November 22, 2023

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things: Carry On Edition

I don’t know about you, but I'm a total gear nerd when it comes to having the right packing tools and items to keep me comfortable on a trip. I’ll spend hours reading reviews and searching for travel blogs and Youtube videos before I decide which one is right for me. It's totally extra, but maybe you can benefit from the time I've already put into it, and what better time to share than a week when practically everything is on sale?

Below is a list of my favorite carry-on items & where you can purchase them. 

1. A hardside carry-on suitcase.

There's nothing wrong with softside luggage, but I prefer hardside for two reasons. 1. Liquid spills and rain slide right off, and 2. It keeps me from overpacking. I don't need the temptation to shove more things in my suitcase just because the fabric is flexible enough to let it happen. The overhead bin isn't expandable.

My current bag is the smaller Away carry-on in Petal. The price has climbed since I bought mine in 2020, but it has held up nicely and has a lifetime warranty.

2. The perfect personal item.

For me, the key to making carry-on only travel work is getting the largest personal item allowed without going over. Standard personal item measurements are 18"x14"x8", and I'm deeply offended every time a bag advertised as a "personal item" goes slightly over or significantly under these dimensions. I don't need a cute rounded top that scores off 3" of space on either side. Do you know how many pairs of socks and underwear that could have been?!

I'm currently using a Vera Bradley backpack that has a ton of compartments for organization and a passthrough sleeve so I can easily slide it onto my suitcase handle. I got it to replace the now-extinct Vera Bradley Lighten Up Go Anywhere bag, which I dragged around the world until the handles came off and would rebuy immediately if it ever got a reboot.

Why do I keep buying Vera Bradley bags? Three reasons: 1. There are so many organizational compartments that don't take up extra space. 2. I love their "ReActive" line, which is made of a lightweight water-resistant recycled material and not the standard quilted cotton you'd normally associate with the brand. 3. I happen to live near a Vera Bradley Outlet that has options you won't find online and at much better prices. Bonus reason: tons of cute patterns and colors to choose from if that's your thing.

The version I'm carrying came from an outlet and is a slightly different model, but this one is pretty close. And yes, I did take a flexible measuring tape with me into the store because I'm not paying Spirit Airlines an extra dime.

Alternate Option:

I don't own this one and can't speak to the quality, but based on size and organization, this seems like a decent dupe for the Vera bag I will forever be chasing, at a fraction of the price.

3. Packing Cubes.

There's no way I need to explain these to you; I'm just here to tell you they're on sale. I also like the idea of compression cubes, but the only time I've tried one, the zipper broke in half immediately, and everything in that bag was excessively wrinkled when I got to my destination. 

P.S. If you're going carry-on only, don't even bother buying the cute little sets that come with multiple sizes. The large ones are about the same length as a carry-on suitcase if not larger, and they'll save you no space. I use a mixture of 3-4 small and slim sizes and maybe one medium. Usually I skip the medium and just lay my jeans flat.

Small Ebags Set of 3:

Slim Ebags set of 3:

Slim Amazon set of 4:

4. The perfect travel pillow.

I swear I'm not being paid to say this, but Cabeau travel pillows are the only brand I've tried that didn't make me immediately want to chuck it down the aisle of the airplane. Most u-shaped pillows push your neck and head forward into the most unnatural sleeping position, but the Cabeau pillow is designed with a semi-flat back so that it sits flat against the seat while still supporting your head. I bought a new one last year because the carry sack for my old one ripped beyond use, and I have to say the new carrying case is about 10x better quality than the old version. Will I sleep on a plane? Probably still no, but I can't blame the pillow anymore.

5. A reusable liquids bag.

I finally divorced Ziploc bags the day the zipper broke in the 11th hour of almost being done packing for a trip to Brazil. I was so over it and desperate to get to bed that instead of reaching for a new bag, I grabbed packing tape, sealed the top of the quart-sized bag, tossed the whole thing into a gallon Ziploc, and called it done. I ordered these as soon as I got home and have never looked back. They hold noticeably more than a regular quart-sized disposable bag, but not so noticeable that TSA cares. The only thing I dislike is that I didn't buy them years ago.

 Set of 3

6. Waterproof footwear.

There's nothing more miserable than going on a trip and soaking your only pair of sneakers in the rain. Been there, done that, bought the emergency Walmart rain boots.

For years, my go-to packable rain shoes were Hunter Tour Boots (fitting name, right?) They're pricey, but I've had mine for over seven years and use them regularly at home as well as on trips, and they are still in good condition. I've never seen them go on sale, but they've been worth the full price to me. I skip the bag they come with and roll each one individually with an elastic hair tie to save more space.

