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7 Life Lessons I Learned at the #MTYRetreat

Last weekend I experienced one of the most transformative trips of my life. I’ve traveled quite a bit in my lifetime, but never quite like this. I was chosen to attend the very first My Taught You Retreat in Cancun, Mexico. This experience was curated by Myleik Teele – brilliant brand builder behind Curlbox and the MyTaughtYou podcast – and it was the best way to kickoff my 31st year of life. Not only was I surrounded by nearly 100 of the most powerful black girl changemakers in the country, but for the first time in a long time I felt like I was truly being poured into.

When you craft your life’s work around being purpose-driven and pouring into others, it can leave you feeling empty and drained. Also, as an entrepreneur, I often work in a bubble with very little interaction from people who truly understand what I’m going through as a sole proprietor with children and bills and unpaid invoices and STRESS. It’s a struggle. I left Mexico last weekend with so much inspiration and priceless gems. Here are the top 7 life lessons I learned at the MTYRetreat:

1. Be INTENTIONAL About The Life You Want. (Kahlana Barfield-Brown)

Most of us who are highly successful in one area of our lives (like career, for example) neglect to realize that if we crave success in other areas, we have to work at it. You want a family some day? Ok. Why haven’t you actively tried to find a suitable candidate to create one with? You make more of what you focus your time on. If you’re constantly focused on work then, guess what? You’ll just get more work.

Kahlana Barfield-Brown, Editor at Large at InStyle Magazine, spoke to us about her wake-up call and how she had to literally get herself out of the office and into places and spaces where she would meet and eventually fall in love with her husband. It’s nice knowing that some women who seem to “have it all”, didn’t get it all at once. It takes intention and proactivity for you to develop the life you want. Don’t complain about not having what you want if you haven’t tried your best to get it.

2. If It Don’t Make Dollars, It Don’t Make Sense. (Karleen Roy)

What I love about being a creative is that I’m never bored. I always have a vision, a new idea, an amazing way to put the icing on my entrepreneurial cake. When it isn’t fun is when I’m over budget and I can’t pay my rent. Every creative entrepreneur has been here. Do I launch my next product or do I pay my insurance? The struggle is REAL.

So when Karleen Roy of The Vanity Group gave her chat and said that pulling together the vision for the MTYRetreat was actually the biggest lesson for her to date, I FELT THAT. Myleik pushed her out of her comfort zone by challenging her on doing things that didn’t provide real monetary value. She talked about being a creative and how creativity can sometimes push you WAY over budget. And that’s truly what I’m learning each day and where I have to challenge myself more. Is this thing going to create wealth for me? If not, then why am I doing it? That’s a question I have to start asking myself more in 2018.

3. You Can’t Move Forward Until You Learn To LET GO. (Zim Ugochukwu)

One of the hardest things to do is to let go of something you love. Whether it’s a business or a long-term relationship, letting go is TOUGH but necessary. In order for you to grow, and move into new fruitful chapters in your life – you have to be pruned. Zim, founder of Travel Noire recently sold her company to Blavity. And during her chat she mentioned John 15. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful…”

Travel Noire was her baby. And she sold it because she was being called into a new chapter in her life. If you want a life that bears “fruit”, one that makes you happy, serves your life purpose, brings others joy and grows you in ways unimaginable – you have to LOSE to gain.

4. You Teach People How To Treat You. (Luvvie Ajayi)

A lot of the time, especially as women, we accept behavior that we don’t like or appreciate. We allow people to do, say and act in a way that makes us uncomfortable and we don’t speak up about it. Why come?

Everybody’s favorite Nigerian cousin – Luvvie Ajayi – opened our eyes to an important fact this weekend. You teach people how to treat you. Silence around your discomfort is actually saying a lot. If someone does something to you that you don’t like and you say nothing, you’re essentially telling them it’s ok to keep doing it. Another gem – ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT. Luvvie is unapologetic about asking for pay that is commiserate with her experience. She’s a New York Times Bestseller and that comes with a premium price tag. More than that, she’s comfortable and ASSURED that she is worth it. How much money are YOU leaving on the table because you’re not comfortable asking for what you’re truly worth?

