Thursday, February 25, 2010

Making Your Travel Dream a Reality, Part II: Money Matters

Today I'm bringing you another installment in my series on making your travel dreams a reality. As I started roughing out my ideas I realized there was way too much to discuss in one post, so in this one I'm going to focus entirely on money: saving for a trip, how much to save, and traveling on a budget. The series will stretch into at least one post beyond this, and possibly two. I'm not sure why the first part of this series is out of order and behind my last outfit post, but if you haven't seen it yet you might want to start reading here.

A church on the Snæfellsness peninsula, Iceland

Now that I've debunked some of the most common excuses for putting off travel, I'm going to go a step further and provide you with some tools for dealing with each of the very real challenges that travel can present. Today I'll talk about the single biggest challenge for many people, money. La Historiadora de Moda stopped by yesterday with this very valid comment:

"I don't want to be a bah-humbug because in general I do think that people should travel and make an effort and sacrifices to achieve their dreams. However, I have to say that in some cases Excuse #1 is valid for many people. Considering the unemployment rate and the fact that many people are really struggling to make ends meet, I wouldn't necessarily recommend that they travel before they pay off their credit cards, especially when banks and credit card companies are often hiking up interest rates and charging extra fees."

This is absolutely true. I would NEVER advocate running up more expenses if you're already in debt or struggling financially. But I will say this: Americans in particular often suffer from a spectacular inability to see any but the narrowest of possibilities for their lives. I've met many an Australian or Canadian in my travels who, upon graduation, took off for 6 months to a year and traveled the globe before settling into grown-up life. These were not rich kids living on trust funds; they lived on shoestring budgets and often stopped somewhere for several months while they earned enough money to continue their travels.

If a recent college grad can do it, perhaps someone who has recently found him or herself unemployed can pull it off too. Even a hardship can become an opportunity, because it might be just the kick in the pants you need to start thinking more creatively about your options in life.

I'm not saying you ought to sell all your worldly possessions and go traipsing around the globe until the economy recovers, I'm merely pointing out that there are often many other options than our narrow ways of thinking will allow us to see. Maybe you could teach English in Japan for a year; perhaps you could find seasonal work on a ship in the Mediterranean; and yes, perhaps you could sell everything you own, pay off your debts, and get the hell out of dodge for awhile. Why not? I can guarantee that there is no thing you can own, even the most fabulous pair of shoes, that will ever equal in value the amazing memories you will make while you're traveling. So at the very least, think about it before you dismiss the option of traveling, whether it be for weeks or years or anything in between.

The ruins at Pompeii, Italy

Saving for Your Trip

There are literally thousands of ways to save money, and in the end it's probably not going to be any one thing you do, but several. Here are just a few money-saving ideas off the top of my head:

  • Cancel your cable or magazine subscriptions and put that money aside every month
  • Sell off items you don't need anymore on eBay
  • Take the bus instead of driving and put aside what you'd have spent on gas. Better yet, sell your car if you don't need it and save on insurance money too.
  • Ask family and friends to donate to your travel fund instead of giving you gifts for your birthday or holidays
  • Set up a free Fat Wallet account and use your cash back rewards towards travel (obviously, don't buy stuff just for the rewards unless you were going to buy it anyway!)
  • Cut out your daily Starbuck's fix and brew your coffee at home
  • If you're undisciplined at saving, it's wise to set up a separate savings account that makes the money more difficult to get at. If you don't mind a bit of risk, try turning your savings into a reasonably stable stock, which can create additional earnings. ETrade and Ameritrade are both easy to use, even for the non investment savvy. And no, I will not give you stock tips!
Obviously it's easiest to put aside money that you're already used to living without, so cutting an expense and then squirrelling that money away is easier than telling yourself you need to save so many dollars per month on top of your current expenses. As a last resort, there is also the option of working a part time second job until you've saved enough. That's a pretty big step, so don't jump into it lightly; your life, your relationships, your sleep may suffer if you're already working full time. Be careful with this option, but consider it if need be. Students in particular have lots of options here; grading papers, tutoring, lab assistant positions, the campus bookstore, and so on.

You might be wondering what sacrifices I make for travel. The biggest one is that I opted not to own a house or condo. Although many people will tell you that owning a house is better than renting because you can write off the interest, you're really just spending a lot to save a little if your mortgage is significantly more than rent would be. For me, owning even a small condo in San Francisco, where the monthly interest portion alone would exceed my current rent, just didn't make financial sense to me. And then, houses can be a huge money-suck in repairs and maintenance, none of which you can write off. So I opted not to be house-poor, which allows me both the luxury of traveling every year, and living a pretty fab life the rest of the time too. It works for me, because I've owned a home before and found I didn't much like the responsibility and burden of it.

The Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles, France

How Much to Save

This depends greatly upon where you're going, for how long, and at what time of year. You will first need to do some research on whatever city or country you're considering and find out what the average daily expenditure is. It also helps to prepare a travel budget; try these free online calculators to get started:
Saving For Travel
Independent Traveler
Budget Your Trip

It also depends heavily on where you're willing to cut costs and where you're not. If you're locked into traveling in high season because of the kids' school year, then you'll have to contend with higher airfare and lodging costs, and that may mean cutting back on fancy meals and shopping. If you're willing to go in the off-season then you'll be able to save more on the major expenses, not to mention the fact that things will be less crowded. Personally I prefer to travel in the shoulder seasons, when things are slower but not entirely dead either.

A good starting point would be about $3000 per person for a 2-3 week trip, but believe me you can do it for even less. Bethany and Isaac commented yesterday that she and her husband took a 3-week trip to notoriously pricey England, France, Italy, and Greece for around $2500 apiece including airfare; it takes a bit of creativity, but it can be done. Which brings me to the next topic of traveling on a budget.

A local tango band plays for onlookers at the San Telmo flea market; Buenos Aires, Argentina

Traveling on a Budget

Your two big-ticket items on any trip are going to be airfare and lodging, so let's start with those. First off is the airfare. I generally like to book my airfare well in advance, so that it's all paid for by the time I leave for my trip. And by thinking about my trip many months before I'll take it, I have time to shop around for the best fares. Sometimes you can get a last-minute fare at a discounted price, but remember that you might pay for it in other ways; for instance, affordable lodgings might be all booked up. Keep that in mind as you're searching for fares.

Finding the best fare:

  • Travel in the off season, or in a shoulder season. You will undoubtedly pay less if you don't travel around major holidays or in the height of the tourist season.
  • Pay attention not only to your own national holidays, but those in the place you're traveling to. Holidays and festivals almost always mean higher airfare as well as more expensive lodging.
  • Sign up for email alerts from your preferred airline, or set up a saved itinerary on multi-airline search engines such as Kayak, Expedia, or Orbitz. The website will alert you when your fare reaches a certain setpoint or changes in price. For maximum coverage, set up alerts on several different sites and with multiple itineraries.
  • Don't forget about airline miles. Air travel isn't the only way to earn miles; many credit cards offer airline miles, as do hotels, car rentals, and even certain retailers. Check with the particular airline to find out how to earn miles.
  • You don't necessarily need to earn enough miles for a free ticket; many airlines offer reduced fares when combined with miles, which means you need to save up fewer miles to get the benefit.
  • Be flexible with your itinerary. Traveling on weekends can often increase the fare, so be sure to check prices of itineraries a few days before and after your target dates.
  • Consider flying into and out of alternate airports. It might be significantly cheaper to fly into a nearby city and take the train to your final destination. Sometimes those nearby cities can be destinations themselves, so you can always build in a night or two at your arrival point.
  • For the greatest flexibility, consider changing your destination altogether. Make a list of the top 4 or 5 places you'd like to visit; compare airfares, currency exchange rates, and lodging to make your final decision. Assume that you will travel again; you'll get to the others the next time!

Tall, narrow houses along an Amsterdam canal

Saving money on lodging:

Lodging often ends up as the largest expense for travelers, and it really doesn't need to be. It's just plain madness to drop $200-300 a night on a hotel room that you really should only be in while you're sleeping and getting dressed. Hostels, guesthouses, and other budget lodgings are the way to go. Here are a few things you might not know about hostels:
  • They're not just for youth anymore; many hostels no longer carry age restrictions of any kind.
  • Many offer small private rooms, some with private baths.
  • Most have communal kitchen areas where you can store and prepare your own food, which is yet another way to save money.
  • Most offer lockers for your luggage (you need to bring your own lock), or even lock boxes for valuables.
  • Many do not have curfews, and I haven't seen any where they kick you and your luggage out every day like they did back in the 60's. If you're booked for several days, all your stuff stays there for the duration.
  • Many offer free Internet services, and some also have free breakfasts.
  • They're a great resource for finding out about free walking tours and other fun things to do on the cheap.

But honestly, the best part about hostels is that they're FUN! Although I could afford hotels, I much prefer the vibrant, lively environment of a hostel, where travelers congregate in common areas to share travel stories, show off their photos, or just drink beer and play cards. Sure, most of the people I meet in hostels are a lot younger than I am, but I've never felt like an outsider even in a hostel full of college-age travelers. I've also seen people much older than myself joining in the fun, so don't worry about fitting in. That said, I do avoid places that bill themselves as a "party hostel" because even though I do like to party, I don't want to do it 24/7. Be sure to read the reviews of each hostel before you book; many of the reviews include the reviewer's age and other information that'll help you determine if they have the same priorities as you.

