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Saturday, August 29, 2020

I'm Traveling Today

Well, not really, but we will be doing a destination date later today. The world is getting to me this week and I'm taking a break from my regular post schedule today. I'll be back to my regular posts on Wed, and there will be a newsletter this week. 



  • Please stay safe. Covid is still very much a thing. 
  • Be kind to others. 
  • Keep your eyes and ears open for those that tell you one thing and show you something else. 
  • Remember that Black lives still matter
  • Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Non-binary people are valid. 
  • Family is important, but not at the expense of your own self-worth or sanity. 
  • Register to vote, or double-check that your registration is still valid (plenty of voters have been dropped off the list), and make a plan for how to vote and know your options.
  • Do some self-care, whether that's a bubble bath, reading in bed, or treat yourself to a cup of coffee.
  • Donate to a worthy organization, if you can.
  • Call a friend. 
  • Get informed.
  • Hug a puppy. 
  • And, as my friends Bill & Ted say, "Be Excellent to Each Other".

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Pandemic Money-Saving Tips

With stay-at-home orders (either official or self-imposed)right now, a lot of us are bored and dreaming of travel. I'm looking on the bright side, because it's the only way to get through sometimes. By staying home and not buying unnecessary things, except for the occasional treat, I'm paying down my bills and will be actively saving more for my trips soon. What does that mean? 



It means I'll be going on more trips when it's safe to do so. It also means I can go on bigger trips instead, if I want to, or splurge a little more when I do travel. People are taking this time to plan their dream trips, and I don't blame them. We'll be planning those as well, and hopefully find ourselves learning about destinations we want to move up on our travel list as we do our travel-at-home date nights.

So, aside from saving by not traveling right now, even spending a little extra on our date nights, here are some other ways I'm saving money for upcoming trips:




Using a fantastic saving app


I've been using Qapital for several years now and 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 save just by doing things I normally do. Right now I've just got the one rule set up (but move over money when I have extra): 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.  

You can change your rules at any time (and there are a lot of them to choose from), the app is no longer free, but the basic account is just $3 per month. On average, Qapital says that basic users save $1500 per year. You can do the math on that and tell that the benefits far outweigh the $36 you'd pay per year. It's easy 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!)

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! A couple good ones: Ibotta | Fetch Rewards | RetailMeNot

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

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!


Make coffee and food at home


I know, I know. We're all sick of cooking and seeing the inside of our houses. I found that when I don't go out to eat, it's just not as exciting, so we've cut back on outside food to once a week getting delivery through Uber Eats (get 25% off your first 2 orders at checkout when you use my code: eats-shereenr208ue). I also invested in the Eats Pass, so we get free delivery. It pays for itself in just 2 deliveries and often there are great promo codes. I usually add the amount I save to the tip, to help out a fellow human trying to get by.

I've also started using the Joe App for my coffee runs, which are not frequent, but I like to support small businesses. Joe App allows you to order ahead in-app and then choose how to pick your order up: curbside or counter. Each order you place earns you beans, which can then be exchanged for money off your order. There are often promo codes as well. You can even tip in the app. (Use my link above and get $5 off.)


How are you saving money during this time? And where are you saving up to go to next?


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

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Getting Money Together for Your Next Getaway

Travel may be on hold for a little while with the coronavirus pandemic. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t start planning for your next trip when restrictions are lifted and we’re all able to go on holiday again. If anything, this is a good time to get organised and start saving so that you’re able to take the trip of a lifetime when things are back on track! Whether you fancy a city break, a week in Europe, a couple of weeks in the Caribbean or anything else, you’re going to have to be financially savvy and get your money in order! Here are a few steps you can take to achieve this!

Clear Your Debts

These have been hard times for many of us financially. People have lost jobs. People are working part time instead of full time. People are operating on reduced incomes and limited budgets. It’s not all too surprising that many of us have managed to slip into a little debt due to borrowing to get by. Before planning any getaway, it’s important to make sure that you are free of debt. After all, travel is luxury rather than a necessity and you don’t want to spend beyond your means. There are a number of steps you can take to clear your debts. First, make sure to set yourself a budget. Know how much disposable income you have and don’t exceed this amount. Next, try to put as much of your disposable income as possible towards clearing your debts. Sure, it may mean getting by one the bare basics for a while, but it will help you to reach your goal sooner. If you’re still struggling, consider debt relief options. You’ll be back in the black before you know it!

