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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Getting Ready For a Holiday Road Trip

It's been a few years since I've done a real road trip, but I'm always up for a good one, and a good one has some good rules, so you don't get bored and you don't spend all your money before you get to your destination. 


get ready for your holiday road trip

In two years, I road tripped solo to Las Vegas and back, and then with my mom and dog to Montana. We jumped in the car for trips to save money the majority of the time when I was a kid, and we always had a great time, so if I don't know how to do it by now, that might be a problem. A majority of travelers over Thanksgiving go by car, so you're going to want to take some notes if you're one of them.


Don't drive straight through! The number one rule of road trips is we don't talk about road trips! Wait. No. That's another post for another blog maybe. The real golden rule of road trips is that you stop along the way and stop often. Driving for 4+ hours straight is BORING. Even if you play games or sleep, people will get grumpy, your legs will get stiff and you won't be happy. Plan a route that has interesting stops - a funky diner, a cool cave, the largest ball of twine. Something. Your stops don't have to be expensive, just fun and memorable.


Find everything from gas and rest areas to museums and food on your way by downloading the free app called iExit. Find out what at every exit along the highway wherever you go.




Dress comfortably. It is so easy to dress comfortably and still look like a person nowadays with fabrics like jersey, bamboo and rayon. Just because you've been in the car for 10 hours, doesn't mean you have to look like a slob. Not only are these fabrics comfy, but they also resist wrinkles and breathe well, too. If you can't live without your trusty jeans, invest in some nice ones with stretch. I have three pair that I paid a pretty penny for, but they are some of the best ones I own for travel.

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Bring foods! Eating out frequently is really going to take a bite out of your budget and totally ruin your diet. I don't know about you, but I also don't want to come back from vacation hating chicken strips or cheeseburgers either. Sure, eating out is fun, but choose your stops wisely and bring a cooler stocked with homemade stuffs – like fried chicken, potato salad and muffins – along with fixings for sandwiches, sides, drinks and snacks to nibble on in between stops.

Bring tunes from home. Don't rely on just the radio, otherwise you'll have times were the only thing you get are Christian and deep country music, if you can pick up anything. I swear there must be radio towers built into the mountains for these stations. If you're a fan of either, you are probably okay, but I still suggest loading up your iPod with some good road tunes, podcasts or e-books. That way you have a variety of things to listen to and aren't forced to listen to Jesus Rock in between static if you don't want to. On my solo trip, I listened to Harry Potter as read by Stephen Fry in between bouts of music. Yer a [road trip] wizard!


A paper map is a must. Yes, you have a smarty phone and your fancy GPS, but batteries die and not all roads show up on satellites. (Just ask those kids from Cabin in the Woods - "This road isn't even worthy of global positioning.") You never know what might happen, so an old-fashioned map is great for those unforeseen circumstances. If you don’t buy one before you leave home, pick one up at a gas station, convenience store or rest areas.

Coupons, coupons, coupons! Along the road you're bound to stop at a few rest stops or greasy spoons (including Denny's) and when you do, grab one of those highway magazines that is full of coupons for dining and lodging. You can.save a ton off already affordable necessities. Sometimes, you may find discounts for roadside attractions. If not, make sure to browse that rack in your hotel/motel lobby before you do anything nearby.

Don't forget to get your car ready before you hit the road, so you don't end up stranded on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, because that'll suck.

Are you headed on a road trip? What are your favorite tips?

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Where to Travel In December For Less

While other people are using their vacation days to visit or host family over the holidays, you could be heading on a winter getaway and doing away with all that stressful mess. In fact, I love to give myself the gift of a trip, because I don't need more stuff (despite wanting it), and awesome memories last forever. Here are 10 places to go on a budget next month:

Berlin

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany has become a wonderful tourist destination. The whole country is rich with culture and cool things to see and do. Save on ticket prices by purchasing airfare to Berlin via Reykjavik on Iceland Air. Add Iceland as a stopover for as long as you want for no extra cost! With the Oktoberfest crowds gone, you can visit this cosmopolitan city full of awesome museums, restaurants, and historical landmarks. The Christmas markets will be open, so if you're looking for street food, holiday spirit, and/or last-minute gifts, this is the place to do it. Purchase a city pass and save big on attractions on your trip. Get discounts on museums, gardens, transportation, restaurants and more.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

South America is always a great money-saving destination. Buenos Aires – "The Paris of South America" – is a hotspot for culture, nightlife and food. Take your time lingering over amazing dining experiences, learn to tango and explore historic neighborhoods and museums. You'll find plenty of affordable wine sipping opportunities, plus you can save on accommodations. Find suites for as little as $60 per night and bask in the lovely weather this winter.