A dorm bed in an average hostel can set you back as little as 10 bucks a night. Ten bucks! That's very likely cheaper than what you pay for rent at home. Even in pricey Paris, I only paid $30/night for my lodging, and that was in a very new, modern hostel in a great part of town. I enjoy the dorm rooms because they're another great way to meet people, and I'll tell ya, I prefer the mixed dorms over those for women only. Here's why: a college-age gal will stagger in at 3 am, flip on the lights, rifle through her bag of toiletries, and then proceed to march in and out between the room and the bathroom half a dozen times before she finally goes to bed. A college age guy will stagger in, fall into bed fully clothed, and pass out. The next morning, guess who's up at the fucking crack of dawn, marching in and out of the room again, and who rolls out of bed fully clothed and heads off to breakfast just before the kitchen closes? Bring on the male dorm-mates any day.

Now, here are a few hostelling sites to get you started:
Hostelling International

Be sure to get yourself a Hostelling International membership; you will save money on hostel rates, and they also offer discounted travel insurance (including some health coverage), savings on international phone calls, and all sorts of other great benefits. Another way to save money on lodging is to bring your own travel sheet or sleep sack. Many hostels provide pillows and blankets but have an additional charge for linens; your sleep sheet is like a thin sleeping bag that covers you and your pillow so that sheets aren't necessary. The silk ones are the lightest and most comfortable, and are worth the investment if you're going to do a lot of traveling.

The garbage "truck" in Montevideo, Uruguay

Other ways to save money while traveling:

  • I've heard tell that rail passes can be a great way to save money on ground transportation, but I haven't found that to be the case because I'm too loosey-goosey a traveler to be sure I'll use my rail pass enough times to make it worth it. If you plan on doing a LOT of rail travel then it's probably the way to go, but I personally like to park myself in one spot for awhile and savor the culture, rather than do a whirlwind tour. I could go either way on this one.
  • Save money on food by hitting the local markets and preparing simple breakfasts and lunches yourself. But remember that you'd be eating at home too, so this isn't necessarily an additional expense of traveling.
  • Your hostelling card will get you discounts on museum admissions and so forth, so check the benefits before you go.
  • If you're not from the EU, don't forget to take your VAT (Value-Added Tax) refund when you leave Europe! Be sure you're familiar with all the steps; the refund is substantial (up to 25%!), so look for stores that have the Tax-Free sign in their windows when you shop. Read more about the process here. It's not nearly as troublesome as it sounds.
  • The Rick Steves and Lonely Planet guidebooks and websites offer all sorts of tips for budget-minded travelers. I prefer to buy a travel book ahead of time and read through it before I go, so that I'm not trying to search for information on the fly.
  • Packing light will help you avoid both excess baggage fees as well as a sore back. For tips on packing, see my previous series here: Beauty Products Parts 1 and 2, and Clothing Parts 1 and 2. Take light layers that can easily be washed in the sink and that will air dry overnight, which will help you avoid spending money on laundry.
  • Make sure your credit card doesn't charge foreign transaction fees. You'll have to read the fine print to figure it out, but it's worth it because the fees can be as high as 3%. Consider getting a card just for travel; many credit unions offer cards with no foreign transaction fees. Aslo, find out what your ATM withdrawal fees will be, and consider transferring money around if you have an account with lower fees.

The Mayan ruins at Tulum; Quintana Roo, Mexico

In the remainder of this series I'll talk about destinations for families, planning for time off, and other considerations for traveling. Be sure to read the comments to these posts as well; there's some good stuff here!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Extreme Rebelliousness

Well, it was really only a matter of time. I've gotten away with wearing a corset at work, Wendy B's swear rings, and a whole host of other envelope-pushing items, so I figured it was time to rock some leather trousers. Having been inspired first by Sal and then by Angie, I figured this was a trend that's right up my alley. And hey, if 88-year-old Iris Apfel can still wear leather pants, why can't 40-year-old Audi?

At first I was going to try to be "good" and make the trousers as subtle as possible. But then in a moment of extreme rebelliousness I thought, "Oh fuck it. Why should I care if anyone thinks leather pants are inappropriate for work?" and put on my goth argyle sweater, towering wedge heels, and a splash of leopard print for good measure. Not coincidentally, that day I had a meeting with someone who is, shall we say, far above me in rank and is someone whose opinions I disagree with and whose motives I mistrust. Being clad in leather and towering over this person made me feel like an ass-kicking rock star, albeit in a completely pointless and ineffectual way.

