38 days, 7 countries, 1 duffel

Traveling Around the World in A Duffel Bag by Natalie Parker (1)

38 days, 7 countries, 1 duffel bag each.  This is the lightest bag I ever packed.  Back when we went to China in 2012, we took one large suitcase, 2 carry-on size rolling suitcases, plus a backpack and a purse.  What were we thinking?

On this trip, we were severely restricted on the weight of the luggage because of our safari flights.  We were only allowed 44lbs total per person (including carry-ons) and our luggage could have no hard sides or frames.  How’s that for a challenge?  It’d be one thing if we were in safari/backpacking clothes for all 38 days, but we weren’t.  We needed to dress for our safari and be able to have a night on the town in Singapore.

How did we do?  Amazingly.  I wore every single thing in the suitcase and never really felt that I was under dressed for anything (except when Emirates decided they’d rather not deliver our luggage to the Maldives in a timely manner, a story for later).  It helped that we didn’t go anywhere that is super cold this time of the year.

Traveling Around the World in A Duffel Bag by Natalie Parker (2)

Dragging these duffels through 20+ airports, I thought the chance for divorce was quite high.  It turned out to be a piece of cake.  We used luggage carts whenever we could (mostly to put our carry-ons down and give our shoulders a break) and the bag wasn’t too heavy to carry on my shoulder.

We used the High Sierra 30-inch Wheel-N-Go Duffel.  It was inexpensive and a fantastic purchase.  None of the straps broke even though we checked it onto 29 flights.  There are wheels so it can be dragged easily, but not as easily as a regular rolling suitcase because there is no frame.  But, because there’s no frame, it can be rolled up and stored.

I still prefer a regular rolling suitcase, but this bag was seriously the next best thing.

Technically, it was these two duffels, plus a backpack for Mr. P, a purse for me, plus my Longchamp bag to carry the cameras and chargers.  I didn’t need the space in the Longchamp bag, but I didn’t want to pack any electronic, even a charger, in our checked duffels.  That would come to pay off (another story for later).  Toward the end of the trip, I filled the Longchamp bag with fragile souvenirs and Mr. P carried a very small additional bag with souvenirs and a change of clothes.


Never Take a Once in a Lifetime Trip (and Other Travel Reading)


Vietnam Airlines Boarding Pass by Natalie Parker

Happy New Year!  Mr. P and I are just returning (recovering?) from a 38-day trip circumnavigating the globe.  Most of us are thinking ahead about the new year, but he and I are trying to get organized and actually know what day it is.

If you’re in denial about having to go back to work after the holiday, allow me to share some great reading.  I’ll be back soon with all kinds of good stuff about our trip.

Never Take Another “Once in a Lifetime Trip.  I agree with this 1000% and I wouldn’t call our latest trip a trip of a lifetime.

Are French People Rude or Simply French?  This is a great post debunking cultural cliches about the French.  Instead of having to explain this every time someone uses one of these cliches, I can send them this handy post!

Why Are Airlines Keeping Surcharges Even Though Fuel is Cheap Now?  An explanation provided by Lucky.

Travel Stuff You Don’t Need?  I agree with a few things on this list and vehemently disagree with others (witness my two cameras plus two phones on this last trip . . .)

5 Things you Didn’t Know About Paris Markets.  Really good stuff here and great to know if you are perusing outdoor markets in Paris.

Did you Know Shakespeare & Company has a Cafe now?  I can’t wait to go back and check this out.

Search On. One of my favorite things to watch at the close of a year is Google’s year end search video.  It always makes me feel all the feelings and remember why I like to travel and why I like to scrapbook current events.  The world will never be the same.

Designing New Luggage Tags (free download!)

Luggage Tags by Natalie Parker

Picture this:  it’s the night before our most recent trip to Europe.  We are trying to finish up work and head to bed soon.  It’s the perfect time to realize that we just moved into a new house and all the contact information on our luggage tags is bad.  *smacks head*

I’d been wanting to redesign our luggage tags for a while.  They were so law-firm-circa-2006.  I had plenty of other projects to do but looked forward to when I would have to redesign them if we moved.  So excited!

Then yeah, we bought a house in a flurry, moved in, then packed our bags for Europe.

15-Minute Design

What’s a girl to do?  Stick with Times New Roman again?  No way.  This was a design emergency and I’m love the results.

