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Saturday, April 30, 2011

From Sea to Shining Sea 4.30.11

Today (Saturday) is the last day to enter to win both the wine pack here on the Shereen Travels Cheap blog and the Knock!Knock! travel pack on my Facebook page. Make sure you enter! There aren’t that many entries in either, so you have a good chance to win.
These would both be a great gift for Mother’s Day, too!

Do you dream of getting on board a cruise ship with your bag full of shorts and bathing suits and sailing the seven seas, all while being completely catered to and visiting new ports of call? With Summer fast approaching, there are cruise deals galore! Of course, not all of them are for Summer, many are for late Spring and even Fall. Luckily, with the exception of Alaskan cruises, the weather will be warm and (hopefully) beautiful. I learned a lot on my first cruise, both while I was planning it and while I was on it. Here are some deals for you and also tips to help you get the most from your money both onboard and in port.

The price you see is not the price you pay – It’s true! When you see a cruise rate that seems too good to be true, it’s because it isn’t listing the taxes and port fees that each cruiser has to pay. The more ports you visit, the more fees you incur. One could, theoretically, pay twice as much as the listed price once fees and taxes are added. Don’t let this scare you, though. I was able to Google port fees for my chosen cruise and find out exactly how much they would add to my rate. It may take a bit of detective work, but you can find it. If you don’t want to take time for that, just assume the cost will be twice what you see and anything less will be a nice surprise when you’re ready to book!

Get involved – Your cruise is (mostly) all-inclusive. You’re paying for activities and entertainment whether you use them or not. My suggestion? Use them! If there’s miniature golf or a shopping talk or a trivia session available, go do it! Unless it sounds like you’ll hate it, mark all the things on the daily schedule you want to do. It’ll keep you busy, keep you moving, keep you from being bored and give you the most value for your dollars spent. We never once set foot in the pool on our cruise. Not because we didn’t plan to, but because we ended up being so busy that by the time we thought about it, it was time to go to sleep. Also, the water slide was shut down practically the whole time we were on board. Some activities do cost money, like some exercise classes, rock climbing and dinners you need to make reservations for, but there are a lot of free things to do. Between crushing other passengers at trivia, going to the rivalry party, dancing, taking in an art auction, playing extreme dodgeball, watching all the entertainment and sleeping and eating, we didn’t really have time to be sitting around doing nothing.

Book your own excursions – No, don’t book it yourself through the cruise line, unless you want to pay double or triple the going rate. Book it completely on your own. There are many reputable excursion companies out there and you’ll find them if you look. I employed Google for this one again: (destination) excursions. You’ll get a whole host of companies that specialize in excursions that fit into the cruiser’s schedule. In my quest to find something fun and affordable to do in Grand Cayman (which we ended up being refunded for, because the ship couldn’t dock), Belize City and Isla Roatan (Honduras). I found some fantastic tours that were highly recommended by other cruisers and similar, if not exactly, to what the ship offered, but at a fraction of the price. Two tours were half the cost of the similar one offered onboard and through the Carnival website and the other was only one-third the listed price! The cruise line takes a cut of each excursion you book online and on board with them, so they mark the prices up higher than retail.

Most people don’t realize they can book on their own, or they are scared of doing it. As long as you find a reputable company with good reviews, you are safe in booking and also on your tour. My husband and I were the only two on our Isla Roatan tour and we ended up getting an extra 90 minutes out of it. Our Belize City tour only had two other people on it and we all had a great time. All the tours I booked were guaranteed and only required a 20% deposit. My Grand Cayman tour was cancelled due to weather. I was sad that I wouldn’t be swimming with the sting rays, but our deposit was refunded to our credit card, as it wasn’t our fault that we couldn’t dock.

Looking for something "exotic"? Travel 8 nights to Italy, Croatia and Slovenia on Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas from $1399 per person. That's over 40% off similar packages. Your package includes round-trip air from NYC, 1 night in a Venice hotel room before you cruise, meals and transport from hotel to port. Book by May 11 for cruises June through October.

Book early – The earlier you book your cruise, the better chance you will have of getting a great deal on a good cabin. You’re bound to be given some extras as well, like onboard credit, cabin upgrade and more. If you aren’t sure what cabin is right for you, take a trip over to CruiseCritic and you can get the low-down on which decks have bigger and/or quieter rooms, which cabins and decks to avoid and more.

