The Preggo Diaries

I’m pregnant.

In typical Gabby fashion, this means that I’m launching a new section of my blog. As always, I like to write with transparency about the season of life I’m experiencing at the moment in an effort to provide some laughs and hopefully, comfort and assistance to those going through similar seasons or about to go through them. Along the way, I like to share lessons learned so that hopefully you can benefit.

I’ve been pregnant for 13 weeks now. It’s very surreal at times and I cannot believe that there’s a little human growing inside of me. I’ve known I was pregnant since Week 4 and it was terrifying at first to know so early, mainly because no one else knows yet. It’s also too early for most OBs to see you (most won’t see you until 8 weeks) and the baby is SO vulnerable. It’s absolutely terrifying, and only other moms and pregnant women can truly understand that feeling.

Jason and I were ecstatic when we first found out about the baby. It wasn’t an accident, after all. We had started trying a few weeks earlier (more on that in a future post). The excitement, joy and fear that grips you the moment you feel that you are going to become a parent is unable to truly be put into words.

The first trimester holds so many different fears for both mom and dad, from hoping the baby’s heart keeps beating, to what will happen during the birth, to how you’ll afford a baby (they’re SO expensive). It can be overwhelming if you try to handle all of this fear by yourself.  The biggest lesson that I needed to learn during this season has been to trust God with my baby’s life. It hasn’t been easy. Everyday I have had the same prayer, “Jesus, please let this little heart keep beating.” From day 1, I kept hearing God whispering into my heart and mind two simple words, “trust me.” I’ve had no choice but to listen and obey. I’ve had to learn to trust that God is in control and I have to be okay with whatever his will is. This journey of trust isn’t easy but it yields beautiful results.

Jason and I waited three and half years before trying for a baby. In those three and a half years, we traveled the world, served, enjoyed each other and had fun on different adventures. In these three and a half years we were able to get out and do all of the things we set out to do, which was our goal before having children. We were able to find our groove as a couple and work out our issues so that we could focus on being good parents.

I’ve realized that everyone’s journey is different. Some couples have babies right after their honeymoon and it’s perfect for them. Some people wait ten years and that is perfect for them. Don’t ever let anyone pressure you into have children before you’re ready. No one can decide your journey aside from you, your spouse and God.

I heard my baby’s heartbeat at just 6 weeks pregnant and I saw the heartbeat at 5 (it was too small to hear). Hearing that beating heart every single time makes me completely in awe of God. As a girl who had surgery last year and from it discovered that I had Endometriosis, there were so many days when I feared that I wouldn’t be able to get pregnant or that it would take a long time. Then look what God did, he allowed me to get pregnant as soon as we started trying. Typical God.

No matter what your situation is, remember two things:

First, that God always hears your prayers and will answer them.

Second, that trusting God is the best option to take in EVERY situation. Keep trusting, never lose hope and continue to serve him no matter what comes your way.

 I’ll be posting something to the Preggo Diaries section biweekly, so stay tuned for funny and encouraging stories. I’m only 3 months in and already have a ton of stories to share!

How to Survive the Month of Your Wedding

Wedding planning can be one of the most stressful times of your life. What starts off as you being on cloud 9 after engagement can quickly turn into a whirlwind of worry and stress. Between funding your wedding, guest list drama and finding the perfect dress, things can get absolutely crazy.

The month before your wedding is typically THE most stressful time. Aside from trying to ensure that your dress will fit how you want it to, you get hit with many important decisions. The brides who are usually caught the most off guard are the ones who  have wedding venues that handle all of the details because when the month mark hits…BOOM…you get hit with all of these daily and weekly calls from vendors, bridesmaids and guests. Then there is also handling the RSVPs, seating charts and last minute problems that come up.

I wish I had had a one month game plan before my wedding because it would’ve saved me a lot of time and trouble. With that being said, allow me to give you FOUR tips that will help you survive the month before your wedding.

1- Take Care of Yourself

Want to hear something crazy? Almost every single bride I’ve known through the years has gotten sick before her wedding, usually 1-2 weeks before. In fact, thinking about it now, I can’t think of ONE of my friends who wasn’t sick the month of her wedding. I got sick two weeks before my wedding and it was MISERABLE. 

There are three main reasons for why brides get sick:

Lack of rest due to a combination of late nights making important decisions and long hours at the gym (gotta look good in that dress, after all)
Stress caused from thinking about all the things you have to get done
Lack of eating properly, mainly because there’s no time to cook, which forces us to rely on a lot of take out

Here are three things you can do to prevent getting sick or physically worn out:

Boost your immune system

There are so many over the counter immune boosters out there. The one I always use is Emergen-C, but what has worked best for me through the years has always been green juice and green smoothies. I blend all my smoothies for the week on Sunday (takes about 30-35 minutes), freeze them and then drink them throughout the week

Eat well and don’t eat junk

If you don’t have time to meal prep, make sure you’re choosing healthy options from restaurants (lots of veggies)

Schedule time for yourself

Schedule some time to relax. It can be anything that involves you relaxing! It might be something outdoors involving fresh air or maybe having a picnic with your future spouse or even watching a sunrise or sunset. Block out some time for you to do whatever it is that helps you relax. You need to re-energize and prevent yourself from burning out.


2- Don’t Neglect your relationship

Engagement season can be a time of great stress in a relationship. Between having to compromise on big decisions and battling family opinions, it can wear you down. Make sure during this time that you schedule regular date nights where you’re not allowed to talk about wedding planning AT ALL. Intentionally discuss other topics that don’t involve wedding stuff. A lot couples find that they fight a lot about wedding details, so you’ll have to be proactive in guarding your relationship during this time.


3- Don’t do it alone!

The month of your wedding is the time when your Bridal Party needs to step up their A game. If you have a proactive BP, they’ll be more than willing to help out with plans and they’ll be asking you for things to do. If they aren’t as proactive, do NOT be afraid to ask for help. You’ll get stressed out if you do everything yourself.  Delegating responsibility will not only ease your mind, but it’ll get things done faster AND include those friends and family members who want to be apart of the experience.


4- Have a Plan for Finalizing Decisions

It will really help you to have a plan or even some kind of check list that says everything you need to do the last  month of your wedding. The main thing you’ll be doing during this time is finalizing and confirming details. Below you’ll find a categorical list of everything you need to do the month of your wedding.

In order to help ease your 30 day path to marriage, I created a FREE printable just for you! Scroll down to find it! 

Beauty

  • Finalize hair and makeup
  • Always have a back up hairstyle just in case you need to switch it up (weather changes, hair issues, etc.)
  • Finalize bridal outfit: dress, undergarments, shoes, accessories
  • Finalize departure outfit
  • Create a honeymoon packing list and start to pack
  • Attend your final dress fitting
  • Decide on your wake up outfit (what will you wear while you’re getting your makeup and hair done?)
  • Day of Wedding schedule (BP wake up times, shower times, hair and makeup time, etc.)
  • Book beauty appointments: nails, wax, massage, etc.

Guests

  • Chase down missing RSVPs (delegate this task to bridal party)
  • If you haven’t already, put your yes RSVPs into categories so that it’ll be easier to seat them. Ex: work friends, childhood family, bride’s family *categorize RSVP cards by color*
  • Work on and finalize the seating chart
  • Finalize hotel bookings (delegate)
  • Get a final head count and give that information to the venue

Decor

  • Final meeting with whoever is handling the decor:
    • Table settings (linens, napkins, chairs, glassware, cutlery, plates, o)
    • Centerpieces
    • Favors
    • Ceremony decor
    • Any outstanding equipment needed?
    • Final meeting with florist

Service/Ceremony

  • Meet with Officiant to finalize the order of the service
    • Music
    • Readings
    • Vows
  • Finalize program
  • Finalize procession
  • Brief the ushers on reserved seating sections

Vendors

  • Send out payments
  • Confirm bookings
  • Finalize arrival times and contact person (at the venue + at the wedding)
  • Finalize transportation
  • Have a final meeting with caterer

Photo + Video

  • Create a list of photos that you want to take and who will be in those photos. Then designate a wrangler (usually the MOH or BM) to gather people for the photos

Music

  • Finalize playlist
  • Finalize entrance music (ceremony + reception)

Honeymoon

  • Put all important documents in a folder and in a safe place
    • Passports
    • Tickets
    • Itinerary copies
    • American embassy locations
    • PDF scan of passport to leave with your family/friends in case of emergency
  • Arrange all pick ups and drop offs
  • Create a packing list and finish packing
  • Order foreign currency for destination
  • Call credit card companies and inform them that you’ll be out of the country

All Prints

  • Put Placecards in designated order for tables
  • Print programs
  • Print speeches
  • Print itineraries for the BP and all necessary people

Clean up

  • Who is cleaning up the venue and packing purchased items
  • Who’s collecting leftover items
  • Who’s cleaning up the bride’s hotel room

City Hall/Legal stuff

  • Get your marriage certificate
  • Bring it to the wedding and have it signed
  • Change your name at banks/show copy of the marriage license so that you won’t have any issues depositing checks (I learned this from my time as a Bank of America employee)
That about sums up all of the big things you’ll need to get done the last month before your wedding. Don’t let this big list scare you, Engagement and wedding planning can be amazing if you are intentional about the things you need to get done.

