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Saturday, May 8, 2021

Exploring Mongolia at Home

I know I'm behind on my last few staycations, but that means you're getting a double dose back-to-back. A few weeks ago we traveled to Mongolia, which has always been a destination on my travel list. I know it's weird pick, especially for someone who doesn't really love outdoorsy activities, but for me, the outdoor part of Mongolia is the whole point. 

A few weeks ago we traveled to Mongolia, which has always been on my travel list. Places like Mongolia aren't glamorous, but unique on their own.

I'll be following up with a wish list, but for now, let's talk about our first actual outdoor (like in the yard, not just the covered porch) staycation of 2021. I apologize in advance for the wavy backgrounds, as it was super windy when we decided to do this and there was no way to take a perfectly flat photo.


I went a bit crazy when I saw some new melamine serving ware at Target and bought most of it, including a great tablecloth that looked similar to one on my list for Mongolia. Since much of the country outside of the cities is very plain-like. I wanted to bring some of that, and included a bit basket of wildflowers as a centerpiece, but also included a camel (as those are pretty prevalent) and a cow skull to represent the large yaks and similar animals found there. 


I had two backgrounds customized, because Mongolia isn't a big sought-after destination for such things. The bad things about that is that they only come in a limited range of sizes (the biggest being 7'x5') and they take a long time to receive. The plus side, though, is that I can use any photo I upload. So, I chose an iconic photo of Mongolian falconers for one and then one with the traditional yurt and animals found where the country's nomads live.


Now, there is a distinct lack of Mongolian restaurants that aren't buffets like Changs Mongolian Grill or Asian hot pot places, and I wasn't going to spend all my time in the kitchen, so I looked at Asian restaurants that had items I was interested in eating and were close enough to authentic dishes, and also where I wouldn't have to go to multiple restaurants. I ended up, believe it or not, ordering and picking up from P.F. Changs and was pleasantly surprised by the price and the food.


Almost all Mongolian food is meat, cheese, bread and lard-based. It gets quite cold there and the added layer of fat is helpful to keep warm. Stew seems like that would fit in that mold, so I opted for a family meal which started with wonton soup, then got chicken fried rice and Mongolian beef (this also came with lettuce wraps, but we saved those for lunch the next day). Mongolia has their own thicker, spicier dumplings, but I couldn't find any anywhere, so I ordered shrimp dumplings with chili sauce.


For dessert, I actually made a traditional cheesecake-like dessert called pashka that is rooted in Russian and Polish culture. It's made with dried fruit, cottage cheese, cream cheese and honey. Since I sort of went off script by combining two recipes and not using a regular mold, I wasn't sure it was going to be edible (spoiler: it was and it was delicious!). As a backup, I ordered bao doughnuts as a dessert that is as close as possible to boortsog, dough fried in animal fat. 


The only drinks I could find that were strictly Mongolian were vodka-based and fermented horse milk, neither of which sounded all that appealing, so I decided that tea was a universal beverage. I steeped an Earl Grey, added ice, sugar and crushed blueberries, and we found it really refreshing with our meal.


I found a new favorite music genre while we were eating. I put on Tuvan throat singing, which is also known as khoomei and the Mongolian band The HU came up. Not only do they have awesome music videos, but the music is really upbeat and makes you want to dance. I'm in the process of finding other bands like them that I enjoy. 


We sat and ate and talked about what we thought was the most appealing parts of Mongolia were. We learned some interesting facts about the country and its people. We learned that the capital, Ulaanbaatar, is actually the most polluted capital city in the world, and most of the nomads are younger people under 30. I can see why this would be preferable to living where the air actually makes you sick to breathe. Also, there are more horses than people in Mongolia, so you're more likely to get to hang out with animals if you aren't living in the city, and I'm into that. 

Their takhi horse is the only wild horses still in existence. Thought to be extinct in the 60s, some captive takhis were carefully bred and reintroduced to the wild in the 90s. Though they were kept in captivity, they are the only horses that have never been domesticated. They look different than regular horses and are still on the endangered species list.


Maybe this staycation doesn't seem as exciting as some of my others, because it's not a normal or very desirable destination, but that doesn't make it less interesting and there's a lot you can learn and activities you can do with your family. Here are some of the things I used to bring Mongolia to life in our house:

I like learning about less well-known destinations, because it's like you're discovering something special. Not that places like Paris and Munich aren't special, but they are also popular and hard to have a super unique visit. Places like Mongolia aren't glamorous, but there's a different sort of charm to it and I can't wait to visit for real someday.


What's the weird, but wonderful, travel destination you have on your wish list?

