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Saturday, January 19, 2019

Relax with a Staycation

Sometimes you just need to get away. Unfortunately, it's not always in the budget. I travel 3-5 weeks a year and it's not always enough. I get it. During those times you can get a few days off, but you can't afford to get on a plane for a full-blown getaway, you can give yourself the gift of a relaxing and fun staycation. 

staycation tips

Staycations are great, because you can make one fit into any budget you have. Here are my tops tips for a staycation that rocks.

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Throw a themed party

Just because you can't go to Greece or Paris or Italy, doesn't mean you have to miss out. Find some themed tableware (I suggest Shindigz, but sometimes Oriental Trading has what you need and it's more affordable) and a great backdrop, or pictures you print out from the internet, and invite some friends to bring a dish that goes with the theme, that way you aren't footing the bill for the whole thing. Stream some appropriate music, find some interesting facts about your "destination" and enjoy a couple hours in another city.

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Pitch a tent

We all know that packing up the car and doing all that stuff that comes with camping is stressful. Instead of that, get your tent out, pitch it in the backyard, make it comfier than usual with your favorite blankets, pillows and cushions and add details to make it awesome: battery-powered fairy lights, a short table (I have a similar one) or trunk to use for eating and playing games and pull your fire pit close by for s'mores, ghost stories and weenie roasts. (Here's a good one, but we have one from IKEA.) Make life easier on yourself by ordering out, then it'll really be relaxing. Still do those s'mores though!

Take a drive

We used to do this all the time. We packed a cooler with fun foods, threw a change of clothes in a bag (just in case) and just took a drive without a real destination. We picked a direction and just randomly turned and wandered. Usually, we'd end up somewhere cool that we never saw before, made lunch from our cooler, explored the area and then went home. Don't forget your camera, because you never know what you'll find.

Head to a new city

This probably sounds expensive, but you don't have to go far. Get in the car, head to a suburb that's easy to get to and you aren't super familiar with, park and enjoy it. Being on the outskirts of Portland, we are close to a lot of towns, many we don't really ever go to. In 30 minutes, I can be in a bunch of different places. Look for the downtown area, which usually has a charm of its own, and check it out. 

Find an itinerary for your town

I know you haven't done everything in your city. Go online, check out a two- or three-day suggested itinerary from another local or traveler. Do the stuff they suggest that you haven't done and see your city with a new eye. Take a camera, pretend to be a tourist and really enjoy yourself. Buy a city card if you can and do all those touristy things you haven't done in a while, or at all.

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Have a picnic

Either put together a lunch from stuff you have at home, pick up ready-made stuff from the local grocery store or hit up the farmers' market for yummy stuff. Head to a great park in your town and spread out your blanket (you can throw it over a picnic table if you don't want to sit on the ground). Enjoy your surroundings, do the cool stuff they have, like hiking or volleyball or frisbee golf and make a day of it. Don't forget your sunscreen.

Stay in a vacation rental

Maybe you're home enough and you just need a little bit of a change of scenery. I get it. Look on Airbnb and find an affordable rental nearby, but not too nearby. Maybe in a neighborhood you don't often go to. Pretend you're somewhere else and enjoy someone else's house for a few days. Bring your own food if that's the extent of your staycation budget.

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Make outdoor movie night a thing

A few years ago, for Eric's birthday, I bought a Roku projector and screen. We use it to have outdoor movies, where we bundle up (because usually it's a bit chilly), find a Netflix movie and make snacks and popcorn. It's fun and it allows us to use our yard in another way. We've invited others over to partake as well. You don't have to invest in a big projection screen. Instead, grab a white sheet, hang it on a wall outside and you're set! We sit at our lawn furniture, but you can also throw blankets and pillows on the ground and pretend you're at the drive in or do it in the front yard in your driveway, sit in your car and pretend even better!