Since nobody said anything about the outfit, I just assumed that as per usual, no one noticed. But the next day I passed one of my more stylish coworkers on the stairs, and she mischievously whispered, "I loved your leather pants!" Ah, vindication.

Now let me tell you one more thing. If you're not at all interested in owning a pair of trousers like these, you can stop reading now. But for the rest of you, I ordered these pants from the Asos website and when they arrived they were a size too small. Not wanting to deal with shipping them back to the UK, I decided to sell them on Ebay instead and take a bit of a loss (which I'd do anyway if I had to pay the return shipping). So, a pair of unworn, new-with-tags leather moto trousers can be yours for just $125 (if you use the Buy It Now option). They are size 28 (US 6), but they fit very much smaller, more like a size US 4 because the 28-inch "waist" actually sits squarely on the hips. Click here to view the listing.

Obviously, I liked the pants so much that I ordered the next size up, which fit beautifully. And since I'm sort of crazy that way, I also ordered a pair of the gray leather trousers shown in Angie's post; you'll be seeing those before too long.

Sweater: All Saints
Top: La Redoute
Belt: thrifted
Pants: Pepe Jeans
Shoes: Jeffrey Campbell

Making Your Travel Dream a Reality, Part I: No More Excuses

Today I'm bringing you the first of a 2-part series about making your travel dreams come true. The reason I thought to bring you these posts is that every time I mention any of my travels here, I always get comments along the lines of, "I'd love to travel... someday." So these posts are all about why and how to make that someday TODAY, or as near to today as possible. Because many people keep saying 'someday' and then never make that someday a reality, and that's a terrible way to live your life. My personal philosophy is that I'd much rather regret things I did than the things I only WISH I'd done.

Classic cars on the street in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

Today I'm going to cover the common excuses for why people put off their dreams of travel, and why I think those excuses are bogus. Hopefully by the end of this post I'll have convinced you that you really have no excuse not to travel, and tomorrow I'll talk about different strategies for making it happen.

Memento mori in the extreme; the Sedlec Ossuary, Kutna Hora, Czech Republic. Remembering that someday you will die is probably the most compelling reason to start acting on your dreams right now.

Excuse #1: I can't afford it.

Sure, this is a valid reason if we're talking about buying a ticket to Marrakesh right this very minute. But if your biggest dream in life is to travel, then believe me there are plenty of ways to figure out how to make it happen financially. You can't assume that you'll ever be richer than you are today. I'm not trying to depress you, I'm trying to motivate you to figure out what you can do today to save for that trip. Because if that trip is the big dream of your life, it's not just something you WANT to do, it's something you truly NEED to do.

But wait! There's more. Travel absolutely does not have to be a bank-breaking expense. Even notoriously expensive cities such as Paris or London can be visited without dropping thousands of dollars, so before you write off travel as a hobby for rich people, open your mind a little and prepare to rethink that notion. Tomorrow I'll share all sorts of strategies for how and how much to save for a trip, as well as some tips for traveling on the cheap, which oddly enough can also make travel an even richer experience.

The colorful landscape of the Kastellet; Copenhagen, Denmark

Excuse #2: I'm waiting until the kids get older.

Let me break the news to you: there is never going to be an ideal time to travel with kids. If you go when they're younger you'll be limited in what you can do and how much they'll get out of it. If you wait until they're older the expenses will be greater and you'll probably end up arguing with them about where to go and what to do. But if you wait until they move out, it's entirely possible that health or other circumstances could prevent you from going at all, so you might as well just figure out how to make it work now. Lots and lots of people travel with kids and do just fine, so there's no reason you can't do it too. These days there are all sorts of online forums and travel guides that cater specifically to families, and many destinations worldwide offer delights for adults and children alike. Tomorrow I'll provide a brief synopsis on a couple of destinations that I think would be great for families.

If taking the kids along doesn't suit you and you're lucky enough to have family or friends that are willing look after them, then by all means go that route. Travel will most certainly be cheaper and easier without the kids, and let's face it, even the most devoted parents need a break from their kids once in awhile. If you're feeling guilty at the thought of going on a fun vacation and leaving them at home, don't. Travel is YOUR dream; later on if it becomes theirs, they can plan a trip of their own and you'll have just the experience to help them do it.

The eerie Hill of Crosses in Siauliai, Lithuania

Excuse #3: It's a hassle/It's too dangerous.

Again, I hate to break it to you, but travel is probably never going to be less troublesome or more safe than it already is. In fact, you can pretty much bet that by this time next year there will be some new ridiculous TSA rigmarole that we'll have to go through to get on a plane, and undoubtedly it will be something that doesn't even make us any safer. But if travel is really and truly your dream, forget about all that; the actual flight is just a necessary evil, like going to work or paying your taxes; if you want to earn a paycheck or not go to jail, you just do it. Believe me, the rewards of travel more than make up for the hassle of getting there.

