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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

3, 2, 1, Happy New Year! 12.29.10

There are just a few days until new Year's Eve, which is always a popular time to travel and celebrate. And guess what? It's not too late to make plans for this weekend. Ideally, you would have made your plans far in advance, but as long as you can click the buy button and pack a bag, you can can be in a party mood on Friday, so get your fancy duds out and get ready to do something fun to ring in the new year.

What do you love best about New Year celebrations? Do you like to have a quiet night watching New Years Rockin' Eve or do you want to go out dancing until midnight and countdown with a bunch of other party-goers? There are different ideas for any kind of bash you have in mind.

I would love for all my blog readers to come join me on Facebook. Not only will you get more deals, tips and website/product suggestions, but you will be entered to win travel bags from Travelon, too!

If your plans include traveling to or along the East Coast, please check the travel news for snow delays and cancellations. One of the best places to find information on both of these for all airports is Airlikes, where you can find news regarding worldwide airlines and airports.

Need last-minute airfare? Southwest has a great 7-day sale going on right now where you can fly from $59 each way. Save even more by flying somewhere like Las Vegas, where there are celebrations all over the city, many of which are free...like in a lot of the casino lounges.

Traveling to Las Vegas, New York, Orlando or London? Find amazing hotel fares and also super discounts on entertainment (theater, concerts, sporting events and more) by checking out BroadwayBox.com.

While it's usually hard to find an available hotel room on and around holidays, check out La Quinta Inns and Alaska Airlines and this deal where you can travel by the end of February, receive triple frequent flyer miles and also points on your hotel rewards membership.

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Need an entire package? Well, check out Expedia's Winter Sale. They have Sun, Ski and Sea vacation packages on sale up to 30% off. These are some great prices!

My favorite travel website, TripAdvisor, can help you find things to do, places to stay, places to eat and more with great lists of restaurants, hotels and entertainment and reviews by actual travelers. Now, take TripAdvisor everywhere you go with their free mobile app. Help your fellow travelers by writing reviews of all the places you've visited.

Both TopTable and OpenTable still have dining reservations available for many restaurants on New Years Eve. Take your sweetie to dinner, wherever you may be, and then continue your festivities of the holiday. Get points for each completed reservation and even get deep discounts on specific restaurants, like 2-for-1, or special menus.

Having a quiet night in or celebrating with some friends? Bring along a bit of bubbly to toast to the ball drop! Found it. Ate it. from DivineCaroline gives you some suggestions for your sparkly beverage.

Is this post leaving you wanting more? Well, why not catch up on your reading with my guest posts on the following websites. And while you're at it, take a look around these sites, because they're pretty awesome.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

We Just Keep Rolling Along 12.25.10

Seeing as how it isn’t quite Christmas while I’m writing this and some of you may not even celebrate such things, I felt it was appropriate to do a short, but helpful post for those of you planning to travel this year. Hopefully, that's most of you. Unfortunately, once I got rolling (no pun intended), the post was not as short as I thought it would be, so now you have some vacation reading if you have nothing better to do this weekend after opening all your gifts and visiting relatives and eating figgy pudding. (I still have no idea what that is.)
What’s the most important thing to take with you on vacation? Luggage, of course! I mean, you could try stuffing extra t-shirts and underwear in your pockets and see what happens when you get to security, but that seems unrealistic, unless your clothes are REALLY small or you only plan to wear three outfits on your trip and you’ve fashioned a second pair of pants into some sort of belt in order to take them. (Actually, this might be a fun thing to try on a short trip, just to see what the TSA agents think when they see you pull 6 random pieces of clothing out of your pants and dump them in a bin to go through the x-ray machine. Just don’t tell them I put you up to it.) For those of you who are more organized and like to bring clothing that isn’t wrinkled, you’re probably going to buy a carry-on bag. I never use the word suitcase anymore, because it brings to mind some big bag that requires wheels to drag along the closet-full of stuff you packed that you have to check at the front desk and then pay money for. Why pay $15, $25 or even $40 each way for a bag full of clothes when you can take a reasonable amount of clothing in a smaller bag that doesn’t need to be checked and doesn’t cost you anything…except maybe a little upper arm strength? You already PAID to use the bag, you shouldn’t have to pay to take it on vacation, too.