(Jan. 2024 update: My Hunter Tour Boots finally died. I ordered a replacement pair in the same style and size and was disappointed to find they have a noticeably smaller calf area. I even tried sizing up and still no. Gonna have to change my recommendation to these are great, but only if you have slim calves!)

If you prefer something more versatile or compact, let me introduce you to my newest waterproof footwear obsession: Vessi shoes. 

Vessi makes "The world's first waterproof shoe," and my bathtub and I can confirm they really are 100% waterproof. What's great about Vessi shoes is they look like regular sneakers, so you can still pack and use them even if the chance of rain is low or zero. The only downside is they don't exist in half sizes, and my half size feet had trouble finding a good fit. The Weekend style pictured below suggests ordering down a half size, but I found the 7 a bit snug on my 7.5 toes, and the 8 was falling off of my ankles. They're still wearable, but if they ever expand their size range, I'd buy more.

(P.S. I googled "Vessi coupons" when I bought mine and was able to find a $25 off code.)

7.  An external charger capable of holding multiple phone charges.

I've never depleted this thing in a single trip and almost definitely did not need as much power as I invested in, but I bought it for a 17-hr flight to Australia where I brought my Nintendo Switch. It has since come in handy during bad weather with power outages at home, and I don't ever have to worry about remembering to charge it in the hotel before a return trip.

8. Concert Earplugs.

I've tried multiple brands over the years, but these are my favorite for comfort and sound quality. They fit well, never fall out, and aren't visibly noticeable if you're not looking for them. They even come with multiple sizes so you can get the right fit without having to guess. I probably would have tried the pro version if it had existed when I bought mine, but I'm happy enough with the regular style.

9. Mini Air Pump for pool floats.

Okay, I don't ALWAYS travel with this, but I always take it to Back to the Island now that I know it exists in such a compact size. My lungs give it five stars.

November 7, 2023

Island Casino Shows

This past weekend, I traveled to see Hanson play at a casino in a small town in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. For scale, I think telling you that the airport has one gate and only two flights per day gives you a good enough idea of the general size and availability of tourist attractions. Before I get into the show details, let me just express to you how many fake flight change notifications Delta sent out for this trip. I think I've now been permanently desensitized to the phrase "There's been a change to your upcoming trip." Of the 15 or so emails I received between May and now, only two contained an actual detectable change. One bumped me from having one layover to two, but that one got me out of a 6am flight, and I'll gladly airport hop all day long if I don't have to be up at 4am after a show. The other change was a complete fail that warranted a call to customer service because they had me flying from my home airport to a connection scheduled to take off two hours before I would arrive. I know time got weird while we were in the U.P., but I don't think even Island Casino Time would have made that connection work.

For those of you that weren't there, the weird time phenomenon I'm referring to is the fact that the Island Casino sits on the border of the Eastern and Central time zones. You can click here to check out their explanation of how time works for a good laugh or head scratch. Basically, smart technology goes haywire switching back and forth between Eastern and Central times while in the casino, so the casino chooses to follow Eastern time, and you have to turn off all the auto time updates on your phone to not be totally lost. Add in the fact that we left on Sunday when Daylight Saving Time ended and my first layover took me back to Central time before sending me home to the east, and I personally experienced three time changes on November 5th. There was also a great moment where I made an Instagram post while sitting next to my friend, and it immediately landed in her feed with a timestamp of being posted an hour ago while my own screen six inches from hers showed that I'd really posted it 10 seconds ago. Time is wild up there.

As for the concerts, I have to say I went on this trip fully expecting your typical "one-off" show setlists that Hanson pulls out for state fairs, festivals, casinos, and any random appearance where the majority of the crowd probably showed up out of curiosity and convenience. As if to prove my point, about five minutes before we left our room for the first show, we heard a girl in the hallway drunkenly butchering "MMMBop" and laughing while saying "I think that's the only one I know!"

The setlist from the first night was pretty much exactly what I would have expected, but I haven't had a Hanson show in six months--which is basically six years in Hanson fan time--so I was just happy to be there in a great seat. Something about "Strong Enough to Break" hit me as particularly good that night, and it was a fun challenge trying to coordinate the TBS dance with friends standing on the opposite side of the stage. A security guard kept moving and blocking my view of the friend I was watching for dance cues, so let's pretend that's why I bombed the first half of it. The other memorable moment was when the fog machine tried to steal the show during "I Was Born," and I legitimately lost Andrew and Zac in the fog for a moment. I know I've commented on overactive fog machines before, but this was the first time I actually lost visibility.

