Let's Connect!

...

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Earn Big Cash Back this week leading up to Black Friday

As a pre-Black Friday warm up, Swagbucks is offering big cash back for shopping online at several of your favorite retailers right now! Just go to this page to see all of the deals available and get the jump on your holiday shopping. 



In order to take advantage of the cash back, just create your Swagbucks account when prompted (it takes less than 30 seconds) and then you're all set! Your cash back comes in the form of SB points, which you can redeem for gift cards to places like Amazon, Target, Walmart, Starbucks, or get PayPal cash! 

As a special bonus, if you sign up through me you get a 300 SB ($3) bonus when you earn your first 300 SB before December 1st! This site's a great way to extend your shopping budget, especially around the holidays!

Monday, November 19, 2018

How to Plan a Trip to Central California

If you’re thinking of somewhere to head next year, you should be thinking about Central California. It’s a beautiful part of the world with tranquil natural landscapes for you to enjoy. If it sounds like the kind of place that would tempt you, it’s worth learning about how to plan this kind of trip and be prepared for it in the right way. That’s what we’re going to talk about now so read on to find out more.

Image Source

Find a Hotel Near the Action


There are many places where you can stay when you start your trip to Central California, but it’s worth finding a place that has good amenities and things to keep you entertained. From there, you can head out into the wild and explore the natural side of things. The hotel near Tachi Palace Casino is one that many people choose because it’s in the center of the action.

Enjoy the Culture and the Nightlife


There’s lots of great nightlife and local culture to be observed in Central California, so you should make the most of this when you’re moving between places and staying in towns in this area. It’ll depend where exactly in Central California you are, but be sure to engage with local culture and spend time in the bars and restaurants where local people spend time.

Make the Most of the Stunning Natural Landscapes


There are so many areas of stunning natural beauty in Central California, so if this is your kind of thing and you enjoy spending time in nature, you should research the spots you want to visit. You’ll be spoilt for choice. There are so many great places for hiking, walking and camping, among many other activities you might want to spend your time doing.

Use Sun Protection


If you are going to spend lots of time outdoors making the most of everything Central California has to offer, you should be sure to use sun protection. Sun protection matters because it allows you to spend time outside without putting yourself at risk, and the sun can do you a lot of damage in the summer months in California so you can’t be too careful.

Understand Safe Camping



Safe camping is vital, especially when it comes to fire safety. Campfires can cause deadly forest fires in California, so you need to be extra careful and be sure to put the fires out completely before you leave the area. You’ve probably seen plenty of coverage of forest fires in California recently, so it’s vital that no risks are taken. You should also make yourself aware of any natural dangers that might be present in the area before camping there.


Central California is a beautiful part of the world, so don’t let the other more tourist-friendly parts of the state overshadow what it has to offer. If you love spending time in nature and admiring the natural environment, you need to visit Central California when you get a chance to because it’s not to be missed.

Have you visited Central California? What did you like about it?

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Visiting the Abandoned Eastern State Penitentiary

I'm a sucker for abandoned buildings, homes, theme parks, ghost towns. You name it. I'm one of those people who wants to go visit Chernobyl. Well, while in Philadelphia, we spent a good chunk of time taking a tour of Eastern State Penitentiary. Once the most famous and most expensive prison in the world, it is now crumbling and mostly in disrepair. 


While you may not have heard of Eastern State or been there, you are probably very familiar with the prison. The outside walls were the inspiration for the board on Monopoly. The turrets on the outside forming the large squares on the corners. You'll also find other Monopoly squares around town, such as Water Works and Pennsylvania Railroad, since the game was invented in Philadelphia, but let's get back to the big board. 


The prison was built to resemble a castle with ramparts and towers and everything that goes along with that, but you'll find that much of this is for show. The ramparts are fake and the slit windows that would be used for archers to protect the stronghold are also fake, but the facade does its job to be intimidating. You enter through a portcullis and then are pointed into a small hallway, which already starts your tour off before ever buying tickets.


