A Staycation in Style at Hotel Alessandra Houston

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some STYLE.”

Maya Angelou

My first experience at Hotel Alessandra was last year in June 2018, when I visited for my very first staycation. Needless to say, this experience left a lasting impression and I knew I had to return one day. So, I booked a one-night stay and I was so excited to experience Hotel Alessandra all over again!

Top: Thrifted | Skirt: Zara | Shoes: Steve Madden

As I pulled up to the hotel, the valet and concierge greeted me with smiles and grabbed my bags quickly. I was offered a cold bottle of Fiji water and escorted to the second floor to check-in. The staff was friendly, welcoming, and excited for my arrival.

Accommodations

The rooms are cozy, yet sophisticated and offer amazing downtown views encased by floor-to-ceiling windows. The bathrooms are marble with a free-standing tub, which opens up by sliding doors to the rest of the room.

The interior design of the room is stylish and sleek. I spent most of my time snuggling in bed or lounging on the beautiful emerald couch that was nestled right under a reading lamp. This was the perfect place for relaxation, which was the ultimate goal of my entire stay.

Amenities

There’s a second floor restaurant and bar inside the hotel, so guests don’t have to leave the premises at all for good food or a good time. Lucienne restaurant specializes in modern Mediterranean cuisine and offers breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. I definitely plan to return soon to try their food as I’ve heard so many good reviews!

Lucienne Restaurant

Across from the restaurant is Bar Bardot, which specializes in serving delicious, hand crafted cocktails and small bites. I had their truffle fries and they were so delicious!

Bar Bardot
Top: Thrifted | Skirt: ZARA | Shoes: Missguided

I spent some time on the 5th floor rooftop pool area enjoying the amazing views of downtown Houston. The pool area is small, but really nice. I actually prefer the intimacy of small pool areas, especially for rest and relaxation. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t permit me to take a dip in the pool. But, I plan to return during the summer to have some fun in the sun!

Top: Nastygal | Pants: ZARA | Headwrap: Thrifted
Rooftop Pool

There is also a spa on the 5th floor, which plan to visit during my return. I love getting massages and facials as part of my self care. I found a deal here that offers EITHER a 60-minute Alessandra all-inclusive massage OR a classic Custom European facial for only $99! (Please note, this offer is only valid Monday-Friday). Needless to say, I’ll be scheduling a massage pretty soon!

Dress: Shop NR Closet
Use Code: LIVINGSPREE for 20% off at checkout

Convenience

Hotel Alessandra is conveniently located in the heart of downtown Houston. The hotel is minutes away from the Toyota Center, Minute Maid Park, George R Brown Convention Center, and Discovery Green Park—some of Houston’s main attractions. If you’re looking for entertainment and nightlife, the Houston House of Blues and Lucky Strikes Bowling Alley are next door along with other eateries and bars you can visit.  Also, Main Street is 2 blocks away and offers more restaurants, lounges, bars, and beautiful downtown scenery perfect for photo ops.  Two of my favorite places, Forever 21 and Starbucks, are next door to the hotel as well.

Jogger Set: My Living Spree

Top of the line from start to finish

Hotel Alessandra prides itself on providing a luxurious, yet familiar experience for all from start to finish. I can truly say I received 5 star service. They even offer complimentary car service for guests who need to be picked up or dropped off at local destinations within radius of the hotel. Not only does the hotel offer free rides, but they offer free rides in a fancy car! Yes, the black Maserati is the complimentary car for all guests to ride in style.

Lasting Impression

If you’re looking for a perfect place in Houston for a staycation, Hotel Alessandra is a standout hotel. The accommodations are top of the line and the staff are super friendly and helpful. The entire experience will make you feel like you’re on vacation at a luxurious European resort, yet you’re right at home!

Be sure to check it out one day! Rates are pretty good on the weekends, which is perfect timing for an inexpensive getaway. If you have any questions or need more recommendations let me know. 🙂 Until next time, let’s go on a living spree!

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How I Lived My Best Life In Cuba In 4 Days

“When in Cuba, Do as the Cubans do.”

I wanted to star this new year off by highlighting my favorite travel destination of 2018—Cuba! Cuba has always been high on my travel bucket list due to its rich culture, and because I’m a low-key history nerd with a deep love for historic sites and anything vintage. Naturally, I was excited to live out my 1950s and 1960s dreams. Cuba’s culture has been shielded from tourist influence and allows visitors a glimpse back in time. From riding in old cars to observing vintage fashion and dining in elegant paladars, I was living my best life. In this post, I explore the highlights of my Cuban experience. In a later post, I plan to share important practical information you’ll need for planning purposes (as a quick preview:  yes, I felt safe during my time there and yes, as of the date of this post, it is legal for Americans to travel to Cuba under specific circumstances). For now, let’s go on a living spree!

