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Five Tips on Mastering Airbnb 

Fresh bread in Oia, Santorini

Breakfast with a view from the balcony of our Airbnb in Oia, Santorini.

When you want to travel a lot, Airbnb can be very handy. It is our go-to choice for accommodation as we can choose from such a wide range of options when it comes to style, pricing, and location. Generally, we will only choose hotels if we know we will be arriving at an odd hour or if we just need it for an overnight layover. We may switch to a hotel if an airport is far from the city.

I love the concept of  Airbnb and with the new addition of experiences, it’s getting even better. We have met so many interesting people, saved tons of money and stayed in some unique places.

I have had quite a few people ask me about my experience with Airbnb. A lot of people hesitate using the service because they may have heard myths or negative things about the service. I have gotten questions about cleanliness, safety and how to know if you will actually get what you’re seeing. Now that I have stayed in quite a few locations, I can vouch for the service and share my Airbnb experience. Below you can find my top 5 hacks on finding the best Airbnb options for you.

Barcelona Hotel

The hotel room window from the rare time we stayed at a hotel in Barcelona, Spain

Location
Location is everything. It’s what can make or break a trip. Having to commute into a city or back to where you’re staying can be a pain. Having to travel a distance back and forth not only cuts into your travel time but also deters your experience. Some of the best times we have really seen a city come to life with locals has been post-dinner, simply walking back to our apartment.

Consider the neighbourhood, do some research, and note down the distance via google maps on how far it is located from everything that you want to see. Can you walk instead of taking a cab, Uber or metro? Go with that option! When it comes to pricing out your accommodations, make sure you consider this. Yes, it might be $10 or $20 cheaper per night, but that may just be what a return metro ticket may cost! If you end up staying out past the time of the last train, that $20 will go straight to an Uber or a cab!

While staying in Paris, we were a 3 min walk away from Champs-Elysees and we only paid about $90 for our Air BnB apartment! Yes, it was a tiny attic apartment, the size of my bedroom in a building that had no elevators, but we were able to really stretch our time in the beautiful city of love because we didn’t have to worry about leaving early enough to make it back in a safe and affordable way.

So yes, location is key. Also weigh out your options and remember, if you’re only staying there to sleep, it doesn’t have to be the largest place on the block!

Attic room in Paris

This ridiculously tiny attic-room Airbnb apartment just steps away from Champs-Elysees in Paris

Reviews
The reviews are golden. They will help assure you that you have made the best choice. It’s obvious I know, but it’s easy to get caught up in beautiful photos of the apartment or the views and lose sight of checking all the details. I tend to choose to go with an Airbnb super host or a room that has racked up a decent amount of reviews. I look for how much the host communicated, for someone who went out of their way to ensure their guests have had a good stay and genuinely great reviews from others who have stayed there already.

There has been a time or two where I have seen bad reviews crop up within more than 20 good reviews and in this case, I generally ignore them. If the ratio of good to bad reviews is significant, it is likely that one person may have been upset about one thing and decided to just write anything out of anger or disappointment. These are to be taken with a grain of salt.

Every so often, I have also booked places where there are only a few really good reviews. Obviously, there are new people opening their homes to travelers on a daily basis and I like giving them a chance. The great thing about Airbnb is that they will back you if you have any issues. Their customer service is amazing and they are available on Twitter 24/7!

Tulum Aibnb

This beauty of the bedroom in our Airbnb apartment in Tulum, Mexico

Communication
Keep in contact with your host, ask questions and don’t be afraid to reach out. If I have the time, I usually reach out to the host with questions before I book their place. If I am in a crunch and the cancellation policy is flexible on Airbnb, I will book and then ask questions. My top things to usually ask are how accessible the place is by public transportation or if they can store my luggage before or after my official time there. I usually will take the last flight out of somewhere in order to maximize my day and I need to know in advance that I won’t have to worry about lugging my suitcase around while I am out and about!

