5 Questions with Travel Expert Mary Cecchini

Where do we begin? Mary Cecchini has been a colleague, mentor, inspiration and most importantly a dear friend to all of us at Soda Pop PR for many years. How could you not love a girl who makes it a point to create a life bucket list and cross off everything on it?

In September 2014, Mary launched Living Big, a travel company dedicated to crafting unique trips for small groups of women who have a passion to see the world, make new friends and indulge in new experiences. Her inaugural Living Big trip was to Costa Rica where she led a group of nine women zip lining through the jungle, trekking through mountains, cooking traditional Costa Rican cuisine and more. We highly recommend visiting her site to learn more about upcoming adventures including Switzerland in June and Spain in August.

We asked Mary to share some of her holiday and international travel advice in our latest 5 Questions Series. Enjoy!

Safe travels,

SPPR

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1. If you could travel anywhere in the world for New Year’s Eve where would you go and why?

New Year’s Eve is always a really reflective time for me.  I use the holiday to reflect on successes and learnings from the past year and an opportunity to plan adventures for the year to come. So, I generally look for a quiet place to be among friends with delicious food and drinks to ring in the New Year. That being said, I’ll hop on a plane any day to ring in the New Year with either a glass of raki in a hot air balloon in Cappadocia, Turkey; yoga at sunrise on the beach in Nosara, Costa Rica; a small café in Paris overlooking the Eiffel Tower, or listening to a Spanish guitarist while sipping sangria and snacking on pintxos in San Sebastian, Spain.

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2. What’s one piece of advice you would give travelers to prepare for holiday and winter travel?

If winter weather has delayed or is likely to cancel your flight, be proactive in finding solutions for yourself. Rather than just wait in line with everyone else to get help from the ticketing agent be prepared to jump on the phone or start an online chat with your airline’s customer service department to get help. They can often help you faster than the ticketing agent at the counter. Ask about alternative cities you can fly through to reach your final destination. And if you’re in this situation, don’t even attempt to check luggage. The likelihood of your luggage making all your connections, especially last minute ones, is pretty low when crazy winter weather is in the mix!

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3. What is the best way to fight jetlag?

The best way to fight jetlag is to get your body accustomed to the local time as soon as possible. The classic example is it’s 9AM and you just landed in Europe. DO NOT try to take a nap and then wake back up. That’s a great band-aid, but what you’re really doing is prolonging the affects of jetlag. Have a plan to keep yourself awake: drop your bags at your hotel and then go on a guided walking tour, create an experience that you’re really looking forward to (and will keep you stimulated) such as a trek to the top three spots in the city to try an Irish Coffee. And when the time comes to fall asleep (when you know you’ll sleep through the night) set your alarm so you wake up the next morning at 8AM. You’ll be spry and awake (like a local) in no time.

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4. What is one hidden gem destination you’ve come across throughout your travels? 

Built onto the side of the mountains 5,000 feet up is a small rösti house called Berggasthaus Aescher Guesthouse. In the Appenzell region of Switzerland, this place is unlike any corner of the world I’ve visited. It’s an epic journey to get there, full of trains, cable car lifts, hiking along the edge of a cliff, through a cave and past a 400 year-old church used by hermit monks; but once you’re there the warmth of owners Claudia and Benny, the amazing mountain views and their out of this world rösti (a traditional Swiss potato dish) will make the journey worth your while.

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5. Any tips on how to find a local favorite or undiscovered restaurant in a new city?

Hands-down: talk to locals. I’ll often ask the hotel concierge or my airbnb host if there are ‘must-eat’ restaurants in the city that require advanced reservations. Also, spend some time reviewing the international message boards on Chowhound.com. Once I’m in the city I’ll ask people I meet at the local coffee shop or tour guides for their go-to place to try the local specialty. And as you walk around pay attention to restaurants that are full of locals vs. tourists. Always ask for the house specialty. Walk well beyond the core tourist area. And please, skip restaurants that have menus with pictures and don’t be afraid of menus that aren’t in English. With a combination of these tips you’re likely to experience an undiscovered corner of the city and a meal you’ll remember for years to come.