Cancun (and Mexico in general)

If you can handle some of the crowds in the touristy parts of the country, like Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, you can find some really great hotel rates. It's no secret why a lot of people flock south when they go on vacation. Look at resorts along the Yucatan Peninsula for more scenic views or search for places that have all the things you enjoy doing on your trips, because Mexico has it all, and at better rates than many other countries. You just want to make sure you do your research so you aren't stuck in a million-room resort with a bunch of stuff you'll never do or use. Check into cottages, bungalows or boutique hotels instead.

Nashville

Known mostly for producing the majority of country music superstars, Nashville might surprise you as being a metropolitan city with so much more to offer besides Taylor Swift and the Dixie Chicks. Did you know that it is also the hometown of Kesha? It’s true! You’ll find amazing southern history around Nashville, including Civil War plantations. These grandiose homes are both awe-inspiring and educational. There’s no better way to learn about significant times in American history than to go right to the source. You can top off your days with down-home southern meals out and a vibrant nightlife full of all types of music.


New Orleans

I've traveled to New Orleans and have written several posts about it, and I'm planning another visit in March. With the big festivals over and Mardi Gras months away, December is a wonderful time to visit. Not only do you still get warm weather, but you also aren't wading through hoards of tourists.  Save on your trip to New Orleans with the Power Pass. Starting as low as $28 per day, gain entry to the must-see attractions of the city. Choose from places like the Musee Conti Wax Museum, Audubon Zoo, Cajun Pride Swamp Tour and much more! Available in 1, 2, 3 and 5 day durations. Add a 1-3 day MealTicket to eat at awesome restaurants for one low price. If you know you’ll be stuffing your face with étouffée, jambalaya and other Cajun deliciousness, this is definitely the way to go!

Orlando

Do you want to visit a destination that's warm this winter? Orlando has been having some wicked hot weather lately. It was in the 90s on Halloween, so you definitely don't need a coat. In December, Orlando sees a drop in visitors, since most of them are coming for the theme parks and it’s hard to do that when your kids are in school. If you can get away, you'll be able to enjoy that warm weather, while also getting bargains on hotels and finding shorter lines for park rides (except on Christmas party nights at Magic Kingdom). Be aware though, if you are relying on hotel shuttles, they will be few and far between for theme parks. I’d recommend renting a car or using Uber/Lyft.

Palm Springs

While not as exotic as much of the rest of this list, and known mostly for their golfing, Palm Springs is a nature-lovers’ desert oasis. From hiking, horseback riding and swimming, there is something for everyone who loves to be outside. Steeped in Native American and Mexican culture, the city is now a resort paradise that draws regular travelers and celebrities alike. You can find great deals on accommodations, entertainment and even dining and spa services. Whatever you’re looking for, you can find it – and find it for less – in the desert of Palm Springs.

St. Thomas (US Virgin Islands)

I'm still a bit bitter that I never made it to St. Thomas due to the hurricanes a few years ago, but hurricane season is over in December, so you're going to have a lot better luck than I did (though I won't complain about having to go to San Diego instead). There's so much to see and do and eat here, or you can just lay on the beach if you want. Here's a post I did on all the cool stuff there is to do.

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Thailand

The Phi Phi islands are where you want to go when you have a tropical locale on the brain. Thailand is notoriously budget-friendly, but most recreational travelers don’t know much about the islands. Ko Phi Phi is becoming a more widely known secret, because it offers everything one could want from an island getaway: beautiful beaches, crystal clear waters and perfect for diving and snorkeling. Tourism plays a big part in the economy of Ko Phi Phi and they have rebuilt a more luxurious island experience since the devastation of 2004’s tsunami. You’ll find resorts and restaurants that cater specifically to those looking for a true island experience – in between kayaking and laying out, that is.

Tucson

I grew up in Tucson and I know I wasn't appreciative of it when I lived there. I don't love cactus and I don't love the heat, but if you're looking for a destination that's affordable, interesting, and rarely makes it below the 60s in the winter, then you may want to check it out. Here's a post I wrote on how to spend 2 days in the city. If you have longer, then you can definitely cram in a lot more delicious food, awesome shopping, and outdoor activities, and not have to wear a giant coat during your trip.