5. Work To Leave A Legacy. (Necole Kane)

What would people say at your funeral if you dropped dead today? Sounds harsh and incredibly morbid to think about, but for some this is a reality every day. During our last night of MTYRetreat, man, so many gems were dropped. One of which came from Necole Kane, founder of xoNecole.com – formerly of NecoleBitchie.

She talked about the fact that both her parents passed away while they were young and that the glaring reality of life’s end is what drove her to switch from gossip blogging to inspiration and empowerment. She didn’t want her life’s work to be something she wouldn’t be proud of at her funeral. If that doesn’t motivate you, I don’t know what will. Live a life that makes you proud and leaves a positive impact on the lives of others. We literally only have one life to live.

6. Choose Collaboration Over Competition. (MTY Retreat Attendees)

The MTYRetreat weekend was like a love fest of black girl magic and power. I have never seen that many women of color, of that stature and presence, come together as the strong forces we individually are. These women came with no other agenda but to build community, share, laugh, cry and grow together. It was absolutely beautiful.

Many of us are in similar lanes, doing similar things, but each powerful in our own respective areas. Each of us unique, but so very much the same. What this weekend reinforced in me, more than anything, is the importance of collaborating and not competing. We are SO much stronger together. We HAVE to stick together – we all we got! We need to be open to sharing knowledge, encouraging each other, bonding and building sisterhood so we can win. If not for ourselves, our families and communities, do it for the culture.

7. The Person You Need The Most is YOU. (Myleik)

I talked about this a little in my “Letter To My Younger Self”. No business partner, best friend or bae can replace what you need the most. Yourself. I feel like I spent so much of my adult life thus far searching and searching for people, places and things to “complete” me. It’s been a long road but I’m starting to realize, with the help of inspirational women like Myleik, how important it is to love yourself first. Myleik shared a story about being terrified of flying to Europe all by herself. Instead, she turned that fear into action, booked herself a first class flight so she’d be comfortable, dove into an amazing book (DVF’s “The Woman I Wanted To Be”) and she grew closer to herself through just this one experience. It doesn’t take a whole lifetime to figure out how to treat yourself right. You can be your own best friend right here, where you are, right now.

Major thanks to the entire My Taught You team for pulling together such an amazing and enlightening experience for all of us. Out of 1,000 applicants, I am honored to have been chosen among the first 95 women to be in the MTYRetreat Class of 2018. Interested in attending the next one? Sign up for updates here: https://www.mtyretreat.com/

A Letter To My Younger Self: Reflections on My 31st Birthday

Last Sunday I officially made three decades and a year. It’s hard to believe I entered my 30’s an entire year ago. 2017 feels like a blur. I spent my birthday weekend on a retreat in Cancun, Mexico and while I was there I had some time to really reflect.

I decided that I feel really good about where I am and who I’ve become.

It’s taken all of my 20’s, two babies, three full time jobs, a lot of unpaid invoices, one failed business, 3 failed relationships,much heartache and countless hours of therapy for me to finally be happy. With, just me.

Unconsciously when we become aware that “things” and “titles” and “accolades” can validate us among others, we begin a quiet obsession with them. We set out on a quest to get things like cars, houses and fancy shoes. We set up our lives to acquire titles like girlfriend, wife, employee, mommy or CEO. And we become addicted to the high that comes with accolades. It’s an eternal cycle of acquiring things to make ourselves happy and to make others proud, envious or in awe of us.

The pursuit of everyone else’s happiness.

Well folks, today, just one week into my 31st year – I’m grateful.  Because I’ve learned not to give a damn. I have learned that the person whose happiness I should be most concerned with is my own. And I’m devoting year 31 to loving myself unapologetically. My only regret is that it took so long for me to get here. Oh, how much my life would have been different had I known then what I know now. I wrote a letter to my younger self. She deserves to hear from me. I hope she receives this with open arms.

Dear Younger Self,

I’m sorry for not loving you the way I should. You deserve better. Your curves are a gift. Your hair is beautiful whether it’s in an Afro, in box braids or sewn up under a straight haired wig. All of it is flawless, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

The fact that you give so much of yourself to others will come in handy when you become a mom. You will be an incredible mom. You will love and lose. You will cry many tears. But through it all, God will be right by your side. Listen to His Voice and believe Him when He says everything will be ok. Because it will.

