Fly Like A Pro

First time flying? Or has it been so long that you don’t quite remember the ins and outs? Follow these tips and you’ll be (or at least look like) a well seasoned traveler in no time!

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Pack Light

Navigating through life is much simpler when you have less baggage. The same can be said about traveling.. literally. On most flights you are allowed a carry-on and a personal item. On international flights the free luggage allowance includes a checked bag up to 23kg. This does not mean that you must pack every kilogram or even need to bring every bag!

The easiest way to travel is by not checking a bag. Packing for 2 weeks can be achieved with only a carry-on and a personal item (backpack, purse, etc.) if done wisely. A quick google search will render millions of posts on how to do this. There are many benefits to only flying with a carry-on: your luggage is with you at all times. You can get through the airport much faster. No need to wait in line to check your bag and drop it off, and no need to wait after your flight in baggage claim. I used to pack my carry-on full to the gills but for some reason there is this increasingly popular trend for airlines to enforce their weight limits on carry-ons! Gone are the days when you could get by with your carry-on being almost as heavy as your checked luggage with no penalties. Not every airline does this but they are well within their right to, so save yourself the anxiety and keep your carry-on underweight.

I went to Sweden for the summer and packed a checked bag, carry-on, personal item, and even squeezed in a purse. If I had to do it again, I would pack differently. My carry-on and personal item were so packed that I didn’t have space for the things I bought throughout my time there.


How I used to pack a.k.a. how not to pack

If you are going to be gone longer or just need to check a bag, I would recommend forgoing the rolling carry-on and go with just your personal item. That way you only have to roll around one large bag. Be sure to stay within the weight limit because they will weigh this one and the overweight fees are pretty hefty. When packing a checked bag, keep in mind that airlines are ROUGH with luggage. My suitcase is always significantly more scratched when I pick it up. I remember sitting in my window seat on one flight during boarding and watching the crew chuck the suitcases onto the conveyor belt that brought them up to the airplane. NEVER place breakables or valuables, like a laptop, in your checked luggage, especially if they are not well wrapped. Put that in your personal bag.

*Just a heads up: if you are flying on a full flight and your carry on looks big or has wheels, they may ask you to check it when you get to your gate anyway. Be sure to take out breakables.

One final packing tip for those who plan on going shopping on your trip or will be bringing back lots of souvenirs (or if you’re like me and your clothes just always seem to multiply before your return journey) – bring an empty rolled up duffel bag in your suitcase. You can use this extra bag to put all of your extra goodies. If you have already used up your free baggage allowance you can always purchase more – I recommend adding this online before flying home for the most cost efficient option. Keep in mind that you pay for extra luggage and overweight fees both ways. An extra checked bag is $100 there and $100 on your return trip. If you pack an extra empty bag in your suitcase on the way there, you only have to pay for an extra bag on the way home. If you don’t have a collapsible bag laying around, go to a thrift store at your destination and look for a cool piece of luggage – it could double as a fun souvenir!

A handheld luggage scale is worth its weight (and all the weight it can carry) in gold.

suitcase scaleIt will save you so much time, money, and headache. Pre-luggage scale days we would step on a scale to weigh ourselves, step off, step back on holding our luggage and attempt to read the scale over the big suitcase obstructing our view. Or we’d cross our fingers hoping we’d come underweight when they weighed it at the airport. We have a manual one but you can find a digital one for around $10-15.

Personalize Your Suitcase

There’s a reason everything tries to be “the new black”. Simply: black is the best color. Black will always be the new black when it comes to versatility. It goes with everything, it’s gender neutral and doesn’t show dirt or marks. There is only one problem with having a black suitcase: EVERYBODY HAS ONE. Trying to pick out your black suitcase in a sea of black suitcases moving around on a baggage carousel is difficult. I’ve seen people grab a bag they thought was theirs, only to return it to the carousel after a closer inspection of the luggage tag. When walking through the airport I heard announcements asking passengers to make sure they had the correct black Swissgear luggage and to return the mistaken bag to the gate. Save yourself the trouble and opt for a color other than black.


