Ahead of the Pack

Staff members try to move a huge trolley case during the 100th Chinese Export Commodities Fair in Guangzhou, south China's Guangdong province October 15, 2006. This trolley case has been certified as the world's largest by the Guinness World Records and measures 175cm (5ft 9in) by 115cm (3ft 9.3in) by 46cm (1ft 6.1in) thick. Picture taken October 15, 2006. CHINA OUT REUTERS/Alvin Chan (CHINA)
This trolley case has been certified as the world’s largest by the Guinness World Records and measures 175cm (5ft 9in) by 115cm (3ft 9.3in) by 46cm (1ft 6.1in) thick. CHINA OUT REUTERS/Alvin Chan (CHINA)

I recently returned from a girl’s weekend and when I met my friends at the airport they seemed equally fascinated and horrified by the fact that I was traveling with only one small carry-on bag.  Mind you, this getaway was only for five days!  But even for longer trips I try to keep within the confines of one carry-on size roll aboard and a tote.  It reduces my stress, lessens the chance for lost items and increases flexibility if travel delays and/or interruptions occur.

  • Keep footwear to a minimum!  Shoes are usually one of the heaviest things to pack.  I try to go with three pairs (including the pair I’m wearing) or less.  If you are going to be dressing up, pick a skin-tone neutral sandal that will work with everything from dresses to jeans and a cami.  Choose something comfortable for day – a sandal, ballet flat, boot or sneaker based on your style and the weather at your destination.  Always try to wear whatever item is heaviest (usually a boot or sneaker).
  • Pack a palette that works together!  For me, this is usually a combo of black/white/grey and denim.  Scarves and jewelry add pops of color.  Don’t panic if you dislike neutrals – you can still find a palette that works together – think ombré shades, olive/peach/caramel or grey/teal/eggplant. Google color palettes if you need inspiration!  Packing items that can be layered helps when you will experience a variety of climates.
  • Pack efficiently!  Through years of trial and and error, the infographic below highlights the packing method that works best for me.  It’s a 3-layer approach with shoes and packing cubes or bags containing smaller items on the bottom, a divider piece in the middle and folded clothes on top.  The divider piece allows me to easily lift off the top layer of folded clothes and access items in the bottom.


Lastly, don’t be afraid to either re-wear some items or do laundry on the road.  It’s a great way to meet both locals and other travelers!

Cut to the CHASE (Sapphire Reserve Card)

Like many amateur travel hackers, I’ve been eyeing up the new Chase Sapphire Reserve card with it’s incredible 100,000 Chase Reward bonus points.  However, as the child of a fiscally responsible accountant and mathematician couple, the thought of paying $450 a year to a credit card company for the pleasure of using it’s services put a lump in the pit of my stomach.

Here is the article that convinced me to pull the trigger.  Apparently the $300 annual travel credit is per calendar year, not card holder year.  So by signing up prior to the end of 2016, I will get to use the $300 credit this year and again after the first of the year.  Right out of the gate this puts one up $150.  Mix in the complimentary Priority Pass Select membership that comes with the card and the triple point earnings on travel and dining and there is no question that I’ll come out ahead with this card.  The mathematical breakeven points for annual spend are demonstrated here in an article by The Points Guy.

Immediately after approval I contacted the Chase team via email portal to see if I could have the card expedited in anticipation of upcoming travel.  They replied that due to extreme demand for the card they were unable to accommodate expedited delivery at this time.  Imagine my surprise and delight when just four days after applying (including a weekend), my card arrived via UPS!  Thrilled with their customer service and can’t wait to start making a dent in the qualifying minimum spend.



Card Benefit Summary:

  • 100,000 Chase Reward points after $4,000 spend in the first three months (worth $2,100 or MORE)
  • $300 in statement credits annually for travel purchases
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔® (NOT limited to primary cardholder)
  • Complimentary Priority Pass™ Select membership
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Special car rental privileges from National Car Rental, Avis and Silvercar
  • Earn 3X points on travel worldwide from airfare and hotels to taxis and trains
  • Earn 3X points on dining at restaurants worldwide from fast casual to fine dining
  • Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • 50% more value when you redeeming for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Access to benefits through Chase’s The Luxury Hotel & Resort CollectionSM
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Travel and purchase protections
  • 24/7 direct access to a Customer Service specialist
  • Worldwide Travel Assistance
  • Access to the Visa Infinite Concierge (reservations or Broadway, music and sporting event tickets)

Trip Tales: Europe’s Baltic Region Part II – Top 3 by City

Last week’s post covered the logistics and point usage of our trip so this week I’ll focus on the sites, etc.  As a lot of ground was covered, today will highlight my personal “Top 3” in each locale.  Apologies for the poor photo quality – the main SD card was corrupted and is still out for repair so the majority of photos shown here are from the cell phone camera.

Stockholm, Sweden

  1. Vasa Museum – This warship was built in the early 1600’s and sank shortly into her maiden voyage.  Rediscovered in the late 50’s, a group salvaged this behemoth ship and made it into what is now the Vasa Museum.  One of the best museums I’ve ever been too!
  2. Stockholm Archipelago – From well developed islands to tiny spots of land with just a tent, a sail through the archipelago on a nice day is not to be missed.  We viewed from our cruise ship but plenty of day trips from Stockholm are available.
  1. Traditional Swedish Meatballs at Bakfickan – While available many places, I enjoyed a dinner of Swedish Meatballs served in the traditional manner (with fresh lingonberries and pickles) at Bakfickan – a restaurant next to the Opera with a lovely outdoor patio.

