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Saturday, August 19, 2017

If I could, I'd take my dog  everywhere. Unfortunately, she isn't welcome everywhere even though she's small and better behaved than most children.



When we travel, we usually leave her at home with my mom, but if we road trip it, chances are pretty good that she's going along for the ride. (See what I did there?) If your furry best friend likes to jump in the car and take a vacation (even a short one), here are some great tips to make it friendly and fun for them as well.

Look at this spoiled doggo


Keep cool - So, its pretty hot in the car and in the summer. Our car doesn't have that fancy dual a/c switch to control the front and the back separately (I have a Kia Rio, it's not THAT big), so to keep the dog cool while driving, we basically have on Max AC and point the vents all at the ceiling so the air gets to her and we freeze our faces off. Another great idea is a Kool Collar. We just bought a new one and it simulates evaporation sweat - because dogs can't do that and wear fur coats all the time - by using ice or their fancy ice packs. We use it at home, we use it at the beach, we use it at the park. No panting. My dog loves it.


Hydrate! - Just like you, dogs need to keep hydrated. If you don't have one of those non-spill bowls that are all the rage for travel times, stop for water breaks for everyone, but mostly for your pup, because they don't have thumbs for opening a water bottle.


Yes, my dog has a bag to ride in, because she's not a good hiker.

Make pit stops - Your dog also can't let you know they are dying for the potty. All that extra water has to go somewhere. Check out the rest areas along your way and plan to stop every few hours to let them do their business and stretch their legs. If you also have kids, you're probably doing this anyway. Then you won't be driving 19 hours straight and swear off road trips forever like that last time.

Rikka is nothing if she's not a great car snorer when she's been a passenger for most of a day.


Comfy up the car - Make sure your dog feels comfy and safe in the car, especially if they get nervous like mine. We bring her bed so we can also bring it inside wherever we stay for the night. She also has her own car seat that allows her to see out the window, be contained and also take a nap.


She likes the bed, but can't jump up or down, so we made her own little version on the floor when we left.

Make their crate awesome - I'm not a crate person, but only because my dog spent much of her life in one her first three years and I was sad for her, so I gave her the choice. She spent less and less time in there, so we put it in the garage. If your dog loves their crate, or it's the best way to travel with them not climbing all over everyone and getting in the way, make sure it's comfortable enough to spend hours at a time in. Get them a cushion or blanket so it's soft and inviting.



My dog likes to sightsee too...and duck under railings meant to keep people out.


Bring home with you - Just like I like to have a little bit of home with me, dogs feel comforted by something familiar. Bring along a gave blanket/pillow/bed and some toys and they'll be happier.


Jerky's the best...even when you're away from home.

Stay on schedule - If you feed and walk your pup on a schedule, try to keep as close to that timetable as possible (even if you're giving extra walks and treats -because exercise makes you hungry). It'll keep them from getting confused and feel more normal even in a different place.

Look at me...in a mining cart.

Do some research - Make sure you know where you can take your dog and where you can't. Find the number of a vet near where you'll be staying. Just in case. Look for dog parks and pet-friendly dining establishments. Many people bring their dogs to the Oregon beaches, so a lot of stores don't mind you shopping with a well-behaved pooch.


Plan ahead -- Make sure you're prepared for all the things you're going to do or. Might happen while you're away from home. Here's a list of what to plan for:
  • bring an extra collar/leash, because you never know when one will get broken or lost.
  • their fave food is obvs to some. Don't take this as an opportunity to have them sample new cuisines. It'll just make them sick.
  • Invest in Doggles. We have a pair of Doggles sunglasses for Rikka to enjoy sitting out in the sun. If your pup likes to stick their head out the window, a pair of dog goggles are good for protecting their eyes from flying debris and might save you a trip to an unknown vet.
  • Going hiking or somewhere hot? Get your pup some shoes. Their paws are pretty sensitive, so you gotta protect them, just like your own feet.
  • Pack a carrier. My little one gets tired fairly easily, so when she starts to lag behind we scoop her up and carry her in a doggie sling (see above pic). She can rest and still be part of things. It's also good for when we head into some shops.
  • Download some phone apps to find dog parks, rest stops & dog-friendly restaurants. I like iexit and dogfriendly.
  • Things happen. Look up your route along the way and find emergency vet addresses and numbers to have on hand just in case.
  • Don't forget meds/supplements if your dog normally takes them. You can always keep them in the cooler with your snacks and beverages.

