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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Halloween Costumes for Travel

You know how I always like to travel around Halloween. It's not just because it's cheaper for me to take a trip then, but also because we're often somewhere that we can dress up and have fun, like Disney. If you also plan to travel near or on Halloween and want to wear a costume that doesn't take up a bunch of space in your carry-on bag (because checking a bag to accommodate a costume means you might as well have bought one once you get there), then I've found some great ideas that will make you look festive, but with minimal extra items.


Anyone can be a witch or Where's Waldo. Those aren't all that creative, but will do in a pinch. We like to try a little harder. Some of our past costumes have been: ice cream man, baseball fan, burglar and safari-goer.

I love this airline tarmac worker costume from TravelingMom.com. A vest takes up virtually no space and you can easily make flashlight cones from a pool noodle, which will fit conveniently in your bag or can be purchased at your destination.

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Got a black and white or blue and white striped shirt? You're probably going to pack a pair of matching pants or a skirt, so why not get yourself a beret and a matching scarf (a long scrap of fabric can work) and go as a french person, possibly not as sexy as this one:

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I also like this adorable little French dude: 
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Go with it and be a tourist. If you're traveling in a place that is warm, it's even easier, especially since you probably already have a map, a hat and your camera. We always bring khaki pants or shorts, because they go with everything. Toss in a Hawaiian shirt and you've got it down. Easy peasy.

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Everyone has room for an extra t-shirt in their bag. Turn yourself into a treasure map with this cool tutorial from Beantown Baker. Add a fun accessory, like a spyglass, an eye patch, a bandana or a sparkly red X glued to a barrette for your hair. 

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Be a hero to women everywhere and dress as Rosie the Riveter. If you're like most women in the world, you own a chambray shirt and a pair of jeans. Add a bandana and a slick of red lipstick and you're done. You don't even have to do your hair. Bonus!

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Be a more traditional hero - a superhero. Everyone loves Superman and you can be Clark Kent as Superman so easy. Any pants you've brought can work, pack a button-down shirt (or borrow one from your travel companion) and toss in a Superman t-shirt. Wear it underneath the open shirt (that you tuck in) and find a cheap pair of black-rimmed glasses. You can also be Supergirl, as lady below. Check Target next time you're there and pick up a Superman tee for cheap.

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This one relies mostly on makeup. Wear the jeans you brought and pack an old flannel shirt (or one you love and planned to wear anyway). The only thing you'll need to buy is a floppy hat and voila! You're a scarecrow, you know, with this makeup tutorial. This one is fun, because it's also unisex. Want to make it a little more realistic, buy some straw-colored yarn or pipecleaners and make some "straw" bracelets with pieces sticking out of your cuffs.

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When I go somewhere that might be cold, I almost always have a black sweater with me. It goes with everything. Make a run to the craft store and get some felt to make a circle and a big number 8 and go as a Magic 8 Ball. This is genius, whether you're pregnant or not...and is seriously easy to pull off for everyone.

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Guys, do you have a leather jacket? If you do, poof your hair and don a white tee and some jeans and go as The Fonz. Aaaaaaa! Thumbs up!

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I love food. I mean, who doesn't? I was inspired by this adorable little kid as spaghetti. You could easily make this for adults on a much smaller scale. Make a headpiece of spaghetti yarn, add some pom pom "meatballs" on top, wear a red shirt and possibly make a meatball necklace and wear a checkered napkin like a tablecloth. I like this idea so much, I might use it for my next trip to Disney's Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.

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So, there are some of my new favorite costumes for your travels. If you've worn any of these or have other ideas, I'd love to know. Halloween is my favorite holiday, and even though I have more costumes than I know what to do with, but that doesn't mean I don't want more. Where will you be this Halloween?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Fun Ways to Celebrate Fall and Halloween

Can you believe fall is almost here? Now's the best time to travel to a lot of places, because airfare and hotel deals are less expensive than other times of the year. We tend to do a lot of things in the fall, including going on our big yearly vacation. It saves us money this way and the kids are all in school, so there are smaller crowds and fewer lines everywhere we go. Want to make the most out of your fall? Then here are some fun ways to celebrate the season and Halloween.

