How I Find My Niche
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I promised you all that when I found my niche I would let you know. Well, here I am today, letting you know I think I found it. It took a while to get there, but here it is. I'm your average (yes, average and proud) twenty-something year old trying to figure out life. I have long and short-term goals in mind and I work hard to achieve those goals everyday. Some days I work really hard, other days I watch Netflix. "She Believed She Could but She Was Really Tired So She Didn't." The thing is, I'm still growing. I become more and more the version of myself that I want to be with every little lifestyle change that I make and I don't know if I'll ever have just one "niche," but for now I like the portfolio I've created for myself along the way.

How I Find My Niche
How I Find My Niche
How I Find My Niche
How I Find My Niche
How I Find My Niche



I once said that with blogging, there is this facade that you have to be rich and buy the most expensive things to stay relevant. And I truly believed in that for the longest time. I would compare my blog to others and changes a lot of what I was doing to become more like these bloggers (who had been at this game for way longer than I have been). I started to hate the way I looked in photos, compare my body to others, compare my editing skills to others, get a funk and start to plateau. I started to hate my work and doubt myself because I wasn't doing it the way everyone else was. That can be a real downer when at the end of the day this is supposed to be a hobby. Hobbies should make you feel good and proud and I would go into funks where I really wasn't proud of my work. I also wasn't seeing results like I wanted to because I would go into this funk and not be consistent. I was really doing it to myself.

I had to get out of this funk and start to rebuild my confidence in myself. I'm human, there are gong to be times that I don't like thinks about myself, but overall I'm actually a very confident person. I have a wonderful and supportive group of friends and family that build me up everyday to be a better version of myself. It's totally natural to go through phases like this. Once I started to pick myself up again, I almost felt unstoppable. I started to write more. Not just shopping list to share with you all but real meaningful post (sort of like this one) where I talk about more than just makeup and fashion. I'm a real human going through things and I need to talk about this. First and foremost this blog is for me. I had to remember that. If I like my content and my pictures then that's all that matters, number of likes be damned.

Once that happened I had a fresh outlook on it. I started to do more research and taking time to plan things out. I also read the book "Instastyle" by Tezza and it was a game changer for me. Her words were so inspiring and I thought you know she's right.. I am trying way too hard to be something I'm not. I needed to chill out and focus on what brands I wanted to work with, what type of post I wanted to create and how I wanted to share that. Another book that inspired me was "Next Level Basic" by Stassi Schroder. The way she writes is just so witty and it reminded me a lot of how I talk. I am a very witty and sarcastic person, but that wasn't showing in my blog. I felt like sometimes I was too robotic or posting things because I felt like this is how a blogger should talk, but this book reminded me of my voice and how to use it with the written word.

I started to work on photoshoots and research new editing techniques that I liked. I knew that I needed to find a preset that really captured my personality. I have made countless attempts to create my own presets but nothing that really worked. It wasn't until I started to use VSCO for every image. I fell in love with the C1 filter and nothing I could find on Lightroom compared to it. I was literally doing basic editing on Lightroom then uploading the images to my phone to put the C1 filter on it and tweak it from there. I did everything to find a C1 preset lookalike for the desktop (I even emailed VSCO to see if they offered that preset or something like it for purchase) and I couldn't find anything. But you know what? Who cares? I liked it! I loved the way my photos were turning out and as I started to post more and more I started to see a response from it. It wasn't over night. As I said, making a career out of this takes patience and consistency. But it was going somewhere at least.

Now I plan photoshoots with my friends like crazy. I'm more comfortable with my friends which gets me to loosen up in front of the camera and not be so stiff. I've also been more consistent when editing photos and using presets. It's a great base to start when editing my photos and everything has looked so coherent from there, I just love the way everything turns out. I'm your average twenty year old, and I say that with pride, because I am Michele Katsaris and there is no one out there like me, but I'm going through so many of the same things that millions of other twenty year olds are going through. I'm uniquely average and I'm not ashamed of that. I go through things in life where I love what I do and days I hate it. It's all about finding a balance and that's my niche–finding a balance in blogging and my everyday life. I'm not perfect at it, but that's what makes it special.

xoxo, Michele

Pack With Me: California
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Welcome back to the blog everyone! I wanted to try a pack with me post where I show you how I pack my suitcase, what I pack and some of my packing tips and tricks with you all. I've always attempted to do these type of posts in the past, but it never quite works out. Since I've been planning this trip for over six months though I was able to finally commit to this post.

