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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Budget March Destinations

Spring Break will be here before you know it and taking a trip during that time can be quite expensive. If you want to avoid the big budget splurges, but still get big fun and awesome out of your Spring vacation, there are great ways to do it. 

Spring is a great time to travel, because the weather is warm, but not too warm and most kids are still in school, so the crowds are small if you avoid typical Spring Break destinations like Miami and Cancun.

Set your budget

Here's a thought. Instead of picking a place and planning your trip around it, decide on your budget and work around that. You may find that there are places you hadn't thought of before, but are just as awesome (or better) than where you first thought you might go. 
  • Scour deals on GrouponLiving Social and other daily sites for affordable vacations that might work for your time off. 
  • Use Kayak's Explore feature to find destinations that fit within your budget for the month/season of your choice.
  • Look at BookIt's promos for vacation packages that are awesome and budget-friendly.

Travel to less-popular beaches

Some destinations just draw college kids. You can avoid those large crowds so you can at least get a little strip of sand for yourself and not have to fight people to get to the bar for a drink.
  • Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
  • Daytona, Florida (the small size makes it perfect for those looking for a bit of quiet)
  • Puerto Rico (cheap accommodations and dining)
  • Myrtle Beach (rent a condo for as little as $50)
  • Costa Rica (stay way from the touristy spots)
  • St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands (no passport required!)
  • Willemstad Curacao (stick to the all-inclusives here)

Look at true budget-friendly cities

Some destinations are just cheaper at certain times of the year. Here are a few that you may want to look a little more closely at, because prices in the month of March are their lowest.
  • Nashville - whether you're into music, nightlife, food or history, Nashville has everything you could want
  • San Diego - "America's Finest City" can definitely be spendy if you aren't careful, but there are a lot of ways to save and there are lots of cheap and free activities
  • Montego Bay, Jamaica - with many direct flights from major cities, flying into Montego Bay can be pretty affordable, not only that, but the weather in March is lovely and there are lots of hotels in all price ranges. 
  • Mexico City - it's not the touristy beach cities that will be packed this time of year, but Mexico City is metropolitan, safe and full of sightseeing adventures.
  • Cairo, Egypt - Find 3- and 4-star hotels for under $70/night and avoid the oppressive summer heat, which will make your outdoor sightseeing much more pleasant and fun.

Some destinations don't really change in price no matter the time of year, which makes it really easy to plan a trip there, because there are no surprises. It just matters when the popular times are, but March is generally a low time for most non-beach cities, so you're usually pretty safe.

I hope this is helpful in planning a last-minute Spring Break or March getaway. Any time of year can be great for certain destinations. You just need to know when and where.

What's your ideal Spring Break destination?

Introducing Swag IQ! (US Only)

Want to earn money while answering fun trivia questions? SwagIQ (available for iPhone and Android) is a live, multiplayer trivia game show you play from your phone! 

Each weekday, Swag IQ broadcasts a live game. Simply tune-in at the appointed time by launching the SwagIQ app and log-in with your Swagbucks account credentials. If you don't have a Swagbucks account, you can sign up for one here and then download the app!

Our game show host will then ask a series of multiple-choice trivia questions. You’ll have 10 seconds to answer each one. Get it right; you get SB and move on. Answer them all correctly and you can win a grand prize! If more than one player wins, the winners split the grand prize.  

Get it wrong; still play along. Some questions have an SB award attached to them. If you answer those questions correctly, you get those SB, even if you’re out of the running for the big money. And, if you’re in a groove but miss a question, you’ll have the option to rejoin a game by redeeming a few SB.  

The first public game is today at 4PM Eastern Time/1PM Pacific Time. So, tune-in then win up to $1000 playing SwagIQ. The host will review how to play before the game starts!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Beauty of Food Trucks

Last weekend Eric and I tried the brand new food truck pod near our house. It's no secret that Portland is the King of food truck culture. We have quite a few pods where 6 or more trucks are parked, making it super easy to choose something to eat. Food trucks are awesome, because they often have restaurant-quality food, but at lower prices. That makes stretching your travel dollars easier when you're on vacation. 

