Flying Tips for Holidays

If you’re traveling for the holidays this year, here are a few of my top tips for holiday travel to help navigate your trip!

Prepare for security

If you haven’t traveled in awhile, make sure your items are compliant for passing TSA carry-on regulations. TSA has a pretty extensive list of “What Can I Bring?” on their website and will also respond if you Tweet or reach out on social media in advance of your trip.

Be ready to take off your heavy coat and boots if you have them (even in pre-check they may set off the alarm). Be careful traveling with gifts as well – TSA recommends having those unwrapped in case anything needs to be inspected.

While you can’t take large liquids or gels in carry-on luggage, you can take pies, cakes, and completely frozen solid items! It’s also helpful if you can separate or easily access specific items that might set off the security machines – this will be anything shaped like a tool/weapon, bulk foods, organic materials (e.g., wooden objects), electronics, and things like printed photos that will trigger a chemical scan. There are also size requirements enforced for metal tools, scissors, sporting equipment, and instruments to name a few.

Know your airline and airport

Do a little research in advance to see what amenities or services are available in your airport, terminal area, and airplane. This is more widely available online today, and sometimes via the app for each specific service. For example, the terminals at ATL are all accessible after security, so if there is a specific meal I want I can go to it. However, at LAX, you can’t go between many of the terminals so you are stuck with the choices for your specific gate.

For airports, do a little research on your airport if you are unfamiliar or have a layover. This can help you prepare for food, travel time, or general things to do! Be sure to check for construction at the terminals; unusual transfers (e.g., inter-airport shuttle); or if you have a very early or late flight if there are any changes to opening times for security, parking, or other services.

Different airlines and plane models also offer different amenities onboard. In ATL, Delta is my go-to provider and their fleet generally provides an entertainment screen, USB port, and AC charger at every seat. They offer free messaging in flight but wifi for internet browsing is a little pricey without a membership. Southwest generally offers their entertainment portal on your own device and a good rate for wifi. But if the wifi goes out, nothing is available, so I always make sure to have downloaded entertainment and a charging bank on Southwest flights.

Prepare for crowds

Airports are traditionally busy during the holidays, and more recently there have been a lot more staffing shortages or other operational issues that can cause delays. Be prepared! Arrive early enough for your flight. Bring your own snacks or food if you don’t want to wait in line anywhere. Having enough time will help you give others a lot of grace who might need it.

If a flight gets delayed or there is bad weather, sometimes the airport itself can start to get crowded. During busy seasons I make sure I have a portable charging bank with me for my phone, and sometimes I will bring my own outlet splitter or surge protector if there is anything else I’ll need to charge to ensure I can get or share an outlet if needed.

Hope you have safe and happy travels!

2021 Gift Guide – Sales are on Now!

A few weeks ago I shared my top tips for picking out a personalized gift. For anyone seeking concrete ideas for their gift list, I’ve put together a few selections of items at different price points. I either have or have given several of these items myself! In full transparency, I also wanted to practice my Photoshop collages. Retailers are running major sales right now to get ahead of supply chain and shipping delays, so be sure to comparison shop and snag a good deal! Prices listed are as of posting time.

Le Creuset 5.5-qt Dutch Oven ($300, on sale), TRUFF Hot Sauce ($17), Adult Paint by Numbers ($13), Nerds Gummy Clusters ($12.50 for 3), Photo Ornament ($15 on sale), Photo Mug ($10 on sale), DIY Ravioli Kit ($32), Smart Plugs ($16), JBL Waterproof Speaker ($130)
Faux Fur Cable Beanie ($19), Twisted Satin Headband ($17 on sale), Pearl Climber Earrings ($17 on sale), Fresh Lip Balm Set ($25), Himalayan Salt Scrub ($10), Barefoot Dreams Cardigan ($116), Printed Joggers ($10-20 by print), Turtleneck Sweater ($68 on sale), Orthotic Slippers ($16-40 by color), Rebecca Minkoff Leather Bag ($300)
Jack Black Toiletry Set ($48 on sale), WoodWick Crackling Candle ($24), Large/Whiskey Ice Cube Mold ($14), birddogs shorts ($68), Melin A-Game Hydro Hat ($59), Moccasin Slippers ($30), Carbon Fiber Slim Wallet ($125), Flannel Jogger Pajama Pants ($27)
Okay, mostly for dogs and dog owners. White Paw Toy ($14 for two, on sale), Benebone Chew ($11), Photo Mug ($9 on s ale), FURemover Broom ($12), GoDog Dragon Toy ($10-15), Puzzle Treat Ball ($14)

Background graphics from Canva.

