Go Beyond Your Boundaries in Breckenridge with Breck Guides

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Travelers Return to Breckenridge Again and Again

Breckenridge keeps travelers and skiers, like me, coming year after year– but why? What is it about certain places that make a traveler return again and again? Perhaps it’s because it’s so easy to feel like a local, perhaps it’s the magic of the mountain.

After multiples visits to the same mountain, what could possibly be left to discover? The answer may surprise you, there is a lot to discover in Breckenridge. 

Whether it’s your first visit, or your fiftieth, Breckenridge keeps travelers coming back again and again.

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Going Beyond with Breck Guides

As as skier, I long for the days when I can push myself beyond my own limits and explore new terrain. This is why I chose to try out Breck's new program Breck Guides, Go Beyond.

Breck Guides is a new program set up to customize an individual experience for the skiers. Breck Guides is not a ski school or ski lesson on becoming a better skier, but rather a way to educate, enlighten and enrich the Breckenridge experience. Considering I have skied the mountain on multiple occasions, I found this to be the perfect way to get off-the-beaten-path and experience Breck like–and with, a local!

The Breck Guides experience is custom tailored to the individual skier's abilities and interests. For most skiers, one of the most exciting draws to the program is the First Tracks benefit. First Tracks means you will get up the mountain before the first chair (First Chair refers to the first chair taking groups up the mountain when the resort officially opens to the public). This allows Breck Guides' skiers to be the only one's on the mountain (with the exception of ski patrol, of course)!

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Meeting with Ski Patrol

With 5 peaks to discover, Breckenridge is the perfect mountain to link up with an expert like my guide Jenn Losch and find all of the best spots on the mountain. 

Jenn (one of Breckenridge's most well-known skiers) and I and met up at Peak 8. We got ourselves up to the top of the Colorado SuperChair approximately 30 minutes before the first chair.

After a few warm-up runs, Jenn and I joined Ski Patrol for the morning meeting. As we watched the meeting take place, I realized how many skilled professionals it truly takes to make a large ski resort function. I quickly made a mental note to appreciate the hard work they all do every time my skis hit snow.

During the patrol meeting, Jenn and I got the inside scoop on what would be open and when. We took a few more runs before heading over and scoring the first chair on the Imperial lift, just as it was opening. The Imperial Express is the highest chairlift in North America, standing at a whopping 12,840 feet above sea level. 

The Imperial lift takes skiers to some of the best terrain on the mountain, including Whale's Tail. The bowl is always one of the most exhilarating runs, and only the most skilled skiers on the mountain are in this area. This means, there isn't many other skiers around!

Two of my other favorite parts of the mountain lacking crowds are the bowls off Peak 6 (the newest peak at Breckenridge) and The Windows, which is more tree-lined. 

Learning From The Pro

Another part of the Go Beyond course is to learn backcountry skills, such as the types of snowpack to gain an education on avalanches– all while staying in the safe and controlled confines of the resort. Since I am already AIARE Level 1 certified (the first course in avalanche training– which you can read about here), Jenn used this as an opportunity to customize the program for me even further– which is what makes the Breck Guides programs so immersive.

I don't just love to ski–I am happier on my skis than anywhere else. However, I'm always disappointed in myself for not being as fast, fluid, or aggressive as I was ten years ago. Furthermore, prior to this trip I had an appendectomy less than 3 weeks earlier. While I was supposed to be heli-skiing in the Swiss Alps, I was having my appendix out in a Swiss hospital, instead. This is where Jenn tailored the program for me. She knew I was ready to hit the slopes hard, but put a focus on the day to be kind to myself. Each chairlift ride up was like talking to a best friend, but was also an opportunity to gain a wealth of knowledge about skiing, the mountain, and coming off of an injury.

Although I've skied Breck countless times over, I was able to discover new areas of the mountain that are often missed by tourists.  I left the mountain that day feeling like a local– having discovered new areas to ski, and hanging with my new local friend for the day!

Go Beyond is just one of three Breck Guides courses you can take at the resort. The three programs (Explore, Elevate, and Go Beyond) can teach you anything from snow science, scouting a line in the Lake Chutes, to finding the best snow stashes on the mountain.

Depending on the program you can book full or half-day's, and have anywhere from 1 to 6 people in your ski party. 

