I'm Olivia, a lifestyle blogger and content creator! I'm a lover of fitness, fashion, cooking, and travel. I live in Chicago with my hubby and our 3 crazy pups. I've been blogging and creating for over 5 years. In these digital pages, you'll find content focused around lifestyle, travel, and wellness. Thanks for reading - I'm so happy you're here!




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Building A Home Gym On A Budget

Happppppy HUMP DAY! I cannot believe it’s September already. Byeeee Summer 🙁 Any other cold-weather friends get a heavy heart when the summer months end and you know that soon you won’t be able to feel your fingers when you step out to get the mail?

I actually love the festivities of fall and winter, but I’m sure they would be even more enjoyable in a warm weather state. Floridians, count your blessings 🙂

The purpose of this post is not weather related, so I’ll move on. Because I am frequently posting selfies in our home gym, (don’t judge me) I get asked a lot about what we have down there! As most of you know, both my hubby and myself work out from home, with the exception of running outside when my knee isn’t killing me.

I don’t necessarily have anything against the gym, it’s not just my jam. I don’t feel comfortable there, I don’t like to be around a bunch of sweaty people, I can’t walk around in my itty bitty shorts and sports bras, and I think exercise should be a source of focusing your mind and enjoyment, not something stressful or uncomfortable. So, for that reason, I choose to do my workouts at home. Plus, I like the structure of a program that tells me what to do, how to do it, and how long to do it. I have a tendency to skip the workouts I don’t like if I don’t have structure, and you know what that means? Ripped biceps and a lumpy ass. HA. But really.

We didn’t spend a lot of money on our home gym, however, if I had known how often I was going to post it on Instagram, I guess I might have made it a little classier. Our basement is unfinished, so we chose a little nook in the back and it works out perfectly.

building a home gym on a budget

If you’re putting a gym in where there is hard flooring, you’re going to want something soft for your feet to land on. We searched high and low for different floor mats, from having the industrial kind installed to the colored kind that little kids have in their playroom. They all seemed to cost a fortune, and none were really that comfortable. Our solution = anti-fatigue foam mats. They are about as comfortable as any other (note; you don’t want to bang your face off of any of those options, it won’t feel good) and we found ours at Harbor Freight for $7 with a coupon. We got 3 packages to have enough room to move around, and we just lined them up. You can see them here!

We painted the walls white – not necessary, but it brightens it up. We had to use Masonry paint since it’s in the basement, so your paint depends on WHERE your gym is going to be located. We also installed vinyl plank floors – again, really depends on if you need floors. If you were turning an extra bedroom into a gym, you’ve probably already got these two things covered.

Our mirror was probably the most expensive thing we ordered, but it’s SO worth it, and for the size, it’s a really good value. We ordered it through Gigantic Mirrors for $349, which also included delivery and installation. I don’t know how the heck you hang a 6′ x 8′ mirror on a cement wall, but I was glad they did it and we didn’t have to worry about it. The only downside is that it took a good month from the time we ordered to the time it was delivered, but we are really happy with the end result, so I would say it’s worth the wait.

If I were the only one using the gym, I would be perfectly content with my hand weights from Five Below. Yep, they have weights! They go up to 10 pounds, which may be all you need, depending on what program/workout you’re doing, and how strong you are (or plan to be!). Hubby, however, needed a big set of weights, so we ordered these adjustable dumbbells from Amazon. Again, not the cheapest thing in the world, but it does give us weights ranging from 5 pounds to 70 pounds. Definitely not necessary for most people unless you are super strong and an active lifter, so you can probably get away much cheaper. Ours are linked here, in case you’re wondering what we went with.

Hubby also wanted a weight bench. I’ve honestly never used it one time (maybe to take pictures on!) but he loves it. Definitely not a necessity, but if you have the space for it, it might make an impact in your lifting routines!

Have you heard of the TRX suspension trainer?! This thing is incredible. Since we don’t have a doorway in our nook, this takes the place of a pull-up bar, plus you can do SO many things with it. Another “extra” that certainly isn’t needed, but really fun to play around with. If you have a doorway available, you can get a pull up bar from Walmart for less than $30, so don’t feel like you need to invest in something like this to have an awesome home gym, but if you can, DO IT because it’s an amazing workout.