At age 31, you will not have it all figured out but you will believe in yourself more than you ever have. You will have two beautiful children, a thriving business and a whole lot of experience in this thing called life. And guess what? You will feel unstoppable. You will BE unstoppable.

Always do your best. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t take things personally. Be impeccable with your word. These are four basic agreements you will learn in your coming years that will change your life.

You are awesome. I need that to sink in. Nobody and nothing “makes” you awesome. You just already are.

I love you, and I’m rooting for you.

Sincerely,

Your Future Self

Photography: Maricarmen Arcos

What To Get Before You Jet: Cuba

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Cuba is such a beautiful country. I celebrated my #Start30WithLove 30th Birthday trip there, but prior to traveling, it was a complete mystery to me. How does one get there from the US? What do I need to bring? What should I know before I go? There is so much information out there but I didn’t know who or what to trust on the world wide web. Luckily my friend Jessica Berry, who is a seasoned traveler and had flown to Cuba for a trip just a few weeks prior, gave me a lengthy but necessary list of things to sort out before leaving. Combined with her list and my own, here’s our top 5 list.

What To Get Before You Jet to Cuba:

1. Get Your Visa

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This is the question of the century. Do you need a travel visa for visiting Cuba? The answer is YES. You can get one for $50 during check-in with airlines like JetBlue, ($80 for Delta) and the process is fairly quick and easy.

Pay attention to your emails after you book your trip, because your airline may send you a questionnaire with questions about your trip ahead of your departure to choose the one of 12 allowed reasons for travel to Cuba. Jessica chose “family visit” because she visited a friend’s family during her stay. My group and I chose “educational activities” as we spent most of our time getting educated on Cuban culture. But seriously,  no one checks once you reach Cuba. You may also get your visa ahead of time from your embassy, but most people I’ve known have gotten theirs at the airport on the day of travel.

You’ll get your boarding pass, Visa and health insurance simultaneously from your airline (this was the case with JetBlue, at least). Keep both on you at all times, just in case. Your boarding pass doubles as health insurance!

Recommendation: You can check the US Embassy to Cuba website for more info. 

2. Get Cash (Lots of It)

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Cuba is primarily a cash economy. For Americans, US dollars are not used there. Your best course of action is to order Euros ahead of time from your bank in the US and exchange them for CUC (local Cuban currency) at the airport in Havana once you get there, for the best exchange rate. We arrived at Terminal 3, and the exchange counter is outside. If the line is long (which it typically is), you can take a cab to Terminal 2 where there’s less of a wait. You’ll need your passport to enter that Terminal. EUROS are preferred because Cubans get charged a surcharge for changing US dollars and they past that penalty onto you. So bring euros if you can for a 1:1 exchange.

How much you spend will depend on your tastes but beware YOU CANNOT WITHDRAW MONEY while in Cuba. ATMs there do not accept American debit/credit cards, so you’ll need to have all cash.

3. Get A Good Carryon

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Word to the wise – don’t check your bag. Your wait time to leave will depend on a few things. I’ve heard people spend up to two hours at the airport waiting for checked luggage. Ours only took about 30min, BUT the money exchange
line took at least an additional hour. Leaving Cuba took even longer because they’re not yet equipped to handle the influx of new tourism. Do yourself a favor and pack light so you don’t have to worry about checked luggage delaying your travel plans.

Recommendation: Away Travel has super cute and affordable carry-ons. They also have no-brainer accessories like chargers.

4. Get A Tour Guide

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There are so many amazing things to see in Cuba and it’s sometimes easier to see alot of things in a short amount of time if you book a Tour Guide to take you around. Popular areas you’ll want to explore include Old Havana – mainstays like the Plaza de la Revolucion, Catedral de San Cristobal de la Habana and La Bodeguita del Medio. 