Once inside, your audio tour, narrated by Steve Buscemi, takes you into the first cells of Eastern State, where you'll find rows and rows of small doors leading to small cells. You find out that these were, essentially, solitary confinement. Prisoners spent 23 hours a day in a small cell with a slit window in the ceiling (called the The Eye of God), where they could not see or hear any other prisoners. These inner doors were actually added later on. The only door a cell had in the beginning was a tiny door in the back that led out to the "yard". (I'll show you that later)


Here you can see that tiny door, which might have been 3 feet tall. The one hour a day they had outside was also segregated from the rest of the prison, unlike prisons today. This is what almost all the cells available to the public look like. The wall paint cracked and peeling, the ceiling crumbling and all the furniture breaking down. The prison was built in 1829 and used these cells until 1913 until they abandoned the solitary prisoner program. The prison was much more contemporary from then until it closed in 1971. The prison laid empty, aside from many stray cats, until the late 80s. 


Here you can see a recreation of a cell that once belonged to a cobbler. He was one of the few who had a job inside the prison. You can see his shoemaking/cobbling tools on the table on the left. Notice how sparse his cell still was.


The prison has a spoke style, so all the cellblocks radiate from a central hub, which you can see here. Many prisons after adopted that same structure. Half of the cellblocks are open to tours and the other half are uninhabited. You can view them from the hub, like the following photo.


I can only imagine how eerie those cells and walkways are, considering how creepy the rest of the prison felt with it's hard floors, small cells and echoing hallways.

There's also an entire second floor, which is off limits. You can certainly tell why. You are able to climb a set of stairs to get a closer look at this dilapidated side of the prison and get a bit of a chill from the view.


I imagine they look worse than this and are darker and danker.


We made a trip out into the main yard where we could see both a sealed door that went into an original cell "yard" and an opened one that we could walk into. Not only can you see that this door is still really small (I'm 5'1" and my head brushed the top), but the walls are super fortified. Any time a prisoner was moved around the prison and got to go outside into their private yard, they had to wear a bag on their head. They didn't want them to know anything about the layout of the prison. How fun, right? They wanted prisoners to be penitent and to be repentant for their crimes.


There are only two of us in this "yard" and there isn't much other room left. The outside area is about the same size as the inside, meaning prisoners really only got some fresh air (through their bag) and a little sun while they were outside. I have no idea if they still went out in the rain.


This is one of the guard towers, which looks out over the whole prison. Notice how the catwalks and spotlight give great vantage points and would make it almost impossible for a prisoner to escape being seen.


Back inside the prison, some cells are set up for art exhibits. This was really interesting, because it gave it both a more somber feel and a more hopeful feel. This was one of my favorites, as it pays tribute to those who lost their lives to murderers who were locked up at Eastern State. Cindy Stockton Moore's exhibit, entitled Other Absences, had a series of drawings of murder victims that she was able to find photos of. They may be gone, but they are not forgotten.


I strolled along a whole block where the back wall had crumbled and had just become a part of nature. Vines and plants have taken over and many had trees and branches taking up the entirety of the cells.


And then there were the infamous and prominent prisoners who called Eastern State home. One of those, who spent a very "grueling" 8 months there was Al Capone. As you can see, he had it super hard. It was said that he was a favorite of the warden and as such got special treatment. It's not 100% clear if Capone actually lived like this in Eastern State, but what is known is that his cell was no bigger than anyone else's, so thank goodness for small favors, I guess. If nothing else, you can see that bribery and charm will get you everywhere, even if it's just a more comfortable tiny space than anyone else got. I'd just as soon not have to go to prison in the first place. Capone made the rounds in prisons after his short stint in Eastern State, also spending time in Alcatraz.


If you're interested in prison history, abandoned buildings, prisoners or both, this is definitely a must-do on your Philadelphia trip. You can easily spend half a day wandering the grounds and building. We were there for probably 3 hours and there were many "side quests" on the audio tour that we skipped or didn't get to, as we were getting hungry. I'd love to go back to do a private tour.

