November 30, 2015

Keep Calm and Carry-On: Packing Cubes

It's Cyber Monday, and I'm celebrating by scouring the internet for great luggage deals. This is going to sound like one giant ad for eBags, but I swear they're not paying me (...yet. Psst...eBags? We can take this relationship to the next level any time).

I've always been a fan of traveling with carry-on luggage and skipping the hassle (and fees) of checked baggage, but it definitely makes efficient packing a challenge. One of my favorite packing tools in recent years has been my discovery of packing cubes.

You can find them online in a variety of colors and brands, but I always stick with eBags because of their variety of size and color options, and they always seem to have a sale or coupon going on.

So what are packing cubes and why bother with them? If you travel a lot, you probably already know the rolling trick to help maximize space. I've done this for years and always found that it helps me keep things more compact. The problem is by night #1, I've dug through my neatly rolled clothes and destroyed half of the work, and I can never seem to remember where I put the one tiny little rolled shirt I'm looking for without having to open the rest of them. This is where packing cubes come in. Think of them as little dresser drawers inside your suitcase.

1. They help compress the rolls you've created and keep them from coming undone and moving around in your bag. You pack the cubes, not your bag, then just toss them all inside.

2. You can keep items organized by type or by when you plan to use them. You can choose to put t-shirts in one and socks and underwear in another, or you can pack days 1-3 in one cube and days 4-6 in another cube and never have to mess up what you're not ready to wear yet. This saves me time on trying to decide what to wear, too, because I'm not opening that Friday cube until Friday.

3. They have little handles, so they can be used as a quick and easy overnight bag. If you're like me and there's always that one night of the trip where you're crashing at someone's house and it doesn't make sense to lug your whole suitcase inside, you can just grab one of these and go.

4. It keeps dirty clothes separate from clean clothes. Early in the trip, my packing cubes serve as a divide between the dirty and the clean by the simple method of clean goes inside, dirty goes outside. As the trip progresses and I've worn half of my clothes, an entire cube becomes designated to dirty. This is super helpful because I can never remember to pack a bag for dirty clothes.

Bottom line, do they magically create extra space where there wasn't any? Of course not; nothing will. But they sure do help keep things tight and organized and where I can find them. Check them out on and see what color and size fits you best!

Pro-tip: The Large size is almost the same size as the entire inner compartment of a carry-on suitcase, so I don't find it useful. The small and medium pictured below are my favorites. :-)

Packing before + after with the help of packing cubes.
 (Santa hat is mine; tequila bottle is not. Don't ask questions.)

If you're interested in trying them out for yourself, shoot me an email at or leave a comment with your email address and I will send you a coupon from eBags' friend referral program for 20% off of your order.

November 13, 2015

The Roots & Rock 'n' Roll Tour: Arizona State Fair

Everything about our trip to Phoenix was over-the-top ridiculous. The original plan was to leave straight after the San Francisco show and take turns driving and sleeping. With the extra day off in between shows, were were going to hit Yosemite National Park and Joshua Tree along the way before staying in this fabulous little hideaway called Hicksville Trailer Palace, then head to Phoenix the next morning before the show.

Here's what really happened. I got the second driving shift, a.k.a. the one where we all had to stop and sleep because everyone was too tired to drive. Let me preface this by explaining that I live on the east coast, and my knowledge of California geography is minimal at best. So we stopped, I was given thorough directions on how to use the GPS on my friend's phone, the destination was programmed in for me, and all I had to do when I woke up was literally press "go" and follow the directions. I did it all seamlessly without waking anyone.

About two hours later, the cute little snow-capped mountains in the distance started coming strangely closer than I expected. I had driven us halfway up a Sierra Nevada mountain before my friends woke up enough to question my navigation.

The conversation went something like this.

Friend: This doesn't seem right. Did we go through Sacramento?
Me: Yeah, I think I saw signs for Sacramento.
Friend: Sacramento is north of San Francisco.
Me: Oh.

Google maps were double checked, and we found ourselves at Lake Tahoe. Because why wouldn't we find ourselves at Lake Tahoe?

So we never made it to Yosemite or Joshua Tree National Park. We didn't exactly pack for the 27 degree weather we found ourselves in, and we had to stop twice to put air in the tires because of the low temperature and altitude. But hey, Lake Tahoe is gorgeous.

