How to Perfect the Art of House Swapping

 

Bonjour,

Usually when I plan a trip I find inspiration from my list of places I want to visit board that I’ve saved from Pinterest. I enjoy reading travel magazines like Condé Nast Traveller and Afar magazine for more off-the-beaten-track sources. I like to find an interesting landmark, a cool hotel or quirky museum to center around the trip. For example, when we visited Amsterdam last November, I had to check out the amazing Voorlinden museum after seeing it on Instagram. It really was the highlight of our trip to the Netherlands.

This rad exhibit is called Swimming Pool by Leandro Erlich

The museum liked our photo so much they asked to use it for their brochure!

We love to learn about different cultures from our beloved MAPS book which also inspires our travel wishlist.

Since we moved abroad, I need to be budget conscience (since Antz is now a freelance artist) so I look for ways to fit everything into our small budget. I love the luxury of spending our first night of a trip in a fancy hotel. This way we can order room service and relax since we are usually tired from traveling all day. I also get to take a long, hot shower and take photos of the hotel for my Instagram. Since most hotels I fall in love with tend to be pricey, I find the least expensive day to book (usually early in the week) and I hunt for deals a few months before booking. I also utilize my Chase Sapphire and Amex cards points to upgrade our room or car rental. In the past few years I’ve been taking advantage of house swapping instead of expensive Airbnb rentals. Our first house swap wasn’t a traditional house exchange. We used points we accumulated from Love Home Swap, the largest house exchange website, as a form of currency to rent a 3-bedroom house in Reykjavik, Iceland. The woman we swapped with then can use the points to book another home that is listed on the site. Once you become a member, you are given a set amount of points based on your annual subscription level. There is an option to do traditional swaps which are simultaneous or you can stay at a members home and they stay at your place for a later date. I get about five swap requests per day (Paris is a very popular swap destination) from people all over the world so I have my top 5 swap cities listed on our profile.

I hope this makes sense, you can read more about how to use points on their site. You can read more about the details of our house swap during our 2016 trip to Iceland here.

Now, how do we get into house swapping? Well, it started with testing out renting our LA house on Airbnb for a weekend. We planned a few road trips to Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington during the summer of 2016 and I knew our house would be empty for a few days. Since we were spending a large amount of money to take the train from Portland to Los Angeles, I thought it would be smart to list our house for rent on Airbnb. Antz was pretty apprehensive about having strangers stay in our house but our next door neighbors rented their back house successfully all the time so I was curious to see how it would go. I bought some new sheets and towels from Target so they wouldn’t use our personal bedding and linens. I didn’t think it would rent so soon but it turned out that one of our neighbors down the street were getting married and her Mother found our house listed and booked it so she had somewhere to stay while she was in town for the wedding. It worked out wonderfully knowing it was someone we indirectly knew staying in our house. We rented our place again for the following weekend and grew more comfortable with the idea of strangers staying in our home. We put all our valuables in storage bins in our garage and changed our home alarm code for the renters. Our cat Lola stayed at home the whole time and our renters never saw her (she’s extremely shy around strangers) The income we made for the Airbnb weekends paid for most of our summer trips!

Since things went so well, we started looking at possibly renting our house while we were spending a year abroad in Paris. When we were looking for for a longer term house swap in Paris, I found a home exchange website called Behomm.com. Behomm is a house exchange website based in Spain aimed for creative professionals and the homes are highly vetted. Most of the homes looked straight out of Architectural Digest and I was nervous our Los Angeles house wouldn’t make the cut but luckily we just completed our big renovation. I was looking for a reciprocal house exchange with someone in Paris for our sabbatical year but we ended up only finding a swap for two months. Those two months of swapping were a perfect opportunity to allow us time to go apartment hunting in Paris. It turned out to be lucky for us we didn’t find a swap for the entire year since we ended up making our move to Paris permanent. The process was super easy, you search for the city you are looking to exchange in. There’s even a reciprocal button that shows you people who are looking for a swap in your city. You can view photos of the homes and read the homeowners profile. The site offers language translation because in our case most of the profiles were in French. Next, you message the homeowner on the site and set up the terms of the swap; the dates, the length of time and they agree to the terms. You pay all your own expenses (mortgage, utilities and some swaps even include a car) and they pay their own. Some home exchange sites offer supplemental insurance to cover any damages. The idea is you treat the home with as much respect as you would like someone to treat your own. Since we were moving to Paris for a year for our swap, most of our belongings were already put away in storage. We left our cat Lola at our house which was fine with our swappers.

It’s also is helpful to get to know the swappers before the exchange so you feel more relaxed about the whole thing. I have met many kind people in the house exchange community.

