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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Frugal Family Travels (Part 1) 12.29.12

I often talk to people who haven’t taken a real vacation in a long time. Between their bills and children, they feel like money is always an issue and their small budget won’t allow them to travel anywhere far from home. Traveling doesn’t have to be a burden, and with the stress of everyday life weighing down on you, a trip may be just the thing to re-energize you and bring your family closer together. You don’t have to spend a fortune to still have a great time. In fact, I spend my time researching ways to spend less, while still doing more on every trip I take. Here are just some of the ways to save when traveling with your family.
Travel in the off-season or during winter break. If you have smaller children, you have the luxury of traveling all year long. With this in mind, avoid traveling in the summer. Summer is easily the busiest and most expensive time to plan a vacation. If a beach or other warm-weather location is your destination of choice, plan a trip in the spring. Springtime is always less crowded and one of the best times to find sales on both airfare and hotel rates. If your children are in school, wait until Christmas break to make your journey. If you fly on Christmas Day, you can get rock-bottom airfare, since most travelers want to be at their destination by that day and it’s one of the lightest travel days of the year.
Trade in the ocean for the lake. If you are longing for a beach getaway, you can do many of the same activities at a lakeside destination as you can oceanfront, but with the upside of vast savings off your vacation total. You can still build sandcastles, go boating, snorkeling, diving, fishing, parasailing and more, but at a lower cost.
Rent an apartment, condo or house. When you travel with your whole family, even if it’s just four of you, a hotel room can feel claustrophobic. Hotels rarely offer more than just one room and an attached bathroom, so if you’re planning to be in your room for more than just sleeping and changing clothes, nobody has any personal space. Check sites like HomeAway and FlipKey to reserve a vacation rental for your stay. Not only will you have more room to spread out, but you’ll also save money over a bigger hotel room and have a kitchen, where you can make some of your own meals reduce your dining budget.
Avoid ordering off the kids’ menu. When you go out to eat, almost all restaurants have the dreaded kids’ menu that usually has the same five food items to choose from. Sometimes your kids are just not going to be happy with anything but chicken nuggets, but for the rest of the time you’re out, you can be more frugal and get your children to try new foods (and eat some vegetables!) by splitting an entree with them or between children. They will have options that are more nutritious than pizza and hot dogs and if they don’t finish what’s on their plate, you haven’t wasted money on a separate dish.
Use your zoo membership. Almost every family I know has invested in a zoo membership, because for one price, they can go to the zoo and aquarium all year long. This helps when money is tight and they have to get out of the house, and I don’t know any kid that doesn’t love fish and other animals. If you have a membership, you can use it to visit other zoos and aquariums across the country and, in some cases, in other parts of the world. It can be fun for kids to feel like the day is totally about them and they can learn about new animals in different parts of the world that your zoo might not have.
Traveling with kids can give you a whole different view of your vacation destination and cause you to be more creative in planning and traveling around each day. Children can be great world travelers, if given a chance, and it’s a wonderful opportunity for them to learn about new cultures, food and countries.


This post originally appeared on Totally Temberton.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Frugal Holiday Activities 12.26.12

Christmas is over, but that doesn't mean that there are no more holiday activities to engage in on your days off. Take a break from playing with your new toys and go outside. We were able to spend our Friday night doing something we hadn't done for a while. Going to the zoo.
The Oregon Zoo in Portland holds their Zoolights event between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve. They decorate the zoo with millions of lights. You'll see animals, but only lit up ones, as most of the real animals are asleep for the night. This is a super popular event in the Portland area. The lines were long when we arrived, but they were crazy by the time we were leaving. Weekends are the busiest and also the days leading up to Christmas, so going before the end of the year is perfect and a good way to spend quality time out with your family before school and work starts again.


With a zoo membership, you can get into this event for free. We happened to be in the right place at the right time and some wonderful people saved us $24 by handing us their two extra member tickets that they couldn't use, so this activity ended up being even cheaper. We spent a total of $9 once we made it in and that was on hot chocolates and treats. Even though it was rainy, we still had a good time and got some fun photos. 