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Living Big

For more of Mary’s travel tips you can find her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

The Importance of Taking a Break

Yesterday, my friend and I had a conversation about traveling when you have a demanding job. She is itching to travel abroad but is worried that she doesn’t have enough vacation time or that her company will not approve her time off. In the same conversation, she mentioned needing to move outside her comfort zone to be inspired and take stock at what she really wants to do with her life. My first thought: TRAVEL. NOW. DO IT!

I should admit I’m a bit of a hypocrite. I didn’t travel abroad or take a proper vacation until I was 35. That’s not entirely true. I did take time off for my honeymoon but I was in between jobs and didn’t have to worry about coming back to a full inbox and a laundry list of to-dos. Now that I’ve traveled abroad, I realize how important it is to experience different cultures and slow down a bit – especially in a fast-paced and creative field like Public Relations.

This blog was originally slated to be a recap of my recent vacation including my recommendations for food, culture, and shopping in Paris, Florence and Rome. But, my friend’s concerns got me thinking about how many other professionals out there have the same concerns. So instead, I put together a list of things to consider the next time you make excuses instead of travel plans.

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(This was about a week into my recent vacation. Yes, the lighting was delicious but that glow is also the result of a proper break.)

1. Time off is good for your health: Studies show that vacations are just as important as exercise. They help cure burnout and chronic stress that’s epidemic in today’s 24-7 culture. The catch, it takes two weeks to take full advantage of these recuperative benefits. If two weeks away sounds like crazy talk, consider traveling during slow periods. I like to travel during Thanksgiving when things tend to slow down in the media world. It’s also the perfect time to travel to Paris and Italy if you like to avoid crowds and travel on a budget like I do.

2. Time off refuels your work: For me, this is reason enough to travel. My livelihood is based on staying fresh and creative. Visiting cities like Paris, Florence and Rome and truly immersing myself in the culture of these cities – touring the Louvre, seeing the David and St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time, spending the day learning more about The Roman Forum and Colosseum, eating gelato, pasta and drinking wine daily – jolted my creative thinking.

3. You’re not alone: Even though it was a client that originally pushed me to start traveling abroad, one of the most unnerving aspects of taking a vacation is letting my clients know I’ll be away. But that’s why you work in teams. I’m very fortunate to have a team that is willing to put in extra hours or take on more responsibility while I’m away. It helps to build vacations into our plans at least three months ahead of time to be extra prepared. In the end, your teams and clients will benefit from your renewed energy and perspective post-break.

Safe travels,

Dyan

5 Reasons You Should Visit Nicaragua

Our very own Carley Rudd recently traveled to Nicaragua and returned home with nothing but rave reviews for a country that is emerging as the new “must see” destination in Central America. Here she shares five of the top reasons you should add Nicaragua to your 2015 travels:

1. Untapped natural beauty

Much of Nicaragua’s land has been beautifully preserved, leaving lush jungle rainforests, deserted beaches and dozens of volcanoes, rivers and lakes. This reason alone is worth visiting.

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2. Beaches and surfing

Although Costa Rica has dominated the surf tourism in Central America, Nicaragua offers up excellent conditions without the crowds. Just north of San Juan Del Sur, Playa Maderas is one of the most popular surfing beaches with serene white sandy beaches and consistent surf for beginners to pros.

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3. Colors

Nicaragua is bursting with color, from their old colonial architecture, to the local fashion, art and the indigenous flora and fauna. One of my favorite days was spent wandering the streets of Grenada, the oldest colonial city of Nicaragua filled with beautiful Spanish architecture and bright colorful buildings.

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4. Ceviche and coffee

It’s impossible to leave Nicaragua without becoming a ceviche-lover. Nicaraguan ceviche is made with local raw fish, onion, peppers, lime juice and cilantro. So fresh and delicious! And the coffee, some of the best I’ve had. Café Las Flores is Nicaragua’s top coffee producer and has been in the family for over three generations.