We invested in a set of dark teal hard shell suticases – not too flashy but not black either.. and the funny thing is that we almost took the wrong suitcase! It was dark, we had been traveling for 24 hours, and the other suitcase was the exact same style.. just black.

Is black your only option? Tie a brightly colored scarf or piece of fabric around the handle of your suitcase for high visibility. This is great because you can always remove the scarf once you’ve found your luggage.

Book an Inexpensive Flight

Notice how I didn’t say cheap flight. There is a difference. An inexpensive flight is getting a good deal whereas a cheap flight is budget airline cheap. In most cases, budget airlines are not worth it as they end up nickle and diming you to death.. but more on that in my budget airline post. There are ways to book an inexpensive flight on a decent airline if you get the timing right. If you purchase a flight too far in advance, the airline thinks that you need to have that specific date (otherwise why would you be booking so early) and thinks you are willing to pay for it. So you will. A lot. If you book too late, the airline knows you need to have that specific date and will charge you heavily for booking last minute. Prices for flights tend to drop 3-4 months out for international flights.flight diagram

Flying out is cheapest on a Monday or Tuesday and during non-peak travel seasons. I like to use Kayak because it compares all the websites and lets me look at all the flights in a 6 day range of departure and return. Another website is Skyscanner and this is helpful for booking 2 one ways for a lower price than a roundtrip. Roundtrip tickets are usually less expensive than a one way but sometimes you can find 2 one ways cheaper when booked on separate airlines – this is called a hacker fare.

Check In Online

Most flights are eligible for online check in 24 hours before departure. This is a great time to pick your seat if you haven’t done so already. I prefer the window seat because I love watching outside, plus you have somewhere to lay your head. Once checked in, you are given the option to print your boarding pass or have it emailed to you. I generally print it out at the airport but have it emailed to me as a back up. Mobile boarding passes are finicky and aren’t always read easily by the scanner. I prefer paper boarding passes because they slide easily into my passport and I don’t have to constantly hand over my phone to TSA and ICE officers at various security checkpoints. Plus they make a great addition to your scrapbook.


If you check in online and aren’t flying with baggage, you can print off your boarding pass (at home or an airport kiosk) and go straight to security. This way you can avoid the baggage drop off lines.

Get Your Meal Faster on Airplanes

Depending on the length of your flight, you may be offered an in-flight meal.


Attendants generally serve food from front of the plane to back. Seats towards the front of the plane are sometimes marked as “priority” or “comfort +” and can be obtained for an extra price. Benefits include inches more of legroom and service faster. I generally find myself in the back of the plane, forced to smell the food for what feels like eons before I get it.. or I get the pleasure of watching it stroll by me to the front of the plane.

I was on a flight home from Stockholm chatting away with a lady when a flight attendant dropped a meal off on her tray. Only hers. The lady said it was because she requested a gluten free meal. On the subsequent plane rides, I watched attendants bring out the special orders before serving the masses.

In an age with increasing diet restrictions because of medical and religious reasons, or just sheer preference, airlines are becoming more accommodating. When booking a flight, mostly intercontinental, there is usually a place to state dietary restrictions or preferences. On my last flight, there were over 10 options to choose from – from vegetarian to gluten or dairy free to even kosher! If you choose one of these options, you will get your food first! The best time to request these is at the time of booking but anytime before 24-48 hours before departure works for most airlines. If you wait until you get to the airport, you will be too late.

*disclaimer: although I love the idea of getting my food 5-10 minutes faster, I have not personally tried this one out. I had the option but I couldn’t bring myself to sacrifice meat or carbs..


Here are just a few tips for making the flying process easier. In no time you will be traveling like the seasoned traveler you are about to become!