What are some of your favorite local holiday traditions?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Last-Minute Gifts for Travelers 12.22.12

The Holidays are upon us, which means you’re probably visiting friends or relatives and you have to show up with gifts for Christmas, Hanukkah or, in some cases, a birthday. But what to get for people who already have everything, are super picky, you don’t know as well as you used to or you just don’t have time to shop for? If you will be traveling to see them and you don’t want to wrap stuff up to ship ahead of you, or are a super procrastinator and do things at the last possible moment, then you have options! First of all, your carry-on bag is probably not big enough to hold much more than your clothes and toiletries, so consider some small, but amazing options:



Get them a copy of Shereen Travels Cheap – You know I had to say it. But if you truly have someone who is always searching for bargains on everything or for the person who aspires to travel the world, but then never goes because they say they can’t afford it, this is the perfect gift! There are hundreds of tips in this book to help even the most inexperienced traveler or Internet researcher get the most for their money. College students, seniors and every age in between have said this book was easy to read, was amusing and gave them excellent money-saving tips within even the first few pages. It packs small, but is a wealth of information. Pay $14.95 and help them save thousands!



Get them gift cards – Usually, this is a big no-no on my list of gift ideas, because I feel like it’s not trying, but if you know someone who loves to travel, this is the most useful gift you can get them. Choose from their favorite airlines, hotels or get them an annual pass to airport lounges. You can get them something for where they are going, like Disney gift cards. If you are simply clueless, buy a gift card for a reseller site, like Travelocity or Hotels.com. At this late stage, you can get a lot of gift cards emailed, too.


Get them a QuikPod – For the solo traveler on your list (or even a couple), this thing is the greatest invention ever, and super affordable. The QuikPod has a camera mount and a telescoping handle, so you can take pictures of yourself – or you and your travel companion(s) – and also get some cool background in the shots. It takes up minimal space (even in the package) and is one of the best things I’ve ever bought, because I no longer have to ask passersby to take a photo or figure out how to angle the camera on my purse while also hitting the timer button and running back to position. It’s fabulous when you are traveling off the beaten path…or need to use it to beat someone, as it’s very sturdy and could make a good self-defense weapon. Ha! Two useful products in one!


Get them an Eye-Fi memory card – Got a budding photographer on your list, social media addict or a blogger to buy for? The Eye-Fi card is perfect! With built-in WiFi, it magically sends any photos or videos taken with it (you know, with a camera) to an iPhone, iPad, Android device or computer. Instant back-up! Not only that, you can set up your card to also send your photos and videos straight to an online sharing site, including Flickr, Facebook, Shutterfly and even YouTube. Pictures don’t need to be uploaded at the end of the day to be able to add them to a blog, making it so much easier to share and save. While they aren’t technically inexpensive, starting at $40, they can be a lifesaver, especially if a camera gets stolen on a trip, because all their memories will be backed up. It also saves a lot of time for those that make a living with photos or a blog, or just like to take many pictures everywhere they go. Plus, it’s smallness will make it easy to slip into your carry-on.


Get them some iTunes credits – Is your traveler all about their gadgets? Do they have a smartphone, iPad, iPod and more? If they are a connected traveler, then a card full of audio and visual possibilities is perfect. They can buy apps, music, movies, games and more to keep them from ever getting bored anywhere they go.

Get them a universal gadget wrist charger – This is one of the new fun things I’ve found over at ThinkGeek, for the person who is always running out of battery! Give them this futuristic looking “bracelet” and they can charge their device while using their phone, iPod or gaming device. When you can’t plug in for more juice, plug your device into yourself…sorta. Fantastic gift for those that are forgetful or always in transit. Comes with 9 connectors to be used on the most popular devices.
Get them a BackTrack personal GPS – For the person who habitually gets lost wherever they go. The BackTrack is a small, digital GPS from Bushnell that can clip onto a bag, belt loop or fit in a pocket. It comes in many colors, too, though I think the pink is fun. They can save their starting point, run around and sightsee and then find their way back to their car, hotel, a coffee shop or wherever else they originated from. Super easy to use and highly portable. Does not work inside, so if they get lost in a parking garage or mall, they’re out of luck.


Get them a CityPASS – Last week I posted about a great deal on five cities that offer the CityPASS. Buy them for the holidays and if they are used for the first time December 15th or after, they remain valid until the end of February, instead of the normal 9 day validity. CityPASSes are great for travelers, because they allow them to see and do more on a budget. Pay one price and get the most popular (and sometime obscure, too) attractions included. If you have a gift recipient that will be going to Hollywood, Philadelphia, Seattle, Atlanta or Boston, then get them some cool experiences. On average, CityPASSes save half off regular attraction rates, which is a huge savings if they get to all of them. Even if they are just going home to one of these cities, chances are they haven’t done some of the activities included and would like the chance to go back to the ones they have.