Click HERE for your free checklist and let me know how it helps you! Your Action item for today is to go and fill out your wedding checklist so that you can be ahead of the game for the last 30 days before you say I do!

Cysters: Navigating Women’s Health Issues

cysters

Right now, think of seven of your closest female friends. Did you know that in your lifetime, 1 out of the 8 of you will be affected by breast cancer? I think we’re at a point in time where every woman knows at least one woman who has struggled with breast cancer. Ovarian cancer and cervical cancer are also becoming more common and it sucks.

In addition to this, there are millions of women suffering from reproductive health issues, including PCOS (5 million), Endometriosis (176 M worldwide), Fibroids (80% of women by age 30!), breast nodules/lumps, and a bunch of other health issues. It was my desire to start a section of the blog about women’s health because my sister Judy and I experienced our own set of female reproductive issues in 2015-2016 and we want to be here for other women like us who are also experiencing these types of issues.

We’re also here to raise awareness. According to Gynecologists, it’s recommended that women see their GYNs once per year to get what’s called a Well Woman Exam. This is an exam that includes a pelvic exam, PAP smear, and if your GYN is thorough, a breast exam, an ultrasound and blood work. These exams will usually catch anything alarming so that your doctor can take steps to fix it. In reality, most women let years pass before they to go to their GYNs. This is bad. Here’s why:

Most reproductive issues, like other medical issues, are treatable with early detection.

Take a look at these stats from the ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology):

Cervical Cancer: The 5-year survival rate for women with cervical cancer is 92%. If cervical cancer has spread to surrounding tissues or organs, the 5-year survival rate is 57%. If the cancer has spread to a distant part of the body, the 5-year survival rate is 17%.

Breast Cancer: If the cancer is located only in the breast, the 5-year relative survival rate of people with breast cancer is 99%. If the cancer has spread to the regional lymph nodes, the 5-year survival rate is 85%. If the cancer has spread to a distant part of the body, the 5-year survival rate is 26%.

Uterine Cancer: The 5-year survival rate for women with uterine cancer is 82%. The 10-year survival rate is 79%. If the cancer is diagnosed and it is still only in the area it started, called local, the 5-year survival rate is about 95%. If the cancer has spread regionally, the 5-year survival rate is about 68%. If it is diagnosed after the cancer has spread more distantly to other areas of the body, the rate is 17%.

Ovarian/Fallopian Tube Cancer: The 5-year survival rate for women with all types of ovarian and Fallopian cancer is 46%. The 10-year survival rate is 35%.

When you look at these stats, you seen one big trend: the earlier you catch it, the higher the survival rate. While these are the more serious types of illnesses you can be diagnosed with, we also want to focus on the less serious reproductive issues that women struggle with on a daily basis. These are often things that affect your fertility and well being and may require surgery or medication. 

We talk about this in the About Me section, but in case you haven’t read that yet, my sister Judy and I both had to have Laparoscopic surgery to remove cysts. Judy’s cyst was a Dermoid cyst that was wrapped around her Fallopian Tube. She ignored the pain for one year until it sent her to the ER. Had they caught the cyst when it was smaller, they most likely would have been able to save her Fallopian Tube. In my case, I went two years between GYN exams and when I went back, they found a large Endometrioma cyst on my ovary. When they went in, they found my uterus full of Endometriosis and polyps. Had I waited, the Endometriosis could have spread and most likely would have severely damaged my fertility.

Every year, thousands of women have issues that affect their fertility and health simply because they haven’t had themselves checked.

The good new is that most of our health insurance companies cover Well Woman Exams free of charge. Although I understand the healthcare industry is currently undergoing change, I urge you to find a place that will give you a free or low cost WWE.

Women all over the U.S. and the world are suffering from reproductive issues. It’s a hard journey to be on by yourself. It’s difficult to know who else is going through the same thing because we never really talk about it openly. Judy and I are here to change the conversation about women’s health and do our part to raise awareness and help women live longer and better. Soon we’ll be coming out with an e-book that will discuss our experiences with surgery and how to get through it. Look out for that soon! 

I’ll leave you off with this question:

When was your last GYN visit?

If it was over a year ago, go schedule an appointment NOW! If you don’t have a GYN, ask a friend for a recommendation. If you’re in the NYC area and want the name of my AMAZING GYN, let me know and I’ll refer you. 

Before you go, I’m going to give you one more assignment.

Since 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime I want you to text 8 of your female friends RIGHT NOW and remind them to go get checked

P.S. If you liked this post, share it! Who knows, it might save a life!

Courtship in the Modern World

courtship

A courtship is more than just one man and one woman joining their lives together. It involves the physical and spiritual family to which they’re connected-the community of people who witness, affirm, protect, and celebrate their love.”

Before we get started, I just want to say three things about dating and courtship:

1- There is no magic formula for being in a successful relationship. There are only patterns, strategies and biblical suggestions, as well as red flags, that either lead you towards a healthy relationship or away from one. These are my opinions, sometimes based on statistics but always based on my experiences in the world of Christianity. Some are lessons I’ve learned on my own while others are the experiences of my friends and family that I’ve witnessed firsthand.

2- These are CHRISTIAN perspectives on dating based on biblical truths. If you don’t agree, that’s fine, but hey, I didn’t write the Bible lol.

3- Every couple has a different story. Some get married within 6 months while others get married within 4. Some date, some court. Some get married, some break up. Don’t compare your story to others, but also don’t be naive and ignore warning signs . Be sure that you’re not going against the Bible OR against the opinions of those people you value most.

Now, let’s get on with the post:

Christians often hear the term courtship being thrown around relationship conversations, but no one ever made a church-wide announcement as to what courtship really is. Is it the same as dating? If not, how is it different? These are questions I get asked all the time by singles and those in relationships. Using several different resources, I’m going to try to clear it up for you.

        The origin of the word courtship comes from the 16th century. To court someone means “to seek the affections of” or “woo.” Courtship means “paying court to a woman with intention of marriage.” Another definition is “the act, period, or art of seeking the love of someone with intent to marry.”
         In a nutshell, courtship is the act of a man pursuing a woman with the intent of marrying her.

Dating, on the other hand, literally means that you are “going out socially with a member of the opposite sex.” Dating is a more casual way of getting to know someone, and involves less of a commitment. In a nutshell: courtship = commitment while dating = let’s just have fun getting to know each other and see what happens. For millennials, one of our key traits is hating commitment. We don’t like involving ourselves in long term contracts or commitments in case we don’t like it and want to break free, so modern day courtship has taken a hit because it takes us awhile to commit.

        A major difference between courtship and dating is actually what happens beforehand. Before you enter into a courtship with someone, you get to know him or her as a friend. You begin courtship after you have prayed and sought counsel and feel that this could be the person God has for you. When you date, you get to know someone through going out socially, usually just the two of you.

The focus of courtship is to get to know a person in two ways: in groups and through ministry. This might seemed old fashioned, but let’s take a closer look as to why this is the better option most of the time. One of the things I’ve seen a lot of people fall victim to is dating someone who ends up being a jerk. Do you ever wonder WHY this happens?

