia that this whole area has: during its first 25-year run (after it opened in 1935), the place was often filled with bootleggers, gamblers, felons, and artists, meaning that its music acts—mostly jazz and blues musicians—filled the clubs every night. It reopened in 2014, with new owners committed to restoring the glory of the early Little Havana nights.

Inside, there is a live drum band and a Cuban man in a hat shaking maracas and dancing in a circle. He’s also wearing his sunglasses, but I can’t figure out why—not only is he inside, but he’s inside a dark bar.

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We order a round of mojitos, drink them quickly, and imagine what it would be like to be here at night, amidst both criminality and greatness.

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  1. Pastelito guayabo:

    sweet guava-filled puffed pastry, served in workplaces on Fridays to celebrate the start to the weekend

Our next stop is to an unassuming bakery, where we munch on fresh guava pastries.

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The walls are bare and the Challah bread is wrapped up in paper with Cuban flags printed on them. Jennifer tells us that people often serve pastries like this on Friday afternoons. I stuff an extra pastelito in my purse for Alison, who’s back at our hotel working on her novel. I know she’s going to love it.

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  1. Sugarcane juice:

    in which you drink the world’s natural sweetener, all on its own

From our brief stop at the ventanilla, I knew Cubans liked sugar, but I did not know they liked it so much that they drink pure glasses of it. Here, in a frutería filled to the brim with boxes of plantains, guavas, mangoes, papayas, pineapples, mamey, and sugarcane stalks, we watch as the man behind the counter pushes the long grassy stalks through a machine and turns them into sugar water.

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He fills each glass with ice and pours the sweet liquid into each one. The drink, called guayapo frío, is a pineapple-yellow color, foamy on top. Its sweet (no surprises there) but not in the way I imagined: it’s sweet in a generous, natural way, like water that has been tinged with a light agave syrup might.

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As we sit outside in the shade and sip our drinks, I think about how strange it is that I’m exploring Calle Ocho with seven people I’ve never met. We’re sharing this intimate experience of eating new foods together—one of the true joys of life—and yet, I don’t really know anything about any of them.. We’ve all fractured back into our original partnerships (if we had them) and those of us who are here by ourselves talk about our travels, our favorite foods, and where we want to visit next.

  1. Abuela María ice cream:

    to cleanse the palate, a guava, cream cheese, and cookie ice cream does just the trick

We come to the end of our time together at an ice cream shop. Jennifer mentions we might want to try the Abuela María, a Cuban ice cream flavor made from vanilla, guava chunks, cream cheese, and galletas María, crunchy sweet butter crackers. The line is literally out the door, so as we wait, I watch the people around me: young Cuban families, young American families, foreign students all wearing backpacks with their school’s logo on it, college-aged students, and couples. They are all here, like me, for the very same reason.

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Because we all love ice cream.

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There’s something magical that happens around food—no doubt about that—and even more when you experience it like window-shopping, trying individually-sized samples along a historic street that runs for 12 city blocks in Miami.

I get back to my hotel and give Alison her pastry. As I suspected, the restaurants, cafés, and window shops in Little Havana are not just a piece of history. They are continuing to make their mark, every time one of us takes a bite.

© Miami Culinary Food Tours
© Miami Culinary Food Tours

Yours in travel,

Kristin

In case you’re interested, we visited the following restaurants in Calle Ocho during our 2.5 hour food tour: El Pub Restaurant, Exquisito Restaurant, Ball and Chain Restaurant, Yisell Bakery, Los Pinarenos Fruteria, and Azucar Ice Cream. All are on SW 8th Street in Little Havana in Miami, Florida. The Miami Culinary Tour – Little Havana Food Tour is $59/person and includes all food and drinks.

Special thanks to Fathom Cruises and to Miami Culinary Food Tours for sponsoring my trip to the Dominican Republic and, respectively, the aforementioned food tour. All opinions are, of course, the author’s own.