Hosts are great to speak with. They can assist with organizing activities, accommodations or just providing local favourites for dinner. Let them know if you will be arriving early or late, exchange contact info in advance and let them know that you are excited to stay at their place and appreciate them opening up their home to you. You want to make them comfortable with who you are and why you are traveling. Remember, this is their home and just like you would want to know who is stepping into your place, they do too!

Greece Air bnb

I really did not want to return home after this breathtaking view from our Airbnb apartment in Oia, Santorini

The Fine Print
Look at the fine print. Everything you need to know is laid out on the page. Know exactly what you are in for so that you are not greeted with a surprise as soon as you enter. If you were expecting a full bed but are presented with a sofa bed, chances are it was already stated on the page. Hosts are generally very clear with what they offer as part of the price and what you will be charged for. As an example, when traveling in Europe, many cities have hotel taxes that are paid outside of the reservation. This is for large hotels as well as your Airbnb stay. Hosts will put this in the description so it is handy to have cash on hand to give them before you leave.

To the right of the page, you can see a breakdown of the full price. There are cleaning fees and service fees so use this as a guide to calculate your total cost before sharing the listing with all of your friends! The fine print is also where you’ll discover if your host provides a free breakfast – always a treat in my option!

Capadoccia Cave Hotel

Our free breakfast in our Cappadocia Airbnb. A room within a fairy chimney cave.

Be Flexible
Know your needs. Not your wants. If you are using Airbnb, it’s likely that you are into saving your money for experiences and eats vs. your accommodations. This doesn’t mean you can’t stay at a nice place, but think about what you really need. Yes, a room with a view would be fabulous but how long are you really staying there?

If you’re on a go-go-go sort of trip then you really don’t need to spend on the view. For example, in Santorini, we knew we would spend time in our apartment, enjoy the view and relax so we opted for something a bit more pricey and we made sure it was worth the spend. On the other hand, on our recent trip to Tulum, we knew the room was to sleep in and most of our time would be spent on the beach or sightseeing. Although the room didn’t have any fancy views, it was pretty trendy in decor and was actually quite nice.

I have loved each and every one of my Airbnb stays. I make sure to use their wish list feature to start building a list of potential places I want to stay. I then filter through this list based on all of the above points. So far this method has worked well for me and I am quite excited to step foot in our next Airbnb room!

Do you have any tips on using Airbnb? I would love to know! Please share in the comments below 🙂

As always, follow me on Instagram for more day-to-day updates.

Enjoy!

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How to style the perfect Halal Charcuterie Board

The one thing I have always wanted to order at a restaurant is a totally Instagrammable charcuterie board.

It’s almost become a staple menu item at some of the best restaurants in the city and although I can’t order it there, I can certainly put it together at home. With all the cheeseboards I have obsessively collected since being engaged, it’s definitely a sign.

A good board is put together with the best combination of ingredients for a charcuterie which includes cold cuts (obviously!), cheese, spreads, nuts, fruits, veggies, crackers and bread. The actual definition of charcuterie is ‘a collection of cold cut meats‘, and with the fast-paced progress of the North American halal meat industry, this couldn’t be a better time to share how to make this perfect charcuterie board.

Ready to get started? Below a full breakdown on how to craft the perfect halal charcuterie board. Flip to page 36 of the Summer 2017 issue of Halal Foodie Magazine for the full breakdown. Pin this handy guide on How to Charcuterie for later so you can finally accomplish those #PinterestGoals!

Like this article? Keep up on my fun foodie and DIY adventures over on Instagram!

 

 

 

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How to style the perfect Charcuterie Board

 

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This year’s Halal Food Fest must-eats!

With its 5th (!!) annual event starting up this weekend, Halal Food Fest in Toronto has a jam-packed event that you won’t want to miss! I was lucky to attend the media preview this past week and sample some of the delicious eats you can find within Sample City. Keep reading to get an inside scoop on what you’ll want to make sure you see and eat this weekend!