That pretty much sums up our gym. I use my laptop with me to play my workouts, and hubby either does what I’m doing with me or his own thing. A TV/projector would be a great investment, we have just been lazy about looking for what we want. However, that sounds like a great excuse to get out on Black Friday, so I think I’ll keep that in my back pocket for now.

*Quarantine Update*

This post is SUPER old, I know because I am not rocking those abs you see pictured above right now – because, #chicagodeepdish – but, this is a really weird time, and almost all of us are working out from home right now! Welcome to my world, friends! I’ve been doing home workouts since 2014, because honestly, I fell in love with the freedom to wear whatever, be whoever, and do whatever while I was sweating it out. Mid-squat dance party? Here for it!

Anyway, I know that so many are used to working out, outside of their homes, and trying to make it work right now. I wanted to share some of the tools I’ve been using to workout from home over the years. The items you see in the original post are still awesome – but we purchased all of those things when we lived in a big Ohio home, with a full basement that we could totally deck out!

Now, we live in a tiny city apartment that’s old and makes a lot of weird sounds when you jump around. Hubby has even put his foot through a floorboard, just simply walking around. And lots of our stuff just didn’t work here, so we had to make a few changes. Below, I’m sharing all the updates that we’re using in Chicago, so no matter where you’re at, hopefully you’ll find some ideas to improve your current quarantine-exercise situation.

Like I mentioned, the floor here is old and rickety, and we have human beings that live above us, so we wanted to lessen the noise and rattling from the jumping around (because your girl still loves HIIT workouts). This Gorilla Mat has been an incredible investment. And it is an investment, but it’s a game-changer. It’s huge, but incredibly easy to roll up and stuff in a closet. It’s thick, but it isn’t a squishy material that makes it difficult to jump. And it’s easy to clean – yesterday, I used the Swiffer on it.

We’re still using the same adjustable weights that we bought years ago, which just goes to show that it’s another great investment. Unfortunately, everyone decided to build a home gym at the same time, so most things are sold out. The ones we have are made by PowerBlock, found on Amazon, but they’re not available at the time of this update. However, you never know when Amazon updates items, so definitely keep checking if this is something you’re interested in.

I’m also loving loop resistance bands right now because they’re so easy to store in a drawer and grab quickly when needed. They take up zero space, and you get to decide how effective they are for you, simply by the amount of resistance you choose to use! I use the Beachbody Resistance Loops because they’re the only ones I’ve found that actually fit around my legs and wrists. Most others I’ve tried have been really wide loops, so I could only use them for back exercises. I can use these for all body parts!

Right before quarantine started, I was doing a ton of yoga at my fav studio, Core Power. So it was important to me to keep working on my strength and flexibility, which is why I’m so happy I have the FeetUp Trainer. It’s a small piece of furniture that hides in my closet, but helps maintain my yoga practice in a big way.

That pretty much covers the equipment, but I wanted to add a quick section about finding workouts to use during this time when you might not have a plan to follow.

I’ve been streaming my workouts through Beachbody On Demand for years, and I’ve got to tell you that they’re amazing. There’s a huge library that’s so diverse, and whatever you’re into, they probably have something you’ll enjoy. And the good news is that even if you don’t have a single piece of equipment, you’ll be able to find some kick-ass workouts. You can start with a 30 day free trial to test it out before you commit – and even once you do, it’s only $100 for the entire year. Get started here.

If you’re looking for some free options, Blogilates workout series are always amazing, and totally free. A local Chicago fit babe, Froyo to Fitness posts workouts live on her Instagram and offers a free at home workout guide.

I hope this helps as you navigate through this new version of normal while still getting your workouts in at home! If you have a favorite product or exercise platform that wasn’t mentioned here, please share below! I’m always looking for ways to make improvements to our set-up!