It happens because he/she fakes his way through the relationship. It’s very easy for someone to be fake when they are alone with a person. You can put on a mask without worrying that anyone is going to hold you accountable.

This is the danger with couples who spend a majority of their time alone with each other. It’s often hard to tell a person’s true character when you’re alone with them; they can easily be hiding their true selves. Think about it, right now I can go on a date with a guy and tell him that I’m a single actress from L.A. who just moved to NYC. Guess what? He would believe me because there’s no one to tell him otherwise. But imagine that I’m with a group of my friends and I tell the same story. They’ll look at me like I’m crazy and call me out on it. This is why getting to know someone in group settings is so helpful. You can see how they interact with other people, and especially with their friends and family.

Serving God together is also an amazing way to get to know someone. You cannot fake serving in ministry when things get tough. Someone’s true colors always come out in times of testing. Watching someone serve is an amazing way of learning his or her true character. It shows how selfless and dedicated a person can be, and that’s very important. There is nothing more romantic then serving God alongside someone you are interested in. To see them serve God and people passionately goes way deeper than spending time at a beautiful restaurant. This, of course, poses a problem if you don’t serve in the same ministry, but there are other forms of ministry that you can do together outside of church, like participating in an outreach, volunteering somewhere or sharing the gospel with someone. This is why so many people fall in love on missions trips.

Everyone needs to remember that the most important thing about the person you are going to marry is his or her CHARACTER! The most important thing is not their looks, career, amount in their savings account, or the chemistry you have with them. All of these things are surface level and can change and vanish in the blink of an eye.

However, someone’s character and heart are God-given, and if these are right, everything else will fall into place.

If the person you are in a relationship with has a horrible character and a bad heart, you are in for a lifetime of heartache. God alone can fix the heart and character, and so if someone does not totally surrender to God, their character won’t change (no matter how hard you try to change them, or how many promises they make to change).

I am a radical believer in courtship. Building a romantic relationship on a strong foundation of friendship sets you up for a strong marriage. Developing a friendship with someone first will help you know whether or not you can see yourself with this person in the future.

Aside from the strong foundation it creates, courtship can often prevent heartache. When you get to know someone through dating, you often realize too late that this isn’t the person for you. If you had been this person’s friend first, you would have noticed sooner that this person wasn’t right for you. People often date a lot before they meet their future spouse, when they could’ve just opted for one courtship instead. One great thing about courtship is that when you’re someone’s friend, you know their strengths AND weaknesses. If you’re still interested in them while knowing their weaknesses, you know this is real interest.

You may be thinking, courtship sounds great in theory but how does this work practically? After all, from a societal perspective, courtship seems SO old fashioned.

Well, I’ll use myself as an example. When Jason first shared his feelings with me, I told him that I didn’t date. He was a bit confused by that because he wasn’t too familiar with courtship. I told him that if he wanted to be with me, he had to become like my best friend. We decided that our focus would be getting to know each other in groups. So, we hung out a LOT with our friends, and it was a lot of fun. It was awesome because our friends were able to participate and keep us accountable.They also loved seeing our friendship blossom into romance. I was able to see how he acted towards other people and whether or not he was always nice or just nice with me. Did he hold doors open for all women or just me? Was he polite to waiters, cleaning staff, etc.?

We didn’t get into trouble because we rarely spent alone time together. I saw how he interacted with others, and I saw his true character. In addition to this, we both served together in our young adult ministry, and it was wonderful because I was able to see him serve people and serve God. We didn’t want to be one of those couples who fall off of the map as soon as they start dating. We wanted our community to play a very active role in our relationship. Once we became official, we spent more alone time together.

        The courtship phase is beautiful. It’s challenging at times, but extremely refining and rewarding. It helps you to honor God with your relationship, and keeps you pure and holy. It helps you to honor God with your relationship and keep Christ at the center.

Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there’s no perfect formula for dating, it’s key to know that, however there are certain things you can look out for and other things you can stick to that will REDUCE your chances of getting hurt.

If you any questions or comments about courtship, comment below, I would LOVE to hear from you.

Why do we need community? Because like a good wedding, courtship is meant to be a shared celebration.”

P.S. If you liked this post, SHARE it!

Hotels vs. Airbnb: Where to Stay on Your Next Vacation

Hotels vs. Airbnb: Where to Stay on Your Next Vacation

When you’re traveling, cost is usually the number 1 determining factor as to where, when and how you can travel. Last year, my husband and I traveled to one of my dream countries: ITALY! It was my 30th birthday and I had recently had surgery (which you’ll read about next week) and I wanted to go to Italy. Thankfully, my husband was okay with it and we went. It was AMAZING and I’ll be posting a detailed post about that in the future, but for now, I’ll just say that it was an amazing experience that was way cheaper than we imagined.

We wanted to travel for 10 days but were trying to spend less than $700-800 on accommodations. Most hotels charged at least $100-125 per night, so I knew that this wouldn’t really be doable for us. I instead opted to try Airbnb. I had previously done Airbnb domestically, mainly on the East Coast in Boston and Atlantic City. In Boston we rented a room in a large home and in Atlantic City we rented a house that we shared with our friends who traveled with us. One thing I loved about Airbnb was having an entire house and our own kitchen. It was great. Based on these experiences, I decided to give airbnb a chance internationally and I am SO GLAD that we chose to stay in Airbnb instead of hotels. My husband and I stayed in four different apartments in three different cities over the course of 10 days and 9 nights in Rome, Florence, Naples and Capri. We had AMAZING apartments that were spacious, clean and gorgeous. They were conveniently near the subway and within a few minutes of the city. What’s more amazing, though, is the price we paid for our accommodations.

We paid $720 TOTAL for 10 days of accommodations.

That’s $72/day for both of us. What’s crazier is that some of our apartments had two and three bedrooms, so if we had traveled as a group, it would have been even cheaper!

Throughout most of my travel experiences, I’ve stayed in hotels. I’ve had many good experiences but can say 100% that most of my trips from now on will be in AirBNB homes.

Today, I’m going to break down Airbnb and compare and contrast them with hotels so that you can know the best options for you. While I recommend AirBnb for most things, there are certain times when I believe that hotels are better.

Hotels

In general, hotels are a more luxurious experience. I know many people who would never dream of staying at an Airbnb property for the simple fact that they don’t want to clean their own rooms while on vacation. I completely understand this viewpoint. For me, however, I’m totally down to stay longer in a country if I can find a cheaper place to stay. As long as it’s clean and convenient, I’ll stay there. It’s all about what’s important for you and what your budget is.

Pros of Staying in a Hotel

  • You have to do less work. NO cleaning, NO carrying luggage back and forth. You go and have almost everything done for you. You leave the room with your bed unmade and you come back with it made. Upon checking out, you can just leave without having to worry about cleaning up.
  • You earn points and rewards if you stay in the same chain of hotels consistently.
  • If your flight is delayed, you aren’t as worried about checking in because you can check-in any time after the official check-in time.
  • Many hotels have a shuttle service from major airports
  • Amenities: fitness centers, conference rooms, continental breakfast, spas, restaurants, bottled water, shampoo, conditioner, etc. I’ve stayed in Airbnbs that have had amenities, but most do not compare with hotel amenities.

Cons of Staying in Hotels

  • More expensive: this is almost always the case. To this day I’ve never seen a nice hotel that was cheaper than Airbnb.
  • The hotel could be double booked unexpectedly or you could have your room switched inexplicably. This is something that happens more often than you would think. You can read about how often this happens in the hotel reviews
  • They’re less consistent: some hotels can inexplicably be under construction when you go or are having issues that need repair, etc.

Airbnb

If you’re looking to stay on a tight budget during your travels, Airbnb is definitely for you. If you’re REALLY on a tight budget, you can go super cheap and rent a room in an Airbnb apartment. Overall, I’ve found that even finding your own apartment is more reasonable than hotels.