How do you like to travel with your dog?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Happy Blogaversary! STC Turns 7

I can't believe the day is here (well, a few days ago)! This blog has been running for seven whole years now. It's been fun, it's been hard, but I've also learned a lot and I hope you have too. 


Each year I try to share something interesting and fun on my birthday/anniversary post. For this, my 7th year, I want to talk about my next 7 (hopeful) vacations. We won't count Vegas, because you all know I am there several times a year. I post a lot of cheap eats and awesome activities, since it's ever-changing. You'll see those posts and, in fact, a few are coming up soon. For now, let's go beyond :

1. St. Thomas USVI

We just bought our plane tickets for this exciting destination. It's time to kick back and relax, but also go shopping, snorkel, eat conch fritters and drive on the wrong side of the road. The U.S. Virgin Islands are celebrating 100 years and I'm all over that. I didn't plan my trip to coincide with their centennial, but it just happened to work out that way. We'll be visiting during their "rainy" season (surprise, surprise), but I anticipate that will just add to our adventure. I'm looking forward to the sky gondola overlooking the island, encountering marine life in the wild and at Ocean Park and appreciating butterflies at the Butterfly Farm. I may or may not be working on a St. Thomas wish list post as we speak.

2. Philadelphia

Well, we thought about doing that whole down the East Coast deal where we hit Boston, Salem and other cities, but now we've put that on hold and settled on spending the week in Philadelphia during Harry Potter weekend, getting in on all the history the rest of the week and also a quick visit to Hershey and Hershey World. I'm working on my costumes already, because I'm going to do all the Harry Potter things dressed up and hit the town (probably) in street clothes later on. Accio CityPASS! I'll be posting a Philly wish list at some point.

3. Idaho

I know this doesn't sound exciting, and it may not be, but I'm excited for it anyway. We have tentatively planned a short 4-day road trip to Idaho next May which will include a stop in Wallace, a spin around Coeur d'alene, and a visit to Silverwood Theme Park during their anniversary weekend. Why then? Because kids are still in school and admission is under $20 a person. 

Anyway, Wallace is the Center of the Universe (per their mayor, so please don't tell me I'm making that up. He made it up, but there's a plaque and everything.), has huckleberry yummies and is the seat of silver mining in the Coeur d'alene area. I'm guessing it'll be a lot more fun when things are open. Not like when my mom and I stopped in to let the dog potty at the park and then learned all sorts of mining stuff there, but then couldn't do anything else, because it was late Sunday afternoon.

4. Edinburgh, Scotland

Eric's cousin is getting married! In 2019. That's cool though, because it gives us the chance to save our pennies and make that celebration into an awesome vacation. We've never been, but I think this is going to be a fantastic way to get in some sightseeing with family that we rarely see. I've already got a Pinterest wish list running for this too. I mean, castles! Also, Guinness...and haggis. I tried it once. I liked it. I wish to try it in the homeland. From there we are going to take the overnight Megabus (to save money on a hotel room) to our next destination:

5. London

OMG, I can't even tell you how excited I am to be going back to London. It calls to me. It's probably only going to be a week, because I have to (sorry, get to) split it with Scotland, but I'm already planning a return trip to the Warner Bros Studios. I also have a lot of cafes I want to try and I want to go to all the markets. Plus, I'm going to go on a different Harry Potter walk and also frolic in Hyde Park and take tea at the Orangerie at Kensington Palace. We might even find ourselves on a day trip to Manchester. Maybe....probably. It's happening, people!