Welcome To Havana!

My girlfriends and I flew into Havana’s airport on a Monday afternoon and headed straight for the money exchange counter located in the airport, where we exchanged Euros for CUC (Cuba’s primary currency). We took a private shuttle straight to our beautiful home for the week. Upon arrival, we were each greeted with a piña colada made with fresh pineapples!

Our “home away from home” was a recently renovated private residence with a breathtaking ocean view in the heart of the beautiful Malecón neighborhood, which is about a 5-7 min taxi ride to Old Havana and walking distance to local restaurants and bars. We were able to access Wi-Fi inside our residence for a small, daily fee. Every morning, the incredible house staff prepared an amazing breakfast, including freshly squeezed juices, eggs, fresh fruit, cheese, bread, meat, and pastries—all for less than $8 per person! FYI,  everything in Havana is very affordable.

That night we enjoyed an elegant dinner at a popular, privately-owned restaurant called La Guarida. We had one of the best meals of the trip there and, in my opinion, the best piña colada. La Guarida’s magical ambiance, decadence, and spectacular view of Old Havana will take your breath away. I marveled at the castle-like mansion with its grand staircase, enchanting decor, and beautifully preserved walls. I highly recommend this paladar, but definitely make reservations in advance and don’t be surprised if you run into a celebrity or two while there.

Turban: local Beauty Supply | Dress: ZARA|Shoes: Steve Madden
The BEST Pina Colada ever!

Old School Meets New School

We began the day with the quintessential Havana experience:  an “old car” tour, which we booked online through Old Cars Havana prior to arrival. Touring the city in old-school convertibles was pure magic! We stopped at major attractions like Revolution Square—known for the iconic mural of Marxist revolutionary, Che Guevara, and as the backdrop for Fidel Castro’s most memorable speeches.

Scarf: Thrifted | Two-piece Set: I Am So Kate | Earrings & Shoes: ZARA
Infamous mural of Che’ Guevara in Revolution Square

We also visited Fusterlandia, a unique, reclaimed streetscape covered in José Fuster’s fascinating and whimsical artwork.  We learned so much from our tour guide about Cuban history and culture while enjoying the remarkable experience that is riding around in a functioning piece of history.

Fusterlandia

So You Think You Can Salsa

After the tour, we had an excellent, casual lunch at El Guajirito. Next, we explored the bustling city by foot and mingled with residents on our way to a private salsa class. Be prepared ladies, if you travel on foot, you may receive a proposal or two from a handsome Cuban suitor. Our salsa lesson was intense! We really thought we knew how to dance until our instructor challenged us with rigorous combinations that made for the perfect after lunch workout. By the end of the class, we had learned an entire dance, sweated right through our clothes, and even picked up a few, local phrases!  That night, we enjoyed a lobster feast in Malecón at Atelier for under 20 USD (yes, you read that right). We also partied at the local club before calling it a night.

After our Salsa class! She worked us out 🙂
Earrings: Zara | Shirt: Thrifted | Shorts: H&M
Lobster dinner at Atelier

Cigars and Country Side

We took a break from city life and traveled to Viñales to tour the infamous tobacco farms. This trip was an unexpected bonus as we negotiated a deal with our “old car” tour guides the day before. Pro tip:  negotiate everything—from souvenir prices to taxi rides and even tours! As part of the tour, we experienced the entire cigar making process from tobacco seed to leaves to cigar.

Tobacco Tour
Beautiful countryside. So lush!
Earrings: ZARA | Crop Top & Shorts: Forever 21

For the culture, we also learned how to roll and properly smoke an authentic Cuban cigar. There was even an impromptu rum “tasting” and a dance party during which we utilized our salsa skills. When in Cuba, do as the Cubans do! Overall, our Viñales experience was really special.  We immersed ourselves in Cuban culture, had interesting conversations with farmers, haggled with locals in the town market, and ate lunch amid Viñales’ vast mountains and lush, green valleys.