Get an inside cabin – Since we had never been on a cruise before, we weren’t sure if we were going to like it or not and decided that spending more money to get an oceanview or balcony cabin wasn’t really something we wanted to do. Oddly enough, those rooms don’t tend to be that much bigger and we figured we could just go up on deck to see the ocean. Besides the big drop in price, inside cabins are very quiet and VERY dark when you turn off the lights. If you have trouble sleeping with any sort of light coming at you, an inside cabin is the way to go. I might suggest bringing a portable nightlight with you, though, as trips to the bathroom can be super tricky without turning on a bedside lamp or the overhead light.

Don’t tip the staff – This sounds really mean, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not. You want to know why? All specialty drinks (soft drinks and alcoholic beverages) are charged an 18% gratuity right off the bat. If you throw extra money in the tip jar, you’re actually tipping twice and making that drink – that’s already cost you twice what you would pay in any restaurant or bar – even more expensive. Also, you will be charged a certain amount of money for each guest for service gratuity. This includes tips for your awesome steward, maitre‘d, waiter staff and more. I think it generally costs $10-15 per passenger per day, so on a 7-day cruise for two people, you’re paying an extra $140-210 for those people to do their jobs. Of course, you can contest this at the purser’s desk and have them lower the amount if you feel the staff didn’t deserve so much, but I think you’ll find that they go above and beyond your expectations.
7-day Mexico cruises on Disney Cruiseline from $94/person/night. Depart from Los Angeles and stop in ports like Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, San Diego and Ensenada. Kids and adults alike will get sucked up in the Disney Magic with character meet and greets, Disney shows, 5-star dining and more!

Save your drinking for the ports – I know you’re on vacation and you want to do some drinking, but alcoholic beverages are marked up quite high. Seriously, I had a piña colada and it cost around $15 after their added gratuity. Add up several of those per day across your stay and you’re in for a heart attack come “cruise bill” day. Port cities are depending on your business, so get several drinks on land for the same price as one on sea and keep your wallet happy. You’ll help the economy and have a fun time with your fellow cruisers.

A good way to get free drinks on your cruise is to attend the captain’s welcome party. Anyone can go and they generally serve free snacks and alcoholic (and non-alcoholic) beverages. There is also the goodbye party at the end of your cruise where you can take advantage of free drinks. And during your cruise, if you take advantage of any tastings they are offering, you can get drinks for much cheaper. On our trip there was a deal for a tequila tasting. Six different tequilas for $20. What a bargain compared to my ONE piña colada. At least I got to talk to a lovely waiter from Bahrain.

Cruise to Alaska, the Caribbean or Europe on Royal Caribbean from as little $438 per person for 7-day cruises. Book now and get $100 off a cruise, onboard credits and more incentives.

So, while it seems like a cruise can be a money pit, there are a lot of ways to make it affordable and even a cheap vacation. You can meet a lot of different people, learn to be more outgoing and even discover more about countries around the world both on the ship and off. Keep an open mind and make sure to participate in games and other things around the ship. You’ll be surprised how much fun you can have if you just let go. Hey, you’re never going to see those people again probably. I made quite a fool of myself during the sail away party and again at a blindfolded trivia and probably several other times over our week, but so did other people and I just laughed about it and had a great time. That’s what vacation is all about anyway. Happy cruising!

If you are planning a cruise trip, you know there is usually two formal nights on board. Depending on what items you plan on taking, dress up clothing can take up a lot of space in your luggage, especially men's suits. My favorite idea for this is the Skyroll Garment Bag. It is a small carry-on that is the size of a garment bag, but is cylindrical, so more things fit in a smaller space. The Skyroll is a favorite of business travelers, because they can pack several suits, many shirts, ties and even shoes and toiletries. The unique structure reduces wrinkles and has mesh pockets for items that can be folded. A hard plastic cylinder fits into the garment roll to keep its shape and also for you to insert your other necessities, like shoes and toiletry bag. With some strategic planning, you could get several formal outfits for two people, along with shoes and accessories for both inside.