I don't really have any specific reasons to tell you why I had such a good time, but I missed Hanson a lot and was just happy to be back "home." My friends and I finished out the night in our makeshift living room with a coffee table picnic of various pickle flavored chips and Yooper chocolate bars, just happy we'd get to do it all again the next night and with no driving in between. Bonus points for getting a full night to sleep in a real bed, thought it honestly wasn't much more comfortable than a sidewalk.

The extent of our "exploring" between the shows basically spanned one end of the casino to the other, a few dips in the hot tub, and an excursion to the gas station next door that turned out to be a disappointing field trip to walk around in broken glass. The most exciting thing we found was free soda fountains and the fact that my friends tried to wipe out the snack aisle of the gift shop and somehow didn't spend over $6.

We were able to hear a bit of soundcheck on Saturday afternoon, but after hearing just two songs they didn't play the night before that both excited me, I decided to walk away to prevent 1) more spoilers and 2) disappointment if I got my hopes up and they didn't play them later. 

In the end, they far exceeded my expectations. I told myself not to expect a lot of song changes and figured maybe they would swap out four or five. Instead, we only got five repeats. Here's a side by side comparison of the two setlists:

setlists courtesy of

Things took a sort of "oh hey, that's cool" turn with "Runaway Run" and then plowed ahead into "oh I wasn't expecting this one" and "wait, where the heck did that come from?!" territory. I think the biggest surprise of the night was "One More," but "Tonight" and "Rambling Heart" are two of my absolute favorites, and their performance of "With a Little Help From My Friends" stole the show in my opinion. They didn't pair it with "Truth" the way they usually do, but I think that was the right choice this time to keep things more upbeat. I'm not sure if I was wrong to think of these as "one-offs" when technically it was two shows, or if they decided to switch things up when they saw how many fans showed up at the first one and that it wasn't just people wandering in from the casino, but whatever the reason, I'm grateful. The first show was like the comfort of going home after being away for a while, and the second was like going home and finding a surprise party waiting in the living room. 

After the show, we went back to our fake living room lobby where we had even more late night snacks and stayed up until 1am, twice. We didn't spot any Northern Lights this trip, or meals with vegetables, or full length mirrors, and our hallway kind of looked like a kid on a tricycle might turn the corner at any minute, but overall I had an amazing time seeing my favorite band play and reuniting with friends. I cried laughing more than once, my calves STILL hurt, and somewhere in my suitcase is a wad of friendship bracelets gifted by friends and stranger friends. Thanks to everyone that shared in the good time.

I can't wait to go back to the island again in January! Just, you know, not this one. 😛

September 13, 2023

What Lives In My Bag? A Lazy Person's Guide to (Not) Packing

As far as I can tell, there are two types of packers in the world:

Type 1
  • Starts pulling together outfits and packing a little bit at a time weeks before the trip
  • Has a detailed packing list and checks items off as they go
  • Has tickets, hotel reservations, and any important travel documents printed and/or saved digitally in one organized location
  • Has a trip countdown and a to-do list with a timeline. Knows exactly what needs to be done each day leading up to departure.
  • Plans to go to bed on time or early to make sure they are well rested for the journey
Type 2
  • Lives by the mantra “There’s still plenty of time before I leave”
  • Thinks about outfits and maybe buys a few new pieces with time to spare, but puts off actually washing and packing them
  • Has had a packing list at some point in life, but is convinced it is all committed to memory and therefore does not need to be written down or checked off
  • Does laundry at midnight the night before the trip
  • Pulls an all-nighter to finish packing
  • Has to finish unpacking from the last trip hours before leaving on the next one
  • Realizes at least one missing item once it’s too late to go back

Personally, I'm the one that tries to be responsible and print important documents, but not until 2am the morning of the trip when I inevitably discover my printer is out of ink. I guess you could say I’ve spent most of my travel life trying to pull off Type 1 accuracy on a Type 2 timeline. And while that generally can’t be done, there are a few shortcuts that I’ve found work well for me as a chronic procrastinator.

For years, the final steps in my travel prep routine included brushing my teeth, doing my hair and makeup, and then cramming all of those items in my bag right before leaving. One day after forgetting my toothbrush and having to buy one at my destination, it occurred to me to just leave that extra one in my bag for next time. It's something I'm sure savvy travelers have been doing forever and I'm just late to the party, but it led me to another realization: If I could buy an extra toothbrush and leave it packed forever, what other things could I cut out of my packing routine by doing the same?

Welcome to my favorite packing hack: With the exception of clothing, just buy two of everything and never unpack it. The end result is I'm perpetually about 35% packed, and I cut down on 1) the chance that I'll forget something and 2) the extra time it takes to pack those items.

