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. 😛