Travel Tips – Airports, Planes, and Cabs

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I used to travel quite a bit, and there’s some lessons that carry over and stay with you after you do the cab-security-plane routine a few dozen times. Here’s my top bits of advice:

Airport Security:

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  • Wear easy-to-remove flats with boat socks (that way it’s still stylish, but also hygenic).
  • Avoid belts. Small jewelry and watches are usually ok to leave on though.
  • Personally, I also avoid going through any of the security scanners. I’ve heard the large gray, cylindrical body scanners are alright (use radio waves), but the big blue ones that you stand between use X-rays. Even if TSA claims they’re safe, you need to protect yourself and do what feels comfortable for you. I always opt-out for the pat-down (it is generally more time-consuming, but at least less radiation). Or, be on the lookout for a line with the metal detector instead of the scanner.

On-board the Plane:

Prepare for the two truths of any plane ride – 1) it’ll be freezing COLD at some point, and 2) it’ll be DRY as a desert for pretty much the entire time.

To mitigate these, I do the following:

  • Wear a coat / scarf onboard. Seriously, unless you’re somehow immune to sitting still in a T-shirt in 60-degrees, be prepared. Blankets are too bulky to carry imo and generally less warmth-generating than a good old peacoat and a thick scarf.
  • Carry a thick lotion and chapstick in your carry-on bag and make sure to keep it on you. I slather it on during takeoff. My creams of choice:

Shiseido - White Lucent Brightening Protective Cream SPF 15

Shiseido White Lucent SPF 15 day cream – good for daytime travels. This stuff feels too greasy for me normally, but it’s PERFECT for dry flights. Trust me.

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The Body Shop Vitamin E Intense Moisture cream – I use this for evening flights

  • Order hot water and set it on your seat – not that helpful, but a little steam is better than nothing. I’ve heard of portable humidifiers, but haven’t tried any out yet.

  • Get a coconut water – maybe personal preference, but I think it’s more hydrating than plain water. I usually pick up a bottle at the airport. Another good option is rooibos tea, which you can get from any Starbucks.
  • Bring something productive to do – even though the ride makes me tired, I’m still generally much more focused on work while on a plane, since there’s nothing else to do but sit there. I would recommend you take something that you’ve been putting off for a while. Better too if it’s non-electronic so you don’t need to turn it off during takeoff and landings.

Cabbing

For those new to the art of cabs, I know they can be intimidating at first, and usually still annoying after you get used to them. Here’s my tips:

  • Use cash. It’s safer (you never know which driver will try to rip your number off, especially if they have those rub-on credit card readers), it’s faster, and drivers definitely prefer it.
  • Find out what car services have better rates in your area. For Seattle, I’m pretty sure Eastside is the best ($25 flat from airport to Downtown; a regular yellow cab will cost you almost $50).
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Runyon Canyon Park in Hollywood

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If you enjoy hikes / scenery, a quick hike at Runyon Canyon Park in Hollywood is highly recommended. This is along the same range as the Hollywood sign, but a couple mountains over. Apparently a buzz place for celebrities as well.20130106_144036 Making it to the top will reward you with sweeping views of Downtown LA, the Hollywood sign, and general prettiness. It was starting to drizzle when I went up, and you can distantly see a rainbow in the middle of the above picture.20130106_142941

You can try finding street parking in the residential neighborhoods nearby, which I lucked out on. There’s everything from a steep ascent to a gradual incline that twists up, so you can pick what you’re in the mood for.

2012 Favorite Things

Whew, this year was eventful but still feels like it flew by. Time now to share my favorites of 2012, including everything from cosmetics to food and film:

Favorite eye cream: Mario Badescu Hyaluronic Eye Cream

Hyaluronic Eye Cream

I have dry skin, especially around the eyes, which is the one area I’m most cautious with. I’ve tried numerous products, from Lancome’s eye serum to Shiseido’s bioperformance, but most still leave my eyes feeling dry at night. This is my favorite, and I think is a pretty good deal at $18 for a generously sized container.

Favorite fragrance: Chanel Chance Eau Tendre

Chance Eau Tendre CHANCE EAU TENDRE

I’ve tried more fragrances than I can remember this year, but the one I continually return to is this. It’s one of those scents that never gets overpowering or redundant for me. I personally love the light sweetness of it, and my only wish is that the bottle was a bit more interesting.