For my UK readers and anyone else looking to save money on their travels, I have written an article for a fun website called Cheap Holidays 2012 (it’s UK-based), which is encouraging travelers to book their vacations for 2012 already to get even better deals. Check out how to stretch your travel dollars.

Next week, look for a post here about a new community I’ll be working with on Ebates. If you aren’t yet a member of Ebates, you should really join. It’s a great cash back site that pays you to shop and travel. They have hundreds of online retailers and travel merchants that you can make purchases through. Each merchant offers a certain amount of cash back to Ebates for bringing them your business and Ebates splits that with you 50/50. Each day they offer a new Daily Double, which is the participant for the day that will give you double cash back. I’ve saved hundreds of dollars by shopping with Ebates and it’s super easy, so there’s no reason NOT to sign up, too.

On or about May 11th, there will be a special blog post from me for all of you on a great new travel-planning resource. It’s the OneNote portion of Windows Office 2010 program. You can check out the 40 bloggers’ OneNote TripBooks that comprise the project “Around the World in 40 Days” where bloggers were asked to create a 24-hour itinerary in a randomly chosen city (mine was Melbourne) and make it awesomer with OneNote. You can go there now and see the ones that are currently up.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Son of a Beach, That's a Good Deal! 4.27.11

There is still time to enter to win the travel wine pack giveaway! Drawing will be on Sunday May 1 – For more details and to enter, click here.
There is also a giveaway for my readers on my Facebook page for a fun travel pack from Knock!Knock! You can enter that here. Entry dates are the same and drawing will be on May 1, too!
These are both great Mother’s Day gifts!

So, Summer is getting closer and closer and I know everyone’s longing to bust out of work (or the house) and get to the beach. It’s been a long fall and winter and, even though it’s a scary thought, our bathing suits are just crying in a drawer waiting to be worn. Don’t fret, I have some fun deals for you to get you outside in no time and start feeling the sand between your toes. These may have short booking windows, because Spring is cheaper than Summer – but you already knew that, because you’re smart and you listen!

I, myself, am traveling in the fall (like always), because I don’t have kids and it’s an especially frugal time to travel anywhere. If you can’t do the same and have to travel in the Summer, try to look at the “bookend dates”, which are before the second week of June and the last two weeks of August. They are much more affordable than the time in between. So, let’s get to beach-combing!

You can follow in my footsteps and book an affordable trip to Hawaii. With the bad economy, I’ve seen BIG dips in hotel rates over the last year. They know people can’t afford to spend $200-500 per night on a hotel room and without tourism many businesses on the islands will fail. That’s good for you, because rates are really competitive now. When just two years ago, it would have cost you thousands to take a trip to Hawaii, it now will only cost you a fraction of that. In fact, Hawaii was our choice for a “saving” vacation this year, because it’ll save us money that we can put towards our intended Europe trip next year.

Stay in the Aston Hotels and Resorts on Maui for as little s $96/night. The Aston Maui Lu resort is beachfront and sits on a 28-acre coconut grove. There are pools, Polynesian Luau and barbecue facilities on-site and you’ll have access to 2 private beach coves, meaning you won’t have to fight for beach position. If you need it, you’ll find it here.

Or you can book an American Airlines vacation to Hawaii through Expedia. 4-nights and roundtrip airfare to Oahu, Maui, the Big Island or Kauai for just $615 per person. You must book by Friday 4/29 and you can travel June 16 – August 15. This is a great deal for those of you who need to travel in the Summer! Short booking window gets you the best rates on this trip.

St. Maarten is a destination I hear people over and over say they either went to and loved or are dying to go. Yuupon has a great deal where you can stay in a 2-bedroom suite at the St. Maarten Royal Palm Resort for 7-nights for just $750. It’s 76% off regular rates, which is like getting 5 nights free! The suite sleeps up to 6 people and is oceanfront. Unfortunately, this deal is only good today (4/27). You can travel through September 20. If you aren’t yet a member of Yuupon, you can sign up HERE.

Does Barbados sound exotic enough for you? Stay at the all-inclusive Discovery Bay by Rex Resorts in Barbados from just $64/person/night. Book by Sunday at EST and stay by December 22. Enjoy all your meals, beverages and entertainment for one low price. Resort also offers golf, skiing, diving and more activities! This is a crazy good offer that may not last until the expiration date.

