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Saturday, December 28, 2019

2020 Resolution: To Travel More

The New Year is upon us and who doesn't want their 2020 to be awesome? I know I do. If you aren't already traveling the way you want, maybe you should resolve to travel more. Travel makes people happy, and being happy makes you healthier, so it just makes sense. You have all those vacation days. Try to use more of them this year. In fact, that can be your New Year's resolution.


So, how do you actually travel more? It's easier than you think. I'll give you some steps to ensure that you follow through. You just need to be dedicated to living a happier, healthier life where you go places.

Make a plan

White a list. Where do you want to go? Which seem reasonable? Anything nearby that you've already visited can be crossed off, unless you really want to go there again. Don't go just because you think it'll fit into your budget. Chances are, you can go further or for longer for the same money. Figure out your top three places and do a little research to see how much they will realistically cost. Maybe just take a week instead of two, or go on two one-week trips, instead of one long trip, because it gets you out more and gives you more to look forward to.

Start saving

Even budget travelers need to save. You may think it's too hard or you can't do it, but you can! 
  • Open a checking or savings account specifically for travel. Leave your debit card at home, so you can't spend these funds on a whim. 
  • Set up automatic deposits into this account with each paycheck, so you don't miss the money. They can be any amount. Even $50 will make a difference.
  • Stop doing things that make you unhappy or that you aren't using. Do you subscribe to multiple streaming services? Do you use them all? If not, unsubscribe from those you don't and put the money you save into your vacation fund. 
  • Use easy ways to save. there are tons of apps and extensions out there to help you save money, including Ebates, Swagbucks and Honey. These all are completely free and offer cash back and promo codes. I am also a fan of the app Qapital. It lets you set up rules for yourself and moves money from your bank account into a separate account to help you save for any goals. My favorite rule is the Round Up rule, where every purchase you make is then rounded up to the nearest $2 and that difference is moved to your Qapital account. You can easily move your money back to your bank or use the Qapital debit card to use those funds. 

Invest in yourself

While we're eliminating things that make us unhappy, let's talk about doing more that makes us happy. If you need to get out of the house more, try using Groupon and Living Social to save on your outings and dining. Get half-price manicures, go to escape rooms with friends, go have a lovely brunch, and then pocket that money you saved on it.


Look for ways to save

Set your realistic money goal for your vacation at what you would pay full price and then look for ways to bring that cost down. Sometimes you can save just by booking things online (like you can with Universal Studios' tickets), sometimes you can find coupons online, some cities offer passes that give you a decent discount off their most popular attractions. Check out CityPASS and Smart Destinations

You might look into traveling in the off season, because hotels and airfare can be reduced by half compared to the high season. Even shoulder season can save you money and can save you time, since you won't have to deal with long lines and crowds of tourists. 

Look at bundling your vacation. Many times purchasing a package that includes airfare and hotel together can offer you deep discounts, so it's like you're only paying for one.

Don't sabotage yourself

Stop saying "someday" or thinking you don't have time to plan a vacation or that you'll never save enough to go. You do and you can. You just need to make travel a priority in your life like you do other things you accomplish. My best friend has a family of 8 and they just went to Hong Kong and Thailand with everyone and were shocked at how little they spent, even though they had a driver and went to Hong Kong Disneyland. They'll be doing more than just driving to California in the coming years, because now they know they can. 

Resolve to travel more and travel better and be happier and do the things you keep putting off because you think it's too hard or will cost too much. Make a plan, stay on course, set a budget and do it!

What's on the top of your travel list?

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, Solstice, or Wednesday, I hope you're having a wonderful one. It'll be business as usual here on Saturday, but today I'm taking the day off to enjoy family, friends, and food.


I hope your Winter/December/Holidays are awesome!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Have a Harry Christmas

With December almost over, the holidays are upon us. This is a crazy busy month for me, because Christmas, my birthday, and several great events that I enjoy. This is a pretty Potter-centric time and I'd love to share pics with you.