Dine al fresco

Much like packing a picnic lunch, but this doesn't require you to go anywhere. Sit out on your deck or in the backyard and grill, cook inside or get takeout and enjoy your backyard and lovely weather while you can. Eating outside feels a lot different than eating inside at the table or in front of the TV. For some reason, it feel more like vacation to me.

Learn a new language

Get ready for your next big vacation by learning a new language. I love Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur, but you could also take a class or invite your friends over to help learn with you. You can have your own mini class, have some themed nibbles and get in some fun socializing time.

A few reasons why staycations are awesome:
  • You don't need anyone to take you to the airport.
  • No packing/unpacking a suitcase.
  • You save money for a traditional vacation.
  • Jet lag doesn't exist.
  • Do as much or as little as you want
Here are a few musts to get ready for a staycation, because if you're going to stay at home, you don't want to be pissed that you're there.
  • Clean up the yard.
  • Clean the house.
  • Pull out everything you want to use beforehand.
  • Put new bedding on the beds.
  • Stock the fridge.
Do you include staycations in your life? If so, how do you make them awesome?

Friday, January 18, 2019

Malaysia Can Be Magical If You Know Where To Go

There are so many beautiful places for you to visit if you are going to be taking a trip to Malaysia. Unfortunately, not many people take the time to come to this amazing place, but they should because there are some truly fantastic sites to see. Malaysia is a magical place to visit if you know where to go, otherwise it could be a bit of a hard place to navigate. So, take a look at this guide for some of the best places to visit in Malaysia and make it a trip to remember.

Petronas Twin Towers

These two twin skyscrapers and held the title of world's tallest buildings from 1998 to 2004. Despite losing their tallest building status in 2004, they still hold the record for being the tallest twin towers in the world. They are a wonder to behold, and you end up wondering if people get scared being so high up! If you go into this building you are going to be treated to some wonderful views that you would only get one other place, and that is in the sky in an airplane!

One of the towers is predominantly owned by Petronas, but the other one is home to a variety of companies such as Huawei, Microsoft and other big names. Many companies use these offices to run some of their branches, but the main reason you should visit here is for the views we mentioned above. You can’t understand until you have experienced it, and how amazing it feels to look up and wonder if the building even has an end.

Mount Kinabalu

If you head over to Sabah, you will find the World Heritage Site Kinabalu Park. As well as being the highest mountain in Malaysia, Mount Kinabalu is also the highest mountain in the Malay Archipelago. It is a long way up and down though, so make sure that you are in the right level of health to be able to do this. You don’t have to get all the way up, and you don’t even have to go up at all if you don’t want to. Enjoying the view from the bottom is still a great way to spend to spend some time in Malaysia.

If you are a photographer or a painter, you are going to love this place. It is such a scenic destination, and you are going to get some excellent pictures out of this experience. Even if this is the case, don’t spend so much time trying to capture its beauty that you forget to experience it.

Batu Caves

If you are looking for an adventure to go on while you are in Malaysia, then one of the best ones is the Batu Caves. These are on a limestone hill and you will find a range of caves and cave temples to go exploring in. The name of this place comes from the river that flows past the hill, the Sungai Batu. This is also the focal point for the Hindu festival of Thaipusam which attracts thousands of people every year. If you do manage to get to this place when the festival is on, you are going to be in for a real treat.

Tioman Island

Just off the East Coast of Malaysia you will find Tioman Island. It is a nature reserve that is surrounded by beautiful beaches that you can enjoy. This area is well known among tourists, and has a great reputation for its diving spots which are full of beautiful corals and sea sponges. There is no nicer place that we can think of to experience diving than this wonderful island. You will also find a whole range of shipwrecks that have happened on the island, so if this is something that you are interested in, you should certainly check it out.

Once you get there, the first thing that you will notice is that the entire island is covered in tropical rainforest. You will be able to see animals such as butterflies, lizards, and monkeys all roaming around the island. If you go a little further east, you will find the Juara Turtle project which is a hatchery. Here they protect and study the sea turtles, making sure that they aren’t getting injured by the sea, or anything else.

