Mental Post-Its

Thoughts, Notes and General Mental Mayhem


The Impact of Planning a Personal Retreat

Personal retreat

Photos by: Valerie Denise Photos featuring The Created Co. mugs

I’ve talked several times before on this blog about my personal and business retreats. I’m actually out on another one this week, but more on that later. They are incredibly valuable to me, and I recommend them to everyone.

In fact, I even shared specific tips on how to plan one for this guest post for The Yellow Conference last week. Take a look, and let me know what you think.

A few quotes:

  • “Anxiety was growing. Stress was building. My head was swimming. And I had more questions than answers. This was December 2015 for me.”
  • “Until that time, I’d always considered retreats a luxury. Something wealthy people did. Something people who were offered sabbaticals did. I thought, a retreat wasn’t something ‘regular’ people did—but there I found myself.”
  • “It was during this intentional, introspective time that I resolved something huge—I needed to start my own business.”
  • “Of course, I didn’t leave with all the answers. But this time did, however, become a catalyst in taking my next steps.”




5 Things I Love (Right Now)

mayur-gala-487There are a few things lately that have become regular facets in my life. And I think they’re pretty awesome, so I wanted to share them with you. Maybe they’ll improve your day as well!

  1. This small, portable kettle – I’ve been obsessed with this thing lately. I don’t make coffee regularly or tea regularly, so I don’t have a full-sized system or kettle. And I’m single, so I have to also take that into consideration because I wanted something that would make small quantities. Finally, I live in an apartment, so I don’t have a lot of counter space. This thing checked all the boxes!
  2. TravelPirates – I can’t resist a good travel deal. And this is my newest newsletter. It has some crazy, awesome deals. If you aren’t really into travel hacking with credit cards or scouring the internet for the deals, this is a great option.
  3. Perrier with Grapefruit – Ever since I returned from Barcelona, I can’t get enough sparkling water. I also love this because it’s curbing my soda craving. And having it delivered by Amazon is a great way to get larger quantities for a lower price without having to carry them through the grocery store. And I dig these smaller cans.
  4. Evernote – I initially purchased this for my trip to India, when I knew Wifi would be spotty and I’d still need to have easy access to lists and trip info. And, of course, I knew I could find plenty of other uses for it as well. Well, I certainly have! Since I started my business last summer, I use it most every day. I keep my To Do list there, notes, lists, client work and all kinds of things in it. It’s a great productivity and organization tool!
  5. Canned pumpkin – I’ve been fond of ordering from Amazon for many years, but its really only the past year that I’ve started ordering more groceries. And at the end of last year, I read Jenna Wolfe’s Thinner in 30, which talked about adding fiber to your morning protein shake to make the full feeling last longer. Pumpkin was one of the ways she suggested, which I thought was really smart. Of course, it’s mostly a seasonal item in grocery stores, and like the Perrier, it can get heavy and bulky fast. So, it’s another great item to have delivered in bulk to your home.

What’s on your love list as of late?


(Amazon links are affiliate links.)

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My Wizarding World of Harry Potter Tips


Hogsmeade Village, Orlando

I just returned from Orlando a couple of weeks ago—after seeing Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, of course. The company was good, the weather was perfect, and Harry Potter was all around!

I first visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2010 with some girlfriends, two of which were fans of the movies, and two (including me) were complete Potterfiles who had read the books and seen the movies multiple times each. We were all completely wowed by the park! So, now that they’ve opened Diagon Alley, I had to see it! These are some of my favorite books and movies of all time, so to see them come to life in a theme park was simply . . . MAGICAL!

My two girlfriends that accompanied me this time weren’t huge Harry Potter fans, but they enjoyed the movies and were up for a road trip. And that’s all I needed!