Favorite facial moisturizer: Tarte Maracuja Oil

pure maracuja oil -

This is actually a new product trial for me, but so far it’s been fantastic. I’m tired of the chemically-smelling, drying creams. I’m not sure this will do much in terms of alleviating fine lines, but it’s great at hydration and leaving my face feeling moisturized but not greasy (I only use 2 drops at a time). I do layer on a night cream afterwards for winter nights, but this is definitely the first step in my routine.

Favorite chapstick: EOS lipbalms

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Where has this been all my life??? So many chapped situations that could have been eliminated. I just discovered that the Lemon Drop flavor has SPF 15, and am going to try this. It smells delicious, and since lemons are my favorite scent/taste ever, this is already a score. On my wishlist is the summer fruit flavor, but I’m trying to stop hoarding these.

Favorite glitter nail polish: Sephora by OPI’s Looks Like Rain Dear

I’m so sad this is apparently no longer available! It’s such a pretty, opaque gold shimmery glitter with lots of dimension. Perfect for New Year’s parties.

Favorite pre-packed meal: Trader Joe’s Lemon Chicken Salad

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Random category, but this is sooo good that it deserves to make it on the list. I’ve gone through and tried most all the meal items that Trader Joe’s has to offer, and for the price and quality I don’t think you can beat this. It’s like a chicken salad with assorted greens, some grapes, and apple slices. Well-balanced and delicious.

Favorite vitamins: Vitafusion Women’s Gummy Vitamins

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This was the year of the gummy vitamin. Those of you who hate taking your daily vitamin, or are left nauseous afterwards need to take a look at these. Mmm.

Favorite Movie: Skyfall

A caveat – I haven’t watched all of the new movies that just came out (Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook), but of those I did watch, Skyfall is my favorite. That doesn’t mean it stands up to analysis, for the plot holes were undeniably huge, but it was a beauty to see and a lovely couple hours of entertainment.

Favorite TV show: Mad Men

It was an exciting season, and this is one show that keeps getting better. Can’t wait for season 6!

Favorite Song: Payphone by Maroon 5

Great song that didn’t get overplayed to death. Actually, it might not be my favorite, but it does stand out in a year of high-hype but low-quality music.

Happy New Years to everyone!

Merry Christmas!

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For those that do celebrate, hope you have a great Christmas this year! My family actually doesn’t partake in most holidays (I know, we’re boring like that), but I personally love the festive spirit and fun this time of year.

My treat to myself this year? Welllll, a (guilty) number of things, but probably the one that has me most determined is a gym membership! I know, a bit early for resolutions, but the timing felt right. Here’s to a healthy, happy holiday season!

For fun, I’ve included some pictures I took last year of the Gingerbread houses displayed in the Sheraton Downtown Seattle. Apologies for the poor image quality, but I highly recommend taking a look if you’re around!

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Holiday Shopping in West Hollywood: The Grove & Beverly Center

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Last weekend I fought the heavy traffic over to do some shopping at both The Grove and the Beverly Center. It was fun, but I’d definitely recommend going during a less rushed period of the year. Parking was awful, as was the general traffic in both areas.

Beverly Center

20121215_134854I only came here because I wanted to visit the Henri Bendel’s store.

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The store isn’t very big, but carries some of the most popular new items.20121215_135421

Their stuff (especially the jewelry) is generally much better looking in person than on camera / online. Beautifully crafted and very, very shiny. I’ve noticed they tend to do really great sales online though (in store is generally full-price, bleh). As a tip, they have free return shipping on all orders.

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Also stopped by Sephora and Forever 21. Lame thing about the Beverly Center is they have non-validation parking, meaning you’ll always get charged. It’s $1/hour for the first three hours.

The Grove

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In contrast, The Grove gives you one free hour of parking, though if you stay from  1-3 hours it goes to a flat $3. 20121215_160513

It was so crowded that I ended up having to park at the top level (8), which sucks in terms of having to wind up the lot multiple times, but was great from a view perspective. You can see sweeping scenes of not just the Grove itself, but also the Hollywood sign and Downtown LA.

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It’s definitely a lovely shopping mall on its own, but the combination of Christmas lights, Santa’s house, and general festivities made it even more exciting.20121215_170655 20121215_175114 20121215_17522120121215_182205 (1) 20121215_182623

There was a random little section labeled “The Hobbit”, which I suppose was an outdoor exhibition of some sort. Not terribly exciting though, as it mainly just contained light-up posters of the cast and some cheap props (seriously, the staff was labeled “Made in China” on the bottom)20121215_183214

20121215_183123 I’d recommend coming to see the lights in wintertime, but try not to cut it too close to Christmas, or you’ll find yourself fighting the crowds.