Our dog Rikka conferring with Eric on which way to go



Head to New England
There are few places where you can go that are truly scary, but the New England area has a ton of history that includes witches, horror writers, massacres and more. This post gives you all the awesome things to do there. Rent a car, stay for a few weeks and drive to all kinds of awesome stuff.

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Hit up New Orleans
New Orleans is quite exciting and not just during Mardi Gras. There are plenty of things to do in the fall, especially considering the spooky vibe of the city including the history of voodoo and vampire legends. here are some fun things to check out. For haunted experiences, you may want to visit these 5 places:
  • The Omni Royal Hotel - Once the building for the city’s slave market and the site of great brutality, the hotel is now a grand place to stay and home to many spirits. 
  • The Bourbon Orleans - This former orphanage run by nuns still has kids running along its corridors. Guests have reported hearing children’s voices, seeing nuns in the hallways and feeling electrical charges near the stairwells.
  • Brennan’s New Orleans - A staple of the city since 1946, Brennan’s is not only a highly rated fine dining establishment, but it also has its own ghosts. In the Red Room, a man living in the building hanged himself after murdering his family. 
  • The Pharmacy Museum - Set on the site of the very first apothecary shop, the Pharmacy Museum holds a wide variety of cures and artifacts from old medical practices and voodoo rituals, including ghastly instruments used in the past for dentistry, many by the former owner, a dentist known to conduct grisly experiments on patients.
  • St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 Nearly everyone has heard of the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau and you can visit her tomb in New Orleans’ most haunted cemetery. Hundreds of thousands are buried in this one square block, with the tombs being reused over and over. 

Pumpkin harvest
I don't really get excited by pumpkin carving. That might be a little weird for someone who loves Halloween as much as I do. I just don't find it fun and I don't make pies, but often the harvest festivals are full of pumpkin-picking and other activities like hayrides, squash-tossing, farm animals and more. If you find a corn maze, it's not unusual for there to be pumpkin harvest festivities going on nearby. Kids love to run and pick out the pumpkin they will use for their jack-o-lantern at home and also enjoy running and around and climbing on things. We have farms that feature hay bale pyramids and tours on a farm train. Usually these days out are fairly affordable and you can even sign up to receive coupons when the celebration starts.

Corn maze
I look forward to the corn mazes all year long. It's so fun to go out and spend an afternoon on local farms and get lost in a maze of maize! We pack up the car with a change of clothes and the dog and hope there's no mud where we will have to use our extra clothes. The mazes test our ability to read a map or our trivia knowledge. While other families split up and race each other through the maze, we view it as a fun family outing and the three of us go together. Sometimes we just let the dog go and pick our course and sometimes we use whatever clues they give us at the beginning. After we emerge from the corn, we make a trip to the gift shop, grab something warm to eat and drink and then head home. There are always great photo ops.





Farmers' market
This is similar to you-pick farms, except you can just go with your list and have fun finding them at the different stalls. Another plus to the markets is that you are getting affordable local foods and you can usually pick up lunch from any number of food merchants there, too. Our market up the street is a great place to get everything from crepes to tamales. When you're traveling, it's a perfect way to stock your fridge with healthy options for snacks and side dishes.

Fruit picking
I love fresh fruits and vegetables. I also love to visit local farms. I'm always amazed by what people can grow. I have my own garden, but it's not big and awesome, so I like to get ideas on how to make it better. Many of these farms let you go pick your own fresh produce. You pay by the pound and often they have a store where they sell jams, sauces and other things they make on-site. These make great gifts and souvenirs as well.

Wine and beer festivals
Right after the grape and wheat harvests come the festivals! Food, wine, beer, you name it. Fall has tons of wine and beer celebrations everywhere they serve such things. Find new favorites when you can sample all the local (and some not-so-local) varietals and brews. Most of these fests require you to buy a glass for your samples, so you already have a built-in souvenir, too!