Our new cart pod has a wonderful family feel, but not in a way that makes you stay away because it's teeming with kids. It will eventually have a beer counter and dogs are, obviously, welcome. There's a patch of astroturf for the humans and another for the pups. 

Dining at traditional restaurants can really add up quickly, and if you're tired of your kids eating the same five things (pizza, mac and cheese, hamburger, chicken nuggets, PB&J), splitting entrees with your companions or ordering the least expensive options, then food trucks are where you need to be headed. You can experience some of the best food in the city for less, because you aren't paying for all the overhead (wait staff, tables, rental space). Unless there's a tip jar, you don't even have to think about adding extra to your bill. The truth is that even some of the spendiest items on a food cart menu are still less than plates at a normal restaurant. 

Food carts are the new gourmet dining 

Food trucks are all the rage. They are booming the world over. Lucky for me, I live in the number one food cart destination on the globe (as named by Travel + Leisure) and can eat cuisine from all over the world everywhere I go within Portland. From ice cream to Lebanese to Cuban, there is something for everyone, including this delicious waffle cart that makes a dough for their waffles and then tops them with all kinds of yummy combinations. Within the same block, we can have hot dogs, Hawaiian, Thai, Mexican, dumplings and Mediterranean. That’s not even all the choices! Each truck specializes in their few menu items, so you know it’s the best it can be.

More choices

How can this be when food carts are so small? Where there’s one food cart/truck, there are usually others. It’s unlikely for several of the same cuisine carts to gather in the same place, which means you have a choice of different kinds of food. This is great for those traveling with kids who are picky and never seem to want the same thing you are eating. Don’t like the dessert one cart is serving? Go check out what the others have to offer!

Mobile dining 

Not only is your restaurant mobile, but you can also take your food with you. Either eat nearby or enjoy your meal on your way through the city. It’s a great way to burn calories and save time when you want to get more sightseeing done.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Heart-shaped Travel Inspo

Seeing as it's Valentine's Day, I thought you might like to see some naturally heart-shaped places you can actually travel to. Perhaps you can plan a trip to visit one of them in the future or you might just like a little eye candy for the day. 

Heart Island, Croatia - photo credit
Check out these pretty spots:

photo credit

Heart Lake, Washington

This naturally-occurring lake can be found in Washington's Olympic National Park. You can hike and even camp next to the lake, for a lovely romantic outdoor date. 

photo credit

Makepeace Island, Australia 

This island is owned by Richard Branson and can accommodate 20 guests, so it's probably not cheap to stay on, but it's definitely pretty.

photo credit

Tavarua Island, Fiji

If you love surfing (and gorgeous islands), this is known to be one of the best surfing spots in the world and hosts an annual surfing competition. It's also perfect for snorkeling and diving, because it's surrounded by coral reef.

photo credit

Coeur de Voh, New Caledonia

This amazing little heart can only be seen properly from above, but this part of the landscape is formed by mangroves and can take on different looks as the vegetation changes. It's difficult to get to, but the area is teeming with fantastic wildlife.

photo credit

Valentine Lake, British Columbia, Canada

This lake is for the hard core hiker (or romantic). Plan to camp here, as it's a 4-hour hike from the end of the main road. Just think about what a sweet and well-earned getaway it will be when you get there. Pack a bottle of wine to celebrate the journey.

photo credit

Gislachersee Lake, Austria

Located in the Ötztal valley of Tyrol, Austria, this lake offers spectacular views of the Alps. It's a 3-hour hike from the popular ski resort of Sölden, but imagine how gorgeous and secluded it must be in the summertime.

photo credit

St. Paul's Bay, Greece

There's a popular wedding venue, there's a small church built on this spot to commemorate St. Paul's visit to teach the Rhodian people Christianity. What a stellar place to renew your vows!