Bathing Suits & Boots in the Dominican Republic

I’m no stranger to volunteering or public service. After all, I’m a teacher. But the next adventure I’m about to have is making me think about why I’ve dedicated my life to service–to teaching others, to doing good work in my community and my university, to engaging my students in community activism projects that promote social justice, the good work of non-profits, and the value of connecting across academic and public spaces.

Since I started teaching, I’ve been doing all kinds of advocacy work, getting my students and me involved in literary projects, immigrant and refugee centers, and no-kill cat shelters, setting up writing partnerships with at-risk high school students, and helping generate writing materials for startup nonprofits. It’s one of the most rewarding and meaningful kind of experiential work we can do as writing teachers–to take our talents and bring them to the world.

For instance, here we are this past semester, reading books to kindergarteners in downtown San Pedro, Los Angeles.

My students and I volunteering at a Los Angeles elementary school
My students and I volunteering at a Los Angeles elementary school

Yet, I realize that even as I’m writing this, there’s another side to me.

At the end of the day, I’m not just a public servant–I’m also a die-hard, unabashedly selfish travel writer bent on seeing as much of the world as she possibly can. I’d give up a class in a minute for a trip to Israel; I’d put aside grading if inspiration hits and I have to bang out the stirrings of an idea for a new travel essay; I’d rearrange my summer to accommodate for a trip (actually, I just did that).

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Floating down the Danube in Serbia two weeks ago

It’s not lost on me that these are selfish things, but there’s also a part of me that whispers, timidly, that knowing these things doesn’t make me a bad person. I don’t have to dedicate myself to others all the time; after all, my heart needs to flutter every once in a while, too. And I’m still at a point in my life where I can do these things, where my freelance career, my teaching career, and my personal life have aligned ever-so-perfectly for these months so as to allow me a little time to heal from a spectacularly bad professional year and and to come to grips with the fact that, come end of summer, I’ll be moving–and starting all over–again, on the other side of the country.

So, public servant and traveler. In the past, I have traveled in ways that stroke both of these egos, teaching English in Colombia, working with international students in Malta, shopping only at local markets and buying local handmade goods. But I have never done it short-term; I have never taken a trip that emphasizes volunteering. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know if it works.

On the one hand, I’m thinking through the ethics of travel (ALL THE TIME), grappling with whether or not we as “gazers” can “gaze” without exoticizing another, and at the same time, I’m coming around to the idea that travel is often a joyous act. I don’t want to feel guilty for loving it. I want to feel invigorated by speaking about it, by asking questions about it, by participating in it as fully and completely as I can, with open eyes and an open heart. I want to share the messiness and beauty of meeting others, of experiencing new ways of being and living, with my world, because I believe it is crucial for us to have these conversations.

So that’s the question I’m asking myself today. Can combining public service and travel work short-term? Can I eat a ton of really delicious food on a cruise ship and then build a concrete floor?

Carnival Cruises’ newest project, the Fathom line, believes I can. Next week, I’m taking one of my best friends–grad school roommie, fellow writer, and traveling partner-in-crime Alison–to find out.

Alison and I have met in 2008 when she moved to Tucson, and since then, we’ve traveled all over the Southwest together, hiked all over a bunch of mountains, swam in seas and oceans, met up on the East and West coasts on more than one occasion, and headed down to Mexico in our cars with nothing but an Airbnb reservation and a vague idea of where we were going. Our husbands co-wrote their first book together. We’ve done a lot of cool stuff together.

So, I knew she’d be the perfect person to take along. (Plus, we’re supposed to keep each other on our summer writing schedules….we’ll see how well we stick to it when the beach beckons us;)).

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Alison and I hanging out in our beach hats in Mexico

Fathom’s Intended Mission

In this, their inaugural season, Fathom has set up journeys to both the Dominican Republic and Cuba (both sailing out of Miami) in the hopes of blending the surreal and temporary life of cruising with the harsh realities of life in the parts of the Caribbean past the golden sands and turquoise waters through something they call “impact travel.” Of course, I’m no stranger to the different sides of the “voluntourism” debate, the one that questions the ways that identity, privilege, class, and race intersect in complicated ways when white Westerners go to places of color and try to “save” them. I’ve talked with friends around the world who have been the “recipients” of said programs, who’ve experienced how terrible it feels to see tourists come in, work for a few days, take a bunch of photographs of them, and then leave feeling good because they believe they’ve made a difference.