Coincidently, I also had another friend who was going the week after me, so I made sure to take some mental notes for her. And I thought I’d share them with you too:

  • If you haven’t been to this resort property before, there are two full theme parks, collectively called Universal Orlando Resort. The individual parks are Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Islands of Adventure is where the original Harry Potter stuff is, complete with Hogwarts Castle and Hogsmeade Village. The new section is in Universal Studios and focuses on Diagon Alley.
  • If you have to choose, I’d say the original area in Islands of Adventure is still better. I mean, how can you top the castle? Simply put: You can’t. But please try to make it to both lands. They’re fantastic!
  • To do both HP areas, you’ll need a park-hopper ticket. You can take the Hogwarts Express between the two. But, even if you decide you want to check out some other lands or rides, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure only take a few minutes to cross between them, very much unlike Disney World.
  • Speaking of tickets: My two friends got theirs through AAA. It only saved them about $5, but hey, that’s a bottle of water. 😉 I paid for mine with Chase Ultimate Rewards points thanks to the reminder on this blog.
  • Download the Universal Studios Orlando App. It’s really helpful, especially for wait times. I also favorited all the rides/shows/shops/restaurants I wanted to see and do for easy reference, and then un-favorited them as we went along like a to-do list. Tackle the longest lines first, if possible. They usually grow throughout the day.
  • If you have a birthday in your group, go to guest services when you arrive to get birthday buttons. Sometimes the employees let you use it like a fast pass, but nonetheless, it’s really fun for the employees (and sometimes other guests) to wish you happy birthday all day long!
  • The are more fun HP drinks at the Leaky Cauldron in Universal that aren’t available in Three Broomsticks in Islands. But you can get Pumpkin Juice and Butterbeer (regular, hot, frozen) in both. And the Pumpkin Juice comes in bottles, so you can get it to go. Since we were driving, I picked several of those up as gifts for friends who couldn’t come. The Butterbeer has a butterscotch taste, and is very sweet to me, so like the Pumpkin Juice, I can’t finish it by myself. But the Butterbeer Ice Cream tastes kinda like a vanilla custard, and is only at Universal. You can also get Butterbeer fudge in Islands at Honeydukes, which is where I got the Pumpkin Juice to go. It tastes more like white chocolate with a hint of butterscotch. If you get Butterbeer, either get it with your meal, or at the Hopping Pot in Universal or Hog’s Head in Islands. Those lines are MUCH shorter than the main Butterbeer line in Islands that’s out in the middle of Hogsmeade. #amateurs Other than with your meal, Hog’s Head is at the back of the Three Broomsticks, and will have the shortest line.
  • And I’d suggest one of you getting the Butterbeer in the collectible cup because you can use it for water fountains and tea/coke refills in restaurants, and share it, so you don’t have to buy bottles of water if you don’t want to. There’s a water fountain by Three Broomsticks and a few other places too. I think you can also take refillable water bottles into the park, but check the website.
  • With all the fun foods and specialty drinks in both lands, I suggest splitting them when you can. A lot of the portions are pretty big, and that way you can try more without spending your retirement fund.
  • The restroom by Three Broomsticks is also where you can hear Moaning Myrtle in the bathroom. Totally worth it.
  • I think the castle ride (Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey) is my favorite theme park ride ever. I LOVE that one. If you do the single rider on that one, you miss part of the castle tour, FYI. When I went before, we did the regular ride all together to see the whole castle, and then went through as single riders to do it again faster. But if anyone has motion sickness issues, they need to stay off this ride and the 3-D ones! Please trust me on that.  
  • I always send my mom and a couple friends post cards when I travel. And because we were there, I also sent post cards to some friend’s kids. If you do this, get the post cards at Islands because I think they’re better. However, they don’t sell single post cards anymore, so you have to get a pack of 10. Bummer. But you can also get special Hogwarts stamps. And, they’ll put a Hogwarts post mark on them at the spot where you drop them in the mail! Get the post cards and stamps in Flourish and Blots, and you mail them right outside the Owl Post.
  • One of my best pieces of advice is to take drawstring backpacks rather than big bags or purses. And, of course, they also work for both males and females. It was so nice to not have to carry anything like a purse, hold something with your hands, or situate anything as you walked over your shoulder. And since they are small, you can share the same lockers for any rides they don’t allow you to take your bags on. The weather was pretty cool for us, so I kept my cardigan on all day, but having the drawstring backpack gave me an option to stow it if I’d wanted to. And my friend who got the Butterbeer mug kept hers in there too. They’re also smaller and less bulky than regular backpacks. Definitely worth the small investment.
  • Along those lines, if you plan on taking lots of photos or using the app a bunch, it’s wise to bring an external battery along. This one is compact, this one is a little more powerful, and this one charges multiple devices at once.
  • I don’t know what your experience will be, but late afternoon when the sun started setting, the park got much lighter, so the rides and restaurants weren’t crowded at all. We were there the weekend before Thanksgiving, so the sun sets much earlier. I know that won’t be the case during the summer, but was awesome for us and we were able to ride several things very quickly at the end of our day.
  • The nighttime show at Universal is back by the Harry Potter area as well. It’s not near as spectacular as Disney’s, but lots of fun movie montages and lights in the water. But, if you decide to miss it, not a really big deal. If you want to do it, however, I’d say to start in Islands so you can finish in Universal and see the show rather than having to go back and forth between the parks twice.
  • I’ve been to Universal Orlando and Islands of Adventure before Harry arrived, and then as I mentioned, with only the one HP park open. This time, I only wanted to do the two HP parks. And it did take us an entire day to do them both. So, if you want to fit in any other rides or shows not HP affiliated, you’ll have to cut down on the HP stuff or plan on going for more than one day.

