Safari Prep: PrettyLittleThing Vacation Wardrobe picks

As we get closer to Black Friday and my epic Golden Birthday Trip to Africa, you know I’ve had to do some ridiculous amounts of wardrobe prep. And what better way to prepare for the trip of a life time than by buying amazing pieces that would fit perfectly with a Safari backdrop.

If there’s somewhere that I’ve been hesitant but excited to test out for clothing it’s PrettyLittleThing. I ordered from here maybe a year or 2 ago and wasn’t too impressed with the quality, but many of my girlfriends and a lot of my guilty celebrity crushes have raved about the online store, so I thought I’d give it a second chance. All I can say is, they’ve redeemed themselves!

When choosing my picks, I really focused in on perfect Safari looks. So browns and khaki’s were my colors of choice.

The Boiler-suit: Khaki and Safari ready! I’m going to look a little like I’m in the Wild Thornberry’s, but I’m all for it. This suit is the perfect easy and breezy fabric to handle the 97 degree temperatures in Zambia so I’m all for it.

The Dress: Whoever said you can’t pull off wearing brown with a little more melanin, didn’t see me in this. This dress definitely is a little more on the scandalous side and I’m not quite sure when I’ll actually be wearing this—maybe I’ll find time in-between visiting the Giraffe sanctuary and the Elephant orphanage in Kenya or I’ll just keep it for a night out in Cape Town.

I was a little nervous at first since this is a body con dress and I’ve pretty much stayed away from this style since 2011 when my booty and my morals were much smaller, but all my fears were washed away when I put this on. It hugs all of the right curves and is super flattering. Definitely a curvy goals dress!

I also got 2 other pieces that I’m super excited to wear on my trip. Of course they’re in khaki and are great casual essentials for our wine tasting and museum touring days.

I definitely love both of these pieces and can’t wait to wear them on my trip! What would be some of your vacation essentials?

So Close but yet so Far: The In's and Out's of Traveling to Cuba

I don't think there's a place more intriguing to an American than Cuba. While there's only 90 miles of water that separates us, we couldn't be anymore further away. So when I received an email from Delta Airlines in September saying that commercial flights would be available starting December, I just knew I would have to go. 
Here's a breakdown of my trip and what you can expect from traveling to our closest Caribbean neighbor.

cuba-sitting-in-the-gray

THE FLIGHT:

After convincing my girlfriends that we couldn't pass up this opportunity (better yet instagram convinced them), we booked our flights and started planning our trip. I originally planned to go in January and found a ticket for $204 round trip--ROUND TRIP PEOPLE. But, with schedules and timing we decided to travel at the end of February. While my girlfriends took SouthWest, I decided to stick with a direct flight through Delta. My round trip flight for a 6 day trip was $272, still an amazing deal for a country that has seen an influx of US travel. The great thing about these commercial flights opening up travel to Cuba is the ease of travel. With the price of your ticket, included is the required health insurance and you buy your Visa directly at the terminal for $50 before departure.


THE VISA:

Because there's still restrictions on flying to Cuba, you have to review the OFAC guidelines and state your reasoning for traveling to Cuba--aka this is not a trip that you can just go and lay on the beach for a few days-- you must have a legitimate reason for coming. As I've always been intrigued with Caribbean and Afro-Latino culture, I used the People to People reasoning. With People to People, you're basically stating that your coming to Cuba to interact and create a dialogue with the people of the island. 


WHERE TO STAY:

With any trip, it's important to look for a safe and secure place to stay, so when planning for Cuba we weighed both of our options for Hotel and Airbnb. As pricing for hotels are astronomical (+$350 per night) I definitely didn't feel it was economical to go that route. Airbnb, if you can find a good one, is a great option if your looking for a more affordable and interactive option. Just remember to READ THE REVIEWS. You never know what you're truly going to get with Airbnb or host.com, so reading other travelers experiences will definitely help when choosing the right ones. For the 4 nights my girlfriends where with me in Cuba, our total Airbnb cost per person was $34. Comparing that to almost to over $300 per night, there is no comparison.


ITENERAY:

There's soooooo much to do in Cuba, so having a detailed itinerary will save you so much time. From the museums, preserved towns, and monuments to iconic restaurants and bars, there's literally something for you to see every moment of the day. It's better to make a lists of must-sees and backburners so you can plan out your time and budget efficiently. Havana specifically is a pretty large town but is definitely walkable, but if you're going to another town like Trinidad that's 4-6 hours away, remember to take into consideration that travel time.
Airbnb also launched an excursion section on their website where you can pay for different experiences with locals (definitely fits into the People to People Visa requirement). From going on a literature tour to working out with a Cuban Olympian, there's so much that you can do.