As for the safety aspect, I could point you to all sorts of statistics and discussion boards about whether it's safer to travel by car or by plane, but what would it really matter? Many, many places simply cannot be reached by car, so the point is moot. If you want to get there in any sort of reasonable time frame, you're going to have to get over any fears you may have about flying. Unless your phobia has to do with getting dry skin or catching someone's cold, the reality is that flying is still safer than driving any day.

If you're putting off travel because of the flight, you really have to ask yourself if it's the flight you're afraid of, or the travel itself. Fear of the unknown can be a powerful force, but don't forget that literally millions of people flow through all those exotic places every year, and they make it home just fine. Once you've dipped your foot in the travel pool, you'll find that the water is actually quite welcoming and comfortable. So please do not stay home because of safety concerns. Life is dangerous, but don't let that stop you from living it.

"Halt! I need to see your library card."
The magnificent national library in Vienna, Austria.

Excuse #4: I don't have the time.

This one is going to vary for each individual; some people actually don't earn any vacation time and others just fool themselves into thinking their place of business is going to come to a grinding halt if they don't show up for a couple of weeks. I think you can probably tell how I feel about the latter type; that's just plain bullshit and the weakest possible excuse I can think of (I used to be married to someone who subscribed to that belief, by the way). So let me move on to the true difficulty of not having vacation time. Only you know where you fit into this spectrum, but my feeling is that if you're working the sort of job that doesn't have any vacation benefits, then a few things may be possible:

  • Many jobs have flexible schedules whereby you can trade shifts with other people or work extra hours to save up some time off. It might require months of sacrifice and long hours worked, but trust me it will be worth it.

  • If you're confident in your ability to get another job, just quit that sucker and look for something else when you get back. Seriously. If you're not getting vacation benefits, the job is probably not worth sacrificing your dream for.

  • Are you a student? Even better; vacate your dorm or apartment at the end of the school year, put your stuff in storage, and go abroad for the summer. Make sure you save a little money to get yourself set up again when you get back. Now is a great time to travel, because you don't have kids or a mortgage or a career to tie you down. IT IS LIKELY THAT YOU WILL NEVER HAVE THIS MUCH FREEDOM AGAIN. Don't waste it.

I'd love to hear from you on this point. Obviously I'm in a full time, 9 to 5 job with very good vacation benefits, and it's been years since I've had to deal with a school schedule and/or hourly jobs. Please chime in if you have figured out other ways to travel without having vacation benefits; this is a forum for sharing ideas! Tomorrow I'll talk about ways to prepare for your time off.

Sunset at St. Mark's Square; Venice, Italy

Excuse #5: I don't speak the language.

Oh, come now. Do you think I speak Lithuanian and Czech and Polish and Italian and Icelandic? Okay, I speak a little Icelandic, and French. But I've also gone happily skipping right into countries where I didn't know a lick of the language and I got by just fine. People can be amazingly kind if you let them, and there's no better way to elicit that kindness than by being humble and polite, and letting a little vulnerability show. Even in notoriously snooty Paris, my rudimentary French got me zero snubs, rudeness, or haughty looks. ZERO.

That said, it takes very little effort to at least learn a few polite phrases that will get you most everything you need. There is no need to spend months studying a language in preparation for a trip; these days English is widely spoken and even where it's not, you'd be surprised at how far a few key words combined with gestures and drawings will go. Not only that, but it's actually quite fun finding those alternate ways to communicate.

The ultra-modern Sony center in Berlin, Germany

In closing, let me tell you about a few of the things that travel can bring to your life. For me, travel is not about the big, well-known landmarks; those are nice enough, but the real draw is the joy of experiencing a new culture, with all its intricacies and subtleties. And interestingly, it's also the misadventures and things that don't go according to plan that can create some of the most rewarding travel experiences. For example, one of my closest friendships was forged when I had my wallet stolen in Rome and a generous fellow American, a Chicagoan who I had only just met a few days before, loaned me enough cash to get me through until I could get my credit card replaced. I told you, people can be amazingly kind if you let them.

More than anything, travel is about the people you meet along the way. Not only do you encounter the denizens of wherever you're going, but you meet fellow travelers as well, and believe me, travel enthusiasts are some of the coolest people you'll ever know. Just last year I went to Austin and reconnected with a friend I met in Budapest. A couple of Christmases ago I went to Mexico and spent the holidays with a Scottish friend that I met in Iceland. Travel opens so many doors, whether it's enriching your knowledge of places and cultures and languages, or having friends to connect with anywhere you go in the world, or just finding out from other travelers about where you ought to go next. To me if you haven't traveled at least a little, you haven't really lived.