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The Viñales Tour (can be booked at Hotel El Presidente  in Vedado) includes a tobacco farm, lunch, a boat ride at the India caves and visiting the Mural de la Prehistoria. At the Mural de la Prehistoria, they have horse and bull rides, great piña coladas (pour your own UNLIMITED rum), and a restaurant. If you’re into lazy beach days, book a day tour in the beach town of Varadero (about 2 hours driving from Havana) where they have catamaran rides for large groups and more. 

Recommendation: Havana Journeys has a great list of day tours. They took great care of us in Havana.

5. Get Used To Being Offline

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You will be unplugged in Cuba! Savor it! It is so relaxing, and you won’t miss it after a while. If you really
need to scratch that itch, you have to buy WiFi cards to get on the networks there. They cost 2CUC/card and last up to 80min (depending on the card and where you’re using it). Some hotels run out and/or reserve some for their actual guests, so buy a few at a time. Wifi is not usually strong, so use your time wisely. The popular Wifi hotspots are hotels and “Wifi parks” (just look for the crowds of people on their phones).

There is SO much more to chat about here but this is a quick list of What To Get Before You Jet To Cuba. Have you been to Cuba? Thinking of going? Leave us a comment below.

Photos by Augusta Sagnelli

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Special thanks to contributor Jessica Berry for adding to this post!

LBS Travel: 14 Destinations for Spring Break 2016

Whether you’re still hitting up sites like Groupon for last minute travel deals or patiently waiting with your bags packed for your next adventure, time is winding down and spring break 2016 is just around the corner. Traveling the world is one the best and most immersive ways to add to the richness of your life. If you haven’t made up your mind just yet, consider one of these offshore travel destinations for your spring break vacay.

Cuba

Vintage car passing modern bar nestled between dilapidated Art Nouveau buildings along the Av de Malecon.

For so long Cuba has been forbidden fruit. Americans were prohibited to venture there, to indulge in it’s emerging food culture or sigh in awe at the sight of The Malecón, Havana’s breathtaking 8km-long sea drive. No more. While traveling there still requires approval from the US Government and frequent flights to and from have yet to be established, it’s better to see the island now before it becomes a major tourist attraction.

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10 Things To Do in Martinique

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I’ve been to my fair share of Caribbean islands. From the Bahamas to Jamaica to Barbados, you name it and I’ve probably been there at least once. But visiting Martinique on my #24HourReset this past December was an experience unlike any other Caribbean island. Now that airlines like Norwegian are offering direct flights to Martinique at rock-bottom prices (I got my roundtrip airfare for $230 from NYC to Martinique!), there will definitely be a surge in tourism to the area, which is exciting.

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From the french-meets-Caribbean culture to the beautiful and quaint villages, here is a guide with 10 things to do in Martinique in case you’re planning a trip there:

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LBS Travel: 10 Things To Do in Montego Bay Jamaica

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I used to frequent Montego Bay, Jamaica as a child. My Dad’s family is from the countryside of Trelawny and I remember going there to visit my Grandma, aunts, uncles and cousins. Though many of those memories have faded, experiencing Jamaica once again as an adult has its own set of lasting memories and experiences. Particularly, seeing the country from the perspective of a tourist was an entirely new experience for me and it was SO much fun. Who knew Montego Bay, Jamaica had so much to offer? Thanks to Strength of Nature and the Jamaica Tourism Board I had the opportunity to experience some really amazing sights and sounds. Here are my Top 10 Things to Do in Montego Bay:

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Kickin’ It: Caribbean Crawl (Bahamas Edition) Recap

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Last weekend I had the opportunity to embark on yet another Caribbean Crawl adventure with my good buddies Jessica of Glamazons Blog and Lexi of LexiWithTheCurls. Last time we went to Barbados for our very first Caribbean Crawl. We had SUCH a blast that we decided to do another one for the summertime. This was our first time visiting the beautiful Paradise Island, Bahamas and we were hosted by the Hotel RIU Palace Paradise Island, which is absolutely stunning.

