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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Daily Deals Make Your Vacation Cheaper

Okay, you guys! It’s time to save some money. It’s right around that time when I am near my vacation and using daily deals to save tons on my trip. This is the third trip I've taken this year, but I'm lucky to be working with Visit Philadelphia this go-round, but with a trip to Edinburgh and London next year, it's more important than ever to save on all my trips in between. It’s probably the same for you. I feel like if I find a daily deal for things I was going to do anyway, then it’s double-awesome. Sometimes I find deals for things I didn’t know existed or for fun restaurants, which shape a new unique vacation for me.

When we traveled to the UK and Europe, I found and purchased deals from Groupon UK and ncrowd for my trip to take a bus tour around London, a scavenger hunt through the Underground, a tour to Stonehenge, a dining card and afternoon teas. Why would I not use these savings to make my travels better where I can? I got more than half of my food and activities paid for through Groupon for my New Orleans trip, found some great ones for my Los Angeles trip and I used quite a few for Las Vegas as well.

Let’s talk about my favorite daily deal site: Groupon. I’ve used it at home and away and saved tons of money. For those of you who don’t know what Groupon is, it’s a pretty simple concept. Restaurants, spas, activities and more offer  deals (usually) between 50-90% off regular price. You buy it, save all sorts of money and do more things! And sometimes if you get your friends to purchase, too, you get your deal for free! Companies get their name out to customers, customers try them out and everyone wins!

One of the cool things about Groupon – among many – is that it’s not just for the U.S. Nope, it’s available for the U.S. Canada and 40 other countries around the world including Colombia, Uruguay and Singapore. Pretty much anywhere you go, you can purchase Groupons to save you big time on your trip. If I want to do a bike tour in Mexico or get a manicure in Greece, I can do it, providing those things come up as discounts before I go. This is why I’m watching it daily until my trip.

Groupon has teamed up with Expedia to bring you fantastic(er) deals on travel! With amazing discounts on luxury hotels and accommodations, you can’t afford NOT to travel well while still on a budget. The rates may not be slashed to 90% off, but they will be great and you’ll drool over their gorgeous photos and long to go everywhere all at once.

So, how do you sign up for Groupon? It’s easy and free! In fact, you can use your Facebook account to sign in if you want. Use either your home location or your next vacation destination as the one you wish to get deals for and then look for them in your email. I'm currently getting updates for Philadelphia and Portland, and I can change my preferred destination(s) anytime I want. I also have the Groupon app on my phone, so I can get the deals on-the-go and also save paper by bringing up the deal on my phone to use at the merchant, restaurant or attraction.

Do you know what’s even cooler? You can get up to 6% cash back on all your Groupon purchases by using Ebates, too, to make your savings even larger. If you aren't familiar with Ebates, you can read my post on it here. Why NOT save as much as possible on everything you do if you can? 

Other sites I like to use are Living Social, which is like Groupon's little sister, and Travelzoo, where you can also find great deals on travel.

Who else uses Groupon or is excited to sign up  for it? Or do you have another favorite daily deal site? 

Monday, October 15, 2018

Get 300 bonus SB when you sign up for Swagbucks in October

All throughout October you can earn large bonuses when sign up as my referral on Swagbucks. Swagbucks is a rewards site where you earn points (called SB) for things you're probably doing online already, like searching the web, watching videos, shopping, discovering deals, and taking surveys. Then you take those points and exchange them for gift cards to places like Amazon, Target, or PayPal cash. 

When you sign up through me this month, you can earn a 300 SB bonus! Here's how: 

2. Earn 300 SB total before November 1st, 2018. You'll get a 300 SB bonus for it! 

3. That's it. It's super easy, and Swagbucks is for real. I use it myself, and I've earned hundreds of dollars in SB that I use to buy party goods and other stuffs from Amazon, so I have more money to spend on vacation!

Disclaimer: This post has affiliate links and I will receive compensation in the form of SB when you sign up through that link.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Great Fall Travel Tips

Fall is 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. We'll be doing some of these things on our trip coming up soon.

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.

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.
  • Legoland has spooky fun for the little ones with Brick-or-Treat. It includes trick or treating and the opportunity to dress-up and enjoy the park after it closes for the regular day. Tickets are separate from the main park admission, but totally fun!
What are some of your favorite ways to celebrate fall? If you missed my trip to Halloweentown, go check that out now. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

10 Things to Do On Every Trip

Sometimes we get so caught up in planning a trip, saving for it, and seeing things that we don't stop to take time to actually experience our destination. Sure, there are plenty of things you should do on every trip that make it more affordable and easier, but what about the trip itself? 