So what is Fathom doing differently?

Here’s what they say on their website: 

“Every Fathom journey is based on our sincere belief that the person-to-person connection is among the strongest catalysts for transformation. What sets Fathom apart is the long-term, systematic partnership approach with its partner countries paired with the unique business model that allows for sustained impact and lasting development.”

Their formula is People + Passion + Partnership = Enduring Social Impact. The site goes on to state that participants will “work side by side with local residents (my emphasis) in existing programs that focus on improving the lives of children, families and communities.” This interested me, especially the use of the preposition “with” and the focus on collaboration with “existing programs.” There was no mention of “saving,” of “poor people,” and there were no exploitative photographs of people of color being stood over by white people. But who were these local partners and these existing organizations?

On the “Meet Our Partners” page, there are links to the two lead impact partners, Entrena and IDDI, two nonprofit organizations that work exclusively in the Dominican Republic to enhance local well-being and social projects. I looked up both websites, and here’s what I learned:

Fathom’s Partners: Entrena & IDDI

Recently, Entrena, who has been in existence for 25 years, has hosted students from Texas A&M who are working on global heath initiatives, held employment fairs for local youth through the Alerta Joven (At-Risk Youth Project), funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), hosted summer camps for young children of refugee and expatriate families in Caribbean nations, and partnered with the Major League Baseball Association to create a program called MLB en la Comunidad that is focused on improving the lives of Dominican youth who hope to become baseball players. Their projects have generated 30 million dollars in sustainable development for the Dominican Republic, a number that seems very impressive to me. I clicked around some more and learned that the organization was started by John Seibel, a Peace Corps volunteer after he spent time living and working in the Dominican Republic in the early 1970s, and that Entrena is now run by both he and his wife, Sobeya. On their staff page, too, I noticed something else I particularly liked: they not only list bios and photos of their office workers, but they also feature their drivers and concierge staff. Too often these critical members of an organization do not get recognized, but on Entrena’s site, their names and bodies are included.

The other main partner, IDDI, el Instituto Dominicano de Desarrollo Integral, only has a website in Spanish, so I’ll sum up what I read for those of you who don’t speak Spanish. The Instituto was started in 1984 as a nonprofit dedicated to “amortiguar la pobreza tanto en las zonas rurales como urbanas,” or, eliminating Dominican poverty in both rural and urban areas. Roughly translated, their mission is similar to Entrena, in that they wish to contribute to the well-being of Dominican society by creating new opportunities, promoting dialogue across constituencies and create long-lasting social change, to identify and tackle not only problems but find their underlying causes, and to create a space where people can live productively and creativity. Their projects and partnerships are generally focused in the areas of public health, climate change, sustainability, biodiversity, youth, and humanitarian aid, and their website highlights plenty of these projects and how they’ve met (or are still working on) their goals.

These are organizations I can get behind. In fact, I’ve already starting thinking: How can I get my students involved in these projects next year, too?

Where We’re Headed

Over the course of a week, we’ll be cruising out from Miami, spending 4 days in the Dominican Republic, and then cruising back. Here’s the map as it appears on Fathom’s website:

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Voyage map – from Miami to the DR to Miami

During the days we’re cruising, we’ll be doing things cruisers do–attending lectures, sunning ourselves, taking yoga classes, and eating…a lot. Fathom serves small servings of local, sustainable food, which makes me happy, as I’ve never been comfortable with the amount of waste generated on the bigger cruise ships. The Adonia holds about 700 people, so it’s still going to be the biggest cruise ship I’ve ever been on.