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5. Off the beaten path adventures

The activities are endless for anyone looking for a fun adventure and include everything from hiking up and ash-boarding down volcanoes, zip-lining, kayaking, surfing and more!

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A few of my favorite places:

Be adventurous! You never know what you might find.

-Carley

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For more of Carley’s photos be sure to check out her Instagram @carleyscamera and visit her website: www.carleyrudd.com.

SPPR Gives Thanks Series Featuring Sarah Dubbeldam

Before we sit down to the big feast tomorrow, we’re thrilled to introduce the fourth and final edition of our SPPR Gives Thanks Series with Sarah Dubbeldam, the owner and Editor in Chief of Darling Magazine.

Darling is one of our favorite sources of inspiration for photography, style and wisdom. Sarah embodies the #DarlingMovement with grace, inspiring women to create positive change and see the raw and natural beauty of being a modern woman.

We are thankful for all the truly exceptional women who have participated in our SPPR Gives Thanks Series. Happy Thanksgiving!

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1. Name one item you use on a daily basis that you appreciate most. How does it contribute to your quality of life?

My journal. Recording my daily musings, questions, thoughts and prayers is what keeps me grounded. Also, when I look back upon the pages, it shows me where I’ve grown, and this makes me thankful for my journey and where I’ve been and who I’m becoming.

2. What local restaurant are you most grateful for?

Figaro in Los Feliz. I am obsessed with Paris, and it’s a French bistro that makes you feel like you are literally in France. Even the servers have French accents and it has a great happy hour = perfection.

3. Can you share a piece of advice that you are grateful to have received?

My friend Bob Goff says to always be humble, no matter what—no matter how big your “platform” gets—always be available for people and never aloof, and remember where you started. This is a constant test for my own heart—do I consider others as just as important and successful as me no matter what, and act accordingly in-person and on social media?

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4. What is one thing you can’t live without on your Thanksgiving table?

Cranberry sauce, even the gross canned stuff, haha!

5. Who would you like to give thanks to this year?

My staff at Darling. Seriously, all of them are the kindest, most beautiful women I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. They pour their heart and soul into this vision and it wouldn’t be what it is without each and every one of them.

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Follow Darling Magazine on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Find Sarah on Instagram and Twitter.

SPPR Gives Thanks Series Featuring Whitney Leigh Morris

For the third edition of our SPPR Gives Thanks Series, please welcome the uber talented designer and creative director, Whitney Leigh Morris! Whitney has been recognized for her design work by all of our favorites, One Kings LaneDesign SpongeApartment Therapy, and Good Housekeeping, just to name a few.

Whitney’s impeccable style is an inspiration to many and her genuine kindness is infectious. Coming from someone who lives in the most beautiful little Venice cottage, she reminds us that it’s the little things in life that matter the most.

We hope you enjoy this peek into her life, the lovely cottage she calls home and her adorable pup Stanlee (who makes regular appearances on her Instagram @whitneyleighmorris).

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1. Name one item you use on a daily basis that you appreciate most. How does it contribute to your quality of life?

Can a home count as an “item” if it’s super tiny?? I appreciate and adore my cottage every moment of my life. It provides me with everything I need and love, and then some– all in 362 square feet. It’s where I conduct most of my work, and where I spend the majority of my down time with my finance, Adam, and our dog, Stanlee. It contributes to my quality of life by reminding me that I don’t need to live large to live beautifully. It proves to me that the less I own, the more I can focus on what matters most in my life.

Styling Stanlee

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2. What local restaurant are you most grateful for?

A dive bar/restaurant just off the Venice Boardwalk. It’s where I first set eyes on my future husband. That moment was one of the most honest, crazy and overwhelming I’ve ever experienced, and I love that it happened in the heart of Venice Beach. (But I’ll refrain from naming the place— frankly, it’s not very good. Now I feel horrible for having said that…)

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3. Can you share a piece of advice that you are grateful to have received?