The best part for me is since we started doing house swaps, we can afford to take more trips because I don’t end up with a large hotel or Airbnb bill. We also save on meals because we can cook rather than dine out. I even did laundry during our exchange in Iceland when all our clothes were muddy and wet from hiking. I like that you can message the owners prior to swapping to get a feel for them, kinda like a dating app. I was getting hundreds of house swap requests from around the world but we were focused on exchanging in Europe and Japan. You can list the cities you are interested in swapping with or leave it open to all offers on the website.

Christmas 2018, we booked a spontaneous trip to Vienna, Austria when I found a €45 flight! This was the apartment we swapped on Kid & Coe, a home exchange and rental site that is kid-friendly.

 

The owners lived on the floor above us and they had five kids! Our flat was modern but still has the European charm I adore. Liv is always excited to have her own room to sleep in. 

We had our first trip after the pandemic lockdown in July 2020. I had a credit from Kid & Coe for a small job I did for them on social media so I booked a few days at this lovely cottage in the French countryside in Normandie.

We had the whole house to ourselves and the owners were next door in their home, a lovely older couple from England. 

So, here are my pros and cons about house swapping:

Pro – Saves tons of money! My annual memberships varies from $99 – $360 which can be one night’s stay at a hotel. I have three active memberships and I have access to house swaps and house rentals all over the world.

Con – It can be tedious work to find the perfect swap. There have been many times I wasn’t able to confirm the swap I wanted because the owner wasn’t available for my proposed dates or they didn’t respond. There is a system in place to urge members to respond in 24 – 48 hour timeline, but some members may no longer use the website so they may not get back to you at all. I have to keep that in mind when I fall in love with a perfect pool house in Provence and I don’t get it!

Pro – You have access to an entire home and that is perfect for longer swaps. We cook, we play board games, we use their backyard or even borrow their bikes. I love hotels but having a home to stay in for a long trip can be so beneficial, especially when traveling with kids. Antz is usually able to work in a more comfortable space than in a cramped hotel room. We also get to feel more like locals during our trips and explore neighborhoods we usually wouldn’t venture in when staying at a hotel. We always leave a guide explaining all the details of our apartment (wi-fi codes, how to use the washing machine, where things are located, etc.) and I have an extensive Google Maps that I send them before the trip that highlights my favorite places in Paris. The same courtesy is usually offered to us as well.

Con – Accidents may happen, trips may need to be rescheduled and life’s inevitable drama. When we swapped during the summer in Barcelona, we returned and discovered our Smeg electric kettle handle was broken. I contacted the swappers and they agreed to pay for the damage and I bought a new one. This is why it’s best to keep your valuables and delicate items stored away. We keep all our breakables and irreplaceable items in our locked closet in storage bins. Olivia was worried about leaving her PC in her room so we put away the keyboard and mouse and put towels over the monitors. She left this friendly note for the swapper’s son.

Pro – Swapping is a social event, we have made lifelong friends with our swappers and most of the people in the community are so friendly and helpful. When we were looking for a swapper in the Netherlands, everyone we reached out to who couldn’t swap with us offered to tell their friends that we wanted to swap and that’s how we ended up finding our swapper. You will get comfortable meeting new people from different countries.

 

I certainly feel like the pros outweigh the cons but I wanted you to know what issues may arise when swapping.

I would be happy to answer any questions in the comments and I can send referrals to my house swap sites if anyone is interested in joining with a discount.

Love Home Swap (this is the largest network of home swaps, we get the fastest responses here)

Kid & Coe (this is my favorite swap site because it’s geared towards kid-friendly homes but the rental prices are very expensive)

Behomm (I only have 10 invitations so please only request if you are 100% ready to join!)

Here is a youtube guide for joining Behomm 

I hope this helps explain how we house swap. If you don’t get a ton of people requesting swaps, don’t get discouraged! I recommend really putting time into the photos you upload on your profile and I like to add photos of nearby attractions and restaurants to help entice viewers. We have gotten so used to keeping our apartment organized and tidy because we have so many swappers during the year. 

Bon Voyage!

My Best-Kept Secret Souvenir from Rome

I know you may already be thinking of a gladiator helmet magnet to stick on your fridge or a bunch of post cards of the Trevi fountain but I prefer something else to preserve the memories from our travels. I am not a fan of buying lots of trinkets or cheap souvenirs I’ll never do anything with while we are on vacation. I do buy Liv a gold souvenir coin from churches we have visited (usually found in a vending maching for €2). My biggest frustration when we return from a trip is looking through all my vacation photos and seeing hundreds of photos of Olivia and Antz taken by me or Liv and me but hardly any of all three of us together besides a few not-so-great selfies. I get even more upset when we ask a relunctant tourist for a photo and it turns outs terrible. We have all been there. My last few trips I thought I found a solution by bringing a tripod with a remote however the museums did not allow selfie stickes or tripods so we had to leave it in the locker room. We have tried to set up the tripod outside however we didn’t feel comfortable with leaving our iphones out of reach when we were in a large crowd (and how do these influencers stop people from walking through your shot?!)