Each year I choose a theme for my birthday. This is generally Harry Potter, because my house gets turned into Hogwarts for our big party in July and then transitions to fall, Halloween, Christmas, and then taken down after the 1st. These all seem like the most Hogwartsy seasons/holidays, so then we take a breather and be "normal" for 6-7 months before we begin again.

see how sparkly this is
Well, since each July party has a different theme, so does Halloween (though we skipped that party this year) and my birthday. Last year my birthday was a Yule Ball and this year I wanted to really do something cool and different, so I chose Slughorn's Christmas Party and invited the "Slug Club" to this exclusive party in his office. 


I redid our Common Room wall with potions posters and made a new, bigger mantel/fireplace to replace my old cardboard one. Our fireplace doesn't work and doesn't have a surround, so I use a fake one in front of it. This had quite a bit larger mantel, where I was able to stage Slughorn's celebrity photographs. 


Our tree had the addition of bubble lights and mini cauldrons to really bring in the potions elements. 



I also wanted to recreate his fabric tent feel without spending $95,000 and came up with a way to use lightweight gossamer instead of super expensive velvet, that made a statement piece with the "golden chandelier lit with fairies" I crafted with things I already had. Everyone was really impressed with it, so I guess I accomplished that feeling...and it didn't feel oppressive in my smallish living room. 



We don't have House Elves to carry around trays of food and drinks, but I slaved a bit to come up with a fun menu that had a Slughorn vibe to it. It included lamb chops, dragon balls (as a cheeky nod to the movie), bacon balsamic Brussell sprouts, mince pies, brandy beans, pumpkin juice, and mead. There was more than that, but you get the idea. Pretty much, all my food is a finger food, making it easy to mingle and play games.


We played Four On The Couch, pulled Christmas crackers that I made, had a mini potions class, had an owl counting challenge, and everyone went home with a Felix Felicis ornament that I also made, because that's my new tradition. Last year I made ornaments with chocolate frog cards with my face on it. It was a blast.

Eric channeling Slughorn and me Luna
The next night, I dressed up in different wizard attire to attend the third annual Yule Ball put on by our local chapter of the Harry Potter Alliance, PDXpelliarmus (see what they did there?). It's always above and beyond, and this year was no exception. 


Eric and I spring for the Feast, so we get there at 5:30, make the rounds for photo ops, raffle table, and say hello to everyone, then sit down with new friends to an amazing dinner. Afterward, we dance!


The past two years they've had a live band, but just went with a DJ this time (DJ Switch has done the two previous balls as well). It was fantastic. He plays just the right mix of nerdy and old school dance music, as well as a few new songs that everyone loves. 


This year there was also an amazing group there called the PDX Dancing Witches who graced us with two unique performances. A Dementor showed up as well, but luckily there were Aurors in the building to fix that situation. LOL!


The whole Yule Ball is put on to raise money for charity. Since the HPA works towards literacy and equality, this year went to a charity called KIND, Kids In Need of Defense, that helps kids trapped at the border and separated from their parents with no help. Ticket proceeds go to that, as well as raffle proceeds. The HPA is run by volunteers and donations, so if you love Harry Potter, or just want to help those in need, consider helping out your local chapter, or donating online. Even your purchases on the web store help support charities and other great programs.

That's how my December is going. We're going to Die Hard: The Musical Parody after Christmas (another tradition for us) and I'm looking ahead to a different local Harry Potter event at a restaurant downtown in February. The 25th will see me, Eric, and my mom at the casino buffet, because no one wants to cook for 5 hours, followed by cleaning all the dishes.

How's your December going?

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Last-Minute Holiday Travel Tips

The holidays are almost upon us and that means many people will be flying or driving to destinations to see friends and family. Luckily, all our immediate family lives in town, so we don't have to go anywhere to get our jolly on. We do skip the making of a big holiday dinner in favor of going to the local-ish casino buffet on Christmas day and we do a potluck for the get together on Christmas Eve, so we have a pretty laid back couple of days to look forward to.

last-minute tips for holiday travel

If you're traveling, you probably want a few tips to make sure you don't lose your mind, either on the way there or once you've arrived.