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Social Distancing

Social Distancing; Why It’s a Non-Negotiable

As a creator, sometimes I write blog posts and content that I know will do well; tutorials, clothing hauls, and how-to’s. And then there are times that I write about what no one wants to read because I have a responsibility to do so – this is one of those.

Staying in. Social distancing. Self-isolating. Being quarantined. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a term that won’t be quickly forgotten. I’m looking forward to watching one of those “decade rewind” shows and seeing all the Coronavirus memes that took over in 2020. I can’t wait until this becomes a topic for sketch comedy to say funny things like “remember when we all bought 6 months worth of toilet paper because we thought we were going to die.” But that day is not today.

Today, we’re all still stuck at home, wondering what’s going to happen next. But here’s what most people don’t realize: what happens next is directly affected by what each of us chooses to do right now.

I’m not a scientist or a doctor, and I won’t pretend to be. This virus doesn’t make any more sense to me than anyone else – but what does make sense to me is the guidance, suggestions, and now orders from the CDC and local governments to stay home.

Yesterday’s news hit me with a hard statistic to swallow: in order for us to flatten the curve, 50-70% of us need to be following the social distancing guidelines. When you open up your social media, are more than half of your friends at home staying in? Because while I have a lot of really committed, responsible friends – I also still see a swarm of friends boarding airplanes, discussing keeping their spring break plans, having “corona parties”, and more.

I’ve also seen a tons of posts asking “why we have to follow these guidelines if we’re young and healthy”? There’s even a few conspiracy theorists, questioning whether or not we’re making too big of a deal out of this.

Can I take a second to directly answer those questions, from a very non-scientific standpoint? Can I tell you what you need to hear right now?

I’m selfish – really selfish. I grew up as an only child, I’ve worked for myself, from home, for the past 6 years. If there’s anyone who understands playing by your own rules, it’s me. But this is the time to grow up and realize that the world is so much bigger than you. You have a responsibility, an obligation even, to look out for the other people in your society. That’s what it means to be a good human. 

You might be young and healthy, but your parents or grandparents might not be. This is a humbling reminder that we don’t know everything about everyone. Being immunocompromised doesn’t always look a certain way. It might be easy to pick out the elderly man who totes around his oxygen tank, but what about the woman who fought for her life in a battle with cancer? Her hair may have grown back, but her immune system might still be compromised. Do you know every person’s story? Because it’s very possible that your friends, neighbors, and even family members have experienced something that you don’t about; in fact, they might not even know about it. If Uncle Fred hates going to the doctor, how would you know if it’s really just “heartburn” or “gas”?

There’s a chance that your suspiscions are correct; that this virus won’t do you much harm personally, since you’re young and healthy. Side note; there’s also a chance you’re wrong, since world class scientists and doctors still haven’t learned all the data or details on this, but it’s your life, so it’s yours to gamble with. However, what’s not your is the life of someone’s parent. Their grandparent. Their best friend. Their sibling. Their son or daughter. Can you honestly say that you want to have a direct impact on someone’s physical well-being, potentially their life, because you didn’t want to miss your spring break trip?

Are we making too big of a deal out of this? There are over 10,000 people waking up this morning without their loved ones who would probably say no, no we’re not. They’re not staying in their homes today because of obligation or quarantine; they’re staying in to grieve.

The rest of us should count ourselves lucky that the only thing we have to say goodbye to is our weekend and travel plans. It took me a long time to learn that pretending something doesn’t exist doesn’t make it go away. This is where we’re at right now – it’s not the year that any of us would have hoped for, but it’s here none-the-less. Here in Chicago, the restaurants and bars have been closed for almost a week. Last night, all of California was ordered to “shelter-in-place”, (which means they should only be leaving their homes for necessities). Even if you disregard all of the medical statistics and still don’t believe this virus can affect you and your loved ones, the lawmakers do. I mentioned that statistic earlier; 50-70% of Americans need to comply with social distancing in order for us, and more importantly, the lawmakers, to see positive results. If we don’t, we’ll continue to see more steps being taken. This time can be spent positivity and doesn’t need to be stretched out.