I finally had enough so I decided the best souvenir (and value) is booking a family photo shoot so I have photos of all us which I will cherish forever! I wish I could hire our friend and talented photographer Lee to follow us around the world and shoot us (our rad shoot in London) but alas, I am not as wealthy as a Kardashsian. So, I reached out to my friends who may know photographers in Rome that would be available for booking a family shoot. Mostly everyone was out of town because locals tend to skip town during the peak tourist season. I wasn’t having much luck finding someone so I ended looking online and I found a 2 hour walking tour that included a photo shoot.

We started off super early (to beat the crowds) and met two other couples at the Colosseum. It was already boiling hot but our tour guide found some shade to shoot us in. Victoria, our guide and photographer is an American who lived in Rome for several years. She was able to show us famous landmarks from an expat point of view and quickly take some shots during our walk.

The tour was pretty hurried due to the large tour buses arriving so we tried to stay ahead of the big tour groups, we had some good spots all to ourselves.

Our reward for getting up so early was seeing the Roman forums without the tourists, huzzah!










Our advice for posing for photos, don’t forget to let your silly side shine. I have so many photos of us in the same boring pose so I try to think of something different or pretend like we are in a magazine photo shoot. We do our best to capture the I’m a character in a Wes Anderson film aesthetic.


I can’t believe how far we walked in just one hour. Don’t forget to pack wet wipes, we were so hot and sweaty but the wipes kept us from looking like we were melting, I literally was soaked!

Some souvenirs are necessary, such as that Roma fan. Luckily we stopped at a cafe for some juice to keep us hydrated.

Another tip I have is to request candids but also be aware of the camera. I like the observational photos as much I like the posed ones because it shows us in the moment.

Grazie Victoria! We really enjoyed talking to her and sharing our expat annoyances and joys. Even though there was two other couples in our group she made us feel like we had her full attention. She also got our photos back to us in a week which is record time! I found her to be a great bargain but unfortunately due to Covid-19, I don’t see her actively online.

There are a few photography websites that you can find a photographer to book online:

Flytographer
Airbnb Experiences

I recommend to start by asking friends if they know someone because it’s easier when you find a photographer who doesn’t normally do tourist shoots. My experience has been they are less likely to take you to popular tourist locations and pose you in a generic (like school picture day) poses. I like finding someone that has a more edgier, artsy style (like Lee!!) Sometimes you have no choice because you want those to shoot at those landmarks but if we have been to a location before we tend to skip the main attractions and find a less crowded part of town. For example, I wouldn’t encourage anyone visiting Paris to go to the Eiffel Tower/Trocadero for photos. It’s packed with tourists and souvenir vendors so if you are coveting the perfect shot with the iron lady, head around the corner to rue de Buenos-Ayres and hope you don’t have too many cars parked on the street (again always go early!).

Of course when I went it was rainy and every car in Paris had to drive past when I was trying to get a photo.

Bon Chance!

How to find the almost-perfect Paris Airbnb rental

Bonjour,

Finding a perfectly charming Parisian rental can be headache-inducing but I’m here to give you tips and what to keep in mind when choosing an Airbnb rental in Paris.

Firstly, you need to think about the city of Paris like a snail’s shell. Each neighborhood is divided into 20 arrondissements in a clockwise spiral starting at the Louvre. Most of the major tourist attractions are located near the Seine river which splits the city in half. The southern side is known as
la rive gauche/the left bank which is home to intellectuals, jazz clubs and writers sipping espresso in cafes (Hemingway is a noteworthy resident). My side of the city, la rive droite/the right bank is considered the chic, party side. You will find the Moulin Rouge, high fashion boutiques on Champs-Élysées Boulevard and the bohemians of Montmartre. The further from the center you go, the less tourists (more quiet) and more working-class Parisians there are. This adorable map is helpful when deciding what area you want to stay in.

My first experience renting an Airbnb was our summer vacation in 2014. After giving up on finding a hotel that ticks all my boxes within our budget, I decided to look at rentals online. I liked how easy their website was to navigate and there is a wide selection of rentals. They have accurate photographs and honest reviews. I was able to save my favorite apartments to a wishlist and contact the owner to ask questions. I was a bit disappointed that the first three apartments I wanted weren’t available with kids but I was very happy with the one we ended up renting. Half of the time, it’s sheer luck that you find a nice place that has everything you want.