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Women Breaking Boundaries

Another Breck program that was taking place at the same time I was visiting was the Women's Camp. The women's camp is 3 full days of skiing with the same instructor. Lunch and Apres Ski events are included in the program and all levels are welcome, (skiers are divided up by ability).

I joined in on some of the Apres Ski events to learn more about the program, and found women of all ages taking part. 

Where to Stay

 View from One Skill Hill Place

View from One Skill Hill Place

One Ski Hill Place is one of the premier accommodations in Breckenridge. One Ski Hill Place is an elegant luxury lodge located at the base of Peak 8. The amenities and the attentive staff at One Ski Hill Place will completely spoil you.

Not only does the property offer true ski-in, ski-out access (you literally ski up to the door), they also offer a ski-valet service. You will never need to lift a ski at One Ski Hill, making it easy to relax and enjoy. If your skis need a tune, the ski valet will send them out at the end of the day and have them ready again for the first chair the following morning.

As a full-time traveler, I have learned the devil is always in the details. The staff remembers everyone’s name, and the ski valet was sure to remember each individual's needs. For me, a highly trained staff is almost better than the impressive amenities.

The property boasts a beautiful pool, hot tubs, a movie theater and a bowling alley. The gondola to town is just steps away, and the property will provide a complementary shuttle service to pick you up and drop you off anywhere in town.

By far, a dedicated skiers favorite service offered would be the First Tracks Program. First Tracks allows guests staying in official resort properties to have the opportunity to get out on the mountain an entire hour before the general public (similar to my experience described above with Breck Guides). First Tracks takes place each Friday morning from mid December through March– so be sure to book your stay with that benefit in mind!

Where to Take in the Views

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If you are looking for a panoramic view of Breckenridge Ski Resort and the surrounding area, than Boreas Pass is the perfect spot. Generally, to get views this incredible and untouched, you need to hike– but not here!

After a quick drive up, the walk to the area with the view is extremely easy. Even with just two days at altitude and my appendix removed less than 3 weeks prior, there was nothing to it! In the summer, the rest of the road actually opens up allowing you to drive over the continental divide!

The best part– this is a spot that only the locals tend to know about, so you will most likely have the views all to yourself!

READ NEXT: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO BRECKENRIDGE

Saudi Arabia Begins to Issue Tourist Visas

Beginning April 2018 the conservative country of Saudi Arabia is now opening up to Westerners in a big way by beginning to issue tourist visas. Foreigners have long been able to enter the country for religious, business and personal visits in the past, but this is the first time the kingdom issues visa specifically for tourism purposes. 

Details are still emerging, but you still need to work with a registered tour operator and have a minimum of four guests traveling. Those who's passports contain evidence of travel to Israel may also be refused admission, so be sure to obtain a second temporary passport prior to any visa applications.

Women over 25 are now allowed to visit Saudi Arabia on their own, but will still need to wear a headscarf/completely cover up and most likely will have to remain with a group. 

Cuba: 9 Ways To Get Off The Beaten Path

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During the extent of a fifty-four-year embargo, Cuba has remained a mystery to the American public, yet with the recent move to re-establish relations with the US, curiosity seekers can now see what the country really has to offer.

What travelers will soon come to realize is that all of Cuba is a museum. We have all seen the photos and heard the tales of Detroit’s finest classics rolling down the streets in Cuba. If there is one thing that the Cuban people are incredible at, it’s the art of improvisation. Their ability to make something from nothing has allowed them to keep these 1950’s American classics running all of these years, and their resourcefulness shines through in everything they do.

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It is true that the roads both inside and outside of Havana are in disrepair and that many of its structures are in poor condition, yet despite the dilapidation, the capital city is still stunning in all of its authenticity. So untouched by time that it’s almost beyond comprehension for a modern day American girl like myself.

Being one of the first American women to legally visit the country when it was on the brink of change, I am often asked for advice on Cuba. Well, my greatest piece of advice is, run, don’t walk. Things are changing quickly and it soon will not be the place you have heard about and imagined. Now that everyone seems to be jumping on the Cuba bandwagon, the best way to visit Cuba is to have some experiences that few tourists will have.