Even if you don’t know someone who’s sick, elderly, or immunocompromised, we all know someone that wants to live their life normally again. That someone is probably you. The longer we see groups of people not complying with social distancing, the longer this goes on. It’s March – for most of us, it’s still cold, rainy, snowy, and boring anyway. But spring is officially here, and all the fun you’ve been waiting for all winter is on the horizon.

The coming months are typically filled with proms, graduations, weddings, family vacations, festivals, parades, baseball games, cook-outs, picnics, and reunions. Please, stay inside now so that we can all get out and enjoy those things soon.

Our local businesses depend on the support of their consumers, and right now, supporting them means staying inside. Each day that our favorite restaurants have to remain closed is a day without profit for them. Every day that your stylist – who’s taken care of you every time you decided you wanted to “color your own hair” – can’t work is a day that they might not be able to pay their rent. Companies can’t afford to pay their mortgages without generating earnings, so they’re letting go of your friends and family.

To those of you who are making huge sacrifices and tough choices right now, I see you. I have a friend who cancelled her wedding, and another who postponed her honeymoon. I know people that haven’t seen their elderly family members in weeks. To the moms who are re-learning math all while keeping your kids entertained, scrubbing crayon off the wall, and cooking dinner – you are making an impact; hang in there.

This isn’t a time for selfishness. If you approach this is in the right light, you’ll be reminded of how amazing it is that our world functions so well together. We need each other, and right now, we need each other more than ever. This isn’t a message of panic; there’s no need to be afraid. This is a call to intentional action. Please, please, stay home. Cancel your gathering. Postpone your trip. Wash your hands. Remember that everyone loves someone. Just because it’s not your someone that needs support right now doesn’t mean it won’t be one day soon. Show up now… and by that, I mean don’t show up, anywhere

Chicago Skydeck

10 Common Questions About Being an Influencer; Answered

Influencer is kind of a blanket term, and one that I don’t particularly love, but I think it’s also the most commonly used term to describe digital content creators (bloggers, Youtubers, etc.) A few years ago, before I started using my own social platforms for something other than sharing photos of my dogs, I would scroll past bloggers and influencers, with their beautiful, slightly-too-orange-to-be-natural photos and giant LV bags and wonder how they heck they did it. And what the heck it even was.

Fast forward to now, where so much has changed, and almost all of my influencer questions have been answered by years of my own experience. So, if you’re asking questions like: “How do you get your pics to look so bright and airy?” or “How do you always have new photos to share? I don’t have enough time to get ready once, let alone every day!” and the always-a-mystery,
“How do you get invited to fun events? No one ever reaches out to me!” then you are not alone. I think in order to understand the industry, you have to truly spend time behind the scenes, and even then, it’s forever changing and morphing.

Maybe your goals don’t include becoming a virtual voice, but you’re simply curious about all details behind the life of a digital creator? Well, I can’t speak for all of us, but I can share some of the things that I’ve learned over the past 5 years.

Please know that I’m not criticizing or judging any of the things on this list – honestly, I’ve done most, if not all, of them. And I’m not even writing this so much to focus on the following “secrets” as much as I’m hoping to offer a change of perspective.

My goal is for this post to serve as a look behind the curtain for everyone who’s ever felt insecure, not good enough, or trapped under the weight of comparison while scrolling. Every industry has many layers that aren’t visible upon first or second glance, so here’s a little more about mine!

The following list comes from questions I get asked frequently, or questions that I had when I first got started. They’re only based on my personal experiences and perspective, so if you have a favorite creator, feel free to ask them their own take on any of these topics!

I never start a video without opening the box beforehand.

I know, this is a silly one, but it’s one that I always think, this is such a ruse, as I’m pre-cutting the box and closing the flaps again, before pulling out my phone to re-open those flaps as if this were the first time I’m seeing it all.

To be fair, this isn’t meant to be deceitful as much as it’s simply easier. Holding a phone in one hand that I’m trying to use to record a steady video while using the other hand to cut open packaging tape and undo things is just too hard. There you have it – secret number 1: most of my unboxings are pre-opened. I promise, they get more interesting than this.