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On the Airbnb website you can search by location, price and availability. Let me tell you that most apartments in Paris will often come with some kind of trade-off. You will have to put up with something lame in order to get most of your wishlist. Usually a place with a nice view will mean a strenuous flights of stairs. Larger apartments are often found in a part of town that you may not feel comfortable out late at night. I’ve even had to turn down a beautiful two bedroom apartment simply because it was across the street from a sex club. It’s good to check the address or neighborhood on Google maps before you book. You may score a place close to popular landmarks which will certainly mean noisy, obnoxious tourists, possibly a higher crime area (terrorist threats and pickpockets) and lower quality of restaurants. Don’t be too discouraged, Paris has amazing security and a police and military presence is reassuring.

In our case, we didn’t find anything available for two weeks in our ideal location le Marais, (the 3rd/4th arrondissements) but our rental was in walking distance from the the upper 10th arrondissement which was super convenient to the Metro station and we had a lovely, quiet courtyard so we didn’t hear all the street noise.

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The courtyard was quiet and lovely

Here are my recommendations to keep in mind for your search for the almost-perfect Parisian rental:

Stick to your budget.

It’s easy to fall in love with an elaborate pied-à-terre with a sparkly chandelier, and there are plenty of luxury apartments listed on Airbnb but the reality is, besides sleeping, bathing and occasionally eating, you really won’t spend much time in the rental during your vacation. Unless you are staying long-term, I suggest you keep the cost of the rental lower than what it would cost for a hotel per night. In my case I would have paid $299 per night for a hotel and our rental was approx. $150 per night for two weeks. Plus, we saved money cooking our own delicious meals and not having to tip hotel staff. Take note, Airbnb may charge a cleaning fee and a fee for additional guests. I like to introduce myself via message to the host before booking so I can get a feel for how they manage the property.

Who could say no to these happy faces!

Keep in mind during your search to look for a place that is bright, has lots of windows, and preferably not on a ground floor. Most of the apartments are tiny in comparison to American homes, so white paint gives an illusion of a larger space with a sun-filled apartment. High ceiling also help you not feel too claustrophobic.

Renting in Paris, it’s all about trade-offs.

I really wanted classic apartment with herringbone hardwood floors, an elevator in a Haussmann style building but the apartment we chose didn’t have any of those things. However it did have an awesome swing for Olivia, had a modern design, I loved the high ceilings and charming skylights in the loft. Although our place was small, the layout felt spacious and everything was efficiently designed. We wanted a place with a modern kitchen but we didn’t have air conditioning (A/C is rare in Europe) and it was brutally hot during the summer. We ended up leaving our windows open at night for a breeze but Liv and I were bitten by mosquitos everyday. We were pleasantly surprised how much we liked the area we stayed in. Normally, I would have chosen a place near the center of Paris but staying further out allowed us to shop and dine where locals go and that is how we found the absolute best rotisserie chicken in Paris. Find a place that has something you love but be prepared to give up something else in exchange for it.

Beware of dated apartments.

I know it’s hard to resist the 19th century rustic charm of Parisian apartments but the older the rental, the less amenities you will have. Things we take for granted such as a microwave, a dryer (French people love to use hangers to dry clothes), decent water pressure in the shower, WC (water closets) which are tiny closets with a toilet inside. Those gorgeous herringbone wood floors you may covet may be creaky and noisy and may be annoying hearing your neighbors. I fell in love with a few chic, traditionally rustic Parisian apartments during my search but I had to face the reality that staying in a period apartment with a three year old would have been a headache when she couldn’t resist touching the fragile antiques. We knew we wouldn’t be comfortable lounging around on older furniture. Plus laundromats are expensive and a bummer.

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I almost rented this rustic apartment with the tiniest kitchen ever and five flights of stairs!

Renting a place with small children can be tricky. Some rentals have a strict no children under 12 policy while others may charge more for kids. Since Liv was three years old when were Airbnb hunting, we made a list of kid-friendly must-haves and list of would be lovely. I wouldn’t consider any places that didn’t have white painted walls, I also ruled out any rental with longer than a five minute walk to the Metro. I didn’t want too many stairs because we had so much luggage and I worried about our kid falling on the stairs. It turned out not to be a deal-breaker because Olivia loved the bath.

We showed Liv how to scoot down the steep loft stairs.

Be flexible about the location.

