Budget-Friendly Travel: The Great Smoky Mountains

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Cade’s Cove

Budget-Friendly Travel: The Great Smoky Mountains

Witness and I recently traveled to the Great Smoky Mountains with our two friends M+S. It was definitely a fun trip, and one that I would be willing to make again, especially since it was a budget-friendly one! For two adults, the trip cost about $475 including the cabin, gas,
food, snacks, and souvenirs for our family back home.

Our Journey to the Great Smoky Mountains
The drive took about 9.5 hours from Chicago, IL. Witness and S took turns driving, and the trip went by pretty quickly with games, snacks, and music. I had packed breakfast and lunch the night before, so we ate as we traveled. We left at 7:30am (about half an hour later than expected), so we arrived at the cabin office at 5:30pm. We didn’t realize there was a time change between the states, so if you’re making the drive from the midwest to the south, make sure you calculate it in.

Travel + Food
There are roughly 589 miles between Chicago and the Smokies. Roundtrip, gas cost us a total of $83.55. Use this site to get calculations on your road trip. We took M+S’s cozy and gas-efficient Hyundai Elantra. We did have a little trouble packing everything into the trunk, but it was enough room for the four of us. If we had decided to bring another person or animal (like Cashew), a rented vehicle would have been the better decision.

We went shopping at Walmart and HMart for our groceries. The total cost for four days of meals and drinks was $216.33. If you want to save money, buying groceries and cooking is the way to go, even though it may be a bit of a hassle. It cost us $13 a day to feed one person on the trip, and we ate like kings!

Cabin: “On Eagle’s Wings”
We decided to book the cabin in Tennessee through Jackson Mountain Homes. Our cabin was called “On Eagle’s Wings” and nestled within the the Smokies in Gatlinburg, TN, the Gateway to the Smokies. The cabin had two decent sized bedrooms, both with king-sized beds. There were three full baths, a hot tub (yes!), an outdoor grill, two patios (with porch swing), an outdoor table set, pool table, kitchen utensils, (free) soap, movie room, fireplace and towels provided. Both couches could also turn into beds, so technically we could’ve had two more couples join us. The grand total for the four nights and three days was $462.85. We got one night free because we were visiting off season. Each couple paid $231.42; not a bad deal for a home away from home!

Cabin View from “On Eagle’s Wings”
Warmth “On Eagle’s Wings”

Ramsey Cascades
After a filling dinner and some star gazing on the deck, we went to bed. The following day, we decided that my first hike ever would be an 4 mile hike up to Ramsey Cascades. According to nps.gov, “Ramsey Cascades is the tallest waterfall in the park and one of the most spectacular. Water drops 100 feet over rock outcroppings and collects in a small pool where numerous well-camouflaged salamanders can be found.”

I wouldn’t suggest young children or people too out of shape (like myself) to take the hike up, especially if it’s your first time. It was quite difficult, challenging, yet rewarding. I would suggest you bring snacks, lots of drinking water, and a nice pair of hiking boots. Every time we climbed a mile or so, we’d meet a few hikers coming down from the cascades. Each one would tell us, “It’s hard… but it’s worth it.” Take a look for yourself!

Beginning of the Hike
Ramsey Cascades

We also saw some wildlife on the trails. This deer caught us staring at its cute curiosity.

Bambi in Headlights at the Great Smoky Mountains

Cade’s Cove
The following day we were all pretty sore. So, after taking some pain killers and allergy meds, we drove an hour to Cade’s Cove. Instead of walking trails, we decided we’d let the horses do it instead! We visited the Cade’s Cove Riding Stables. It was highly rated and an incredibly informative guided trail. The rate is $30 per person, and tip is appreciated!

After riding, we drove along the Scenic Drive, capturing gorgeous photos of the mountains plastered onto the backdrop of the beautiful blue sky. There was a lot of history regarding cabin life and the settlers who first made Cade’s Cove their home. We were also able to see a herd of grazing deer along the valley. Although we didn’t get to see any black bears, it was a beautiful and relaxing way to end our trip to the Smokies.