6. Orlando

My BFF's daughter is going to graduate in 2020 and her pick for her graduation present trip was Walt Disney World and Universal Studios. They asked if we would come along. Heck yeah! There's not much that can keep me from Diagon Alley...plus there'll be a new ride (or rides and/or food) and I need a new wand and a reason to run around in a quidditch costume. I mean, really, who doesn't need that with a side of Butterbeer?

photo credit

7. Toronto

I'm not sure if this is going to happen, but #7 is pretty much a wild card. I have been dying to go to Toronto. Is that weird? That's okay. I'm okay with being weird. I don't know that much about it, but they have something like a Space Needle and different foods and they have a Harry Potter-ish themed bar called The Lockhart. That's not Mt main draw, because I rarely drink, but I wouldn't be opposed to checking it out. Anyone been to Toronto? I need tips. We also want to go to Iceland, so that may happen first.


So, that's what we have on our plate for the next 3 or 4 years. I'm really excited about it. If you have any suggestions for me, I'd love to hear them. Let's end with a few of my achievements since last August:

  • I was published in a magazine. It's true. I have been waiting for quite a long time for this to happen and I even have hardcopies of said magazine to prove that my name is in actual print. It's a business to consumer magazine, so you can't actually get it on newsstands, but that's okay with me.
  • I made 10Best's list of Budget Travel Blogs. Yes! You all helped me make that #6 spot for 2017 and I'm so grateful! You can see the full list here.
  • Feedspot added me to their list of 100 Budget Travel Blogs and I was very honored to be among some really large company blogs, as well as travel blogs I follow myself. You can see the list of the other 99 here.
  • I contributed to a Forbes travel article which gained me a lot of eyes on the blog. If you want to read it, you can find it here.
Now I want to hear from you. What future vacations are you most looking forward to, or have you added to your travel wish list?

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Actually Get Some Sleep On the Plane

If you're not like me, who can sleep anywhere, including a plane where a baby is screaming for 5 hours straight, you probably need some help catching your Zs when you really need to on the airplane. The following infographic can give you ideas on how to get comfortable and actually be refreshed when you arrive at your destination. If you are a light sleeper, you'll probably want to try a combination of these things. 



I always bring a neck pillow when I travel long distance. I have several and have tried a lot of them. Some are better than others, obviously, and I would invest in a good one instead of grabbing one last minute from the airport. My suggestions are the hoodie pillow, which combines a soft hood (that you can wear over pulled down over your eyes), the FaceCradle (especially if you're tall and need to lean forward to get comfortable) or another pillow that will support your head and neck, like this one that will also work in the car, train, or anywhere else you want to nap. 

I bring an eye mask and a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, because sometimes you just need to block everything out. Usually, I only use my eye mask when I'm in my hotel. I'm not a morning person and being woken up by sunlight directly in my eye is not the way to start a day. It also keeps my allergies under control, which sounds weird, but it works, especially when we have to sleep with the air conditioner on.

Keeping hydrated is important and I pack a water bottle that keeps my drinks hot and cold. Once I'm through security, I get a big bottle of cold water and fill it up. If you don't want to spend $4-6 on a bottle of water, you can just head to a water fountain. This is the brand I have. I also have a strap for it so Eric can carry it when we're out and about. This is not the one I have, but it's pretty cool.

I don't particularly suggest sleeping less to be tired when you fly. What I do suggest is getting onto your new schedule as soon as possible to avoid jet lag. That means if you're flying during sleeping hours wherever you're going, try to sleep, or vice versa. Then when you get there, go to bed at bedtime and it's more likely you'll not slow down in the middle of a day. 

How do you stay comfortable on the plane so you can actually sleep in public?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Happy (Belated) Birthday, Harry Potter

So, it's time again for my mini celebration of Harry Potter. It's a bit late this year, because I've been planning my annual party, working on some costumes for Yule Ball and Rose City Comic Con and volunteering at a Harry Potter event for the Harry Potter Alliance. 



Now that I'm a bit more caught up with life, let's talk about my Potter-related activities this past year. 


Another (several) visits to my favorite Potter-themed coffee shop was on the docket. I've gone to Vegas three times this year, two with a car, so of course I headed straight to Bad Owl Coffee in Henderson. Not only is the decor perfect, the coffee (themed and otherwise) and food are so delicious, I'd go there again and again even if it was just a regular coffee shop. 