Pack With Me: California
Pack With Me: California
Pack With Me: California
Pack With Me: California



What I Packed
After I made all of my purchases for the trip, I started to plan out outfits and pack. This part is very important for a blogger because like I said, I tend to overpack. I want to make sure I'm packing as light as I can and leaving room for things that I purchase on my trip. Omar and I try to pack in one suitcase going to our destination and we pack a large empty duffel to fill on our way back from our destination. That way we never exceed two checked bags. Omar gets checked bags for free since he's military which is an awesome bonus!

The first thing I'll do is pull out any and all clothes and shoes that I *think* I want to bring with me. That's when I'll start making cuts to see what pieces come with me and what stays behind. I'll start by putting together as many outfits as possible and try to make multiple outfits using the same pieces. This way I'm not just packing a shirt just to pack a shirt but not sure what it goes with. This is also when I try on things to make sure I like how they look and how I feel in them. Don't forget to check the weather for your destination location. You may love your denim jacket, but do you need it in 85 degree weather? Probably not.

The hardest part about packing for me is my shoes. Luckily, I have small feet and can get away with packing more pairs of shoes then everyone else, but I still have to be careful because I have specific shoes that go with specific outfits. I'll try to pack shoes that got with multiple outfits to save room and make the bag weigh less. I'll pack basics like sneakers, sandals, black heels and some sort of everyday shoe. The shoes that I'll be wearing the most are the White Slip-On Pro VansI also only pack one pair of pajamas and 1 pair of black leggings.

What I Bought
I'll start with all the new products I bought specifically for this trip. Since I created a mood board on my Pinterest account, I knew some of the golden pieces I was looking for. As a blogger, I tend to over plan (and overpack) outfits for trips. A trip, especially a trip to California, was no exception.




How I Packed
Once I decide on everything I'm bringing I'll honestly do a second round of cuts. I know that I could probably get rid of the third bathing suit and second pair of heels so I'll be a little more cut-throat and put away some items. Then I'll take everything that Omar is packing + what I'm packing and start to organize everything to put away in the suitcase. We bought these space saver travel bags that we use and they save so much room!

I'll organize our clothes and put them in the appropriate sized space saver travel bags before putting them into the suitcase. I can't explain how much room these bags save, but I will say, your clothes may be wrinkly when you take them out. Just be prepared to iron or steam them when you unpack. The rest of packing is honestly just like playing Tetris. I'll put the shoes, hair tools, makeup and anything else that doesn't go in a space saver travel bag in the suitcase. Another thing I do is put my socks in my shoes to keep my shoes from bending. We also have this awesome large duffel bag that I throw in the suitcase. We bring it with us empty and fill it up for when we come back.

Aside from our clothes and shoes, I also pack a jewelry organizer and my makeup bag. My friend Stepheni got me this awesome large makeup case which holds everything I could possibly need. Then  I bought this travel jewelry organizer that fits more than enough pieces for any trip.

Helpful Packing Items



I also always pack my hair straightener because I swear I have the best hair straightener in the world, but since my friends were also going on this trip, I knew that one of them was bringing a curling iron so I left mine at home. If you're going on a trip with friends and you can share or borrow some items, I highly recommend starting a group chat to plan this. Not everyone needs to bring a curling iron and no one brings a straighter. If you also don't have a staple item, like a white t-shirt, see if someone else is bringing one that you can borrow during the trip.

I don't know exactly when I started this tip, but something I've been doing the last few trips is buying essentials when I arrive at my destination. If I happen to have some travel toiletries lying around then great, but if not, I'm not going to waste my money buying them. Seriously, I think travel shampoo and conditioner is the biggest waste of money (unless it's a day or weekend trip). Our trip is 15-days so I'm going to need more than a couple ounces of hair products. What I'll do instead is go to the dollar or grocery store to stock up on toiletries. I personally prefer going to the dollar store because they sell the same items that you get at the grocery store, but for only a dollar. We'll get everything we need for a long trip like this for less than $10. If you're going on a group trip, then you can all pitch in for some of these essentials. Depending on the Airbnb you may even need to get toilet paper and paper towels. Then by the end of the trip you should have used most of the products so you can just toss it or leave it behind. Or if you can bring it with you, great! Face wash isn't something I'd leave behind, but a half empty bottle of shampoo that I got for a dollar can totally get tossed. Or if you have some products that are about to run out, you can bring those with you and then toss them when they're all out. It all depends on what you need to bring, where you're going and how long you're going for.


