The new Etsy shop is open :: Custom holiday moving cards

custom holiday moving cards

A custom illustration I created for a client’s holiday moving cards.

I’ve been so busy since launching my Etsy shop, I haven’t even had a chance to announce it on the blog!

So…surprise! Thank You Summer has an Etsy shop!

I was going to take a lot more time to refine my collections and think about what I wanted to put in the shop before opening the doors, but I was getting multiple requests for my designs so I decided I had better hang out my shingle before the holidays and see what happened.

And guess what happened? I’ve had multiple orders! I’ve even received a five star review!

The most popular items by far are these holiday moving cards. They’ve been selling like hotcakes.

These cards are the perfect way to tell friends and family your new address. Customers especially love the option to customize the card with colors that look like their new home, or as in the case above, for me to create a custom illustration of their house. I LOVE the way this card turned out for the Smith family (address changed to protect privacy), and I was thrilled when they also wanted custom envelope liners and address labels. Here is the full suite:

holiday moving cards suite

The full set includes customized card, envelope with holiday liner and personalized address labels.

These matching liners are really fun to create with my card designs, so I will probably offer more of them in the future. When you purchase these, they come to you already assembled and ready for mailing. I can even split the order so you can mix and match designs!

holiday envelope liners

I created several different matching envelope liners. Choose your favorite!

Here is another moving card I recently customized for a client whose new home is gray with black shutters and white trim (personal information changed):

custom holiday moving card

I changed the color scheme to match the customer’s home – gray with black shutters and white trim.

After the holidays, I will probably redesign these cards as regular moving cards so people can continue to purchase them throughout the year. I’m also considering offering art prints of custom illustrations of people’s homes. If you have a home you are leaving full of good memories or a grandparents’ home you want to commemorate, it would make a nice piece of art of the wall that will make you smile. I’ll also be adding more stationery and gift items to the shop, so be sure to check back in the future!

New! Ladybug Baby Shower Invitations

ladybug baby girl baby shower invitation suite

This custom design for Whitney’s shower is perfectly coordinated to celebrate her little lady bug!

I love sharing my latest projects — here is another custom design I recently completed.

These ladybug baby shower invitations were a specially requested theme that I thought turned out super cute! The challenge was to make it fun and girly without allowing the ladybugs to take over the design. It just so happened that right before being asked to work on this project, I purchased the perfect font for a ladybug theme. I also incorporated matching envelope liners and designed stickers to seal the envelopes.

Congrats to Whitney on her baby girl, and a big thank you to Meredith for letting me create something special for the shower!

ladybug baby girl baby shower invitation suite

The bright pink pattern repeated on the back of the invitation.

ladybug baby girl baby shower invitation suite

This was a very fun invitation to design, down the little lady bugs crawling around on the front.

Do you need stationery designed for an upcoming event? See more of my work in my portfolio or visit the Hire Me page to learn more about working with me to create your custom stationery.

Inspire Me :: Grace Edmands Calligraphy

Grace Edmands calligraphy envelope addressing

Beautiful handwritten calligraphy by Grace Edmands.

I have been the biggest fan of Grace Edmands‘ gorgeous calligraphy ever since I laid eyes on it earlier this year. I am naturally drawn to scripty fonts, but nothing compares to a specially-crafted design produced by hand. You can easily see how each letter is created in relation to those around it, producing the most breath-taking results that could never be replicated digitally. It is truly an art form.

I wanted to show off some of her work and hopefully inspire you, my readers, as much as I have been inspired myself. In a world where more and more writing is done on the computer, Grace’s work offers a fresh appreciation for the written word in all its beauty.

Grace offers envelope addressing as well as invitation design. For more information, contact her at info@graceedmands.com.

Grace Edmands calligraphy

A sampling of some of the amazing work Grace does for stationery enthusiasts like me.

Grace Edmands calligraphy wedding invitation

A custom wedding invitation suite designed by Grace Edmands.

Grace Edmands calligraphy wedding invitation detail

To this day, I have not found a font that compares to the handwritten work seen here.

Grace Edmands calligraphy wedding invitation

A gorgeous wedding suite in gold. Calligraphy by Grace Edmands.

Best of Beauty 2013

best of beauty 2013

It’s been a while since I shared my favorite beauty products, and I am always discovering new ones! Here are a few of my latest obsessions:

1. Olive Body Butter, The Body Shop

This thick, creamy lotion claims to moisturize for 24 hours, and I was surprised to find that it lives up to the claim! Though I probably wouldn’t pay full price for this product, I recently bought two jars on sale and use it regularly on my arms and legs. The Body Shop has dozens of other scents, but this olive version is very subtle and refreshing.