(To be fair, I followed the directions and my friend programmed the destination correctly. Google maps just gave us a completely different route than it had shown her when she checked it from a computer earlier in the week. It won't stop any of us from making fun of each other for the next decade. #RememberTheTime...)

A number of hours later we went from snowy mountains to a starry desert. The one place we DID make it to, albeit a little late, was our home for the night at Hicksville. I'd love to go back and get to see it with a few more daylight hours to spare. Maybe next time we'll even get to see a national park we meant to be at.

The show at the Phoenix fair was a fun but quick 10 songs, and I wouldn't trade any of it. We got to see Nelson open for Hanson and watched as two Nelson fans bolted for the empty front row center seats during Nelson's last song. They were excitedly waving a piece of paper that turned out to be a picture of them with Nelson back in 1990, 25 years ago. It's always fun to run into another band's brand of crazy and see how similar and different we all are.

I was irrationally excited for "Thinking 'Bout Something" as always, and we mostly butchered the dance as always. One day we'll actually practice and relearn the ending that we've forgotten. After the show we managed to walk out into a crowd of people that looked like they had a purpose, so we joined in and found ourselves at Hanson's bus for a final goodbye. It was the strangest crowd I have ever been in waiting for Hanson to come out. The excitement level was serious, and it felt like a mix of fans that hadn't seen Hanson live in years and maybe some that hadn't realized they were still alive until that morning. Everyone was in a calm and mostly organized line that security set up until Taylor rolled out, and then all bets were off. There was screaming and a literal stampede and tears, and I felt like we somehow wandered through a time machine back into 1997. The best part is there were so few people that the crowd wasn't deeper than 2-3 people at any part, so there was no great competition or risk of not getting your chance to meet them if they came out. I'm almost sad Hanson didn't get to see it happen to appreciate the chaos for themselves.

I was also not kidding when I said Taylor "rolled" out. He showed up to sign autographs and take pictures riding a hoverboard up the driveway incline like it was a normal thing to do, complete with security holding onto him at all times to keep him from breaking his neck. Like I said, strangest bus scene I've ever experienced. Now every time I see the picture my friend and I got with Taylor, I'll know that no matter how normal we all look in the shot, he's secretly standing on a hoverboard. *insert all the bad puns in the world about Taylor putting the "Roll" in the Roots & Rock 'n' Roll tour*

Afterwards, we spent a whole $10 each to ride one ride, but it was worth every penny.

I wish we could have kept up the travels and made it to Disney, but I guess I already got my share of theme parks this tour and there's always next time. I already can't wait for Jamaica in January where I'll have a side of adventure with my Hanson instead of the other way around.

Roots & Rock 'n' Roll Tour: San Francisco

San Francisco felt more like normal tour since we had to drive several hours before and after and it didn't have the ease of flying in that all of the other cities had for me. It made me realize that I actually do like the craze of driving on a time crunch and battling out who is awake enough to take the wheel and for how long. We showed up with no place to stay and used Hotwire to book a last minute 1.5 star hotel down a crazy steep street. We showered at a YMCA and I gave myself a mild black eye with our car door in the dark parking garage. All of it felt a little bit closer to right than the easier parts of the rest of the tour.

We took a very hilly walk through the sunny streets of San Francisco, and I have to say of all the walks I have ever done, this one had the most colorful array of debris along the sidewalks (I'll spare you the specifics). It was definitely a place to watch your step. Past a homeless community on a pedestrian pass, someone had written "LOVE" in mustard on the sidewalk. There was no time to stop and take a picture for future "Where's the Love" jokes, unfortunately, but I was impressed when we passed it a second time on the way back and it was still there, footprint free. All questionable sidewalk decor aside, it was a gorgeous day for a walk.

You can check out a few more pictures from the walk HERE.
I want to say great things about the shows because it was the end of the tour and we even wound up front row center for Night #1, but something just felt a little off. Maybe it was the crowd or the venue staff or the fact that Hanson was getting sick, or some combination of it all. There was a fight in front of Taylor's piano right before Hanson took the stage, and I think that killed it a little bit. We shouted for security to come and after a million years they did, and they shined flashlights and looked around and seemed confused. After the show was over, I saw the same person I watched throw a punch before the show walking away from the same area I thought security had removed her from, so I'm not sure what happened, but someone somewhere failed. I guess I'll just be thankful my black eye was self-inflicted and not a result of whatever that mess was.