Projects I’m Signed Up For

Every traveler can sign up for three “impact activities,” or day excursions that are focused on health, education, or business. Since I’m already a teacher, I decided against working with children or volunteering to practice English with students and instead chose activities that I thought would be both thought-provoking to me and helpful to the community.

On their website, they offer a sample itinerary, and it looks a little something like this:

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Here’s what we’ve chosen to do with our mornings:

Cacao and Women’s Chocolate Cooperative

This local women’s cooperative is actively involved in the cultivation of organic chocolate (cacao) plants, an important source of income for the Puerto Plata region. We’ll be spending the day working on the complete production cycle, from planting and cultivating the organic cacao trees, to preparing the raw materials, to producing and packaging the final product for sale. Fathom’s website states that by participating in this project, we can contribute toward helping hire more local women and providing critical income in a region with limited employment opportunities.

Concrete Floors in Community Homes

In the homes of poorer communities, the common basic dirt floors are a genuine health risk. They pick up dust during the dry season and retain dampness and puddles in the rainy season. And they’re impossible to clean, which means that anything spilled on the floor or tracked into the house, however unhygienic, tends to stay put.

Every month, homes in a different small area of a community will be chosen to be upgraded with new concrete floors. There are also plenty of other tasks at hand: painting the house, fixing broken furniture, cleaning and improving the outside surroundings, making improvements to common areas in the community, or planting fruit trees as part of a beautification effort that can also provide long-term nutritional benefits. The overall project will also include the addition of latrines and mosquito screens to reduce the prevalence of waste-borne and mosquito-borne diseases. Fathom’s website states that we’ll be working alongside the homeowners and other members of the surrounding community, including children and teenagers, helping them create surroundings they’ll be proud to maintain and take care of.

Water Filter Production

One solution already being implemented is the production and distribution of clay water filters, which mean far fewer children and adults will miss school or work due to water-borne illnesses. On this day, we will help out with the entire filter-making process: gathering and mixing the raw materials, working the clay, shaping and firing the filters, testing the quality of the finished product, and distributing the finished filters to needy families.

Thoughts So Far?

I’m pretty excited. For one thing, I get to spend a week on a new cruise line and I get to spend a week with one of my best friends. (Though, seriously, we could be hanging out in the kitchen cooking dinner and it would be amazing). We’ll have our afternoons and evenings free to explore, so I’m hoping to squeeze in some city touring, some waterfalls and some hiking, and some local restaurants.

More than that, though, I’ll get to meet some new people, eat some good food, do some interesting work, help out where I can, and see more of Puerto Plata than just those heart-stopping sandy white beaches. I’m hoping to make some lasting connections with the organizations Fathom is working with and set up a service project for my students next year.

Have any of you been to the Dominican Republic? Can you share any tips or must-sees for me?

Yours in travel,

Kristin

Come join me in the DR! Booking a Fathom cruise is super easy and they’re offering amazing deals for their inaugural season. I don’t get a commission or anything if you book with them, but I thought I’d include the link in case you were interested, too!

How I Packed for Two Weeks in Eastern Europe in a Carry-On

This post is inspired by a lively discussion I had on Facebook the other day after telling my friends that I’d challenged myself to pack for a two-week Eastern European Viking river cruise in nothing but my 19-inch Delsey Chatelet carry-on. In the spirit of sharing, here’s exactly how I did it.

In other words, here’s how to cram 52 items into a carry-on that’s about the size of my cat (photo evidence below).

The Items

To begin with, I needed to actually think through my itinerary, something I rarely do when I travel (I know, I know…). My usual process is to dump a bunch of clothes I like wearing into a suitcase and then sit on the poor overstuffed thing to try and zip it up. Anyone who knows me personally knows this to be true.

So for this trip, I looked at the average weather in each country I’d be visiting – Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, and Hungary – and then thought about what I’d actually be doing there. Temps would be ranging from a chilly 55 to a balmy 89. Because I was traveling with Viking, I knew I’d be doing a lot of walking on the city tours, so I knew I’d need some city-appropriate clothes with sleeves (for cathedrals, synagogues, and the like). I’d also signed up for a couple of excursions to the Croatian and Bulgarian countrysides, too, so I knew I’d need some comfortable, warm-weather clothes with good hiking shoes. From past experience, I also knew I wouldn’t need a lot of formal clothes or high heels, as the dress code tends to be incredibly informal on river cruises.