2. Flower Bomb, Viktor & Rolf

I smelled this perfume for the first time in a Hostel in Belfast. One of my roommates sprayed it around the room while I was still in my bunk, and I made it my mission to seek her out at breakfast and find out what it was. I actually purchased a bottle at Duty Free before leaving the country and have worn this classic, sophisticated scent regularly ever since.

3. Bad Gal Lash Mascara, Benefit

This mascara was part of a free sample kit I received at Sephora earlier this year, but it has become my favorite lately. It produces lots of length and lift but doesn’t leave lashes feeling hard and brittle. Works equally well for good gals!

4. Hot Mama! Blush, The Balm

I just bought my second palette of this blush because I no longer use anything else! When I got to the bottom of my first, there was never a question of purchasing any other blush. This shimmery peachy-pink adds just the right amount of color for light-medium skin tones.

5. “Bubble Bath” Nail Polish, OPI

A perfectly pretty neutral for every day nails. This nail polish was worth every penny and made me appreciate the value of high-quality polishes. “Bubble bath” has just the right touch of pale pink when you don’t want to go bold with your nail color.

6. 100% Pure Argan Oil, Josie Maran

I haven’t actually used the Josie Maran brand, but I’m a huge believer in argan oil. In the past I have tried using baby oil and olive oil on my skin, but both of those remain greasy after application. This oil, however, soaks in quickly with minimal grease, in addition to adding amazing, natural moisture to skin. If you want to give it a try, look for argan oil online — you don’t have to buy a designer brand of the stuff for a higher price.

Baby Charlotte’s Monogrammed Birth Announcements

monogrammed baby girl birth announcements

I created these custom birth announcements for baby Charlotte, who arrived in July.

I’ve been a busy bee with both the job and my stationery business and haven’t had time to post my latest work. I will try to catch up, even though there is so much more in the works right now!

Today I want to share the custom birth announcements I created for Katherine‘s beautiful baby girl, Charlotte Olivia. This is the first birth announcement I have ever had the privilege to create, but I certainly hope it won’t be my last! Working on this project provided a wave of inspiration that filled my soon-to-open Etsy shop with all sorts of new designs for baby girls and boys alike.

I also had the honor of meeting Charlotte for the first time last month, when Mr. Pilot and I escaped to Florida for a weekend beach getaway. We probably shouldn’t have showed up at bedtime (she was getting tired!), but it was fun to hold her all the same!

Here are a few other design choices I created for these birth announcements — what do you think?

baby girl birth announcement designs

Here are several other designs for Charlotte’s birth announcements. Which is your favorite?

A huge thank you to Katherine and David for allowing me to create something to commemorate their daughter’s birth, and congrats to both of you on becoming the parents of a beautiful baby girl!

Do you need stationery designed for an upcoming event? See more of my work in my portfolio or visit the Hire Me page to learn more about working with me to create your custom stationery.

My 8 Favorite Script Fonts for Beautiful Designs

8 favorite beautiful script fonts for design | Thank You Summer LLC

Bombshell Pro, $54 on MyFonts.com | Carolyna Pro Black, $89 on MyFonts.com | Jacques & Gilles, $34 on MyFonts.com | Nelly Script Flourish, $39 on MyFonts.com | Melany Lane, $49 on MyFonts.com | Bookeyed Sadie, $29.95 on MyFonts.com | Emily Lime Pro, $29 on MyFonts.com | The Only Exception, Free on dafont.com

Friends and family have probably already noticed that I have a small obsession. My obsession is fonts.

When I’m out shopping, I notice the typography on the store signage more than what’s in the window. When we sit down to eat in a restaurant, I study the font choices on the menu. Sometimes I receive gift cards for birthdays and Christmas, and I spend them on new fonts. And when I see a pretty font someone else used creatively in another design or on the web, I have to have it. I track it down and usually end up purchasing it that very day.

Fonts can be expensive, but I have found that they are an excellent investment. I couldn’t create the designs I need for my business without them. Creative typography is what separates a beautiful, professional design from a lackluster one. Lovely lettering takes my work to the next level and makes me smile at the same time. It’s win-win, and worth every penny.

So I decided to share with you a handful of my absolute favorite go-to fonts. When I’m creating new designs, these are the scripty fonts I keep in my back pocket. You may even notice one of these has been put to use on this blog…

Which is your favorite? Which should I use in my next design project?