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Honestly, in the last few years my husband and I have taken one large carry-on and one small carry-on, total, for all our clothing, electronics and toiletries and have never once wished we’d brought more (except for when I forgot the charger tip for the iPod or the time I forgot socks). My point is, if I can get TWO people’s clothing for a two-week vacation into one bag, with a slight overflow for shoes in a smaller bag, then you should be able to pack all of your own stuff in one bag and still have room left over for souvenirs. If you think I’m lying, you can see my packing prowess through photos here and on my Facebook page. We’ve never lost a bag, but have come close. I really don’t want to be stuck with only two outfits for my entire trip if they can’t locate the bag that has all my stuff in it. Also, it allows us to travel lighter and just roll from the gate to the taxi stand.

I love packing and I love luggage, but I do try to limit my options when it comes to carry-on bags, because having too many to choose from at my disposal is just a recipe for overpacking on my part. Do you have a great carry-on bag? Do you need a great carry-on bag? If you don’t know how to find one, then that’s where I come in. Depending on what you need to bring with you, where you’ll be going and how you’ll be getting around, different bags can help or hinder your travels. If you plan on hiking through the jungle with all your belongings with you, a wheelie bag is certainly not going to be your friend.

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So, what is it you want in a bag? For me, it’s several things. Whether or not I plan to travel with my husband, I want a carry-on with wheels that isn’t black, like everyone else’s is. It’s hard to find a non-black bag sometimes. And it’s even harder to find one that has enough pockets and compartments to separate clothing and other items. If there’s one thing I hate is a bag that is basically just a box with wheels. Sure, all my clothes are going to go in there, but can I at least have a zipper compartment for underwear or socks? My carry-on is my closet away from home and I like it to be usable while I’m traveling.

Do you want a bag that fits under the seat in front of you or one that is fine going in the overhead? Keep in mind that not all planes have enough overhead capacity to fit your bag, but in these cases you are usually not charged, given a hang-tag to put on your bag’s handle and are asked to leave it with the luggage attendant. This is fine, unless you packed all your entertainment in that bag, too. If it’s the only bag you plan on taking, make sure you have a folding tote that you can toss some goodies in before boarding and use as a backup carry-on…especially if you have your laptop packed in there. You don’t want it “accidentally” smashed to bits when they are carefully putting your bag in the cargo hold.

When I fly alone, I take whichever bag is going to hold the amount of clothes I need and an extra pair of shoes. Usually, my smaller roller-bag that fits under the seat in front of me is fine for such things and I can even throw in a few gifts to bring with me. If I plan on buying stuff, I will bring my bigger roller bag and put it in the overhead bin. Regardless, I always take what I call my “travel purse”. I have a variety of them, but they are always bigger than my regular purse and have room for snacks, my Kindle, iPod, camera travel docs and a magazine, along with my normal purse contents.

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When I fly with my husband, we take both the big carry-on and the small carry-on and my “travel purse”. All of our clothes fit in the big one, which he hefts into the overhead, the smaller one has extra shoes, iGo charging cables & tips and toiletries and fits under the seat. Snacks and electronics still go in my “purse” and we have everything we need for our trip with us all the time. We don’t pay extra to check bags and we don’t have to waste up to 45 minutes at the baggage carousel with a bunch of other cranky travelersor risk that something useful will have been taken from our bag when they do those random bag screenings.