A long-term client and friend of mine once gave me some precious advice, which applies to those of us whose work and personal lives are thoroughly blended together. When you wake up in the morning, take a moment to breathe and just be. When possible, hold off on checking your phone or turning on your computer– most things can wait another thirty minutes. Take some time to appreciate your partner, your kids, your pets and/or your environment. Be good to yourself– brush your teeth, drink a glass of lemon water, stretch, take a walk, listen to music. Enjoy these little things first and foremost every day before being drawn in by your to-do list. Otherwise, the next thing you know, it’s 4:00, you’ve yet to get dressed, and you can’t even remember kissing your family members goodbye as you parted ways for the day.

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4. What is one thing you can’t live without on your Thanksgiving table?

It’s not about what’s on the table– it’s the people around it. (I know! I know! Cue the eye roll! But it’s so true, isn’t it?) I’ve spent every Thanksgiving of my life with my family. I’m grateful beyond words and can’t believe how lucky I am to share the holiday with them every year. (Having said that, I will admit to loving a nice glass of red wine…)

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5. Who would you like to give thanks to this year?

Pretty much everyone: Strangers who have offered kind support of my business via outlets such as Instagram. My fiancé, who is patient with my overbearing work schedule and perfectionism. My parents, who gave me the world and yet still find more to give me every day via unflinching support and love. And my friends, who are the most incredible, good-hearted, talented, and selfless unicorns.

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Whitney Leigh Morris and Stanlee in the Tiny Canal Cottage September 2014

For more information on Whitney visit her website, www.whitneyleighmorris.com and follow her on Instagram @whitneyleighmorris.

(Photos courtesy of Whitney’s Instagram and One Kings Lane)

SPPR Gives Thanks Series Featuring Rebecca and Sarah Simms

Welcome to the SPPR Give Thanks Series part deux. This week we’re excited to introduce the talented sister duo behind Wylie West Creative and La Femme Epicure, Rebecca and Sarah Simms! These twin sisters not only seem to complement each other perfectly in life, but in their business ventures as well. We have so much respect for creatives who make a living doing what they love to do and are so very thankful to have had the opportunity to work with Sarah and Rebecca on a recent event for our client QUIN (see the event recap here!).

Rebecca runs a full-service creative studio offering everything from art direction, event decor, styling, photography and more. With accolades from Martha Stewart Weddings, Wedding Chicks and The Kitchn, her work speaks for itself.

Sarah is a successful private chef here in Los Angeles. She has a strong belief in sourcing seasonal and locally grown foods, and makes ridiculously tasty dishes. She received her culinary arts degree from Le Cordon Bleu and is also a certified sommelier. You’ll definitely want to check her out on Instagram too as Marie Claire and Harpers Bazaar recently dubbed her one of the ten “chicest food-obsessed instagrammers to follow”.

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1. Name one item you use on a daily basis that you appreciate most. How does it contribute to your quality of life?

Rebecca: Shout Wipes. Hands down most appreciated thing in my arsenal. I keep them in my purse, desk, glove box, you name it…I use them to stay presentable and I hand them out to total strangers in need – Shout Wipes give me the chance to be a hero on a daily basis.

Sarah: My bed sheets. For real though. Just this past year I invested in some better-than average sheets and it was a serious game changer. When I considered just how precious my sleep time was each day, I wanted to invest in it! I now have a space that evokes peace, comfort and clarity and it’s the absolute best environment to be in when I am starting and ending each day.

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(Wylie West Creative + La Femme Epicure décor for our QUIN #CandyisMagic event)

2. What local restaurants are you most grateful for?

Rebecca: Bay Cities Italian Deli….Sandwich game is so strong.