Where's everyone going for the holiday season?

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Breezing Through TSA This Holiday Season

The holidays are coming and it's time to start planning and packing. Soon you'll join the millions of people traveling to visit friends and family or, if you're lucky, going on a winter getaway. I definitely approve of those, because the holidays can be stressful and getting away from everything is always nice and relaxing.


The airport during the holidays is a madhouse and security lines can be longer than usual, so let's talk about how to get through them with as little annoyance as possible (at least when it comes to yourself).

Eric, awkwardly, trying to pose for a pic while navigating this tiny Precheck hallway.

Sign up for TSA Precheck

You have time to do this and get approved before the holidays. For $85, you get 5 years of bypassing the main security lines and going through a much shorter line with less strict rules. You can keep your jacket, hat, belt and shoes on and your laptop and toiletries can stay in your bag. We're on our fourth year of using it and I'll never look back. Next year, when we renew, we'll be getting Global Entry, which works internationally and also includes domestic Precheck for just $100.

Get There Early

Longer lines mean longer wait times and the holidays means more traffic. Don't cut it too close to get to the airport. Give yourself at least two hours before your flight if it's domestic and three if its international at the airport. Accidents happen, extra long lines happen, computer glitches happen. Just be prepared. Bring a book or magazine to keep you occupied if you end up having a long wait at the gate...or go check out your airport's art or do some gift shopping.


Fly With Just a Carry-On

I've been flying with just a carry-on for a decade now. I've gotten my packing down to almost just the bare essentials, since I now know what will get worn and what won't. The trick to packing small in the winter is layering and not caring if all your pictures are you wearing the same coat and scarf (maybe two). Here's a post I did on packing light in the winter.

Don't Wrap Any Gifts

If you are visiting friends and family and haven't shipped your presents ahead (which I highly recommend), don't wrap them and stash them in your carry-on. TSA may very well want to inspect them and will not be sorry for you if they have to unwrap them. So, I suggest packing small gifts and saving the wrapping when you arrive. This takes up much less room too.

Go Left

Most people get to the security lines and head right to go through the x-ray machines. This makes these lines longer. Instead, go left if given a choice. These lines are shorter, making them a bit faster. Try skipping any lines with small kids, because they usually take longer.


Keep a Zip-Top Bag On Hand

Always have a bunch of things in your pockets? If you don't have an empty accessible pocket on your bag, have a plastic bag with you and then empty your pockets into it, so it doesn't get lost in the bottom of your bag or you don't have to stand at the end of the conveyor picking everything out of one of those little round bins to load your pockets back up.

Have Your Liquids Bag and Laptop Easily Accessible 

This is super annoying. All your liquids need to fit in a one quart see through bag in 3.4oz or less containers. Have this out and ready to toss in the security bin along with your shoes and laptop. When you're holding of the line rummaging for things that you knew you needed to have out, everyone gets that much more irritated and grumpy. You saw the signs. Don't pretend you didn't.


Wear Slip-On Shoes

Having to tie and untie your shoes to get through security is just another hassle you don't need. Pack those in your bag and wear some easy on easy off shoes. You will thank me. Anything that's hassle-free is nice, and can get you on your trip faster.

Don't Wear Any Accessories 

If you can get away with it, skip the jewelry and watch and belt. Those are just more things you'll need to take off to put through the scanners and nobody wants to wait behind you while you're spending an extra five minutes de- and re-accessorizing.

Download Your Airline's App

Carry one less thing. You're already walking around with your phone, so download your airline's app so you can easily check in, get updates and have your boarding pass on hand instead of stuffing it into your pocket or a book and then having a small panic attack when you can't find it. You can have everyone's boarding pass in your party on your app. Another brilliant tip: screenshot your boarding passes in case your app logs you out or the airport has shoddy WiFi right before you need to show it to someone. This has totally happened to me more than once. Never again!


Keep Your Chill

Don't be that person who gets all irritated when things don't go your way. Everyone's trying their best, the airline employees are already dealing with dozens of jerky people everyday. Don't make their life harder. Just close your eyes and breathe before you start yelling. Find your chill. Ask if it's really that important. Everyone's having a hard time, but they're dealing with it. Lots of things can't be helped, so you being grouchy and mean isn't going to change anything.

The holidays are supposed to be a happy time. Smile, even when you don't want to, think of the awesome trip you're about to go one, play games with your travel buddies and think of this as just another part of your adventure.

Where will you be going for the holidays?
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