Tallinn, Estonia

  1. The Old Town Walls and Towers – Fat Margaret and Tall Herman are the two most legendary of Tallinn’s towers but the wall in general is just fun to explore!
  2. Raekoja Plats/Town Hall Square – Lined with restaurants this square is one of the hubs of life in the Old Town.  Grab a beer and some pelmeni (Russian dumplings) and savor the day.
  3. Fun Fact – While not an attraction, I was fascinated to learn that Tallinn is a world leader in the technology field.  That’s right!  Estonians invented Skype and Kaaza and Tallinn is considered the Silicon Valley of Europe.

St. Petersburg, Russia

  1. Eliseyev Emporium/Kupetz Eliseevs Food Hall – Right off Nevsky Prospekt this food hall was constructed in the early 1900’s and is an Art Nouveau gem both outside and in.  Stop for tea and a cake or to pick up some high quality edible souvenirs.
  2. The Peterhof Fountains – While the weather was being difficult this day, the grounds and fountains of the Peterhof still adequately impressed.
  3. The Hermitage – Enormous beyond words!  Personally, I was just as entranced with the elaborate interiors as with the artwork displayed.  So easy to imagine Tsarist life in these grand buildings.

Moscow, Russia

  1. Standing in Red Square in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral – How many years I’ve dreamt of this moment!  Thank you weather for cooperating.
  2. GUM Department Store/Upper Trading Rows – The beauty of this store surpassed my expectations!  With glass ceilings, elaborate flower arrangements and fountains throughout, it truly is breath-taking.  More a mall than department store in US lingo, GUM showcases most high-end, international brands.  Below a friend of Natty Gal is enjoying one of the famous 50 ruble GUM ice cream cones. (about 80 cents)
  3. The Armory Museum, Kremlin – As if the ten Faberge eggs weren’t enough, the Armory Museum also boasts one of the largest collections of carriages in the world, including three that belonged to Catherine the Great.
Russian Honorable Mention:
The subway systems in both St. Petersburg and Moscow live up to the hype and are not to be missed.  Some of the deepest and most beautiful in the world!


Helsinki, Finland

  1. Temppeliaukio/The Church in the Rock – This church, completed in 1969, was built directly into solid rock.  The dome is comprised of coiled copper.
  2. Eating in Market Square – The many fish/food stalls within Market Square provide a great, low-priced meal in an unbeatable location.  Soak up the sun at a picnic table and enjoy watching the harbor activity and tourists and Finns alike as they shop the various stalls.
  3. Local artwork and handcrafts – Of our stops, I was most impressed with the artwork and crafts in Helsinki.  While the usual tchotchkes were available, they had some fabulously unique pottery, glass wear, jewelry and woolen pieces.  Plenty of reindeer pelts for sale too, if you’re in the market for one of those.
Cool dish that caught my eye!Riga, Latvia

Riga, Latvia

  1. Art Nouveau District – Riga is home to one of the richest collections of Art Nouveau architecture in the world.  The small but lovely art nouveau museum has a beautiful interior restoration.
  2. The Entire Old Town – Just loved Riga and could see myself living here!  
  3. These Tennis Shoes – Spotted in a shop as I was walking around in the old town!

Klaipeda, Lithuania

  1. Sculpture Hunting in the Old Town – These sculptures are hidden in parks, on doorsteps, etc. throughout the small but charming town center of Klaipeda
  2. The Hill of Witches – The Hill of Witches is located on the UNESCO World Heritage site Curonian Spit.  Founded in 1989, the hill now boasts more than 80 sculptures.
  3. The Fishing Town of Nida – This town is in the southern most location on the Lithuanian side of the Curonian Spit.  Next stop on the Spit…Kaliningrad, Russsia.  Some of the town’s iconic weathervanes are pictured below.

Warnemunde, Germany (day trip to Berlin)

  1. The East Side Gallery/Berlin Wall – This is Berlin’s longest remaining section of wall as well as the longest open air art gallery in the world!
  2. Brandenburg Gate – Like St. Basil’s, it’s just one of those photo ops you can’t pass up!
  3. Ampelmann/East German Crosswalk Man – This charming crosswalk signal mascot has his own store full of souvenirs featuring the beloved fellow.

Copenhagen, Denmark

  1. Tivoli Gardens – This has easily got to be one of the most innocent places on earth.  With rides for the kids and lovely beer gardens, restaurants and concert venues for adults, it’s damn near perfect.  Go on the Hans Christian Anderson ride to rediscover what it’s like to be three.
  2. Nyhavn – Photogenic and active; Nyhavn is one place almost everyone stops while in Copenhagen.  Great for a beer, meal or post-dinner ice cream and some fabulous people watching!
  3. Freetown Christiania – A squatter’s commune composed of about 850 residents.  No photos on “pusher street” where dealers wear face masks to keep identities hidden.