Pack light

Your family knows what you look like. Pack only the essentials and mix and match if you can. That way you don't have to pay baggage fees and potentially have your luggage get lost. Here's how to do it, even for winter

If you're trying to also pack gifts, I'd suggest small ones that aren't wrapped that you can wrap or bag when you arrive (paper and bags are easy to stash in the bottom of your carry-on or in a side pocket). TSA won't always let wrapped gifts through, and you'll be mad if you spent all your time on wrapping and they rip it open. If you don't mind paying, shipping them ahead works too, and is still probably cheaper than baggage fees. 

Bring a back-up bag

When coming back from the holidays, you're probably going to have more than you started with. Throw a back-up bag in your carry-on that you can then bring those back with you on the plane. I have several different ones that work to carry purchases I've made when traveling. I love this full-size bag (which will fit under the airplane seat) and also this bright tote bag. Both can be packed away and are sturdy enough to hold a large load of goodies.

Pack electronic and tangible entertainment

Whether that be books, magazines, card games or whatever. Bring a small selection of things that aren't digital, because you never know what can happen on your travels and batteries don't last forever. That said, don't forget your chargers and a small power strip. A portable back-up battery is also a lifesaver. 

Be chill

Count to 10. Go to your happy place. Get to the airport 3 hours early and have a drink at the bar. Whatever you need to do, but please don't take out your stress and crankiness on everyone else. These times are hard on everyone. The security and flight crew don't need to get yelled at for no reason. There's only such much within their control too, so chill out and sit down and try to ask yourself if it's really that important. Smile at others and maybe the holiday spirit will spread.

Also bring snacks

I get cranky and mean if I don't eat. It's not often, because I get to the airport early and eat there and am prepared for my flight. I always have snacks though, because you never know. Being hangry can be avoided, which is why I bring more food than shoes when I travel. Snag a bottle of water once you're through security too, because being dehydrated can lead to getting sick, and that sucks worse than being hungry.

Look for Lyft/Uber promo codes

If you've not used either of these car sharing services before, then you can probably sign up with a hefty promo added to your account. Make those I-gotta-get-out-of-this-house-and-away-from-family trips a little cheaper and less guilt inducing.

When you simply need to release your cabin fever, splurge on a city scavenger hunt like Stray Boots or Urban Adventure Quest. This is great for kids that have all that pent up energy too.

photo credit

Get a tune up

Are you driving to your destination? Millions of people are. If you'll be driving your own car, then make sure it's safe for the road before you go. Right now, many mechanics are running specials for road-worthiness. It's very important. 

The holidays can be stressful, but that doesn't mean you can't make the best of it. If you want to be even more prepared, download some of these great apps to your phone and then plan, plan, plan, but assume things may not go as you expect.

Are you all set for your holiday travels?

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Packing Light for Winter Travel

Packing even for a beach trip in just a carry-on can be a little tricky if you aren’t used to packing light. Carry-on travel has become more and more popular as baggage fees have become the norm among most airlines. 


Not only does packing light save money, but it also saves time, because travelers don’t have to stand around the baggage carousel waiting for their luggage to (hopefully) make it off the plane. Having minimal baggage can save your back, too. Not sure where to start when planning your winter travel bag? Here are some tips to keep your carry-on light, but still have a large wardrobe.

fall travel tops

Mix and Match

When you carry fewer items, you need all your clothing to work together. Throw out the idea of packing a whole outfit for each day and instead look to mix and match everything you bring. Pick a color palette and stick with it, or make sure either all your tops or all your bottoms are a neutral color. If all your tops go with all your bottoms, you’ll find your choices are more than expected.



Scale Down

The only one who will know that you’ve worn the same clothing separates more than once on vacation is you (and your travel companions). It’s unlikely you will see the same people more than once on a trip, and if you do, they probably won’t notice that your outfit is similar to what they saw you in before. The magic numbers for what to bring: Five tops and three bottoms. These, coupled with the outfit you’ve traveled in, net you over three weeks of unique outfit combinations.