My favorite neighborhoods in Paris are le Marais 3rd and 4th arrondissement, and more recently, the 10th arrondissement near the beautiful Canal Saint Martin. It feels like a more authentic Paris with lots of cool boutiques, trendy restaurants and art galleries without the annoying tourists traps. Although just like LA, the cooler the location, the smaller and more expensive the rentals are (equivalent to Venice beach). There is also a pickpocketing issue throughout the city so always be aware of your bags. There really is no bad part of Paris, the further you are from the Seine the longer the walk, but you can always take the Metro or bus. Like any major city there is crime but it’s not as bad as big cities in the US, and I am a firm believer in not going out with my passport (unless I need it) or large amounts of cash. It’s also a good travel hack to keep a copy of your passport, drivers license on your cell phone and an emergency credit card hidden in your luggage (in your shoe) or somewhere safe.

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We loved buying fresh croissants every morning from the Patisserie on the corner.

If you don’t mind a smaller place, always choose the better location. Become friendly with your local baker, butcher, florist and fruit stand vendors. After a few days, we felt right at home in our Airbnb and even knew some people in our neighborhood by name. Liv made friend’s with our neighbor’s French bulldog.

Happy Airbnb hunting! I’m happy to answer any questions about the places we have rented. Do you have any Airbnb tips or hacks? Please share in the comments below!

Lizzie

Paris My Friend Walking Excursions

Coucou (Hey!),

Paris My Friend is a walking excursion service created by myself, a francophile from Los Angeles who followed my dream of living in magnificent Paris. I am always finding new lovely places, learning about French culture and meeting interesting people in Paris (I share most on this blog). I made the move to Paris with my family and our cat not knowing anyone or speaking any French. Some call me brave, I say I’m passionate! I’m also a nerd for all things pertaining to WW2 history, Marie Antoinette and 1960’s French pop music and films. I’ll share tidbits about life in Paris you wouldn’t hear from a typical tour guide. I am not an expert, but I am your Parisian friend!

Mon Ami Paree intro post

“Paris is always a good idea” Audrey Hepburn once famously quipped, but it’s also enormous and can be overwhelming for the first-time visitor. I offer a casual day exploring the city hosted from a local expat’s perspective. Based on your interests and some quirky locations, we spend approximately four hours exploring arrondissements (neighborhoods) on foot, city bus or even e-scooter.

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I have spent years discovering all that Paris has to offer and I’ve yet to see everything. If you are looking for a break from a large impersonal horde of tourists, then take a walk with me. I enjoy showing my city to visiting friends and family so I’ve perfected a lovely day away from the crowds. The most requested thing people want to do is shop, of course! I’ll take you to popular boutiques based on your likes in the “trendy but not snobby” area of Paris. I am happy to take photos with your camera or cell phone for you to share on social media to make all your friends jealous of your trip!

 

Mon Ami Paree intro post

Our walk ends at my favorite Parisian cafe for you to try delicious escargot and enjoy a refreshing Saint Germain cocktail. I’ll leave you with a link to my personal Google Maps full of rad places to see, awesome photo opportunities and unexpected places to dine for the duration of your vacation.

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If you would like to book a walk with me, please fill out my questionnaire so I can put together a walk customized to your preferences. The minimum group is two people and the max is four to keep things intimate. The walks may include climbing stairs, walking on cobblestone and some hills. I suggest wearing comfortable shoes, bring a portable charger and some Euros.

How it works:

  • Email me at parismyfriendtours@gmail.com to request your date. (Tuesday or Thursday)
  • I will confirm your date and how many will be in your group. (min 2/max 5 people)
  • You will receive a Paypal invoice $150 per person/$75 under 12
  • Once the invoice is paid, you’ll receive a questionnaire via email.
  • The more info you give, the better your experience will be!
  • I’ll send a confirmation for the time and location we will meet a few days before you arrive. (Typical hours are 11:00 am – 3:00 pm)

Here’s an example of some of our excursions:

I’ll take you where French women buy skin and beauty products that aren’t commonly available in the US.

We may stop by a renowned bookstore that is frequented by many celebrities.

Let’s browse the second oldest farmers market in Paris featuring authentic French crepes, fresh fruit, poissonnier (fishmonger), florists and smell the cheese at the fromagerie.

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I will take you to la Poste to buy stamps to mail postcards you bought from the marché back home to your family.

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We may take the bus to the most memorable, off-the-beaten path, Instagrammable locations around Paris.

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À bientôt!