Cheap Caribbean wants to send you to the Bahamas and other Caribbean destinations from $289 per person. The deal includes 4-nights (some all-inclusive resorts) and RT airfare. You can add nights to any package with a low-price guarantee and all bookings include weather and hurricane insurance. If it rains during your vacation, get $100 off your next trip!

While not exactly beach-centric, you can visit different beaches on this 7-day Southern Caribbean cruise on Princess Cruises. It departs from San Juan and docks at Philipsburg, Castries, St. George’s, Bonaire and Oranjestad. Some very cool destinations and at only $799 per person, pretty affordable. You must book by November 19 to travel by November 20, but I would book sooner, because at prices like this, cheaper cabins are going to fly off the shelves, so to speak.

Hotwire is you connection for low hotel rates. Book last-minute rooms in sunny locales from just $30/night. Visit destinations like Cancun, North Lauderdale and Santo Domingo for a bargain!

For my UK readers and anyone else looking to save money on their travels, I have written an article for a fun website called Cheap Holidays 2012 (it’s UK-based), which is encouraging travelers to book their vacations for 2012 already to get even better deals. Check out how to stretch your travel dollars.

Next week, look for a post here about a new community I’ll be working with on Ebates. If you aren’t yet a member of Ebates, you should really join. It’s a great cash back site that pays you to shop and travel. They have hundreds of online retailers and travel merchants that you can make purchases through. Each merchant offers a certain amount of cash back to Ebates for bringing them your business and Ebates splits that with you 50/50. Each day they offer a new Daily Double, which is the participant for the day that will give you double cash back. I’ve saved hundreds of dollars by shopping with Ebates and it’s super easy, so there’s no reason NOT to sign up, too.

On or about May 11th, there will be a special blog post from me for all of you on a great new travel-planning resource. It’s the OneNote portion of Windows Office 2010 program. You can check out the 40 bloggers’ OneNote TripBooks that comprise the project “Around the World in 40 Days” where bloggers were asked to create a 24-hour itinerary in a randomly chosen city (mine was Melbourne) and make it awesomer with OneNote. You can go there now and see the ones that are currently up.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

GIVEAWAY! For the Traveling Wine Lover!

It’s my first blog giveaway! I know many of you love wine and like to travel the world and sample new varieties. I’m giving away a 2-pack of wine diapers and two rebate cards (one for you and one for a friend) for delicious Tapeña wine from Spain. (Unfortunately, I can’t just send you a bottle of wine or send you to Spain.) Tapeña wines are great with tapas, chicken, fish or beef. Really, anything you can think of, there is a wine that will pair well with it. Save your receipt and send it in with your rebate card for cheap wine! ($2 off one bottle, $8 off three or $18 off 6) 
On your next trip to Spain, or wherever you choose to go, bring your wine back safely with your wine diapers. The sealable (and reusable) bags protect your bottles from breakage, but if they do happen to suffer an unavoidable accident, the bags also keep the wine inside and spare the contents of your travel bag from an alcohol soaking and unwanted dye job. This giveaway will go through Saturday, April 30. Winner will be chosen randomly, via Random.org, and given 48 hours to respond to email sent on May 1.

Here are the rules:

Required: Follow Shereen Travels Cheap via Google Friend Connect or Networked Blogs and comment on this post where you had the best wine and how you follow me.

Optional – for extra entries (leave a separate post for each):
  • Follow Shereen Travels Cheap on Facebook. (1 entry)
  • Follow Shereen Travels Cheap on Twitter. (1 entry)
  • Tweet about the giveaway and post your link in your comment. Include #shereentrvlschp. (1 entry)
  • Share the giveaway on Facebook and post your link in your comment. (2 entries) 
Please leave your Facebook name or Twitter handle when you post that you’ve followed, so I can verify each entry. For those keeping track at home, that means you can get SIX whopping entries! Thank You and Good luck!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Go Outside! 4.23.11

Seriously, the weather is finally nice out, so why not go out and enjoy it? The best excuse for getting some fresh air and experiencing life and nature is to go on a trip! There’s still some time before Summer takes over and rates on airfare and hotels skyrocket. In fact, if you book and travel before the second week of June, you’re likely to pay half the price as those people traveling after that. I just saved you 50%! Okay, not really, but if you’ve been following my blog, you know that Summer is the most expensive time to travel. There are a few ways you can save, but not as much as the whole rest of the year. We’re going to stick with last-minute Spring travel today, since you still have about 6 weeks to book, plan it out, pack your bags and go. There are so many sales right now for short notice trips, it would be a shame if they were passed up by travelers thinking the only time they can vacation is in the Summer. Even if you have little ones, it’s way more economical to travel outside of the June to August peak season.