Words to Live By :: Plenty of Sleep

"Plenty of sleep" inspirational quote // Photo and Layout Copyright Thank You Summer LLC

I took this photo in Budapest | Thank You Summer LLC

This week has flown by and suddenly it’s Friday. How the month of August is halfway behind me I’ll never understand, but things ahead have never looked brighter.

Mr. Pilot has finished training for his Flight Instructor Certification and will take his big test next week(!) I’ll soon get to catch up with old friends. I have three new jobs building business for my little company, and I can’t wait to share them with you in the weeks to come!

With those projects, plus my full-time job, plus building my inventory for the Etsy shop…there haven’t been many nights with plenty of sleep. But I wouldn’t change it—I love being busy and watching my hard work slowly pay off. When I started this little blog back in April 2012, I never envisioned designing stationery or growing a small business. But I guess that’s the beauty of following your heart and seeing where life takes you: you could end up somewhere you never dared dream.

So here’s to the sleepless nights. After all, I can sleep when I’m dead.

Vote Now! Support Me in Minted’s Stationery Design Challenge

I’ve been busy this summer with the new job and several clients, but I decided it was time to throw my hat back into the ring with Minted’s latest design challenge. This contest is for stationery note cards of all types—photo and non-photo; for men, women and children. I have five designs entered, so please take a few minutes to head over and vote for me! Winning designs will be sold on the web site, and I’d love to add a few more to my little Minted shop. You can click on the images below to take you to the entries for voting. Thanks in advance for your support!

10 Ways to Live a More Decent Life

Today I got really fed up with the morning news and left the room saying, “What is wrong with this country? When did people stop being decent to one another?” So here is my remedy—how we can all start being just a little more decent. Have I perfected these ideas in my life? Hardly. But if I try, perhaps I can find small successes in the pursuit.

10. Don’t spread pain.

When something bad happens to you, don’t make your first thought “Who can I sue over this?” Reject our culture of litigation. Spreading the pain, or the blame, around won’t make your hurts go away.

9. Listen to people.

Actually hear what they say and engage yourself, instead of feigning interest or ignoring them altogether. Ask the cashier how her day is going and actually wait for her answer; get to know your bartender; learn your postman’s name. When we take the time to listen to the people around us, we care about them, and our lives becomes richer.

8. Help strangers, not just the people you know.

Maybe it’s the person with a flat tire on the side of the road or a woman in the grocery store who can’t reach a jar on the top shelf. Be aware of the people around you or you’ll miss easy opportunities to be kind. The world is bigger than you and yours. Wake up to the needs of others instead of toying with your smart phone and willfully ignoring them.

7. Ask questions.

Maybe you say hello to a neighbor in your apartment building every day but know nothing about him. Take a few moments to find out—you could make a great friend, and neighbors have the added benefit of having your back if something goes wrong in your area. Sometimes all it takes is being the first one to reach out.

6. Put energy into your friendships.

Don’t just “like” a friend’s Facebook posts and tell yourself that somehow sustains your connection. Make time to call, even if you aren’t sure it will be convenient for her. Spend the money to book a plane ticket to visit. Send a care package. If your friendships are a meaningful part of your life, they are worth the investment of your time, money and energy. Stop telling yourself you’re too busy and make the people you love a priority in your life.

5. Be kind to your parents.

Parents are flawed just like everyone else. Accept that and love them anyway. Make sure they know that they are important to you. Call them just to say hello. Do things for them that you don’t really want to do, without complaining. Family is important and rewarding, so be an adult, swallow your pride and start acting like it.

4. Stop judging.

Accept that people are different from you and that their differences aren’t an affront to your personal beliefs and well-being. Not everyone needs to agree with you or be just like you. Instead of wasting your energy opposing their lifestyles or philosophies, take the time to understand their point of view. You don’t have to agree, but you might learn something.

3. Ignore the critics.

They are everywhere, especially on the television, in the magazines, on the Internet. Everyone is a critic these days, and most of the time what they have to say is negative, provoking and ignorant. Don’t spend precious moments on what is sensational or shallow. Maybe if we stop listening, they’ll stop polluting our country with hateful and hurtful commentary.

2. Laugh.

It sounds simple, but most of us are pretty serious these days. You only have one life to live so make sure it’s one filled with laughter. Do something silly. Play a children’s board game. Chase butterflies in the yard. Check your dignity at the door and just live. And laugh. Laugh til it hurts.