Hope everyone has finished their shopping and is ready for Christmas!

 

Work Culture & Happiness

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Cheery office decorations

An article “identifying” the top 50 places to work in America caught my eye last week, and really got me thinking about exactly what makes a specific type of workplace “ideal” for each person. I don’t profess to have many jobs under my belt yet, but I can say almost certainly that I believe quantifying the “quality” of a job based on online employee reviews is a foolish, inaccurate thing. And that you should never, ever go off reputation or other people’s thoughts when selecting a place to work.

What reviews really miss out on are the nuances of a company, and what the day-to-day culture is like. A job and a particular office can sound great on paper or when you visit, but for the good of yourself, please take the time to look beyond the superficial qualities. I’m not referring to simple things like work-life balance, company events, or even location. I’m talking the things that will really make you enjoy or hate your job – the spirit of the company, so to speak.

One key component of this is of course the people that comprise it. If you’re a young, single, adventurous person, but your company is mostly made up of older, married homebodies whose idea of fun is walking the dog, chances are you will either 1) continue to feel out of place and eventually hate either yourself or the job, or 2) learn to conform by getting a significant other and forcing yourself into a few non-ideal but common hobbies so you have something to talk about with your coworkers. I’ve both experienced and witnessed this first-hand, and a clash of personalities / culture is definitely the first ingredient to unhappiness at work, and by extension, life.

Another piece of a firm’s spirit is its overarching perspective. What are the stated goals of the company? What types of activities do they sponsor? What viewpoints do they encourage employees to foster? Take this example from a place I worked at, where once a year every employee was to spend a day at a series of organized events designed to encourage reflection on one’s personal and professional values. Sounds great on paper, but it usually wound up being something of a pep-talk seminar, where you were subjected to speeches by “inspirational” individuals, herded into “group-bonding” activities, and otherwise sat around talking about your thoughts all day.

I attended one of these when I first joined, and it was among the first things that revealed this probably wasn’t the long-term job for me. Why? Because I felt the entire day was a forced farce, and what were designed to be “fun” and “impactful” activities felt childish, insipid, and overall ineffective. But the worst part? My coworkers LOVED it. Oh, there were a couple cynical remarks, but the general emotion I gleaned from them was enjoyment, hopefulness, and personal connection. I overheard one person telling another that these events were just “so powerful” that they made her feel “weak and spent at the end of the day”. I literally shuddered at the corny, gag-worthiness of that when I heard that, and felt more out of place than ever.

This focus on excessive spirituality and rose-tinted perspectives (far beyond mere optimism) extended past the single day, and into everything we did, from the morning check-ins to the team events and office activities. I was miserable because I wasn’t able to conform to that mindset, and for a long time thought it was my fault for not regarding things as my coworkers did. It’s only with time that I now realize I never could have adjusted, not without suppressing a large part of my personal beliefs. Which is what I did, and which ultimately had much more harm than good. Point of this example? Look for hints in your own workplace – do your coworkers get excited about things you couldn’t care less about? Do you feel at odds with the types of activities the company chooses to engage in? If so, maybe it’s time to look somewhere else.

The final factor to analyze is the cohesiveness of the companyespecially in the office you’re to join. My first job, which I absolutely loved, was incredible at this. Every single employee, from administrators to the high-level vps, committed 100% to all events and mingled so naturally and wonderfully. People acknowledged each other in the hallways, and there was no noticeable antagonism between the “back office” employees and the “front” ones. The culture was strong enough to cross over position-divides, and made for an incredibly positive environment.

As you might expect, the same was not true of another place. During the interview and subsequent visits, I was swept into believing that this would be just as strong of a workplace. It was only after starting there that the faults started to show. First, it was clear that the “back” employees utterly despised the “front” ones they assisted day to day. In true cyclical fashion, the front ones realized this and consequently treated them with indifference, and occasionally, sheer disrespect. Office events were thus almost nonexistent, as the two groups refused to align on issues like budget and timing.

Additionally, what really should have clued me in was that due to the nature of the work, nobody ever really had to be in the office. And thus, many people, especially the most senior, chose to never come in, except when they had something scheduled. The office was a ghost town most days, which truly wears down cohesiveness like no other. People didn’t know each other, and rarely bothered to make the effort. There was also a continual stigma against this location by the offices in other locations, which eventually wears at you like no other.