Layer, Layer, Layer

Just because it’s cold today, doesn’t mean it will be tomorrow. Plan for days that can vary in temperature by packing layers. You might have an unseasonably warm day in the middle of winter or an unexpected cold snap in fall. Be prepared. Pack a few sweaters, a scarf and a mix of tanks and tees. When it’s warmer out, you can opt for a t-shirt. When it’s really cold, you can add two or more layers together to keep chill out. If you’ve brought a dress, toss a pair of tights into your bag to protect your legs. Don’t forget your favorite jacket, which you should leave out of your bag to save space for other necessities. It can double as a pillow on the plane or can be stashed under the seat in front of you.

Choose Two

Shoes are the biggest challenge of everyone’s travel bag, it seems. A pair of flip flops is a staple to any carry-on, as they take up little room and are perfect for quick jaunts to the lobby or to the hotel pool. Other than those, two pair of shoes is all you need. When your destination is projected to be cool, a pair of comfortable boots and another pair of walking shoes are going to be your best bet. Don’t bring anything you haven’t worn before or that you can’t walk in for long periods of time comfortably.

Wear your walking shoes on the plane and leave your dress up shoes at home. You’re not going to want to wear high heels after a day of sightseeing. If you really want to wear a pair of nice shoes out, look for a fun pair of ballet flats or wedge booties that will go with other outfits as well.

Accessorize

If you feel that what you’ve brought is kind of drab and not really exciting for a night out, then accessories will elevate those plain Jane items. A scarf, a belt and some statement jewelry can pack small and make a big impact. Jazz up your little black dress or a simple tank with a funky necklace. Even if you’re specifically planning to go to an upscale restaurant or clubbing, you probably won’t feel like leaving your fancier clothes at home was a bad idea. If you aren’t going to wear something two or more times, it is just taking up valuable real estate in your carry-on.

Do Laundry

There’s no way around it. If you pack light and you’re gone for more than a week, you’re going to have to do laundry. Schedule some downtime (which you should do anyway) to clean your clothes. It doesn’t sound fun, but you can take the time to hit the pool, watch a show or catch a nap. Just need to freshen up a piece? Spray some vodka on it. It deodorizes, and since it doesn’t have its own smell, you won’t reek of booze.

Carry-on packing can be difficult at first, but with some practice you can become a pro and save baggage fees. With fewer bags to deal with, you’ll feel freer as you waltz off the plane and get right onto your vacation while everyone else is still waiting for their suitcases. 

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Everything You Need To Know Before Visiting Texas

Are you planning a trip to the Lone Star state? If so, you’ve made a good choice. Texas is one of the country’s most enigmatic destinations and has its own subculture. But there are a lot of things that people from outside the state don’t know about it. 

If you want to visit Texas, there are some things that you need to understand first. Check out the following: 

In Texas, People Don’t Measure Distances In Miles


Texas is a big place. In fact, you could fit most of western Europe into it; it’s so large. The locals, therefore, don’t like to deal in miles. There are too many syllables involves.


Dallas is over five-hundred-and-fifty miles from Houston - it just takes too long to say. It’s a “two-day trip” rolls much more easily off the tongue.

Don’t be surprised, therefore, if you hear people talking about journey distances in terms of time. It takes a couple of days to go from one end of the state to the other by road, and a whole morning to travel just about anywhere from anywhere. 

Burgers Are Popular, But Everyone Loves Steak More

Steak and Texas go hand in glove. The cattle-based food and the state are almost synonymous with each other. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Texas is home to some of the world’s most magnificent steak houses, something you can read more about at www.yoranchsteakhouse.com


In Texas, they like them big, fat and juicy, with plenty of delicious sides. Typical choices include lettuce hearts with ranch dressing, giant battered onion rings, chips, and, in upmarket locations, dauphinoise potatoes. Well done, medium-rare or blue: it’s all good in Texas. 

People In Texas Love Their Idioms

“It’s like putting lipstick on a pig” and “madder than a wet hen” are two of many expressions that you’re likely to encounter on your travels in Texas, according to leahtravels. Sure, they might sound old-fashioned when you hear them for the first time, but you soon get into the swing of it. After all, it’s that frontier attitude that makes Texas the place that it is today. 

Texas Is Half Mexican 

People think of the Lone Star state as being firmly within the cultural sphere of the United States, but it’s a surprisingly Mexican place. After all, Mexico is right on its doorstep. 