Plan

It’s a good idea to know how much you’re going to have to save for the trip you want. Start browsing travel sites to determine how much flights would be, how much accommodation would be and how much spending money for extras (souvenirs, drinks, snacks, etc) you’d be looking at taking away with you. This then gives you a target to aim for.

Save


Once you’re out of debt, you can start focusing on saving towards your trip. Take similar steps as above, but instead of contributing a significant portion of your disposable income to debt, you can now put it in a savings pot towards your trip. You can take all sorts of other steps to start getting extra funds in the pot too. Sell unwanted or unused belongings. Take on overtime. Consider freelance work around your usual job role. These will all help your money to mount up!

These three steps will really help you to get to where you want to be - wherever that may be in the world. It’s been a hard year for everyone and most of us deserve a well needed break for some relaxation and recuperation or a little excitement after being cooped up in our homes for months. Money management will be key to actually getting away, so hopefully, some of the above advice will help!

Saturday, August 22, 2020

My Athens Wish List

In my last post, I started my new travel-at-home series with Greece. We virtually went to Athens and we had a great time getting away from the real world for a few hours. I'll be continuing the series ever couple of weeks or so throughout this pandemic (and possibly longer, because it's a lot of fun, honestly, and a great way to get in the feeling of travel for a lot less money while you save up for that next big trip). 

Photo by Darryl Low on Unsplash

Today I want to show you my Athens wish list, for when we get to travel again and I finally make it to Greece. It's high on my travel list and now's the perfect time to do some planning of trips, even if they are years away.

The Acropolis

Though the ruins are pictured on my backdrop, nothing can really compare to the real thing. I love soaking up the history of a destination. Not only is this a great way to do that, but it's also a wonderful place to take in the city view on one side and the sea on the other. And the views of it lit up at night are breathtaking, even in pictures.

Photo by Aleksandra Zelena on Unsplash

The Acropolis Museum

After exploring the ruins, the museum is next on my list to see the amazing architecture of this semi-new building, check out artifacts found at the site of the Acropolis, and learn even more about the structure and what it was used for. There's also Greek artwork here that I can't wait to admire.

Lunch or dinner on the rooftop of Athenswas Hotel at Sense

With the Acropolis as a backdrop, is there a prettier view for dining outside? This French-inspired Greek restaurant is a splurge for a budget traveler, but you know I'm all about eating local foods when I travel, and lamb and red mullet from Greece, both sound delectable to me.

Looking for must-eat food in Greece? Keep an eye out for these Greek specialties and these 6 must-try foods that might be a little more palatable for those who aren't as adventurous (my husband's Greek family makes all 6 of those at gatherings).

Varvakeios Agora

You can learn a lot about a place by visiting their grocery stores and markets. It's usually one of the first places I go when I land in a new place. This market is like two in one, because on one side it's open-air and sells fresh fruits and veggies, and on the other is a covered meat and fish market. Can you imagine what a fantastic meal you could put together here?

By Moonik - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0


Benaki Museum of Islamic Art

I'll be honest. I don't know that much about the Islamic culture, but this collection of over 8,000 pieces of art, considered among the most important in the world, seems like a good place to start. It is part of the Benaki Museum Collection which also has a branch of Greek Culture, so this is definitely a group of museums to check out.

By Joanbanjo - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Hadrian's Arch

This arch, built in AD 131, was the gateway from old Athens to new, Roman section. It's one of the most important surviving monuments and an iconic landmark. Even better, you can visit for free.

By DerHexer - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Kerameikos Cemetery

By now, you probably know that I am fascinated by cemeteries. I love seeing how people honor their dead and how different cemeteries are around the world. This is an archaeological gem in the middle of downtown Athens that doesn't seem to get nearly enough foot traffic. The original cemetery was covered by new ones and finally uncovered in the 1860s. Quite a lot of pottery and artifacts were found here, and you can see quite a bit at the Kerameikos Museum, right next to it. 

Photo by David T on Unsplash


Monastiraki Square

Full of fruit sellers, street performers, and people hanging out, this gathering place used to be a convent. Unfortunately, the buildings were destroyed by years of excavation, and then the train and metro lines later down the road. I feel like this is a wonderful place to people watch while also grabbing a snack.
By Jean Housen - Own work, CC BY 3.0


National Garden

I love just chilling out by walking through gardens when I travel. This Garden, completed on behalf of King Otto and Queen Amalia in 1860, is home to more than 500 species of plants and trees, and stray cats, apparently. Besides plants, you can view the Olympic stadium, built for the 1896 games and enjoy an open-air cinema, duck pond, playground, and small zoo.