Essentials To Buy/Pack




The last thing I have to pack is my carry-on bag. My carry-on bag is always my backpack and I have it super organized so I can find everything while I'm in the airport. I have a 3-part laptop sleeve Herschel backpack (similar one linked here) that fits everything I need for the flight. If possible I try to put all my chargers in my suitcase that way I'm not sorting through wires at the security check. I also put my polaroid camera and smaller items that are a bit more durable than my carry-on electronics (tripod, film, camera charger). My laptop is the first thing that goes inside the laptop sleeve. Then in the bigger compartment I put my camera, my headphones and my jewelry organizer. In the middle compartment I have my portable cell phone charger, my phone charger, my glasses, my sunglasses and my USB-Hub for my laptop. Then in the small front pocket I keep chapstick, scrunchies, my wallet and my phone. That's it! I might have a book or a magazine too, but besides that I really don't keep much for my carry-on. To me, the less, the better. I also make sure to charge all of my electronics overnight! I might also carry my purse on with my depending on room in my suitcase and if I packed any additional carry on items. Usually it's packed away though. I usually pack my chargers and camera film in my purse before packing it away in my suitcase. That way it doesn't get dented or anything. Sort of the same concept of when you put your socks in your shoes.

The last little tip & trick I have, which everyone should know by now, is to wear your heavier clothes to the airport. For instance, my vans or sneakers might be the heaviest shoes so I'll wear those instead of a lighter shoe like my sandal, I'll pack those instead. If you're bringing a heavy coat, or sweater, carry that on with you instead of packing it to save some space.


Obviously things are going to change based on where you are traveling to, but for the most part this is what my packing routine looks like. If you have any other tips or tricks let me know by commenting down below!

xoxo, Michele


How I Planned Our Trip to California

The last big trip Omar and I went on was to Orlando, Florida and I shared exactly how I planned our trip in this blog post here. Everything from the flights to where we were staying. I wanted to do the same thing with this trip to California, because traveling plans are constantly changing! I think for the most part some of the tools I used were the same, but since this was a 15-day trip I used a lot more websites to compare prices for places to stay.


Travel Dates & Flights

1. The first thing I did was pick dates. I knew I wanted to do two weeks, but the dates themselves were pretty flexible. I knew it had to be at the end of summer to give everyone enough time to save up and take time off of work for it. I honestly just randomly picked end of July to August and started comparing flight tickets!

2. The next part was to invite everyone. This trip to California is Omar's birthday gift so I invited his best friends and his brothers. The best part of planning this was that I told everyone the dates we were going, where we were staying each week and about how much it would cost (flights, hotel/airbnb, car rental, etc). I let everyone decide what dates they wanted to join us (some did a week, some did a few days) and left it up to them to book their own flights. I wasn't going to stress myself out renting out a huge airbnb and at the last minute someone had to cancel. Keeping it super casual was important to me because I basically planned this trip for just Omar and myself and whoever wanted to tag along was more than welcome to.

3. I decided that in our 15-day trip, we would do the first week in Los Angeles. Omar has actually never been to California (except for training, which was just in the desert), so I knew we had to do the whole LA thing. Then the rest of the trip would be closer to Irvine (SoCal area) where my cousin lives. That way we can do all the nice beaches like Laguna and Huntington Beach.

4. Since I knew the [flexible] dates that we were going I started to look up flights. I wanted to get a general idea of how much flights would cost, but I knew I had a few months before purchasing. The cheapest I was seeing (round flight, non-stop) was $240 + tax/ea. I kept my eye on some different websites, until one random Sunday, I noticed the flight I had been looking at was going for $212 including tax, if we came back home on August 15th instead of August 14th. I pulled the trigger right away! On top of that, Omar gets free checked bags since he's military. Here are some websites and tricks that I used when looking up flight tickets.

 Airplane mode or multiple computers. Once you start searching for flights the prices will start to go up and it’s important to write down the cheaper websites (my faovirets are CheapOAirSTATravel, and JustFly). Once you search through a ton of website, switch computers and do your final search and buy your ticket from there.


- Buy your ticket on a Tuesday (it’s cheaper for some reason), but if it’s a Wednesday and you just happen to see it’s really cheap and you don’t think you’ll get a better deal than go with your gut. (Like I said, I bought our tickets on a Sunday and went with my gut!)

Call the website and buy tickets through the phone. For our last trip, we found tickets on JustFly through Spirit airlines and even though they were a great deal, I knew with Omar’s military discount we could get a little more off. So I called Spirit and told them I found these tickets on this website for this amount, they confirmed and because we had the military discount we got additional cost off.