Do you like these ideas? They can certainly fit the bill for travelers you need to buy for. Do you have other ideas that are useful, fun and easily packable?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Favorite Travel Souvenirs 12.19.12

When traveling, I can't always justify spending money on random souvenirs that aren't useful, like t-shirts with the city written across the chest that I'll never wear or shot glasses or any number of other things sold in airport gift shops around the world. The one thing I always buy on my trips is an ornament for my Christmas tree. It make my holiday even more special and gives me a clear goal for shopping on my trip - plus I don't feel like I'm wasting money on something just to say I bought it from such and such city. Every time I pull out my ornaments, i remember what a great time I had on each trip I took. The other great thing about ornaments is they are small and generally are pretty affordable.

Purchased in St. George
Found at Disneyland
Santa delivers to the tropics, too
An ornament given to me by a friend when I visited her in San Francisco
An alpaca from Ecuador
A little tiki from Hawaii
Jack came from Disney World to grace my tree
Somehow I missed out on an ornament in Paris, so I bought this in lieu of that
What are your favorite souvenirs to bring back from vacations?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Cruising For the Budget-Minded 12.15.12

Cruise lines and booking sites are doing everything they can to entice cruisers to go right now. With all the deals flying around, it’s hard to not find one that fits your budget. Now you can be the one that comes back home with a tan in the middle of January and make all your friends jealous of your globetrotting. While cruising seems like a luxurious and expensive endeavor, it can be really affordable if you know when to go, how to cruise and what to book where. Of course, cruise shopping is not always easy. With so many hidden fees, rates can look fabulous and then when you try to book, you end up looking at a not so reasonable total. If you’re like a lot of people, you give up and either don’t go at all or spend way too much because you aren’t informed. Let’s look at what’s included and what’s not.



Inclusives: 

Entertainment. Almost all entertainment is free once on board. Unless you want to do something where you will win money, like bingo. All shows, trivia, lectures and movies are generally included in your price.



Gym. The exercise facilities are free of charge for everyone, as are the locker/shower rooms. Many exercise classes are also free, but some are not. If you have to sign up for a class, make sure you look to see if it requires payment.
Pools and hot tubs. Many cruisers spend the majority of their time out by the pool with a drink in their hand. While this can certainly be a fun way to spend your time, make sure you don’t imbibe too much (see non-inclusives) and get away from the pool to make more of your time.



Most food. Almost all your food is included in your cruise rate. All buffet and main dining room food is included in this. If you dine at one of the other restaurants that you have to make reservations for, you will use your "sign and sale card" and the cost of that meal will be added to your account to be paid at the end of the cruise. The same counts for the coffee shops where you can purchase pastries.
Some beverages. Unless otherwise specified, alcoholic beverages, sodas and some other specialty beverages are not included, while water, coffee and tea are. You can buy a soda card, which will give you unlimited soda, but it is extra from your cruise rate and you must buy it at the beginning of your cruise. You will usually also be charged at any of the coffee shops.

Non-Inclusives:
Port fees and taxes: This is a big one. The more ports you cruise into, the more fees you pay and each country has its own tax rates, so you can’t really estimate the totals. I like to assume a high rate and consider if I would go on the cruise if I were spending twice as much as the published price. This can happen with many cruises after taxes and fees are assessed. You can always Google port fees, too.



Alcoholic beverages and soda. This is how the cruise ship gets you. By charging you up to $4 for a soda and $10 or more on booze, your account can quickly add up to hundreds of dollars on just drinks alone. Not only do they charge you an arm and a leg on drinks, but they even add an average 18% "gratuity fee" to each drink you buy. 



Some entertainment. Things like bingo, rock wall climbing and miniature golf can be extra charges to your account.
Spa use. The spa sounds awesome and relaxing, but prices can be much more than those on land, unless you reserve a time on port day, where they discount services.
Some exercise classes. Some exercise classes are free, while others incur a fee. These are generally what they consider the most popular classes, like pilates or spinning.
Shopping. Anything you purchase on the boat will be charged to your account.


Eric using the ship's internet cafe
Internet. Internet fees can be horrendously high, but if you want to be connected, buy a package deal, as it'll be much cheaper than paying a la cart.
Land Excursions. The crew on your ship will do everything they can to get you to buy an excursion package once on board. Book through an independent company before you leave home and save up to 65% (and in some cases, even more).

So, what can you do to minimize costs on your cruise? 

