Disney Travel Must-Haves

We are at it again! We loved our experience at Disney World so much this last November that we decided to head to the original mouse house in California this summer!

I shared all my hacks for Disney World and will do the same for Disneyland once we return – but, wanted to share some travel must-haves before heading to the magic land. These are items you want before you get to your Disney destination, so buy them early and take them with you.

The first, of course, being Mickey gear. You can’t go to the park without some cute shirts! I found the least expensive family shirts were on Etsy and there are so many options. You can also find some on Amazon, but I felt they were more pricy and not as big of a selection.

We bought some for each day we were at the park. It helps you keep an eye on the kiddos, too! I didn’t get personalized ones with our name on them because I didn’t want a bunch of strangers in the park calling my kids’ names. We stuck with mom, dad, big brother, etc.

But, back to the shirts! Aren’t these the cutest? You can find all the links to the shirts here.

Next travel must-have when you’re going to the park is a bag to hold all your stuff. If you have a little one your diaper bag will do, but we used light-weight drawstring bags for all of us and it worked out perfectly. The straps are little so they don’t hurt your shoulders or are uncomfortable. You barely notice you’re wearing it. We were able to carry all the essentials in the bags without having to remove them for rides or leave them in the rented stroller. My boys loved them too, and they were able to hold all their own stuff and souvenirs we picked up along the way. Talk about the ultimate mom-hack! Moms are the ones who usually end up carrying everything, so this worked out perfectly for me.

Each of us had a bottle of water that we were able to refill during the day throughout the park, versus paying a million dollars every few hours for bottled water there. We also each had a few snacks, sunscreen, and our sunglasses. The boys still use their bags at home and we are packing them for Disney again! Ours didn’t have any personalization on them, but you can get them personalized or monogrammed. They run about $12 for 2.

Next, you can’t forget about the hats! Not only will it protect your face from the sun but again, why not – you’re at Disney! Soak in all the fun. I also had a pair of ears to take some fun photos in.

Disneyland doesn’t require magic bands, so don’t worry about those.

Lastly, you’ll want to get an autograph book for your kids. You’ll encounter Disney characters all throughout the park and they’ll sign the books for you. Getting signatures became a fun adventure for my boys and they feel like they are meeting celebrities. They even got nervous around Mickey – the cutest! There’s bundles you can get with Disney starter kits for your kids to open before you go, or you can buy the autograph books separately. Most come with a little matching pen too.

We can’t wait to experience Disneyland and all the magic of the original mouse house. Even though I went as a kid there is nothing like re-living the experience through your child’s eyes. I’ll share all the must-dos and my advice to navigate the park after we go.

Here’s to a summer filled with magic and memories.

“FTC Disclosure: This post or video contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission for purchases made through my links”

How To Take Instagram Pictures Like A Pro When You’re Not

Hey hey, friends. A lot of you have reached out asking how I make my pictures all look the same and ask if they are professionally done. The answer is no! I do have an awesome photographer friend who I plan on working with in the near future, but for now, I’m my own photographer. Well, sometimes my husband or 8-year-old son are the photogs but for the most part – it’s just me.

So let’s get to it.

First things first, your cell phone takes amazing pictures! You do not need a fancy pants camera. We had one and I sold it because it’s easier to take pics on my phone and I always have my phone with me. I have the iPhone X, but even my old 6 worked fine.

Let’s talk about lighting. When taking pictures inside you want to make sure all the lights are on. Natural light looks best, so if you get a lot of sunlight coming inside don’t worry about turning the lights on. I take all my pictures during the day. I don’t like the way pictures turn out at night or with the flash on.

If I’m taking a “selfie” type of photo or one within close range of an object, I like to use Portrait mode. It looks cleaner and more focused on what you’re taking a picture of. When taking a picture, in general, you also want to tap the screen to adjust the focus and exposure.

Now, this is my favorite tip: You’re likely not going to get a shot you like on the first take, so take tons of pictures. Photo burst like crazy! Then you’ll have options and are more likely to find ones you like. During the bursts, move around, try different poses, facial expressions, etc. Trust me!