Here I am in 2005 at one of my favorite places in the world:
the cliffs at Dyrhólaey, Iceland.

Tune in tomorrow, when I will continue this series with the how-to's of travel on a budget!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Among the Living

This outfit was inspired by S. over at Academichic, who has been sporting some really sophisticated looks with shorts recently. Her use of mixed neutral tones and rich scarves gives her shorts ensembles a cosy, winter look; this outfit in particular was what inspired me to pull out my brown wool herringbone shorts and try a look of my own. I especially liked how she used a casual blazer to give the shorts a more 'grown-up' feel, so I borrowed that idea for my outfit.

I knew my beloved Bata boots were not going to give me the contrast I wanted against the black leggings, so I chose my dusty gray cowboy boots instead, which gave the outfit an element of casual playfulness. Not wanting to drown the look in too much black, I then chose a bright silver shirt and charcoal waistcoat, and let the leggings be the only black item in the outfit. Finally, I topped it all off with a brown silk scarf, which kept the washed-out silver color away from my face.

Richly-colored scarves are a great trick this time of year for combating pale winter skin. With my olive undertones, my skin has a tendency to look sallow if I wear too much pale color right next to my face. Even a small amount of bright or saturated color near my face does wonders for keeping me looking like I'm still among the living, and allows me to wear colors that might not otherwise be flattering on me.

Scarf: Banana Republic
Jacket: La Redoute
Shirt: thrifted
Waistcoat: Last Kiss
Shorts: Mango
Boots: eBay

Monday, February 22, 2010

Give a Gift, Get a Gift

Now how cool is this: I host a giveaway contest, and I end up getting a gift myself, from the winner? Well, that's exactly what happened; Michi, who won my hat giveaway and who also has an Etsy shop, asked if she could make me some jewelry as a thank you for the hat, and who was I to say no? Imagine my delight when I opened up the package to find this adorable little handmade bird necklace and feather earrings, in just the perfect colors to compliment my new burgundy and orange Skunkfunk skirt. I immediately put together an outfit around the necklace, reworking the one I wore a week or so ago.

I only wore the necklace this time around because with the sequined cardigan I felt I needed to go light on the accessories. I just love the way the necklace looked with the soft cream shirt and burgundy cardigan. I'm excited to try out the earrings; I don't own any pairs that are so shoulder-skimmingly long, so I'll be pushing my boundaries a bit with them, which is always a great thing.

The skirt I have layered under the Skunkfunk one is the second of the two items I bought while in Mexico; this is the first time I've worn it. The skirt has a natural linen layer in a rougher weave, topped with a sheer white layer in a more delicate weave. It was a great way to add length to the hemline and to echo the cream-colored top.

Top: a gift from my mom
Cardigan: American Eagle
Jewelry: Mychu Motif
Belt: Lazaro
Skirt: Skunkfunk
White skirt: from a local shop in Tulum
Tights: Biella
Boots: Bata

Friday, February 19, 2010

For My Guy

I didn't wear this outfit to work. I put it on for no other reason than because I was going over to Mark's place and I wanted to look cute for my guy. Why should everyone at work get to see my fancy outfits every day, while Mark mostly sees me in my relax-at-home cozies? So after I got home from work (in the outfit I posted yesterday), I changed into this and headed over to Mark's. After a day of wearing an outfit that I wasn't really very happy with, it was extra nice to put this on.

This is the dress I bought in Mexico, and in these shots you can get a better idea of what it looks like. It has a halter strap with thin lengths of chain braided through it, which drape down on one side. Its skin-baring cut and loose layers make it a perfect summer dress, but the somber, mottled gray wash makes it adaptable for cold weather too. For this outfit I layered it over my All Saints argyle sweater for warmth. Are you tired of seeing my All Saints argyle yet? I hope not, because I'm sure not tired of wearing it.

This outfit was another good excuse to wear my new Jeffrey Campbell boots, which as I mentioned before are insanely comfortable. Last week I received the Clinic wedges that I ordered via Solestruck's automatic notification system; you'll be seeing those beauties very soon. Solestruck is slated to get more of the Clinics in stock next month; if you've been wanting a pair, you'll need to snap them up quick, because they're literally selling out within hours.