- Try to bundle. Bundling a flight and rental car can definitely make things cheaper, but not always. You really just need to shop around and see what works best for you (military discounts and such can affect this). 

- Start early. The earlier you book everything the cheaper it will be.

- Don’t be afraid to shop around. Sure you can check Travelocity, Kayak and all those, but what you should also pay attention to are those last minute deals. There are certain Twitter and Instagram accounts that will post last minute flight deals and if you’re lucky you may just see your trip come up. @Airfarewatchdog@cheapflights@theflightdeal and @secretflying are some of my favorites.

- Use Cashback apps or cards. Pay attention to your current cash back cards and accounts and see if you have any rewards you can take advantage of. Omar and I have been using the app Get Upside where we get cash back on gas and groceries (Use my code: UTUBE to get an extra 20 cents back). We basically saved all of that money and used it for some extra spending money on our trip.

- See if your company (or a friend's) has corporate discounts. My job and my friend's does and I used our logins to see if hotels, excursions, car rentals and even flights were cheaper versus external websites.

- Don't forget to take advantage of student and military discounts too!

- Some sites I used to compare flights were: Justfly.com, CheapFlights.comCheapOAir.com, Travelocity.com and ultimately I purchased our tickets from FlightHub.com

5. Be flexible. It would be awesome if you could be flexible on dates. We are fortunate to live in Northern Virginia which means we have three airports to fly out of. If you can be flexible with dates, airports, or even locations than go with those! It’s all about taking the time to actually shop around.

Hotels & Car Rentals

1. Renting a hotel or Airbnb and a car rental is going to be very similar to finding flight tickets. It's all about starting early and comparing prices. A lot of my tips are going to be the same, but there are some that don't apply to this category so I took those out and listed alternative sites. Here are some websites and tricks that I used when looking up hotels and car rentals.

 Airplane mode or multiple computers. Once you start searching for hotels and car rentals the prices will start to go up. Once you search through a ton of website, switch computers and do your final search and buy your ticket from there.

- Try to bundle. Bundling a flight and rental car can definitely make things cheaper, but not always. You really just need to shop around and see what works best for you (military discounts and such can affect this). 



- Start early. The earlier you book everything the cheaper it will be.


- Use Cashback apps or cards. Pay attention to your current cash back cards and accounts and see if you have any rewards you can take advantage of. Omar and I have been using the app Get Upside where we get cash back on gas and groceries (Use my code: UTUBE to get an extra 20 cents back). We basically saved all of that money and used it for some extra spending money on our trip.



- See if your company (or a friend's) has corporate discounts. My job and my friend's does and I used our logins to see if hotels, excursions, car rentals and even flights were cheaper versus external websites.



- Don't forget to take advantage of student and military discounts too!



- Some sites I used to compare car rentals were: Justfly.comCheapFlights.comCheapOAir.comTravelocity.com, RentalCars.com and ultimately I booked a 2-week car rental through Turo.com! You can also use Uber  and public transportation to get around, it just depends where you're going!



- Some sites I used to compare places to stay were: Hotels.comVRBO.comAirbnb.comTravelocity.com and ultimately I booked through Airbnb.com.

- Get $55 towards your first trip with AirBnB, by clicking the link here. Get $25 towards your first car rental with Turo, by clicking the link here. Get travel credit through Uber, by clicking the link here.



2. Now, after you set your dates and location, you just have to decide when it's best for you to book. I gave everyone I invited a deadline of May 1 to decide if they were going on this trip with us and what dates they were coming. This is because if we had 4 friends joining us our party of 2 becomes a party of 6 which means we had to look for enough hotel rooms or a big enough Airbnb, which changes the price. Depending on how many people went we also had to rent a bigger car or potentially even 2 cars. Obviously when you share the price of a car rental or a hotel room the price goes down. I still budgeted everything as if it were just Omar and I going and what we could afford, the fact that a couple friends came and the price went down was just a nice bonus.



Excursions



1. Since Omar had never been to California, I knew that there were some things we were definitely  going to do. While others things were sort of up in the air/play by ear situation. I tend to save a ton of stuff from Instagram and save them in blog posts for the next time I visit a place so a blog post like this, Next Time I Visit Los Angeles, was perfect when picking out some places to go.



2. I also used a blank calendar image that I made a "mock" schedule. I knew that certain things had to be on certain days to avoid a majority of the crowds. Your trip doesn't have to be planned down to the second, but knowing to go to Disneyland on a Tuesday is better than going on a Friday.