My travel motto is: The less you take, the less you have to carry.  You DO have to carry all that stuff at some point. What if you get to your destination and then have to take the subway? There may not be an elevator. Or get to your hotel and the lift is broken…or doesn’t exist? Can you drag your bags up and down many flights of stairs without wanting to leave it on the street for the homelessto find? Wheels are great and all, but they won’t help make your bag lighter or easier to carry.

Will you be traveling to remote parts where there may or may not be sidewalks or even streets? Then maybe looking into getting a backpack carry-on is more suited for that.  You’ll certainly notice if you packed too much with one of these, because you don’t have a choice but to carry it everywhere.

It’s possible you travel in many different terrains and need multiple bags for different travel situations. Like rainy destinations might make you consider a nice hard-sided carry-on. Or you might be like us who have found that our two sizes of bags suit us for pretty much all of our travel. Keep in mind that you want a sturdy bag that’s going to hold up to travel for many years, so you don’t have to buy a new one each year. If the handle breaks or the wheels fall off after one or two trips, you need a better bag. This is the time to not skimp on quality and if you think that spending $300 on a good bag is a waste of money, think how much a replacement bag every few years will add up to.

Now, you all know my favorite bag is the Delsey Helium Breeze Expandable Carry-On, but there are millions of other styles out there. Rick Steves is all about carrying everything with you on your back and has some great backpacks in all sizes for any kind of trip. There are also the ultra lightweight bags, which can come in super handy on intra-European flights, since the weight restrictions can be very strictand they will weigh your bag before you are allowed on the plane. They don't care if you can carry it. Check out some of these options. I’ve separated the bigger sizes from the smaller sizes, depending on which you are looking for.

Speaking of travel bags, don’t forget to “like” Shereen Travels Cheap on Facebook to have a chance at winning one of the two great bags from Travelon that we have to give away.  One is an awesome toiletry bag and the other is a packable tote/backpack. Both will make nice travel companions on any trip or a gift for the traveler in your life. You never know what might come with these bags either, so help us make it to 500 page members for us to give them away. Also, remember that you’ll receive a fun travel referral gift if one of your friends is the winner, so the more people you get to join, the more chances you’ll have to win. I haven’t decided on the prizes yet, but you might be seeing an iGo or something similarly useful in your mailbox if that person is you! Winners/referrers don’t need to live in the U.S.to win, so suggest Shereen Travels Cheap to everyone you know…especially your 300 game friends! We’ll be doing similar giveaways after this one, too. If you don’t win this time, you’ll have a chance to win again later.

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Looking for some cool new gadgets for your travel bag? Me, too! Okay, I probably have everything I’ll ever need for quite a long time, but I’ll share with you what I have and what I want

Harness the power of the sun to charge all your gadgets with the Solio solar-powered gadget charger. This is a MUST gift for someone who travels off the beaten path or backpacks…it’s also pretty cool if you end up stranded with no electricity. Solio is pocket sized and flips open to reveal little high-efficiency solar panels that will soak up the sun’s energy and put it directly into your phone or iPod or whatever else you take with you that you can’t live without.  The Mono and Rocsta versions have just one panel and will give you 80+ hours of playtime and 6.5 hours of talktime, while the Classic has 3 panels will give you 132+ and 10 hours of each. The Rocsta even has a carabiner clip, so you can attach it to your backpack, your belt or whatever else you want. And if you are near civilization, no problem, because you can also plug the Solio into a USB port and recharge it for extra power for your devices later. I think these are just about the coolest things ever.

eBook readers. Yeah, I know. I’m like a broken record with these things, but come on! You can buy a book virtually ANYwhere and take your entire library with you wherever you go. It’s my most favorite electronic I own. If it could also make phone calls and play games, I’d never take anything else on vacation with me. You know, besides clothes.