How to Wrap Awkwardly Shaped Presents

Now that we’ve gone through how to wrap a normal present in a box, let’s tackle some odd or awkward shaped items!

1. Put it inside a box, then wrap

This works great for smaller items, fragile items, or items with small pieces hanging off prone to breaking. Examples: picture frames, ornaments, mugs or glassware

2. Wrap it like a mailing envelope

Lay your item down and make a loop around it with wrapping paper, similar to wrapping a normal present. Tape the seam. Instead of a traditional fold on the ends, neatly fold it down into a seam close to the end of your present as though you were putting the entire thing in a mailing envelope or a sealed package of chocolate or chips. It’s more important to be neat versus using up the excess paper. Examples: soft stuffed animals, sporting items, kids toys in that are half boxed and half exposed, kitchen accessories

3. Bundle it up

With this you will have excess paper or wrapping material at the top, similar to a gift basket or one of those bundled sacks on a stick. Lay your wrapping paper out, printed side down. Place your item in the center and then bring all the corners to the center and tie it with ribbon or string. You can also use tissue paper, towels, cloth, or other wrapping materials.

4. Use a bag instead

For small to midsize items, forego the wrapping altogether and put it in a gift bag with tissue paper. For larger items, they make soft gift bags (like a Santa sack or pillowcase with drawstring. Plain paper grocery bags are a great alternative to reuse as well.

5. Don’t wrap it at all

Like the crazy commercial people that buy two cars without telling their spouse, don’t wrap the gift at all and just stick a giant bow or some festive decoration on it. Check out my last post if you’d like to try making your own bow! This works great for large items (e.g., bicycles, furniture) or items that already come in a nice box or bottle. If you want an element of surprise, use a sheet or blanket to cover large items without using up a ton of wrapping paper.

How to Make a Fancy Bow

One of my sister’s first jobs was working in a fancy stationery store at the mall, where she had to gift wrap quite a few items as a store onsite that had wrapping paper and cards. She taught me how to make my own gift bows long ago and I still use that method today.

All you need is some ribbon and scissors. I prefer to use wire-edge ribbon around 1.5-2 inches wide as the ribbon will hold it’s shape and you can bend it to adjust. You can use other ribbon, but wire-edged will be easiest to learn with.

Take your ribbon, and leaving it attached to the spool, create a single loop or circle with the loose end at the very bottom center. To determine what size of the bow you’d like, pinch the center of your loop and each side will become a piece of the bow. Once you have the overall size, wrap the ribbon around additional times until you have 4-5 complete loops. For narrow or more slack ribbon you may want more.

Your last loop should line up in a full circle at the bottom, overlapping the loose end of the ribbon. Cut it from the spool at an angle. Pinch your looped pile of ribbon in the center and then set it aside (note, if it does not hold it’s own shape set something on top of it to hold it in place). Cut off an extra piece of ribbon about 6 inches in length. If the ribbon is wider than 2 inches, fold it in half or cut it in half to make it narrower. Set that aside.

Take your looped ribbon again in one hand. Holding it pinched in the center, you are going to cut out a small triangle on the top and bottom of the center point similar to an hourglass cutout. Be careful not to sever the ribbon in half.

Take your spare piece of ribbon and tie it around the other ribbon to secure. Tie a basic knot at the bottom. Now your ribbon will look very similar to a stick-on bow.

Carefully separate the loop layers to create each piece of the bow. Fluff them and twist them into the desired fullness and shape, then use the loose ends of the ribbon tie to secure the bow to your present!

How to Wrap a Present

When I was a teenager, we used to volunteer at the mall as gift wrappers to fundraise for local schools. I put in a lot of hours learning to wrap quickly, wrap odd shaped items, and also make the most of the thin red wrapping paper supplied for the event.