Transport Back to The 50’s

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Support Capitalism

Stay at Casa’s instead of hotels. My favorite options in any travel experience are the ones that lead me to live like a local instead of a tourist. With the first tastes of capitalism, Cubans are taking advantage of letting you rent space in their residence, much like a bed & breakfast. Spanish for “home,” casas are one of the most affordable options for lodging. This is an amazing opportunity to interact with the locals and break bread with your host family.
I always jump at the opportunity to interact with locals and see how they live their day-to-day lives.

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Concerning Cuba, it is an exceptional time in history for Cubans especially those venturing into the untamed waters of capitalism in a still very much communist nation. The people that are renting rooms and working in tourism have quickly had their lives changed for the better. Most rooms rent for the equivalent of $30/night. Just to put that into perspective, the majority of Cubans make $40 a month. Although it’s taxed, that money is going directly into the pockets of the Cuban Entrepreneurs instead of the hotels, aka the socialist government. Staying in a casa can offer any traveler an unmatched insight into Cuban culture. Even if you happen to be the type of traveler that enjoys the amenities offered by a hotel, one night at a casa for the experience certainly couldn’t hurt.

Learn Where Those Cigars Come From

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Visit Vinales, where all of the famed Cuban tobacco is grown. The plantations are beautiful. Most importantly, you can purchase Cuba’s hottest commodity, Cuban cigars, right from the source. Visit local farms and plantations, see how the tobacco is grown, aged, and rolled into a perfect cigar. Most importantly, these cigars will only cost you about $1 USD a piece, so it’s the perfect opportunity to stock up!

Tan With The Locals

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The Cuban beaches are some of the best in the world, however there are some local secrets. When interviewing my friend Frank Alpizar, one of the most sought after tour guides in all of Havana I asked him what is place most tourists don’t see in Cuba that they should?
“There are beaches near Havana where tourists barely go because they consider it to be very Cuban, but they should go there. They should go to the beaches, both on the east and west part of the city, because they normally go to the islands, and they’re nice but they’re very touristy. You should go to the beaches where Cubans go”. His suggestion is a beach by the name of Santa Maria.

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However you decide to spend your time in Cuba, make sure you understand that you are visiting a place that has been largely closed off to much of the world for decades. Although, upon arriving, you will realize that the US was probably more censored about Cuba, than Cuba was from the US. Regardless, remember that it is not a glamorous destination. Streets and buildings are in disrepair, hotels are oversold and having a hard time keeping up with demands from guests.

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Bring your patience, an open mind and you will be sure to have one of the most incredible life experiences. Bring too many expectations, and you will ruin it. Most importantly, get away from the other tourists and discover the real Cuba.

READ NEXT: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO CUBA FOR US CITIZENS

How To Get Perfect Travel & Instagram Photos

One of the number one questions I am asked is "How do you get those incredible travel photos"?

If you are a traveler, or you are just suffering from a severe case of wanderlust, then chances are you have found yourself glued to Instagram. We have all been there, scrolling through travel Instagram feeds, wishing our travel photos looked like the ones we see reposted time after time.

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Instagram photography has become an art form of it’s own, but I still come across dozens of dull travel photos. And let’s be honest, if you are not posting a dynamic photo, why are you posting on Instagram at all? Now is the time to accomplish those #photographygoals because I am here to tell you just how to capture that envy-worthy shot. 

Know the Basic Rules of Photography

Knowing the basic composition rules of photography is key. The first rule to understand is the rule of thirds, and even if you don’t use this rule for all photos, keeping it in mind can make or break some of your photos.

Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is essentially a guideline to placing the most interesting elements in your photo along imaginary guidelines, which are broken up into thirds, or at the powerful points where the lines intersect. Some cameras, including your iPhone, have a grid that can be set up to help you automatically find these points while photographing.

 (In this photo, I am the point of interest, so I am placed at a power point)

(In this photo, I am the point of interest, so I am placed at a power point)

Fill the Frame

Another important rule is to fill the frame. I am amazed by how many times people post photos on social media, and the subject of their photo is so small that you almost have to squint to see it.

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After coming home with some underwhelming travel photos from a trip to Egypt, I attended a National Geographic travel photography seminar. The best takeaway from the seminar was that, if the photo wasn’t as interesting as the subject was in real life, then you almost always were not close enough or zoomed in enough. The more you fill the photo with your subject matter, the more exciting the photo becomes.