“Must See” Spots

Listen. We did the absolute most on our last day! That morning, we took a walking tour led by Zoe, a fabulous Cuban resident I met through a mutual friend. Zoe, who is fluent in English and Spanish, was extremely knowledgeable about Cuban history, architecture, culture, government and all the “must see” spots in Havana. We started the tour in Plaza de la Catedral. This area is known for the older women smoking cigars, commonly seen in pictures and paintings. You can take pictures with them in exchange for a tip. Next, we walked to La Bodeguita del Medio, a popular bar frequented by famous patrons such as Ernest Hemingway and Fidel Castro to name a few. Their mojitos are a staple for most tourists, but they are a bit overpriced (5 CUC, while most restaurants charge 3 CUC).

Other epic moments in the walking tour included: El Floridita, known as the birthplace of the daiquiri, and Lamparilla Tapas & Cervezasin the heart of the city, where we had the best lunch of the trip complete with pineapple-filled daiquiris. If you want an unforgettable and informative walking tour, you absolutely must link up with our girl, Zoe (see the end of this post for her contact information).

The Infamous Floridita. Known as the birthplace of the Daiquiri
Pictured with our tour guide Zoe. This place had delicious tapas!

Vitamin Sea

That afternoon, we spent a couple hours soaking up our last moments in the Cuban sun at Santa Maria del Mar, the closest beach to Havana (about 1 hour away). If we had more time, we would have driven to Varadero, another beautiful beach about 2 hours from the city. 

Beach day at Santa Maria del Mar
Swimwear: ASOS

Fine Dining

That night, we dined at Paladar San Cristobal, where Former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama dined during their historic visit to Cuba ☺. The food was outstanding and I, of course, ordered the same meal as my FLOTUS. Before the trip, I had received mixed reviews about the food in Cuba, but everything I ate was fresh and delicious. I will say that traveler’s diarrhea is real, so I recommend taking GI medication with you and being super cautious about eating street food.

We had the pleasure of meeting the Chef at Paladar San Cristobal
The dish Michelle Obama ordered when she visited this restaurant

Night Life

After dinner, we pulled together our best looks for Fabrica de Arte Cubano, a one-of-a-kind art gallery/lounge/dance club/restaurant/movie theatre where the cool kids hang out.  It was unlike any place we had ever been. The experience was unreal and we had the time of our lives; we even spent a few minutes in VIP with an American actress and her crew. It was a pleasant surprise. If you have more time than we did, be sure to get into Havana’s popping nightlife by visiting an authentic salsa spot or a club like El Tropicana, which hosts cabaret shows.

Head wrap: Afriwraps and Bands | Two Piece Set: Babes and Felines

Half Of My Heart Is In Havana

Although we saw and experienced a lot, we were not ready to leave! Cubans are so friendly, welcoming, and a joy to be around! Unlike other places I’ve been, the people there seemed excited to meet Americans and enjoyed exchanging stories about daily life and culture. It also helped that several of us, including me, were fluent in Spanish. Overall, I felt so blessed to take in just a few of the gems Cuba has to offer. I will definitely be returning to Cuba soon! If you’re considering a visit to Cuba, I would love to answer any questions you may have. Stay tuned for my future post on things you need to know before your trip! 🙂 In the meantime, please share this post on your social media and with anyone considering Cuba on their travel bucket list!

Headwrap: Thrifted shirt | Earrings: ZARA | Top & Bottom: Forever 21
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Balling on a Budget: Top Ten Ways to Travel More and Save

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list” -Susan Sontag

Summer is near and many of us are busy planning vacations and getaways for the year! If you haven’t noticed already, I LOVE to travel! It has become one of my most enjoyable hobbies. Once I started traveling frequently, I quickly began to realize that I would need to find ways to save more in order to travel more. And by that, I mean ways to save money when booking and planning trips. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t always expensive to travel if you have the right resources. Below, I want to share with you some tips and tools that will save you the most money when planning your next vacation getaway. If you’re an avid traveler, this may be a refresher for you and you might even learn a thing or two! If you are new to traveling or planning in general, get your pin and paper ready to take notes!

1. Flight deal alerts

Flight deal alerts are a great way to book the cheapest flights and find glitch fares. One of the top ways to save is booking a cheap flight to your destination of choice. For example, I was able to purchase a non-stop, round trip flight to Dubai for only $342 using some of the resources that I will outline in this post. Yes, this glitch fare was the same cost or cheaper than a domestic flight to a city here in the U.S.! And it was all because I caught a flight deal, which is essentially the majority of the cost when you are traveling. Once you’ve crossed the hurdle of purchasing the best flight, the rest of the planning process is smooth sailing. My go-to sites for flight deals and glitch fares are TheFlightDeal.com, SecretFlying.com, and AirfareWatchdog.com. If you are a Houston resident and want alerts for flights specifically from Houston go to EscapeHouston.com. I highly recommend signing up to receive free email alerts from one of the above sites! I personally signed up for TheFlightDeal.com and EscapeHouston.com and I love seeing those flight deals pop up in my inbox daily!