Sexy towel bunny
  • Cruise in the off-season. Different cruise destinations have different peak seasons. Choose a destination that has an off-season that coincides with your vacation time.
  • You are allowed a case of soda or bottled water (on most cruises) per passenger. Bring your own and store them in your cabin fridge. 
  • As I said above, book your shore excursions before you leave home, through a reputable independent company and save a mint on them. More money for souvenirs and other sightseeing at your port city.
Cruise shops
  • Avoid buying art and/or jewelry onboard, unless it's deeply discounted on one of the last days. Chances are, you can find the same thing on land for much cheaper. I'm talking about real jewelry, like gold and diamonds.
  • Find an internet cafe on land and pay a fraction of the cost as you will on the ship.
  • Get an inside cabin. If you're active, like we are, you will be so busy NOT being in your stateroom that you'll barely have time to enjoy the room anyway. Don't spend up to twice as much on a room with a view if you won't be in it longer than to change clothes and sleep.
Eric doing dress-up karaoke
  • Spend time going to free activities, instead of hanging out by the pool all day. Honestly, you are paying to have the crew entertain you, so go to karaoke, towel-folding classes, trivia and all those other fun sounding activities. Each day you'll get a schedule for the next day. Plan out what you want to do and maximize your time on the ship.
  •  Shop at "non-approved" stores in port. For the most part, these shops get a commission for each cruise passenger that buys from them. If you go just a few blocks away and shop "off the map", you can get much better deals. Of course, if you plan to shop for jewelry or other pricey items, make sure you get a certificate of authenticity and that your jewelry is stamped. 
Our room before our beds were made into one
Don't know how to pick a cabin or a ship or want to know more about the activities or read reviews? Check out Cruise Critic. I found that they have more information and are easier to navigate than the cruise websites. And if you STILL need more tips on cruising, like how to get FREE alcohol, then make sure you pick up a copy of my book. Want to know as soon as it’s available? Sign up for my newsletter and/or my Facebook page.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Afternoon Tea Isn’t Just for the Brits 12.12.12


Finger foods (or hors d’ouevres or appetizers or tapas) are high up on my list of favorite things. Like ever. On my birthday we went out to a French bistro that had small plates – that we ate way too many of. Every party I throw is finger food central. You’ll come to my house to a buffet of tiny foods. When we got married, everything on the food table was fork-free friendly. I just think food should be convenient to eat and mingle over if you are in a group. I shouldn’t have to juggle my plate and a drink and figure out how to cut something with a fork and knife while I’m trying to have a conversation. Also, little things are CUTE. Babies know what I’m talking about.


It’s not only that small foods are fun, but it enables you to try more than one thing without stuffing yourself or spending a ton. They say variety is the spice of life, so when I have a chance to eat a meal entirely of bite-size nibbles I’m totally in. One of these times is a traditional afternoon tea. It’s a Brit thing, yes, but why does that mean the rest of us can’t enjoy it…and not have to be in England to do it? I say there is no reason you can’t indulge in the decadence that is afternoon tea anytime, anywhere – well, it obviously must be during afternoon tea time.




One of the great things about afternoon tea is the time. Between 12pm and 4pm you are usually looking for a place to have lunch. Normally, it’s closer to noon. I have a way to making tea turn into a budget friendly meal. Instead of gorging yourself on what amounts to four meals a day, turn it into two and a half. I am always up for eating more on vacation, but that also means I need to walk waaaaaaaaay more than planned. Since I can’t walk 28 miles a day to burn off all my usual extra calories, and I don’t have a never-ending budget for vacation, I use afternoon tea to save on dining some days. It enables me to eat a bunch of little things instead of several full-size meals.



Here’s what I suggest: Eat a big breakfast a little later than usual. 9 or 10am work perfectly. Make your afternoon tea reservation as late as you can get away with. I aim for 3:30 or 4pm. This way, by the time you are getting hungry, it is well past lunch time, but not quite dinner time. Leisurely enjoy your bite-size sandwiches, pastries, scones, fruit and anything else you are served with. This gets you to around 5 or 6pm. You can get in a show or movie or a little more sightseeing before you head back to your room/vacation rental. I always keep snacks on-hand when we travel, which we will nibble on later if we start to feel hungry before we are ready for bed.


This is also the perfect time to try a nearby food cart, split a sandwich or other yummy sounding thing from a deli or even grab a small pizza from a local mom and pop establishment. Of course, if you have leftovers from your previous dining experiences, you can always finish those off instead. Either way, that little extra you spent on a late-night snack won’t break your budget and you’ll have combined your lunch and dinner into a more reasonable cost than going to a sit-down restaurant for both meals separately. These photos are from my afternoon tea at The London West Hollywood – Gordon Ramsay’s rooftop restaurant (during the weekdays). You’ll be surprised how much these 3 little plates of food filled us up for the rest of the evening.


What is your favorite part about high tea? Is it the chance to try a bunch of different things like me?
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