Pros of AirBnb

  • Cheaper: almost always (as long as you book in advance. If you wait too long, the cheapest listings are almost always gone)
  • More space: you have an entire apartment or house to yourself, including a full kitchen and bathroom(s), couches, desks, etc.
  • Kind hosts who leave guides, maps and recommendations: this was a lifesaver for us in Italy. They had menus from every restaurant, tourist guides and even maps of the city.
  • Reviews that are very detailed, reliable and recent.
  • If there’s ANY issue that involves your room, you’ll get refunded easier than in a hotel.
  • You have a convenient app that controls everything.
  • DIY- you have a full kitchen, which is perfect for anyone who has allergies, special diets or dietary restrictions and needs to cook their own food. You also have a table to sit down and eat. If you want to order in, you’ll have space to eat.
  • You can choose the neighborhood; often in places where there are no hotels
  • AMAZING for large groups
  • More PRIVACY! You have a full apartment to yourself and don’t have to worry about thin walls.
  • Family friendly because of the large apartments and rooms. They even have homes with cribs (one of our Italy rentals had a children’s room)

Cons of Airbnb

  • Stricter check-in because the host has to meet you. If there’s a delay it could potentially be problematic. However,  this also means that they can accommodate an earlier check-in
  • You get rated after each stay, so make sure you’re clean!

After reading the pros + cons above, you can see that certain travel scenarios would be better for hotels or for Airbnbs. Here a few examples:

If you’re on your honeymoon: HOTEL

You don’t want to do anything on your honeymoon but relax and spend time with your new spouse. You want things done for you and you want to eat out at nice restaurants. My recommendation: stay in a hotel.

If you’re traveling with a group: Airbnb ALL THE WAY.

It will be dirt cheap per person.

If you’re traveling on business: HOTEL

It’s easier for your job to book a hotel. Also, conference rooms and amenities benefit business travel.

If you’re traveling on a budget: Airbnb
If you have dietary restrictions or health issues: Airbnb because you can cook your own food and keep it in the fridge
If you’re larger than average (height and weight): HOTEL

It’s more difficult to find large beds and showers in an international Airbnb, especially in Europe and Asia. It’s possible, but it’s more likely that you’ll find a California King in a hotel chain.

I hope my list has given you clarity over where to stay on your next vacation. Do you have any other pros and cons about Hotels or Airbnbs? If so, write them in the comments below!

Action Item: Make your dream vacation more of a reality bypricing different destinations for your 2017 vacations! Don’t hesitate. IF you’re not sure where to go, check out my post about countries that should be on your travel bucket list.

If this list has convinced you to give Airbnb a chance, use my link for a special $30 travel credit!

 

The UN TO-DO List: 8 Questions To Help You Get Organized Your Life

organization
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” ― Warren Buffett

The first time I heard this quote, it was a total game changer for me. I heard it on one of my podcasts while the speaker was discussing how difficult it was for him to learn how to say no. It inspired me to set new goals that would help maximize my productivity. My goal for the past six months has been learning how to say NO more often.

There are tons of posts that talk about how to make the perfect TO DO lists, but I want to flip the script a little bit and talk about how to make an UN To Do List instead. As a society, we value multitasking so much that we sometimes feel underproductive if we’re not doing a million different things.

I definitely struggle with this. I’m the type of person who loves to take on new responsibilities. I’m queen of the multitaskers. I sometimes think that I’m Wonder Woman and can handle everything on my plate. It’s easy for me to say yes to everything that I’m asked to do. It took me awhile to realize that saying yes to some things was keeping me from saying yes to the most important things. I realized that to really reach my goals I had to start saying no, and so I did.

Once we learn how to say NO to more and more things that don’t really matter, we leave room to say YES to things that do matter.

Saying no helped me to bring my life back into balance. By nature I’m an organized person but I had been allowing myself to slack off. Saying no to things that weren’t leading me to maximize my productivity and better my life freed up my time to start working on things that matter. I ended up having extra time to focus on my passions and things that I let fall to the side. This is what happened with writing. I’ve always wanted to blog and write books but I let that fall to the side because I was distracted by things that didn’t matter. I said no to more, said yes to writing and here I am!

Before you can organize your life, you need to understand WHY it’s not organized in the first place

To do that, you need to ask yourself a few questions, the main one being this:  What is keeping you from being productive? Is it procrastination or a lack of discipline? Maybe it’s a lack of time management or the fact that there’s too much on your plate?

This post is dedicated to challenging you to take a look at what you’re focusing on and get rid of things that you’re spending TOO much time on. For that reason, I’ve created 8 VITAL questions for you that will help you get organized, maximize your productivity and improve your life.

The most effective way to reflect on these questions is to give yourself some alone time and go to a place where you can have peace and quiet. A self-date or me time is what I like to call it. Try to give yourself 30-60 minutes of time alone to reflect on these, take notes and enjoy some peace and quiet. Put your phone on airplane mode or do not disturb, grab a cup of tea or coffee and get writing (or typing).


Productivity + Organization Self- Reflection Questions

  1. What is organized in my life that I’m doing RIGHT?
    • What is it that I’m doing to keep this organized?
  2. What is unorganized in my life that I’m doing WRONG?
    • Why is it unorganized? What am I doing wrong?
  3. What is keeping me from being productive and organized: procrastination, lack of discipline,  poor time management, etc.?
  4. What am I currently doing that I should STOP doing? (Think of things that are taking up a lot of your time but aren’t leading to you having a more beneficial and productive life?)
  5. What SHOULD I be doing but don’t currently have time for? (Things that would lead to you having a more beneficial and productive life)
  6. What things do I have a hard time saying NO to? 
  7. What is one thing I’m going to STOP doing this week?
    • HOW am I going to stop doing this? What does this look like?
  8. What is one thing I’m going to START doing this week?
    • HOW am I going to start doing this? What does this look like?

Once you have these all written down on paper, you can begin to really start say NO to things you don’t need in your life. Follow this list, hang it somewhere you will see it and write down dates for WHEN you want these things to happen. Writing down goals, setting time limits and getting accountability are the most effective ways to make your goals become reality.

Answer these questions, find someone to keep you accountable and be on your way towards a more productive and organized life!

Feel free to comment with what you’re saying NO to! I would love to hear it!

Wedding Planning 101- 5 Tips on Where to Begin

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Getting engaged is a beautiful thing. The minute that ring goes on your finger, you ascend to Cloud 9 and stay there for awhile. But after a few days you realize that you need to get moving and can’t keep skipping around in the clouds.

Getting the ball rolling on wedding planning can be quite overwhelming, though. There are so many lists, wedding websites and books that can tell you differing opinions. So, where exactly do you start? What are the most important things you need to do? After being a bride, MOH, bridesmaid and even a flower girl, I’ve learned a lot of lessons and realized what needs to happen to start your wedding planning process smoothly. Here are 5 tips that will help you focus your plans:

#1- Get an Overview of What You Want

It’s vitally important that you enter the wedding planning stage with a somewhat concrete idea of what you want. Pick a day to sit down with your fiance and ONLY your fiance (please no parents) and figure out what you both want. Details aren’t as important as the big topics at this stage in planning. So, before you nail down a venue or start sending your save the dates, here’s what you need to ask yourself:

A- What’s your budget?

This is the question of all wedding questions. Before you do ANYTHING, you need to figure out your budget. You should have two separate budgets:

  • Ideal budget: what you want to spend
  • Stretch budget: the most that you can spend

Once you know what your ideal budget is, you’ll be able to start looking at dresses, venues, etc.

B- What kind of wedding do you want?

It’s important that you have an idea of what you want before you start searching. Obviously, you may need to be flexible with certain things, but having an overall sense of what’s important to you will help everything else run smoothly. It’ll also help for you and your fiance be on the same page. Here are some categories you can start with:

Size

The average number of wedding guests is 120. What size wedding do YOU want?

Will your wedding be: Intimate (Less than 50), Small (75 or less), Medium (100-150), Large (150-250) or Massive (250+)?

Knowing the size of your wedding will help you narrow things down. I automatically knew that my wedding would be large simply because I come from a big Latino family and a HUGE church family. If you aren’t too concerned about the size, let your venue determine the size of your wedding.