If you like what you read on the Shereen Travels Cheap blog, make sure to subscribe on the right with the handy-dandy drop-down menu.

Breckinridge, Colorado is one of those places high on the skier’s list of winter travel destinations. It’s also known for fantastic Summer traveling, but what about Spring? If you like outdoor activities, then Breckinridge is a great spot for you. They have hiking, biking, rafting and more – all of which can be affordable (or free) activities. Discovered by prospectors 150 years ago, the town has an old mining feel to it and is fun to just wander and take in the Victorian architecture. Not only that, but there is a delicious food scene, as well as fun shopping, art and history. During the Spring and Summer you can listen to live music at venues all over town.

The ultimate outdoor adventures can be found in Australia. Right now you can book roundtrip airfare on Qantas to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef from just $539 each way. Explore the Daintree Rainforest, dive off the Great Barrier Reef and find many other outdoor activities, including snorkeling, cruising, hiking and just hanging out on the beach. If you’d rather book all your travel at once, opt for the 5-night package deal that includes RT airfare, accommodations, hotel/airfare transfers, scenic railway tour, full-day cruise and much more from $1599. With both deals, you can add a stopover in Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane for no extra airfare fee. Qantas airlines provides luxury, even in economy class. Each passenger’s seat comes equipped with a personal video screen with over 400 entertainment options, a personal comfort kit and complimentary food and wine. (Book online and save. Reservations made by phone are charged $30 more per ticket.)

Vancouver, B.C. is celebrating 125 years in 2011. In honor of their birthday, they’d like to give YOU a gift to explore their beautiful city! Book any two nights at participating hotels (listed on site – all different price ranges available) and receive a $125 activities card for free! Use the card on anything the Visitor Centre has to offer. Choose from show tickets, sporting events, tours, attractions, sightseeing and more! While you’re on the site, enter to win a VIP trip for 2 to Vancouver from Fairmont Hotels.

With its cobblestone streets and rustic buildings, Tuscany is a favorite of those that like to get out and explore. Whether walking, biking or driving through the countryside, the Italian landscape, people and food will win you over every time! Book a 6-night vacation, including accommodations at a 1,000 year old Tuscan estate, roundtrip airfare, midsize car rental and bottle of wine upon arrive from $1099 per person. You must book by April 29 to get this fabulous deal where you’ll be staying at the Ferragamo family estate (yes, THAT Ferragamo). Don’t forget to enjoy the vino! Add a 3-course dinner with wine tasting to your package for just $75 per person. You can even take cooking classes or archery lessons on-site!

Who doesn’t love the beach? Book a minimum of 2 nights at the Myrtle Beach Crown Reef Resort and pay just $59/night. The resort is right on the beach and breakfast is included in the rate. Your room will face the ocean, have a balcony, mini-fridge and free WiFi as well! With so many outdoor activities to do in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in and around your resort, this is a perfect way to get outside and save money! Book by April 27th for stays through June 9th.

Do you love food as much as I do? Win a trip from TravelSmith and Uniworld Cruises in the Taste for Travel Giveaway. The AMAZING Grand Prize includes an 8-day European cruise of your choice for two people from Uniworld (readers of Condé Nast voted these boutique-style cruise boats the World’s Best River Ships), gourmet meals prepared for you by master chefs, shore excursions in Europe’s beautiful ports of call, $2,000 air credit and a $500 TravelSmith shopping spree to get you ready for your trip.