Sunway Lagoon

If you are looking for a theme park to go to, then Sunway Lagoon is definitely one to consider. It is located in Bandar Sunway which isn’t far from Old Klang Road which has a lot of properties, which will be especially good for tourists to stay in. You want to be somewhere within walking distance for this theme park so that you can get there and back without a hitch. Did you know that Sunway Lagoon has hosted various international lifestyle and music events, including MTV World Stage for six years.

It is somewhere that everyone can enjoy because there is always going to be something for everyone. It can be a long day visiting here though because there is so much to do, so ensure that you take plenty of water.

Sri Mahamariamman Temple

Sri Mahamariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Kuala Lumpur and was founded in 1873. Today, many people come from all over the world to visit this place, and see its beauty. There was a new part added to it in 1968, but it has not taken away from the historic beauty of this amazing structure. If you are interested in the history of the temple, you can learn more about it when you get there. It is one of the most beautiful sites to see in all of Malaysia!

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Hopefully you have found this post helpful, and will use this as a guide to travelling around certain parts of Malaysia. It is a beautiful country, and you should take the opportunity to go there and experience everything on this list if you can.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Things Not To Pack In Your Carry-On

I talk a lot about what you should pack and how to pack it, but some things you don't think are weird may get you stopped at security and your bag flagged. Not that they won't check it and let you go, which has always been my experience, but there was a thread in a Facebook group I'm in about those things you may pack that will look wonky on the x-ray and may get you stopped.

On my last trip, I was stopped and my bag searched because I had a bag of laundry detergent that had to be tested. That makes sense, though I've traveled with that bag for quite a few trips (because buying detergent at my destination is sometimes inconvenient, especially if they don't sell it in the laundry room). I had to let the TSA agent know that I had a very fluffy pillow in my bag that I had to sit on to get my bag zipped, so it might jump out at her. She appreciated that. 

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A ziploc bag of cough drops

I'm not sure why this is a problem, but we usually keep them in the original bag or Eric puts a handful in his jacket pocket with no issues.

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A lot of snacks

So, apparently this is only a problem if you don't keep them all together. Don't just shove snacks willy-nilly into the free space in your bag, or it looks suspicious for some reason. Also, put them in clear plastic bags. This has happened to several of my friends.

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Cheese or other brick-like food

I assume this must look like a bomb. It's not actually an issue to take on the plane with you.


You might have gone to the beach and inadvertently tracked sand into your carry-on, but if you do, not only will you end up with sand on the floor when  you get home, but you may be stopped to have it tested

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A slab of meat

This may or may not look like "organic remains" to TSA. 

Quartz, rocks and gemstones

I have no idea why these get flagged, but they do.

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Bath bombs

I routinely bring these back home for my mom, but they can look like actual bombs in your bag. 

Poker chips

And things that are like poker chips. When they are stacked or piled together, they look weird in the scanner.
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Cards, games and soap in metal containers

Since the x-ray can't see through metal, they need to know what's inside. This shouldn't be surprising, but I always forget when I bring one of my favorite travel games with me.

Perfumes and colognes

Sometimes just wearing your favorite scent can get you flagged and your hands, belt or shoes swabbed. I'd advise against wearing fragrances when you fly, not only because this is annoying, but because as someone with terrible allergies, it makes being trapped in a metal tube extremely miserable.

Other things that have gotten me stopped: homemade food in food containers, chocolates, fried chicken I bought at an originating airport, a selfie stick, a little bendy tripod, and a stash of quarters for laundry. As long as it's not on the list of "definitely not" items from TSA, I wouldn't not pack any of these things if I needed to bring the back with me, because unless items don't fit in my bag and I can easily ship them, I won't waste money on checking a bag.

What weird thing have you gotten stopped at airport security for?