Scenic Drive at Cade’s Cove

We had a great time at the Great Smoky Mountains with M+S. When you’re traveling, make sure you bring a spontaneous spirit, food + water, and great friends to make memories! Have you ever been to the Smokies? What did you do when you visited?

 

 

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7 Ways to Make Long Distance Relationships Work

 

7 Ways to Make Long Distance Relationships Work

You met online, and you’re nowhere near each other. Or maybe you just started dating, and suddenly, one of you is moved halfway across the country for a new job. There are also those who have been dating for a while, and one of you needs to go to grad school (or whatever else) in a different state. You can either break up, be “friends,” or you can do things to make it work and stay together.

  1. Focus on a Goal
    • The pain and difficulty would be pointless without one. Build together towards something, whether it’s the promise that you’ll move to the same city, get married, or start a family together soon.
    • Often times, individuals with different goals and agendas will most likely not be able to stand the test of time. Ensure that your relationship lasts, set a goal, and take concrete steps to make it happen.
  2. Text + Call, Communicate!
    • Communication is king in relationships. Tag Facebook memes, write blurbs and cute “thinking of you” messages to your loved one, just in case they forget they’re the center of your universe.
    • Call during lunch breaks or on the way home. Make sure she/he is one of the first things you wake up and fall asleep to.
  3. Skype and FaceTime Daily
    • Fact: Things get lost in text-translation. (Especially if you don’t believe in emoticons). Being in the same room and face to face would be ideal, but the next best thing is ironically, another tech feature, Skype and Facetime! Whether you use the app Tango or stick to a more traditional Google Webchat, do it. Make sure to have conversations where you get to see one another and talk with tone, voice, and facial expression.
  4. Visit Each Other Monthly
    • My boyfriend at the time would visit me every other month. I would also travel back to Chicago on those months where he couldn’t come to Atlanta. It was also nice to have weddings and events to attend together, giving additional reason to travel and party with your significant other.
    • Traveling, flights, and rental cars can definitely get expensive, but it’s almost always necessary for most couples. Put your money where your heart is, literally, and go see your SO!
  5. Ask Good Questions
    • If you talk on the phone everyday, won’t you run out of things to talk about? Yes, if you’re asking the same questions everyday. Make sure you listen to how they’re feeling, what happened during the day, and dig deeper into how it affected them.
    • Active listening means staying engaged in the conversation (and not browsing on the internet), asking good follow up questions, and summarizing and understanding the information. This will allow you go leaps and bounds toward building the “us” mentality, beyond the miles between you.
    • Here’s a list of questions you could ask: Interesting Questions to Ask a Guy
    • Here’s some more: Questions to Ask Your Girlfriend
  6. Send Snail Mail
    • Don’t you wish those credit card companies would send you gifts and encouragements rather than bills, bills, and more bills? For any friendship, college bound student, or relationship, good snail mail is usually a highlight to one’s day.
    • Package baked goods, snacks, photos, or stuffed animals. Anything that allows your bf/gf to remember the good times, and soften your heart before the next time you see one another. Make sure to write a poetic letter too! Those make any girl’s heart melt.
  7. Savor Your Time Together
    • When you do get to see each other that one weekend a month, make it count. Don’t get upset and fight about the fact that one of you is suddenly leaving on the next flight. Make the most of your time, give your undivided attention, and hug his/her tears away! That one moment of love and affection can give you the strength to endure through the next month without each other.

What are some other ways you stay on the same page with your boyfriend/girlfriend? If you’ve been in a long distance relationship, what kept your relationship together?

Snowboarding 101 at Devil’s Head Resort (Wisconsin)

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Hello friend,

Sorry it’s been a while since I posted. I’m happy to be in the new year and be given the opportunity to start a new hobby! My husband has always had a knack for very random things (like billiards, tennis, and guitar), and snowboarding happens to be one of them. He has had his own board and gear for a while, so we decided to make the investment for me because apparently, it pays for itself within ten or so snowboarding trips… and I plan on going a lot!

We first visited Dick’s for some snowpants, and in the end, bought a snowboard. I really liked having my own stuff from the onset, a sort of emotional attachment, the idea that I’m growing with Delilah, my snowboard. I’m looking forward to many more trips with Witness and Delilah. Perhaps we’ll even get to visit a real mountain one day… one day!