Sony PSP. Even though this has been around for forever, I still find this to be a marvel of an electronic gadget. I don’t personally own one, but I did buy one for my dad. He can figure out how to play games on it with all the buttons and joysticks and whatnot. I’ll stick with my Nintendo DS: 4 directions, 2 buttons and a pen. Easy. If I COULD figure out how to play the games on the PSP, I’d have bought one long ago, since it also can be used as a DVDplayer, mp3 player, picture viewer, internet browser, GPSand probably a bunch more that I’m unaware of. If it streamed Netflix movies, let me read books and had a pull-out keyboard, it would be the ultimate travel device. And you know what else I heard? Sony wants to make a PSP version that is also a phone. Your travel bag just got SO much lighter!

Apple iPad. I seriously hate that I don’t have such a burning hatred for this device anymore, but what are you gonna do? While it’s still too heavy to read books on or surf the Internet for very long, it has such huge capabilities for gaming, blogging, movie watching and even playing music. I think this is really the parents’ best friend on travels, because it has so many things packed into one easily usable device that it can keep your kid entertained on even those 15-hour transcontinental flights. And yes, I realize I just recommended you buy a $500 device for your 5 year old, but I really think you'll be glad you did. You can even use it for email if you want. Probably after they go to bed.

Are you a bad sleeper anywhere that doesn’t involve a bed? I’m not, but I travel with those that are. You know what I tell them? Get a sleep mask! You can buy a decent one at the store for as little as $3, it blocks out all light and allows you to feel like it’s night anywhere you are. It’s especially handy when you end up in a hotel room that doesn’t have very good window coverings and the sun wakes you up at 5am. I hate that. I also tend to have sensitive eyes and a sleep mask keeps me from rubbing them or anything horrendously accidental I’ve been known to afflict myself with in the middle of the night. This here's my favorite one by Samsonite, but next to it I added one that is for those that don't like stuff right up next to their face and eyes. Sure, it looks like a bra for your face, but if you can sleep, you won't care.

Do you also sleep badly if there’s noise? Though I’ve been known to sleep through a 5-hour flight with a child screaming bloody murderthe whole time 3 seats away, I also always bring a pair of earplugs with me. When everything just gets so annoying that you need to muffle the real world, these are lightweight and totally do the trick. I prefer Hearos. They mold to your ear, come with a handy little case and usually are sold with a bunch of sets, in case you lose one or your travel companions didn’t bring any and you need to come to their rescue.(Hey, maybe that's why they're called Hearos!) If that’s too low-tech for you and not quite enough buffer between your ears and everything else, get yourself a set of noise-canceling headphones. A good pair will set you back a pretty penny (usually around $99 or more), but the peace you’ll get from being able to sleep or be in your own personal bubble will be worth it.

Folding laundry basket. You don’t think this counts as a gadget? Well, I beg to differ. Doing laundry is a chore, sure, but bringing two to three times as much clothing as you absolutely have to just doesn’t work for travelers anymore. I have a mesh folding laundry basket that takes up very little space in my bag. When we get to our destination and unpack, I unfold it and put it in a corner or in the closet on the floor. As we wear clothes, we use it as a hamper, then when we need to do a loadof wash, we pick it up and carry it to the laundry facilities. It has heavy-duty handles and also several pockets, which I use to carry change, detergent and some sort of entertainment. This thing is even sturdy enough to bring back a whole bunch of wet clothes, if we want to save money on drying and hang them up in the room (trust me, in places like Europe where it can end up costing $8 to run the dryer and actually get your clothes dry, it’s worth it to use your muscles to bring the wet clothes back with you. If you can wash stuff in the sink, that’s even better.) Here is the basket I have, which I think is super, but there are many different options for you. You can even take a trip to Target and test out the several styles they sell there to see which you prefer.

Okay, that’s it for me today. Have a safe and happy holiday and I’ll check in with you again on Wednesday. If you have any of these “gadgets”, write a comment and let me know what you think of them. If they’re really great, tell me, so I can be jealous if I don’t have them yet!