Summer Plans

I just bought tickets for Japan. And South Korea. And I’m leaving THIS month :O

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This summer I am volunteering at an English immersion summer camp, USA Summer Camp, in JAPAN!! My university has a partnership with Guy Healy, Japan, the summer camp, and they sponsor around 100 college students (20 from my school) every summer to be camp counselors. Minus spending money and a few administrative fees here and there, the camp pays for it all- including airfare to and from Japan (and a bonus trip to South Korea to see my friend)! #score. I am so incredibly thankful for this opportunity.

Guy Healy (second from right) with Caroline Kennedy, the US Ambassador to Japan.

“USA Summer Camp is a unique English camp experience bonding counselors from the United States with campers in Japan. About 100 counselors are selected and invited each summer to Japan to work with campers of all ages and in all parts of Japan.” Camps will consist of nine 3-day camps stretching 6-7 weeks starting early July and ending late August. American Counselors (ACs) will be “friends” who enjoy meals, recreation and free time with their campers. The AC’s responsibility is the campers.” That will be me!

Camps are held in 6 different locations throughout the country. I got my team placement and I am stationed in…

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Semester in Review

Today is officially the first Monday of my summer vacation! The semester is over!! I haven’t been able to post a lot because, well, I’ve been so busy. Keep scrolling and you’ll see why.

Lots of mixed feelings. This semester was filled with meeting new people, new experiences, and lots of goodbyes. I like being in class and learning, even exams aren’t that bad.  But, I do not like all the homework, papers, and busy work. I’ve written well over 60-70 pages this semester. And that’s just counting the 10 page research papers due for each class. If you add up all the assignments, essays, project reports, and reaction papers, I’ve written well over 100 pages this semester alone. Phew.

Let’s start at the very beginning.


1st semester at a new school in a new town. I was searching for an international club at my new school and when I googled it, I found an potluck at a church for international student welcome week. Simeon and I met some pretty cool people including Gea, Jorick, Jordi, and Marvin from the Netherlands, and Liridon from Sweden there.16252167_10154209364630778_1587941063223948494_o

School got off to a quick start. I signed up for 6 classes: International Relations, Geography of Latin America, Sociolinguistics, Modern Russia, International Security (can you tell I’m an International Studies major?), and Volleyball. UWP includes textbooks in with tuition fees so everyone gets textbooks from the bookstore.

The first week was full of welcome parties. Gea and I went to the Intervarsity chili cook-off and I participated in my first nerf gun war. UWP was playing in hockey. Chinese New Year was also in January so the university was having a celebration.


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How to Learn the Hard Way

Despite how it sounds, learning the hard way is really not that hard at all. It can be achieved by these three simple steps: adopt a strong sense of indestructibility, disregard advice, and make rash decisions.

A perfect storm has been brewing for quite some time now. And it just struck. In the form of an electric storm. It’s been electronic-frying. Literally.

My external hard drive broke. Everything from the last 5+ years was on there: wedding photos, travel pictures from 9 different countries, the entirety of not 1, not 2, but 3 old computers, important documents, videos for editing, the list goes on. None of it was backed up.

Now not everything was in my control but I sure made things worse by: perceived indestructibility, paying no mind to advice, and rash decisions. If you like the path of most resistance, be like me and follow these three steps, You too will be treading an uphill path with maximum difficulty in no time.

Adopt a Strong Sense of Indestructibility:

Younger folks, this comes easily to us. We’re young, things don’t really affect us. They say to stretch before working out but who does really? Sure, you may be a little sore after but it goes away in a few hours. We’ve also mastered the art of surviving on little sleep. We can stay out all night and still be chipper the next day. We’re young. Our bodies bounce instead of break.

Not only are our bodies indestructible, but we are impervious to consequences. Our decisions affect only us and only in good ways. When you see someone in a bad situation, remember, that’s a them problem. It will never happen to you.