Hat: Audra Jean
Dress: Forla Paris
Argyle sweater: All Saints
Boots: Jeffrey Campbell

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Traveling Boots

I was disappointed with how this outfit turned out, which is sad considering just how long it took to put it together (I assembled it in the morning, rather than beforehand -- mistake #1). I think the bright red should've been right next to my skin, or else I should've put a darker layer underneath, because it seems like the light button-down washed out my top half and made the red shirt look an unflattering shade of orange. I quite like the interesting layering and shape of this shirt, but it is a bit difficult to wear -- I thought it looked good styled simply as I did in this post, though, so maybe when it's warmer I'll try it again unlayered.

Today I'd like to tell you the story of these boots, because Sal asked me about them awhile back and I don't feel I gave her much of an answer. I bought these boots back in 2006 in Prague, at an immense shoe store called Bata. As far as I know, Bata shoes are available all over Europe, but I've never seen them over here. The store on Wenceslas Square has 7 floors of shoes (or, as Jess dubbed it, 7 floors of YES!); behold the simple and elegant store directory in the photo on the left.

Oh, the sights these boots have seen, and the stories they could tell. They have walked me countless miles across Europe and Iceland; they've seen a Mozart concert at the Festung Hohensalzburg and a performance of Carmen at the Wiener Staatsoper, they've danced to indie bands at Iceland Airwaves, they've trekked the cobblestones of Riga and Budapest and Krakow and Copenhagen; they've climbed the steps of the castle tower at Český Krumlov and strolled the canals of Bruges, they carried me through my ridiculous wanderings after a morning spent at an Amsterdam coffeeshop, and they were on my feet when I got a speeding ticket on my way to Stalin World.

And yes, they've also trudged me to work and back more times than I can count, but their presence during some of my most memorable travel experiences is what stands out in my mind. Perhaps, having been purchased abroad, they were always destined to be a pair of traveling boots.

Sure, they're not the fanciest boots and in fact there have been times when I've wished they were just a little dressier or a slightly lighter shade of brown, but you can bet that I'll wear these boots until they crumble right off my feet. They're undoubtedly one of the most-worn items in my wardrobe, and while their comfort and versatility make them a staple, it is really their history that elevates them to a special place in my heart.

What are your beloved wardrobe items, and what memories do they recall?

Hat: San Diego Hat Co.
Button-down: Old Navy
Red shirt: Manuela Roth
Jeans: Joe's
Boots: Bata

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dreading Spring

As winter begins to wind down, I keep reminding myself that I need to get some more wears out of warm items such as this wool dress and multi-layered tulle skirt, because they're near impossible to pull off in warmer weather. I'm actually sort of dreading the arrival of spring, at least from a clothing perspective; it's my least favorite season to dress for. The weather rarely gets warm enough in San Francisco for anything less than full winter regalia at that time of year, and then pastels (which, sadly, are said to be big this spring) look godawful on me, especially after months without sun. Even the summer is tough here, because again it rarely gets very hot, but at least the color options tend to be more flattering for me.

What is your least favorite fashion season, and why? What are your tricks for coping with it?

This dress has such an interesting shape, with its bustled panel of boiled wool in the back. The curved hemline allowed more of the tulle to peek out, giving the back a completely different look from the front of the outfit. To add some contrast to my upper half, I layered the leopard top under the dress and left the dress unzipped far enough to reveal the top's ruffled placket.

Dress: 2026
Top: F21
Skirt: Noa Noa
Socks: Sock Dreams
Shoes: Seychelles (via Solestruck)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Jumbled Together

For this outfit I chose a monochromatic color scheme and made it interesting by doing some crazy pattern-mixing; I've got stripes, floral, abstract, and argyle all jumbled together in varying intensities of navy blue. Basically I started with the dress and then just pulled out a bunch of other navy items and started putting them together. I like how the striped hoodie gives a casual flair to the outfit, while the abstract patterned skirt eases the transition between the stark white background of the dress and the dark argyle tights.

Because there was so much pattern going on, I kept the accessories to a minimum, choosing a simple silver and black necklace and a solid black belt. There's really no need to go overboard with jewelry in an outfit like this; in fact, I probably didn't even need the necklace, but it went so well with the other silver and black accents that it blended in.

Looking at these shoes makes me happy; I just love the funky lacing across the top. However, I still lament the fact that these shoes only come in two very safe, neutral colors, because a two-tone version would be so much fun. If I can ever pick up a pair of the brown ones for cheap, I'd be tempted to dye them or have it done professionally.

Hoodie: from a local import shop
Dress: Noa Noa
Belt: Red Dress Shoppe
Skirt: Ralph Lauren
Shoes: Tsubo

Monday, February 15, 2010


This outfit is comprised of the somewhat odd combination of burgundy, orange, and pink, and hopefully I'll be able to effectively explain how I got there. It all started with the burgundy and orange skirt (and I realize it probably doesn't look burgundy and orange on your computer screen, but trust me, it is!), which I purchased while Jess was in town.