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Wednesday, May 5, 2021

How My Travel Outlook Has Changed

I've been seeing a lot of people saying they can't wait to go on vacation. Admittedly, I'm one of them, but unlike before this pandemic started, I have some new reservations. While I'd usually be researching flight prices and things to do right about now, I'm just not in the headspace to be doing that with Covid numbers still on the rise, even with vaccinations rolling out at a pretty good clip. Let's talk about why.

Will I travel this year?

We did a road trip in February, and while it was short, we saw a lot and had a good time. Having an Airbnb was perfect, because it allowed us to get away from home, stay safe when we knew that Covid precautions were taking place and knowing it was a lot easier to clean a few rooms than stay in a hotel where they have to clean dozens to hundreds of rooms in the same amount of time. We had a strict check-out policy, in order to comply with safety regulations of the state and allow for time between guests. This was super important to me. 

We also had a place to come back to with our meals and comfortably eat at a table, or make our own food, which we did half the time, as we hit up the grocery store and also brought food from home. This allowed us to have as little contact with people as possible.

We learned from that trip and will go on another, longer, road trip just Eric and I in the fall. We'll both be fully vaccinated in a few weeks, so we'll be feeling a lot more confident being around strangers, though we still might not be willing to eat inside. We've booked ourselves nights in our timeshare, knowing we'll be comfortable and they are taking the best precautions for the safety of their guests, but I'll also be traveling with antibacterial spray and wipes, and going over everything real quick again before we settle in. In all fairness, this is probably a good idea anyway. If you're staying in hotels, some of the surfaces just barely get touched by cleaning product (like the remote and the phone). 

Our yearly trip to Vegas has been cancelled two years in a row, so we are going to make up for it by driving down from Portland, stopping in Reno going and returning, and seeing some interesting roadside things along the way, including the International Car Forest in Nevada. We'll be masking up everywhere and washing our hands as much as possible, and using sanitizer when we can't. As I did with our previous trip, we'll have food, snacks, and drinks, as well as a Covid bag with garbage bags, toilet paper, paper towels, water, and sanitizing spray. You never know what you might need on the road. 


Why I'm not flying to Vegas

So, shocking no one probably, I have decided that this year is just not the year to fly on a plane. Early in the pandemic last year I said I was fine with traveling wherever, until we learned more about Covid and how it spreads and what it does. I knew I wouldn't be going anywhere pretty soon, but I wasn't sure it was going to last over a year. In fact, it will be two years from my last flight when I finally get on a plane again. 

It's not that I don't think the vaccine is going to prevent me from getting sick. I'm confident that it'll keep me from getting really sick, but I don't trust other people. If I were going to fly out of the country where people have to do Covid testing before they travel, then I would get on a plane in a heartbeat. I don't trust people to not fly when they're sick. And though I'll wear a mask, if they're sitting right next to me, there's no guarantee that I won't pick it up, especially if it's one of the variants that's more contagious, and pass it on to someone who isn't vaccinated. I know by then that people should be vaccinated, but there are some people who legitimately can't be, and others who are immunocompromised that could easily pick up the virus even though they are vaccinated. I'm not willing to be a party to that. 

When most people are vaccinated and we are cleared for non-essential travel again, I'll be back out there, flying all over.

Will I get on a plane next year?

Definitely. I'm assuming by then most people will have gotten their shot(s) and even possibly a booster at that point. My guess is that the world will be more open and travel will be as safe as it possibly can be. 

Will I travel more next year?

Considering by the end of 2021, I'll have only gone two places, and both within driving distance, I'll absolutely be traveling more and farther. I have at least 3 trips planned for next year, and I hope I get to keep all three on the calendar. 


How will we know if we should travel? 

This is definitely a personal choice and to be decided on a case-by-case basis. Right now, I'm still not advocating for elaborate summer trips where you'll be in contact with a lot of people. Here are some questions you should ask:

  • Are you vaccinated? Is the rest of your family/travel party? (this should be the #1 question you ask and if the answer isn't yes, then my suggestion is you don't travel for any non-essential reasons.)
  • Are Covid numbers trending down at your desired destination?
  • What are the restrictions at your destinations? Are you willing to follow them. (If you're not, stay home.)
  • Will you feel safe when you get there?
  • Is the destination welcoming visitors?
  • How is vaccine rollout going in your destination? Are variants prevalent there?
  • What happens if you get sick while away from home? (Would it strain the local health system? Would you feel safe being treated there? Does your insurance cover you out of state/country? What if you're stranded for weeks or even months while being treated?)
  • Are you willing to test several times and quarantine if it's suggested/required?
  • Will you be able to make the most of your trip? Are things that you want to do open?
  • Should you get travel insurance that covers Covid-related emergencies? (hint: the answer is a resounding yes.)
Right now, there are a lot of countries are open to Americans, but with restrictions of some sort, though right now it's being suggested that we don't travel outside of the country at all by the State Department, and if we do, to avoid 80% of countries when possible. The CDC is asking for most travel to be suspended/postponed. This sounds like a good idea considering that vaccine rollout is much slower everywhere outside of the U.S. and even here many counties are going back to high-risk. 