I perused my closet and decided on a color scheme: monochromatic with a splash of pink. Why pink? Who knows…I pulled out a pink top with polka dots and thought it’d be cute for a city walk, so I decided to base things around that.

Then, the hard part: anything that didn’t match this color scheme didn’t make the cut. Here’s everything, laid out, so you can see exactly how everything fit together. As you can see, I could pair any shirt with any pair of pants and any pair of shoes. Four splashes of pink helped to “lighten up” the greys, blacks, and blues.

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This was my master list:

  • 2 jackets – one jean and one faux leather
  • 2 pairs of pants – blue jeans & light khakis
  • 1 pair of yoga pants
  • 2 pairs of shorts – blue jeans & khakis
  • 3 dresses – one cocktail dress, one sundress, one t-shirt dress
  • 2 cotton cardigans – black & blue
  • 1 sweatshirt
  • 1 sweater
  • 1 long-sleeved shirt
  • 6 short-sleeved shirts
  • 2 spaghetti-strap undershirts
  • 1 silk bathrobe
  • 1 infinity scarf
  • 1 romper
  • 1 bathing suit
  • 4 pairs of shoes – ballet flats, nice sandals, hiking sandals, flat tennis shoes
  • 13 pairs of underwear
  • 5 pairs of socks
  • 3 bras – 2 regular, one sports

And here’s how I got it all into a 19-inch carry-on.

The Process

The first thing I did was use a small packing cube (thanks to my friend Molly who let me borrow one of hers!) to roll up all my t-shirts:

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Then, I folded my shorts in half and put them on top of the t-shirts:

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The next step was to start putting items into my actual suitcase. I folded my dresses in half and laid them in the bottom of the flat side of the suitcase and put the packing cube on top. Then, I filled the rest of the space up with black ballet flats and the two undershirts:

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Then, I moved over to the other side. Because there’s a locking mechanism and two poles running down the length of the suitcase, this side is a little trickier. I started by rolling up my pants and cardigans and lined the sides with those. In the middle, I folded my sweaters. On the outer edges, I rolled up the romper and the bathrobe. Once everything was in, I peppered the socks around the edges wherever there was room.

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Then, I folded up the jean jacket and laid it flat on top of everything. All the underwear, bras, and bathing suit went into the zipper pouch on the other side. I left out the other jacket, the scarf, the yoga pants, a black t-shirt, and the tennis shoes–I wore all of this stuff on the plane.

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The last step was to toss in my hairbrush, makeup bag, and toiletry kit. I knew from sailing with Viking before that I wouldn’t need a hair dryer (thank goodness, as I have no idea how I would have fit that in here), so I found it pretty easy to cram all the bathroom stuff in there.

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Then, all I had to do was zip it up.

Voila!

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The End Result?

Overall?

AMAZING. I NEVER, EVER thought that 1) I could be so discerning and well-planned with my packing, or 2) that I could pack that much stuff into one tiny suitcase. I used almost everything–the romper never made it out, sadly–and I was really happy that I’d brought two jackets and a couple different kinds of tops. Because Viking is a really casual cruise, I knew I wouldn’t need a lot of fancy clothes, so I really cut back on the “nice stuff” this time around. As I suspected, I only needed one nice cocktail dress for my aloha dinner with Ryan in Budapest.

Was it a perfect list?

Not completely. I would do a couple of things differently next time. For one thing, I’d bring an extra pair of jeans, as it was cooler than I thought it would be and ended up wearing those jeans probably eight or nine out of twelve days. I’d also bring more underwear, just so I’d have a few extra pairs, and would probably leave the bathrobe at home (I only wore it a couple of times on lazy mornings in our cabin). Also, I’d probably take out one cardigan and add in two more t-shirts to give a little more variety to what I wore on top. Things were feeling a little repetitive by day ten….