So, those are my tips! I hope they help. Universal really did a tremendous job in designing these two lands, and both of my friends also had a great time. One just starting reading the books as a result!

And if you make it to either Orlando or LA for a Harry Potter visit, I hope you have a magical time too!

View all of the photos here.

(Note: Amazon links are affiliate links.)


Travel Hacking: An Introduction

165476132I travel as much as I can…but never as much as I’d like. I love it. I love new people, new foods, new cultures, new sites and new experiences. It never gets old. It fuels me and fills me up.

And over the past couple of years, I’ve been able to travel a lot more. Most of that is due to travel hacking. I stumbled upon the concept by accident, and am so glad that I did! It has allowed me all sorts of opportunities that I might not otherwise have, and many of my friends have asked for guidance in trying to get started as well. So, I thought I’d explain it a bit here.

To start, if you are unfamiliar with the term, travel hacking is simply finding ways around the typical travel system—traveling for free or very cheap. This is typically done through credit card offers. You sign up for large bonuses, use the bonus, then dump the card before the annual fee.

For the best explanations and introductions, here are a few introductory posts from the pros I follow:

Additionally, here are some of the other resources I use:

  • crazy low error fares *
  • This is an awesome weekly email with deals from your nearest large city. They have deals for all over the world at any time. Their packages are absolutely the best! This is also a great recommendation if you simply don’t want to do any of the other travel hacking work.
  • Good deals out of ATL, but you can find these for all major cities, I’m sure. *
  • cheap flights and easy App
  •  Stay in people’s homes for free all over the world in exchange for taking care of their pets.
  • Gate1 Travel: A weekly newsletter for packages.
  •  Travel Pirates: Another great, weekly newsletter.
  • They have a really helpful blog, and this is where I store all my accounts for easy reference. It’s super helpful to be able to see all of my accounts at once.

*For Secret Flying and Fare Deal Alert, you have to jump on them quickly to get the deals since many are error fares, meaning the airline made a mistake in the pricing and will change it as soon as they notice. So I get Twitter alerts via text to stay on top of it. It’s worth getting a Twitter account for these deals! Once you’re logged in, just click the gear on the profile page and select “Turn on mobile notifications.”

I am by no means an expert at this, but here are the things its afforded me over the past two years:

  • Four night’s stay in Chicago (free)
  • Flight to Chicago (free)
  • Two night’s stay in Irvine (free)
  • Two flights to NYC ($30)
  • One night’s stay in NYC (free)
  • Flight to DC ($30)
  • One night’s stay in DC (free)
  • One night’s stay in North Georgia (free)
  • One night in a suite in Fort Myers (free)
  • Car rental in Fort Myers (free)
  • Two night’s stay in Austin (free)
  • Flight to Austin ($75)
  • Flight to Barcelona ($250)
  • Three nights in Barcelona (free)
  • Flight home from Barcelona (free)
  • Two nights in Nashville (free)
  • Two nights in Orlando (free)
  • Ticket to Universal Studios (free)

I should also note that my key to making the minimum spends is that I can pay my rent via credit card. So, for example, many cards require you to spend $3,000 in three months to get the initial bonus points. If that isn’t something you can do, then you’ll need to stick to error fares and travel deals rather than relying largely on points.