FUNDS:

If you thought Cuba was just another Third World Country where you'd get stuff for pennies, you're definitely about to experience a reality check. Not only is the CUC a 1:1 conversion with USD, but Cuba imposes a 10% tax due to the Embargo plus a 3% exchange tax. So you're actually loosing a load of money. Although you can get a decent meal with at least 2 mojitos for under $30 and Airbnb hosts most likely offer a $5 hearty breakfast or have it included in the price, it's better to bring more money than less. For my 6 day trip I brought $500 and converted $460. With my conversion I ended up with $401 in CUC. Although my last day was pretty tight, (I only had about $65-even after converting my last $40 USD-- left to spend on food, drinks, a cigar, my last museum visit, and my taxi ride to the airport the next morning) I had a decent amount of money to enjoy for the full week. Also factor in the $25 CUC from the airport and back--you don't want that to be the reason you can't get home to the US. To be more safe than sorry, I suggest at least $125 per day. Convert about 2/3 of the full amount so you don't get hit with the double conversion on the way back when you try change CUC to USD.

ALSO REMEMBER: Credit and debit cards aren't recommended to use and probably aren't even taken. So you'll need as much cash as possible to last your whole trip.

6 Days, 5 Adventures, 4 Friends, 3 Countries, 2 Dreams, and 1 Heck of A Time!

Being young wild and free is what should be expected in your 20’s, so when my girlfriend Sanga suggested we take an impromptu trip to Dubai I could not pass it up. As I’m suffering from jet lag on a 4am train back to NYC from DC, I thought it was only right that I give you an inside look at one of the best trips I’ve ever been on in my life. Here's a quick recap of my trip and of course my outfits.

 

DAY 1: Washington DC —> Amsterdam

I'm wearing a Naked Wardrobe 2 piece set with a Forever 21 bomber jacket and Nike Roches

I'm wearing a Naked Wardrobe 2 piece set with a Forever 21 bomber jacket and Nike Roches

Instead of doing a direct flight to Dubai, we decided to take long layovers to get a chance to explore 2 new cities we’ve never been to. The first being Amsterdam.

After a 20 minute train ride into the city center, we had breakfast at a pancake house where we ate authentic crepe style pancakes with mandarins, honey and powdered sugar. We then walked through the narrow streets and canals to the Anne Frank House. Even at 8am, the line to get into the museum was down the block, but we were lucky enough to find Anne’s actual front door before other tourists staked it out.

 

DAY 2: First Day in Dubai

After a 7.5 hour flight from Amsterdam, we arrived in Dubai at midnight but didn’t get out of the airport until close to 2am! For being such a large airport, going through customs was an absolute nightmare. It seemed as if there were thousands of people arriving at the same time and instead of having organized lines, it was a free for all. I would have taken a photo, but we heard and saw a tourist get yelled at by an airport security person dressed in the traditional dishdasha and agal for taking a picture of him. Which is an understandable reaction. I think being a westerner, we don’t really take into consideration that their garments that we may see in the media aren’t costumes but are actual staples in every day life. You wouldn’t take a picture of a New Yorker because they primarily only wear black right? Lets just say, I was not going to take a chance of photographing anything in the airport.

My girlfriends and I were lucky enough to already have connections in Dubai. We stayed with our friend Eddie who’s lived in Dubai for 2 years already. If it wasn’t for him, I think we would have been a bit all over the place when it came to choosing attractions, foods, and overall just fun amazing experiences on our trip. He for sure was the plug of a lifetime—LOVE YOU EDDIE!

 

Day 3: BRUNCH AT THE PALMS

Naked Wardrobe Head to Toe, Steve Madden heels

Knowing Eddie, we expected the turn up was going to be beyond real every day of our trip. So, it was not a surprise that our first official day would start off with the most extravagant brunch I’ve ever been to. The Saffron Brunch located at the Palms Atlantis did not disappoint. 4 hours of unlimited food and drink, plus great music made even my favorite brunch spots in NYC look like child’s play. My favorite food had to be the braised lamb (I literally think I went back for more 5 times, that’s how good it was). The alcohol choices were beyond as well. From a Jack Daniels station to an Absolute snow cone machine, there was nothing you couldn’t get if you didn’t want it. From brunch, there is a shuttle that takes you directly to Indulge, a club also at the palms. As most people where continuing their brunch turn up, the crew and I were winding down a little—the time difference is definitely a bit of a killer, but we were determined to push through. 

DINNER AND A VIEW

From Indulge, we took a pit stop for about an hour break and then headed to dinner at Reem Al Bawadi. The food and the sheesha (hookah) was great, but what made this place that more fantastic was the VIEW—I have to capitalize it because you just won’t ever understand how sublime it really was. As we ate and smoked on cushioned couches in perfect 70 degree weather with the Burj Khalifa directly behind us, I could only imagine how amazing our trip was going to be. And what took this dinner over the edge, was the $30 price tag. Yes, we spent probably a max of $30 each for dinner sitting directly next to the tallest building in the world.

Fun fact, we went to the top of the Burj on Day 5! It's definitely gorgeous up there. Just knowing how many thousands of people worked on this beautiful building really puts yourself into perspective. Even the model display was taller than me!

If you plan on going to the Burj, plan to go ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP! Yes it's a bit steep in price, but the view, the experience and freedom is well worth it. By going to "The Top," you get to go on an observation deck without the huge crowds, a longer visiting time, AND macaroons! And who can say no to macaroons and fresh cucumber drinks while literally standing at the top of the world?