Related: 2014 Caribbean Crawl Recap (Barbados)

Here’s what we got into:

riu-hotels-paradise-island-bahamas-beachSo I was the first to touch down in Nassau and from the airport it was just a 30 minute ride across a bridge to get to Paradise Island. The beauty of staying on Paradise Island is that you can easily get back and forth to downtown Nassau if you want, simply by taking a taxi or by ferry. Once I pulled up to the Hotel RIU Palace Paradise Island I was ready to kick off my shoes and head straight to the beach. The RIU is an all-inclusive resort, so I was greeted in the lobby with a fresh cold glass of rum punch and at check-in was given a wristband and my room key.

riu-hotel-paradise-island-bahamas-suiteThe Hotel RIU Palace Paradise Island put us up in one of their corner suites overlooking both the beach and the pool. It was absolutely beautiful. The room was spacious and the view was breathtaking.

riu-hotels-paradise-island-bahamas-bathroom-selfieOf course I went straight for the closest mirror for a “straight-from-the-airport-hair-tied-chillin-with-no-makeup-on” selfie. #bloggersbelike #selfietime

riu-hotels-paradise-island-bahamas-poolAfter jumping on the bed like a little kid and throwing my swimsuit on, I was ready to head to the pool.

motions-hair-conditioner-beachRight before heading down, I threw some Motions Hair Moisture Plus Conditioner on my hair to prep it for water fun.

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Because the Hotel RIU Palace Paradise Island is all inclusive, we ended up spending the majority of our time in the Bahamas right on the premises. There were cocktails, amazing food, poolside activities and more included.

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By the second day, I was ready to hit the beach. Lexi and I got up early and headed down to soak up sun while waiting for Jessica to arrive.

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I wore my new floral printed high-waisted bikini from Forever 21 Plus collection. It fits my body so well and it comes in such a fun print! Also, it was only $27.80. Here’s the link for the one-piece version of this: Forbidden Fruit Swimsuit ($27.80). I checked and it looks like the two-piece is sold out. Also similar is the Fierce Fiesta Bikini Set ($27.80) – it’s essentially the same suit but in red.

caribbean-crawl-bahamas-lexi-christinaLexi and I had a blast on the beach. The local Bahamian men (Baha men? IDK) kept trying to take us on “private” jet ski rides. Needless to stay, we stayed on land.

caribbean-crawl-bahamas-christina-lexiThe beach on the Hotel RIU Palace Paradise Island premises is absolutely beautiful. There are complimentary beach chairs and umbrellas as well for your use. And of course courtesy towels for hotel guests.

atlantis-paradise-island-landscapeThe next day we ventured next door to the Atlantis Resort to check out the on-site aquarium as well as the water park. I LOVE water parks so I was stoked.

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Atlantis is absolutely beautiful. It definitely lives up to the hype. I remember watching commercials for the resort as a kid saying “Man I want to go there!” Finally had my chance and it was so totally worth it.

caribbean-crawl-atlantis-aquariumThe girls and I saw all types of marine wildlife at Atlantis. They offer really cool activities like swimming with dolphins, snorkeling with stingrays, and more. Here we are at the aquarium fascinated by the sharks above head.

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I was all like “Mama, I made it!” Absolutely loved Atlantis. After this point (obviously) I couldn’t take any more pics because we had to lock our phones away in lockers. I took a swim in one of their many pools, sailed down the lazy river, and hit three major water slides. So much fun and an unforgettable experience. If you’re headed to Paradise Island, you MUST visit Atlantis.

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That about wraps up my weekend with the girls for our second Caribbean Crawl (Bahamas Edition). I had SO much fun and the best part is that my airfare to and from Nassau was really reasonably priced. I flew Jet Blue direct from JFK to Nassau and was able to score a great last-minute deal. For more travel tips, check out my post about My Dream Getaway Destinations & 3 Tips For Making Yours A Reality.

Have you ever been to the Bahamas? What were some of your must-see places to go and things to do? Leave me a comment!

#CaribbeanCrawl (Bahamas Edition) was sponsored in part by RIU Hotels and Motions Hair. All opinions expressed herein are my own and not those of the company.