Head Underground
Lots of weird stuff happens underground. Here are three I greatly enjoy:
  • The Shanghai Tunnels under Portland. They were featured on Travel Channel’s 10 Most Haunted. Though it came in at number 10, it was the only Portland site to make the list, so by simple reasoning, it must make it Portland’s most haunted site. I was disappointed that I didn’t experience so much as a cold breeze, nor did I catch anything on my camera, unless you count dust particles catching the light of my flash and presenting themselves as “glowing orbs”, but maybe you'll be luckier (if you think it's lucky to see/feel a ghost) than I. 
  • The Dungeons are on my list of kitchy and kinda scary (if you're afraid of the dark and mirror mazes where you might be followed) and must-do attractions. The site offers best price guarantee and you can get discounted deals if you purchase a combination ticket with Madame Tussaud's and/or the London Eye. If you plan to visit off-peak hours, you can save up to 50%! You must purchase your tickets online though. Each dungeon (located in London, York, Hamburg, Edinburgh, Amsterdam and now San Francisco) walks you through the "streets" of history and winds you through creepy stories and rides that take you from one area of the dungeon to another.
  • Paris Catacombs. There are miles of underground tunnels underneath Paris full of human bones that were put there when the cemeteries became overcrowded. Even now they are still crowded, but with tourists. Get there right at opening and beat the crowds. Lines can stretch up to 2 hours long and with prices at only 5 Euros per person, it's one of the cheaper things you can do in France. I just realized I never did a post on my trip into the catacombs, so that will be coming in the near future.

Go to a theme park
Most theme parks have a Halloween celebration of some sort. Here are the top ones, including how to save on admission if there's a way to:
  • Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Many park days at the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland in Sept-Nov are cut short for this party that requires a special ticket to get in. From 7pm to midnight, many of the park guests come dressed in costume to enjoy 5 hours of trick-or-treating, dancing, nighttime thrill rides (only specific rides will be open during that time, not the whole park), Hall-o-wishes fireworks display, an all-villain musical show in front of the castle, villain meet and greets, amazing park decorations and, best of all, a special parade opened with the Headless Horseman on horseback. It’s all totally Disney and so out of their normal festivities that it’s worth putting off your vacation until that time of year.
  • Knott's presents Knott's Scary Farm. Save significantly on your tickets by buying them online instead of at the gate.
  • Universal puts on Halloween Horror Nights. While ticket prices don't waver, you're sure to get your money's worth while riding select rides and being scared out of your wits with roaming creeps, themed haunted houses and scare zones. It's like being in your very own horror movie. 
  • Busch Gardens in Tampa offers up Howl-o-Scream. Much like Universal, they have scare zones, haunted houses and themed entertainment. You can't get cheaper tickets for this event either, but it'll scare your pants off, which you maybe can't put a price on.
  • Sea World has a great event for the little ones and admission is included with your regular park ticket. It's called Spooktacular and it offers trick-or-treating, silly and spooky shows and kids are encouraged to come in costumes.

What are some of your favorite ways to celebrate fall? In the next blog post I'll talk about awesome and easily packable Halloween costumes for your travels.

Win an iPad Mini + 12 Months of F-Secure Key

Last week I wrote about a great service that keeps track of all your passwords with one master password. One password to rule them all! If you missed it, read about it here. Now through next Tuesday at midnight (PST) I'm going to be running a promo. Leave a comment on my Facebook post about F-Secure, share my post with your Twitter followers or leave a blog post comment and you could win a 16GB iPad Mini and 12 months of F-Secure Key. Sounds easy, right? Enter below! (Sorry, open to US residents of 18 years or age or older only.)




    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    That's it. On Wednesday I'll check everyone's posts and contact the winner by Thursday, Oct 2nd for their shipping info to send to F-Secure to get a new Mini to them. Good luck!


    Saturday, September 20, 2014

    Feeling Homesick While at Home

    It'll catch me at random times, like standing in line at Starbucks or in my own kitchen. I'll sigh and desperately wish for some truly delicious coffee. It's one of the things I miss the most about Paris, and though we have a fantastic French bistro we go to for breakfasts sometimes, and they make a mean croissant, the coffee is just wrong somehow. While driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I long to jump into the nearest Tube station. To walk along the river and eat at that beautiful restaurant with the amazing views, to shop the outdoor market any day of the week instead of scheduling my days around them. 