If you are interested in getting started with a rewards card, the one everyone recommends to begin with is the Chase Sapphire. Here is my referral link. These are by far my favorite points! I kept this card rather than canceling before the renewal because it’s so awesome. Give it a try!

I hope this helps you a bit as you start your travel hacking adventures. And happy traveling!


(Some links are affiliate links.)


My Barcelona Itinerary

At Park Guell, overlooking Barcelona

Celebrating my 40th birthday had to be done in style. In fact, I thought it should fulfill a Bucket List item. I mean, it’s a milestone after all! So, I gave myself a trip to Spain! I’ve wanted to visit that country since I started taking Spanish in high school, and fell in love with the culture. Most of my time was spent in Barcelona, and it did not disappoint!

This was also my first solo international trip. I bought the ticket as an error fare, meaning the airline made a mistake on the price, and I had to book it quickly before they realized the mistake. So, I ended up with a ticket from New York to Barcelona for $250! This meant I could see friends in NYC on my way out of the country, and use miles to get to NYC and home from Barcelona. Not too bad!

The downside of booking a ticket in 10 minutes is that I really didn’t have time to invite anyone else. And if you’ve traveled by yourself at all, you know that there are both pros and cons. The plus side is that I got to travel at my own pace (fast and furious) and do what I wanted. Unfortunately, there was no one to share the trip with, and it’s more expensive. In the end, though, I’m so glad I did it. Big check marks in the Bucket List and birthday categories!

Here’s a quick look at my trip, in case you’re interested, or plan to visit Barcelona one day. (I definitely recommend it!)

Friday, September 2nd:

  • Arrived in New York! I was staying with some friends in Queens, and they have a beautiful new baby. So we just went to Astoria Park, and hung out on a beautiful afternoon. That evening, we went to one of their favorite neighborhoods by their house. A lovely, low-key day.

Saturday, September 3rd:

  • We headed to Smorgasburg for lunch! This is almost like a food festival, but it happens on a weekly basis. There were food stalls from over 100 vendors, and had pretty much everything you could think of. We had a sensational dark chocolate, caramel donut concoction as an appetizer, split three ways, and then I settled on Shanghai street food for my meal. Both were fantastic!
  • After this, we took the ferry to Long Island City, Queens, and walked along the water. They have built it up to be really beautiful, and of course, great views of Manhattan. Then we met up with some of their friends, and headed over to Long Island City Flea (LIC Flea), which some of you may have seen on the Flea Market Flip TV show. However, we got there mid-afternoon or so, and the crowd (and vendors) was pretty much gone. Still, a nice to place to sit and chat for a bit.
  • Side note: This was my first trip to New York City, and I’ve been many times, without visiting Manhattan. Who knew there was so much to do otherwise! It was a different kind of trip, but a great stop. And so nice to spend time with friends I don’t see often. A great start to my birthday week.
  • Then it was time for me to head to the airport for my overnight flight! One of the really interesting things about TAP Portugal airlines is that they allow you to bid on business class seats. So, I bid pretty low, and still ended up winning! This afforded me not only a business class seat on the plane (which was fantastic and had all the amenities), but it also came with lounge access. So, I waited for my plane in style. Probably the only time I’ll get to fly like that, but it was a fun way to begin my tip!

Sunday, September 4th:

  • Arrived late afternoon in Barcelona. I was staying near a major train stations, Sants, and was exhausted from all the travel. So, I just grabbed dinner in one of the train station restaurants, walked around for a little bit, and went to bed early—after catching some home improvement show dubbed in Spanish.