Use Quality Equipment

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I definitely cannot take credit for every aspect of my photos on Instagram feed - the equipment I use really helps me get those fantastic shots. I currently use a Sony A7sii, a GoPro Hero 4 Black, and a DJI Mavic Pro. Of course, not everyone can go out a buy a $3000 DSLR, when they are just starting out, but there are several inexpensive options that can allow you to take fantastic photos. Try to find the best camera you are able to afford, but remember that the best camera you have is the one in your hand, which means whatever camera you will carry with you the most. If your camera isn't with you, you'll miss the shot. 

I also use an incredibly discreet camera bag to stash all of my gear (The Claremont from Lo & Son’s), which looks more like a purse. In some places, I can’t leave my purse to get it out of the shot for fear it may be stolen. This way, an ugly camera bag doesn’t ruin otherwise great candid shots I’m in; instead, it adds to them. It also provides greater safety from creeps looking to prey on travelers, since it doesn’t look like a camera bag and prevents me from looking like a tourist. It also makes me less of a target for theft since you would never guess that I have a a lot of expensive camera equipment on me.

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Don’t Be Afraid of Strangers

What does stranger danger have to do with photography? Frankly, a lot when you travel alone. I’m often asked if I have a photographer that travels with me to take my pictures. Not yet, but apparently I am very good at making it look like I do! 

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Conditions (such as high winds at the Grand Canyon) and impromptu moments aren’t always made for tripods. I don’t always want a selfie stick in my photo, so I’m not afraid to ask strangers for help to get the perfect instagram shot. Even if someone speaks a different language, it’s easy to explain that you are asking them to take your photo. About 50% of the time you will get someone who is really enthusiastic about taking your photo; this is when you have the opportunity to be the director and tell them exactly how you want the photo to look, primarily by showing them examples.

In addition to providing examples for inspiration, I also instruct my new photographer to use burst mode. Burst mode is extremely easy if you have an iPhone; just hold the button down instead of tapping (even the iPhone6 is capable of taking 10 photos per second). This rapid fire photography allows me to adjust my facial expressions, posture, and the direction I’m looking, while also getting a variety of shots. It takes a period of 15-20 seconds, but this means one of them is bound to be good, even if the person taking the photo doesn’t know what they are doing!

This also means having a ton (as in hundreds) of photos to filter through, which can be time consuming. However, it is far better to have too many images to choose from than to have not enough. When there is no one around be sure to have a great tripod handy, or a selfie stick. I use the GoPole Reach because it’s very long, and I can often get pictures without the selfie-stick even being in the shot!

Stop Feeling Embarrassed

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I don’t allow myself to feel embarrassed when taking travel photos anymore. Even if people judge me for using my selfie stick, or the fact that I may look really funny crouched down to get a good angle of some nearby scenery, I just stopped letting it all bother me.  The fact of the matter is, most people are so self-absorbed that they aren’t paying much attention to me anyways.  

Though it is not the most impressive of my talents, I’ve mastered the art of the candid pose. Pictures where you are smiling are great, but they aren’t as interesting on the eyes. I look especially silly to others when faking a candid pose, (like when gazing into the distance) but I have stopped caring. At the end of the day, I’m the one that has the beautiful photos and has turned my Instagram account into a huge part of my business.  

Plan Ahead

I wait for the timing to be just right, as the best photos are captured during that sought-aftergolden hour when the light is perfect. This is one I learned from one of my friends who has over 700,000 instagram followers. Noon light is the worst, for it casts weird shadows on faces of subjects and creates a flat boring light for scenic shots. The best is to get up early for sunrises or wait around until just before sunset. This golden hour creates the most aesthetic palette for capturing scenery and people, as the light is less harsh, more forgiving and void of awkward shadows.

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While most people aren’t waking up early for the good light, they will stick around for sunsets. This is why if you are going someplace that is super touristy, I recommend waking up before sunrise to get the shots you want without the crowds. It takes some dedication, but it’s well worth it! When I can’t get a shot during golden hour, I still try to take note of the best lighting options. Always avoid a shadow on your face because you’ll hate the photo the moment you see it.