    It's not always about London or Paris, but usually. It's not always about food either, but again, it most often is. I guess taste is just as much an emotional trigger to me as other things. I have vivid food memories, probably because they combine taste and smell for a stronger connection. 

    Do you ever feel homesick for a place that isn't home? The more places I go, the more often it hits me. It's not the hopeless sort of I'll-never-be-happy-again-until-I-sleep-in-my-own-bed kind of homesick that I once had when I was little, with days of crying and feeling nothing in my life was right at all and forcing my grandmother to call my mom and tell her to come get me from across the country, but those little tugs of longing for a different place I'd once been or a very specific meal or smell or view. Not that we don't have rivers in Portland, or open air markets, or good coffee. We have all of those things, but it's different. A friend of a friend says she calls it Nostalgia in the Moment and I think that's pretty beautiful.


    I used to just go on vacation and come home and fall back into my life and the same things that I'm used to. Now I realize that I'm experiencing more. Getting more out of my vacations and fulling surrendering to my surroundings. Those weeks are now becoming a part of my life instead of an escape from it. Perhaps that makes me a bit more vulnerable, but I find that when I get back to those places I've missed, I get even more out of it. There's no taking it for granted they way that can happen. I want to suck as much out of each day as possible. 

    this year, I'm finally getting back to a place that has pulled on me for quite some time, that I haven't been back to in two decades. Virginia may not sound exciting to most, and maybe it's not, but it was where I spent a good portion of my childhood and holds great memories. I'd forgotten about it for quite a long time, but in the past few years (five, probably), every time I've mentioned it as a potential vacation destination, because, you know, Busch Gardens is pretty awesome, I have felt a stronger and stronger longing for it to actually be true. I maybe shouldn't have stayed away for so long, but now I'm going back and immersing myself in old memories while making new ones. Should be interesting. 


    I know this is normally not the kinds of posts I usually make (Don't worry, I'll be back to my regularly scheduled budget travel posts soon enough.), but this idea took hold of me, much like the memory of rich, bold coffee with real sugar or a properly-brewed cup of tea with cream, and I felt like maybe I'm not the only one who feels like this in their normal life, feeling an odd homesickness for somewhere only visited for a short time. And if I'm not, it might make others feel better about their own at-home homesickness as well.  If you are a victim, where do you long for or for what? Perhaps yours is a lovely stretch of beach or a slab of thick-cut bacon or the damp air of a particular foggy morning. 


    Thursday, September 18, 2014

    Keep Your Passwords Safe

    I don’t know about you, but I’ve about had it with all the website hacks and having to change my password so many times that I don’t even remember what they are anymore. I hate having to click on that “Forgot Password?” link. The worst is when you need to check something real quick or get into an account, like your bank account, when you’re on-the-go, but have totally forgotten what you’ve changed it to and then have to wait for them to send you an email (maybe right away or maybe tomorrow or the next day). Stop changing your passwords because you forgot them, by setting up one master password through F-Secure Key that will keep track of all your other passwords and keep them totally safe, even from the company.



    Haven’t you always wished that you could just have the same password for everything? Well, you can now, making your sign-ins way easier and less stressful. Since all your passwords for all your many accounts should be totally unique, it’s not easy to remember more than a few and then not them confused with each other. The issue most of us have is not so much remembering, but the fact that our passwords are too simple, so we can remember them. That means it’s easier for hackers to figure them out, too. The longer and more complicated your password, the harder it will be to break them. Use a combination of upper case, lower case, numbers and special characters.
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    Did you know you should periodically change your passwords? Apparently, that’s a thing. Cyberspace sleuth and pro Clifford Stoll has said to “Treat your password like your toothbrush. Don’t let anybody else use it, and get a new one every six months”. I guess I’ve been doing it wrong, as I’ve had the same passwords for many things for years. Here are some tips on creating a stronger password:
    • Establish an appropriately long password. 8 characters are good, but 10 or more is better. 
    • As I said above, make sure you include at least one lower case letter, one upper case letter, one number and one special character.
    • Avoid using names, including all or part of your user name.
    • Avoid sequences, such as 1234 and abcd or the opposite, like 4321 and dcba. 
    • Avoid real words, unless you mix them up with numbers and special characters, but don’t use the number zero for the letter O, as these are easy to crack. 
    • Avoid personal info, like birthdays, addresses, phone numbers, etc. 
    • When changing your password, make it completely different, not the same with a number or letter tacked onto the end. 
    • Never ever give your password to anyone, even if they are from the company (or say they are) and ask for it. This is a hacker scheme and often come in the form of phishing emails. Whenever I get an email saying I need to change my password, I go directly to the website and never click through the link in the email, just in case. Some phishing emails are very convincing.