There you have it. Some inspiration for your future travels and a little pretty to round out your Valentine's Day. If you're look for more inspo, you can read my budget V-Day getaways here and if you're solo for the day and need a laugh, check out this blog post on Society6.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

What's On Your Bucket List?

We all have one. We may call it a bucket list, a travel wishlist or a life list, but it's all the same thing: The things you want to do or visit before you die. I've talked about mine before. Let's look at a few:


This is the ultimate budget travel destination on my list. Once you fly there, everything is quite affordable, plus it’s not like your typical European destination. I want to visit Cappadocia and sleep in a cave hotel and go on a hot air balloon ride and take a ride on a yacht. I mean, don’t all those things sound just the coolest? Everywhere else this would cost a fortune, but not in Turkey!

Greece & Malta

If you’ve ever seen a picture of the gorgeous Greek seaside, you won’t wonder why this is on my list, or really anyone’s list. Between the Mediterranean, the food, and the people, this is really quite high up on my Life List. And since Malta is, literally, right there, there’s no reason to skip it. I blame old World’s Strongest Man competitions for making me drool over this destination. It’s small, it’s beautiful and it invokes a little bit of Greek heaven.

Tokyo Disneyland

Ah yes, Tokyo itself sounds really amazing, and I’m going to make it there one day, but one of the attractions I am dying to see is the Japanese version of my favorite theme park. It’s so different, yet I know it will probably still feel like home, but probably with more politeness. How can this not be on my list? Also, is it weird that I kind of want to spend a night in a capsule hotel? Yes? Okay then.

So those are some of mine, but let's talk about some of yours, because I'm going to base some future posts on them. What are your top destinations on your travel bucket list?

Friday, February 9, 2018

Get $3 when you sign up for Swagbucks in February (US)

Want an extra boost to your budget in February?? 

If you haven't tried Swagbucks before, you can get a bonus $3 for signing up as my referral this month. Swagbucks is a rewards site where you earn points (called SB) for things you're probably doing online already, like searching, watching videos, discovering deals, and taking surveys. Then you take those points and exchange them for gift cards to places like Amazon, Starbucks, Walmart, Target, or PayPal cash. 

When you sign up through me this month, you can earn a $3 bonus! Here's how: 

1. Sign up using this link 

2. Earn 300 SB total before 3/1/18. You'll get a $3 (300 SB) bonus for it! 

3. If you want even more bonuses, you'll get a $10 (1000 SB rebate) bonus for making your first shop purchase! That's in addition to the SB you earn for every dollar you spend. 

That's it. It's super easy, and Swagbucks is for real. I use it myself, and I've earned almost 66,000 Swagbucks that I have traded in for Amazon and Paypal gift cards, so I can pay for travel and also purchase party goodies for my annual Harry Potter party. 

I know $3 doesn't seem like a lot, but you can earn a lot in your spare time. Do search and earn, answer surveys and watch videos to earn points while you're sitting in front of the TV in the evening. It's easy and adds up quickly. I've been able to earn $60 or more worth of SB in a month with little effort and you can do even more! Can you imagine how far that in Paypal will go towards your next trip? In a year you'll have an extra $720+. That's like two plane tickets!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Planning a Valentine's Staycation

If you're like me, you've got plenty of things planned for the year, so you don't particularly have money (or motivation) to plan a Valentine's getaway for you and and your sweetie. That's okay. Instead of a gift they probably don't need or paying way too much for flowers or a dinner out, why not surprise them with a creative staycation?