The state, therefore, is one of the best places in the Union to pick up Mexican food for breakfast. Here people love going to Mexican food outlets for their first meal of the day, stocking up on bean burritos whenever possible. 

When In Texas, Speak Like A Texan

The Texan accent is unique in the United States and one of the things that the state is quietly proud of. Locals tend to adopt a slow speech pattern and will often drop word endings when they're not essential for communication. Texans, for instance, are not particularly fond of the letter “g” at the end of their words, so you’d better start preparin’ now.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

How to Travel on a Budget for the Holidays

The holidays are stressful enough, so why add more to it with your holiday travel? By planning ahead, you can save money and frustration. You'll be happy to see your family and friends instead of resentful that you had to spend so much to get there that you can't take a real vacation later.

budget holiday travel tips

Fly Early

If you're worried about getting bumped, - and who doesn't? - choose a flight early in the day. The first flights out have much lower chance of being delayed, plus many people don't want to get up at the crack of dawn, or earlier, to go to the airport, making those flights a bit cheaper.


Travel On Less Desirable Days

Generally, booking your travel during the holiday season is not super affordable, but you can reduce the sting by flying the least busy days to get the best deals. When demand is low, so are fares. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays tend to be less expensive than other days, because the majority of travelers are doing so over the weekend. The airport is always packed on Thursdays and Fridays with people getting out of town and then on Sundays and Mondays coming back.

If your family does their celebration on Christmas Eve or not until Christmas afternoon, then traveling on Christmas may work perfectly for you. Everyone wants to be with their families then, so airfare can be super low. 

Book as Far in Advance as Possible

Under normal circumstances, the sweet spot for getting flight deals on domestic flights is between three and five weeks, but for the holidays, you'll want to book as soon as you find an airfare deal. The closer to the holiday you get, the more airfare will be. There are almost never any last-minute price drops for Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year's Eve.

Use Your Airline Miles

If you're doing it right, you've probably been racking up those airline miles every chance you get. You are, right? Well, now's the time to cash them in. Again, the earlier you can book, the greater chance of getting a rewards seat, plus you can save the majority of your travel budget for later to go somewhere (more) fun.


Bring Just a Carry-On

Many airlines, especially so-called budget airlines, have upped their baggage fees. Do you really want to pay an extra $40 or more to bring your luggage along? You're probably visiting your family, so they aren't going to be bothered if you want to use their washing machine.


Pack light by choosing a mix and match wardrobe, where all your bottoms match all your tops, and try to keep your shoes to two pair. In the winter, you can easily wear a pair of boots and some fun flats with just about everything. Roll your clothing to save space and combat wrinkles. Think of it as a giant puzzle, using all available space, and you’ll be surprised by how much you can fit inside a traditional roller bag.

Pack Small Gifts 

Packing light can be a challenge, but if you're also bringing gifts along, consider small ones that are easily packable, like gift cards or jewelry. If you can't be restricted by size, ship your gifts ahead, because you'll save money mailing over baggage fees and there's smaller chance of them getting lost.


If you choose to bring gifts with you in your carry-on, make sure they are unwrapped, as TSA needs to see what is inside your bag and will open any boxes that are closed if you are chosen for a random bag check. Purchase wrapping paper, bows or bags once you reach your destination, or slip the flat items in a pocket of your bag to eliminate wrinkles.

Drive Safely

If you’re lucky to be close enough to your destination to drive there, make sure to get a tune-up on your car before embarking on your trip. A car in tip top shape will get better gas mileage and is less likely to break down. Use Metromile and other apps to find affordable gas along the way, pack a paper map for emergencies and have a list of all important phone numbers and addresses just in case.

Pack snacks and plan stops along the way, because getting out of the car and stretching out makes the trip more fun and snacks keep you from getting cranky and stopping for fast food.


Your holiday travels don’t have to break your bank. With a bit of forethought and planning you can save wherever possible, so the Season of Giving doesn’t turn into the Season of Giving the Airlines All Your Money. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Surviving the Holidays with Family

The holidays are here and people will be taking to the skies and roads and spending way more time than they might like with their significant other and family. We travel as a couple and it's not always smooth sailing. The same goes for traveling with your family. Sometimes you get mad at each other. Sometimes you are crabby and snappy and sometimes things just don't go as planned. 