3. Since I have corporate discounts through my job and Omar is military, I was able to get some discounted tickers on certain excursions. Make sure you look into discount options like Groupon, Honey or Ebates when you're planning a trip. Here are some excursions that we looked into; Warner Brothers Studio Tour, Disneyland, Live Audience Tours, Soul Cycle Class.



Save Money

This one is just super obvious, but if you plan ahead of time and you know your trip is coming up then you should set some money aside for it. I’m very fortunate that I have PTO at my job and I’m able to not feel like I’m going a week with no pay, but also with each paycheck leading up to this trip I set aside money for this trip. Make sure you look into discount options like GrouponHoney or Ebates when you're planning a trip. Again, using other tools to help save, like Get Upside or your tax return, is always helpful. If you plan it all ahead of time then not only will you get the best deals, but you’ll also be ready and financially stable to take it.

I hope that some of my tips help you when planning a big trip like this. I know it’s a lot and if you have a question about anything just leave me a comment down below!

xoxo, Michele



Amazon Accessories Hits & Misses

I always share my Amazon purchases with you, but sometimes I don't follow up on what was really worth the money (or worth the discount) and what wasn't. I have purchased over a $100 worth of accessories and jewelry off of Amazon. I thought this would be a great time to test out these products and give you my honest reviews of them.


Hits

David Yurman Dupe Bracelet // This bracelet is the perfect designer dupe. It's two-toned and helps when you're trying to mix metals. It fits even the tiniest of wrist and is super durable. I hasn't changed colors or really scuffed up at all.

Emerald Cut CZ Eternity Band // I have over-worn this ring and I'll admit it. It is just such a better alternative than the Bauble Bar Alidia Rings. Granted, it's only in a silver color, it's the perfect ring to dress up any outfit. I will say after consistently wearing this ring for a few months straight one of the stones eventually fell off and after wearing it in the pool it would start to turn my finger green, but if you don't wear it in the pool or to an amusement park that makes your stone fall out, this ring can last even longer than a few months.

Evil Eye Layered Necklace // I love this necklace. It is such a statement piece without being too much. It has three-layers that compliment each other. The only downside is that it gets tangled if you wear it with other necklaces. This has to be a solo-piece to wear on it's own.

20-pc Set Velvet Scrunchies // Completely worth the money. I love scrunchies and not only do I prefer them for my hair, they're also a hella cute accessory to wear on your wrist. Get a multi-pack like this one so you have multiple colors to choose from.

8-pair Stainless Steel Earrings // I actually got these for Omar because he does have his ears pierced and loves to wear earrings when we go out. This 8-pair pack with silver and black holders were perfect to give him a variety of colors and sizes. He loves this set and you really can't beat the price.

Gold Shell Beaded Bracelet // Something I never thought I would buy.. a poocha shell bracelet. Like, what? I follow Sarah Belle (YouTuber) and she showed off this bracelet from Amazon and it just looked so stylish. Plus, it's the perfect accessory for my upcoming California trip.

Polarized Sunglasses // Another thing I bought for Omar for his birthday. He really liked these sunglasses and referred to them as his "boujee" sunglasses. They weren't boujee in price though so I'm glad he really loves them! Side note, he's not the most careful with his items and these glasses have been thrown around and still not broken or bent!!

Star Choker #2 // If you see below, star choker #1 did not work out. So I invested a few more dollars to get a better quality piece. This one has lasted me so much longer. I've worn it in the shower, the beach, the pool and to theme parks and it still looks brand new. Highly recommend this one versus the one listed below.

Misses

Star Hoop Earrings // I'll try to explain this the best I can, but basically when I first received these in the mail I was really excited and disappointed. I was excited because I knew these would look so cute and I was right. I was disappointed because they were so cheaply made, but they were cheap so you get what you pay for I guess. The star isn't actually attached to the hoop, it's on another hoop that slides onto the main hoop earrings. So if you're not super careful, the "star" part can easily slide off. I almost lost the "star" part a few times. Also, the "metal" is pretty cheap so it bent easily. Like I said though, you get what you pay for.

Star Choker #1 // Let me just say.. keep your money. I loved this necklace the first and only time I got to wear it. The metal tarnished after one wear and then it went to the trash. Again, you get what you pay for. Invest a few more dollars in another version of this piece.

Lock Pendant Necklace // This necklace is in the middle for me. It was a very cheap necklace which is cool, but I honestly haven't worn it as much as I thought I would. The chain is very long, which makes for good layering piece, but it's almost too long. If the chain was a bit shorter, it might be a more worn piece, but it was only $2 so *insert shrugging emoji here.*

xoxo, Michele

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