For equipment, here’s what we bought:
Burton Genie Board – $170 at Dick’s Sporting Goods in Geneva, IL
Burton Citizen Bindings – $90 at Dick’s
Burton Mint Snowboots – $150 at Dick’s
Columbia Women’s Snowpants – $70 at Dick’s
Dakine Women’s Camino Mitts – $21 at 20% at Wildside in Wisconsin ( THEY HAVE AMAZING SERVICE!)
Missing Channel Inserts – $30 installation at Wildside

The missing channel inserts were due to Dick’s Sporting Goods not having the inserts attached to the new board. It’s usually in a 3-inch by 2-inch plastic bag attached with a sticky adhesive to the back of the board. Apparently, this is a common occurrence amongst Dick’s Sporting Goods and their boards, so make sure you ask the store manager about it or order through Burton (for free) in advance. We paid $30 for the inserts and installation because we were going snowboarding the following day.

In total, we spent around $531 on my snowboarding gear that’ll be used for years to come. It wasn’t a bad deal!

The Resort
We went to Devil’s Head Resort in Merrimac, WI. It was about a three hour drive from the Northwestern suburbs of Illinois. The lift ticket was about $50 for 8 hours, $108 for the both of us… I kind of wished we hadn’t spent the $54 for me, since I spent half the day on the bunny hill. There was also a sale going on Liftopia for 2 days at Devil’s Head for $60. We only went on Saturday though.

Witness was my teacher for the day, and he was an amazingly patient one as I slowly realized that learning something new is difficult, frustrating, and incredibly painful. I think my greatest injuries were from getting up from my knees and falling (very hard) on my bum. Two days later, I’m still sore from four hours of snowboarding. I spent two hours on the bunny hill which consisted of two moving walkways and 2 semi-steep hills. Many children and novice snowboarders/skiers stayed in this area. We even saw a little child with a pacifier and her mother. Devil’s Head staff were also giving some lessons for $30/1.5hr. I liked this area because I could easily see the end of the hill, and it felt like something I would be able to complete on my own.

Through all the falling, I learned that I’m better on my toes than on my heels, so somehow I learned the opposite way than what most begin with. Overall, it was a frustrating, rewarding, and exciting experience. I’m looking forward to our next trip sometime in February to learn the other half of snowboarding, haha. Two more purchases we’ll make are some butt padding and knee pads. I look forward to the day I’ll be able to go down a black diamond on my own!

I hope this was an entertaining and informative read for you. Share with me your first snowboarding or skiing experiences! Let’s learn together 🙂

Sincerely,

Tabitha

 

10 Things to Do Before and After Your Wedding (Part 2)

 

Proposal Photo by ChristinaCeeLee.com

Hello there,

Thanks for joining me on Part 2 of “10 Things to Do Before and After Your Wedding.” Here are the other ten!