If you’ve never wrapped a gift before, it can be a little daunting and definitely takes some practice! You will need wrapping paper/material, scissors, and tape. You can certainly get creative outside of traditional wrapping material in terms of using paper grocery bags, newspaper, sheet music, or even fabric. For simplicity, in my example and instructions we will asssume you have a rectangular item or box.

1. Size Your Paper

The first thing you want to do is size out the amount of paper you will need to wrap your gift. You want to ensure you can wrap the paper all the way around your item without a gap. Sometimes turning your item 90 degrees or diagonally is the best way to make this work. If you’re wrapping smaller items, you might also want to cut up your paper so you can use a larger piece for multiple items. If you’re unsure something will fit and it’s not fragile, go ahead and just roll the box along the width or length of the paper to check if it will go all the way around.

2. Cut Your Paper

Once you’ve figured out how much paper you need, cut it from the roll or larger sheet to size. Many rolls of wrapping paper have a grid along the back to follow a straight edge. If you don’t have one, roll the paper up a bit so you can use the roll as your guideline. Try to use full size scissors for this as they are easier to glide through the paper than a smaller pair. With a good roll of wrapping paper you can push the scissors straight along the paper as though it glides. If your paper doesn’t do this and starts to tear or wrinkle, fully open and close the scissors to more carefully snip the entire sheet.

3. Center Your Gift and Make the First Folds

Lay your wrapping paper out with the printed side down. Carefully turn your gift upside down and center it on the backside of your wrapping paper. Fold one side of the paper up and over so it is taut along your gift. If needed, anchor the piece with some tape. Fold the opposite side up and over to completely surround your gift item in wrapping paper and secure with tape. If you have too much paper you can fold over or cut off the excess.

4. Mock Fold the Ends of the Gift

Next you’ll tackle the two open ends of your gift. You want those ends of paper to be no longer than the height of the box or space they need to cover. If you’re too afraid to cut them down right away, you can wait until later.

Rotate your gift item so an open end is facing you. Gently push the left and right sides down toward the sides of your gift so that the top and bottom start to move toward the center like envelope closures.

For your first open end, give it a very light fold like above. Do not crease it or tape it – we will come back to it so you can ensure it is taut. Turn your gift vertically with that section on the bottom so your gift is keeping it in place. It’s okay if it’s a little lumpy or messy at this point.

5. Fold the Open Top

Repeat that same folding motion on the now top-facing end of your gift item. As you push the left and right sides down, push the bottom of the paper down so it follows the natural folding motion. Crease the paper to flatten it. Repeat this in a downward motion with the top piece. If your paper is longer than the space you have, cut or fold it down. With the top piece neatly folded over the bottom, tape to secure.

6. Fix the Other Side

Flip your gift over and fold down the other end for real. This will ensure the wrapping paper is actually tight enough on both sides without extra space or air bubbles.

And there you have it! Look out for a few tips coming up to jazz up that gift with a bow or some ribbon!

Gift Guide: Tips for Picking Presents

I love to get presents for other people. The only problem is a lot of my friends and family are lucky enough not to really need or want a lot of items anymore. So the standard gift guides of “get her a robe!” or “get him more tools!” are not all that helpful.

Over the last few years, I’ve tried to get a little more creative for finding gifts that my loved ones will still enjoy and use well, and I’m sharing those ideas here.

1. Food

Homemade pecan tassies

It’s hard to go wrong with food-based gifts. At the most basic level, you can pick up pre-made goodies or a bottle of wine. If you’re so inclined, you can gift something homemade! A budget-friendly DIY is making a bulk amount of pre-made mixes, such as cookie ingredients in a jar or spice blends.

Another great food gift is something your recipient loves but cannot find where they live. Examples here are Trader Joe’s items, ethnic ingredients, or local specialties. One time my mom schlepped a dozen bagels across the country in her carry-on luggage so I could have my favorite ones from home.

2. Things they use frequently or must restock

Nespresso pods

That doesn’t sound super clear, but my example is last Christmas we put Nespresso pods (coffee) on our wishlist and our families delivered. We were set on coffee pods for a couple months. Not only do we like Nespresso, we got to try different flavors and varieties that family members selected.

There are tons of items that could fit in this category, but some other ideas I’ll quickly put out there besides favorite foods include entertainment subscriptions, pet treats/toys, or candles.