So here it is, the list of things that permanently live in my bag and save me valuable packing (and sleeping!) time every single trip:
  • Toothbrush
  • All liquids/toiletries
  • My makeup bag & everything in it
  • Over the counter medicines
  • First aid supplies
  • Hairbrush & hair accessories
  • Hair straightener
  • Phone charger & external battery
  • Travel umbrella
  • Packable rain jacket
  • Passport (Obviously I don't own two of these, I just never unpack it, so I can't forget or lose it)
That's right, I have a home hair straightener and a travel hair straightener, I own duplicates of every item in my makeup bag, I have home bandaids and trip bandaids, two sets of medicines, and sometimes I leave my shoes packed if I know I won't use them between one trip and the next (my Chacos live in my bag every January to May). The lazy person in me absolutely loves waking up 15 minutes later on a travel day, brushing my teeth, doing my hair, and walking out the door with all of that stuff left on the counter instead of scrambling to pack a wet toothbrush and praying I remembered my phone charger.

Which type of packer are you, and what's your own favorite hack?

May 23, 2023

Hanson Day 2023

Do I even need to write a blog post about Hanson Day this year when Hanson released a perfectly accurate summary on a t-shirt?

I bought it immediately, but I also couldn't help making a few adjustments to reflect my own Hanson Day 2023 experience:

We may joke about chair duty, but HDay from the volunteer side is still a lot of fun. I'm often asked if I like helping out or if it's hard or if I miss having more free time, and the truth is we all give exactly the amount of time we are willing to put in. Nobody's required to give up their hard-earned vacation, and we all know what we're signing up for. I absolutely miss having more time to spend with friends that I didn't get to see a lot, but that's always true no matter what city I'm in or how long we had together. And as we discovered years ago, learning the logistics of stacking chairs efficiently in a confined space with a time limit is as good a bonding exercise as any to make new friends. Now we have the added bonus of hanging out while we "work".

In between holding doors and faux chair complaints, I made sure to max out every free moment with events. This year I attended HTP Live, Karaoke, Underneath Acoustic Revisited, the ST Leader Dinner, Grace Unknown, the Hanson Day concert, the Neon Ballroom Dance Party, the scavenger hunt, and the gallery and store. There's a reason "sleep" didn't make my t-shirt edit.

HTP Live
I enjoyed HTP live a lot last year, but this year's will hold a special place in my memory thanks to Isaac. He made a simple joke that fell flat(...ulence. Yes, his joke was as bad as the one I just made and on the same topic. Something about "Ripping in the Wind") that left him red-faced and practically crying laughing trying to get back on track. We were all dying laughing right along with him in the crowd even if his brothers were looking at him like they couldn't believe they share genes. You do you, Isaac. I can confidently say that whole segment was a gas. One day I'll have to tell him my own story about misreading the first two tracks on Underneath as "Strong Enough to Break Wind."

The reporters did a great job as well and got Hanson to give a few answers I had never heard before. They talked about their process of choosing themes for their fan club EPs and revealed that they gave each other characters/personas while writing No Sleep for Banditos. We knew Zac didn't wear pants for the recording (a fact that he kept bringing back up at HTP), but we didn't know it was because Taylor created a pantsless character for Zac to portray. Who knows what other gems are hiding behind the scenes of these writing sessions?

I say it every year, but I'm kind of obsessed with how supportive the crowd is for this event. You can forget every word or sing in a terrified whisper and rest assured, these people will have your back. Doesn't matter if you're 12 hours away from yelling at each other in line later, you're still gonna be besties shouting the same lyrics in 3 minute increments all night. The overall atmosphere is like drunken kumbaya vibes with random bursts of Isaac, and it really is a good time whether you wind up on the stage or just hang in the crowd.

I was too occupied to pay attention at times, so I’m sorry if you absolutely killed it and don’t get a mention. Here are a few highlights:
  • Isaac opened with “Two Princes” by the Spin Doctors and closed with a spontaneous cover of Semisonic’s “Closing Time.”
  • Most memorable moment goes to watching Isaac agree to play Ken for a group that chose “Barbie Girl”….and then slowly realize what the song is actually about while he was on stage.
  • Isaac clearly enjoyed joining a fan that chose “Hero” by the Foo Fighters. He said he had spoken with them about it earlier in the day and seemed genuinely excited to share that moment on stage and bring it all full circle.
  • Round of applause for the fan that brought Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” into the mostly pop mix.