Elizabeth
@parismyfriend

Shoreditch, London

Bonjour,

Liv gets two whole weeks of spring break here, Yay! We took a three day trip to London (my second favorite city). Antz job has an office there so he spent a day at work. We stayed at The Hoxton Shoreditch. It’s almost identical to The Ace Shoreditch. The room was much smaller but it had the same hipster vibe and Shoreditch is such a fun area to stay in. We promised to take Olivia to the Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour which was amazing. I advise you to purchase tickets well in advance. I procrastinated and they were sold out a few weeks before our trip so I had to pay a lot more for Golden Tours package but it included tickets and roundtrip coach to Leavesden which was convenient. While Antz was visiting his work office, Liv and I went to The Sanderson hotel for a girls Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea Party. We also had the best cake ever from the pretty Peggy Porschen which is an Instagrammer’s dream. We met up with our friend Melissa for an authentic Indian dinner in White Chapel. She gave us a tour of her neighborhood and showed us two amazing Basquiat-inspired Banksy art! I had no idea he has been putting up new art.

I was concerned about taking the Eurostar train due to France’s SNCF on-going strike but luckily it seemed every train except ours was canceled. We arrived about 40 minutes before our train departure time and it turned out to be the perfect timing. We breezed through the long customs line and we made it to the waiting lounge just as our train began to board.

You guys, I did something I have never done before, traveled in heels! Granted, they are the most comfortable wedges on the planet. I bought these Kork Ease wedges (similar ones here) from my favorite store in Highland Park, Dotter. Of course after weeks with no rain, it drizzled all morning.

This was the emptiest I have ever seen Gare Nord. Oh! Can I say how much I love my Away Carry-on bag. At first I wasn’t sold on the price and how small it is but for weekend trips it’s worth every penny! We arrived at San Pancras station to a lovely day in London.

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After a few months of daily Metro commuting in Paris, I was surprised at how different taking the Tube is in London. There are less stairs than Paris, which is a plus, however the stations have escalators that are as steep as Mt. Everest. I totally get vertigo and wearing heels, holding my luggage along with Olivia’s hand was a balancing act because I don’t ever touch the hand rail (I saw a travel show about how much fecal matter is found on them). The Tube trains are also smaller and arrive in the station at the speed of a roller coaster.

Liv spotted our first Invader right away! Our hotel was only a few blocks from the Tube station.

Guess what? I had a harder time understanding people in London than in Paris! Very cool accents but they talk faaaaaast. To be honest, the room we ended up with wasn’t my fave. It was small and there wasn’t a closet for our bags but the bed was very comfy and I had a throne-esque chair to rest my tired feet.

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It’s always hard to get out of a comfy hotel bed but we had to explore the town before our dinner plans. You know I can’t resist a photobooth.

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The lobby was very cool but it was so packed with people, I couldn’t get any good photos. There was an art show featuring twins that looks rad and a dreamy communal kitchen space with a bright red Smeg!

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As much as I love French croissants, I missed good old doughnuts! We passed Doughnut Time on our walk in so we had to get a snack.

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I forgot they don’t accept euros in London so off to the ATM for some quid! Liv still wants to know why America is the only nation without women on the currency.

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This little piggy had a Notorious P.I.G. doughnut.

We took a double decker bus to Whitechapel to meet our friend for dinner and we passed the old London Hospital. Our friend Melissa who was our tour guide for the evening, told us that Joseph Merrick lived in that hospital. I am a huge fan of the film The Elephant Man. I saw it when I was a kid and I still remember weeping buckets of tears over the horrific abuse he suffered. I asked her what was the city planning to do with the old building and she said probably tear it down and build condos. Lame!

She took us to an Indian part of Whitechapel for some authentic Indian cuisine. Now, I am fairly new to the Indian food game. It took me years to figure out what I liked and unfortunately, what I don’t. I am good with chicken Tikka Masala, white rice and garlic naan. I couldn’t tell you what I ordered at this place. The food was good, but I didn’t order correctly. You know when you are having such a great time you forget to take any pictures of the evening? That happened. I am infamous for delaying a meal in order to get that perfect dish shot but I only managed to take one picture at the restaurant.

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Yup, those are raw white onions (my kryptonite) but I ate all that chicken! Yummy meal and bonus, we brought our own wine. After getting some ice cream for dessert we headed to the Barbican Centre to see the Banksy art.

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I am so glad Melissa was our guide because we would have never found them. Thanks for a bloody wicked night m’dear!

The next morning we woke up to cute little breakfast bags on our door and we got all dolled up for our second breakfast of the day Peggy Porchsen’s Cakes! Besides, my motto is Eat Cake for Breakfast.

This pink palace is in Westminster so it took us quite awhile to find it but OMG this place is Disneyland for bloggers and Instagrammers. I was super bummed that I couldn’t get all the people waiting out front out of my photo but what can you do? Funny thing is I did politely ask that group of girls to move over so I could take a photo and they moved one inch. Okay, I see you!