Before we know it, we'll be traveling like normal(ish) again, but until that time, I'm happy to continue staycationing at home with our destination date nights and adding destinations to our travel list. 

Where are you most looking forward to when you start traveling again?

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

How To Save Money When Buying A Car

With all this talk about road trips, you might be thinking about getting a better car that's road-trip ready. The pandemic had lots of rental companies selling off much of their fleets in order to make it through the tough times. Now that travel is bouncing back, those few cars left are in high demand and with high demand comes high price tags. We've seen some rentals as high as $300 a day. So, maybe you were thinking about getting a new car, or at least an upgrade, that can handle more long-haul trips.

Image by Jay Lamping from Pixabay


Buying a car is not a cheap purchase. Whether you are looking at new or old models, they often still cost a few thousand, and that’s without the insurance and tax costs. If you are looking to purchase a car but would like to save some money, it is possible. Here’s how.

Consider a common make and model

Common makes and models are often cheaper to purchase second-hand, plus they are often more affordable to repair if anything were to go wrong. 


If you are considering what repairs may need to be done for your car, new or used, then you can click here to discover more. Certain makes and models will cost more to repair, so buying a common car may be your best bet as it is likely that parts and repairs will be cheaper. 


Avoid buying a new car

Whether you like to buy a car that is suitable for a good old fashioned road trip or one for quick trips to the office and back, buying a used car will save you money. Although new cars are desirable, they will always cost more money. As soon as a car is driven out of the showroom, its value depreciates and is no longer worth what you purchased it for. 


If you do desire a fairly new car, then you are better off buying one that is pre-owned. You can find cars that are only a year old, in like-new condition, with very low mileage for considerably a lot less than the first sale price. 


Do your homework

It can be exciting to go and look at cars in person but you may get over-excited and pay more than what you need to. Doing some homework will provide you with the knowledge you need to find out the best prices for certain makes and models. If you are buying a used car, you may find that buying one with more miles means the price is lower. A few more miles on the clock may not hinder the car’s performance or longevity to a large extent. If you want to save some money and get the best deal, doing some research will help you understand what price is good. 


Pay in full

Paying for a car in full can seem like a huge commitment, but paying monthly installments will incur interest. Taking out a loan for a car, new or used, is a popular choice nowadays. Yet, over the years you will end up paying much more than you would if you were to pay for the car in full. 


It may be worth holding off from purchasing the car for a while if you do not have the money. Waiting a year or two means you can save the amount you will need and avoid paying interest.


Compare prices

The car you are looking at buying may be sold in several local dealerships. It is recommended to look around before committing to the car from a certain seller. A dealership online or a few miles down the road may save you some money. 


Negotiate

Alongside shopping around for the best deal, there is no harm in negotiating on the price. You never know how much money you could knock off the price. If the car is pre-owned as has minor flaws, then you are more than in your right to ask for a discount. Don’t be afraid to ask for a cheaper price whether you are in a dealership or purchasing from a private seller, they might consider your comments and offer you a few hundred dollars off. 


Trade-in your old car

For those looking to upgrade their car, you may be able to trade in your current car for dealership credit. This may not reduce the sale price of the car you want to purchase, but it will significantly reduce the price you will have to pay. 


You can often get more money selling your current car privately, but it will be more timely. If you are ready to purchase a new car immediately and have an old car to trade in, then you can save yourself some money by offering it to the dealership or private seller you are looking to buy from. 


Take it for a test drive

A test drive might be the make or break of a car sale. The car might look impressive but not perform in the way you expected it to. If you still like the car after a test drive but noticed a few issues, these should be reported back to the seller. 


If you are still interested after the test drive but would like them to reduce the price due to a minor issue that occurred during the test drive, then they might do so. You never know what discount you can get if you don’t ask. 


Buy just before the new model year

It is common for dealerships to reduce the price of a car just before the new model year. Thus, buying in late summer (around August) or in January could save you quite a bit of money. 

Dealerships reduce the price of cars when they need to hit their yearly sales quota. If they have cars remaining and need them sold, they are more likely to lower the price. If the prices are not lowered when you go to look but you know the new model year is approaching, there is no harm in asking for a lower price. Shopping before the new model year and asking for money off will most likely result in the best deal and most money-saving. 

Or, you could shop after the model year has happened, and prices may be reduced or cars might be put on sale that they know will be difficult to sell due to the newer models.


Utilize these tips if you are looking to purchase a car and want to save money. You never know how much you could save by negotiating, doing your research, or purchasing at a certain time of the year.

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