With all the outdoor activities you’re going to be doing, even if it’s just reading a book while you drink a mai tai, it’s important to have the right accessories, like great walking shoes, UV blocking shades and some fantastic sunscreen. Shoes and shades are all a matter of preference (and what works for your feet and face). I suppose, so is sunscreen, but I discovered this great sun block at Sephora before my last trip where I was taking a cruise to Central America. I’m not a fan of sunscreen that smells like sunscreen or is oily or leaves a residue, so this one fit the bill. While it’s a bit more expensive than what you would find at the drug store Supergoop is worth what you pay for it. It’s lightweight, so you barely feel it, blocks rays to avoid burns and is mild enough to use on your face. Also, the slim container shape slides perfectly into the free space in your 3-1-1 bag.

There are a lot of things coming up for Shereen Travels Cheap! Our Facebook page and blog are going to be hosting many giveaways from awesome sponsors in the coming months. I want all our winners to be able to get their prizes before their big Fall vacations (although if you’re traveling in the Summer, you’ll probably have it by then). Here’s what’s happening now (if you don’t like FREE stuff, just stop reading):

Join Shereen Travels Cheap on Facebook and enter to win a fun prize pack from Knock! Knock! They put the “fun” in functional and were kind enough to give us two prize packs to give away. The first was drawn by Fluff’s Enough Giveaway Shoutouts on Wednesday and we got many new followers. (She does flash giveaways every Wednesday evening, so go check her out.) The second one will be drawn on May 1st, so you have plenty of time left to still enter. Just quickly fill out the form on the giveaway page. If you want to double your chances, you can get a BONUS entry by subscribing to this blog via Google Friend Connect or Networked Blogs and leaving a comment here and telling me your Facebook name used to enter. We ask this so we can verify that it really IS you.

On May 1st, we’ll be starting a totally new giveaway, sponsored by our good friends at Minimus.biz. You’ve heard me tell you to run over there and load up on all your travel-sized favorites. A purchase of just $25 gets you free shipping! We have a gift inside a gift with this giveaway and it’s very cool, a must for every traveler AND organic. It even helps you get through security faster! In fact, I like it so much, I’m ordering one for myself the next time I make a purchase. Get a jump on entering by joining my Facebook page and knowing the second the entry form can be filled out. You’re going to LOVE it!

Once we reach 1,000 Facebook fans – which should be soon! – I’ll be announcing a very special giveaway for a HUGE prize. You’ll be able to open the box and dump all of it into your travel bag right away, because it’s THAT good! Help us reach 1,000 fans by joining the page and suggesting it to all your Facebook friends. In fact, suggest it to those not on Facebook, too, so they join and get a chance to be a winner, too! Oh, and get great BUDGET TRAVEL TIPS, too!

Tomorrow I’ll be starting a promotion on THIS BLOG for a fun travel wine pack. It will require some audience participation from you to win, as in following my blog and then following Shereen Travels Cheap on Facebook and Twitter for extra entries. The wine pack will include wine diapers, so you can bring back your wine from your travels safely and conveniently. Easily pack your bottles in your luggage with these wonderful (and reusable!) padded bottle bags. You can even use them to ship your bottles home. If, heaven forbid, your bottle breaks, the bags prevent spillage and wine-soaked clothing/souvenirs. I will also include a rebate card for delicious Spanish Tapeña wine, so you can get excited for your travels and all the new and fancy wine you’ll be sampling on the way. If you’re a wine-lover, you’re in for a treat! Your only downside? Picking which one you want to try first.


I don’t know about you, but I am a fan of free money. Actually, I’m generally a fan of free anything, because it means I can use the money in my pocket for something. If you like free money, too, then take a trip over to Ebates! Ebates offers a cash back program that has hundreds of participating online merchants – including a selection of travel sites. They pay you to shop! If you were going to buy it anyway, why not get a discount? They put $5 in your account just for signing up. I use my cash back as travel bonus money!

And if you’re REALLY into saving, come join me on the Frugal Living Community on The Blog Frog. Sponsored by Ebates, the community is a great place to meet other people with tips on living and shopping frugally. I’m the only travel community leader over there, but I’m very active and you can ask questions and join in discussions with me and the other frugal living members. If you want to learn more about how to save on your vacation after you’ve bought your plane tickets, come join me on Tuesday 4/26 at 5-6pm PST for a live chat directed towards saving ON your vacation. Learn new tips for finding discounted activities, great dining deals and more! The chats are always fun and include everyone participating. We’ll be giving away a prize at the end of the chat as well, so BONUS!