I love being a tourist in my own city, and I often just throw my camera in my bag and look at things as if I were a visitor. Here are some ways to get romantic for the holiday without breaking your bank:

photo credit

Go Glamping

Break out your tent, pitch it in the backyard, stock it with pillows and blankets, string up some battery-powered fairy lights, open a bottle of wine and get your favorite foods delivered. If you have a short table or something that can work as a table if you throw a tablecloth over it, use that and spin some tunes on your phone to create a romantic atmosphere. You don't have to spend the night out there, but you can spend some quality time together and pretend you're not at home...at least until you need to use the restroom, but at that point, you'll be happy that you aren't actually camping.

photo credit

Do Dinner and a Movie

Instead of a traditional dinner-movie date, cuddle up in the backyard (or in your car drive-in style) and eat dinner al fresco while watching a movie on a projection screen - or you can put up a sheet if you don't have one. 

Go On a Scavenger Hunt

Buy yourself a city hunt that you play on your phone and put your heads together to follow the clues and learn some new things about where you live. StrayBoots and Urban Adventure Quest are good ones. Bring your camera and take fun pics of the two of you while you're crushing it like the boss couple you are.

Take a City Tour

Pretend you just moved to where you live and you're on a first date and take a cool tour, whether it's a walking tour, a bus tour, a boat tour or a food tour. Do something new and that you've always wanted to try. It's a great chance to snuggle up with your significant other too. 

Try Unique Dining Experiences

Don't do the same old restaurant dining that you usually do. Sure, that Italian place you hit up every couple of weeks is probably good, but it's time to branch out...and save some money. Instead of dressing up and being the same as everyone else, why not bundle up (if it's cold where you are) and check out a new coffee shop for breakfast and then hit up those food trucks you've been meaning to try. 

Our city just got a new food cart pod with outdoor seating, a fire pit and at least a dozen (so far) different food trucks, so there's something for everyone. It also gives us a chance to try several different foods at once.

Take a Hike

If you're an outdoorsy couple, put on your walking shoes and pack some snacks and head to a hiking spot you've been meaning to make it to. If you're planner, put a picnic together too and have a nice secluded meal where you can connect with each other in a whole new way.

How will you make this Valentine's Day special? For more ideas, check out my staycation Pinterest board.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Your Last Minute Valentine's Getaway

Valentine's Day is coming and for some of you who like to go all out and have been saving up to do something cool, I've got a great list of vacation destinations for you. On Wednesday, I'll give you some fun ideas for romantic staycations, if you're like me and don't have money right now to get away, or have a trip planned later. Of course, there's always the option to plan one of these trips away from the holiday week.

Opentable has compiled a list of the top 25 most romantic U.S. cities, so it's possible you live near one of them:

25. Atlanta
Start your trip off with a little walk through the airport, taking in their art. You can find eight permanent displays, including A Walk Through History of Atlanta, and rotating exhibits. From mosaics to sculptures, you can really get lost in the creative pieces throughout each terminal. 

Once out of the airport, plan a night under the sea during one of Georgia Aquarium's adult-only sleepovers.  Take your Valentine to see a movie at the Starlight Six Drive-In. Have dinner at Nikolai's Roof on the top of the Hilton hotel.
24. Chicago
Get yourself a CityPASS to gain entry to Chicago’s 5 best attractions: Shedd Aquarium, The Field Musem, Skydeck Chicago, John Hancock Observatory or Museum of Science and Industry and Adler Planetarium or Art Institute of Chicago. Go take your picture in front of the giant silver bean and don’t forget to pack a warm coat for those windy Chicago days and nights.
23. Cincinnati
There's cool stuff in the Midwest and this Ohio city gives visitors a retro vibe while giving them hip and modern restaurants and breweries. It's a great place to just slow down and enjoy life.
22. Indianapolis
Looking for a great restaurant to get all cozy? Book a table at the Saffron Cafe, Canal Bistro Mediterranean Grill or Ball & Biscuit. Take a trip down the Canal with Old World Gondoliers, get outside on a stroll through the Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve or go hiking, fishing and sailing in Eagle Creek Park.
21. Nashville

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

20. San Diego
When you think of wine, you might not think of San Diego, but the truth is, the West Coast is packed with vineyards and wineries and San Diego is home to one of the finest. Orfila is a boutique winery close to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, which means there are plenty of other nearby attractions if you don’t plan to spend your whole trip drinking wine. Just there for wine? Make sure to rent a car, as most of the wineries in the area are a short drive from downtown (think 45 minutes to an hour). Most have picnic grounds as well, so you can save a bit more by bringing your own lunch and snacks. 