I can count two separate occasions in the past week where the conversation focused on hard drive failure. I even watched a YouTube video of a girl’s external hard drive breaking and the data was not backed up. It NEVER crossed my mind that I needed to back up my data. That hard drive was my only copy. That would’t happen to me. That couldn’t happen to me.

*Bonus points if you adopt a “sucks to be you” mentality when seeing others in bad situations.

Disregard Advice:

Advice can be difficult to hear sometimes. We like doing things our way. When someone gives us input, especially unsolicited, that’s just a bother. I mean, how much wiser than us can a person be? Who do they think they are, telling us what to do!

When someone gives you advice, don’t listen. Tune it out. Stick your fingers in your ears and shout, “LA LA LA” if you have to. They aren’t going to tell you anything you don’t know anyway, so why listen?

I remember it like it was yesterday (because it was), “Don’t go downloading random recovery software on the computer. We don’t know what’s on there and we don’t want a virus.” Huh? Sorry, I didn’t catch that. I couldn’t hear you over the fingers jammed in my ears.

*Bonus points if the advice comes from a loved one, whose only goal is to help you.

Make Rash Decisions:

Caution is for the weak. Refrain from using it. Thinking through things slows you down. Keep this in mind when thinking through your decisions. Better yet, don’t think through decisions! Just do it. Careful thought requires patience. Ain’t nobody got time for dat.

“Just be patient and wait for the parts that we ordered to come. Maybe that will fix it.” <– And ignore that, too. That’s starting to sound like rational thinking. The drive can only be improved by running multiple software programs on it right away. This has absolutely no potential to damage the files even further. Act now, think later.

To be fair almost all of the recovery programs I downloaded were perfectly fine. But since this is neither horse shoes nor hand grenades, almost does not count. Fast forward 24 hours later and a virus is attacking the computer (which incidentally isn’t backed up, either).

*Bonus points if you make rash decisions WHILE disregarding advice. 2 for 1.


Follow these 3 simple steps and you have yourself the hard way. Can’t remember all of them? Do not despair. Even if you just do one of these steps, you will still be on the path of difficulty in no time. OR, learn from my mistakes, and do the opposite of everything I just told you.

Mumford & Sons: Review


Wilder (Wo)Men


Standing in line on a crisp April day in Madison, I spotted a girl barely old enough to be a teenager and felt a sense of familiarity, a sense of déjà vu. I watched her as she waited energetically, expectantly. She reminded me of someone. My gaze floated through the palpable excitement emanating from the line of thousands of people eagerly waiting for six o’clock.


After waiting in line for hours, 10,000 of us packed into the Alliant Energy Center awaiting the much-anticipated concert that sold out in minutes.


On walked four band members adorned in tweed vests, lazily buttoned shirts, and suspenders, to the dimly lit stage: Marcus Mumford, Winston Marshall, Ben Lovett, and Ted Dwane; better known as Mumford & Sons. No introduction needed as the crowd exploded into cries and applause. The band launched into song, strumming their guitars at full volume.


Mumford & Sons is an indie folk rock band hailing from the United Kingdom. The four band members are deemed literary geniuses with lyrics alluding to acclaimed authors from Shakespeare to Steinbeck. They started deep in the underground London folk scene, climbed to number one on the Billboard Top 100 chart, and arose to attain a Grammy award for Album of the Year for their second album Babel.

The band’s core instruments were the acoustic guitar, piano, double bass, and the banjo for the first two albums: “Sigh No More” and “Babel”. By the time their third album came along, they had developed a blasé attitude towards the banjo. After touring with it for years, they decided to exchange it for an electric guitar, trade the double bass for a full drum set, and appropriately name the new album “Wilder Mind”. Their musical influences switched from Bob Dylan and Bon Iver to Led Zeppelin and Radiohead. Thousands of fans, myself included, were heart-broken by the news of change. The banjo was our symbol of solidarity. It set us apart from the rest of mainstream rock and pop. Mumford and Sons has attracted a unique bohemian inspired, counter cultural, mainstream shunning, hipster-like following with their banjo plucking and euphoric harmonies.