Anyway, thanks to Delsey, I think it’s safe to say I’ve changed the way I pack forever. No more cramming a million clothes that I think I *might* need into a giant suitcase that will almost always weigh more than 50 pounds, leaving me tossing out items at the last minute at the airport. Those days are SO over. From now on, it’s lightweight traveling for me!

(Here’s me at the Hilton Budapest, wearing the same outfit I flew over in!)

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Also, as a side note, I think two little furry guys in my life were pretty happy to see me get home yesterday. This is Giuseppe and Luigi 😀

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Do you have any packing tips that have worked for you? I’d love to hear them!!

Yours in travel,

Kristin

 

Why I’m Spending Two Weeks in Eastern Europe

Try it: Tell the next five people you meet that you’re going to be spending two weeks in Eastern Europe this summer and see what they say.

You’ll probably hear that Budapest is supposed to be nice. Or that coastal Croatia is just as beautiful as its other Mediterranean neighborhoods and still super cheap. You’ll probably hear some jokes about goulash.

Yeah…that’s exactly why I’m going to Eastern Europe.

Last year, I whetted my appetite for the post-Soviet world, spending two wonderful weeks exploring Russia with my mom and getting to know a part of the world that, for a long time, had been completely shrouded in mystery to me. It was exhilarating. During those two weeks, my mom and I discovered how onion domes are made, how devoted to the arts and literature Russians really are, and how complicated the everyday lives are for people who live, day in and day out, under Vladimir Putin’s rule. We saw the commingling of Communist-era blocs—homes still owned and lived in by the families who were given free housing back in the 70s—and we saw the intense contrast between that world and the elaborate palaces, cathedrals, and summer homes of the Romanovs. We visited the island of Kizhi and witnessed a cathedral that was built in the 1700s completely out of interlocking wood pieces –no nails or glue of any kind. We sat outside at midnight under the large, low sun and imagined what it must be like to try and sleep during Russia’s white nights if you don’t have pitch-black curtains. We took a little boat down the canals of St. Petersburg, and we wandered the cosmopolitan streets of Moscow.

More than anything else, our trip broke, reinforced, and fractured every stereotype I had about Russia (except the whole “polar bears on the streets of Moscow” thing …sadly it was 70 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny). Just like the United States, Russians, too, find themselves in a globally powerful country that politically doesn’t always jive with their interests, and most of them want to be heard, understood, and respected.

I’ve been thinking about it all year. With every article I wrote about my trip, I realized that I wanted to know more—I wanted to learn more about what life was (and is) like in the countries and societies that were also affected by Russia and by Communist rule. I wanted to meet more people, hear their stories, and better understand a part of history that is still so elusive to me.

Basically, I wanted to see more of Eastern Europe.

And what better way than to sail with Viking again? One of the best parts about taking trips with Viking is that you really can cover a good bit of ground—and you’re surrounded by experts who live and work in the countries you’re visiting. After Russia, I felt like I had such a deeper and more profound understanding of the culture there because I could ask questions and talk to our tour guides about their own experiences. Plus, they held a few “round-table” sessions where we could come and ask questions about education, housing, politics, and anything else that was on our minds. People did come, and they asked hard questions. The tour guides were ready for all of them and answered each query honestly and openly.

Plus, Viking’s philosophy is centered around three different kinds of immersion experiences:

  • Culture & leisure (such as attending Swan Lake at the Hermitage Theatre in St. Petersburg)
  • Work & everyday life (such as attending a cooking class or visiting the home of someone who lives in the community)
  • Access to points of cultural or historical interest (such as a privately-curated tour of the Peterof Palace)

I looked through the itineraries online and quickly decided on the one that would be most beneficial to me:

Passage to Eastern Europe

The 11-day cruise covers 5 countries, including Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, and Hungary. It offers a number of offshore excursions, too, that sound like they would really give me a diversity of perspectives on life in both the city and countryside. I signed up right away.

map

Then, I went to the store, bought a card, scribbled a note to my husband about how much I wanted to celebrate the beginning of our new chapter together (more on our spectacularly crappy professional year later), and I invited him to join me. He opened the card and looked at me in the way he always looks at me when I’ve concocted up a new way for us to travel together. He could see that my eyes were sparkling in a mix of anticipation and excitement.