Season

What season do you want to get married in? One important thing to look at before choosing your season is the type of weather that’s normal to your area (or wherever the wedding will be) during that season. For example, getting married in Florida during hurricane season isn’t ideal, nor is a January wedding in the northeast. Now if you’re on a tight budget or tight time schedule, you can always make due, but it helps to get married during typical times of calm. I got married in July, which typically is cooler than August. Just my luck, I got married during the end of a heat wave and had an outdoor wedding that was in 90 degree heat. It was a scorcher. Sometimes you just can’t avoid these things.

Some things to keep in mind:

Peak and off peak: June and September are the most popular months to get married, so know that venues will be pricey at these times, as will flowers, rentals, etc.

Location

Where do you want to get married?

Do you want to getting married in your home state or somewhere else? Are you interested in a destination wedding?

Do you want an indoor or outdoor venue? Do you want it in a church, restaurant, established venue, natural area ( park, beach, mountaintop)

C- What’s your vision? When you imagine your wedding day, what do you see?

Close your eyes, envision your wedding day and write down what you see. Did you see yourself having a rustic barn wedding in the country with 200 guests or maybe a classy city wedding in a downtown venue with 50 guests?  Also, what do you want people to remember about your wedding? This will help guide your decisions as well.

D- What’s a non-negotiable for you?

This is a HUGE question to ask yourself and your fiance.

What is absolutely essential for you to have during your wedding? Stick to it and don’t let these things go due to family or societal pressure.


#2- Find your venue ASAP

Your venue is the most important thing about your wedding planning. It will determine the date, price and the size. Without a venue, it’s hard to get started with anything because you don’t know how long you have to plan. Our venue search was rough because we had a $10,000 budget and a big guest list, but guess what? We found a beautiful house to rent for $2,500 that sat on 60 acres of land. It was exactly what we were looking for. It took us about 2-3 months of searching to find it and at times, we didn’t think we would find anything. Keep looking and don’t give up. I promise you’ll find something.

Important questions and things to keep in mind regarding venues:

Cost:

  • What is the price per person? Are kids the same price? Do they accommodate food allergies and dietary restrictions?
  • What is included in the price? Are there different options?
  • Do they offer buffet style or table service?
  • How much does it cost to decorate? Do you have to bring everything into the venue or will they decorate for you?
  • What is the quality of the food? Check the vendor’s ratings and make sure you get a tasting. If a venue allows you to bring in food from an outside vendor, consider using your favorite restaurants. We used two of our favorite restaurants and it was cheaper and better quality.
  • Are there discounts for bigger or smaller rooms?
  • Are there discounts for weeknights or holidays? Friday, Sunday and holiday weddings are all the rage now. Consider this if you’re on a tight budget.
  • Do they have a wedding planner, venue manager, maitre d and bridal attendant who will be serving you that day?

#3- Get your dress

Ladies, this is the second most important thing about your wedding!

  • Look at styles on Pinterest and online. For me, it was love at first site. I saw my wedding dress on a Bari Jay website and fell instantly in love. I saw this photo and fell instantly in love with the style, color and even hairstyle. It was everything I wanted, simple and classic, so I started to call shops that had the dress. While trying on dresses, others came close, but once I tried this on, I fell in love. I added a beaded sash to the dress to complete the look. 
  • Schedule appointments as soon as possible
    • Pick about 3-4 different stores and schedule appointments
    • If you get engaged around the holidays DEFINITELY make appointments as soon as possible because stores will start getting booked due to all of the holiday engagements.
    • Be open-minded: you may want something that doesn’t flatter your shape, so be open to getting a dress that you didn’t expect. 
    • When you go to try on dress, try on more than one style, even if you don’t think you’ll like it. I’ve heard so many brides say that they chose dresses they never thought they’d like (that was my story as well)
    • Only bring people whose opinions you TRUST. I cannot stress this enough. Bring people who will tell you the truth, will not be jealous if you look beautiful and won’t be overly critical. Bring people who 100% value you and your happiness. I’ve heard horror stories about brides who left stores in tears because they brought people to fittings who just threw unkind opinions their way.

#4- Wisely pick your bridal party

Next month I’ll be writing a detailed post on this, but I want to tell you right now: It is VITAL that you pick the right bridal party members. I cannot tell you how many horror stories I’ve heard about picking the wrong bridal party members. I unfortunately made one wrong choice that ended up complicating matters for me. 

  • Pick people who will put you first and leave negativity behind. You want honest people, but they need to understand that constructive criticism is better than complaining. Pick mature people who will go to you with issues and not complain to everyone else.
  • Set their expectations immediately and let them know an estimated amount of money they’ll be spending and that it’s all about YOU for this short period of time.
  • If you’re having a big wedding or an express wedding (less than six months to plan), having a big bridal party will help you. The burden will fall on the shoulders of the BP for many things, so more people to share the load will help.
  • If you’re having a small wedding, a small BP will be easier
  • Do NOT pick people out of guilt or obligation. Most brides regret this.

#5- Prioritize Your Honeymoon

In my opinion, the honeymoon is also in the top 5 list because of its value. For Christian couples who are having sex for the first time on their honeymoon, it holds even more value. For everyone else, it’s a necessary time of refreshing. Weddings are so stressful that they deserve to have a time of unwinding. Personally, if I hadn’t had a honeymoon, I would have had a nervous breakdown because I had started teaching a new class, moved twice, AND planned my wedding all at the same time. I was DRAINED in every sense of the word and I’ve seen the same things from couples everywhere.

I would say that you need to make your honeymoon apart of your budget. Even if it means inviting 20 fewer people, make it happen. Trust me, you will NOT regret it.

Questions to ask about your honeymoon:

  • Budget: how much can you spend?
  • Location: Caribbean beach, historic city or exotic location? Look into natural disasters prone for the type of area you want. Will it be hurricane or blizzard season? For example, last year, the Zika virus changed a lot of honeymoon destinations. 
  • Date: if you can’t afford a big honeymoon, go on a mini moon first and then a bigger honeymoon at a later date. Be careful, however, because most couples I know who had mini moons never got around to going on their honeymoon. Go while it’s a priority.

One thing I want you to always remember:

It’s YOUR wedding.

Don’t let anyone stress you out. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do. Don’t let anyone try to pressure you to do what you don’t want to do. Don’t allow anyone to make you and your fiance abide by “etiquette” or expectations.

It’s YOUR wedding. Do what you want.

The current trend for weddings is for couples to do what they want and add their own flavor to their wedding. That’s what makes brides and grooms the happiest. Stay true to what you value and enjoy your wedding. I’ve been to at least 60 weddings and can tell you that I’ve seen beautiful weddings in all shapes and sizes. The best weddings have always been the unique ones that reflected the bride and groom’s personalities.

Into All the World

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    There are presently 7.3 Billion people in the world. By the year 2050, it’s projected that there will be over 9 billion. Did you know that out of these 7.3 Billion people, half of them have never heard the gospel? It is quite extraordinary to think that 2,000 years after Christ was on the earth, his followers have failed to reach out to half of the world.

        Here in America, it’s hard to believe that so many people out there have never heard about Jesus. Don’t they have bibles, internet and television? The answer is often no

There is an area in the world called the 10/40 Window. The 10/40 Window is an area of the world that contains the largest population of non-Christians in the world. The area extends from 10 degrees to 40 degrees north of the equator, and covers the Middle East, Asia, and Northern Africa. An astonishing 97% of ALL unreached people groups live there.

While this may seem unbelievable to you, is it really so hard to believe that in places like China, North Korea, Morocco, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, that people have never had the opportunity to hear about Christ? In all of the countries I just mentioned, it is actually illegal to preach the gospel. Proselytization often means jail time or worse, so most Christians are too scared to risk their lives so that others might hear about Jesus.

        Initially, I found this quite hard to believe, too, but then I went to some of these countries and experienced it firsthand. The first time I ever encountered people who were totally unknowledgeable about Christ was in Cambodia in 2007. We were in Phnom Penh and a few small villages conducting free medical clinics for people. The medical clinic included something called a spiritual clinic, where we offered to pray for people. We were astonished to see that so many people didn’t even know what prayer was. When they asked us who we were and where we were from, we told them that we were Christians from the U.S. sent to show them the love of Jesus. They then asked us who Jesus was because they had never heard of him. Unbelievable.