  1. Book your vendors and volunteers (Months 1-5)
    • Officiant: Often times, if you’re getting married at a church, there will be an official officiant for that particular church. It’s best to get married at your local church that you’re a member of so that you get pre-marital from people who know and love you.
    • Photography: Call and ask several photographers for quotes. If you’re a local to Chicago, I highly recommend Christina Cee Lee. She’s a grad from SAIC and has an amazing eye for detail, scenery, and angles. Love her!
    • Videography: Call and ask around for videos. Two vendors that I’d suggest are Henry Wu and Gravity Weddings. They have a way of making that day memorable and unforgettable.
    • Photobooth: I used Henry Wu for this one as well. My guests LOVED his booth! It was really neat and cute. Open air, and simple to use!
    • Hair/Makeup/Nails: I didn’t have that great of a hair and makeup experience, but if you’re local, check out Bliss Nail Spa in Elmhurst, IL. Maybe you’ll see me too 🙂
    • Musicians: We had some family members and local musicians do our ceremony. They did a great job! Shout out to John and AeRim!
    • DJ/Band: We hired Remix Entertainment, and they were pretty epic party starters. You want to make sure your emcees are going to create party-conducive vibes for the rest of the night!
    • Transportation: Look on Groupon for possible discounts on party buses or rentals for transport to and fro. We used M&M Limo, and they were amazing!
    • Hotel Rooms: Book a row of rooms for guests traveling from abroad, and make sure they’re comfortable while they’re here.
  2. Buy Your Wedding Bands
    • Check online, at the mall, and smaller boutiques. There are usually sales all around at different sites. We bought my engagement ring at Ritani. We also got our wedding bands off of Tiffany’s and Amazon.
    • Decide which metals look best for your skin tone and lifestyle. If you tend to work a lot with your hands (like a doctor), you may even consider getting a “wedding necklace.”
    • Bands are circular to represent the eternal love between the two, so do what’s right for you!
  3. Create a schedule and outline for the wedding day (Months 5-6)
    • There are several templates online for you to check on Google. Let me know if you’re having some questions about the day.
    • Create a contact list for all the people in the wedding and the vendors as well. This is a helpful list to grab when you need information about your contact for vendors.
    • Make sure you add song cues and when everyone walks in and out. The more details, the better!
  4. Plan the Honeymoon (Months 5-7)
    • This is another adventure in it of itself. You’ll want to check and compare different sites from Expedia to Southwest to United Airlines and hotel sites. Sometimes it’s cheaper to book things separately than a package deal.
    • We ended up booking our flights on Southwest and booking the hotel reservations through a family connection. All in all, our 6-day, all-inclusive stay and flight ended up being less than $2,500 to Cancun.
    • Also, don’t forget to pack!
  5. Send out the Invitations (Month 6)
    • At this point, your guest list should be finalized. You should also invite in rounds. List A will have to RSVP three months before the wedding. List B will have to RSVP at least two months before the wedding, and so on.
    • Decide if you’re allowing everyone a plus one. Perhaps you won’t want to celebrate with your old friend’s three-week boyfriend. It’s your wedding, you decide who comes.
    • Make sure to include your names, the date, time, ceremony address, venue address, RSVP card with food choices (unless it’s a buffet), and a date where they need to send the RSVP back. Whew, that’s a mouthful!
  6. Create a Seating Chart (Months 7)
    • Ask the event coordinator of the venue for the floor plan for the room, or create your own if it’s a DIY wedding.
    • You’ll start to create this list of guests as you get a good round of RSVPs. Make sure you’re not seating enemies with exes unless discord is your goal. Let’s make sure we have a happy wedding!
    • During the process of seating, it may also be useful to write how many of each entree the guests have ordered. This was helpful for our venue and catering at Harry Caray’s when they asked for the guest list. Here are some tips for planning the guest list.
  7. Make and Print Your Programs (Month 8)
    • There are great outlines on Etsy where you can print them out yourself. The cost of our 300 programs was around $50, for paper and the template!
  8. Follow up on all your vendors (Wedding Week)
    • Make sure you tell your wedding coordinator to follow up on all those vendors. Sometimes they get mixed up with times and dates and locations. Double check to ensure there won’t be any mishaps on your big day!
  9. Leave reviews for your vendors (Week After Wedding)
    • This one is pretty self explanatory. Let the future brides and grooms know how you thought they did. Help a sister out; write a review!
    • Be detailed if possible. If you have positive things to say, state them. Talk about the service, cleanliness, and speed. If they are negative reviews, be detailed. Tell them what they did wrong and how they can improve to better serve their future clients.
  10. Thank You Notes (During Month After Wedding)
    • This is where your signed guestbook is going to come in handy. Make sure you have the gift attendants to remind your guests to write with legibility. Have your attendants label who gave what according to numbers, linking gifts to names so you can write them proper thank yous.
    • Make sure you thank your volunteers and make sure you’re up to date on all payments for your vendors. Feel free to give tip if they were extra helpful.
    • Buy a stamp from Groupon or Etsy so that you don’t have to write your address out all your cards.
    • Hire a calligrapher to write them for you.
    • I finished all my notes within a month! I was so happy after I got them done.

Thanks for joining me onpagetwo! Let me know what you thought about the steps and how I can expand on any of the given points!