Purchasing likes & followers is a very real thing.

Sure, she may have written something amazing or taken a photo that was basically art, but she might also buy her followers or pay a service to interact with people for hours while the rest of us are sleeping, or working another job, or just believing in the balance of life and catching up on Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.

There’s plenty of ways that people gain a big following; some are organic and based on creating a true connection to a community of people, and others are built by methods like follow/unfollow, like for like, and an endless amount of giveaways. I think everyone develops their own beliefs in regards to this. It’s not wrong to build a following this way – it is a business, after all – but just know that it’s not always as simple as “she’s amazing, so a million people follow her. No one follows me, so I must suck.”

Lots of photos are shot all in one day or setting.

This is probably the one that blows the most minds when I talk about it. Again, I can’t speak for what anyone else does, but 95% of my photos/videos are shot days/weeks/months in advance. Here’s why:

  • Most days, I’m lucky if I brush my teeth. The thought of doing my hair and makeup daily in order to shoot content exhausts me.
  • I don’t always have a photographer. My husband shoots the majority of my photos for me, and I’m 100% sure he would leave me, or at least loathe me, if we had to go out on a little “photo shoot adventure” (as he puts it) every day.
  • Most brands require approval for collaborated/sponsored posts . This means that the photo and content need to be submitted days/weeks before they’re actually shared in order to get feedback and make any requested updates.

When I do have plans to shoot content – meaning I’ve actually showered, put my face on, convinced and collected my husband, and set foot out of the house – I’m in it to win it. I typically pack a bag full of clothes with a few accessories and switch outfits multiple times. If you think I’m wasting a fresh wash and a makeup wipe without getting at least a week’s worth of images, you’re crazy.

If you don’t wash your hair for 8 days, you’re still wearing yesterday’s makeup, or you haven’t taken off the same leggings – okay, no need to pretend to be fancy; they’re sweatpants – don’t feel bad. Me neither – no matter what you see in my stories/feed today.

This was shot…
..on the same day as this.
And this.
I don’t buy/own all the clothes in my photos.

I joke with my friends and family that once something’s been on Instagram, I won’t wear it again. That’s only partially true; I’ll wear it over and over again in the real world, but I won’t wear it when I’m shooting content or going somewhere that I know I’ll want to post the photos from.

That means I’m cycling through a lot of clothes. They come from all different sources; some are gifted in exchange for tags on Instagram. Others are borrowed from friends, or Rent The Runway. If they are purchased items, most are re-sold or donated.

After I wear something for photos, if it’s not something I have a need for, or that I’ll wear regularly, I typically list it on re-sell sites like Mercari or Poshmark (you can click the links to find me there!). I just don’t have a need for so many clothes, especially with our major lack of space right now, and often times, it provides someone else with an outfit they love at a fraction of the price.

I also find a lot of pieces at thrift stores that I typically just re-donate because the cost of each item is so low. I never post/tag items that I don’t love, but for me, it’s not reasonable to believe that I can post 300+ new photos each year and hang on to all of that clothing!

entire thrift store outfit
Las Vegas Vacation Travel Guide
sold on Poshmark immediately after
Lots of products, meals, and experiences are gifted.

In this day and age, there aren’t very many feelings worse than FOMO, amiright?? And when you scroll through social, it can often feel like the ladies behind your fav accounts are literally always doing something, yea? If you’re thinking that they must be super rich to be able to afford all the things they’re always doing, just know that there’s a chance at least some of those things were gifted.

Often times, local businesses or attractions will gift influencers a product or tickets/admission to an experience or event in exchange for photos, reviews, recommendations, and exposure. I don’t mean to say that the influencer doesn’t believe in the product or doesn’t work hard to create great content around it; if they’re good business partners and care about their followers, they do. And spending time creating content is a form a payment; it’s just a different type.

jack's pumpkin pop-up chicago
gifted experience
frosty's christmas bar chicago
gifted experience
For every good photo, there’s at least 10 terrible ones you don’t see.