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Coincidental it’s on Elizabeth Street wouldn’t you say?

You guys, my iPhone camera do not do these beautiful cakes justice! I am wishing there was a cake shop like this in Paris.

It’s in her genes, what can I say?

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She’s getting pretty good at taking our photos. After a stroll through beautiful West London, we headed to Victoria Station to catch our bus to Warner Bros. Studios.

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IMG_1082DSC_0720They play Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone during the 35 – 40 minute drive to the studio. It’s lovely because I haven’t seen it in ages and it sets the mood for some Wizardry.

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I won’t show everything because I want you to experience it for yourself but there are some really awesome props, costumes and special effects to see.

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The best part of the tour is you get a passport book that has a scavenger hunt and riddles to solve as you walkthrough. Every set had a hidden golden snitch and they were not easy to find. When Liv solved the riddles she would stamp her book with an embossing machine.

She bought a quill at the gift shop and now she insists on writing all her correspondences using quill.

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This sexy wizard’s pantaloons are notable. You better work those bows and ruffles, boy!

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Can I say how betrayed I felt when I saw how small the long corridor set was in real life? I was sure it was an actual hallway connected to Hogwarts Castle.

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What a missed opportunity, the tour bus that brought us to the studio should have been the Knight bus!

Of course our tour included a cup of yummy Butterbeer!

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My favorite part of the tour is the amazing Hogwarts Castle set. It’s fascinating how much detail is put into this castle.

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Can you see the tiny Beauxbâtons flying carriage. I’m gonna drop a little nerd knowledge on ya. Did you know that Beauxbâtons means Beautiful Wands in French? I would totally send Liv to that school!

Our last stop was the magical gift shop and Liv and I ended up with some lame wizard and witch cards we never heard of in our chocolate frogs. That’s some good chocolate though.

We stopped at Kings Cross on our way back to the hotel and stood in the long line of tourists to take the Platform 9 & 3/4 photo. They supply you with a scarf and a $29.99 souvenir photo, if you’re a sucker.

The next day Antz went to work in Camden and Liv and I headed to the West End. Liv had no idea I was taking her for tea. I have never been to a formal tea party either. It felt very posh.

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As you can see the food was adorable and very delicious. I had my first scone with clotted cream. We drank buckets of tea!

 

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After tea, we hung out in the lobby of The Sanderson, which has the most random chairs.

It is now Liv’s life mission to own this hanging chair.

Antz took this adorable selfie in his work lobby.

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That evening we went to the movies to see the incredible Isle of Dogs. I was planning to see it in Paris but it was only playing in French. Of course I absolutely loved it. I am an avid Wes Anderson fan.

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Our last day in London was chill. We had breakfast at a place called The Breakfast Club. Liv ordered the best salted caramel milkshake ever. I missed good ole’ bacon so much.

We had some time before our train so we walked around Shoreditch to hunt for Invaders. We ended up back on Rivington Road which is the same place we had our photo shoot with Lee back in 2014.

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Four years later…

We were walking by and we noticed the Banksy we shot too! There wasn’t anyone to take our picture so I used our camera’s remote.

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I got my nose pinched again! We walked to Brick Lane and were blown away by the street art. We also caught like eight Invaders.

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It took me forever to see that giant ass bow and arrow sculpture. Liv was like, Mom, it’s right there and I’m all, Where?!

I’ve wanted to try a rainbow bagel but they were only made in New York so Liv was super excited to try on from this bakery. I didn’t have one because this place didn’t toast their “beigels” so I passed.

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I am such a Pinterest nerd that I geeked out at this shop that sells cleaning supplies. I didn’t have time to go in but look how pretty that green tile is.

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I saw a rad Star Wars Invader when we were on the bus one night and I tried to find it before we left. My only clue was the building was grey and I knew it was on a corner. We walked for ages and finally Liv spotted it. On the walk back to the hotel we realized it was only five minutes away! We were walking right past it everyday and never saw it.

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We checked out of our hotel and I had a piece of red velvet cake from the Hoxton Grill which was yummy! Then it was time to head back to Paris.

The Hoxton Hotel
81 Great Eastern St
London EC2A 3HU, UK

You can click this link for a discount at any of the Hoxton hotels.

 

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Au Revoir London!

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Away we Go!

We arrived in London after a wonderful, fun flight with Virgin Atlantic. 

Smell ya later USA!
 
 
 
 
Ready to fly Antz?
Wait, shouldn’t this say first class?
Liv was so happy to wear her Michael Jackson top *an early birthday gift from her Ninos*

 

No one would suspect these happy shoes to be naughty
Yay! Time for $5 airport bottled water
That is quite the nose on you airplane
Where are you guys headed?
Is it time to go yet??
 