My last update isn’t another giveaway item, but an actual update for something cool and usable for all of my readers. The first week of May you’ll be seeing a special blog post (in addition to my twice weekly ones) about Microsoft OneNote. It’s a great feature of Office 2010 and fantastic for travel planning. You can pull stuff from anywhere on the Internet with just a click of your mouse and save it for later placement in your itinerary. It has many more cool features, which I will share with you. Thanks to Microsoft, I was able to test it out for myself, so I could tell you all how great it really is and how you can use it for all your vacation planning needs. You’ll get a link to the OneNote page that shows how I and 39 other bloggers also used the product to create TripBooks to different destinations (mine was Melbourne, Australia) in a project called “Around the World in 40 Days”. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

April Showers Bring May Flowers 4.20.11

If this saying is true, then we are going to be suffocated by flowers here in the Northwest in less than two weeks. I’m writing this during one of our sun-breaks, which I should run out and enjoy, except it is also still cold out, so it’s nicer to look at it through my window. I hear a lot of places around the U.S. and the globe are actually getting warm weather and are actually celebrating Spring, so I am jealous, but it also got me thinking about Mother’s Day, which is creeping up on us and will be here before you know it. May 8th is the magic date. What are you getting for your mom?
If you like what you read on the Shereen Travels Cheap blog, make sure to subscribe on the right with the handy-dandy drop-down menu.

Thinking up something new and original (and inexpensive) every year can be hard. Especially with Christmas and her birthday and any other day you buy her something for being a super duper mom. It’s even less easy to come up with something if you also buy for your mother-in-law, grandma, aunt, wife, sister, etc. So, here’s something I thought of that is affordable and can be good for a group or just the two of you and can also create lasting memories. Buying the mom(s) in your life flowers is the trusty stand-by when you’ve run out of ideas, money or time. Of course, most moms (and women in general) love flowers, so this is not a bad gift, but within a week they are usually dead and thrown in the trash. If you buy potted plants and flowers, this is more thoughtful, as she can have it for years to come. Flowers and plants can end up costing a fortune, depending on the kind you get, so instead of bringing the flowers to your mom, why not bring your mom to the flowers. No, don’t make her get in the car and cruise the local florist aisle at Safeway. I’m talking about taking her to the botanical gardens for the day.
Most botanical gardens range anywhere from FREE to $20 for admission, which is easier on the wallet than a decent-sized bouquet of anything. You and your mom can spend the day wandering among all the native flowers of the area, taking pictures, watching the pollinators do their job, have tea or lunch and maybe pick up a couple of seed packets to take home and try growing yourself. Botanical gardens often have an on-site café or restaurant, but if you’re feeling really frugal, you can pack a delicious lunch and have a picnic. Anywhere you can grow something, you can find a botanical garden, test garden or something similar.

Here in Portland, the City of Roses, we have both the Leach Botanical Gardens and the International Rose Test Garden. Both are free to the public and feature thousands of varieties of flowers and hundreds of different roses. They are volunteer run and operated on generous donations. You can enjoy a wonderful day out with your mom and might even get some sun next month and not have to wear a raincoat or carry an umbrella. Below are some other famous gardens around the world you might like to visit with the mom in your life:

Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York – Set on 52 acres the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is host to hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. They feature many “gardens within a garden” displays and are home to 42 species of cherry tree. You can also find two gift shops, a visitor center, gardener’s resource center and an outdoor café (open in the summer).
Tohono Chul Park in Tucson, Arizona – Contrary to popular belief, more than just cacti grow in the Arizona desert and you can see for yourself for admission prices under $10 ($7/adult, less for children and seniors). Check out some of the desert’s most colorful blooms, then take in breakfast, lunch, brunch or afternoon tea on the outdoor patio of the Tohono Chul Tea Room. With their reasonable prices, you may have some cash left over to pick up something in the greenhouse or the museum shop.