    Sounds annoying, huh? With F-Secure Key, you can make your passwords as difficult as possible and never have to worry, because it auto-fills your passwords for you or you can cut and paste them. It also remembers your emails, PINs and other important info you need for logging in. You can use it on all your devices and have the ability to lock them with your F-Secure Key password to keep them safe from others.



    F-Secure Key is free on one device. The PREMIUM edition syncs all your devices and costs just over $1.50 a month. For being my awesome readers you get two PREMIUM months of service for FREE! Cool, right?
    CODE: PREMIUMKEYOFFER14
    Instructions:
    Go to F-Secure Key download it FIRST from your IOS or Android device.
    If using Android: Go to Menu-Help- Enter PREMIUM VOUCHER
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    Think of how much time you’ll save by not having to rack your brain to remember passwords or wait for emails that sometimes never come. I love this service and the fact that when I’m at home and on vacation, I never have to worry about getting into any of my accounts, while still keeping them safe from hackers, which is always an even bigger threat when using questionable Wi-Fi. Am I right?


    Want to connect with F-Secure Key? Find them on Facebook | Twitter | YouTube

    Disclosure: This is a a sponsored post. I have been selected as a brand ambassador for F-Secure, however, all opinions are 100% my own.

    Wednesday, September 17, 2014

    Planning for Holiday Travel

    It's getting to that time when you will want to start planning your holiday travel, especially if you are traveling over Thanksgiving, because the longer you wait to book your airfare, the more expensive it'll be. Want to learn all the secrets to saving big bucks on your holiday trips? Then check out my ebook. For just 99 cents, I give you all the ways to sneak savings out of your planning and how not to lock yourself in the garage with a bottle of wine because your family is stressing you out. So, not only will you save on your trip, but also on this fantastic info. (Remember, you can download this book even if you don't have a Kindle. The Kindle app is free on iTunes and Google Play and works on all your web-enabled devices.)



    Closer to the holidays, I'll be posting some new reviews and lists of fabulous travel gifts that can be ordered and shipped or easily slipped into your carry-on, so you don't have to check a bag just to bring your presents with you on the plane.

    If you like this ebook, make sure to check out my ebook for summer travel savings, too!

    Saturday, September 13, 2014

    Travel Hair Care Tips

    When you travel, if you want to travel light, there are some things you have to change. While it can be easy to get caught up in routines, and it's important to keep some of them intact wherever you go, sometimes you need to switch things up to fit your travel lifestyle. We don't compromise on our strict carry-on only policy unless it's coming back from vacation and checking a bag with our too-many-purchases is less expensive than shipping back the spill over. That being said, we are always looking for ways to pack less and lighter. Now, I'm not willing to have a bad hair day in exchange for more packing space if that's my option, so I'm betting I'm hardly the only one. Want to look your best while still keeping everything in your small bag? 

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    Decant your fave products into smaller containers
    This seems like a no-brainer, but some people are still trying to pack full-size products and checking their bags because of it. I'm not going to pay an extra $35 for my shampoo to fly, especially when I'm not going to need a giant bottle of it for a week or two. Washing your hair everyday isn't good for it, unless you're spending all your time in the pool or ocean and need to get the chemicals out. Either way, a 3oz bottle should last you more than two weeks, even with everyday shampooing. Make a run to Target, pick up a selection of travel bottles and jars if your fave products don't come in smaller sizes and decant, decant, decant. Only need a smidge? Use contact cases for things like moisturizer that you need very little of.