Don't you want to make memories? I know I do. So, here are 10 things to do on every trip:

Take Public Transportation

I try to walk and take public transportation as much as possible when I travel. It gives me a chance to see how people really live, allows me to slow down, it saves money, and you generally get to see more of the city when you aren't just going straight from Point A to Point B in a car. Also, you can look around, because you aren't driving and having to focus on the road.

Ask the Locals for Recommendations

There's no better way to find a hidden gem or keep away from tourist traps than by speaking to the locals and asking them where their favorites are. Chances are good they aren't going to send you to some upscale restaurant that's going to break your budget or the lame activities that everyone goes to because they're in a guide book. 

Walk Through a Neighborhood

It's nice to take a minute to slow down and just enjoy somewhere. I especially love to walk through neighborhoods to see how people live. I like to see their houses and gardens and parks and say hello to people walking their dogs. Maybe set aside a day where you don't plan anything and just explore and see where the day takes you.

Shop at a Grocery Store

Or a marketplace. I find when I can get a feel for new foods from my destination, I learn just that bit more than I would if I didn't make the effort. I love farmers markets for finding fresh foods and talking to people. I found lots of new favorite things when wandering through Sainsbury's in the UK. It's just interesting to see the differences between your life and others sometimes.

Try Something New

I make it a point to try a new thing every time I travel, whether that's a new experience or food. It pushes you a bit out of your comfort zone and teaches you something about yourself, and hopefully your destination.

Learn the Language

At least some key phrases. You'll find that people respond to you better when you try to at least make an effort. There's a huge difference between expecting people in foreign countries to speak English and trying to speak to them in their own language and finding they speak English. It's also a fun way to talk to people in the service industry, who have a more down-to-earth opinion on things to do, where to eat, and things to stay away from.

Take a City Tour

Whether you find one through an app or you join a group, this is a great way to learn the history of a city and all about the cool stories that you'd otherwise never hear about. I love haunted tours, but I've also taken a regular city tour, Harry Potter tours, cemetery tours and more. I've never been disappointed. 

Purchase a Souvenir (that means something)

You could bring home a postcard or a magnet, but why not pick something you love that you might use or see every day and make you happy? I pick up an ornament for my tree every time I take a trip. My holidays remind me of all the awesome trips we've taken and all those memories surround me during the best time of the year. Maybe you want a particular piece of art or a book or something else. Make yourself happy.

Keep a Travel Diary

You can take all those pics and perfect Instas, but don't forget to slow down and remember what you did and how you felt about it. You don't have to keep a tangible journal, though that can be fun. You can make some notes in Evernote when you have downtime, like before bed or while waiting in line or riding the subway. Write as you go each day and you'll find that your trip feels even more real and exciting. 

Eat at a Local Favorite

This goes back to talking to locals. Skip the restaurants in the touristy parts of town and instead look for ones that have lines around the block, people can't stop talking about, or have handwritten sandwich boards out front. A great restaurant will never be empty and sometimes these great eateries are just tucked away out of sight.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Spooky Fun with the October Shop Swago Board!

Swagbucks is hosting another round of Shop Swago! What is SWAGO you ask? It's a bingo-inspired promotion run by Swagbucks, a website that rewards you with points (called SB) for completing everyday online activities. You can redeem those SB for free gift cards. If you've never used Swagbucks, participating in SWAGO is a great introduction to the site and an easy way to earn a good amount of points quickly.

Click here to get started 

Here’s what you need to know to get your 150 SB Bonus (and don’t worry, you don’t have to make a purchase to complete a pattern):
  • Go to the Swag page and make sure you hit “Join” otherwise you won’t get credit for completing the action items. Each square on your Swago Board will contain an action item to complete.
  • Once you complete the action item in a particular square the square will change color signifying the action item is complete.
  • You have a limited amount of time to mark off as many squares as possible so use your time wisely.
  • Be mindful of the patterns and their corresponding bonuses located on the right of your Swago Board. The patterns will vary in difficulty and bonus value - up to 150 SB.
  • Once you’ve achieved a pattern the corresponding “Submit” button will light up. You can have multiple patterns available for submission, however, you can only submit ONE pattern so choose wisely.
  • The game ends Friday, October 12th at 12pm PDT/3pm EDT. So make sure to hit “Submit” on the pattern you wish to submit. If you don’t hit “Submit” before the game ends you won’t receive your SB bonus.  
Disclaimer: This post has affiliate links and I will receive compensation in the form of SB when you sign up through that link.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

10 Ways to Make Your Trip Better

There are lots of small ways you can make a trip better and sometimes you wonder why you didn't think of them first. Check out this great infographic from CheapFlights to help you travel cheaper, more comfortably, and make your flight more awesome.