Don’t forget to watch this space for new posts and updates on featured posts by ME! Yeah, yeah, I’m all about myself sometimes…but still, please check out the following websites that are very informative and have been kind enough to let me write for them and promote myself. I’d also like to thank WhichBudget.com and Airlikes.com for giving my blog numbers a nice boost with their reposting of my website reviews for their pages on both their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Around the World in Foodie Days (Part 3) 12.22.10

Continued from 12.11.10…

By now you should already have your gifts wrapped and on their way to their destination or under the Christmas tree. If not, you should probably be at the mall right now. For those of you who are done, you’re probably in a baking mood…or at the very least, have some sort of food on the brain. Thinking of the holidays always makes me hungry. Between the cold and all the holiday parties, it’s definitely not a time you’re making a salad and thinking it’ll tide you over. I mean, I just printed out eight new appetizer recipes for myself and will probably only choose one or two of those to make for the couple places I’ll be going between Christmas and New Year. Of course, parties always put me in the mood for bite-sized nibbles. They are fun and let you try a bunch of things on one plate! I love variety, and I know at least a few other people like that. A whole dinner of appetizers? Bring it on! Too bad they can’t make the calories smaller, too.

Lasagna and salad lunch from the only restaurant open during a hurricane watch.

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And speaking of a dinner of appetizers gets me thinking about tapas and their origin: Spain. If the idea of sampling a bunch of little bites of food at a party has me ecstatic, then you must know that doing it while on vacation is even more exciting…and necessary! You know, if the option is available. Try as I might, I can’t think of a better or worse reason to travel far and wide than to sample food. I mean, sure there’s culture, architecture, the sake of travel and many more, but those reasons are all just as valid, so why not go where the food is enticing? You can do all the other stuff in between meals!
  • Learn the art of Flamenco, discuss some Dali paintings, take in a bit of scenery and then find a great little place to have lunch or dinner in Barcelona with this great package deal from Orbitz: 5-nights in a 3-star (or higher) hotel and RT airfare from $958 per person.  If you find a better airfare, you can just book your hotel through Orbitz.

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Got a sweet tooth and also think ice skating sounds like fun? Vienna, Austria just opened a HUGE free ice rink. You just pay to rent skates. If you’re already in Europe, RyanAir has some fantastic flight deals, including the London to Vienna route for £39. (Assuming the airports are open by January.) When you get there, strap on your skates and get some exercise, then put back the calories you just burned off with a dessert buffet. Try famous Viennese sweets like Sachertorte, Palatschinken, Knödel and grab a quick bag of Maroni on the streets (those are hot chestnuts). Vienna is a great place to buy “street food”. With many types of sausages available at street vendors and then also you can visit the Naschmarkt that sells stalls full of local and international foods. If you need to warm up, try some of the local wine, as Vienna is one of few world capital cities that have their own vineyard. 

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When you think hearty food, do any of these dishes come to mind? Bigos, kotlet schabowy, pierogi and gołąbki. While I don’t know how half of them are pronounced or even what they are, I CAN tell you they originate in Poland. This country is often overlooked as a travel destination, but if you like meaty comfort food, I’m told this is the place to be! Here’s a more recognizable list of ingredients that are found in a lot of Polish food: sauerkraut, beetroot, cucumbers (gherkins), sour cream, kohlrabi, mushrooms, sausages and smoked sausage. While those might sound like odd foods to get excited about, I found it an interesting contrast to my usual idea of “vacation food” and wanted to include it as a foodie destination. I mean, something like Żurek, a sour rye soup with potato, sausage or an egg that’s sometimes served in a bread loaf, sounds like it might really hit the spot on a cold day.
  • And if you book a flight before December 31st for travel early in the new year (Jan-Mar), you can fly on LOT Polish (Polish Airlines) for as little as $543 round-trip. There are no blackout dates and the only rule is that you need to stay over a Sunday night. And with 3 months to travel in, you have plenty of time to research foods and restaurants! Make sure to plan lots of walking. You’ll need to get the weight of that heavy food off before you sit down for your next meal.