Have you seen it? The new photo on her feed? The one where she has the perfect mix of smiling and laughing, while doing an epic hair toss, and that sun flare that came in at just the right moment?

You know the photos I’m talking about, right? We’ve all seen them; the ones that just look effortless. The truth is, those types of images are typically the exact opposite of effortless. When you see a photo that looks easy, please know that that’s a sign of 2 things; a great photographer and an influencer who’s willing to work hard on their brand.

Last week, my husband and I went out to shoot some content; I brought 2 outfits with me. When we got home, I had 400+ images on the camera to look through, and from that, my goal was to have 4-6ish photos to post. I don’t math well, but I’m pretty sure that means I only share around .01% of my photos. The ones where I’m: making a ridiculous face, have food in my teeth, have a breakout that’s too difficult to hide, am angled the wrong way and don’t like my stomach, trying my hardest to make a cute face and end up looking like a serial killer, etc… Those photos are never seen. We all have pictures like that. You’re not ugly, you’re not not-photogenic, you’re just human. I promise, if you take 400 photos of yourself, you’ll find at least a few that you like, too.

The one you saw on the feed
The one where it looks like I’m a dead body… featuring my husband’s feet
Almost nothing is posted unedited.

The reason your favorite influencer’s gram has the perfect aesthetic is because of game-changing software and apps that take photos that are too dark, too bright, too dull, or too intense, and transforms them into the beautiful photos that we get to scroll through.

A few years ago, it used to be that only photographers and those who knew how to use that software could edit photos this way, but now apps like Lightroom, Facetune, and VSCO have made it possible for anyone to make changes to their images without much of a learning curve. Presets are also available for purchase, which gives an Instagram feed or photo gallery a cohesive feel.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I personally never post a photo that’s completely unedited to my feed. Never. Like it’s been years. You’d have to scroll back to mid 2018 to find one.

Editing is a huge part of the art of photography. In my opinion, the photo isn’t complete until it’s edited, so it’s completely normal for photos to be enhanced through software. But I feel like I need to point out that I don’t live in a bubble of perfect sunlight, that my skin isn’t always clear, and that I’ve edited food out of my teeth more times than I’d like to admit. What you see on the feed might not be how it looked in real life; and that’s okay. It’s just important to understand that when you’re tempted to pull up the comparison lens.

Before editing..
Chicago Skydeck
..and after
Creating digital content is a lot of work.

I’m not complaining; I love what I do. The fact that we live in a time where humans can create, share, inspire, support, collaborate, and earn a living from doing so is nuts – in a good way. But it’s not easy or effortless. It takes a consistent commitment and dedication in order to be successful. It’s still a lot of work, just in a more unconventional sense.

Creators might not be tied to a desk, but they’re often glued to their phones. Their days might not start at 7 AM, but they rarely end at 5 PM. There’s probably no HR department to answer to, but there’s usually some comments and messages highlighting a difference of opinion, to put it nicely.

Your favorite influencer has worked hard to earn the benefits and perks that might feel easy or even assumed in a 15 second Insta story.

When your creator friends say they’re tired, they mean it. Every job has aspects that make it exhausting, no matter how much you enjoy it. This is no different.

I hope this sheds some light on the “industry”, and reminds you that you’re only seeing the finished product. I love social media – it’s allowed me to build a brand, make incredible connections, build relationships, earn a living doing something I enjoy, gives me a platform to share my thoughts, words, and images that would otherwise go unnoticed, and so much more. But, it can be a breeding ground for comparison and self-doubt. My hope is that you can scroll just a little bit easier now, knowing that although each creator is unique, original, and crazy-talented, the person you see through a feed isn’t perfect.

Las Vegas Vacation Travel Guide

Everything You Need to Know Before Your Las Vegas Vacation

I’ve been to a lot of really great destinations, but there’s something about Las Vegas that I just absolutely love.

Contrary to popular belief, Vegas isn’t all strip clubs, gambling, and parties. There’s definitely some of that, and if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll be sure to find it. But there’s so many other incredible aspects to explore, so even if getting super drunk and clubbing isn’t your thing (anymore), don’t write off a trip to LV just yet.