“Yes,” he said. “Let’s do it.”

So here we are. We leave tomorrow morning for our long voyage to Hungary. Once we’re there, we’ll spend a few days at the Radisson Blu Hotel Bucharest (sounds swanky…I hope they have those fluffy terrycloth bathrobes and slippers!), and then we’ll hit the Danube for our cruise.

In case you’re considering a trip to Eastern Europe, here’s the scoop on where we’ll be headed and what my plans are while I’m there. Keep in mind that I’ve crammed in a couple of side trips/journo stuff for my own writing (you wouldn’t necessarily be interviewing a Magyar horseman, investigating the history of paprika as a colonial food, or visiting Memento Park to see gigantic Soviet-Era statues….well, you might be, in which case, let me know!).

Here’s the lowdown on where we’re headed.

ROMANIA (Days 1-2)

The first leg of our journey will be two days in Bucharest, Romania’s cultural capital. From what I can tell, Bucharest seems to be relatively underrated as a tourist destination, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In our first two days, we’re going to check out the French-style boulevards, public gardens (I have heard marvelous things about the Bucharest Botanical Gardens), and visit a few of the city’s palaces. We’ll be spending an afternoon in the historic Lipscani district, which, from what I can tell, is a European beauty—full of cobblestone streets, boutique inns, art galleries, and shops and restaurants.

Flickr/Costel Slincu
Flickr/Costel Slincu
Flickr/Dennis Jarvis
Flickr/Dennis Jarvis

We’ll also be checking out a few of Bucharest’s tourist “hot spots:” the monastery where Prince Vlad is rumored to have been buried, and the Palace of the Parliament, which is said to contain over 3,000 rooms. Now that’s a house.

BULGARIA (Day 3-4)

Our first stop will be the town of Russe, Bulgaria, otherwise known as Eastern Europe’s “Little Vienna” for its historically critical port, mash-up of neo-baroque, neo-rococo, and Renaissance architecture, and its relaxed, European waterfront lifestyle.

Flickr/Dennis Jarvis
Flickr/Dennis Jarvis
Flickr/Dennis Jarvis
Flickr/Dennis Jarvis

We’ve signed up for a day trip to Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanasi, two medieval towns renowned for their handicrafts and local artist colonies. We’ll have coffee at a rooftop café in Veliko Tarnovo, overlooking the Old Town, explore Samovodska Charshia (one of the art districts) and visit castle ruins. Then, we’ll head to Arbanasi, where we’ll have lunch and meet with a merchant who makes products out of the essence of roses.

I’m not sure we’ll have time for the Russe City Walking Tour, but if we do, it will take us to the old city center and to a couple of museums, including the Museum of History (which houses over 140,000 artifacts—I can’t to dig into the archives on some of these objects!) and the Ethnographic Museum, which houses objects and artifacts related to people’s everyday lives in historical Bulgaria.

The next day, we’re planning on heading to the Belogradchik Rocks, a trip which will no doubt inspire the archaelogist inside me. The Rocks are not only a geological wonder, the result of millennia of erosion, freezing, and weathering, but they are also home to the Ottoman-built Belogradchik Fortress—a maze of rooms built into the cliffs.

Flickr/Klearchos Kapoutsis
Flickr/Klearchos Kapoutsis
Flickr/Klearchos Kapoutsis
Flickr/Klearchos Kapoutsis

IRON GATE (Day 5)

Today, I think we’re just sailing through the Iron Gate, an area renowned as one of Europe’s most stunning natural gorges. We’ll see the Carpathian Mountains on one side and the Balkan Mountains on the other.