In Israel and Palestine, Morocco and India, I experienced the same thing. Person after person had no idea who Jesus was. This was surprising in Morocco and Palestine since Jesus (Issa) is an Islamic prophet mentioned extensively in the Qu’ran. However, most Muslims there had never even read the Qu’ran, which explained why they didn’t know who Jesus was.In Bangladesh, people knew Jesus was a prophet from the Qu’ran, but that was the extent of what they knew. Upon returning from these countries I am always heavily disturbed. 

How is it possible that over 3 billion people in the world have NEVER HEARD THE GOSPEL?! Wasn’t the last command that Jesus gave us to go into all the world and preach the gospel? If I remember correctly, Jesus said:

I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth! Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to do everything I have told you. I will be with you always, even until the end of the world.” – Matthew 25

and…

Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.”  – Mark 16:15-16

and…

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”– Acts 1:8

        Every time I read these verses, the expression #EPICFAIL comes to mind. Jesus told us to do ONE THING before he left, and we have failed!

Most of the time, we are too caught up in our own American lives to realize that BILLIONS of people are dying without Christ because we have failed to tell them. Their blood is LITERALLY  on our hands. I say this to all of you in an effort to challenge you.

You don’t have to pray and ask God if you should preach the gospel. It has already been commanded for us to do so.

However, you should pray about WHERE to preach the gospel. While over 3 billion unreached people live across the world, millions live right here in our back yard. While it’s true that people here have access to hear the gospel if they really want to, we need to help them get to the truth. I challenge each of you to seriously pray and ask God to open the doors for you to travel oversees to be a light and show Christ’s love. You can use almost any gift or talent to show Christ’s love and make a difference. The best decision I have ever made (aside from accepting Christ as my Savior) was to go on my first missions trip to Brazil in 2005. That trip changed my life, challenged my faith and led me to where I am today. These days, I simply continue to travel the world (mainly the 10/40 window) and anxiously await God’s call for Jason and I to go full time.

After reading this, you may be asking yourself this question:

What can I do?

There are three main ways that Christians can take action:

 1.)    GO! Every year, churches and missions ministries all over the world take teams to the neediest parts of the world to spread the love of Christ. I’m sure even your own church offers these possibilities. If not, take a look at organizations such as Operation Mobilization (I went to Morocco with them), YWAM (Youth With a Mission), Youth For Christ, Adventures in Missions, and many many more. I am always encouraging Christians to go on missions trips because these trips will change your life and revolutionize your relationship with Christ! One of the most amazing feelings in the world is directly fulfilling scripture and telling someone about Jesus for the very first time.

2) GIVE! If you can’t go on a missions trip anytime soon, you can help sponsor someone who is. You can either sponsor someone who is going by donating any amount of money to their upcoming trip OR you can also give directly to their organization. If you need some recommendations, message me and I will refer some reliable organizations to you.

3.)   PRAY!  The strongest offensive tool Christians possess is prayer. God moves mightily through prayer, so pray for the lost to find Christ, missionaries to be mobilized, needs to be met and anything else that comes to your mind.

Two suggestions for how you can pray:

There is a book entitled Operation World that has stats on every country in the world, including its biggest needs and how you can pray for that country. Buy the book, choose one country per night and pray over it. This makes a big impact for the kingdom and gives you a special love and burden for that country.

Put the names of all 10/40 Window countries (or every country in the world) in a Ziploc bag or paper bag and pick one every night/morning to pray for. This is a simple, yet effective way to pray for the world. I’ve done both of these things and they’ve been great. They opened my eyes to many of the needs around the world.

As we get to the end of this post, I close with these two questions:

The call to go and shine the light of Christ has already been made. How will you respond?

When we face Jesus and he asks us what we did for him, are you confident in your answer?

Think and pray on these answers and allow them to challenge you in your faith. 

Until next time…

Ten Countries That Should Be on Your Travel Bucket List

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I LOVE to travel.

I’m going to start out by saying that right away so that you know one of the most important things about me. This is the heart and soul behind the travel section of my blog. I’m a big fan of traveling domestically, but international travel is my main love. I’ve been traveling domestically since childhood, but I started traveling internationally at age 16 and haven’t stopped since. I have traveled internationally at least once a year every year since 2005 and these adventures have been the highlights of my life.

Looking at my life, I can say that some of my most memorable moments in life have come through traveling. My goal for this section of the blog is to share my love of traveling with you and encourage you to go out and fall in love with traveling too. More importantly, I’ll be sharing a lot of tips about traveling that will help you pack your bags and be on your way.

I have to be honest and say that I haven’t fully experienced the touristy side of too many countries. I’m not a very touristy kind of girl. Yes, I want to see the main historical sites, but I also want to see where the natives go. As a native New Yorker, I know firsthand that all the best places in any city are those beyond the tourist traps. I’ve been in full tourist mode in some of the countries I’ve traveled to, like Italy, Spain, Bermuda and Jamaica. But in most of the others, like Morocco, you’ll see that I had a more native/adventurous experience.

Most of my travels have come through humanitarian trips, so I’ve seen the dark side of most of these places.  However, all of the countries that I’ve listed below have left impressions on my heart that will last forever and I want YOU to have these amazing experiences too.

Traveling to new and exotic lands will change your life forever, and the impact will be felt by all of those who know you. So go out there and travel because your experiences can impact your community, city and world. 

The countries on this list are all countries that I’ve personally visited (some more than once) and so I’m giving you the insider’s scoop on WHY should visit them. The things that I value while traveling are: cost, culture, food and cleanliness. If these things are up to par in a country, I recommend it. The countries on this list follow a wide range of categories to fit everyone’s travel wants and needs. Some are the classic, romantic European destinations while others are the adventurous and risky places that will bring you higher heart rates and adrenaline rushes.

For each of these countries, I include the following: description, highlights and lowlights, cost and a word to describe the country. The cost was estimated using dates from different seasons and I used my preferred travel apps: SkyScanner, Cheaptickets.com and Airbnb.com. You can find very cheap travel deals if you have flexible dates and do your research.

Alright, here we go:

Brazil

Brazil is without a doubt the liveliest country I’ve visited. There’s dancing and partying literally at every turn. There is so much flavor in this country that it will blow you away. The people are friendly and fun, the food is amazing and the sites are gorgeous. Most of my time was spent in Sao Paolo, however I also spent time in my friend’s hometown, Sao Jose dos Campos and the vacation beach town, Ubatuba.

I know what some of you might be thinking, isn’t Brazil kind of dangerous? I’ll tell you this much, I’m from NYC, and we aren’t afraid of anything here, so if you’re looking for a country that is 100% safe, you may as well stay home. Every country around the world poses some sort of threat to your well being, whether it’s gang violence, Zika, pick pocketing or terrorism. If you’re going to travel internationally (even domestically), you have to accept the fact that you have to take some risks in order to experience life.

Here’s my recommendation to you: Go to Brazil, eat at a churrascaria, dance with the kids in the streets and learn something new about the world.

Highlights: amazing food, fun establishments, beautiful culture

Lowlights: drastic views of disparity between rich and poor that will horrify you

Cost

Flight: ~$800- 1,000 (depending on the season)

Accommodations: $40-60/night (home) OR $60-150/night (hotel)

Ideal length: 8-10 days

Total: 10 days = ~$900-1,800/person

One word to describe Brazil: LIVELY


Mexico

Mexico has the BEST customer service I have ever experienced in my life! My husband and I went there in 2013 for our honeymoon and it was pure paradise. It exceeded every single expectation that I had. Although I’ve always known that Mexico’s culture is amazing, it had never been much of a priority for me to go there until I started looking up honeymoon destinations. We wanted a peaceful beach location for our honeymoon that would include good food, good service and a place where we could see beautiful sites but not feel pressured to go site seeing every single day. We basically wanted paradise and thankfully, that’s exactly what we got. We chose Playa del Carmen/Riviera Maya and it was PERFECT! We had private jacuzzis and pools in our suite, amazing meals and service, and a romantic ambiance at every turn. We stayed at two of the best hotels in Playa del Carmen (Rosewood Mayakoba + Banyan Tree Mayakoba) and it was magical! Apparently Bruno Mars had stayed there the week before (too bad we missed him).