From the amazing food scene created by world-class chefs, to the performances that will leave you mind-blown, I’ve found one of the most diverse cultures in Las Vegas. Well, there’s nothing else to do but get into this travel guide, so let’s do it!

Getting There

Getting to Vegas is so easy and convenient – almost every airline offers non-stop flights at all hours of the day. I’ve personally found that the 2 best airlines for Vegas travel are Southwest and Spirit. Here’s why: Southwest Vacations are a combination deal for your flight + hotel. They’re often able to give a pretty big discount on staying somewhere really nice. So if I have a particular hotel in mind that I want to stay at, I always check the Southwest Vacations packages first.

If I don’t have somewhere specific I want to stay, I typically book my flight with Spirit Airlines. Yes, it’s definitely an economy airline. However, I’ve never paid more than $70 for a flight to Las Vegas, and I’ve gotten deals as low as $39. So, it sometimes does pay to stuff everything in a backpack, or bite the bullet to pay for the additional $30 in baggage fees, and buy a water before getting on the plane.

I’ve found that using Lyft ($5 off your first ride!) is often the easiest and cheapest way to get from the airport. It’s also really convenient to get around the city, but if you’re staying on the Strip, it’s very walkable.

Staying There

First things first; there aren’t many bad hotels in Las Vegas. If you’re staying anywhere on the Strip, you’ll notice that competition is high, and most hotels are doing everything they can to get people to choose them. Because there’s so much competition, there’s a lot of hotel deals at any given time.

I already mentioned using Southwest Vacations, but I’ll put that note here again, because I’ve found some really great packages.

If I choose to book my flights and hotel separately, my favorite hotel booking site is Priceline. Here’s my favorite little travel hack, but it only works if you don’t mind which hotel you’ll be staying in. I actually enjoy booking this way, because it allows me to stay in different places.

Here’s what you do. Pull up the Express Deals section in either the priceline app, or on the website. Type in your location and dates, and hit search. On the left side of the page, you’ll find the filters. If you know the area you want to stay, you can check the boxes. For example; if you want to stay on the strip, but you don’t mind where, you can check each section of the strip (southeast, southwest, etc.). It will then pull up all the deals without giving you the hotel name. You’ll see the stars that the hotel’s been given, and the amenities. You’ll also see the cost of the hotel at full price, without the express deal, so basically, what you would be paying. Here’s an example:

In a separate tab, open Priceline again, and instead of using the express deals section, you’ll want to use the regular hotels booking section. Type in your location and date again, and hit search. Now, go over to the filters on the left side and check the boxes that match the hotel deal you’re considering. Based on this example, you’d want to check The Strip – Southwest and 5 Star. Once the filters are applied, you’ll see the list become smaller, and from there, you can compare the original price. Here’s another example:

You can see that Vdara Hotel matches all the same details as the Express Deal, including the original price. Of course, this isn’t guaranteed, but it is a way to book an undisclosed hotel with at least a pretty good idea of where you might be staying.

Eating There

This is my favorite section of all my travel guides, but even more so for this one, because Las Vegas has incredible food.

Breakfast/Brunch – Before our first trip, someone told me about the buffets, and I didn’t think much of it. But then we arrived, and we went to a brunch buffet, and it was everything. Even if you’re not a huge buffet person, you will love the experience. There’s so many different cuisines to try, and they’re all delightful. Each hotel has their own, and you can often get a better price by checking Groupon or going on a weekday versus the weekend. Best Brunch Buffet: Aria

If I can’t sell you on the buffets, here’s a list of some other breakfast/brunch restaurants that will not disappoint.

Grand Luxe Cafe (inside of the Venetian) – they have a small, continental style buffet, but their menu is also really great. *Rec – Grand Luxe Cafe French Toast

Hexx (outside of Paris hotel) – the perfect patio, and you can see the Bellagio Fountain show every 30 minutes while eating brunch! *Rec – Carrot Cake Pancakes

Eggslut (Cosmopolitan) – a quick order breakfast restaurant that makes simple, but delicious egg sandwiches. *Rec – Sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich (without the sausage for me!)