This year’s event has an expanded food section, Canada 150 celebrations and lots of new sponsors, including IKEA Canada! The entertainment line-up is jam-packed with well-known performers, chefs, and competitions. This year, Halal Food Fest has also expanded their food section to help you discover more halal dining options within the GTA!

Live demo for the media coverage for #HFFTO17 @bombaystfoodto

A post shared by Chef Russell Auckbaraullee (@penthousecatering) on

Some of the entertainment I am most excited for include a Kitchen Basics segment from Chef Russel Auckbaraullee (who I got to see!), Macaron-Making lessons from Chef Kaif Khan and the Nasheed performance by Khāled Siddīq.  To see the full schedule, click here.

Now for the part you’ve been waiting for – the food! Listed below are some of my fave picks that I will be sure not to miss this year. Get your tickets in advance online to avoid the line-up and remember to grab your copy of the Halal Foodie Magazine.

P.S. Bookmark page 36 for my article!

You know you want it.. Come and try one at #hffto17 this weekend. We're booth 416.

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Craving for an authentic Turkish meal? Check out #pasharestaurant its so good! #pasha #turkish #authentic

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Eat: 5 quick Iftar Go-Tos

With the last ten days of the holy month upon us (that’s right!), it’s crucial to spend your time catching up your prayers, reading the Quran, and still making time to prepare for Eid. All while continuing on with the regular day-to-day stuff. 

I don’t know about you guys, but my busiest time of the day is right before Iftar. It’s also the one time in the day we should be the most focused on reflecting and praying. With so much packed into the final days of Ramadan, it’s a good idea to try and prep ahead of time for the rest of your Iftar meals. But, as amazing as that sounds, sometimes it’s just not realistic. That’s exactly why I am sharing my favourite go-to quick fixes for a fast and delicious iftar meal. Hopefully, this can let you focus on all the other more important tasks at hand.

 

1. Order-in:

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This is the first and most obvious choice for me. When ordering is as simple as an app and endless all the possibility of choice, it’s really my first go-to. I’ve been using Foodora this Ramadan and have gotten a delicious Iftar exactly on time – no work required! This makes it so easy to focus on prayers without having to worry about going back into the kitchen to check on the food. Because participating restaurants also give you two bottles of Happy Water and Masa Dates, it’s a direct living room to dining room situation. Skip the kitchen!  The best thing I ordered this month was Jerk Chicken with rice, two beef patties, and a Jerk Chicken kebab. I tossed in two drinks and my iftar was good to go! All I had to do was place everything on the table (& really, you could forego the plates!). The app is so easy to use and you can filter by attribute so you’re only seeing halal options.  With so many choices – it’s a no-brainer. Why not give it a shot tonight? Click here so that you can get $10 off your first order! 

 

2. Use a pre-made sauce with pasta

Quick and easy pasta for iftar

Call me plain-Jane but sometimes I love the simplicity of some quick and easy pasta. Although for me pasta is a bit of a treat, something I save for eating out, it’s the easiest go-to when I have skipped grocery shopping to go to the movies instead 🙈 🙈 🙈. It’s super quick and is as simple as boiling your favourite pasta (white or brown), tossing in some pre-made pasta sauce and giving it a good mix. I usually add in some chilies or chili flakes and salami or even garlic for more flavour. This can be as easy or complicated as you want. 

 

3. Have a soup or a salad 

Soup for iftar

This is super easy, especially if you already have canned soup on hand. It’s also a good choice if you want to go with something lighter than a pasta. If you have some veggies on hand, toss together a quick salad with your soup so that you have something a bit more substantial. Add high-fat veggies to your salad such as avocado or even some nuts to keep you full until your post-Taraweeh snack (don’t kid yourself, we all do it!)

 

4. Pre-marinated fish

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I love this option since it’s a healthy one! I always keep some marinated salmon in the freezer for those nights I really don’t want to cook. It’s a good way to avoid tossing a handful samosas into the fryer instead of eating well! You can find some great options at your local grocery store and all you’ve got to do is pop it into the oven!