3. An experience-based gift

At the cocktail class my mother-in-law found us

Classes, adventures, experiences, or subscriptions can be a fun, personalized gift. Examples include cooking class, bartending class, candle making, museum passes, food tours, book club subscriptions, food sample subscriptions, and more. Depending what you choose, these can be on the pricey side.

A more budget-friendly approach is a gift for an at-home experience. This can be a DIY kit (Uncommon Goods has great ones) like make your own mochi or mini garden kit. Puzzles, games, or things like Lego kits are also great. A fun way to make this personalized is to order a custom photo puzzle or something crafty and custom, like photo paint-by-numbers.

4. Something handmade

Grogu wreath

Let me qualify this by saying this should be something you are either good at and/or the recipient will really enjoy. Last year I made my dad a Christmas wreath of hand-felted baby Yodas because he really likes The Mandalorian. If you have another crafty hobby like knitting, painting, or homemade bath or beauty products, those are fun gifts as well.

If you’re not so crafty, you can check out Etsy. I’ve ordered handmade jewelry, succulent planters, and personalized water bottles from Etsy to give to other people.

5. Lastly, gifts that complement an existing hobby or interest

Cross stitch in progress

Your mind might jump to something like camera accessories for photographers, but these don’t necessarily have to be expensive. I started doing cross-stitch a few years ago, and one of my co-workers gave me a cute little magnetic flamingo “needle minder.” My husband’s grandmother sent me a multi-pack of embroidery floss. I really loved getting these because they were such normal items but they were highly personal selections!

Great options are either supplies they will use up, or something that will help expand their hobby. Some examples are wine glass markers, fishing lures, state/national park parking pass, or spice blends.

How to Fill Stockings on a Budget

Every year when other bloggers and retailers publish their gift guides, I find myself in sticker shock over some of the things people consider stocking stuffers. A $50 cosmetics item? $25 for this other gadget? I like to splurge but don’t understand how people are putting hundreds if not a thousand dollars worth of goods into a stocking.

For me, stockings should have things like candy and socks and little goodies. Here’s my tips how to load up a stocking without going broke. Happy hunting!

1. High volume items

The first time I filled a stocking I was surprised how much it could hold and how empty it looked at first. A nice fluffy pair of socks or a small bag of snacks or candy are inexpensive items that will help bulk up the stocking nicely.

2. Shop according to the quantities you need.

I love shopping online, but I’ve found that buying stocking stuffers online is difficult. Either you have to buy things in quanties of 4-6 or more, or they cost a lot per item in order to get them shipped. If this is what you need (e.g., giving each child or family member the same item), then great! But for me, I’m filling pretty different stockings and prefer to shop in person for stocking stuffers for inexpensive items in single quantities.

3. Buy off season and store them.

Hardcore holiday deal seekers will get things on clearance the previous Christmas and store them away for the next year. This is a great way to save money on things that have a long or infinite shelf life. If you have an opportunity to score a sale earlier in the year, take advantage of that! Another great trick is to stockpile good freebies or samples that you get with other purchases.

4. Look outside the official “stocking stuffer” section.

Items often get marked up for holiday branding. Peruse other sections of the store such as bath products, regular socks, regular candy, regular candles, dollar section, etc. At Cost Plus I usually grab a few items from the sample sized foods that are there all year round that I think are really aimed at making gift or picnic baskets.

5. My favorite places to shop for stocking stuffers:

My favorite is Cost Plus. They bring in an enormous holiday-themed area, but as I mentioned above they have a lot of things that are not holiday-specific that make great stocking stuffers. In the sample food section you can find mini condiments, sausages, tea/coffee, cookies. They have international foods and an extensive selection of bath/body products as well.

The Container Store also has a great selection of little knicknacks, typically near the register. Some of the items are a little pricey, but they have a good selection of things that are under $10 and you can order most of them online as well.

Target usually has a dollar section at the front of the store (all year) full of great stocking stuffer options. And lastly, Home Goods and TJ Maxx have great offerings, though depending what you’re looking for and price point these may be better options for finding gifts rather than stocking stuffers. These stores will have things like mugs, beauty products, and accessories all year round but the fun extra gift stock they bring in at the holidays tends to be around $10-15 or too large to fit in a stocking.