Monday, January 14, 2019

How To Stay Organized When You Work And Travel At The Same Time

Working while you travel is a great way to make your trips more affordable and stay on the move all of the time, but there is a big downside. Organizing your work while you’re traveling around can be incredibly difficult and if everything is a bit of a mess, your work is going to suffer. But there are some easy ways that you can keep things in order while you travel. These are some of the best ways to stay organized when you’re working and traveling at the same time.

Know Your Time Differences

Time difference trips a lot of people up when they’re trying to work from a different country. If you need to be in contact with people back home when you’re traveling, you don’t want to be calling or emailing them in the middle of the night because it looks incredibly unprofessional. That’s why you need to double check the time differences before you get in touch with anybody so there aren’t any slip ups. You can use this time difference calculator if you’re a bit unsure.

Organize Your Travel Documents

This doesn’t relate to your work directly, but it can have a knock on effect. When you’re trying to juggle work and travel, it’s essential that your schedule is airtight. If someone is expecting a call from you, for example, but you aren’t available because you missed a flight, that doesn’t sit well with them. That’s why it’s essential that you organize all of your travel documents properly. That way, if somebody asks what your schedule is going to be like next month, you’ve got all of the information there. But if you tell them that you don’t really have a clue, that tells them that you’re not a reliable person to do business with.

Virtual Mailing Address

Getting mail is one of your biggest problems when you’re traveling and it’s frustrating for people if you’re giving them a different postal address every couple of weeks. But there’s a simple way around that; the virtual mailing address. There are some great online address mailing services that you can use in place of a normal mailing address. All of your post will be sent to one address and then they’ll scan it in and send it over to you. That means you can always get your mail wherever you are and anybody that is sending things to you doesn’t have to go through the hassle of trying to work out where to send it.

Set A Strict Work Schedule

When you’re traveling and working at the same time, it’s tempting to do more sightseeing and less work. But you’ve got to remember that you can only afford to travel because you’re working, so you still need to put the hours in. That’s why it’s important to divide your time properly so you’re dedicating enough time to working before you get out and do the fun stuff.

Staying organized while you’re working on the move is tough, but it’s important if you’re going to be able to fund your trips.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

How to Tip Around the World

In America, we are so used to tipping for everything, we don’t even think twice about it when we go to restaurants or have services performed, like getting a haircut. We just figure it into the bill. Tipping is not customary everywhere in the world and in some countries it’s even considered rude. So, where should you keep your money in your pocket and where should you tack on a few extra bucks?
  • China does not practice the art of tipping and so no tips are expected unless you have an experience that is above and beyond your expectations.
  • India may include a 10% service fee to your check, but 15% is appreciated for good service. 250 rupees (or $5) per night for the housekeeper and 50 rupees per bag for porters is the norm. Keep plenty of small bills on hand in India, because it may be hard to get change.
  • Japan isn’t big on tipping either and a tip is not anticipated anywhere, unless you allow the porter to carry your bags, then the yen equivalent of a dollar per bag is the norm.
  • South Korea is a non-tipping society, with the exception of drivers and tour guides who should receive $5 and $10 respectively and $1 per bag for porters.

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Australia and New Zealand have similar tipping practices as the U.S. 10-15% for your waiter in restaurants is now acceptable, 10% for cab drivers, $1-2 per bag for porters and $1-5 per night for housekeeping.