Scavenger Hunt
The scavenger hunt was a new event this year that involved a mix of checking into physical locations around downtown Tulsa and completing tasks on to earn digital pins on the website. Despite the fact that I mostly cheated (all the applause for whoever decided to gift us a hints page AND a solutions page), this felt like a fun little detour down memory lane as I checked into and walked past so many places from the ghosts of Hanson Days past. The best part was running into two fans we didn't know while doing the first physical checkin, and then we just sort of adopted each other for the next hour and joined forces to get as much done as we could before having to split ways for the next event. We made it through15 clues wandering the sidewalks of Tulsa with perfect strangers, and while I'm not sure finding good company was the objective of the scavenger hunt, maybe it should have been.

It made me think I'd love to see a photo scavenger hunt in the future that encourages a bit more social interaction. Take a photo with people from at least six different states at the center of the universe, find two fans wearing the same Hanson merch, etc. I don't think it could be a paid event or award everyone prizes, but it would be a fun way to meet new people and get a few Hanson mentions on social media as well if you hashtag all the photos. 

Underneath Acoustic Revisited
I missed the Underneath tour era, so I was really excited for the opportunity to hear these songs in the acoustic "in the round" setting. The performance did not disappoint, and I can't recall a single messed up lyric or missed note from the entire show. The sound and performance quality were genuinely flawless. "Believe" was stunning, and it's probably weird to say that "Penny and Me" was another standout with how many times I've heard it live (106 according to hansonstage), but it was oddly great and somehow managed to sound and feel more special than hearing it on a regular tour. My favorite song of the entire trip, though, was getting to hear "Rip it Up," which I tried to request once years ago but never heard live until this moment. I suspect I may never hear it again, and it was a really fun era-appropriate way to end the set.

A few other observations:
  • "Rock 'n' Roll Razorblade" while sitting still in a chair is an actual crime.
  • The "in the round" setup was a great idea, but the capacity felt too large to pull it off. I would have preferred breaking the event down into several significantly smaller sessions old school Hday style, or just increase the capacity to fit everyone and put Hanson on the stage.
  • They should have dragged their "Dirrty" cover out of the vault instead of adding in TTA. It's a totally off the wall opinion, but tell me you disagree.

Grace Unknown
I was on the fence about attending this one and dragged my feet on tickets right up until the deadline. It's not that I thought there was anything wrong with the event concept, but to be completely honest, the topic falls into the same category where I put museums and nonfiction, aka- things that I recognize have value but do not interest me personally. I finally decided that whether the outcome was being pleasantly surprised or being sufficiently educated for any future fan commentary on the event, I ultimately didn't want to miss out. Thankfully, "pleasantly surprised" won in the end.

Isaac and guest speaker Charlie Baker talked about the importance of framing the way we think and how we shouldn't be asking ourselves "What is the meaning of life?", but instead ask "What gives my life meaning?" They discussed how we're not meant to carry the weight of the world or solve all of life's problems, but our time is better spent focusing on the people and things in our immediate world. Overall it felt like an exercise in the power of positive thinking and of being self aware of our own reactions.

I also really enjoyed Isaac telling us about an experience where he had a gut feeling about calling a friend and how it turned out that the friend was going through a tough time and really needed that call. I've been fortunate enough to be in the crowd a few times in the past when Isaac chose to share a more personal anecdote, and he has a real talent for storytelling and connecting with people in those moments. He's great at making you feel like he is sharing something special with you on a personal level while also making 300 other people feel the same.

At the risk of undermining every valuable thing that was said during the event, I have to admit my favorite part was when a random adorable husky snuck out of the backstage curtain trailing a long leash to ask us for pats and attention before being slowly reeled back in right before the lecture began. For a brief excited moment, I thought we were going to get to discuss the joys of therapy dogs. Puppy snuggles totally help give my life meaning.

Hanson Day Concert
I want to have great things to say about this show, but the somewhat embarrassing truth is I'm about two sentences away from pausing to check hansonstage to remind me what they played. I know the show opened with the new EP, but I was too busy to stream the new EP before the show, and it's always hard hearing a brand new song in a live setting where I'm going to miss at least 40% of the lyrics and be distracted by the crowd. The other thing I remember without phoning a friend is that the encore was weird. Literally. And that felt pretty anti-climactic to me.

*opens new tab, consults setlist, returns with slightly jogged memory*

Okay, so I would also like to give a shoutout to "White Collar Crime," which despite slipping my mind always gets my adrenaline going. It was my favorite of the night. I'll also add an honorable mention for "Tonight," which probably would have ranked much higher in my memory if there hadn't been some distracting things going down in the crowd near me at the time. I don't think the setlist was bad, it just didn't include any particular "wow" factors this year in my opinion, and they're usually pretty good at throwing in a few good curveballs at HDay shows. (for example, I don't need to consult hansonstage to tell you they played "Boomerang" last year!!) For what it's worth, though, I love being up close and feeding off of the energy of the band and the crowd around me, and I was near the back for this one. I think being tired, far away, and having the option to sit did me zero favors, and I hope my own personal mediocre experience won't be too Debbie Downer for anyone who had the time of their lives. There's still nowhere else I'd rather be.