Carrot Cake Pancakes Hexx Las Vegas

I don’t typically eat lunch because the breakfast/brunch options are massive, so I’ll move on to dinner, but a lot of the options below would work for lunch as well.

Holsteins (Cosmopolitan) – burgers and fries – really good ones. *Rec – The Classic with sweet potato fries.

Gordon Ramsay Burger (Planet Hollywood) – more burgers, more fries, more goodness. *Rec – Backyard Burger with sweet potato fries.

Trevi (Caesars) – the cutest Italian restaurant with “outdoor seating” next to the fountain. *Rec – Margherita Pizza or Raviolla Alla Vodka.

STK (Cosmopolitan) – this is a pricey dinner option, but it’s so worth it if you’re up for the splurge.

Tao (Venetian) – an asian restaurant that also doubles as a night club. It’s super dark and swanky inside, and the food is amazing. *Rec – Spicy Tuna Roll or Pad Thai

Flour & Barley (The Linq Promenade) – a walkup pizza window with huge slices. Perfect for lunch, dinner, or middle-of-the-night snacks.

Other favorites:

O’Sheas Bar (the Linq Promenade) – the absolute best frozen drink on the planet is located here; Frozen Baileys. It’s only served at O’sheas outdoor bar. Please make this a part of your trip, because I would travel to LV for this drink alone.

Milk Bar (Cosmopolitan) – cookies and ice cream; enough said, right? *Rec – Cereal Milk soft serve.

Flamingo Las Vegas Brunch Buffet

Playing There

Gambling isn’t the only thing to do in Vegas, but if you’re into it, it’s a really fun way to spend the days (and nights!) I’m a big fan of Blackjack tables and the Wheel of Fortune slot machines. Every casino has more to see and play than you could imagine, so I definitely recommend roaming around and checking out multiple places, unless you find somewhere that you’ve hit a lucky streak.

Definitely sign up for the players cards at each, because you often get welcome bonuses, like $20 of free playing cash or something fun. It’s nothing big, but it’s worth the 2 seconds it takes to input your info!

Las Vegas Casino Tips

People watching and touring the Strip is a form of entertainment in itself. There are so many street performers to see, but be sure you have cash if you plan to interact with them, because they definitely work for tips!

One of my favorite people to watch is the artist outside of the Flamingo/Linq hotels in the promenade. He has EDM music blaring and he creates art using spray paint and crumpled up paper. He sells the images that he’s created right there. Whether you buy something or not, it’s worth stopping by to catch a few minutes of the experience.

Las Vegas is full of free shows, so you don’t have to spend a ton of money to experience the grand displays and performances. Some must-see shows: the Fountains at the Bellagio, the Conservatory and Botanical Gardens inside the Bellagio, the Volcano at the Mirage, and The Fall of Atlantis at Caesars Forum Shops.

Caesars Forum Shops

If you do want to spend some money on entertainment, there’s an abundance of shows that will leave your mind blown. Cirque Du Soleil has 7 different shows scattered across the Strip. There are tons of other performances, including magic shows, dancing, dogs; pretty much everything you can image. *Recs – Absinthe (Caesars) and Mystère (Treasure Island).

In the summer, one of my favorite things to do is spend my days at the pools and day clubs. Each hotel has their own pool, and if you’re not a guest, there’s a fee to use the pool. I definitely suggest checking out the pools at the hotels you’re considering before booking, because it’s a huge added bonus to stay somewhere with an incredible set up. Some of my favorites are Mandalay Bay, Caesars, and the Cosmopolitan.

Recreational dispensaries are legal in Vegas, and to each their own, but a quick stop here always makes my trips a little more fun. My favorite is MedMen off the Strip. There’s several stores that have a delivery service as well, if you want your purchases to be hand-delivered.

There are so many more tips and tidbits to make your Las Vegas vacation the best trip ever, but hopefully this is a good start! If you have any questions, feel free to comment below and I’ll do my best to share anything I’ve learned from my own trips there!