  • France, in general, does not expect tips to be given when dining out, but if your service is excellent, up to 10% is appreciated. A euro or two for cab drivers is common, as is one to two euros per bag for porters and per night for housekeepers.
  • Germany has hefty tipping practices for hotels: five euros per night for housekeeping and three euros per bag for porters. Only 10-15% gratuity is expected at restaurants. Cash is expected.
  • Italy has a cap of 10% tipping at restaurants, though gondoliers are not expected to get tips. Five euros for porters is customary and one to two euros per night for hotel housekeeping.
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Middle East
  • Dubai is a very friendly country with overachievers in the customer service department. The standard here is 10%, but only tip with cash. At hotels and restaurants the tip is figured into your bill, so no need to add extra unless your service was exceptional. Tipping your taxi driver is not really done, except to round up your fare.
  • Egypt has an easy 10% tip rule. Ten percent for dining is already included in your bill, but it is customary to add 5-10% extra to that total. Tipping your cabbie is appreciated, as is any guide who takes you on a tour.
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North America
  • In Canada, like the U.S., it is standard practice that 15-20% is tipped in restaurants and a few dollars per day of your hotel stay if your service was satisfactory.
  • Mexico expects tipping 10-15% in restaurants, five pesos for gas station attendants and 20-50 pesos for hotel staff per day. It is appropriate to tip in the local currency rather than dollars.

South America
  • Argentina generally assumes that diners will round up their bill and add a 10% tip to the total. Dollars may be difficult to spend, so carry some smaller bills in Argentinian pesos for purchases and tips.
  • Brazil includes a 10% gratuity on all restaurant checks and no additional is expected. Round up your fare for cab rides and a dollar or two is a suitable tip for bag porters. Dollars are preferred, as the exchange rate is better than Brazilian currency.
  • Colombia may or may not add gratuity onto your restaurant check. Make sure to look to see if it has, though it’s customary to add extra for a 15% total. Many small hotels are family-run, so expect to leave $5 per guest per day. The usual dollar or two per day is fine at larger hotels. Colombian currency is preferred.
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The United Kingdom often includes a tip on your restaurant bill. Often, it will be under “optional”. If it is not figured in, then 10-15% is standard. Tipping in pubs is not customary. Add up to 10% for a cab driver and a pound or two per bag for porters.

It’s easy for Americans to get in the habit of tipping and do it wherever we go, but in some countries it can be a major faux pas, so it’s always best to check requirements for each place you visit to know what is customary and what is not. It’s better to feel a little awkward, but save your money, than offer a tip and offend someone. Plus, you'll have some extra dollars to spend! Here are more tips from Budget Travel on who we always tip and probably shouldn't, as well as who we don't tip that we should.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Easy Saving for Your Big Vacation

What's your number one problem with traveling more? Well, I'm going to guess that it's money, otherwise you probably wouldn't be here. I'm just like you guys. I have to pay for my own travel. We don't have unlimited funds. I rarely get "paid" to travel, though I know people think that, because I get asked about it a lot. I wish I got paid to travel, but then again, you probably wouldn't trust anything I said if I did, right? I know I wouldn't. So, how can you save for travel when it seems like you don't have any money to spare?

Believe it or not, it can be easy to save, even when you think you can't. I have a lot of ways I've used, with much success. I've lived paycheck-to-paycheck most of my life, too, so don't think you can't do it. You might also remember my best friend who has six children and live on one income (because they'd need 5 incomes to pay for childcare, so instead her husband stays home), they pay two mortgages, and vacation at least a couple times a year. When I last wrote about how they did a Disney vacation they only had four kids, which is still more than most people I know. They haven't slowed down their traveling and they are creative in how they do it. In fact, they just did a 2-week trip to Hong Kong. If they can do it, then you can do it!

Here are some easy ways you can save for your travel dreams:

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Pay yourself first

You know how when you invest in something like a 401-K and it gets taken out of your paycheck before you even see it? And you never miss it? Do this with your vacation fund. You know when you get paid, so set up an automatic deposit, either through work or on your own online, to go to that separate account. Even just $50 per paycheck can quickly add up and it's not so much that you'll notice it's gone. If you can afford more, change the dollar amount that goes, even if this is a one-time occurrence or permanent. A few dollars more is better than no dollars more.

Tip: Have a separate account is key. Don't make it the same as your regular savings account or checking account. Make it harder for you (and everyone else contributing) to spend it!