 

DAY 3: In the Dunes

I have to say Day 3 was the best day of my entire trip. We took a trip to the desert and had the time of our lives. We got picked up from Eddie's in a 4x4 and traveled about 45 minutes into the desert. After making a "10 minute" pitstop, our driver let out a little air from our tires (I know it freaked me out to) and we started our wild adventure through the desert. This ride was absolutely exilherating. Even though half of the time I thought I was going to pass out and die, (especially when the car was driving completely on its side!) this ride was better than any rollercoaster I've ever been on. We ended with a picturesque view in the middle of the desert. AND I finally got to ride a camel! This is probably the one event I will never forget.

 

360°

Even though we were exhausted, we ended our third night at 360°. Located in the middle of the ocean, we relaxed, smoked hookah and enjoyed each others company. The view was so spectacular as we were between  the Wave and the Sail of Jumeirah.

I wore a fitted midi dress from H&M that had thumb cutouts and cognac Steve Madden heels. This dress was perfect for 360 as it was pretty windy.

DAY 4: Abu Dhabi

Day 5, we traveled to the capital city Abu Dhabi and visited the Grand Mosque. This marble place of worship was absolutely breathtaking.

DAY 5: Last Day in Dubai

Our last day in Dubai took us to the Gold Souks. My girlfriend had gone to Dubai a few weeks prior and told me she found great deals in the Souks. Although I decided against purchasing anything, I thought it was interesting getting too look somewhat into Dubai's past. 

DAY 6: Bonjour Paris

AAAAAAHHHHH!!! I finally made it to Paris! This has literally been one on my dream destinations since I could remember. Although we only had enough time to visit the Eiffel Tower, it was definitely worth while. 

Reflecting

Reflecting on this adventure that I was so blessed to take with 2 of my best friends and sisters, I can say that moments like these really put into perspective of what is important in life. I'm grateful I got to experience this with great people and really disconnect for a while. And as I'm now sitting at my desk, all I can think about is where I'm going next.

The 1, 2, 3's of Passport Photos

I've been lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel all around the world since I was young (thank you military parents). I've officially had 4 passports since I was just a few months old, which is pretty cool when you  think about people who have never even stepped foot outside of the US. But the time has come for me to renew my passport and even more importantly to update the photo that will travel with me for the next 10 years.

When you think of a passport photo, you're either thinking total drab or glamorized Kim K status. For me personally, I'd love to be more on the glam side of the table rather than the Cousin It side, so I decided to try out taking my own passport photo. Yes, you can actually snap a photo at home rather than at Walgreens or the Post Office, and it's not as hard as you think. Here's how I got my new shots:

1. Choosing an outfit: You may think this isn't that important, but you should really think about what neckline you'll have in your photos. You don't want to do something too distracting, so keep your look simple and neat. Just remember minimal jewelry is always better. 

2. Beat your face: But as natural as possible! If you weren't born with double stacked Lilly Ghalichi lashes, you don't need them. Mascara will work just fine, but remember this photo is supposed to look as much like you as possible. Dramatics aren't necessary.

3. The Camera & the photographer: Thankfully I have my Canon DSLR and of course my Katie to take great photos. Trying to get a "glamy" shot, it'll definitely take a few tries. So it will be better to have someone who's willing to click away until you get the right shot.--Love you Katie

4. Lighting and Space: White walls and bright lights are requirements to get a great passport photo. Find a clear wall with bright/clear lighting to prevent any shadows. I also turned the brightness up on my camera to make sure I got the brightest light possible without distorting my look.

5. Strike a Pose: No you're not vogueing, but make sure to portray yourself as natural as possible. You can either do a neutral pose and give a slight smile, but don't go too dramatic with your facial expressions. Once you get the face you want! You've got the shot!

6. Size it up: Once you've got the shot, it's time for sizing. Passport photos must be 2"x2". To prevent myself from making a risky mistake, I used the official sizer provided on the travel.state.gov website. You just upload your photo and size it based on the facial outline provided. The cool thing about this system is that it catches you before you make a mistake in cropping (gotta love technology right).

7. Print it: After you've got your cropped image, there are 2 separate ways you can go forward with to get your photo printed. The first, you can upload your photo directly to Targetphoto.com's passport portal. They will print, cut and size perfectly 2 passport ready photos for $9.99. Fair enough right? OR you can print 6 passport ready photos for $0.29 at Walgreens and cut them yourself. I went for the later since I couldn't decide between 2 photos. I processed my photos through a website called makepassportphoto.com. They take your cropped passport image and fit 6 evenly on a 4x6 print. From there, I uploaded them to Walgreen's photo center and picked them up the next morning at my local Duane Reade for less the $0.60. 

Overall, the most difficult part of this whole process was choosing which photo I wanted to use. I'm definitely happy with how they turned out, and can't wait to get my new passport so I can start filling it up with all of the stamps I'll be getting this year. Stay tuned to see where I go!