    Make use of dry shampoo
    If you don't know how to break out of the shampoo everyday rut, try a dry shampoo. You can find small spray bottles at your salon or in the hair care aisle of your favorite drugstore. Make your own at home and save money. it's easy. Here's how.

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    Switch to shampoo bars
    This is a favorite in my travel bag. I save room in my 3-1-1 for more important stuff, like contact solution and moisturizer, by packing a solid shampoo and conditioner. I buy mine from Lush, but they have them at Basin and several other places. They work like soap, but come in a variety of ingredients for different types of hair, just like regular shampoo. A bonus is that they last for a really long time, so you won't have to refill your shampoo after every trip like you might now. Another bonus: no spillage. I hate that.

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    Downsize to travel-size hair appliances
    Bringing your hair appliances from home is a good idea, since you know how they work and will make you feel better about yourself if you're used to using them all the time. I travel with a straightener by Conair, but not the same one I use everyday. It's large and bulky. Instead, I've opted for the smaller, travel-size one. It actually works better and takes up a heck of a lot less space in my carry-on. I have one that has a rounded edge, so I can use it to straighten or curl. I love a multi-purpose tool. More and more companies are making mini versions of their popular hair care appliances, and it's smart to invest in them, plus you can always keep it packed in your bag, so you don't forget it.
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    Don't bother taking a blow dryer
    I know this is a controversial one. I tend to take showers at night and let my hair air dry, or spritz in some beach spray (see below), so I can scrunch and go, but I know there are people who swear by blow drying. I'm not one of them, because I'm lazy, but sometimes I use one. That said, almost all hotels and even many vacation rentals supply hair dryers for their guests. Save room in your bag and leave yours at home. If you must bring one though, try to find a travel version, so you aren't taking up half your carry-on with an unnecessarily large device.

    Instead of a curling iron, use sea salt spray for beach curls
    I've discovered the beauty of beach curls/waves. I like it, because I can jump out of the shower, spray this in, scrunch it up and get on with my day. So much easier than taking out the curler, waiting for it to heat up and meticulously curling strand after strand. It saves me time, which I am grateful for. It can also work on dry hair, but I've been less successful with that. I'd say to just spray your hair with water first and then add the sea salt spray for best results.

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    Use sunscreen
    Don't forget that your hair is just as susceptible to sun damage as your skin. Rub some sunscreen in your palms and run your hands through your hair to avoid leeching your color. This also adds a bit more needed moisture too. If you're worried about it not blending in, dilute it with a little water. If you wear a part in your hair, make sure to dab some sunscreen there as well. There's nothing worse than a burnt (and eventually peeling) scalp. 

    Go au naturale
    Put your clothes back on, because I'm still talking about your hair. If you're okay with saving time in the morning with tools and unneeded products, feel free by leaving your hair as it naturally is. Don't curl your straight hair or straighten your curly hair. You might find you don't hate it.

    Do you have travel hair care tips that save time or luggage space?

    Wednesday, September 10, 2014

    Top 5 Dos and Don'ts of Car Rentals

    Most of the time when we travel, we rent a car, but it depends on where we go. Some destinations are easier to get around by car, like Orlando or Los Angeles, and some places are not or it's just more convenient to use public transportation. Of course, there are those destinations we've rented a car in and either wished we hadn't or did a little more research before we went, like Ecuador. It's always smart to know how things work in the city you'll be traveling in. Security and roads without signs aside, here are my top 5 Dos and Don'ts of renting a car.