When I’m at home or out by myself, how do I take the pictures? I have a portable tripod! It’s super lightweight, comes in a carrying case and sets up in seconds. It also comes with a remote and an adjustable base to create perfect angles. This is the one I use.

If you want studio lighting, perfect selfie light, or light for video recording – you’ll want to go with this Halo light. It’s AH-MAZING. Lightweight and also comes with a carrying case and remote. Perfect to take to events or take pictures at night. They have mini ones for selfies that clamp right on to your phone too. I mean – brilliant.

Photo taken at night with my Halo light. Perfect for headshots.

Okay, so we’ve finished talking about taking photos. That was easy, right?

What do I do with them after I take them? As a blogger, I have to take pretty pictures that are visually appealing or no one will take the time to read my work. Same goes for social media. Your Instagram page is your highlight reel, it better look nice. Save your “real life” stuff for your stories. For my highlight reel, I want everything to have the same theme as far as edits go. This makes the page pretty to look at and streamlined.

Once the pictures are done, I open up my Lightroom App. It’s a free mobile photo editing app that you must have. I’ll wait while you download it.

Okay, once you open your Lightroom App you’ll see all the recent photos you took (if they don’t autoload you can add them to an album in Lr). This is where you’ll want to do your edits. You can pay for upgrades for different features, but I don’t think that’s necessary for these purposes. Label the album what you want to keep it organized.

Then you’ll look for a photo preset you like. A preset is a pre-determined position all (or some) of the of sliders in Lightroom, meaning the “edits” are already done. In other words, you can edit a photo to your liking, and then save that exact combination of slider positions for future use on another image. Get it? Good. I like clean “minimal” presets that I can adjust a little for some variety. You can see what I mean on some of my photos.

Where do I find photo Lightroom presets? You can Google and find some popular bloggers and photographers use. Those are typically more expensive and can be difficult to install if you’re not super “tech-y”. I’d consider myself somewhat tech savvy and some of these higher-end preset download instructions were WAY over my head. They run anywhere from $20-$70.

If you want something easier to use and less expensive, check out Etsy. There’s great presets on there for $10 or less. Each store that sells them has its own download instructions, but I found them to be pretty easy. You download the photo with the preset already in place then save it to your Lightroom App. Once you save it in there in its own folder – you click on the ellipses (or the three dots) on the top right of the preset photo and you’ll see a menu pop up. You’ll click “copy settings” then go to the photo you took in your other album, click on the ellipses on that photo then click “paste settings”. You’ll see the settings from the preset automatically edit your photo to look like the preset photo. If you want to make adjustments you can use the edit bars in Lightroom to do so.

Example of a preset photo

I like having a few presets that look along the same theme to switch it up a bit.

To summarize: Buy a tripod. Capture moments special to you. Load those photos into Lightroom. Buy a preset you like. Copy the preset on to your photo. Save it back to your camera roll and post away! You can follow me on IG for inspo at hollydays_chicago.

I hope this was helpful. If you have any of your own tips and tricks, please share them in the comment section.

Considering A Renovation? Read This First

First, I’ll state that I am in NO way shape or form an expert on renovation or design. To be clear, my knowledge of home renovation stems from obsessively watching HGTV for the last 10 years and having a big brother who was a contractor for 20+ years. I have my Pinterest boards, love strolling through design showrooms on weekends and have two amazing friends, Keki and Ann, who inspire me daily. If you want to hear from real experts, they are your gals.

Aside from that – it’s the blind leading the blind. Wanted to throw that out there to check your expectations of me. However, since I just went through (well, still going through) a renovation, I thought I’d share some of my beginner tips!

I live in Chicago, which is an expensive city, so we just bought our very first home. YAY! When we signed on the dotted line, I couldn’t wait to move in and call it home. Finally! No more sharing a bathroom with three boys. I know, right! Torture. Go pee on your own toilet seat now! Just saying. No more sharing walls – even though my neighbors have always been pretty cool! And, no more tight living quarters for my boys. Thank you sweet Jesus.