Other sites to check out for flight deals:

2. Flight point programs

Most airline programs offer free rewards programs for you to accrue sky miles or points when you fly. I normally fly with Southwest or United Airlines and I’ve been able to rack up thousands of points and even booked free flights as a result! Sometimes airline offer deals to earn double or triple points, which is an easy way to score even more points and rack up savings in the end. Start earning miles/points by signing up with your most frequent flight carrier today so you can keep track of your sky miles!

According to U.S. News, the Best Airline Rewards Programs are in order as follows:

  1. Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
  2. Delta SkyMiles
  3. JetBlue TrueBlue
  4. Southwest Rapid Rewards
  5. United MileagePlus
  6. American Airlines AAdvantage
  7. HawaiianMiles
  8. Frontier EarlyReturns
  9. FREE SPIRIT

3. Use flight search tools

Sometimes 3rd party sites such as Momondo.com, FlightsBank.com, and SkyScanner.com are best for finding and comparing cheap flights. I personally scored a deal through FlightsBank for a flight to Cancun for at least $100 cheaper than the flights I found directly on the carrier site. This will save you a lot of time and money! Google flights is also an awesome search tool and it provides information on which days have the lowest fares on any given day. Go ahead and start setting up those flight alert searches now!

4. Know the best time to purchase the flight

Tuesday is the cheapest day to book flights. The best time on average to purchase flights are 3 weeks to 4 months in advance according to Forbes.com. I generally recommend booking on Tuesday because I have noticed that flights literally can go up from one day to the next! I’m the type of person to book at least 4 to 6 weeks in advance. Sometimes it may not be the cheapest route to book too far in advance and it is definitely pretty risky to wait until the last minute before your departure to book your flight. My biggest recommendation here is stick to the timing window that I listed above. It usually ends up being the best time cost-wise and it also gives you piece of mind.

5. Stay at a hostel

This concept is pretty simple. If you are traveling solo or even in a group of less than 4 people, you can save a ton by staying at a hostel. They are great alternatives if you are looking for inexpensive lodging for travel purposes. Personally, I have only stayed at a hostel once when I was traveling with a group in college for mission work. It worked well for what we were doing there and we were concerned about cost more than luxury or comfort. Not to say that you will be living in the dumps or anything, but hostels provide you with exactly what you need if you want to save the most money. I would recommend them if you are looking for major savings.

6. Book an Airbnb

I literally use Airbnb ALL OF THE TIME! It is so much cheaper than booking a hotel, which can be very expensive nowadays. Airbnbs not only save you money, but they offer more space and accommodations that you would not otherwise have if staying in a hotel. Not to mention, they are perfect for group travel because you are able to sleep more people comfortably and split the cost! Another similar alternative to consider is HomeAway.

7. Know the best time to travel

Normally Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays are the cheapest days to travel for U.S. domestic flights. For flights to Europe, weekdays are cheaper than weekends for the most part. So, if you have flexibility with your work schedule and able to take off, this may work to your advantage! Another very important consideration is booking travel for off season. For example, most people travel during spring and summer, so it may be worth-while to consider trips in fall and winter to avoid peak season and save on cost. Also, travel is usually more expensive during the holidays because most people are traveling to visit family during those times.

8. Travel with a group

This one is pretty self-explanatory. You can save a ton on housing alone just by splitting the cost amongst other travelers in a group. Also group rates and discounts for excursions and activities may be a viable option for saving money.

9. Credit card rewards

Okay, let me preface this first by saying I DO NOT support you going out and getting a credit card to travel more so you can get in debt! lol To make this move, you MUST be disciplined enough to not spend money you don’t have! Otherwise, it will add up and you will be floating in debt from flights and frivolous splurges. Having a travel credit card could actually save you money on flights and hotels due to their rewards program and sign-up bonuses worth thousands of points. They also may offer you a deal to earn double or triple points when you use the card for travel (booking flights, hotels, taxis, etc.) or dining purposes. If you’re able to use the card in this way, you can rack up thousands of points to use towards free flights. I personally chose the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card because of its awesome sign-up bonus, opportunities to easily earn points, and its wide range of affiliate partnerships. Their points are transferrable 1:1 with flight carriers such as Southwest, United, Air France, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and many more. You can also transfer your points to hotel travel partners such as Marriot and Hyatt. If you are considering this step, do your research to find out which travel credit card is best for you.