Clearly this is just a small sampling of things to do in Athens. There are also beaches and shopping and awesome cafes. It sounds like a lovely, relaxing getaway though.


Have you ever been to Greece? What are your recommendations?

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Traveling To Greece From Home

It's no secret to anyone right now that I won't be traveling anywhere until at least 2021. Well, that started to get depressing, so I decided to do something fun and new for our weekly date night. This week we "went" to Greece. 


In June, we threw my husband a travel-themed front yard quarantine party. We had food and drinks from the "snack cart", put up a plane backdrop, gave away travel "souvenirs", and socially distanced on the front lawn with family and friends that dropped by during our 3 hour come-when-you-want timeframe. I had an Athens backdrop from that which I didn't use, because it was slated to rain, so I didn't want to waste time setting up  things that wouldn't actually get seen. 


Well, it didn't rain, but that's fine. I had been looking for a way to use this backdrop since. On Friday, I came up with a brilliant idea to use it to "travel" and now I've got a whole new idea for date nights during this quarantine period when we can't travel and we're basically only getting takeout or delivery once or twice a week. 


I got out my photo backdrop frame, set up my Athens backdrop on it in the backyard, dragged our bistro table and chairs onto the lawn and put together a cute little setting for two. While I didn't do a Greek menu, because it was a million degrees this last weekend, I had a charcuterie board that I put together on this fun cheese board I was gifted a while ago. I brought out the good wine goblets and filled the bottom with frozen berries for a summery addition to my sparkling rosé and apple/raspberry cider. 


We enjoyed the breezy summer evening and put on a podcast about Greece, which made it feel like we were on a city tour. If you've never been on a Big Bus tour, I highly recommend it. You sit on the top of the bus and listen to either a live tour guide or plug in headphones that are given to you when you board to hear a recording about things you're actively seeing. 


Not only that, but I set up a planter I had in the garage from our wedding and used a solar powered fountain for bird baths to create an old-world fountain feel. 

In the future, I think we will use this travel date to also talk about future travel plans, including what we'd do on these trips if they were real.  This no-plane-or-packing-required trip only cost us a whopping $50, including food, but only because I already had the tablecloth, cheese board, and glasses. I would have spent that money on delivered food anyway, so we got a bit more for our money this week.


Things you can use to create your own "trip" to Greece:

You don't actually need any of these things either. Just use what you already have at home. It's just fun to have a theme and go a little all-in with it. I hope you'll try to make your non-travel time more creative. Make it fun. Make it romantic. Make it educational. Cook together. Take an online class. Go on a virtual tour. Dress up or don't. However you like to travel! This is an ultimate budget-friendly trip for the armchair traveler right now. 

Where should we "go" next?


Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links, and I may be compensated should you choose to make any purchases through them. This allows me to keep this blog running for you. 

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Shereen Travels Cheap Turns 10

Thursday marked a whopping 10 years of doing this blog and it both feels way longer than that and also way shorter. Generally, I like to reflect back on the previous year and talk about the coming year. The last 6 months have been pretty unusual, so this is going to look a bit different.

Photo by Chris Jarvis on Unsplash
Despite the uncertainty of the world, we were still able to take our usual fall trip last year. We went to Edinburgh for a family wedding, where I worked with Visit Scotland to bring you the best of tourist attractions in the city, and we also gorged on a ton of phenomenal food. The next week we hopped over to London, where I worked with London Explorer Pass and packed the rest of the trip with more great food and so many free activities. 

My mom and I were also able to get in our trip to the Travel Goods Show in March before everything shut down and we were aware just how bad it was. New Orleans was a wonderful little getaway, even for the few days we were able to be there. We got some sightseeing in and I was able to connect with a lot of awesome travel people - new friends and old. 

All our trips after March were cancelled or postponed: Spring was going to take us to visit family in Vegas for a secondary wedding reception, but that got postponed to September. July's annual Vegas trip was outright cancelled. September's pushed reception has been postponed for an undetermined time. Our Orlando trip in September has also been cancelled. I originally made backup plans for January, but as of now, that's looking to be a no-go as well.