    Do
    1. Keep Looking Until the Last Minute because rates can fluctuate wildly. Most of the time you make a reservation and don't have to give a credit card or pay ahead, even with some aggregators such as Hotwire, so it just makes sense to watch for price drops all the way up until the day before you leave. There's no penalty for cancelling and rebooking, so do it if you can save a buck...or $100. It's been known to happen and keep an eye out for promo codes.
    2. Reserve the Smallest Car Possible. I almost always book a compact or economy car. There are only two of us and they are comfortable enough. The smaller the car, the cheaper the rates and the less you'll have to pay to fill up at the gas station. A bonus is that the smallest cars usually sell out first, so you get upgraded for free to the next car size available. Note, if you change your mind once you get to the rental counter, you can always upgrade on your own, but you can't downgrade, so pick the smallest size you are comfortable with. Three of my last four rentals were upgraded, since my flight came in in the evening and all the economy cars were gone. Bummer for me, right?
    3. Look at All Rental Locations. The airport isn't the only place you can rent a car and sometimes looking offsite can be more affordable. If the hassle is worth it for the price difference, that might make less of a dent in your budget. In fact, the government imposes fees on rental companies at the airport, so those are passed on to the customer. Sometimes it's significant. Sometimes it's just a few cents a day.
    4. Check the Weekly Rates. If you'll be traveling for 5 or 6 days, it can sometimes be beneficial to check weekly rates on rental cars, because they come with a price break that may just be cheaper than paying for separate days.  Make sure to check the fine print and see if you will be penalized for bringing the car back early. Most of the time you won't be, but some rental companies have caught on and want to squeeze as much money out of you as possible.
    5. Use Ebates for Extra Savings. Ebates gives you cash back on things you're doing everyday, including going on vacation. Sign up for free, then click through them to get to our favorite travel merchants, including a whole list of car rental companies, to get cash back and even current promo codes to save even more.

    Don't
    1. Take the Prepaid Gas Option. While every once in a great while this is actually a deal, 99.99% of the time it is a total rip-off. Unless I'm in Europe, I should never have to pay $8+ for a gallon of gas. The rate is usually posted and, though it sounds really convenient, it's just another way for them to extract every last cent from your wallet or, more specifically, your credit card. The same principal goes for their GPS system. If you have your own or usually use your phone, bring it with you and save $15 or more per day. If your personal GPS gets stolen, it'll be a lot cheaper to replace.
    2. Get the Insurance. If you have a car with insurance at home, it's highly possible you are covered in rental cars. If not, the credit card you are using to rent the car probably protects you. make sure to check all possibilities that you already use before adding an extra $16+ per day to your rental. There's no sense in paying more when you really don't have to, even when that "only bring back the steering wheel" thing sounds awesome. It's designed to.
    3. Forget to Sign Up for the Rewards Program. It's free, it's easy and all your rentals give you points towards things like upgrades and free days. Those sounds like fantastic things, but the reason I really do it is for the increased savings. Members get access to special promos and discounts.
    4. Rent With Your Debit Card if possible. If you do, the rental company often takes your rental total and a deposit when you pick up your car, leaving you with hundreds of dollars less in your bank account that you probably counted on using on your trip. If you only have a credit card for car rentals, it will still be more convenient than not having one at all.
    5. Rent a Car for Your Whole Trip if You Don't Need To. Sometimes you only want a car for certain things. If you have several places you plan to drive to, then plan to do those things on consecutive days, so you only have to rent a car for those days instead of all of them. It seems like common sense, but many people never think about doing it that way and waste money they didn't have to.
    Renting a car is not often all that fun, but I enjoy driving other places that aren't at home. Learn the ins and outs of renting before you get to the counter, that way you don't end up being that person who asks 900 questions and making everyone behind you want to run you over with their car. Somehow, I always get stuck behind the three people who've maybe never rented anything before and am reminded of being at the post office and the bank. If you can fill out all your info before you get to your destination, which is an option on some sites, especially if you've rented from them in the past, do so and you'll be in and out as quickly as you can sign the forms and get to the garage. you'll be on your way faster and everyone will be less stressed out. 

    What are your tips for renting a car, in general or more affordably? 

    Saturday, September 6, 2014

    How Far Can Your Dollar Go?

    Being a budget traveler can be hard, since saving money is not always that easy or convenient. Of course, if you are flexible, you can easily find a destination that fits the amount of money you can spend. I try to intersperse my vacations so that we go somewhere moderately-priced or budget-friendly several years in a row in order to save for larger and more expensive trips, like those to London or Disney World. Even though we had a lot of trouble in Ecuador, it was super affordable, educational and still one of the best trips we've ever taken. In fact, aside from the airfare, the two weeks we spent there were cheaper than the week we spent in Los Angeles going to Disneyland and other Southern California attractions. So, where should you go if you don't have a giant budget? Check out what a dollar can buy you in other parts of the world. I think Columbia and the Philippines might be added to my list after seeing this.