Inspiration: I browsed my Type pinboard on Pinterest to get some ideas.  I wanted something bold that would say “that’s not your bag” without actually having to say it.

Fonts Used:  I used Oswald for our name and Ostrich Sans for our contact information on the back.

Software & Cardstock: I threw this together old school in MS Word and printed directly on some bright teal stock I had in my stash.  I think the design would have been pretty striking on white, but Mr. P vetoed it.  He said a colored tag was easier to see from far away.  He’s right, as per usual.

Luggage Tags by Natalie Parker


The whole thing was a 15-minute design operation and I’m pretty pleased!  Usually I labor over design choices for a while.  This is totally like being on Project Runway, I’m sure.

Thank goodness I had some blank luggage tag holders!

Download the Template

Download the template here for MS Word.  I didn’t fix it up except to remove my personal info.  You’ll have to download the fonts and adjust the spacing a bit depending on your information.


eBooks are the Best for Travelers

Why Ebooks are Best for Travelers

I really hate to say this, but I’m a huge fan of eBooks now.  I don’t think I’ll take a hard copy book on a trip again.

Why I Dislike eBooks

I resisted as long as I could.  I love real books and the feel of them in my hand.  I think eBook services and publishers are shady.  I wrote my first research paper in library school on eBooks and how they erode libraries’ missions to serve their patrons and protect their privacy, their rights, especially patrons with disabilities.

How I Came Around

But, push came to shove and I had to get off my soapbox when I spent a month in London on business.  There was no room in my suitcase for a month’s worth of reading material.  Buying books while I was there was not an option — the exchange rate is horrendous.

Mr. P and I decided to try out eBooks on our tablets during our weekend trip to Ireland in March.  It just worked.  I went eBook-only for the month in London.  When we went to Italy for two weeks this summer, it was eBooks again.  We didn’t even bring a hard copy guidebook.

Why eBooks are Fabulous for Travelers

Not having to pack multiple books.  Not every traveler is a bookworm, but we are.  It was amazing to not have to carry heavy books (even paperbacks) in our luggage or carry ons.  I gained so much purse space by just using my tablet!

Not worrying if you will “run out” of stuff to read.  My tablet will hold a ton of material.  I read more in Italy than I ever have on a vacation because I didn’t need to worry if I’d have enough book left for the plan ride home.

They can be cheap or free.  You can get books that are in the public domain for free.  Mr. P is in the middle of Les Miserables and was easily able to find a copy for his tablet.  Plus, you can check out books from your local library.

Libraries are accessible wherever there’s an internet connection.  This was the best.  Whenever we finished a book, we could log on and get another one.  Taking an afternoon rest in one of our apartments in Italy, we’d finish a book and get another one immediately.  I tore through a book faster than I thought I would during an airport delay in Rome.  I was able to download another one before boarding our 11-hour flight home.

You can belong to more than one library for better selection.  Every library has different contracts with eBook providers.  I belong to my city’s library system and also the county system.

They can be used during takeoff.  This used to be one of my biggest complaints with eBooks.  Remember when you had to turn off all electronic devices before takeoff?  Since that’s not the case anymore, I can seamlessly read in the boarding area, after I take my seat, and all the way through takeoff.

I’m a total turncoat even though I still have philosophical issues with the eBook business.

How do you read when you travel?

Photo courtesy Maria Elena via Creative Commons license.

Maps in Scrapbooks

Maps in Scrapbooks by Natalie Parker

My summer wanderlust is in full swing even though I’ve already taken my summer vacation!  One of my favorite things to save for from my travels are maps.  You can check out how I turned maps from our travels into coasters here.

There are lots of cool ways to include maps in a scrapbook!

Keep it Whole

If you’re really attached to the map, include the whole thing so it can be folded out and looked at, like I did with this map of 17-Mile Drive in Monterey.

Maps in Scrapbooks by Natalie Parker

Cut it Up

If you aren’t attached to the whole map, or only want to feature part of it, cut it up!

I cut up pieces of the park map for my Yosemite scrapbook layout — still one of my favorite pages ever.

Maps in Scrapbooks by Natalie Parker

I took two different maps from our honeymoon and cut them the same size as other ephemera and photos to make everything meld together:

Maps in Scrapbooks by Natalie Parker

Don’t Have a Map?  Print One.