My Summer Beach Getaway Essentials (2014 Edition)

st-lawrence-beach-apartmentsSummer time is all about soaking up sun, spending quality time outdoors and getting away from home! As you guys know from my countless travel stories, I absolutely love to get away. There are a few items I never leave home without when I’m headed on an excursion that includes the beach.

beach-getaway-beauty-essentialsWhether it’s close to home (I took baby Cadence on her first beach trip last weekend!) or far away (like my recent weekend trip to the Bahams), here are some tried & true beach getaway essentials I always pack:

1. Conditioner

motions-natural-texturesWhen I only have space in my carry-on or beach bag for ONE hair product, I always opt for a great conditioner. You can use it to detangle your hair, to protect it before swimming and to restore it afterward. It’s also perfect for co-washes.

travel-size-conditionerI put a little of this Motions Natural Textures Smoothing Conditioner into a clear travel size bottle for transport and voila! Just enough conditioner for a weekend trip.

If you have a little extra space, throw in a curl creme or pudding like Motions Hydrate My Curls Pudding.

2. Detangling Tool

tangle-teezerThe best time to detangle your hair is right out of the water when it’s still damp. Dentangling on dry hair is a nightmare. This Tangle Teezer makes life way easier. It detangles without the breakage and gets my curls in order so quickly.

3. Lightweight Face Moisturizer

olay-fresh-effectsWhen going away on a beach getaway, you want to pack moisturizers that are light and easily absorbed. Humidity and high temperatures can leave your skin super oily. I love this Olay Fresh Effects Hydrating Gel. I wrote a post about it here. It’s great for summer and also comes in sample/travel size.

4. Lightweight Body Lotion

aveeno-daily-moisturizing-lotionThe same goes for body lotion. I opt for something light and easily absorbed. This Aveeno Daily Moisturizing lotion is a classic and easily absorbed. This also comes in travel size if you can’t fit the full size in your bag.

babybrownsugar-aveeno-babyPardon this commercial interruption. Cadence wanted to tell you guys to always pack your sunscreen. And never leave home without your babies. Can’t wait till she has her little passport so I can bring her on my international excursions. Sunscreen by Aveeno Baby.

5. CC Cream

cc-cream-cover-fxI love two-in-one makeup products when headed beachside. Nothing too heavy. Tinted moisturizers, BB and CC creams are great if you want a light coverup after swim activities (I don’t wear this in the water). CoverFX CC Cream is my go-to. I blogged about it HERE and still going strong with this one.

6. Waterproof Eyeliner

stila-stay-all-dayEyeliner is a great, easy way to highlight your beautiful eyes. And I’ve found that I can throw it on with a little lipgloss for a polished makeup look. Opt for a waterproof formula if you’re planning to swim. This Stila Cosmetics Stay All Day Waterproof formula is perfect.

7. Lip Gloss

stila-lip-glazeLip gloss is normally my go-to over full on lipstick for the beach. Unless I’m planning to chill beachside without actually swimming (which happens sometimes), I opt for a sheer gloss with a hint of color. These Stila lip gloss colors are my faves.

stila-lip-glaze-wildberry-dazzleberryThe Wildberry is a nice sheer pink for daytime and the Dazzleberry is a little more intense with a hint of sparkle for statement lip looks. Both colors available in the Stila Color Me Glossy Lip Set ($28.00)

8. Travel Size Sunscreen & Hand Sanitizer

walgreens-productsIf you’re spending any time in the sun, you need sunscreen. And if you’re leaving your house, ever, you need hand sanitizer. I have a complete list of sunscreens that I’ll touch on in another post, but if you’re on the go and missed a few essentials like these, head to your local pharmacy like Walgreens to pick them up. Just don’t head to the beach without them.

Shop My Beach Getaway Essentials Below:

What are some of your beauty essentials for a beach getaway? Did I miss anything?

This post was sponsored in part by Motions Hair. All opinions expressed herein are my own and not those of the company.

Kickin’ It: 2014 Caribbean Crawl Recap

caribbean-crawlSo you guys know from some of my previous recaps like the NYFW Crawl and the NOLA Crawl that I tend to travel ALOT with my main squeezes –  Jessica of Glamazons BlogDanielle of The Style & Beauty Doc, and Lexi of Lexi With The Curls. Whenever we get together we always have an amazing time and earlier this month was no exception. I spent 3 lovely days in the Caribbean touring the beautiful island of Barbados. In my 10 Things To Do in Barbados post I highlighted all the top to-dos. In this post I’ll recap how much fun I had with the girls.

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