Make sure to bring good shoes when you visit, because you will walk a lot and there is some uneven spots. I'd recommend closed-toe shoes. If you can visit on a weekday, you'll probably face a much thinner crowd. We went on a Wednesday afternoon and there were hardly any people. I think we had just missed a large group. Most of the hallways were deserted, which made it easier to spend as much time exploring as possible. 

If you are into haunted houses, Eastern State hosts Terror Behind the Walls on certain nights leading up to Halloween, and it is said to be the scariest haunted attraction in America. I'll never know, because that isn't my thing, but it appears that people jump out of cells at you and the prison is plunged into darkness during the event, so that alone would be too much for me. 

For more info on Eastern State Penitentiary, you can find them online:

Do you have any closed prisons on your travel list? If so, which ones?


Disclaimer: Visit Philly gave me a VIP attraction pass in order to visit Eastern State Penitentiary at no cost, but all opinions are 100% my own.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Money Saving Tips For Time Share Properties

All travel bugs love the sense of adventure and deep end experience that comes with overseas travel. However, when we truly fall in love with a location, it’s not uncommon for us to want to put down roots there. Thus, we buy a holiday home which we hope will provide us with a home away from home in a beloved holiday location that gives you the same sense of luxury as a hotel, yet with the familiarity and comfort of home. We may hope to retire to this property some day and most likely use it as an extra revenue stream by renting it out to our fellow tourists when it’s not in use.

Image by PxHere
While purchasing a holiday home may not be within most people’s budgets, investing in a timeshare property can allow you to share the upfront costs and inherent running costs with others. That said, even when sharing these costs, we can quickly realize that the overhead costs of managing a holiday home can cut into our precious disposable income. In order to make a timeshare property a viable and profitable enterprise we need to find ways to cut costs wherever we can. With that in mind, here are some ways in which you can save money on buying and running your timeshare property...

Save a hefty downpayment

Of course, saving money on a second property, whether it’s a holiday home or an investment property starts with your mortgage. Needless to say, you should do your homework and take the time to find the best housing loan, but that’s just the beginning of where you can save. If possible you should aim to put down a hefty down payment. Typically on second homes the minimum down payment is around 10% as opposed to 5%, but you can save considerably if you’re able to put down a deposit of 20% or more. This will prevent you from having to pay Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) which usually runs between 0.5% and 1% of the full loan every year. This might not look like much on paper but it’s an expense that you and all who you share the property with could do without.

Take advantage of tax deductions

If you purchased your holiday home exclusively for your own personal enjoyment and not as an investment property, don’t forget that this makes you eligible for certain tax breaks. There are numerous deductibles on a timeshare property including;

  • Maintenance fees- Please note that these are only a taxable expense if you and your fellow investors rent out your timeshare.
  • Loan interest payments- If you used a secured loan to co-finance the property, the interest you pay is tax deductible.
  • Property tax deductions- If your property taxes are billed separately from your maintenance charges, these also qualify as deductions.

Keep an eye on energy use

With so many energy tariffs on the market, it behooves you to select one that’s appropriate for the property’s use. For example, if you will use it predominantly as a holiday home and renting it out for very limited periods, it’s likely that it will be consuming little or no energy for the majority of the year. With this in mind, it makes no sense to select a tariff that will give you a great price on energy that’s not being used. On the other hand, if your property will be used for most of the year, it helps to monitor the usage and select a tariff that gives you a great deal for how much energy you’re using and when. Compare prices regularly to ensure that you’re saving as much as possible on both of your properties. No matter how much usage the property gets, installing energy smart measures like energy saving CFL bulbs is a great way to drive down your overheads.

Make sure your vacation property is water smart

Even if you’re very conservative in your water usage at home, if you’ll be renting out your holiday home, there’s no guarantee that your tenants will be quite so water (and cost) conscious. As such, it’s a great idea to install some water saving features. Most of them are relatively inexpensive and easy to install and while some may result in some upfront costs they will invariably save you money in the long term while also helping to conserve one of our most precious natural resources;

  • Water saving dual flush toilets
  • Gray water showers
  • Water saving shower heads
  • Water butts for the garden

Although the maintenance costs are offset by the contributions of others when you invest in a timeshare, it’s still in your best interests to strive to keep costs down where you can and take advantage of the unique tax benefits available to timeshare holders!