1. Love.

I mean really love. Most of us love someone. Many of us love our families and friends. But this is bigger than that. Love everyone. Not because they are nice to you or because they earned it or because they deserve it. Love them because they are beautiful, imperfect human beings, just like you. Love them because you have faith that there is something good inside them, even if you can’t see it. Love shouldn’t be the end result—it should be the beginning. Start with love, and you just might get it in return. Love people because there is not enough of it in this world and because you are in control of what you bring into it. Bring love.

What would you add to the list? How do you think we can start being more decent people today?

Adventures Abroad :: Rafting the Tara in Northern Montenegro

Adventures Abroad is an occasional feature chronicling my weeks-long solo backpacking trip through the Balkans and Eastern Europe in the fall of 2012. Read about my past adventures here.

interior montenegro mountains river tara

The Tara River gorge in Northern Montenegro. This photo was taken from the Đurđevića Tara Bridge.

While staying at the Old Town Hostel in Kotor, Montenegro, I had begun to worry about how to fill my second full day in the tiny town. I had already explored the city, walked its ancient walls and met quite a few of the resident cats. Luckily, the hostel organizes a rafting tour and it was leaving that very morning!

There were six of us—myself and the rest Aussies, who also happened to make up the majority of the hostel guests. Two British girls hitched a ride with us as far as Žabljak, a popular ski town in the Durmitor mountain region. Our fearless leader, guide and driver was native Montenegrin Slavko. We gathered in the dim chill outside the hostel for a brutal 7 a.m. departure, and Slavko led us to the van that would take us deep into the mysterious country’s interior.

Our first stop just outside the city was a small coffee shop for breakfast. Not much inside was familiar, and it was filled entirely with old men (the women were at home, of course!). Espresso is the safest thing to order in these situations—it always comes the way you’d expect. Unfortunately, I don’t drink that, so I went with my old standby, the cappuccino—not nearly as consistent a request. This one came with whipped topping and chocolate drizzle, but proved somewhat drinkable. I also ordered a thick slice of Serbian burek for the first time—a type of pastry pie made with phyllo dough and filled with a choice of ingredients, this one with potato and cheese. Yum!

As our van continued up into the mountainous terrain, we passed through Nikšić (pronounced Nick-sheesh-k), where Slavko showed us the small house his father grew up in. The city is also home to Trebjesa Brewery, the country’s only brewery, where they make Nikšićko Pivo using fresh mountain water. (The -ko in Nikšićko means “of” or “from” and pivo means “beer.”) Slavko worked in the brewery for two years before one of the young men who opened Old Town Hostel asked him to start running these tours.

interior montenegro tour salt lakes

On our morning journey north, we stopped to look out over the Salt Lakes. Gorgeous.

tara river gorge montenegro landscape

The view of the Tara River gorge from the small home where we suited up for our rafting trip. It was so peaceful and fresh up there!

interior montenegro mountain home

The second van—the one that would take us to the launch point for our rafting tour—and one of the two buildings on this remote piece of property.

montenegro tara river rafting tour group

Our group of adventurers: ready for rapids but finding none.

Row, row, row your boat

We finally arrived at our destination—a small plot of land above a gorge where our rafting guide lived with his family. There, we were given wet suits and water shoes before transferring to another van that would carry us and our raft down to the launch point on the River Tara. Those wet suits were not sexy!

The rafting was honestly more of a gentle glide down the river due to the season. The water level was low and the rapids mellow. In fact, we were the last tour of the year until the following spring (so lucky!) Nonetheless, it allowed us to see parts of the beautiful, rugged country we never would have otherwise. The river’s water was cold, but it was an icy blue-green I’d never seen before. The river was surrounded by woods and fed by multiple mountain springs. We stopped at one particular spring that emerged just below a small monastery—they called it “holy water.” We were encouraged to drink from it, and you only live once so of course I went for it. It was the most pure, delicious water you can imagine, and icy cold!

After our raft reached the end of our journey, we waited for Slavko to bring the van to pick us up….and waited, and waited….and waited. It turns out, there was a tree down in the road and he couldn’t reach us until it was cleared!

montenegro tara river rafting tour

We were able to stop and look around at several points along the river. What’s the fun of being in the wilderness if you can’t go exploring (in very tight pants)?

interior montenegro tara river rafting tour

Here I am, all excited to be out of the walled city of Kotor and out into the wild.

tara river water and forest, northern montenegro

In this photo, you can see what the water really looked like—a bright, icy blue-green—surrounded by colorful fall foliage. Breathtaking!

montenegro tara river waterfall rafting tour group

We conquered this waterfall, but didn’t raft down it. What a shame.

fresh mountain water spring, montenegro

Montenegro is known for its fresh mountain water. We were eager to drink the “holy water” that flowed from this fresh mountain spring below a small monastery. I am standing behind this gentleman, drinking my fill.