5. Make a leftovers sandwich

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During the month of giving, there will be days you’ve cooked up a storm when someone shows up at your door with full iftar. I usually freeze one of them since there is no way I can even eat that much after all that fasting. This would be the time to recall what you’ve got in your freezer and make use of it! Grab two slices of some really good bread, add some toppings, sauces, cheese and a protein in between and you’re good to go!

What are some of your go-to quick fixes during Ramadan? Let me know in the comments below!

See what I’m cooking up on my Instagram stories or follow me on Twitter and Facebook to stay up-to-date with the blog!

Happy eating + praying!

5 QUICK IFTAR GO-TOS

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Summer Vibes: Backyard Essentials

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If you have been following along on my Instagram stories, you will have noticed that we have moved from our Toronto condo to a house (still in Toronto), and the timing for this couldn’t be better! With the summer creeping up, I am so excited to start gardening, having BBQs and of course, decorating the new space.

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Our backyard already had a large deck, firepit (find your fave one here), and a cute gazebo and I wanted to fill the space up with some furniture and seating space as quickly as possible so I could start enjoying it. Although it’s a process (houses are hard work!), and we’re in the middle of Ramadan, I have done as much as I can! I would still like to add some white sheer curtains around the gazebo to keep bugs away and some raised garden beds to bring some more greenery to the back! Read on to see what I did so far. 

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To start with, I picked up some really fun dishes. I really wanted to get the most colourful things I could since my interior home decor is mostly monochrome and minimalist. I spotted this super cute flamingo/tropical-themed melamine dinner set for outdoors and knew I had to have it! During the Victoria day long weekend we went down to the U.S. to shop and I fell in love as soon as I saw these at Target (I am still not over the fact that they left 😭😭😭).

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After grabbing the dishes, I rushed like nobody’s business to get the number one summer must-have  string lights! The best way to get anything you want asap is to just order online. My go-to for home decor, accessories and furniture is Wayfair. I absolutely love them since it’s a one stop shop for everything that I need. Another perk is that I never have to worry about delivery fees or cramming everything into our car! 

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I also got my hands on a backyard dining table and a small table-top BBQ. Both of these items are things we debated over in terms of purchasing. Mainly because we are not sure how long we will be in a house and don’t want to commit to a large BBQ or a massive table if we won’t be able to bring it along with us! One last thing I may want to add is an outdoor rug below the table and I am already eyeing some beautiful ones on Wayfair… 

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Since we don’t have a year-round summer, it’s a good idea to consider how often you’ll be using these types things. It is also a good idea to think about how many people will be using these items. For me, it’s just the two of us, and as much as I enjoy entertaining, realistically it doesn’t happen often enough for me to justify splurging. Again, another great place to score good deals is online or even on Kijiji. 

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One of my favourite things I put together for the backyard were the seats around my fire pit. They’re just cushions on top of some pallets but they are the perfect height and have the cutest al fresco dining vibe for a summer backyard! As I add more things, I will share more backyard DIYs so keep an eye out! 

Keep up with I’m currently working on by following along on my social channels. You can find me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

What DIYs do you want to see? Let me know in the comments below! 

Wayfair - Summer Outdoors

Eat: Experience Ramadan with Iftar Host

If you’ve been on Facebook recently, you may have seen a link circulating from Iftar Host (now referred to as Experience Ramadan). As soon as I saw it, I signed up right away with no hesitation. The concept seemed simple and intriguing – be a host or attend an Iftar. It’s your choice and people of all backgrounds are welcome.

This simple concept of breaking bread together is the best way to get to know new people, encourage friendships and share your cultures with one another. I couldn’t wait to open my door and let my new friends Experience Ramadan.

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The Table is set!

I was so excited when I got the email that I was matched! Iftar Host asks to fill in a form with a few things that can help them match you to the right people. We put in our ages, opted to host two people and that was it! I believe the form is a little more robust now as many more people are likely signing up and matching can be more accurate with more info. We were introduced via email and then took it from there to discuss timings, dates and share the location. Both parties were equally as excited to be a part of this.