This next year is pretty much all up in the air, dependent on how Covid gets handled. At the very earliest, July might be our best bet for travel. We'll also be looking to Orlando at that time, assuming everything's back up and running for the fall. 

At the moment, we haven't really even talked seriously about any road trips. The closest we've come to traveling was driving 40 minutes away to drop a package at a friend's house, who was actually home, so we donned our masks and took a tour of their gorgeous new property. I also took a little detour to our airport to see what was going on there.  It was hard to feel like not getting on a plane was the right thing to do at the moment, but I consoled myself by spending some money in the shops (I purchased some gifts, so I accomplished two things in one) and remembering that by staying home, I'm keeping everyone as safe as possible. 

We might try to do more drives to get out of the house on the weekends, since we both basically work from home and then also do weekend stuff at home. This weekend I've planned a "destination" date, which will still be at home, but hopefully much more fun than what we usually do.

So, I hope everyone is doing well. I'll continue to post travel things for you to plan those awesome trips for the future. I'll also be doing plenty of posts from my home entertainment and things around Portland on my Instagram. Because at some point travel will be safe again and we're all going to see the "new" world and, hopefully, some of you will consider coming to visit this great and beautiful city.


What destinations were you planning to visit this year that you've had to postpone?

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

48 Hours of Fun On a Budget in Chicago


In this blog series I show you how easy it is to budget travel anywhere and I also give you a quick overview of a new city each time in a brief 48-hour itinerary.

While we're still in a makeshift quarantine, I've been thinking about trips we could take if we lived closer to some destinations. Chicago is in Phase 4 of reopening and is looking to entice tourists to come back. While I'm not willing to get on a plane, I know some of you are closer, or maybe you're interested in going in the future, which is my plan. 

Photo by Max Bender on Unsplash

I have planned a 2-day trip to The Windy City, assuming we're still in the middle of this pandemic. Some things are still closed. Some things are still not safe. Here's a perfectly reasonable way to spend 48 hours there with your mask and still have a great time. Here's how I would spend 2 days in the city right now:

As always, I assume you got in the night before and you've found a reasonably-priced place to stay. For this instance, I'm choosing your first day to be a Sunday, because that's when the street market is open (though it's also open Fridays), and because Saturday is a cheaper day to fly than Thursday, which is notoriously more expensive. This is also based on two people traveling.

Day1

Start your Sunday morning right with a trip to Maxwell Street Market where you can get up early browse some wares, buy some souvenirs if you like, and grab some of the best street food in the city. This is a perfect place to grab breakfast before your day out sightseeing. Estimate $20 for 2 to graze.


After breakfast, head to Skydeck Chicago at the Willis Tower for a beautiful view of the city. You can walk out to stand on the glass and, if you're brave enough, ride The Ledge, which tilts you out for a better view. This is best to make reservations ahead of time for, and if you look, you might find a promo code. $26pp, or included in the Chicago CityPASS*.


After seeing the sprawling skyline of your destination city, make sure you have your walking shoes on and visit the Chicago Riverwalk. Not only is it a wonderful walk, you can also bike, kayak, fish, or take a boat tour here. Take in the awesome free art along the way and stop to enjoy Art On theMART and memorials sprinkled throughout. Totally free to stroll.

Photo by Antonio Gabola on Unsplash


While strolling south, you'll find yourself at Millennium Park, home of the famous Bean, also known as Cloud Gate. Take your pictures, enjoy the park, which includes art exhibits, Lurie Garden (a 5-acre botanical park), as well as several play parks. 


Keep walking south until you get to Buckingham Fountain. This memorial fountain is one of the largest in the world and bordered on one side by a flower garden. Every 20 minutes (when in operation) it provides a water display that shoots 150 feet in the air. The fountain was open in 1927 and manually operated until the 1970s. It's the perfect setting for enjoying a delicious Chicago Dog from Buck's Four Star Grill. $25 for two if you include beer or hard cider and sides. If that's not for you, before entering Millennium Park, stop in at Bockwinkle's Deli and pick up something fresh to have whenever the mood strikes you.