Another way that I plan ahead is by researching the places before I go. You can use Instagram and Google to see what cool images people have shared by location. I do not look to copy, but it definitely gives great inspiration, a sense of how you want to tackle the photographs, and sometimes these inspiring images are too good not to pay homage to! Just remember when you copy a photo to try to give it your own spin and let it represent you! Using someone else as inspiration is awesome but exact replicas are boring (if not plagiarism).

Learn to Edit

Yes, I edit my photos. No matter how great a photo is, sometimes it isn’t able to do justice to the experience I had. In a perfect world we wouldn’t have to color correct, sharpen and saturate, but if you want to keep up with everyone else, you need to edit your photos! I often spend 20 minutes editing a photo before I put it on Instagram.

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My favorite editing tool is Adobe Lightroom, however if you are keen to use your phone, the best apps for editing are SnapSeed and VSCO. On SnapSeed I am able to select certain parts of the image and adjust accordingly without messing with the rest of the photo.

For example, I was in St Lucia and had this great image on the beach, but it was a little dark. I was able to adjust the color to bring back the colors I saw while on the beach, as well as lift the shadows. What remained was the integrity of the rest of my photo, and a photo that created an accurate depiction of my actual experience as opposed to a photo that made my experience not look as beautiful as it actually was. Editing isn’t lying, it’s just another form of art!

Be Adventurous

I take risks to get great photos. I hang off ledges with steep drops, I climb up to steep heights. I’m not careless and I take as many precautions as I can, but I’m not going to let the fun pass me by. By taking risks and being adventurous, you will get photos with more interesting perspectives that others without courage only dream of.

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Just be careful and smart, and take caution to heed any posted warning signs that you may encounter. Recently in Norway a traveler died trying to get an instagram photo at Devils Rock, and even more recently a woman tumbled to her death when she tripped into the Grand Canyon. I’m not encouraging you to act recklessly - I want you to stay safe for a lifetime of adventures. I am, however, encouraging you to climb mountains, seek great heights, and tackle fears to get to a place for the most incredible photo.

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Lastly, photography is all about expressing your unique point of view. Find a style that you like, make it your own, and stick with it. You won’t get there overnight - just scroll through my Instagram and see that the process to go from average to exceptional has taken well over a year. 

If you are inspired by my tips to create some rad instagram photos be sure to tag me so that I can check them out! (@TrustedTravelGirl)

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Holiday Gifts For Travelers (2017 Guide)

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Travelers tend to value experiences over possessions, making them difficult to shop for. We have scoured the planet and tested hundreds of products to compile a list of the best travel gifts for the holiday season. Whether you are shopping for someone else, or compiling your own wish list, these gifts are sure to please even the pickiest travel addicts. 

Map Glasses

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Etched pint, wine & whiskey glasses by Uncommon Green are the perfect way to remember your favorite travel destinations. Not only can you collect glasses with maps from major cities, but these etched glasses are 100% customizable to anyplace in the world with a zip code. Collect them to remember your travels, or snag a few with your college or hometown. 

They even have topographical versions, which was perfect after my trip to Nepal where I caught a glimpse of Mount Everest, I love the Everest whiskey glass!

The Ultimate Adventurer's Watch

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When traveling, I am always looking for my next adrenaline-inducing adventure– which means I need gear that can stand up to the elements. The I.N.O.X. watch by Victorinox Swiss Army is the ultimate traveler's watch. It's practically indestructible, Victorinox has run it over with a tank, dropped it off buildings and lit it on fire– and it still kept ticking! They make both men and womens versions, with a selection of bands, I opted for the paracord wristband. 

4G Hotspot

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SkyRoam has been a staple in my life over the last two years of my travels, and I love how easy it is to stay connected. This compact lightweight device provides you with a global hotspot to access the internet on your phone and computer from nearly anywhere on the planet with only a phone signal.

The new updated version– Skyroam Solis, is even better. With 4G capabilities, a better battery life and an all new option to use it as a powerbank, Solis is the only phone accessory the traveler in your life needs to carry.

Pocket-Sized Camera

The Sony RX100 V is the perfect all around pocket-sized camera. When I want to travel light, but don't want to lose out on the quality of my photos– I bring this small yet powerful point and shoot. With manual settings, amazing priority settings, and a phenomenal Zeiss lens, this is the perfect small camera for professionals as well as beginners. With 20.1 megapixels, you will be sure to capture every last detail of your adventures!