I’m going to conclude with a quick synopsis of what really encouraged me to write this, aside from the article – I never realized how much of an impact a company’s culture could have on my sense of self and my net happiness until now. Since switching jobs, my day-to-day work hasn’t altered much in terms of interest/excitement, but I’m feeling SO much more satisfied and happy with everything (crossing my fingers for the future). It’s like the difference between working in a sunlit room and in a doomy dungeon. Work’s just work, until you realize it’s a huge piece of your life, and one you need to make sure you’re spending in a place that makes you happy. This is often completely independent of the company’s prestige, your title, or even how it fits into your long-term plans. Because if you’re happy, you’ll do well, and that’s something that builds upon itself.

Lifestyle & Beauty Favorites

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Wanted to share some of the things I’ve recently purchased and been in love with:

Air Purifier

Random, yes, but I now have the Holmes HEPA air purifier, and OMG I wish I’d gotten one about a year ago – it would have been perfect for my continually dusty downtown Seattle apt! Anyways, I’ve really noticed a difference in the general cleanliness and scent of my room now, like everything’s more fresh. I just have the regular filter, so nothing fancy, but it’s effective, especially since I live near major LA traffic.

This one is really small, and on the low setting I can barely hear it. It’s perfect for a small bedroom, and I like that they have 4-different types of refill filters you can get depending on your need (e.g., allergy relief, germ-killer, and odor-reduction).

White Barn Lemon Room Spray

Lemon Concentrated Room Spray - Slatkin & Co. - Bath & Body Works

This was a whimsical purchase during a browsing-trip to Bath and Body Works, where I noticed a stack of room sprays on sale for $5. Since using it, I’m a huge fan of the lemon scent! It smells fresh and tangy, nothing like the artificial lemon you get in cleaners and the like. My only complaint is that it doesn’t last more than a few hours, especially with my air purifier (which I’ve learned to turn off or leave on low after I use this). But, still a nice thing to perk up my mood.

EOS Lip Balm

EOS Organic Lip Balm Sphere - Strawberry Sorbet

These do live up to the hype. They smell and taste amazing (I have pomegranate raspberry and strawberry sorbet), and more importantly are effective! I have a huge issue with chapped lips, and most lip balms like Burt’s Bees / Dr. Bronners / Maybelline Baby Lips will end up making the chapping/peeling even worse for some reason. These are about $3 at Target, and are mostly made of organic ingredients. I love the shape, which makes them easy and fun to apply. I literally sometimes just put it on for the heck of it, haha.

Be careful though – don’t buy any that have bent packaging at the store. I learned this the hard way, as it turns out my pomegranate one was literally already broken in half inside – meaning the top round part split from the base. It’s still usable, but I’m disappointed 😦

 

John Masters Organics Natural Mineral SPF 30

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I picked this up during the 20% off sale on beauty.com as a replacement sunscreen for my Josie Maran Argan Oil SPF 45. I have to say I like this a lot better so far. The Josie one always felt greasy and hard to blend into my skin. This, however, goes in easily and doesn’t leave any detectable shininess.

“Be-Clause I Said So” Top Coat

I actually prefer glitter top-coat polishes, because they can be worn alone and are a million times faster to apply than regular polish. No need for perfect surfaces – just swipe and go! I find that this goes on to look almost like lace, but of the most festive and shiny kind. I think it’d look even more gorgeous and subtle over a full red color.

 

That’s it! Let me know if you have any favorites too!

Holiday Gifting!

This is more of a personal wish list than anything else, but here’s some items that I’ve personally been drooling over and think would make great gifts:

Jo Malone fragrances

Orange Blossom Jo Malone Cologne

I’ve heard sooo many things about their body fragrances and room sprays. Orange Blossom, Pomegranate Noir, and Red Roses are supposed to smell amazing. I’m waiting to make a trip to Nordstrom so that I can try some in person.

Purse organizer

Just heard about these, and am definitely going to try one. I always forget something when I change bags, and I’d love to be able to make that process a cinch. Not to mention my bags never have enough pockets for all of my things.

Warm teas

Featured Item: Wild Orange Blossom Herbal Tea

Nothing like the chilly weather to make me crave a warm cup of tea. I’ve just picked up two boxes of Tazo, in Cucumber White and Berryblossom White. Can’t wait to sip these as a pick-me-up during work.

I’m also a huge Teavana fan, and am debating on whether to pick up some of their famed Youthberry tea.

Gift sets

Fresh - Sugar Cheer Set

I never realized just what a great value gift sets are until this year. Seriously, the amount you can save, especially on higher end brands is amazing. I’ve got my eyes on the above Fresh Sugar Cheer Set, which I almost picked up last time at the Sephora store. Been really needing an SPF lipbalm that won’t cause chapping, and at least from trials, I think this is the brand for me.