With Love,

Tabitha

10 Things to Do Before and After Your Wedding (Part 1)

 

E-Session photo by ChristinaCeeLee.com

Hello there,

I recently received my gorgeous wedding photos from one of my favorite photographers, and it’s resulted in me thinking about the wedding. We got married about three months ago, so I figured I’d reflect about the process that took up my emotional, mental, and physical life for the 9 months after he magically proposed.

To tell you a little bit about my wedding… We got engaged on December 13th, 2014 and married on September 19th, 2015. We decided to plan it ourselves, and boy, was it a fun (and bumpy) ride!  We also received a good amount of help from our parents. My fiance at the time had already purchased a home on his own (he’s AMAZING!), so all we really worried about was getting married and furnishing the home.

Here are some things my husband and I learned along the way in planning our own wedding. I’ve complied this information from our own experience, that which I’ve heard from others, and a plethora of internet sites/blogs/articles:

  1. Small or Large Wedding? (Month 1)
    • If your parents are helping fund the wedding, chances are they may want to invite their friends and families too. Ask them for their opinion, and give them boundaries so that you two don’t get overwhelmed!
    • Choose one: Have you always imagined yourself surrounded by friends, family members, the extended family of family, the roommate’s brother’s dog walker’s cousin, and the rest of the town? Or do you want a smaller, intimate 50-100 of your closest friends and family type of wedding?
    • Choosing a number of people will help you decide what venue, what sort of decorations, and how much DIY you’ll be doing.
    • This will also allow you to choose a destination wedding or narrow down the people you actually want celebrating with you. Ladies and gentleman, it’s okay to say no and truly invite those you want walking with you for the rest of your lives.
  2. Do you want a Bridal Party? Tell them! (Months 1-2)
    • The Symmetric girl/guy: For those who are obsessed with clean lines and everything being even, consider choosing an even number of bridesmaids and groomsmen (each) so that you two will be in the middle with an even amount of people surrounding you. This is mainly done so that the pictures come out with even symmetry. I had 4 bridesmaids, and the groom had 4 groomsmen. It worked out pretty well for us!
    • The Boisterous friend: If you are miss or mister popular and have a whole crew, then just invite the whole bunch. I’ve seen plenty of weddings with more bridesmaids than groomsmen and vice versa. It’s your first (and hopefully only) wedding! Make sure you have the people who mean the most to you standing right beside you at the altar! The more the merrier!
  3. Budget, budget, budget. Did I mention budget? (Month 1)
    • Choose a budget.  Here’s a website that’ll help you calculate your budget: http://www.costofwedding.com. Just plug your zip code in, and it’ll give you an rough estimate of what you’ll set aside for the wedding.
    • Stick to your budget. As easy and simple as it sounds,  it’s not. Remember, if you don’t want to start your married life in debt, learn to make compromises early. This is a great learning experience with your future spouse! Choose what is absolutely necessary and take out the frivolous items. Focus on the details that are going to allow you to marry your best friend!
  4. Choose a Date (Month 1)
    • Are you feeling spring, summer, fall, or winter? Often times, choosing a certain season will allow for discounted vendor prices. For example, the months of October to February often have discounts (in Chicago) as the cold weather may bring about less appealing circumstances.
    • Choose the time of day: Lunch or brunch wedding receptions can often be cheaper than the night and dinner reception with dancing. Consider these things in choosing the budget, and more importantly, focusing on marrying your significant other.
    • Friday and Sunday weddings can also be less expensive than Saturday weddings. Ask the venue if they have discounted prices based on date and time.
    • Holiday weekends are great for extended parties and celebrations but also tend to be very busy for the wedding industry.  If you’re choosing a holiday like Labor Day or the 4th of July, be timely about calling and visiting venues to book your date!
  5. Book the Venue, Sooner than Later (Month 1-3)
    • The venue can typically be about 40-60% of your budget. It usually includes the room for the celebration and catering (plus tip), where you can choose from a list of suggested vendors.
    • Based on your location and #6 (the next point), book a venue. Bigger hotels often have ball rooms where they can fit anywhere from 150- 1,500! Check out hotels, restaurants, museums, banquet halls, and backyards to find the look and size you need for your guests and budget. Call them and ask for their wedding/event coordinator and ask away!