    Pretty eye-opening, wouldn't you say? After seeing this, where would you think about spending your next dollar and vacation?


    Wednesday, September 3, 2014

    10 Ways to Save Money on Airfare

    Airfare can be quite expensive, depending on where you're going or when, but there are ways to save, making your vacation easier to fit into you budget. It can be pretty discouraging when you search for airfare and see sky-high prices. It doesn't have to be that way, though. You can find rock-bottom deals if you know how. Here are my top 10 ways to save.


    1. Get airfare alerts - NOW - As soon as you know where you want to go, set up airfare alerts, like from Airfare Watchdog, FareCompare and Expedia. If you want to go to a place where only a few airlines fly in, set up fare alerts with those airlines, too. For example, Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines cover the majority of Hawaii-bound flights and often have the best deals.
    2. Check regional airlines - These smaller airlines might offer lower rates, because they have fewer routes and need to compete with the big guys. This is a perfect way to make short trips for less or make a side trip. Some regional airlines include Peninsula Airlines, Mokulele Airlines, West Coast Airlines and Ozark Airlines. The same thing goes for budget airlines, like easyjet, which we used to fly from London to Paris for less than $200 for two of us.
    3. Be flexible about what season you travel in - Every destination has an on-season and an off-season. Know when it's cheaper to visit there and you'll be able to book the best times for the most affordable flights.
    4. Travel mid-week - Tuesday and Wednesday are the least popular days to fly for people, so generally airlines look to drop their rates, even if just by a little, on these days to encourage people to fly then instead of on the weekend. Of course, Saturday is also a "slow" day and can have equally budget-friendly flights.
    5. Book mid-week - Most people look for airfare on the weekend, when they have extra time to spare. Take advantage of sales that run from Tuesday-Thursday and book mid-week instead. Those booking Friday-Monday will only find the most expensive rates, except for the odd typo rates found in the wee hours of Saturday morning.
    6. Choose "flexible dates" when it's available when looking for tickets - Tuesday and Wednesday aren't always the best days to fly. Be flexible when you sarch and you might find a great rate a few days before or after you wanted to go or come back. Isn't it worth changing up your days if that's the case?
    7. Fly into or out of a different/nearby city - Smaller hubs are less busy and because of that, they often lower their rates to get people to fly through them instead. Two ways I've saved this way is by flying into Oakland (OAK) instead of San Francisco (SFO) or flying into Ontario (ONT) instead of Los Angeles (LAX). Choose "nearby airports" on your search and see if this might work for you.
    8. Book a promotional package deal - Sometimes it's just cheaper to bundle your whole trip. I've often found deals that included air, car and hotel for the same price or less than just airfare. In that case, I was able to save money by only having to book one thing and then just worried about food and what to do at my destination. It doesn't always work that way, but it's worth looking into.
    9. Bid for low rates on Priceline - If you aren't picky about which airline you fly on or what time of day you fly, then choose your dates and what you're willing to pay and set your bid. Airlines will compete to see if they can match your bid and if they agree, your airfare will be booked, your card will be charged and details will be sent to you via email.
    10. Book overseas flights 6-8 weeks in advance - Flying domestically has different rules than flying internationally. Domestic flights have the best deals, generally, 3-6 weeks in advance. The magic number is 42 days, but again, that's not a hard and fast rule. If you're traveling internationally, you'll want to book further out to get the best rates, and that's 6-8 weeks out. I know this can be difficult for people like me who want to book as soon as possible, but that doesn't mean that deals can't be found further out.
    So, those are some of my best tips. If you want to save, you have to be flexible. If you have kids and think you can only travel during holidays, call the school and see if it's possible to take them out and bring homework with them. You just want to make sure you let them know with plenty of time to spare, so they can actually put together all the work for them to keep up with. Do you have tips on how you saved on airfare in general or on specific destinations?

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