Are you already a timeshare owner or looking to buy one?

Thursday, November 15, 2018

How To Book A Budget Trip To Indonesia

One of the most common misconceptions about travelling is that it is always super expensive. With ridiculous flight prices, pricey accommodation and spending money - it all starts to add up right? 


Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

The great thing about travel is that it is what you make it. If you learn the tips and tricks of the trade then it doesn’t have to be expensive at all. In fact, you may be surprised at how inexpensive it may be. 

One of the most affordable destinations - if done right - is actually Indonesia. From the beautiful beaches in Bali to the bustling city of Jakarta, you could enjoy a it all on a budget

To help you book your dream trip to Indonesia on a budget, I’ve but together 8 of my best tips and tricks. 

  1. Book Well In Advance

If you’re planning your trip to Indonesia well in advance, booking it as soon as possible is one of the best ways to save yourself some money. 

Flights go on sale 11 months before they fly, and sold on a class basis, making the day they go live the ideal time to get them booked up. Whilst this may not always be possible, the sooner you can book the better. 

The same applies to accommodation, the closer it gets to the date you’re booking for, the more expensive it becomes.

    2. Travel Out Of Season

During the summer Indonesia is more expensive to travel too as it’s the easiest time for people travel, and has the best weather! 

If you’re able to travel at any time, avoid any unnecessary costs by travelling just outside of the main season. You still get the benefits of the great weather at the same time as saving on both flights and accommodation. Indonesia is also much quieter during this time, making it so much more enjoyable. 

    3. Be Flexible On Dates

Although not everyone is able to do this, being flexible on your dates could make a huge difference when it comes to cost. Try looking at several different dates, weighing up which options are the most feasible. 

Photo by Jordan Sanchez on Unsplash

   4. Shop Around For Flights

There are lots of different flight providers that fly into Indonesia, so try shopping around when it comes to booking your flights. You may find that there are huge discrepancies between different airlines, saving you from spending unnecessary money on a flight. Sites like Skyscanner and Kayak do all the hard work for you, showing you all of the available flights from your chosen airport. 

   5. Do Your Research

Before you travel, looking into the average price of things will give you a good idea of how much the entire trip is going to cost you. Use websites like Tripadvisor to find restaurants you may like to visit and read the reviews to find out roughly how much they cost. Having this knowledge will help when it comes to putting together a budget. 

   6. Budget Spending Money In Advance

Having a budget in mind for each day will allow you to plan well in advance the things you want to do. Failing to budget runs the risk of you running out of money before your trip is over, however if you have one in place you’re more likely to go home with a little extra. 

The recommended amount of spending per day is $30 - $50, as living costs are much cheaper in Asia than they are here in America. If you’re planning on doing activities and excursions, you may need to budget a little bit extra. 

Photo by Artem Bali on Unsplash

   7. Book Activities When You Get There

Although it may seem like a good idea to book excursions and activities through travel providers before you travel, they’re actually much cheaper to book once you get there. For example, snorkeling in Bali could cost as much as $60 when booked in advance, but when booked using a tour provider on the beach it is as little as $10. These kind of savings could be the difference between being able to stay an extra few nights. 

   8. Stay In A Hostel Or Home Stay

Booking accommodation in Indonesia can be a little overwhelming when you don’t know what you’re looking for, however, the most affordable options have proven to be hostels or home stays. Hostels are great if you’re travelling solo and looking to meet new people, whereas home stays may be a little bit more luxury (without the cost). If you’re lucky, you may even end up in a stunning villa like the Villa Di Bandung


Have you ever been to Indonesia? What are your budget friendly tips? Let me know in the comment section below!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Art and Museums of Philadelphia - Part 2

Last week I took you on a quick trip through some art and museums of Philadelphia in Part 1 of this post, and now I want to continue showing you what other awesome things the city has to offer.