Neon Ballroom Dance Party
This year's dance party was probably my favorite one yet. I loved seeing all of the fun bright clothing everyone chose (A+ to Hanson for coming through with the blacklights!!), and my own outfit snowballed into some sort of accidental neon Barbie look. Walking into Cain's with another wig-clad friend felt a bit like Romy & Michelle walking into their high school reunion.

My favorite part of the night was when a small dance circle of maybe 7 friends kept growing until we had a circle of probably 20+ random fans all cheering each other on and taking turns dancing in the middle. Thanks for jumping in on the fun if you joined! You all have better moves than I do; I'm just here for the sequins.

It's Time To Go Home
I'm pretty sure there's a direct correlation between my sappiest endings and how soon after the event I write them, because post-show magic does have a shelf life. "Day after" posts are when you get two paragraphs out of me on how flawlessly Taylor played a song I've already heard 40 times. Two days in, my opinions still feel shiny and new, and I'm rushing to finish before I can spoil them by reading others. But sometimes life gets in the way and I find myself at the end of my 6th workday in a row with my still-packed suitcase and unfinished blog. Four days ago I might have been tempted to spin you a cheesy conclusion about how the scavenger hunt is a great metaphor for every Hanson Day where we show up unsure of what we're going to find or how we're going to pull it off, but happy for the experience along the way. Today? I'm just going to wrap up the end of Hanson Day and what comes after on this concise shirt. If you think this is a "Weird" ending, blame Hanson; they did it first.

January 11, 2023

Back to the Island 2023

Before I even left the resort this year, I was already hearing people praise Back to the Island 2023 as the best one yet. The feedback I’ve heard so far is overwhelmingly positive, and while I’m not sure I would label it my personal favorite, I would agree that it has probably been the smoothest event yet where everything consistently went well overall. The music was well-rehearsed and varied, the weather was decent, the food was better than usual, the fans were relatively calm, and the staff went out of their way to make sure we were happy. There are a lot of little ways things can go sideways at these events (hello, cold showers and food poisoning), but we didn’t experience any of them. In the words of Isaac Hanson via Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah!

Island Vibes

I don’t know if it was due to the new mix of people that attended (with lots of first timers) or if maybe we’re all celebrating the lack of Covid testing and travel restrictions from last year, but whatever the reason, this year felt a lot more chill. The guys were able to mingle a bit more without being mobbed for selfies, and even the occasional cluster that formed around them waiting for a moment of conversation was nothing compared to the absolute swarm I remember forming around Zac in 2018 when a show got rained out. Taylor didn’t mingle much from what I could tell, but maybe his brothers will put in a good word about our behavior and he’ll feel more comfortable next time.

I think partial credit for the overall relaxed and happy vibe also goes to the resort staff, who in my experience were nothing short of wonderful. They were all smiling, friendly, and attentive. I didn’t get the feeling that they were fed up with us and hating their jobs, which is more than I could say for the Level staff at the Melia at times. I had a really nice conversation with one of the food servers at the buffet who seemed genuinely interested in knowing if we could tell that they were happy to have us there. I gave him an honest yes and a thank you for helping make it an enjoyable experience.

Full Band Shows

The first show was my personal favorite. It stayed mostly upbeat, had several lesser played album songs that I was happy to hear (Get Up and Go, Make it Out Alive, Musical Ride, Watch Over Me), and you can never go wrong with “Sunny Day” during an island vacation. My favorite part, though, was the medley at the beginning of the show. They played “Three Little Birds” with “Stir it Up” into “Back To the Island,” and the whole thing had a very mellow, slow tempo reggae feel. But then the reggae subtly morphed into more of a country vibe, which left me wondering what was going on, and suddenly, right in the middle of covering “Back to the Island,” I heard the unmistakable opening to “Man of Constant Sorrow” from the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou. I think it has to take the place of #1 most random song to ever happen at a BTTI, but it was so, so good and honestly my favorite part of the whole trip. It put me in a great mood and set the bar high for the rest of the shows. I tried to tell Hanson how much I enjoyed it during the M&G photo but fully blanked on every identifying aspect of the song in that moment, so I ended up thanking them for “that song in the middle of “Back to the Island” by the Soggy Bottom Boys.” I’m sure they understood. 🤣  