Monday, September 5th:

  • For my first full day in Barcelona, I did a half day guided panoramic bus and walking tour. We got a super quick overview of Barcelona and some of the major sites. Then we went on a cable car ride, which overlooked the city. After that, we stopped in the Spanish Village for about an hour to take in some of the history of Spain and see artisans in action. Finally, we took a walking tour of the Gothic Quarter, which was super old and interesting.
  • That evening, I a tapas evening walking tour of Barcelona. This was one of my highlights! The guide, Paloma, was very fun, and it was just a cool experience. I wanted to do this at the beginning of my trip because they teach you about the food culture, how to order, popular items, what to look for, how to navigate the markets, etc. And, of course, you get to taste different foods along the way, as well as have two sit-down meals. This tour was awesome.

Tuesday, September 6th:

  • Morning and afternoon were spent on a hop-on hop-off bus tour. I had debated doing this on the first day, but the timing with the tapas tour worked better this way. It almost pained me to do this in an old, elegant, European city like Barcelona, where I wouldn’t think twice about it in the U.S. But this was really the best way to get an overview of the city, as well as the lay of the land. I rode two of their three routes, so I went all over the city from top to bottom. And, of course, you have the headsets to get the history of the sites while you ride. This tour bus was also really nice because there was free wifi, and you also received a coupon book.
  • My late afternoon and early evening were occupied with a free Gaudi architecture walking tour. Gaudi is a favored son of Barcelona, and there are numerous tours that include his work (as well as the Gothic Quarter). I was not familiar with him before leaving, but everyone said his buildings would be some of the highlights. They weren’t wrong! His style was/is radical in so many ways, and it is heavily inspired by nature. It’s all very fun and whimsical, and he incorporates such amazing techniques for structure and stability that I’m surprised are not copied more. His most famous work, La Sagrada Familia, is a basilica that he had only started before he died, and is still under construction. He left plans for completion, and there is still MUCH work to be done. They hope to finish by 2026, the 100th anniversary of his death, but no one thinks it’ll actually happen. This was another terrific tour.

Wednesday, September 7th:

  • This day I’d set aside for a “three countries in one day” trip I found online. Only in Europe can you do something so wonderful! We took a small bus to a medieval town in Spain, called Baga, for breakfast. It was so charming! There we took a walk around, learned the history of the town, grabbed pastries and coffee, and took a million photos. From there we headed to France. We hit a bit of a snag with a breakdown that cost us about an hour. But the weather was amazing, and everyone was a good sport, so we just enjoyed getting to know each other. There were only about 20 of us on the day trip. Our guide, Carmello, was very stressed out, but we assured him it was fine. He was funny and helpful, and everyone just loved him. We finally made it to Ax-les-Thermes, France, which is known for their hot springs (note the name). Unfortunately, we only had about an hour here, so we barely had time for lunch and to see the hot springs before getting back on the road. Not the best lunch, even though I do love French food, but the company was good. Our final stop was the country of Andorra, and it’s capital city, Andorra la Vella. This was probably the biggest surprise. Evidently, Andorra is mostly a country of ski resorts and modern shopping, because that’s about all we saw. It was a bit of a let-down from that standpoint, since I was expecting more historic architecture, but the drive through the mountains was picturesque, and it was nice to see somewhere besides Barcelona on my trip. And hey, another stamp in my passport!
  • I ended up eating dinner with two of the ladies from the trip, who were both from Australia, but didn’t know each other. I’d received restaurant recommendations from my tapas tour guide, so we checked out one of her suggestions, Casa Lolea. It was marvelous, and fun to hear about Australia, which I hope to see one day as well.

Thursday, September 8th: (My birthday!)