A Mirrorless Camera

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The Sony A7sii is a travel photographers dream camera. With incredible low light capabilities, 4k video capabilities, and the small size, Sony mirrorless cameras have been blowing DSLR's out of the water. 

Travel-Size Drone

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Drone photography may be all the rage, but theres only one drone that's built for travelers. The DJI Mavic is small, lightweight, but a real powerhouse. It shoots stills and video with 12MP and 4k capabilities for professional quality.

Camera Backpack

Finding the perfect photography backpack to carry all of my photography gear has proved to be challenging. The Travler Pack by Travler has thoughtful features like a padded laptop sleeve, rain poncho, customizable interior, an RFID protected pocket, and even a headphone port. The bag retails for $160, making it one of the most reasonably priced camera backpacks on the market. 

The Perfect Weekend Bag

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Packing for a weekend away is something that men may have mastered but most women struggle with. It’s difficult to pack enough to be prepared for any spontaneous adventure that may present itself, while still packing all the necessities we, as women, generally need. Ladies, the Catalina from Lo & Son’s has got you covered and is the only weekend bag you will ever need. 

The Catalina doesn’t look big, but stores a ton of stuff! A separate bottom compartment is perfect for storing shoes, sandy towels, wet bathing suits, or anything else you want separated from your clothes!
It also makes for a great carry on bag for longer trips thanks to the smart design that allows the Catalina to easily slide over the handle of any dual pole suitcase.

GPS Luggage Tracker

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There are two kinds of luggage, carry-on and lost. Save yourself some sanity when checking a bag, and invest in a GPS luggage tracker. LugLoc will allow you to track your bag from anywhere in the world with your smartphone. The device will even send text updates to the location of your bag. The rechargeable battery lasts up to 15 days, so if your bag ever were to be misplaced, you will have ample time to recover it. 

Carry-On Cocktail Kit

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Since a simple Jack & Coke won't always cut it, this carry-on cocktail kit is perfect for enhancing your in-flight drinking experience. Feel like you are in first class, even if you are in economy by making an Old Fashioned, a Moscow Mule, or a Margarita. Just add alcohol. 

Durable Expandable Suitcase

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A suitcase with the ability to expand is essential for travelers. Often times on press trips I find myself unexpectedly picking up oversized souvenirs to bring back for my family and friends. For years, this has meant I needed to get creative with my packing, throw things out, or buy an extra bag while traveling. After discovering Victorinox Swiss Army’s Expandable Spectra suitcase, I always have the extra room I need to take home souvenirs.

Victorinox Swiss Army is one of the few brands that makes quality items across the board in everything that they do. Although they are best known for their knives, Victorinox Swiss Army is one of the leaders in quality travel gear. I have trekked all over the globe with their products by my side, and they have all stood up to the elements, as well as abuse from baggage handlers. Swiss Army products are always designed with function in mind without sacrificing the eye-catching look of the bag.

My favorite bag from Victorinox is the Spectra Expandable. It has a sleek design, is ultra durable and has the ability to expand up to 40% when overfilled! In addition, it has practical features such as opening from the top and a special pocket for your swiss army knife. 

Mesh Laundry Bags

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Doing laundry isn't an exciting part of travel, but if you are gone long enough, it's an inevitable part of your trip. Protecting your important clothing items from harsh machines (even if you are sending your laundry out to be washed) just became easier with these high quality mesh bags from Laundress. Cheaper versions fall apart after just a few washes, but this brand keeps clothes protected and secure.

Neck Pillow & Eye Mask

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My favorite neck pillows and eye masks are from CabeauThe Evolution neck pillow has been my go-to travel pillow for years.

It’s made from memory foam, which makes it extremely comfortable for long haul flights. I’m a germophobe, so another feature that is important is the removable and washable cover.

The Midnight Magic eye mask is fuzzy and comfortable, most importantly, it completely blocks every bit of light from your eyes.

Another great feature of this eye-mask is its adjustable to fit the shape of your face. It also had rounded inner eye liners to keep the mask from pressing on eye-lids. By far the most functional and comfortable eye mask on the market!