I made my mom go with me on our short trip, drug my friends along while they were in Vegas with us, and Eric and I went again on our own before hitting up the Salt Room (which I highly recommend). My mom and I split the Tonks Italian Turkey. Last July Eric and I split the Siriusly Prosciutto (a toasted sandwich with prosciutto, arugula, fig and goat cheese). I got it again when I visited the next time (that's how good it is), and then we had to try the banana and strawberry waffles and the breakfast sandwich. 


For coffee, you have to at least try the ButterBrew Latte once. It's Siriusly delicious (see what I did there?). You can get all your favorites as well and I'm a little sad I forgot that I wanted to try the Earl Grey Latte, so I'll definitely be getting it next time. Instead, I tried their Chai Tea Latte and their Spanish Latte. Both were awesome over ice. While the prices may not be the cheapest, it's still fresher and tastier than a lot of Vegas options, so it's worth the drive.



We just finished a whirlwind Harry Potter weekend, where we threw our annual party - this year's theme was Quidditch World Cup - and volunteered at a fundraiser event for the Harry Potter Alliance. Our party was a hit and everyone had a blast dressing up as wizards trying to dress muggle, eating a bunch of foods that are featured in the books, and trying to one up each other in (my super hard) trivia to win the House Cup. 



I ran a raffle for some sweet Harry Potter goodies this year (in the past we've done a book drive) and it was very successful. My guests got a chance to win some cool swag and we raised money for the HPA that we donated the following day.



Sadly, we don't have that many pics of the awesome HPA fundraiser, because we were busy handing out programs and signing people up for the costume contest and pointing them toward the donation boxes, but that's great, right? Once I was done with my duties, I hit up the bar for an adult Butterbeer (I missed out on the topping, but I was cool with that, so sorry it just looks like whiskey in a glass) and some popcorn and was ready to play some trivia and watch Sorcerer's Stone with all the other Potterheads. 


In December, we went to SoCal and visited the new Hogsmeade area of Universal Studios. You all know that my visit to Universal Orlando was AH-mazing...like to the point that I broke up my Wizarding World visit into three posts. I was really hoping to get that feeling there, but was disappointed that the shops were super small and the world was just all around tiny. I mean, it didn't stop me from getting excited from entering the WWoHP, getting my pics taken on the train and meeting the conductor of the Hogwarts Express. 


We had a blast despite the crummy weather and the packed park. We walked the halls of Hogwarts, we rode Flight of the Hippogriff and admired Hagrid's hut, we had Butterbeer in all its forms and ate at the Three Broomsticks. We also enjoyed the frog choir which put on a special show, and we shopped a bit in the cramped shops. 




Our trip included a visit to the Warner Bros Studios, which you may have read about here on the blog. I highly recommend it. They were having a Harry Potter & Fantastic Beasts exhibit, which was small, but really awesome. I was surprised by how much they packed into the space, and sad I only had 15 minutes to look at it all before continuing on the tour. 


I made the most of it though, running upstairs, taking pics and interacting with the employees there. I even got sorted...you know, into Ravenclaw! The Sorting Hat talked to me though, which was really fun. 

In December we'll be attending the HPA's Yule Ball event. I'm making my outfit for maximum awesomeness. You can get a sense of what I'm going for with this DIY video. Next month is Rose City Comic Con and I'm hoping to go two of the three days, which means I'll get a chance to wear two different cosplays. One of them will probably be Harry Potter themed. So, here's to another great year full of Harry Potter, travel and celebrations.

If you're interested in other HP travel we've done, check out this post.

Did you celebrate the Boy Who Lived in some way this year?

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Start Planning for the Holidays

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. I know, I know. It's only August, but with summer coming to a close, airfare is going to start dropping.



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!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Planning Your Fall Travel On a Budget

So, it appears as if Fall may be right around the corner, at least for the travel industry. Airfare is on its way down to more reasonable rates come Monday and that means there will be deals galore for September/October/early November travel. If you want some of the best discounts, then make sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter. Today, we’re going to talk about what you can do to make your fall travel less stressful and more affordable.