Are you able to splurge on a vacation right now? Do you like pasta? If you answered yes to both of these, then an Italian Cruise might be in your future. Italy offers so much to see and do and is really on the top of many travelers’ “food to travel for” list, from ziti to polenta and bruchetta and gelato. You really can’t go wrong with anything you order. You can certainly take in the fabulous galleries and walk along the canals during your time not eating. All those carbs are going to make you want to do some sightseeing on foot, so find some good walking shoes. Practice your Italian before you leave, so you can explore the cities more and engage with the spirited and enthusiastic Italians. 
  • Sail in August 2011 from Venice and hit ports in cities like Hvar, Croatia and Sorrento, Italy on the Silversea Silver Spirit ship. With only 540 guests at maximum capacity and most cabins having private verandahs, you’ll certainly be treated like royalty. While on the spendy side, starting at $4,295 per person for a 7-day cruise, your airfare is included as are all your meals, which are gourmet prepared by Relaix & Chateaux, beverages (including alcoholic), stocked in-suite bar and refrigerator, 24-hour room service, entertainment and a $100 onboard credit per suite. The Silver Spirit is the newest ship to join the Silversea fleet and offers the largest suites, too. You’ll choose from four different dining locations and then decide what to do the rest of the time you are at sea. Whether that includes a trip to their 8,300 sq ft spa, enjoying a drink in the observation lounge or watching a Broadway-style show in the Show Lounge is up to you. (If you don’t already have a Voyage Prive membership, get an instant invite with my link on the right.) You save 64% off the regular price of these cruises with this offer. Must book by Monday.
If you aren’t able to splurge, but have a little bit of money to throw at a vacation and you like Seafood, maybe you would enjoy a trip to Nassau in the Bahamas. My husband and I took a trip there and loved it. It’s very colorful, the people are super nice and you can get on and off the bus anywhere along its route for only $1! Yeah, it doesn’t take much to make us happy. We even had fun doing laundry and walking up to the only restaurant open for lunch when there was a hurricane warning.  The hurricane didn’t actually hit us, but we did get some big winds and heavy rain. We used it as an excuse to gamble at the casino and eat a fancy dinner there. What kind of food can you expect to find in Nassau? Well, you HAVE to try the conch (pronounced: conk) fritters and/or conch ceviche. You’ll also encounter plenty of fresh seafood options as well as many regular foods you might want, like hamburgers or pizza.

It’s really a fun place to visit and explore with so much history. Make sure to hit up The Pirates of Nassau museum and also the Slavery Museum by the market. If you plan to visit the Bacardi factory, I would suggest renting a car for the day, unless you don’t mind a 90 minute bus ride and then an hour walk down a deserted road to the actual factory. We were lucky enough to get a ride to and from the bus stop from some nice Bacardi workers, but I probably wouldn’t suggest that to anyone else, and it was pure luck on both ends of our visit.)

  • BookIt brings you this amazing deal to stay at the Wyndam Nassau Resort, which is a beautiful all-inclusive resort right on the beach. Save 50% off regular rates and spend just $59/per night/per person on stays of 4 nights or more. Book by February 9 for travel through the end of June. With this deal, you’ll also receive a $300 airfare credit to book a companion airfare.
Well, I hope you enjoyed my three-part food tour around the world. I hope it made you hungry, made you book a trip or at least made you write a few more destinations on your travel list.

Don’t forget to watch this space for new posts and updates on featured posts by ME! Yeah, yeah, I’m all about myself sometimes…but still, please check out the following websites that are very informative and have been kind enough to let me write for them and promote myself. I’d also like to thank WhichBudget.com and Airlikes.com for giving my blog numbers a nice boost with their reposting of my website reviews for their pages on both their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Want to get more deals every day?  Well, you can subscribe to The #traveldeals Daily, too, and get a newspaper page full of travel deals from Tweeters like me.

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