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Open a high-yield checking or savings account

Just like I say above, make sure it's separate from your everyday account. While your money is just sitting there, you could be earning more each month for doing nothing more but keeping it in the bank. Free money is good!

Use a fantastic saving app

I've just started using a new app called Qapital. It's really changing the way I spend and save. You set up a goal, or multiple goals, and then set up rules in order to save for them. I've been using this app for three weeks and have saved nearly $30 just by doing things I normally do. I have two rules set up (because I can't go too crazy and my "goal" is far off): One is the $2 round-up rule, so any time I use one of the cards on file, they round up to the nearest $2. That means if I spend $4.50, $1.50 will go into my Qapital account, to make up $6, which is the next denomination of $2 after $4.50. I also have an IFTTT rule that says anytime I check into a place and use the hashtag "coffeetour", it transfers another $1 to my account. 

You can change your rules at any time (and there are a lot of them to choose from), the app is free to use and super secure, you can take your savings out whenever you want/need, so you can use it at will, and if your balance on your debit card dips below $100, your savings are paused in order to avoid overdraft. You can use it on both Android and iOS. Start saving now! (and you'll get $5 free for using my link!)

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Make a list and stick to it

When I go grocery shopping, I make a list. I try to plan my meals around the same ingredients with some variety. Chicken, noodles, potatoes, carrots, beef and beans are all great staples, because you can make a ton of things with them. Buy enough to make twice as much as you plan to eat and freeze so you have dinners for future nights and can save money in the coming weeks, or have easy food to make when you return from vacation. 

Don't forget coupons and store rewards programs. Use those apps and coupons to guide your shopping for the week or month to save even more. Tally up how much you saved and put that money in your vacation fund!

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Keep the change

If you're like everyone, you have a ton of change just sitting in your car or the bottom of your purse. Make a jar or container at home to throw all that change in at the end of each day. You wouldn't know it, but all those cents can add up over the months and you might find you have a spare $100 or so that you can use as spending money!

Fill your free time

Do you find yourself sitting in front of the TV for an hour or two? Earn points through Swagbucks. You can use these points to earn money and gift cards. It's easy to accrue a lot of points in an hour or so and you can trade them in for travel cards, Amazon gift codes and even Paypal cash. Download the app on your phone to earn even more. It's super easy and totally mindless. 

Get cash back

You're going to buy stuff. You just are. Ebates lets you save money on your online purchases by offering you a set amount of cash back on participating retailers, including a lot of travel sites. If you're going to spend money, you might as well save as much as possible. Ebates sends you cash back payments four times a year, either by check or deposited to your Paypal account. It's super easy, and those payments can be used as spending money on your trips. Want to know more about how it works? I wrote a whole post on it!

Drive past the coffee shop

Getting your morning coffee can set you back $3-5, which easily adds up to $60-100 over the course of a month. I love a professionally-made cup of Joe as much as the next person, but I know they can really be expensive. If you want a fancy cup of coffee, think about investing in an espresso maker or French press and frothing whisk. You'll work the cost off by the end of the year and might even find you like your own coffee better. You'll definitely save calories. 

Don't worry, I think it's perfectly acceptable to break out once in a while and splurge on a grande triple macchiato with whip. (Yes, I know, I'm one to talk, but you aren't writing a blog post series, are you? Even so, I make my own coffee 85% of the time.) Maybe your weakness is fast food or going out to lunch. Plan your meals ahead of time and/or bring your lunch to work instead. You'll be surprised by how much you spend.

You don't have to totally turn your whole life upside down to save money for your travels. Once you do a few of these things, you'll find it easier to incorporate other ways to save without feeling like you're missing out on anything or being too restrictive. Maybe instead of going to the movies one night, you pick up a Redbox or find something old that's streamable on Netflix. Soon you'll have a little pile of money that grows into a bigger pile of money that will surprise you.

I'd love to know what destinations are on your travel wish list! What trip are you saving for next? 

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which help me keep the blog running.
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