Hosting a dinner is really fun for me. I loved being able to choose a meaningful menu, setting the table for the iftar dinner and meeting new people! Below I’ve shared a run-down of the evening and what you can expect if you decide to host!

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Our new friends Sam & Mike!

I signed up on Sunday night and was matched early on Monday. After exchanging a few emails, we agreed to an 8 p.m. arrival on a Friday. We clarified that iftar time was closer to 9 p.m. just to make sure they were not surprised by the late dinner.

We chose to go with 8 p.m. since this would give us enough time to get to know them before Iftar time without having too much time without any food to keep us going! On the day of the dinner, as the clock moved closer to 8 p.m., I started to get a little nervous on whether or not they would show up. I had just prepared all this food and only texted to confirm an hour before they were meant to arrive. Both V and I were nervous and excited – this was going to be a unique night.

When our guests arrived, they so kindly brought with them a beautiful bouquet of flowers which was such a pleasant gesture. We were off to a good start! We asked how they found out about the program and were given a story similar to our own. The conversation started to flow right away and before we knew it, we were headed to the dining table.

One thing I always make sure to do when hosting a dinner party is to have everything ready to go and laid out. I prepared all the food in advance and placed it in the oven at the perfect time. The table was set earlier and all the dishes I would be using throughout dinner were placed on my counter ready to go for the next dish.

We started by explaining to them how sacred the time before the Iftar is, a time we used to reflect and make Du’a. They asked how we knew what time to open our fast and we shared that date are based on the lunar calendar and prayer times surround dusk and sunset. Once it was time to eat we offered them dates, sharing that this was the way fasts were open, followed by water.

After this, we started eating and of course, talking – a lot. It was so great to be matched with another couple who we could speak so easily with. Conversation ranged from travel to politics, gardening to rock climbing and of course, food!

Our menu for this Iftar dinner included Dates, Haleem, Falooda, Savory Pastries, and a main dish of a Baked Pasta. For dessert, we had some flourless dark chocolate cake with ice cream. Each dish was chosen strategically and we shared why these items were generally on iftar menus in our culture – especially the Haleem and Falooda.

After dinner, we moved to the living room and found ourselves connecting on everything under the sun. When guests leave as late as 1 a.m., you know it’s been a great time!

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Dates, Falooda and some delicious pasta! for Iftar

This was one of the most unique experiences I’ve had. We will be joining our new friends soon for another dinner and likely a session or two of rock climbing! We would definitely do it again and hope more people can Experience Ramadan.

Is this something you would try out? Want to hear more about it? Read my husband’s review of Experience Ramadan? Head on over to his blog!

I hope this post was helpful! I am happy to answer any questions anyone might have either in the comments below or on my social channels. You can find me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Look out for my next Ramadan post later this week Inshallah! Hint – It’s food based!

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We recently hosted another couple via Experience Ramadan and Iftar Host for Ramadan 2017

Ramadan is Here! (+ a free printable!)

Ramadan Mubarak everyone!

I hope your fasts are going well! We’ve got only a few hours left before we can eat and I’m happy to say I haven’t really felt too hungry today! I am sure everyone can agree that a Saturday start was such a blessing.

I will be doing a series of posts during this month to highlight different Ramadan things all leading up to Eid prep and more so be sure to stay tuned.

To help with keeping your Salah times in check, I have shared a handy printable of Toronto Salah times (and eating times of course!) for the month of Ramadan. Use this in your cubicle at work, locker at school or in your home. It’s also a great thing to screenshot onto your phone for handy access! This beautiful Ramadan calendar was created by my brother to share on this blog. Please enjoy and keep us in your Duas!

Download free printable Ramadan calendar here.

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Ramadan 2017 prayer times for Toronto

 

 

DIY: Budget Industrial TV stand

I am a late kinda gal, let’s face it! Regardless, here’s a blog post for this week.