Like a lot of other cities, Philly works with local artists to beautify their city, through statues, murals and more throughout the city. Everywhere you look there are amazing things to see from all different sorts of artists in all different mediums. 


If you follow me on Instagram, you know how much I love a good wall mural, and walking around Philadelphia is sort of like a dream, because you find the most interesting artwork on the sides of buildings, in all of its neighborhoods. This Olde City one caught my eye with so many little pieces and the stark contrast between just the two colors.
Not only are there tons of works of art, but you can even take mural walking tours of the city. We had limited time and didn't take one, but we sure did see a lot while we were going from one attraction to another. I mean, walking is the best way to see a destination and you don't miss out on as much as you might taking public transportation or driving (which we did do, but we parked in a lot in the mornings and drove "home" in the evenings). You have to slow down and look around. We even found this mural, above, still being worked on and colored in.


Even the mundane things in the city have makeovers, like this electrical box. You also see colorful trash bins and alleyways and outdoor rooftops. 

I had to stop and take several pictures of the side of this building. Not only were the colors fantastic, even on a cloudy day, but the artist made it look like it had stained glass windows where there was only a brick wall. It was gorgeous.


Philadelphia is known as The City of Brotherly Love, so you'll see renditions of the classic LOVE statue all over, as well as XOXO. This AMOR caught my eye, as it's different, in a part of town that is French and Italian, and it's on a box, so people can stand underneath to get their picture taken.

It's hard to pick favorite art from the city, because there's so much and it's all so different from each other. If you love art, and you're on a budget, just take a walk anywhere with your camera and get an eyeful of free culture.


We had the opportunity to check out a much recommended attraction in Philadelphia called Magic Gardens. This massive work of art is made up of pottery, china and pieces the artist Isaiah Zagar enjoyed to make these fantastic mosaics. Everywhere you look, there are 50 things to catch your eye. 

Zagar found mosaics as a way to combat his depression and also make the city more interesting to look at. He was part of a group of artists who would purchase not so great buildings and completely reinvent them. It got to the point that shops and landlords began to hire him to create cool mosaics for their buildings as well, and you can see some of these on the buildings you pass on South Street, and also down alleys between houses and shops. 


Zagar started Magic Gardens and it was completely filled with things he loved within 14 years. There are so many tiny things (and huge things) in the labyrinth of mosaics, that it might take that long to enjoy every piece he put into this. Above is one of my favorite tile finds. 


There are tunnels and steps and archways and walls and towers and words of encouragement. It's definitely a lot to take in on just one trip. I eavesdropped a bit on a private tour going on and learned that sometimes tiles weren't meant to live outside in the weather and have had to be replaced over time. Zagar will choose or create new pieces to replace them and comes out and mixes his own mortar as well. He's very hands-on with his creation and you can see that with each step you take. There was care to make the most of every inch you see. 


While you walk around, you'll find a lot of bicycle wheels, which were all donated by a local repair shop. Even the bathrooms are covered in mosaic, and there is a small exhibit "hall" off the back of the ticket desk where you can see even more art and make purchases as well. 


Can you believe how much effort and love went into the Gardens? At one point, Eric and I were standing in the middle and I told him to look up, and you can see mosaics and art on the chimney, probably 40 feet over your head. It was amazing. 

There are a lot of sexualized pieces and nude men and women at Magic Gardens, so if that's not a conversation you want to have with your small people, this might be a thing to skip with them. They aren't crazy obvious, but there are plenty of them all over if you're looking closely. If you celebrate the human body and don't have these issues, it's a definite must-visit. 

What do you think of the wonders of Magic Gardens? Stay tuned for more of my Philadelphia adventures.


Disclaimer: Visit Philly gave me a VIP attraction pass in order to visit Magic Gardens at no cost, but all opinions are 100% my own.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

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? 
Pin It button on image hover