Let me just digress here for a minute, because this actually happened to us while we were shopping at the Skunkfunk sample sale on Haight Street: the sales girl came up to us and said, and I quote, "Ladies, would you like a cocktail while you shop?" I can't make this up, kids. Jess and I looked at her, then at each other, then back at her, and asked, "Have you met us? Ah, YES!" So we had cocktails while we shopped. And it was... inspiring.

So this skirt is what I bought. It is saturated shades of orange and burgundy, and when I put it on I was actually stumped for a few minutes because although I've got plenty of other burgundy and orange things to go with it, I knew I needed a third color. What goes with burgundy and orange? I struggled for a few minutes before I came up with the solution, which is: What goes with burgundy OR orange? Well, lots of things. Pink, for instance, goes with burgundy beautifully.

Now you might think that with this skirt being one of the players, orange is automatically one of the main colors in the outfit. NOT SO! The "main" colors are determined by repetition, not so much by surface area (the same is true in interior design, btw). By adding the burgundy boots and cardigan I repeated the burgundy color 3 times; by choosing a pink scarf, belt, and bracelet (I could also have put a pink shirt under the cardigan), I repeated pink 3 times. How many times does orange appear? Once. And since it's already incorporated alongside burgundy in the print of the skirt, it totally works. So as long as I pull one color out of this skirt and pair that color with a suitable mate, I can make this skirt work with just about anything. And so can you.

Do you have an item in your collection that has an odd color pairing? Do you have any new ideas for what to try it with?

Scarf, belt, cardigan: gifts
Bracelet: Betsey Johnson
Shirt: Michael Stars
Skirt: Skunkfunk
Boots: Miz Mooz

Friday, February 12, 2010


For quite awhile I had my eye on these Jeffrey Campbell shoes:

But then I saw these...

aaaand finally these....

Hey, it's not like you didn't already know I was a shoe fiend.

Now, early on I ruled out the Potion sandals (the top pair), for a few reasons. For one thing, open-toed shoes are tough for me, and I figured that with all those straps there'd be plenty of opportunities for pain. And then, I'm not super comfortable with a solid wedge that's that high -- I think they look great on other people but I have a thing about my feet looking like Frankenstein's, which I fear they might in those. And finally, everybody seemed to own that pair, and I didn't want to be like everybody.

When I saw the Clinic wedges (the second pair), I was really in love. They solved the problem of Frankenstein feet because the metal siding makes it look like the wedge isn't such a massive hunk o' shoe, and they obviously solved the problem of the open toes. But by then they were sold out everywhere, and there was just no tracking down a pair in my size. So I used Solestruck's nifty feature of an automatic email notification if/when my size became available again, and kept looking.

At last I found the X-Ray boots, the third pair, the one that wasn't too hot or too cold but juuuust right. Bless you, Jeffrey Campbell, for making so many variations on this style (there's also a tall boot version, a clog, and a mary jane!). With these there are no Frankenstein block-feet and no skin-scraping open toes. As an added bonus, you can tuck jeans into them. Though they were also sold out at the online shoe retailers, I found a brand new pair in my size on eBay without any trouble, and a happy ending was made.

I wore my towering wedges to work last week and achieved a full 6'1" height, causing multiple coworkers to do double-takes and one of my employees to cower in fear when I stood up from my desk (I'm pretty sure he was only half joking). Because these shoes have the potential to look a bit over-the-top, I wore them with jeans (tucked in, of course!) and a relaxed menswear blazer/tie combo.

These shoes are, believe it or not, remarkably comfortable. Though the angle looks steep, they don't really feel any taller than a regular heel. There was one interesting drawback though, and that was driving my car. Though my legs grew by 5 inches, my arms certainly didn't, so while I could slide the seat back to a comfortable position for the pedals, I had to stretch my arms to their fullest extent to reach the steering wheel. Next time I'm definitely driving in flats and changing when I get there.

In the end I loved these shoes so very much that when I eventually got a notification from Solestruck letting me know that the Clinics were back in stock, I snapped them up too. The Clinics are going to be a little more challenging to wear because they're a bit more daring than the X-Rays, but nevertheless I'm pretty excited about the possibilities for bad-assing up my bare-legged summer outfits.

Blazer: Nanette Lepore (thrifted)
Tie: thrifted
Shirt: Max Studio
Jeans: Acne
Boots: Jeffrey Campbell

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Goodbye to a Visionary

What can I say that hasn't already been expressed about the tragic loss of Alexander McQueen? The fashion world has lost a truly gifted individual.
RIP Mr. McQueen; you will be sorely missed.