And if you want other ideas for what to do there, you can check out my post here.
19. Philadelphia
Not only is Philadelphia full of awesome and unique restaurants and museums, but you can purchase the Philadelphia CityPASS for $59 and check out 4 of these 5 things:
  • The Franklin Institue
  • The Big Bus & Philadelphia Trolley Works
  • One Liberty Observation Deck
  • Adventure Aquarium OR Philadelphia Zoo.
18. Houston
It’s not exactly a tropical paradise, but Houston has mild winters that are way more comfortable than you’ll find further north. It’s definitely not Michigan. 
  • With the second largest theater district in the nation, you’ll find a performance for anyone, whether you’re traveling as a family or a couple. 
  • Enjoy the weather and nature out at Discovery Green. This park hosts free weekly music performances, a permanent art installation and even two restaurants. 
  • When I think of Texas, I think of BBQ. Save on a diner favorite at Triple J’s Smokehouse, where you can order ribs, burgers, sausages and more for under $15 per person.
17. Dallas
Everything's bigger in Texas, except the travel rates in the winter. Flights from anywhere in the U.S. are generally short, the weather is often warmer than many other destinations, and there are a lot of events and free activities. From an outdoor art walk, indoor museums, and an Audubon center, things only get more awesome from there. Save even more in Dallas with CityPASS.
16. Miami Beach
There are a lot of places to visit and explore in Miami. The Art-Deco District brings memories of Florida's past. It is restored with 1930s Art-Deco buildings in pastel colors. These buildings and structures display neon signs and awnings that cover the outdoor dining areas. After visiting the Art-Deco District you can pay Ocean Drive a visit. Ocean Drive is a popular for some drive-by sightseeing. There are other interesting places to visit too such as Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, Little Havana, Zoo Miami and Jungle Island, Miami Seaquarium and so much more.

15. Scottsdale, Arizona
In the middle of the desert, Scottsdale is a haven of spa and wellness venues, but aside from couples massages, you can take a romantic stroll through Old Town, hang together among the beauty at Butterfly Wonderland, and then shop for art (or just appreciate it) in the Marshall Way Arts District.
14. Portland, Oregon
I know I'm biased, but I love Portland. It's a fantastic place to live and visit, any time of year. If you're looking for a few days worth of fun here, you can check out my two-day itinerary.
13. Lahaina, Hawai
It seems like you would just assume anywhere in Hawaii would be romantic, but Oahu can be very crowded and other parts can be very secluded, which you may or may not love. Maui may be your best bet. You can see the budget-friendly recommendations I found here.
12. Louisville, Kentucky
Make a plan to take your Valentine to one of the city's most romantic restaurants (Jack Fry's has live music and consistently voted #1 romantic, Lilly's Bistro, and Proof On Main are all great options), cruise the Ohio River on Belle of Louisville, or rent a bicycle built for two and peddle along Waterfront Park. 
11. Charlotte, North Carolina
You don't need to have cash to do a budget getaway with your sweetie here. Hit up free Wednesday nights at the Mint Museum, get a taste of Nola awesomeness with live jazz and Cajun cuisine from Cajun Queen, or even get down to "your song" if you bring your favorite record to Petra's Bar in Plaza Midwood during Bring Your Own Vinyl night and they'll spin it for you.
10. Baltimore 
It's not called Charm City for no reason. Baltimore has plenty of romance in the achitecture itself. It's also the where Edgar Allen Poe fell in love with his future wife. Capture the magic yourself by taking in a show at the Hippodrome, climb the steps of the pagoda in Patterson Park for stunning views, wander the cultural heart of the city in the Mount Vernon district, or sip cocktails in Clark Gable's famous haunt, 13th Floor.
9. Austin
While the city may be weird, it's also romantic and unique. Learn to get down and lose your two left feet on Saturdays at the White Horse for free with lessons from Two Left Foots. The Blanton Museum of Art stays open late on Third Thursdays, so it's the perfect post-dinner activity. The New Movement has free and affordable comedy shows all week long. And what's more romantic than a speakeasy? Behind a false bookcase in Firehouse Lounge, you'll find a secluded bar for a drink with your Valentine.
8. Kansas City, Missouri
Besides amazing musical venues, Kansas City, Missouri, "The Jazz Capital of the World, dishes up world-famous barbecue. Tailgating outside Royals and Chiefs games is where sports enthusiasts to really showcase their best barbecue. See a bit of Europe at the Country Club Plaza, a large shopping district built using Spanish architecture and featuring European art.
7. Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is just altogether stunning, but if you're used to seeing it everyday, then here are some other ideas for making it more romantic: Take a sunset stroll through Pitt Street Bridge Recreation Area and maybe pack a picnic dinner (at the very least, a bottle of wine), take in a show at the historic Dock Street Theater, or get your hands dirty by taking a cooking class at Zero George.