The Foodie in Me Rejoices

Our ride back to the small house where we began was a bit surreal, as the two Montenegrin men blasted techno dance beats and we swerved about on the mountain roads. After changing into dry clothes, we gathered to eat lunch. We were starving!

Our rafting guide’s wife had prepared a huge meal for us using only what her family grew and raised on their land: roast chicken, soup, boiled potatoes, shredded cabbage, homemade bread, marinated red peppers. The foodie in me rejoiced—I wished I had more room in my stomach for the incredible food! Of course, no meal would be complete without being pressured to drink more rakia, the infamous homemade liquor so beloved in the Balkan region.

Rakia can be made from a variety of different fruits—plums, grapes, apricots, cherries—basically, whatever is available. People make it themselves in recycled jars and let the fruit ferment in the sun. And they drink a lot of it.

Personally, I tried one shot upon my arrival at the hostel and could stomach no more. But that didn’t stop Slavko from offering us more at every opportunity. I gave mine away.

During our al fresco lunch beneath a wooden pavilion, we had a brilliant view of the river gorge and the famous Đurđevića Tara Bridge, the largest vehicular concrete arch bridge in Europe at the time of its completion in 1940. We also had guests. Several cats and a stray dog came begging and found quite a few friends at the table, myself included. But the guide who lived there wasn’t a fan and eventually chased them off.

Slavko explained that this would be his only meal of the day and ate accordingly. He was in the army when Yugoslavia still contained Montenegro and Serbia, and while he was a soldier, he ate only once a day. He told us he had kept up the practice and that it worked well for him.

“Montenegrin men, we are strong as bears,” he said, and I’m pretty sure he was right.

When we finished our meal, it was close on five o’clock in the evening and we still had one more stop on our itinerary. A few people were adamant about seeing the Black Lake (Crno Jezero) before dark, so they pushed our guide to get a move on. We piled back into the van and headed to Durmitor National Park, where the glacial lake lies at an elevation of some 1,700 meters!

montenegro homemade meal

The spread that awaited us after our rafting trip—all homemade and produced on the family’s own land.

stray dog montenegro

Our new friend during lunch. This poor stray pup came begging and was not disappointed. How can you say no to a face like that?

montenegro homemade meal

Slavko dishes up some soup as we dig into this amazing feast, served al fresco under a wooden pavilion overlooking the Tara River gorge.

northern montenegro mountain landscape

Another view of the gorge from our lunch spot, as the sun sinks lower in the sky, casting a gorgeous glow over the landscape. You can also see the family’s small garden and clothes line.

Đurđevića Tara Bridge montenegro

A couple of us pose on the Đurđevića Tara Bridge with our guide, Slavko.

montenegro tara river gorge mountain landscape

The Tara River gorge—such a pristine sight.

Don’t drive in Montenegro. Just don’t.

This may be a good time to say a few words about the experience of driving in Montenegro. Don’t do it.

Montenegrins are crazy—I mean, crazy—drivers, and they have been driving the mountain roads all their lives, unlike you and me. The roads are bad, especially in the mountains, which are nothing but switchbacks. Not only that, but Montenegrin drivers pass one another on two lane roads frequently. They also pass one another on two lane mountain roads while quickly approaching a blind turn ahead. They also do this in the winter when the mountains are covered with ice and snow. So really, they are much better at driving in this country than you are.

Furthermore, Slavko explained to us that the police in the country are corrupt and fine people according to their fancy. You can bet they would love to pull over a car full of tourists and accept a large bribe, since those poor people are scared and don’t speak the language and don’t want to end up in a Balkan jail. (I’ve had this happen to me in Mexico, so I can imagine it works much the same way.)