    • Room size: Look for venues based on how many they can fit comfortably into the room. Don’t choose a huge ballroom that fits 1,000, and don’t don’t do the other extreme and force 300 people in a room for 100. Be reasonable in your choice, and make room for 10-20 extra wedding crashers.
    • Visit the location. My fiance at the time had to search and visit 3-5 venues per weekend since I was working on weekends. He knew my goals for the venue, and he did a wonderful job finding the absolute perfect venue for us – Harry Caray’s!
  6. Choose a theme (Months 1-3)
    • Color: It’s usually easier to choose a theme after you’ve chosen the season. And based on the weather, pick 2-4 colors that you want as the theme of your wedding. Summer weddings might be bright and colorful whereas for a winter themed wedding, one might go for browns, reds, and metallic colors.
    • Whimsical? Romantic? Classic? Simple? Rustic? Glamorous?: Choose three words that you dream your wedding to be, and make decorative decisions based on those three words. Mine were clean, romantic, and simple, so I made sure the decorative choices followed those words. Check out the photos from my wonderful photographer at christinaceelee.com.
  7. Create a Wedding Website 
    • The Knot has great templates for making a wedding website. You may want to check them out for a simple design to your story and info.
    • AVOID the RSVP option on the Knot. (Until they update the kinks). We tried using it for our wedding in 2015, and the app would sporadically delete our RSVPed guests. It was quite uncomfortable, but fortunately, our Excel guestbook-keeping system was more thorough.
  8. Send out Save the Dates! (Months 1-3)
    • Write out the guest list. Ask your groom and families to write out their own as well (if you want them to come, that is).
    • Now that you’ve settled how many and who, send out the save the dates! Witness and I used Paperless post, but feel free to go a more traditional route by sending out snail mail! Some hire calligraphers or print out E-Session (engagement session) photos, and send them as a preview for what’s the come. Here are some adorable ideas on Pinterest.
    • Also, check out Paperless Post as they have the awesome option of seeing if people read the card and a mini RSVP of what’s to come.
  9. Do you have a Pinterest account? (Months 1-3)
    • If not, please DO SIGN UP! Some of your makeup and hair vendors will end up asking you for photos of what you want. You’ll need to have thought about it beforehand, and Pinterest is a great way to get all your ideas onto one forum!
    • Once you sign up and get one, start pinning about your dream wedding! There are so many creatives and romantics on Pinterest, that you’ll be able to organize and plan for all facets of the wedding in a one stop, colorful, and easy-access avenue.
      • Pin about these topics:
        • Dress: From A-line, to mermaids, and tulle fabric, there are so many beautiful and budget-friendly brands/designers out there! Pin as many different styles and colors, and if you’re indecisive like me, you’ll begin to a notice a pattern of what you actually want for yourself.
        • Bridesmaids: Dresses, shoes, colors, gifts, accessories, nails, and hair styles (if you’re choosing for them)
        • Your Makeup, Hair, and Nails: Different styles for what you’re expecting for on the wedding day. Make sure you take the weather/temperature into consideration. If it’s hot outside, you may not want your hair down.
        • Accessories and Shoes: Decide on if you want something more glamorous or simple. If you normally don’t wear fully studded tiaras and diamonds galore, you may not feel comfortable doing that on your wedding day.
        • Photos: Save examples for certain poses and what photos of people you need the photographer to take to help you capture that day.
        • Food and Cake: Choose examples of what you’re wanting to eat. Make sure to ask the caterer about gluten-free and vegetarian options for the specified-diet.
        • Invitations and Programs: Choose examples of different stationery. Check out Pinterest, Etsy, The Knot, and Paperless Post for ideas!
  10. Buy the dress, suit, and/or tux! (Months 2-4)
    • Based on your theme and pins, you can decide what sort of dress and suit your man will be wearing!
    • Make sure to take a trusted friend/family member when shopping for these expensive items. You’ll need other opinions, aside from the salesman’s.
    • Make sure your bridesmaids/groomsmen get theirs as well.
    • All of you will need to get your fittings done a least a month before the wedding, and then again a two weeks before the wedding.

Thanks for joining me onpagetwo! Let me know what you thought about the steps and how I can expand on any of the given points!

With Love,

Tabitha