The second show felt like it had an unspoken fan club theme, and I suspect it's the fan favorite. Highlights for me were "Somebody That Wants To Love You," "Running Man" (which has become incredibly rare in the last decade), "Stop Me In My Tracks," and "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" featuring Zach Myers. The setlist was top-notch for stat seekers looking to add to their songs heard live list, but I think the crowd around me ruined some of the potential magic. I stood maybe 6-7 rows back on Taylor’s side at the “end” of a row and managed to have just enough gaps between heads that I could see. That changed when Zac came forward for the acoustic set and multiple people (including several tall men) came out of nowhere for a better view and filled in all of those gaps. I'm usually team "let tall people have good spots too" because they can't control their height any more than I can control mine, but that opinion doesn't extend to choosing a good spot in front of someone else halfway through the show.

Unpopular opinion: I'll take the same people in front row for every show over people casually wandering up to third row mid-show any day. At least I literally know where they stand and can plan accordingly, unlike nomadic drunk person #5 who's moving around like the ground is lava and the only path to safety is to carefully guide three friends into every sightline I ever thought about having.

There were also a lot of phones held way above heads in my vicinity at this show. To leave you with a visual, it wasn't my first time seeing "No Matter The Reason" live, but it WAS my first time seeing "No Matter The Reason" live while also watching a man brush his teeth live on FaceTime. Can we please not?

The last show was mostly RGB themed, which I fully expected to happen at some point. I probably would have swapped the order and made it the first night, but that’s just a minor preference and I don’t call the shots. I didn’t get any new live RGB songs out of it, but I loved the random inclusion of “Dying to Be Alive,” and it was fun to hear Hanson cover “Don’t Worry Be Happy” for the first time. I always forget what a great whistler Isaac is and am impressed every time I hear it. 

It had nothing to do with Hanson, but I can’t leave out a particularly memorable moment that happened during “If Only.” I know I’ve said the service was amazing, but what I haven’t said yet is that it was almost too good at times. Servers were constantly weaving in and out of the crowd with drink trays, and I got asked a minimum of 10 times per show if I wanted something from the bar, even though my answer was “no thank you” every single time. It was a bit much, tbh. Anyway, early during “If Only,” I see a single brave, unsuspecting server start to squeeze his way to the dense center of the crowd while balancing a tray of drinks. I lost track of him before I could see what happened, but all I could think was “That’s not going to end well.” I hope for his sake that he emptied that tray before the harmonica hit.

Solo Shows

This is the part where I remind you that I’m a 10 year attendee and that my expectations for BTTI have been adjusted accordingly. I’m fully aware that it’s not possible to shock me with brand new experiences and song debuts every single time. I can love Isaac’s performance of “Hallelujah/Amazing Grace” and Taylor’s “Sound like Joy,” but that gut punch, butterfly-in-your-stomach “is this moment really happening?” feeling only comes once, and in my case, both were in previous years. I still loved hearing the songs and have zero complaints about the solo shows, they just didn’t send me into gushing fangirl overdrive like I know Hanson is capable of once in a while.

My favorite part was getting to hear "Climb", and even though I heard it once years ago, it took me a moment to figure out what Isaac was playing when he pulled "Make it Through The Day" out of the vault. The timing of the shows meant we got to watch the sun set during Zac and Isaac's sets, and there's really nothing better than standing on the beach watching your favorite band play while the sun goes down over paradise.

Side Events

Family Feud may not be my jam, but at this point it feels like an inevitability that I need to accept. A friend made a comment about a Hanson version of Family Feud, and I think there’s some potential there. Make up some Hanson related questions and use Hnet members to poll as the audience.

Name a reason that Hanson would be late to a concert.
Name something embarrassing you might do during a M&G.
Name an item you might have to borrow at BTTI because you forgot to pack it.
Name a behavior you don't want to see at a concert.

I don't know that there are enough good questions to get two game nights out of it, but I feel like if we're sticking to Family Feud for the long haul, there must be a way to refresh it.

That's not to say I didn't laugh and enjoy parts of it, and I think the whole crowd walked away with a handful of new "inside" jokes with the band. There were definitely a few "you had to be there" moments. 

As for the dance party, I’m all for letting it stay a pool party forever and think themed is definitely the way to go even if they switch it up. I didn’t get in the pool this year, but give me a reason to pick out cute beachwear and I’m down (I’m just more down if the pool is heated). This year's dance party felt the most active with the most people attending/participating and visibly having a good time over previous years. I don't know if that's because it was moved forward a day and people didn't need to worry about packing or not being hung over on a plane, or if there were just more people at BTTI this year so the crowd was fuller. Either way, it was a good time, and the addition of an acoustic set at the bonfire with AMMM the final night kept me from being disappointed about not having anything to do after the show.