Shiseido’s also got some nice sets, which I examine each time I’m at Macy’s. Seriously, just one of their night creams is about $50, so I do think these are one of the best values if you like their products. I’m still working through a bunch of skincare items though, so I’ll probably pass for now.

Classy cell phone covers

Ok, iPhone users, I’m definitely jealous. I love my Android, but it’s so ridiculously difficult to find cute covers for Samsung phones. I literally browse wistfully through all the case sections I see in stores, only to realize that of course they only have iPhone sizes. Nothing but tacky, ebay stuff for us other users.

Cute microfleece pajamas

Gilligan & O'Malley® Women's Microfleece Set - Assorted Colors

It’s gotten surprisingly cool in LA, and I literally never want to get up because it’s so cold. I’m thinking microfleece is a necessity, and debated for a long time over the above pajamas at Target. I ended up not picking them up, and turns out they’re cheaper online! (as most things are becoming).

I personally recommend getting leggings over these loose pants, because I hate the way the bottoms drag when you walk (which doesn’t seem sanitary of something you’re going into bed with). Regardless though, a nice necessity for winter.

7. Brimmed newsboy caps

burberry cap

I adore these types of hats, as they’re generally flattering for everyone AND have a brim to protect your eyes from the sun. Very important. I don’t have very nice ones as I fear losing them, but still love to browse for them online.

Ok, that’s all I can think of for now. Hope it offers some inspiration, and would love to hear about your wish lists!

Christmas goodies

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Alright, had to share some of the packages I received in my mailbox today. First:

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I’ve been needing a new night cream, and won this from Lucky, which is pretty exciting.

And next:

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FINALLY! This is something I’ve been mulling over for almost a year now – a rose-gold Michael Kors watch. The price was right, and I’m so excited. At last, a watch with the date on it so I won’t forget! It’s the 38mm face, which I tried on several times at the store before confirming. I have pretty tiny wrists, but it doesn’t look overwhelming.

hand sanitizerThis is more on the side, but here’s the stash of mini hand sanitizers I picked up from Bath and Body Works (I also have Midnight Pomegranate). I LOVE these, and seriously sometimes just use them for the heck of it hah. Each of these smells great, and I like that the scent lingers on your hands rather than just disappearing after it dries. Apples is a bit too sweet though. Can’t say I have an overall favorite, though Midnight Pomegranate certainly smells classy.

Working abroad

Have any of you considered working abroad? Very recently, I was faced with the decision on whether or not to move to Accra, Ghana for an intriguing opportunity with a small company. Ultimately though, I felt that for now I should stay where I am, but that’s not to say I wouldn’t consider working abroad in the future.

Location is certainly a huge factor for any career decision, and it’s one thing to consider working in an established, well-to-do place like the UK, France, Hong Kong, Australia, etc, but quite another to move to the developing world. It’s a bit intimidating, especially when you consider how power and water are still very much insecure, and in the case of Ghana, where diseases such as malaria are a common occurrence. Of course, that’s also part of the appeal of such an opportunity, and I have enormous respect for those that have ventured out like this.

During the decision process, I heard highly varied perspectives from those around me, including divided parents, concerned friends, optimistic friends, skeptical former colleagues, and even a confused new internet acquaintance. People would literally cock an eyebrow at me when I mentioned I was mulling over a move to West Africa.

I’m happy to say that my final choice was made independently, and that so far I feel it was a good move to stay (knock on wood). My considerations did include such things as day-to-day challenges, long-term career goals, and general timing of the purported move.

For those making similar choices, I suggest joining an online community like Internations and browsing through the forums to learn more about the day to day. For instance, I quickly learned that Accra had a fairly significant cost of living, one that’s comparable to the U.S. Counterintuitive, but important to be aware of. Culturally, apparently West Ghanaians are among the most friendly people you’ll ever meet, with some men even shooting out marriage proposals to women they just met.

More negatively, the roads are a hazard there, though generally if you take taxis things will be fine. Restaurants cost about the same as in the U.S., with foreign food being more expensive.

At some point, I know I definitely want the experience of working abroad. It’s one of the reasons I took on my previous job, which unfortunately didn’t end up allowing for this opportunity.

Beyond just the experience, I want to make sure I’m in a position to take full advantage of the situation and opportunity to learn when the time comes. This requires understanding my own innate maturity, cultural sensitivity, and physical readiness. By considering these factors, I can make sure that I don’t prematurely jump into something without full preparation, and that I’m mentally and physically ready to take the leap when the occasion arises.

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