The verdict was that Mumford & Sons must have had a new son and named him Chris Martin because their new sound, full of electric guitar and synthesizers, sounded like the lovechild of Coldplay and Imagine Dragons. Which is okay… if you like that kind of stuff… Those bands are good, but they’re not Mumford. Most fans craved the original sound that lured them to the band in the first place. Naturally, they did what seems to be the norm in this day and age: fans took their opinions and their angry thumbs to social media to create the hashtag #bringbackthebanjo.

“excuse me mumford and sons you have seem to forgotten your banjo in your new song.”
“So, judging by the new Mumford and Sons track, they’ve decided to become Coldplays of Leon.”
“Mumford and Sons have gone electric?!? This is a hipster natural disaster. Stores will soon start running out of goat milk and herbal chai.”

Of course, you can only imagine the tumultuous applause of 10,000 passionate fans that greeted the banjo upon its entrance on stage.


Whether it is your tenth or ten thousandth time listening to these songs, you can still glean new meanings that are universally applicable to many situations. These songs are like your favorite pair of leather boots: perfectly broken in just for you, but go with everything because they are timeless. The lyrics explore relationships, spirituality, pain, death, and love on a much deeper level rather than repeating that the “DJ got us fallin’ in love.”

Song lyrics are similar to poetry; sometimes they rhyme, sometimes they tell a story, but usually the intent is to convey emotion in a written or musical form. We observe this in the lyrics of “Below My Feet”:

Keep the earth below my feet
For all my sweat, my blood runs weak
Let me learn from where I have been
So keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn

One commentator theorizes that this song is about, “a death causing a crisis of faith and rejection of an old belief system, which is followed by a new view on religion and life. I think it is also about humility. He’s going to learn by doing, and serve by watching and listening, because what better way to serve people than to make them feel watched and listened to”. These singer-songwriters employ the perfect amount of ambiguity to be open for personal interpretation.

Not only are their lyrics poetic, the music composition is as well. The tune begins in a subdued, austere, and unassuming manner when singing about struggles. Then come the harmonies, one or two at first as to not overwhelm. It feels as though a friend or two have come alongside you to help share your burden, but not the whole village, as not to overwhelm–not yet anyway. One author expresses, “the tune builds from the simple and passes into another realm of runaway wild, fireworks passion unselfconscious and warm” (Smith ).

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Before long the crowd and I jump to our feet, balancing steadily on one foot while the other stomps along to the raging tempo. The band’s British accents are belting out the literary lyrics with such intensity that I sense they are singing straight into our collective soul. We have no choice but to lose ourselves in unselfconsciousness. There is light at the end of our struggles and we now have the weight of a village behind us, cheering us on.


And just like that, it dawned on me. It wasn’t a feeling of déjà vu but rather reminiscence and nostalgia from my own personal experience. It was me. I was that girl’s age–barely a teenager–when I first started listening to Mumford & Sons. I was inspired by the passion exuding from the timeless and emotionally charged lyrics ever since they penned their first album in 2007. Soon after, I found myself shopping for my first acoustic guitar and spending hours scouring YouTube for how to play my newly acquired instrument. Mumford and Sons inspired me to step meekly out of my comfort zone to convey my own emotions on paper. Even though this was a struggle, it did not matter. I had the weight of that village behind me; I could do anything.


How to Help Refugees Here

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me… Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

portraits-dubuque-iowa-29-of-112I have been working with refugees and migrants for about 5 years now. In the grand scheme of things, that may not sound like much but that’s almost 1/4th of my life. I am excited for the sudden swelling of support for refugees and migrants.

Travelling to a foreign land can be exciting yes, but also terrifying. Even more so when you are forced to flee your home for fear of your life and resettle in a land you may or may not know anything about. God has given me a heart for the international population here in America and I’ve made it my mission to love these strangers in this foreign land. I invite you to do so with me.