Pack less, even when your clothes are bigger. Yes, this is totally possible. I will always tell you to plan to do laundry whenever you travel, but it’s even more necessary when you are taking things bigger than tank tops and shorts, because more items mean less valuable space for things that aren’t clothes. Look for lightweight and warm layers, like a fleece pullover or waffle-knit hoodie. I take one or two of these that will match with all my travel clothing and am set to layer them over my t-shirts if they weather becomes chilly.

Here's how I pack light for a fall/winter trip. And here's another post on layering and mixing and matching for winter.

Women's Savvy Zippy from ExOfficio.com
You will also want to look for a good packable jacket. I have several and prefer to bring one with a hood when traveling, as weather can be uncertain and nothing sucks worse than getting rained on when it’s already cold. You could also bring a hat, but I don’t like to bring more things than I have to. This is also why I choose a hood over an umbrella, aside from the obvious reason that umbrellas are cumbersome and only really good for one thing. Everyone in your travel party is likely to bring a jacket, so everyone is covered. (Pun intended.)

Photo Credit
Late September and Early October are the cheapest times to fly during the year. Kids are back in school and it’s not Labor Day or Halloween, so there are no notable parties or holidays. This makes it the ideal time to travel, if you can, and can save you huge dollars. Airfare can be as much as 50% less than the rest of the year and hotels slash prices in order to get their rooms filled. Can’t beat that with a stick!

Photo Credit
Pay for your rental car up front. This is actually a trick that works throughout the year, but when trying to cut costs somewhere while planning the basics, this is a brilliant way to do it. I’ll use myself as an example. I usually travel in September. Last year I was looking for a car for 11 days. If I booked through the regular sites for car rentals that let me pay when I picked up my car, then my rate was going to be somewhere in the range of $432. That includes taxes, but come on! That’s over $40 per day.

I’d been holding out for something cheaper and caught a great email in my inbox saying I could find rates as low as $9.95 per day. While I never find that rate when I see that email (like once every two weeks), I did click through and found one for $16.95 and was able to book my rental car with Hertz through Hotwire for a total with taxes of $247. That’s almost $200 less! I paid up front and it was non-refundable, but I was fairly sure that was the best deal I was going to find. If my flight got delayed or cancelled, it said I was covered, so I reveled in my rental car hunting skillz. It pays to do your homework and compare multiple times before booking. A week later that rate was up to $303.

Here are more money-saving car rental tips.

                        

Head to the beach when the weather cools down. Fall and winter are not the times that people flock to places like Myrtle Beach or Santa Monica, so it’s the perfect time to go and beat the crowds and the soaring temps if you can go right before the weather turns. Next month is going to give you great weather and cheap hotel and condo rates. If you have a big travel party now is the time to book for a budget vacation for everyone.

Want more beach tips? Here you go!

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Plan a trip to Disney and other theme parks. Once school is back in session, the crowds drop dramatically around the big theme parks, so you can find huge deals on vacation packages to Anaheim and Orlando. You’ll face way shorter lines and be able to do more, even when the parks are open shorter hours. A lot of them have special events this time of year, too. Eric and I will be taking part in our 3rd Disney Halloween party. If you have little ones, this is like magic times two: Their favorite characters who are dressed up in (different) costumes, they get to stay up late, see special shows and fireworks and they get to dress up and go trick-or-treating in the parks. What?! Uh, yes! Even big kids like us have a blast on the trick-or-treat trail.

If you are into bigger thrills than Tigger dressed as a pirate and meeting Maleficent for the first time ever, then you might be more inclined to do Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios. It’s truly terrifying, for those that like pee-in-your-pants-scary fun. These parties cost their own admission fee, so you can skip the park during the day to avoid paying double and then ride what’s open and see all the cool stuff that’s not available to the regular public before the sun starts to go down.

Here are some ideas for scary theme park travel, as well as tips for saving on theme park trips.

Photo Credit
These are just some of the ways to save and create a unique vacation experience outside of Summer. I use all these tips myself, plus we employ Go Cards and CityPASSes. They will save you a ton and are be super-easy to use...and they usually let you skip the ticket lines!

Do you have some useful Fall Travel Tips that have saved you big? Let us know what they are!
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