Mexico is very affordable. Since it was our honeymoon we ended up spending about $4,000 in total, however this is not the norm that we would have spent had it been a normal vacation. We loved it so much that would go back at the drop of a hat. When we were there, we met so many Americans who were repeat visitors to Mexico. The reason for this is that Mexico is the most popular international tourist destination for Americans.

When you go there, it’s easy to see why Americans love it so much. It’s because of the service, food, culture and safety. Many people don’t know this, but while most big cities in Mexico have high crime rates, Riviera Maya is the SAFEST place in Mexico. Since it brings so much revenue to the country, the government goes out of its way to protect this area. It’s very safe and I definitely recommend it.

Highlights: romantic environment, amazing food and customer service, AMAZING deals

Lowlights: can be pricey depending on which hotel you choose

Ideal length: 5-7 days (Honeymoon = 10 days)

Total: 7 days = $700-4000

One sentence to describe it: ROMANTIC


Spain

As a Latina, Spain is my motherland. Three out of four of my grandparents can trace their heritage back to Spain  (the other is from Italy) and so it had always been a place that I wanted to visit. Back in 2011, I had the opportunity to do voluntourism there. I stayed for free with a family in exchange for teaching English to their daughters. It was a great opportunity. I was supposed to stay for a month but unfortunately my trip was cut short because they thought I needed to have my tonsils removed. Despite the fact that I was sick half the time, I fell head over heels in love with Spain. I spent a week in Madrid and loved every single minute. I went alone and enjoyed it but definitely recommend going with people. I would love to go again with my husband because it’s such a romantic country.

The culture is fantastic, food is amazing and the prices are very cheap. I went in 2012 when the Euro was pretty high and it was still very reasonably priced. Most attractions were between 6 and 8 Euros and the food was very cheap. My ideal trip to Spain would be ten days traveling through Toledo, Sevilla, Valencia, Madrid and Barcelona. This will happen someday.

Highlights: amazing food, historic sites, high value for your money

Lowlights: none

Cost for ten days: $1400-2000 per person (multicity trip)

One sentence to describe it: HISTORICAL


Italy

I’ll be creating a guide for Italy travel in the future but oh my gosh is Italy amazing. Every single place you go in Italy is snapshot worthy. Every photographer needs to go to Italy because it’s THAT beautiful. There is literally history at every turn. Let’s not even talk about the food! I had pizza and gelato every single day and still managed to come back home weighing less. I’m very sensitive to lactose and can never eat ice cream but I brought lactose pills to Italy and I was GOOD.

The best thing about Italy is that it is incredibly affordable. My husband and I came back with $400 left in our budget because it’s just so darn cheap. Thanks to AirBnb, we only spent $700 total for our accommodations for nine days. We stayed in gorgeous, clean and spacious apartments in the cities that were top rated. We did private tours so that we could skip lines (lines are crazy long everywhere in Italy) and we still had tons of money left in our budget. This was during the peak travel time in Italy (June), so it would be much cheaper to go off peak.

We went to four cities while we were there, Rome, Florence, Naples and the island of Capri. We traveled via Eurorail and had a lot of fun discovering different cities. My favorite was definitely Rome, followed by Capri. Jason LOVED Capri and Rome. We ultimately loved all of the cities, but if anyone asks me, Rome is absolutely unmatched.

Highlights: historical beauty, food, friendly natives

Lowlights: long lines like you’ve never seen, tourist traps, pick pocketing threat

Cost for ten days: $1,200-1800/person (significantly cheaper if you go to just one city)

One word to describe it: MAGICAL


Cambodia

I’ll be honest, Cambodia is a bittersweet country to visit. The sweetness is in the food and culture and the bitterness is because of the long-lasting effects of the genocide that are obvious everywhere you go. It’s important from a historical perspective to visit Cambodia. Seeing the effects of the genocide, including the details of how the genocide even happened, will blow your mind. What blew my mind the most was to learn about the role that the U.S. and Europe had in the genocide and how they could have stopped it but didn’t.

During the genocide, all of the country’s educated people were killed off by Pol Pot and his regime. This basically meant that most of the adult population was killed off. This left the country with mainly kids, teens, seniors and uneducated people. To this day, 50% of the population is under age 40. While visiting the country is a bit heavy, the beauty of the beaches, architecture and food will win you over. I worked a lot in the poor villages and the people won my heart.

This was the first Buddhist country I traveled to and it was SO intriguing to learn about the culture.

Highlights: super cheap, great food, nice locals (my hotel room cost $16/day for a double room)

Lowlights: effects of the genocide, poverty

Ideal length: 8-10 days

Cost:$800-2,000


The Philippines

I have been to the Philippines twice and I will definitely be going back. The Philippines is the most amazing place I have ever visited for two main reasons: the people and the culture. I have never felt hospitality like I did while in the Philippines. They love foreigners and strangers and will invite you into their homes, cook for you and practice their English with you.

While I was there, I worked mainly to do feeding programs with poor families and I fell in LOVE with the children. They are gorgeous and will steal your heart forever.

I was in Manila and a small city two hours north called Pila Laguna. I visited the famous Pagsanjan Falls and the beauty was breathtaking. You ride a canoe down a river while monkeys jump from limb to limb all around  you. When your canoe makes it to the waterfalls, you have the option of getting out and swimming underneath them. Pure beauty.

Highlights: natural beauty, accommodating culture, friendly natives

Lowlights: extreme weather, bugs, heat and humidity

Ideal length: 8-10 days (travel from the U.S. takes a long time to get there)

Price:$1,000-2,000 (main cost is the flight)

One word to describe it: BEAUTIFUL


India

Last year, I made my third trip back to India, the home of the one and only Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal alone is a good enough reason to visit New Delhi (it’s one of the wonders of the world, after all), but I’ll include a few more.

I’ll be honest, India is the most overwhelming country I’ve been to thus far. Being from NYC, I can say that I know a thing or two about crowds and overpopulation. In spite of all of my big city training, I was a little puppy dog when I first went to India. There are literally people EVERYWHERE. Every possible inch of space has humans. If this overwhelms a New Yorker, it will definitely overwhelm those of you from small towns.

India, in my opinion, is one of the most socioeconomically needy countries in the world. From a humanitarian perspective, I love this country and I have been able to make a significant difference in changing it. I had the privilege of teaching English in India last year for the first time and the gratitude of the students blew my mind. Last year was my first time going to the North of India, as I had previously only gone to Gujarat. We went to New Delhi and saw the TAJ MAJAL! You MUST go to India, if only to see the Taj Mahal. Everywhere you go in India, you’ll see monkeys. From the little ones that jump from tree to tree to the big Orangutans that run across the highway while you’re driving, you’ll see them everywhere.

I think what will shock you most about India is how many people there are and how different and unique there culture is from anything you’ve ever seen. For example, the sheer number of Hindu shrines are shocking and intriguing. There are tributes everywhere to their 300 million gods. I didn’t see them in New Delhi as much but everywhere else in India is full of these shrines.

Highlights: vibrant culture

Lowlights: heat and humidity, drastic human rights abuses

Ideal length: 8-10 days (travel from the U.S. takes a long time to get there)

Price:$1,100-2,000 (main cost is the flight)

One word to describe it: FASCINATING


Israel

Every Christian, Muslim and Jewish person needs to make it a priority to visit Israel. It is literally like a pop-up Bible. You get to see so many biblical moments come to life. While I was there I saw where David wrote some of the Psalms, where Jesus prayed in Gethsemane and many other biblical locations. I played in the Dead Sea, touched the remains of the Jericho Wall and drove on the Road to Damascus. This is a spiritual trip as much as it is a vacation. You will feel it in your soul when you see where Jesus walked. This place is magical and you must visit in your lifetime.