Allen Mack Myers Moore

Speaking of AMMM, I just want to drop a quick mention that I enjoyed them as special guests and appreciated all of the fun covers that they did during their set and during the bonfire. I only got to see them twice on the RGB tour, so I was glad for another opportunity. They were talented, entertaining to watch, and seemed genuinely happy to be there.

Gag Reel

If you've been near me at a BTTI in the last several years, you've probably seen me perched on an island-shaped pool float. Last year, I left my beloved island at the resort, so I had to find a replacement. Enter: 72" watermelon raft. It was the perfect size to lay on, but as a 62" person, I can assure you I did not think things through in terms or transporting it once it was inflated. After one rigorous trip of carrying it all the way down to the beach by myself from our room in the farthest building, I finally realized it would be easier with a friend. We devised a simple way to attach my roommate's ice cream float to it and just carry the two together. It worked well enough, but I'll definitely find something more to scale next year.

But lugging it from one end of the resort to the other was just the start of my watermelon woes. My second day using it in the ocean, I was floating next to my friend, other Holly, who was reading in a lounge float that leaves you mostly submerged. I was lying down, eyes closed and halfway asleep when I heard her begin to scream. I picked my head up just in time to witness several small fish jumping out of the water around/on her and one land directly on her chest while she’s desperately flailing her arms to shoe them away. I barely laughed once before I felt something moving on me and looked down to realize that several fish had jumped right up onto my float and body. For those keeping track, the screaming Holly count is now at two. (To her credit, Rachel also caught a spontaneous float fish, but simply tossed it off and went back to relaxing).

I’m not afraid of fish, but it was such an unexpected jump scare moment that I swear I levitated and flew right off of my float and into the water without even realizing that my brain had made the involuntary decision to jump ship. At the last second I heard someone shout "your sunglasses!" because yep, I noped out of that watermelon fishnet so fast that I forgot sunglasses even existed much less that I was wearing them when I dove into the safety of more fish. Pro tip: when three fish are on you, diving face first into a school of a hundred more isn't the answer. Adrenaline and intelligence aren't always linked.

So other Holly ran out of the water while someone helped me retrieve my sunglasses from the ocean floor. Everyone around us was in hysterics including me, because once the shock wore off I realized how utterly ridiculous the whole thing must have looked. There's actually more to this story, but I'm going to drop a link to other Holly's blog and let her tell you the rest. I’ll never forget a moment of it.

If you think I'm done talking about the watermelon, bear with me a moment longer. As you can imagine, Holly and I and several other friends made camp in the pool the next day. Safer, right? I wanted a few photos laying on my adorably inconvenient watermelon since I knew it was my last time using it. When I flipped from my stomach to my back, one of my friends said “Holly, where did you get that bruise on your leg?” I sat up and looked down to a horrifying discovery: my legs were totally discolored with large black marks. Turns out if you lay on a painted float with sunscreen that isn't fully dry, you run the risk of turning the entire thing into a giant ink pad. My legs were covered in watermelon seed prints. The view from the back was worse, but I ran away to clean it before it could set, so there's no photo evidence. Suffice it to say that mistakes were made, lessons were learned, and my watermelon is now, as the saying goes, "sleeping with the fishes."


I can't end without mentioning the fact that this year, we got to celebrate 10 years of Back to the Island. I took a moment to look back at my photos from BTTI 2013, and while I'm lucky not to suffer from FOMO (or rather, my FOMO is so intense it keeps me coming back), the nostalgia is real. That first resort no longer exists; we couldn't go back if we tried. A lot of the smiling faces next to me in those photos are no longer fans, and some, no longer friends. We'll never get to relive the mild chaos of Zac's first tie dye session, and I think it's safe to say that Isaac's days of being coerced into doing the Soulja Boy dance while mixing us drinks are long gone.

A lot can change in a decade, but it's not all bad. They've added the unique experience of solo shows that you can't get anywhere else. We got upgraded from Taylor cooking us fish to Taylor DJing a massive pool party. I've grown from being anxious about my first international trip to feeling like dancing in the Jamaican sand at a Hanson show is my second home. I've learned that the key to my happiness is overpacking swimsuits, that the rain never lasts long, and that there's nothing quite like being in a resort full of people who "get" you and the band. If you attended this year, the first year, or any (or every!) one in between, thank you for being a part of the experience. Happy anniversary. Here's to many more!