Consider yourself warned. Hire a driver.

montenegro tour route map

While inside the Durmitor National Park, Slavko shows us on this map where we’ve traveled during the tour. I couldn’t believe we had practically spanned the country in the course of one day!

nothern montenegro cow Durmitor National Park

A random visitor to Durmitor National Park. I don’t believe this cow lives here—he just happened to wander over.

black lake crno jezero Durmitor National Park montenegro

On the shores of the Black Lake in Durmitor National Park. Can you see where it gets its name? Check out the color of the water on the far side of the lake.

black lake crno jezero Durmitor National Park montenegro

A few of my Aussie travel buddies. At an elevation of 1,700 meters and the sun quickly sinking, the temperature fell dramatically while we were here at the Black Lake. I had thought I was smart by wearing jeans and a sweater, but it wasn’t near enough. We were all freezing.

Cue the horror movie music

After leaving the Black Lake, we thought our adventure was over. How very, very wrong we were.

The sun had gone down and the light was growing dimmer by the minute. We pulled to the side of a mountain road where Slavko told us there was a fresh water spring where we could fill our water bottles. We climbed down the steep, wooded bank along a small path. We weren’t the only visitors either; this was a popular stop for locals, too. They brought large, assorted containers—as many as they could carry—to fill with the fresh mountain water, which is delicious, plentiful and absolutely free.

A small stone structure had been built around the spring and the water flowed out of a tap that had been installed there, making it easy and sanitary to collect. Realizing the tap never stopped flowing, I was amazed by the seemingly bizarre sight, here in the darkening forest. I filled my bottle and soon wished I had multiple containers like the locals, it was so good.

As we piled back into the van, Slavko turned the key and—CRACK!—the engine wouldn’t start. From the back of the vehicle, it was at first difficult to assert what was wrong, but after a while we had our answer: the key had broken off inside the ignition!

By this time night had fallen, our van was parked on the side of a two lane mountain road, we were all exhausted and our hostel beds were still hours away. I knew we would be taken care of one way or another, but seriously, we were in the middle of nowhere. And it was scary.

Slavko continued trying to extract the key. As we grew more and more anxious, he at last declared that he always carried a spare, which was some relief. Now he just needed to remove the broken piece, but we didn’t have a tool in the van that was up to the task.

There was a small house up ahead, maybe a quarter mile away. We could see the faint, distant window light further up the road, and Slavko proposed he go and ask them for a tool that would help us. With that, he was gone, and we were six English-speaking foreigners sitting alone in a van, in the dark, in the middle of nowhere in a strange country.

Cue the horror movie music.

After twenty minutes that felt like an eternity, Slavko returned with a pair of pliers, and we were soon off again (after stopping at the house to return the tool). After the delay, Slavko decided it would be good to make a pitt stop on our way back to Kotor. He offered to take us to his home in Nikšić, meet his family and have some tea. We agreed that was a fantastic idea (while we continued sending up grateful prayers to be moving again).

A humble visit, filled with joy (and soap operas)

When we arrived at Slavko’s home, we entered an apartment-like building and went up several flights of wide, dark stairs. Inside, we met his wife and two children, a boy and a small girl. They were very shy, so we were left in the living room with Croatian soap operas on the television. I can’t say how entertaining it was to provide “translation” for these soaps that we couldn’t understand!

It was a simple but comfortable home. Several small sofas surrounded a coffee table. A few, mostly religious-themed (Eastern Orthodox) decorations covered the walls. Slavko offered us tea, and even his father’s own special rakia, stored in an ornate container carved from wood. He explained that it was customary for Montenegrins to offer guests in their home rakia they themselves (or their families) had made. But I stuck with tea.

It wasn’t until I entered the bathroom before hitting the road again that I realized how very different this family’s life was from most of the American families I know. The family shared one bathroom with very little storage space. You could hardly say it was “finished”—pipes were exposed and in places, the inside of the wall. There was a half-filled bucket near the tub, which meant they didn’t waste water. It’s difficult for me to describe, but I knew most people back home would be horrified to live in a place like this one.

And yet…this family was filled with joy! They made jokes and laughed and were thrilled to entertain us in their humble home. They knew that they had one another, were healthy and whole, and had a roof over their heads. They had made a good life for themselves.

Visiting Slavko’s home was one of the highlights of my day because seeing how real people live isn’t part of the hostel experience. Plenty of people are dropped in Old Town Kotor from the cruise ships that pass by each year, and they don’t experience it either. When I travel, I don’t just want to see beautiful sights—I want to see what other people in the world live like: what they care about, what they eat, how they view the world. I want to be inspired by their strength, resourcefulness, humility, kindness and senses of humor.

If you visit Montenegro, I encourage you to look beyond the coast, beyond the tourist destinations. The interior landscape is beautiful, and the people are warm and welcoming. You won’t regret it!