What if you want to add a map but you didn’t bring one home?  Print one!  Check out here for instructions on how to print Google Maps for your scrapbook.  I used a Google Map below for when we moved to a new apartment.

Maps in Scrapbooks by Natalie Parker

Don’t forget to check out transit agency websites.  They sometimes have really cool printable PDFs.  Below, I used a square I printed from a Manhattan Bus map.

Maps in Scrapbooks by Natalie Parker

Do you collect maps when you travel?  What do you use them for?

How to Find the Right Memory Keeping System for You

The Right Memory Keeping System by Natalie Parker

We’re in January, the month of beginnings.  Have you wanted to try some type of memory keeping but aren’t sure what system you should use?  Is your current memory keeping system not working for you?

How do you find the right memory keeping system for you?  I’ll tell you:

The right memory keeping system is the one you will actually do.

It’s that simple.  The end.

It’s not about what’s on trend.  It’s not about what works for other people though we can certainly learn from others’ experiences.

Whatever gets stuff off your hard drive and into a form that can be shared with the people you love is the right thing for you.  The value of information is directly related to its accessibility.

I’m going to put on my archivist hat again, stomp my feet, and remind you that digital photos are actually less stable than analog ones.  Less. stable.

Think about it and strip away the guilt and worry about what others are doing.  If you want to document your memories, be honest with yourself and don’t choose something you feel like you have to do.

Is it a traditional scrapbook?  Project Life?  Digital?  Photo books?  A family yearbook?  It doesn’t really matter.

I’ve had too many friends admire my work and sheepishly tell me that they scrapbook, but it’s not as nice as mine.  Look, just because I scrapbook a certain way doesn’t mean you have to.  I think all scrapbooks are beautiful.

Any memory that can be shared and touched is amazing.

The Right Memory Keeping System by Natalie Parker

Yes You Can . . . Code

Yes You Can Code by Natalie Parker

What if I asked you if you could learn a new language?  Not whether you had the time or the desire to.  Just whether you could if you wanted to.

What if I told you that you wouldn’t need to learn how to pronounce it?  What if, unlike other languages, there were set rules and not a lot of exceptions you had to remember?

What if I told you that you didn’t even need to become fluent in the language?  You just needed to learn a couple of things here and there to get by.  Could you learn it if you wanted to?

Then you can code.

A few days ago, I was chatting with an extremely competent woman.  She has an advanced degree and I admire her.  We were talking about code.  “Oh, I could never do that,” she said.  Why not?

When we talk about getting more women into tech, we mean other women.  When we talk about getting girls interested in math and science and teaching them how to code, we mean girls.  Not us.

Let’s stop doing ourselves a disservice.  Anyone who is reasonably competent can learn how to code.  You just have to want to.  And if you don’t want to, that’s just fine.  Just don’t be unkind to yourself and say you can’t do something when I’m sure you can.

I don’t have a computer science degree.  I learned just the basics of HTML and CSS.  I don’t code every day.  I don’t code every month.  But I know I am competent enough to learn it and what I know was enough for me to style my own blog.

Yes you can code.  Not other women, not our daughters.  You can.  And just knowing that you can is enough.

If you’d like to learn HTML and CSS, all the content I used to learn it as a graduate student is available for free online here.

The World Cup

France World Cup by Natalie Parker

It’s Saturday and we’re making lunch at home, watching the World Cup.  He says, “just think, four years ago we were sitting in Paris watching France’s opening match.  It was your first time out of the country and now we’ve been to seven continents.”

It was our last day in Paris.  And it coincided with France’s opening match in the World Cup.  It was a happy coincidence when we planned the trip but we were excited to cap it off that way.

We were on our way back to Paris for one night after traveling elsewhere.  We had just enough time to land, drop our bags at the airport hotel, then take the train into Paris for the evening.  The mission? Find some place to watch the World Cup.

The plane was on time.  Our airport shuttle did not come.  I fought with a pay phone then an expensive call on my cell phone.  Our airport shuttle did not exist.  Walking to the other side of a gargantuan airport, we were travel newbs carrying too many clothes.  And a case of champagne.  Finally to our hotel, finally back out and on the train, finally back in what had instantly become our favorite city.