Elsa declares it was Princess boarding time

 

Here’s an important travel tip for your next flight. ALWAYS bring a gift for the flight attendants. I gave ours some fancy chocolates and they were stoked! Guess who was showered with extra in-flight goodies and given special treatment?
These guys!
And Olivia was incredible during the whole flight. She happily chewed her bubble gum *from her Godmommy Aimee* and she wasn’t scared during take off at all. Meanwhile, I had a tad bit of airline anxiety.
Nothing drinks won’t fix, Thanks Johanna!!
Goodbye Malibu!
Liv really enjoyed reading her new Frozen book. She kept herself occupied for most of the flight
Harry & Wills chose the beef stew for dinner
When you order lemonade in the UK, you’re getting a Sprite in disguise
I normally loathe airplane food but Virgin really steps up their service
Time for a Plane Pony Party!
Who’s ready for Europe??!! HELL YEAH!
Sleepy Panda
Woke up just in time to say Hello to Björk’s hometown!
Wow! Glasgow
 
All the flight attendants loved this kid
 
Thanks for getting us there safe and sound!

We took the Heathrow Express train to Paddington Station. I highly recommend spending the extra $10 for a less stressful and faster option for getting into London.

The train wasn’t crowded at all and we were able to put our luggage on a rack. We zipped into Central London in fifteen minutes.
 
 

 

This was my first time in a London train station, so I was in awe of everything
 

Paddington Station was so charming, I wanted to stay there for hours taking more photos but we had to rush to pick up our car rental. Holy shit, driving on the left in London was CRAZY!! It really takes some getting used to driving on the left side of the street and I only drove on the wrong side of the street once. A lovely group of guys outside of a pub yelled “WRONG WAY!” just before traffic killed us.

Packing for Europe

Our big trip to London, Paris and Amsterdam is one night away and I am so excited!

The husband finally finished packing last night. He’s always the last to pack but he’s the lightest packer. Everyone seems to think I’m over packing but even Antz couldn’t fit all his clothes and toiletries in his tiny carry-on. We were just about to buy this bag from Flight 001 *one of these days I hope to buy this guy* for him when he remembered I won a nice Samonite duffle bag from my old company at a Christmas raffle. At the time I won this bag, I was disappointed I didn’t win the ipod but boy am I happy we have it now.

Antz suitcaseThere’s a separate compartment on the bottom for shoes and it has backpack strap and wheels. I found the cute luggage tag at Target.

I bought a voltage converter so I will be able to use my flat iron *I am praying it won’t break* and Antz made some snazzy luggage tags for me.

Antz backpackHe’s such a minimalist

Herschel Supply Co Heritage Backpack

Homemade luggage tags *He designed them, printed them and I took them to Staples to get laminated, only cost $1.50 for 4!*

Apple iPhone/Apple Earbuds

Antz passport

Nikon D3000 SLR Camera

Gum *Olivia is super excited because she is allowed to chew gum during our flight so her ears don’t hurt from the pressure

Eyeglasses

Apple iPad

Ghirardelli chocolate *I bought some as a gift for the flight attendants

Aveeno Baby Daily Moisture Lotion *sometimes baby products work best for adults

My bag is also from Herschel Supply Co

I have a must-have list of items I can’t fly without.

Hand sanitizing wipes (as someone who worked for an airline before, wipe the plane’s tray before using).

Cozy socks so you can take your shoes off during long flights.

I can’t sleep without an eye mask (Target always has cute ones in the $1 aisle).

Aveeno Positively Radiant Face moisturizer

Travel size perfume Marc Jacobs Daisy rollerball

EOS lip balm (I like vanilla mint)

I always fly with a rosary (I’m Catholic so it’s obligatory)

I have this rad Rebecca Minkoff pouch for my makeup

Since I couldn’t fit the Nikon camera in my bag, I carry the smaller Nikon J1.

I packed a book I’m excited to read and a couple of travel journals for the long train rides. 

I packed my Fuji instant camera in my check-in suitcase, nestled in between my clothes so it won’t break (fingers crossed)

I don’t fold my clothes, I roll everything to decrease wrinkles and save space. I also make a copy of my passport in case my original gets lost. I’ve had these Streetwise maps for a few years and I finally get to put them to use!

I hope I’m not over the weight amount for my suitcase. I’m an over-packer.

Today I picked up our foreign currency at the bank so now I’m ready to make it rain in the shops!!

British pounds
Lizzie & Queen Elizabeth
 

I hope my talisman will keep us safe, I love mythical superstitions! Do you have any travel good luck charms?