Put down your protest signs and open your arms. Open your homes. 

Standing for hours demonstrating how much you dislike something is one thing. You have every right to [peacefully] do this. Spending those same hours mentoring and volunteering to take refugees shopping for basic needs, furniture, and food is another.

Say the protests work. The order is reversed. Refugees come in. Then what? Are those hundreds of thousands of people protesting going to redirect their efforts to resettling the refugees they fought so hard to allow in? Guess what people: THERE ARE REFUGEES HERE RIGHT NOW IN NEED OF HELP. You don’t have to wait for a reversal of the order. You can help right now!! Here’s how:

Teach English.

Become a conversation partner and teach English. You don’t need to be a qualified teacher to help someone with their English. If you can read this and have patience, you are qualified to help people work on their English. Talk with them. Listen to them. Give them a chance to practice their English and make mistakes in an encouraging environment. This does wonders for the language confidence level. Just because they may not be able to communicate right away does not mean they aren’t smart! One of my dear friends, and one of the bravest people I know, came to college in the United States for her second masters degree after teaching finance for years in Korea. You would never know that unless you took the time to string together the sentences of her beautiful broken English. Most of those coming over have been to college and have steady jobs. Those degrees don’t always transfer here and they have to start all over.

Be a friend and a mentor.

Along with taking refugees shopping and helping out with basic needs, volunteer to be a mentor. Once the basic needs are covered, people need a friend. They need someone to show them the ropes: American survival skills.

As someone who has had the pleasure of visiting other countries, I can tell you just how helpless it feels when you can’t even take care of your own basic needs! We fail to properly appreciate living in familiar territory, at least I did. For instance: how to get from Point A to Point B. When fleeing a country, a car isn’t necessarily a top priority of things to bring with you. Money isn’t typically in abundance to afford a new car so one is forced to rely on public transportation. Navigating the [non-existent] public transportation system here in the US is already challenging for me as an American and English is my native language. Just imagine navigating through cities you barely know in a 2nd 3rd or even 4th language. Offer rides to the grocery store. Things as simple as mailing a letter and grocery shopping become daunting tasks.

Show them how to: get insurance, set up a phone plan, get a driver’s license, etc. Help them figure out where to take their kids when they get sick, etc. Explain the difference between what Americans say vs. what they really mean. Ex.: “We should hang out sometime” is more a way of saying we could be friends and doesn’t mean get out your calendar and fix a date right then and there.

Had I not had someone showing me how to navigate the roads and rules of the land, I’d probably still be on a train to nowhere, figuratively and literally.

How do we find refugees already here? 

I’m glad you asked.

Here is a link to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) page. Clicking on your state will bring you to a page with all the main volunteer agency affiliates near you.

Don’t see one within feasible driving distance from your town? Don’t despair. Partner with an organization in your community. Do a little research to find out who heads up resettlement in your community and get in touch: call, email or march over to them. World Relief, an organization dedicated to resettling refugees, is constantly looking for volunteers.

Other ways to help:

Don’t have time to give? Give old clothes or donate money. Go through your closet and donate clothes you don’t wear anymore. Research organizations to make sure your money is actually going to help the refugees.

Still can’t find refugees but want to help the international community and immigrants? Go to a local school or the international department of the local college. Most universities have an English mentor/ conversation partner program for the international students and they won’t turn you away. If they don’t have one, start one. My first college didn’t have one so I found some willing volunteers at a local church and we sat down with the International Student Coordinator to discuss ways the community can get involved with the international students.

Lastly, love them.

Love them like Christ loves you. Love them like you would love Christ. Love and treat them like you would want your loved ones treated if the situations were reversed. These people are sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, and children. Maybe not yours, but somebody’s.

Pray for them. Ask God to provide for their needs. Pray for their safety fleeing their home country and travelling. Pray for their spiritual condition. What an amazing opportunity to share the gospel with people who may have never heard it before. What an amazing opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Matthew 25: 35-40 says: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”