But, before we could move in we had a LOT of work to do. The house had great bones, but was outdated and not our taste. The 90s were an interesting time. Lots of browns, dark greens, mustard yellows and in this house – a lot of teal. Since I just crawled my way out of the “baby stage” of my life and no longer have to change 1000s of diapers a day (okay, sometimes it just felt like 1000s) – those are colors I don’t care to see for a very long time. So, we changed everything!

What we’ve done so far and some (wanna be pro?) tips:

Paint the inside of the entire house.

  • HIRE someone to paint your ceilings unless you want to be at the chiropractor every day the rest of your life. WORTH the money. You can paint the easy stuff: bathrooms, inside of closets, small bedrooms, etc.
  • If you need help painting, ask for a recommendation on a neighborhood or mom Facebook group! You can find someone who does side jobs and get a deal. I paid a fraction of what it would normally cost to do my main floor because I gave the business to an independent guy who just wanted some extra cash.

Gutted and redid our kitchen.

  • Facebook Market Place – USE IT! It would have cost us $1000 in demo with our kitchen contractor to remove our old kitchen, so I posted it on FB Market Place! I prefaced with ONLY contractors or experienced handymen to remove, that way they didn’t destroy the walls and/or plumbing. Someone came with his team who renovates properties and removed our old kitchen – granite and all! I made money and saved the $1000 it would have cost to demo. There are also non-profits that will come and take it out for free and use it to build homes, etc.
  • Go small. We love supporting small businesses! We used Boca Cabinets (if you live in Chicago – they are amazing!). They were several thousand less in pricing than other big box stores and we got a great product.
  • Pay people in cash if you can! We had saved up for renovation so had cash for the larger items. If you pay in cash you avoid the credit card transaction fee and they will pass that savings on to you.



Refinished the fire place.

  • We hired someone to do this, but I think after a few YouTube videos we could have done it ourself. We ended up doing most of one of our bathrooms and several other jobs ourselves – after learning how to do it on Youtube! You can do a lot more than you think you can!



Remodeled Guest Bathroom.

  • Negotiate! Contractors (or anyone in sales) usually throws out the higher prices because they are ready for you to bring it down. A lot of people take the first price and consider it the final. I’ve been in sales my whole life – so I love to negotiate a deal! You want to be fair and pay people for their hard work, but you also don’t want to be ripped off. The worst they can say is no! I didn’t pay any of the original quotes on any work in this house. Just ask, “Is the best you can do?”, or get several quotes and see who will match the lowest one.
  • Use the same contractor, or his connections, for multiple jobs. This will allow for more negotiation – and you won’t have to worry about scheduling issues.

Ripped out all carpet and put in hardwoods.

  • We (my husband, my 7 year old son and myself) ripped out all the carpet. Easy peasy and saved on labor!
  • Paid in cash to get discounts for hard wood.
  • While you’re doing the floors, might as well replace all the base boards and shoe. It makes the house look instantly better – and updated!

My stairs are my favorite thing in the house. I just love them!



Replaced all doors.

  • We did all our shopping during black Friday sales – so paid almost half for all the interior doors, closet doors and appliances AND carpet for our basement. Wait for those sales around the holiday times.
  • We removed all the casings ourselves and painted all the doors, again, to save on labor.
  • SELL all your old stuff on FB MARKET PLACE! I’m telling you – we sold all our old appliances, closet bi-fold doors, trim, etc. on FB. We were making money as fast as we were spending it.

Repainted all our outdoor decks.

  • Must easier and cheaper than sanding and staining.
  • A good ole’ power washer can make a world of difference, too.

Remodeled our guest bathroom.

  • Did demo ourselves and hired a handyman to help install new vanity, toilet, and lay the tile.

We still have our two upstairs bathrooms to finish, which we will get to next year. We did all of the above in three weeks, you guys. Three weeks. It was mayhem, but we made it happen and I still can’t believe this is my home. Now, on to filling it and putting in the final touches.  This is where my blogger and IG design friends come in!

My last bit of advice is to have fun and keep your eyes on the prize. It’s all worth it in the end, I promise! You can check out the process and more before and afters on my Insta Stories under “Home”.

Share your renovation secrets with us in the comments!