Highlights: rich history, delicious food

Lowlights: religious and political tension

Ideal length: 5-7 days

Price:$1,100-1,300

One word to describe it: SPIRITUAL


Palestinian Territory

I know what you’re thinking…this girl must be crazy to recommend Palestinian Territory. Well, hear me out. I went on a humanitarian trip to the West Bank in 2008 when Bush was President, which was a peak year of tension between Palestine and Israel. I was scared to go there, as was my team. I only knew Palestinian territory by what the media said about it. I was expecting to meet terrorists, to be quite honest. However, instead we met the kindest, most loving people. These people were so grateful to us for having a medical clinic inside of their refugee camps. It was amazing.

This trip completely changed my perspective on the Israel-Palestine political drama. I prayed with Christian Palestinians in a church that was located in the heart of Palestine. Scary things did happen on the trip, but I’m a firm believer in risking things when God tells you to go. Stay tuned for more about these missions journeys in the future.

I’m considering Israel and Palestine two separate countries because they are. If you go to one and not the other, you’re only getting half of the experience. Whatever your political views, I encourage you to do a humanitarian trip there. You won’t regret it.

Highlights: AMAZING food, kind people, political enlightenment

Lowlights: political and religious tension

Ideal length: 3-4 days (A combined Israel-Palestine trip for 8 days would be perfect)

Price:$1,100-1,300 (main cost is the flight)

One word to describe it: ENLIGHTENING


Morocco

Morocco is the most exotic country I’ve ever visited. From the history to the food and spices to the beautiful architecture, Morocco has it all. I spent a little over three weeks backpacking through Morocco with a group of 6 girls and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It’s not a luxurious vacation, but if you’re adventurous and into exotic locations, Morocco is for you. The food alone will win you over with it’s rich flavors, but the sunset camel rides on the beach aren’t too shabby either. Shopping in the medinas, taking photos in front of the blue doors, dipping your toes in the Mediterranean and eating tagine and zaytoons (olives) will rock your world.

Highlights: amazing food, exotic locations, vibrant architecture

Lowlights: the African sun is CRAZY

Ideal length: 7-10 days (Casablanca, Marrakesh, Rabat, Tangier, Chefchaouen)

Price:$1,050-1,250

One word to describe it: EXOTIC

As I said above, traveling will change your life in ways you never imagined. Whether you go to these countries I’ve listed or not, just TRAVEL! You will not regret it.

If you’ve never traveled outside of the U.S., I want to encourage you right now to plan an international trip. Text some friends or family and come up with a way to travel. If you’re worried about affording it, go on a tight budget and sacrifice one thing in order to save up for a vacation. I’ll be blogging about this in the future, so stay tuned!

What countries are on YOUR bucket list? I would love to hear, so comment below!

 

Three Relationship Lessons from Three Years of Marriage

 

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My husband Jason and I celebrated our third year of marriage back in July. Though it’s cliche, it’s true when they say that time flies. It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been over three years since we walked down the aisle in front of two hundred of our friends and family.

When Jason and I first started our courtship, I felt like God wanted me to start writing about it, so I started blogging. My goal has always been to blog about my current season in order to help others who are going through that season or about to enter that season. That’s where GabbyWrites.com was first born. I started the blog back in 2010 to write and share about our courtship and it was great! I got a lot of positive feedback from people who were inspired by what I wrote. I felt like I was doing what God wanted me to do. However, I eventually found it challenging to keep up with the blog and be inspired to always write about relationships. As a result, I was posting less frequently and it began to fade away.

At the beginning of 2015, after Jason and I had returned from our missions trip to India, God reminded me of all the things that he has taught me throughout the years and that he wanted me to share those lessons so that I could help others who are going through similar situations. That renewed my passion for sharing my experiences through writing. So here I am, relaunching my former relationship-themed blog as a lifestyle blog, ready to share things with the world.

On the note of transparency, know that I’ll be 100% transparent about the challenges of marriage and relationships. I’ll never ever bash men or my husband or give away too many intimate details, but I will be honest about both the joys and the struggles that can take place within the confines of marriage.

I’ve seen that it’s better to learn things the easy way than the hard way, which is why I like to write about things that I’ve learned the hard way, so that others can avoid making the same mistakes.

So, without further ado, allow me to share with you my first post on my newly launched lifestyle blog. The following are three core lessons that I’ve learned the hard way from my three years of marriage. I believe that anyone who follows these core values and beliefs will have a much easier marriage, easier relationships and friendships. I pray that they would help you have healthier relationships overall and that you don’t have to learn these the hard way. These lessons are nothing new. They’re things that you’ve probably read and heard in countless marriage books and podcasts but will be revolutionary once implemented. 

#1- Don’t ever go to sleep with unresolved anger

In your anger, do not sin, do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” – Ephesians 4:26

The Bible is completely right about never letting the sun go down on your anger. The implications of this verse will carry far into any marriage. If you never let issues go unresolved, your marriage will be one million times easier. Unfortunately, Jason and I didn’t follow this habit at the start of our marriage and have paid the price through the years. Unresolved issues will come up again and again if you don’t handle them in the moment. I’ve known couples who had issues from decades past haunt their current state of marriage because they were never dealt with. Please don’t let this happen to you.

I understand that there are some issues that can’t be resolved in one day, however, as Christians we are called to resolve the anger in our hearts by the time the sun goes down. As married couples, we need to stay up as late as it takes so that we are no longer carrying anger in our hearts towards each other. Issues can be resolved the following day as long as we get rid of the anger that same night. Going to bed angry hinders our chances of resolving things the next day because odds are that we will still be angry when we wake up the next morning.


#2- You MUST Forgive easily + quickly

But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” – Matthew 6:15

I’ll get straight to the point here. If you don’t forgive, your marriage and relationships will never be all that God has intended for them to be. Forgiveness is KEY. Learning to forgive in marriage is difficult because the closer someone is to you, the more access they have to your heart and as a result, they can hurt you easier. When you are hurt by the person who is closest to you in life, it REALLY hurts.

As hard as it is to forgive, I’ve found that using God as a model helps every time. For all of the things that Christ has forgiven me for, can I not forgive my husband or others who have hurt me? This is a very humbling way to keep yourself accountable to forgive because it calls us to get rid of our pride; however, it’s worth it, because it always works. How can we not forgive others when God has forgiven us SO MANY TIMES?

An important thing to remember is that a lack of forgiveness in any area of your life will come back to haunt you. It will pollute your heart and taint your relationships. Holding on to grudges will do more damage to you than those who the grudge is against. Forgive quickly and all of your relationships will be better.


#3- Always assume the best

                  “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” – James 1:19

This one is the hardest for me. I find it so easy to assume that when Jason hurts me, he does it intentionally. This however, is usually not the case. I know that it’s easy to think that our spouses, friends and family members hurt us intentionally, but we cannot allow this thinking to pervade our minds. The enemy is quick to make us think that everyone is out to hurt us intentionally but this simply isn’t true. Always give your spouse a chance to explain themselves because more than likely they didn’t realize that their words or actions hurt your feelings. Do what the verse says:

be quick to listen (for an explanation)

slow to speak (so that you don’t interrupt them)

slow to become angry (so that your emotions don’t dictate your actions)

I’ve also learned to never assume that your spouse doesn’t care about you just because they hurt you. I know it’s easy to think that our spouses don’t care when they hurt our feelings. Trust me when I say that I know this is hard to do. Assume the best though, and realize that they didn’t purposely want to hurt you. By assuming the best, we can forgive easier because we know it wasn’t intentional. It’s hard to hold a grudge when you know that someone hurt you accidentally and not intentionally.  

There are many lessons that I’ve learned throughout our marriage, however, after thinking and praying on which ones to include in this post, I believe that these are three of the most important ones. Following these verses and lessons can revolutionize your marriage. If you’re not married, these lessons can actually benefit every relationship you’re in. If you’re married and have also had to learn these lessons the hard way, just know that it’s never too late to start implementing change. Once Jason and I implemented these changes in our relationship, we saw amazing results!

My challenge for you today is this: Think about the relationships that you’re in. Are you currently in need of implementing any of these lessons? Is there any festering anger in your heart towards someone? Is there a lack of forgiveness that’s slowly turning into bitterness? Have you assumed the worst about anyone recently?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, then my question to you is this:

What are you going to do to fix it?

Are there any other lessons that you’ve learned about relationships? If so, add them in the comments, I would love to hear from you!