Sarah: My family’s restaurant, The Kettle, in Manhattan Beach. It has been family run and operated for over 40 years (we like to call it “The Mothership”). We have several other newer and trendier restaurants but The Kettle is a thing of beauty. Located just a couple blocks from the ocean, it’s the true definition of a neighborhood restaurant. The sense of place and the authenticity imparted when you are there is almost overwhelming. I’m grateful to be a part of something so special in the local community.

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(LA Femme Epicure food + styling)

3. Can you share a piece of advice that you are grateful to have received?

Rebecca: Above everything, make your word good.

Sarah: My Dad always insisted on humility, eye contact, and firm handshakes. In one word, he told us kids to be “Solid”. It meant consistently making a contribution and following through. Basically, just being a SOLID human being. It’s some of the simplest and absolute best advice I have ever received.

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4. What is one thing you cant live without on your Thanksgiving table?

Rebecca: Monkey Bread!!!! If you don’t know what I’m talking about…get a pen out:

  • Rhodes frozen bread loaf 5-pack > you will need about 1 1/2-2 for a batch
  • Thaw 2 loaves in fridge over night > in the morning, pull out and grab a bundt cake pan
  • Melt 3 sticks of butter + Cut dough in 1” cubes + dip the  cubes in the butter (trust me)
  • Then start stacking them in the bundt cake pan- until it is ¾ full
  • Cover pan with dish towel + set in dark quite area (like a closet) + let rise 5-6 hrs
  • Once risen gently put in pre-heated oven + bake on 350 for 20-25 minutes
  • Tah-dah!!

Sarah: CHAMPAGNE & Homemade Cranberry Sauce

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(Wylie West Creative event styling)

5. Who would you like to give thanks to this year?

Rebecca: I would like to thank my treasure (and twin sister) Sarah for believing in me the most…and for incessantly reminding me to stay hungry and run wildly in the direction of my dreams.

Sarah:  My kind husband who puts up with all my crazy ideas and my twin sister, who fuels them.

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Follow along with Sarah and Rebecca’s adventures!

Find Rebecca here:

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And Sarah here:

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SPPR Gives Thanks Featuring Heirloom LA’s Tara Maxey

It was the wise beyond his years Ferris Bueller who said “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” To help all of us find our inner “Bueller, Bueller, Bueller” and to celebrate the Thanksgiving season we asked some of the brands and business owners who inspire us to share what they are thankful for in November’s “SPPR Gives Thanks” interview series.

We are honored to kick off our series with the lovely, stylish and cool Tara Maxey, co-owner of Heirloom LA. Heirloom LA is famous for their signature lasagna cupcakes, commitment to supporting local organic farms and charities and was dubbed “the city’s hottest catering company” by The New York Times. If you’ve been to an event catered by Heirloom or stopped by their food truck (we are Monday night regulars at Silver Lake Wine) you know the accolades, press and cult following the brand has garnered is 110% justified.

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(photo credit: LA Times)

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1. Name one item you use on a daily basis that you appreciate most. How does it contribute to your quality of life?

My eldest dog’s heart pills. He is nearly 17 years old and has been the best friend I could ever ask for. His heart pills keep him around.

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2. What local restaurant are you most grateful for?

I have so much respect and love for Chef Josef Centeno. At any given time you can find him working the line, scrubbing the floors or building tables. He is talented and humble, but nearly impossible to find outside of work. I am grateful to know such a hard working and committed person whose love for what he does is infectious.

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3. Can you share a piece of advice that you are grateful to have received?

Sometimes you need to be a mother#*%@

4. What is one thing you can’t live without on your Thanksgiving table?

Company.

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(Tara and Matt Poley, Executive Chef/Co-Owner of Heirloom LA)

5. Who would you like to give thanks to this year?

Each and every single person who works at Heirloom LA. We have such an inspiring crew; it’s so exciting to be a part of this team. I appreciate them every day I walk into the HLA compound. We wouldn’t be where we are without them.

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Feel free to visit Heirloom LA’s website here and follow them on Instagram and Twitter @heirloomla. All images were taken from the Heirloom LA blog here.