How can you be around each other 24/7 without wanting to murder each other on a one- or two-week vacation? It's not always easy, but with a little planning you can minimize ruffled feathers and maximize quality time on your trip.

Eat! 

My number one rule is to make sure you eat when you're hungry. If you don't and your partner is notorious for getting hangry (angry when hungry) as I am, then every day is going to end up with snappish or yelled "conversations". Find somewhere to eat when one of you is hungry or pack snacks in your bag for those times between meals or when you have to wait a little longer than you want to eat. I can't even tell you how many mean things pour out of my mouth when I get too hungry, and snacks will only last so long before a real meal is needed. Luckily, Eric knows it and will quickly steer me into a food place even if he's not hungry. Eating a balanced diet when you travel can help you feel better and less stressed as well.


Compromise your travel styles

No one is the same, which is good, because that would make the world a very boring place. Unfortunately, this probably means you and your spouse don't travel exactly the same. Understand your differences and understand what the other wants. Meet in the middle when things differ and you'll enjoy your trip a lot more if you're not butting heads at every turn. 

When we were in Scotland with family, we shared an Airbnb between five of us. Before I left, I knew I would be doing stuff for the blog and made a list of all the things I wanted to see, do, and eat. I shared that with everyone and they shared what they wanted to do and then we tried to mesh our schedules on things we all wanted to do and then we played it by ear on some stuff when we got there, because we also all were doing things with other family in town. It actually worked out well, as we spent time together and apart and didn't get on each others' nerves that way.

A lot of our down time looks like  this, or me on my computer and Eric doing something elsewhere.

Take some alone time

I understand that you are on vacation together. I do, but if you don't take some time to just go off and do your own thing, you will start to stress out and hate the other person's face before long. This doesn't mean that you have to spend a whole day all alone. Maybe go do a little shopping or even just make time to have your own space. We often have a vacation rental and will just go into different rooms for a while each day or he'll go swimming while I just lay on the couch and watch the news or a cartoon. Even 30 minutes of privacy can be helpful.


Do something you don't want to do

You aren't always going to want to do the same stuff. That's life. But this vacation is both of yours, so if you don't want to do all the same things, make a promise to do something the other wants and vice versa. You might find you have fun, but if nothing else, you'll know you made each other happy and that goes a long way, especially when you at least act like you are enjoying yourself. (If you don't, it really doesn't count as being nice.) Just remember, if your significant other refused to do the one thing you wanted to do most at your destination, you'd be pretty pissed, so keep that in mind when you're doing the thing they truly want to do.

The same goes for traveling with a group. I ask everyone what they want to do ad then we plan things together that everyone wants to do and then split up for other things, because not everyone wants to do everything and sometimes people just need to get away from each other.

Get enough sleep

Sleep is important, and when you don't get enough of it, it's like operating on only partial power. This is going to make you moody, crabby and probably mean. Make sure you get enough winks in, so you aren't close to snapping at any moment. It's better to miss out on something than to not enjoy doing it because you didn't sleep enough and hate everything.


Communicate

If you don't talk to each other, then it's inevitable that something will cause an unnecessary fight between you. If you have questions about something or aren't sure how to get somewhere, communicate it. If you aren't having a good time, let them know. Maybe just voicing it will make things just a little bit better. Also, you can't fix something if you don't know there's a problem.

Guess who didn't get to eat here? LOL!

Be open to change

I can't even tell you how many times things didn't work out as planned on our trips. Nothing is going to go smoothly 100% of the time. Expect and accept things may change/go wrong/come up and be willing to adapt and roll with it. It'll all work out in the end.

If you can just learn to be a little flexible and selfless, then you can have much better vacations that are filled with fun and excitement instead of stress and crying. Not everyone is going to travel well together, and it can really test the limits of your relationship(s) sometimes. If you can get through a whole trip without tears or sniping, I consider that a success, but it almost never happens over the course of two weeks, I'll take the little victories.


What are your best travel tips for not stabbing your significant other or family member?
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