6. Richmond, Virginia
I grew up near Richmond (for most of the summers, at least) and there are tons of cool things to do there. It's historical and beautiful, but it's also romantic. The Virginia Museum of Fine Art is completely free and has plenty of rotating exhibits to make it fresh for even the frequent visitor. Instead of a traditional sit-down dinner, take your sweetheart on a food tour to find some of the city's gems with River City Food Tour. Grab your inner tube, bathing suit and a stash of drinks and snacks and float down the James River.
5. Brooklyn
New York can be pretty spendy at the best of times, but that doesn't mean you can't have a night out on the town without going broke. Getting creative is a good way to save some bucks and also impress your other half. Grab your camera (and possibly pop some Benedryl) and stroll hand in hand through the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Snag a seat aboard The Water Table, a restored Navy Yard patrol vessel that floats down the East River as you imbibe. Feel like a kid again with a spin on Jane's Carousel at Brooklyn Bridge Park.
4. Memphis
If you think music is sexy, because Justin Timberlake did bring it back, though it possibly never left from Elvis's reign, then you don't have to look very hard in Memphis. Beale Street Historic District is full of nightlife with live music. You can walk down the street and pop into any of them for a bite and some tunes. There's really nothing better than that.
3. Savannah, Georgia
Want to get really cozy with your love? Take them on a ghost tour of the city where you'll have to put your arm around them when the ghost stories give them the willies. Wine and dine your sweetie at one of these downtown spots: Olde Pink House, Chive Sea Bar Lounge, Vic's on the River. While a bit morbid, a stroll through Bonaventure Cemetery can be creepy, but also romantic and beautiful.
2. St. Louis
Get dinner and views of the Arch by booking a table at Kemoll's at the Met Building. Take a trip to one of the city's chocolatiers, because who doesn't adore chocolate? Take in a movie while snuggling on couches at Moolah Theatre and Lounge. You may also want to get a little drunk wine tasting at Stone Hill Winery.
1. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
I know, OK City doesn't sound like a romantic place at all, but it takes the #1 spot on OpenTable's list. Cruise along the river on a Bricktown Water Taxi, even if you have nowhere to go. Of course, you can take one and get off in the Boathouse District to do some outdoor fun like ziplining and paddleboarding. If that's not for you, head to Will Rogers Park to smell and gorgeous flowers at Ed Lycan Conservatory. Take in a piece of the city's history by taking a tour of the 1903 Henry Overholser Mansion. You can even drink some delicious wines at Pinot's Palette.

Where will you go this February? Perhaps you still have a budget to make it a very romantic month and head to Paris (or at least you can plan the trip now and give the gift of knowing you're heading there later in the year).

*Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for helping me keep this blog going.
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