Right around the corner is Shedd Aquarium. This conservation-forward aquarium has reopened with new safety precautions, including one-way walkways, touchtank unavailability, and no reentry to keep germs at as low as possible and prevent the spread of Covid as well as possible. You'll see endangered and thriving marine life here, with staff who are crazy about what they do and passionate about conservation and educating the public.  $39.95pp, included in CityPASS*, or free/discounted if you have a zoo/aquarium membership that participates in the Reciprocal Admissions Program (you must purchase entry tickets ahead of time)

By now you've probably walked off that hot dog and beer, but don't fear. Take an Uber or  walk back up the park to Navy Pier. It's open late, so you can walk along the water even after dark. There are plenty of places to shop, there's art, sculptures, gardens, and even live music. At the moment, all rides are shut down due to Covid, but that doesn't make it any less cool. 


Make a dining reservation somewhere a little upscale tonight. My choice would be outdoor dining at Riva Crabhouse. It's highly rated by diners and has a fabulous view of Lake Michigan. Choose from a variety of decadent seafood options, or steak dishes, to round off your first day out. Estimate $100 for two with entrees and shared appetizer or side.

Wander the pier a bit more or head back to your room to rest up for tomorrow. 


Day 2


Today is another day to wear your walking shoes and slather on some sunscreen. Hit up Dollop Coffee Co. to start your morning. Grab a steamy coffee drink and a pastry or a sandwich. Whatever fortifies you for your day. Estimate around $25 for two for a full meal. 


Two blocks west is a large greenspace which houses several cemeteries, including Graceland Cemetery, where many notable Chicago residents have been buried. You can take a self-guided tour (audio clips can be found on their website) of this historic cemetery opened in 1860 and see tombstones of people including Allan Pinkerton, Phillip Armour, and Victor Lawson. The cemetery is also an arboretum, so if you love nature, this is actually double cool, and has been called a hidden gem of the city.





A mile or so away finds you along the river at Lincoln Park Zoo. This free-to-the-public zoo might be small, but worth the visit. You'll have to reserve a free ticket ahead of time right now, but that's easily obtained online. There are more than 200 unique animal species and over 2,000 individual plants. This zoo has been in operation since 1868 and is one of the most established in the country. They work on conservation of animals in urban settings and boast a new eastern black rhinoceros calf, a cinerous vulture, and more animals you can't wait to see.

Head across the street to indulge in some great deep-dish Chicago pizza. I mean, if you don't, did you even visit? Hit up Ranalli's for dine-in (on the patio) or takeaway to eat in the park. You can also choose from salads, sandwiches, wings, and adult beverages. Estimate around $40 for two if splitting a large pizza - or a small pizza and sides - with booze.


Continue the outdoor love with a visit to Garfield Park & Conservatory. Just around 2 miles away, so you can easily walk or Uber or drive there. You will need to reserve your tickets in advance, but admission is free. This conservatory is one of the largest in the nation, with 2 acres inside greenhouses and an additional 10 acres outside. Through education, love of nature and discovery, the conservatory looks to bring people together and work on conservation of plants as a collective.

Now that you've taken in much of the free attractions, enjoy yet another one. Get a free one-hour tour with a Chicago Greeter. Book ahead for a tour of the city to learn more about the layout and history. Right now use of public transportation for this program is suspended, so you'll be doing a lot more walking. Though this is free, greeters work on tips, so I always allow $10-20 as a tip. 

Wow! I bet all the walking has made you both tired and hungry, even if you did eat that whole pizza. As you'll be close to Navy Pier, pop into Velvet Taco Gold Coast to grab an easy and yummy dinner that you can eat at the Ohio Street Beach (if it's open) or at Milton Lee Olive Park, or back in your room if you're tired of being out. If that's the case, you can also choose to have tacos delivered from one of their number of locations. Whether you're a vegetarian or a meat lover, Velvet Taco has something for you. The offer everything from Nashville hot tofu to a chicken and waffle brunch taco. Expect to spend around $5/taco, so I'd guess $35 for two people with sides and drinks.

Now it's time to head back and pack for your trip back home. For a social-distancing, mask-wearing trip, there are plenty of things in Chicago to do that are free or cheap. mix those in with more substantial attractions and you've got a nicely balanced trip that still comes out to a budget-friendly getaway. For two people, on the high end, you're looking at $397. If nothing else, you'll be getting fresh air and exercise in a new setting, where you can also sample local food.

Have you ever been to Chicago? What was your favorite thing to do, see, or eat there?

*Note: CityPASS is great, but several attractions on this are closed right now. Once they reopen, I'd consider buying and using to save money on the other attractions available besides the ones I've cited. This also includes an affiliate link.  
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