I built this TV stand when I moved into my place because I wanted something that was affordable but had an industrial look.

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This entire DIY industrial TV stand cost me only about $50. I got the cinder blocks off of Kijiji because I wanted them dinged in a bit and the wooden planks from The Home Depot. You can also find brand new cinder blocks at your local Home Depot.

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The wooden plank was one large piece which they cut in half for me right at the store. I also purchased a sanding block to make sure the plank was smooth with no risk of splinters (crucial step!), as well as some sticky felt floor protectors.

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After hauling these heavy blocks home and giving them a bit of a clean-up, I placed the felt stickers on two of the blocks which touched the floor. After this, I simply added a second block on top, placed down one plank before repeating the process for the top layer. You can do this with different dimensions or shorter planks to create an DIY industrial bookshelf or display shelf as well.

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This is a super-easy DIY project which could be completed in an afternoon. I usually have a wooden crate of blankets and some coffee table books on my shelf but we are in the process of moving to a new place and some of my things were already packed away!

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Would you build something like this? Any other home-related DIYs you may want to see? Let me know in the comments below. Otherwise, follow me online on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Catch you later!

 

DIY

Follow me on Bloglovin’!

Hello all!

Just wanted to do a quick post to ask you all to follow my blog with Bloglovin.

I have finally taken the time to add my blog to Bloglovin‘. I had done this a long time ago for my older domain which I lost. 😦

If you’re not using Bloglovin‘, I would highly recommend it! This is a great place to get curated content from all the blogs you follow in one place. It also has categories where it pulls content from a variety of blogs to get into one place.

You can follow my profile here and get updated whenever I post more! Of course, you can always follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for all the support!

Project Wedding: A Pantone-themed Bridal Shower

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All signage for the event was Pantone-themed

With spring — and love — in the air, it is officially the start of wedding season! As I slowly go through my photos from last year, I realize I never really shared the fab Pantone-themed bridal shower that my bridesmaids put together for me. This is a theme I really wanted to execute and knowing me, I know I wanted to have a hand in at least passing along some must-haves and working on a few DIYs.

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DIY large-scale poster backdrop

A big piece of the shower decor that I worked on was the Pantone backdrop for the dessert table. I designed and put it together on Adobe Illustrator and then printed off using Adobe Acrobat Reader with the tiling option. You can see the instructions for printing a poster at home here. This made it super affordable and easy to have a big ‘wow-factor’ backdrop without the price tag.

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Setup of the DIY perfume bar

There was a DIY perfume bar where guests could make their own little rollerball perfumes and mix their own scents. This was as simple as setting up some essential oils, a carrier oil and having the bottles and droppers ready. The guest also got a chance to name their scents by making a small label for themselves. This small activity was easy to setup and a great way to keep guests entertained. If you would like a post about this setup, just comment below!

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Pantone-themed favours and bridal shower games!

Other small details of this event were little drink tags using circle-punched paint chips and adding a Pantone-style code to each one.  Paint chips were also used to create the banner and as a photo mat for another game. It’s all about aesthetics! The best part of this was that it was an easy DIY banner with free paint chips.

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Watercolor paint guestbook

Aside from the obvious—and fun—bridal shower games, there were lots of smaller details with things such as the Pantone chip cookies and marshmallow pops, the water colour paint swatch guestbook, Pantone chip style candle favours and amazing little details in the purple being used across the board. One of my favourite things is to use wrapping paper as table runners!

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Marquee light signage for decor

I loved every bit of my Pantone-theme bridal shower. It was so exciting to see all the small details (it really is in all the details!) and the great work my girls put into it. I love how it all came together. For more inspiration and photos for bridal shower ideas, take a look below. For more wedding ideas and wedding DIYs, take a look at my Project Wedding page here.

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Pantone-themed sugar cookies

Comment on a theme you might want to see in the future. Follow me online for more on either Instagram or Facebook!

P.S. These photos are gathers from my guests so the lighting may not be consistent on all of them!