  • This was my last full day, so I packed this one as much as I could. First, I went to La Sagrada Familia. I’d been past it twice now on different tours, but this was the first time I went inside. It was massive! And colorful! And just so darn interesting. I did the audio tour since I booked too late to get a guided tour. But this place is just jaw-dropping. It looks like a hot mess from the outside in photos because the sides all have different styles of architecture, and there is still so much construction. But it is really quite majestic to see in person. And the interior is as overwhelming in detail as the outside. It’s a really amazing place. Glad I took the time to go inside.
  • Next, the Picasso museum. He is not originally from Barcelona, but called it home for a while, and they definitely claim him as one of their own. He also claimed them. Again, I did the audio tour here since I didn’t make the guided tour. I always try and do the tours in some capacity. I like art, and can appreciate a lot of it, but it’s so much more interesting to me when someone’s explaining it. And that was again the case here. I think more people would enjoy art museums if they did the tours. Anyway, it was also fascinating to see the different styles he evolved into. Quite a genius.
  • I took a quick break for lunch here. I’m usually quite the foodie when I travel, but I had so much to cram into my trip that, often, food was more about convenience. I ate lots of local delicacies and at some great, little places, but they were always nearby or on the way. The food everywhere is pretty fantastic, though. (Except for US fast food, which I saw here and there, and it pained me. Not one of our best influences on the world.)
  • Third, I went to the Palau de la Musica (Music Palace). I had been really looking forward to this one, and it was also one that all the locals talked about and were proud of. I don’t know what to tell you here. Stunning. Just stunning. Click the link above and see for yourself! I really wish I’d had time to see a performance. The entire building was so gorgeous, and I could’ve stopped to take pictures here for hours. But…I didn’t have time.
  • That night, I went to a flamenco show. It was on Las Ramblas, the busiest and most famous street and Barcelona, and in the oldest theatre in the city. Sadly, I didn’t get to see a lot of the theater because there are several performance spaces in the building, and the one I was in was immediately downstairs. Unfortunately, my tapas were a little sub-par as well. But, the show itself was terrific! It was very low-key, just the dancers, singers and their instruments, but really fabulous. We were all on our feet at the end. And I couldn’t visit Spain without catching a flamenco show!

Friday, September 9th:

  • I’d originally planned on sleeping it, eating a leisurely breakfast, and heading to the airport. But there was just so much to see! I’ve easily covered cities in four days before, but this just wasn’t one of them. And, by now, I was as in love with Gaudi as everyone else. So, that morning I got up early to hit Park Guell before I left. As I mentioned before, Gaudi was largely inspired by nature. And this is the only park he designed, I believe. It was originally meant to be sort of what we in the US would consider a country club type of grounds, where the wealthy would live, with large open spaces and an outdoor market. It was also very different and modern, so the US “park” is used in the spelling instead of the traditional “parc.” However, that vision never really materialized. Good thing for us! It’s beautiful to walk around, and like his other stuff, very whimsical and charming. And it’s at a high point in the city, so the sun was just rising over Barcelona when I was there. It was a grand way to end my trip.

As you can see, I covered a lot of ground. I walked about 50,000 steps over the course of the eight days—and boy, did my feet feel every step! But I’m really glad I was able to fit in so much. I got to see most everything I wanted to see, but would’ve been really happy with a few more days—and a few hundred more dollars!

But there you go, Barcelona for my birthday! How I’ll top that moving forward, I don’t know. But I love a good challenge. 😉

You can view all pictures here, or just catch the highlights on Instagram. You can even read my 40th Birthday Reverse Bucket List to see all of the things I celebrated.

Finally, a few Barcelona fun facts:

  • Sangria is only for tourists. It’s their version of Two Buck Chuck, the $2 wine from Trader Joe’s. But lost of restaurants have it because the tourists will pay more for it!
  • Barcelona is the capital of Spain’s Catalonia region, and the locals are FIERCELY proud of it. In fact, you’ll see Spanish flags with a blue triangle and star around town that represent the people who think Catalonia should be independent from Spain. Reminded me a bit of Texas…
  • Catalonia means “castle,” you’ll see that adorning things as well. The seats of the Music Palace, for example, have little castles all over them.
  • Again, the locals are very proud of their city. So, if you get in a cab, no matter where you say you’re going, they’ll get excited and say, “Oh, you’ll love it!” Because they genuinely believe everyone should be as enthralled with their hometown as they are. And, okay, I was.
  • The irony of Barcelona is that you need to reserve all your tickets online to skip the lines and stay close to your desired day and time. But, lunch is the biggest meal of the day, and all meals are meant to be savored. So, my “quick” sandwich break on Thursday took 45 minutes, and I was clearly rushing him. For the cheapest/best lunch option, that’s a 3-course “menu de la dia.” Restaurants there are actually required by law to offer it. But you need AT LEAST an hour and a half to have time for all three courses. So, keeping to your reserved ticket time can be tricky. Now you know. And knowing is half the battle.