10. Travel consultant

If you are not up to finding all of the deals yourself, then allow someone else to do it for you! Hiring a travel consultant can help you save tons of money on your next big trip. It also saves you time and the headache of planning. Travel consultants know the ins and outs of traveling already and they have access to unpublished rates, discounts, and more. Personally, I am using two different certified travel consultants to book my next international adventures. I highly recommend Jaunts and Gems and The Cultured Experience, so go check them out and tell them Ashley sent you! Both are ready and willing to assist you in the best way possible to help you with all of your travel needs! Actually, Jaunts and Gems offers pre-planned getaways outlined below, so check the dates if interested and join in on the fun 🙂

Hope this guide aids you in traveling more while maintaining a budget! I will share with you in a future post exactly how to budget for a trip and ways to plan/save for trips in advance. If you have more suggestions of ways to save on travel, please leave them in the comments below. And if you have any questions or want more information about the topics listed I want to hear from you! As always, share on your social media and with anyone who could use this helpful information 🙂 Now, let’s go on a living spree!

 

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Intern[ASH]ionally Known

“Though we travel the world to find the beautiful. We must carry it with us or we find it not.”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

#Travelgoals

In lieu of it being the New Year, I’m sure many of you have travel goals, right? Whether it’s taking your first solo trip, first Coachella experience (most of y’all hype about Beyoncé’s I see lol), first international trip or even road trip to another city. Travel is life! I know I’ve had constant travel goals. It was almost as if traveling was engrained in me as a child. I took my first flight at the age of 3, trip to Montego Bay, Jamaica at 13, and European tour to Germany, Switzerland, and Prague by 18. And of course I can go down a laundry list of other places I’ve been in the last 10 years or want to go in the future. However, thinking of my next destination prompted me to ask myself, “Why do I travel?” What is it that I take away every time and leaves me excited about returning. I knew it couldn’t be simply checking items off of a so-called bucket list. There was more.

The great escape

In 2015, I came out of my travel hiatus and booked two international trips in one year and then of course took a trip every year after that. The travel bug bit me! I found myself longing and impatiently waiting on the next trip, the next getaway, and the next escape. I come alive when I travel. It is something about exploring a different scenery, culture and atmosphere that gives me a breath of fresh air. But, I had to stop and ask myself, what are you escaping? Are you really wanting to go on these trips to pour into yourself, immerse yourself into the culture or do you just simply want to rack up passport stamps and take pictures for keep? I believe when I first came out of my hiatus I was definitely just going and going and escaping something that I was longing from within, which could have been easily filled right at home (saving money! lol). I’ve found that I don’t have to escape anything and that travel means so much more to me!

Do it for the culture

Now, I can honestly say that I travel to become one with the culture. I am very much a “total experience” type of person. I love good views, food, music, atmosphere, vibes, and of course the people. I even love hearing the native dialect. It’s an all-encompassing thing for me. I tend to soak it all in and think about how I can apply it to my life and make me better on my return. No, I don’t try to be “super deep” and say every trip was amazing. But, it is something about immersing yourself in a different culture and scenery that forces a reality check, self-reflection, and of course a sobering reality that we take so much for granted daily.

I’m back and I’m better

Every trip I’ve taken made me a better person and I’ve been able to take something away from the experience. From my first experience living my best life on a yacht in Dubai, to understanding what it means to be “Black in Beijing,” to treating HIV/AIDS patients in Uganda, to spending the day at the home of a famous Italian chef in Amalfi. It’s more than just a passport stamp. It’s more than capturing that Instagram photo. For me, being “internashionally known” is about pouring into myself so that I can come back with a full cup. It’s about learning more about who I am as I discover more about the world around me and outside of my comfort zone.

I want to challenge you as you begin to plan your 2018 travel itinerary. Ask yourself the following questions: Why do I travel? What is something that I’ve been able to take away from those experiences? What is something that I want to learn or experience as I embark on my next/new travel journey? I challenge you to consider the way you travel and be thoughtful in your approach. Seeing the world is a priceless experience and travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer!

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