What are your favorite travel hacks?

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Planning Your Holiday Trip On a Budget

You may not be planning your winter travels, but you should be. We've already passed the best prices for Thanksgiving airfare, but that doesn't mean you still can't fly on a budget. Sign up for flight alerts right now. If you just aren't sure how to pull off an affordable holiday trip, my ebook can give you all the inside tips for planning, booking, packing and not killing your family out of stress.

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 29, 2018

My Portland Coffee Tour - Part 17

Like all places, Portland seems to be filled with places that make excellent coffee, places that only serve coffee because it's a breakfast staple, places in between and then places like my local Einstein that said I couldn't order vanilla lattes anymore, because it's no longer on the menu. What the? 

Luckily, this month found me at some of the better coffee joints in the city. 

Stomping Grounds

I've been going to the same hairdresser for longer than I've been with my husband (12 years married, 4+ years dating). She moved a few times, but I've still been going to her salon in the same area for at least a decade. I've seen this coffee shop over the years and have never stopped there, because either I was on time for my appointment or off to have lunch/bruch with my mother. We arrived super early for our last appointment and decided to go in, and I'm so glad we did.

Stomping Grounds is cozy and welcoming with a lot of places to sit. It was really busy and you could tell it was a usual haunt for a lot of people. They have a nice drink menu and lots of food options, but we were in (sort of) a hurry, so we ordered a couple bagels with cream cheese ($2.75 each) and some coffees to sip  a little faster than normal.

My mom got a regular latte and I asked for their most popular drink and was told that was the Spanish mocha ($4.75), also cinnamon in anything is pretty top notch in my book.

The coffee had some lovely depth to it and my cheddar bagel was toasted perfectly with the exact right amount of cream cheese. I'd definitely come here again and try their other food options. I can see why this is a hoppin' place on the weekend and why so many people choose this as a place to meet up with friends.

40 LBS.Coffee Bar

I was meeting a friend one afternoon and decided to go early so I could hit up a few coffee shops I hadn't seen in the downtown area. 40 LBS. looked intriguing and the inside is really clean and industrial looking. 

I went in asking for a recommendation, but the barista was like "I dunno. I just drink cold brew all day." Not a great start in my book, but I settled on a vanilla cardamom latte ($4.50) and a tasty-looking cheese and butter baguette ($4.95) that reminded me of walking the streets in Paris. I love the coffee cups, but the coffee itself was perfectly balanced and aromatic. I loved the baguette, even without it being toasted. I suppose that's just how they serve them, unlike the stalls in Paris, since I wasn't asked if I wanted it warmed up. It wasn't disappointing though.

As you can see from the decor, if you think about what a Portland coffee shop would look like, this is pretty much it. Despite the barista's attitude about their non-cold brew coffee drinks, I'd return.

Café Ponté

Just around the corner from 40 LBS is Café
 Ponté. It's a cute little European shop with warm woods and friendly baristas. You feel really welcome there.

They had a small board of specials and, with fall almost here, I couldn't resist the maple chai latte ($4.75), which had the perfect hint of maple flavor under the chai spices. It's perfect for a cold weather pick-me-up. Even though I'd already indulged in a baguette, I decided to get all my carbs and order a croissant ($3.50). I was less impressed with it, as it felt a bit more dense than your typical flaky croissant. They do have other offerings though, so don't be put off by their sad croissants. Go for just the coffee or opt for a different pastry or food choice. The coffee's worth the visit.

The shop is smallish and narrow, but it has this whole front  full of windows that faces the morning sun, so even if you're inside, you can feel like you're outside too. It's in a great location and if you sit in the window, it's great for people watching.

There you have it. My September edition of my Portland coffee tour. Follow me on Instagram if you want to see my visits as they happen, or if you want to view photos of my travels, things I do around Portland and sometimes cute pics of my dog.

Do you have a favorite coffee shop from your travels or at home? Tell me about it in the comments!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

How To Be An Airport Security Pro

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.

Happy travels!
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