Flickr/Byron Howes
Flickr/Byron Howes
Flickr/Byron Howes
Flickr/Byron Howes
Flickr/Byron Howes
Flickr/Byron Howes

SERBIA (Day 6)

Today will be devoted to exploring Belgrade, described by Lonely Planet as “outspoken, adventurous, proud, and audacious” (sounds a lot like the kind of person I’d want to hang out with) with a “gritty exuberance” (where do they find these adjectives?!). We’re planning on taking a city tour and then hopefully catching at least a happy hour. I mean, if we’re going to be in one of the world’s hottest places for nightlife, we have to at least have a Serbian cocktail, right?

Flickr/Blok 70
Flickr/Blok 70
Flickr/George M. Groutas
Flickr/George M. Groutas

CROATIA (Day 7)

Now, it’s really too bad that I can’t skip away for a day or two and head to the Mediterranean coast of Croatia, but I’m actually kind of excited about where we are going: Osijek. I don’t know exactly what this excursion will entail, but we’re planning on visiting a family and then walking along the promenade on the Drava River. I’m imagining a relatively relaxing day in this small Croatian village—which is perfectly fine with me.

Flickr/Martin Alvarez Espinar
Flickr/Martin Alvarez Espinar

HUNGARY (Days 8-11)

To be honest, Hungary is one of those countries I’ve wanted to visit since I was a little girl, and I don’t know exactly why. Maybe because I always laughed about the name—how could a country share a name with my language’s word for wanting to eat?!—but also because I’ve always heard such magnificent things about Budapest, the country’s capital. Our journey will end here, in Hungary, a place I am so excited to meet.

We’ll begin our three days in Kalocsa, a place I’ve learned is not only where the majority of the world’s paprika is harvested, but also where the Hungarian Puszta, a community devoted to preserving a non-motorized world and who get around on horseback, live, work, and play. I’m hoping to interview one of the horsemen before or after their show (which is rumored to be both acrobatic, artful, and death-defying) but I’m not sure we’ll be able to communicate with each other. I’ll have my Google Translate app with me, but it’s not always so easy to do an interview when you’re both typing into a smartphone what you’d really like to say. But we’ll see—I really want to learn more about their attitudes against motorized transport and modernity.

Flickr/Espino Family
Flickr/Espino Family
Flickr/Espino Family
Flickr/Espino Family

Our last two days will be in the lovely city of Budapest. We’ll hop on a city tour one day and head to a Roman thermal bath, but the rest of our time in Hungary will be spent running around trying to fit in all the places I’m writing about. Though I don’t know exactly how I’ll get there yet, I’m planning on finding Memento Park, where, according to their delightful website, the “ghosts of Communist Dictatorship” live. The park is basically an open-air museum where, after the fall of Communism, people dumped a whole bunch of gigantic Communist statues. I can’t wait to see this place.

Flickr/Moyan Brenn
Flickr/Moyan Brenn
Flickr/Moyan Brenn
Flickr/Moyan Brenn
Flickr/Moyan Brenn
Flickr/Moyan Brenn

I’m also interested in visiting the Central Hall Market, which I’ve heard from some other travel writing friends is a photographer’s dream. Because of my nerdy interest in public spaces and rhetoric in the world, I’m also trying to fit in a trip to the For Sale Pub, a bar that encourages drinkers to leave their words on the walls, floors, chairs, and ceilings. They can leave their “personal advertisements” anywhere they like. It sounds magical, and weird, and the perfect place for me.

With that, then, I’m going to start packing. Typing these words has started making my heart flutter just a little bit faster…oh, travel, how you ignite my soul, time and time again.

If you’ve been to Eastern Europe and have any tips for me, please leave a note for me here or get in touch with me on social media! I can’t wait to share this journey.

Yours in travel,

Kristin

All photographs from Flickr’s Creative Commons. I thank them for their generosity and I hope my photos turn out just as beautifully!

I’m excited to be traveling to Eastern Europe with Viking River Cruises on their 2016 Passage to Eastern Europe cruise from Bucharest to Budapest.