We picked a little cafe across from our original hotel on rue des Écoles.  The waitress eyed us suspiciously.  The rest of the tables were full of French, passing around face paint.  Surely us foreigners weren’t intending on taking up a table to order a meal while everyone was trying to watch the World Cup?  We sat.  We ordered our drinks before the match started.  All set.

The game wasn’t great but I’ll always remember them pounding the tables and cheering “Allez les bleus!”  I remember the waitress treating us a little more kindly after it was clear that we were there for the game and did not bother her for more wine until halftime.  I’ll remember the dad with his kid at the table next to us, the dad having to cut up the French version of a hot dog his kid was eating.  Parents cutting up hot dogs for kids — it’s international.

Pit stop for an ice cream and staring at Notre Dame at night, then back to the train.  In the train station, read enough French to know the train stopped going to the airport early due to maintenance.  Understand enough mass transit to know the gamble of a bus bridge, take the gamble.  Thankfully the buses are there when we get to the last stop.  However, the buses don’t drop us off at the airport train station, just some random airport stop.  We argue with a cab driver to get us back to our hotel.

And just like that, capped off with the World Cup, our trip was over.  His first time off the continent.  My first time out of the country.  Four years ago.  Measuring my life by major world events is a favorite pastime.  Oh yeah, and USA, USA!!

The Creative Doldroms

Flowers by Natalie Parker

There’s nothing quite so annoying as when creativity leaves you.  Creativity is not a finite commodity — it cannot be used up.  But sometimes it just flies the coop.

Yesterday I finished my first scrapbook layout in over a month.  The previous one I barely eeked out after sitting with it for a few weeks.  In sum, no meaningful scrapbook work since about the end of March.  I always have several layouts that I haven’t posted, so you the audience don’t really see my ebbs and flows.  But trust me, they’re there.  This last bout was so bad I didn’t even want to write about scrabpooking.

I know exactly how it happened.  From the end of March until mid-May, school and work zapped me.  So much going on that I felt like I didn’t have room in my brain for anything else.  I finished school for the semester and decided to take a couple weeks off before starting my thesis work.  Not so fast.  Work still zapped me.  I wanted to work on my projects.  I had time to work on my projects.  My creative brain was having none of it.

I know what to do when that happens.  Don’t stress, work on something else.  Enjoy something else.  It will come back eventually.  It’s hard not to get frustrated when I have precious little time to work on my own projects and can’t.  Instead, I’ve been reading, watching movies, fixing the collage frame, and more.

Finally a new page finished.  Here’s hoping it’s on its way back!

Collecting Memories, Not Things

Antarctica by Natalie Parker 8

Spring has sprung and April is clean-out month at my house.  Any time we have for housework we are spending cleaning out closets, cabinets, and our garage.

What a difference a few years make.  How our priorities in life have changed.

We collect memories, not things.  We choose to live in a smaller place with less room for “stuff.”  Our smaller home lets us live closer to fun things in our neighborhood and saves us money so we can go out and create memories.

I used to dream about saving all of my books so I could have a Belle library one day.  Every bookish girl dreams of having her own library.  I was holding onto a lot of books I won’t read again just to have a big collection.  Why do I need a collection just for the sake of having a collection?

Buy a big house with a library for all of these books?  Or save the money to go on another adventure?  I’d choose the adventure.  Every time.

I didn’t throw out all my books.  But I did decide I’m only keeping what can fit on the shelf.  I’m amazed that Mr. P feels the same way.  He’s not pressuring me to get rid of things and I’m not pressuring him.  We both have a clear sense of what matters to us.

When I’m old, I don’t think I’m going to look back fondly at the bookcase.  I’m going to remember the great memories we created.  The books are just an example.  We attacked the garage and our office closet.  The bathroom and hall closets are next.  Our bedroom closet and clothes got the treatment in January.

It’s hard to get rid of things that are perfectly good.  The solution?  We try to sell, donate, or give things to friends.  We have a favorite charity store in town, plus another store that takes paper goods and scrapbooking supplies I won’t use.  We are much more mindful now about what we will bring into the house.  Do we really need it?  They were giving away hats at the baseball game, but do we need them?  Will we use them?

I’ve read many places that we get more value out of experiences than things.  It’s taken us a while to realize it but I emphatically agree.  There’s a lightness that we feel when we have space to grow.  Space to grow and places to go.