I'll never not enjoy front row center, though, and they put all the energy in the world into their new cover of Ben Folds' "Kate." It's one of the few Ben Folds songs I'm not familiar with, but they nailed it and made it fun even though I didn't know it. For the final encore the last night, Hanson, Paul McDonald, and Carrick & band all came out and sang "The Weight" together. The whole tour they had been introducing the band's drummer, Brijesh, as single. For the last show prank, Hanson came out and handed out fliers with his picture and real phone number on them. It was funny after the fact once we found out what was on the fliers, but as someone that wasn't up front who only saw wads of paper (and a couple of Zac and Andrew crafted airplanes) going out into the crowd, it wasn't this big funny moment that was shared with the whole crowd the way some pranks have been in the past. It felt like we were watching someone else's inside joke that we didn't quite get.

Hanson was too sick to come out after the show, but the weird spectacle of people wandering around afterwards was totally worth the wait anyway. A street vendor set up shop next to us with some questionable looking hot dogs that nobody dared to buy. Carrick, Austin, Brijesh, and Paul came out and talked to the crowd for a while, and a random (homeless?) man at the bus stop came over to Carrick and started singing for him. He had this surprisingly great deep voice and began serenading everyone with "My Girl" which turned into the weirdest crowd sing-along ever featuring this random bus stop guy, Carrick, and a crowd of corralled girls behind a barricade all singing together in harmony. I think it might have been better than if Hanson came out, though I would have loved to see them join in for "My Girl."

I'm always a little hesitant and nervous to write anything less than an amazing review of a Hanson show, but I'd be more hesitant to write some cleaned up, half-truth version just for the sake of appearances. I'd rather give you my semi-jaded, realistic version of the truth than waste your time with fake rainbows, and the truth is if you expect to follow a band or be a fan of anything for longer than a minute, you have to anticipate the lows along with the highs. It's too exhausting to waste your time being upset the minute something isn't perfectly amazing, and you'll wind up constantly angry and hurt if you let every imperfection scare you away. "Amazing" simply doesn't exist without some basis of comparison, and I'll never be upset by those moments because a low-ranking Hanson show still ranks way above whatever else I could've been doing if I wasn't there. The secret to being happy and sticking around is caring exactly the right amount about the right things and being able to truthfully say "whatever" or "maybe next time" to the little disappointments. Because there will be a next time, and you'll be there remembering all of the best of times that came before.

November 12, 2015

Roots & Rock 'n' Roll Tour: Los Angeles

One of my favorite parts of this trip had zero to do with Hanson and everything to do with my inner child visiting Disneyland covered in green body paint. With the LA show a day after Halloween and so close to Disneyland, we couldn't NOT come in a day early to do Mickey's Halloween Party. After much deliberation about an appropriate group costume for 3 girls, we finally settled on Wizard of Oz characters. Just not Dorothy and her usual companions.

We had a lot of fun and enjoyed several little girls including a miniature Dorothy stopping us for photos. I'm not normally a fan of repeating Halloween costumes when there are so many options out there, but I would totally do this one again. Halloween MOE 2016, anyone?

Beyond having a favorite band, I'm normally pretty terrible at assigning the term "favorite" to anything else involving Hanson. I can never pick a favorite song, brother, city, or show because my opinions always change and there's always something amazing about each individual option. I can say with a decent amount of confidence though that the LA shows were my favorite of the four cities I did this tour. The crowd energy was great, I loved the setlists (Oh Darling and Underneath the first night were both great surprises), and the second show in particular just felt right, even if a tall girl with hair to rival Andrew's stood in front of us about five minutes before the show started.

I've been loving Isaac's rambled intro to Hand in Hand at every city. I thought it was particularly great in Atlanta when he told us it's kind of an inside joke in the band to see how long Isaac talks when they leave him alone on stage (hate to break it to you, Isaac, but it's not just the band that jokes about this). After that it was obvious he was intentionally rambling just to see how much time he could kill, and he did a superb job with on-the-spot made up teen angst love songs. He took this a step further in Los Angeles and somehow wound up tying in an unexpected solo version of Rain in the middle of this speech. Dear Isaac, please always sneak in extra songs to mess with your brothers.

Before and after the shows there was a random guy on the street selling cheap bootleg t-shirts I can only describe as hideously great and necessary. He told us he had had them since Hanson played LA in 1998, and based on the state of the shirts, I believe it.