Byodo-in Garden in Kyoto, JapanJapan isn’t all city life and skyscrapers. A 15-20 minute train ride outside of the city can take you to the Byodo-in Garden outside of the Byodo-in Buddhist Temple. The Garden is nicknamed “The Land of Happiness” and was created for those that wished to go somewhere beautiful in the afterlife. Though it isn’t large, it certainly is peaceful and is a Pure Land garden. There is also a treasure pond. It is said that this original garden has been the inspiration for other like gardens all over Japan. Admission is minimal at 600 yen (around $7).

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Claremont, South Africa – I think when people think of South Africa their minds automatically go to animal safaris and hot plains. This sort of environment lends itself to very unique plants and Kirstenbosch is just one of nine different botanical gardens in the country (but is among one of the best in the world). It covers almost 90 acres and represents over 7,000 species of plant and with admission rates of a little over $5 (37 Rand), you can afford to go multiple times to see it all and take home a few goodies from the Garden Shop. You can even buy tickets online. Pack yourself a lunch and watch the wildlife around you as you relax in the sunshine and also take in some of the art displayed around the gardens. You can also drop into the Tea Room.

Claude Monet Foundation at Giverny in France – If you’re a fan of Monet, you know that he had a thing for his flower garden and water garden. Take a tour through his house and garden in Giverny to see his paintings come to life. The gardens are open everyday from April 1st through November 1st and admission price for adults is 8 € (about $12). Purchase online in advance and skip the queues. Enjoy Monet’s home, gardens, picture gallery and book shop, then sit down at Les Nymphéas and relax with some traditional Norman cooking. The restaurant serves hot and cold options as well as a daily specials menu.
Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC – As far as botanical gardens goes, this is one of the largest I’ve ever been to. While it’s a more expensive option to visit at a $34 admission price, there is enough to see and do here to stay all day. Because the gardens are so vast, they have a suggestion of 5 different “itineraries” on their website. While the gardens are actually 1 hour north of Victoria by car, the drive is beautiful and you will only be rewarded with more beauty when you arrive. Experience thousands of varieties of plants and flowers any time of year. With 50 on-staff gardeners, there is always something growing and blooming. If you still have some cash in your pocket after entry tickets, you can choose from 2 restaurants or a sit-down in their coffee shop. The Dining Room restaurant is more formal and upscale, while the Blue Poppy is more affordable and casual. You can also spend an hour or more (I did!) in their gigantic gift shop. During summertime visits, you may also be treated to outdoor entertainment and a fantastic fireworks display.
National Botanic Garden of Wales in Wales – This garden is unique, because it features the world’s largest single-span greenhouse and it allows the garden to house plants from all over the world, not just those from the UK. The admission rate is meager for such an amazing place, just £8.50 (about $14), where you will be able to see Mediterranean and other plants form around the world inside the Great Glass House, more exotic plants inside the Tropical House and native plants outside around the walks and lakes. You can pack a lunch to have out on one of the sprawling lawns or make a visit to the restaurant before you head onto the gallery and gift shop.

Royal Botanic Gardens in SydneyAustralia is known for a lot of different things – the Outback, aborigines, boomerangs, Crocodile Dundee – but flowers never seem to be part of that list. Bring your walking shoes, because the RBG sits on a whopping 75 acres and occupies what used to be the Governor’s privacy barrier between the penal colonies and his private residence. It now has 18 different gardens and includes a rainforest walk and herb garden in addition to the many plants and flowers native to the area. Take a guided or self-guided tour to get the most out of your visit. With free admission, you really can’t go wrong. Drop a few bucks in the donation bin on your way to one of the two cafes or two restaurants and then pick up some seeds and other goodies in the extensive Garden Shop. All profits go directly back into the gardens.

With all these options and countless other ones you'll find across the globe, it's almost impossible to not find yourself within driving distance to a brand new botanical world. I hope you will find something great for your mom this Mother's Day and you both have a great time!

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Do you want to give your mom a tangible gift (instead of or in addition to) for Mom's Day? If you mom likes to travel, here are some fun ideas:

Chance are, your mom likes to travel. Better chances are that she washes her hair. With all the travel restrictions, it's nice to be able to swap in some useful products that don't need to be stuffed in a 1-quart plastic bag prior to boarding a plane. If that's the case, pick up some shampoo bars for your mom on Amazon from LUSH Cosmetics. They work just like soap, but just as good as her favorite shampoo! They come in varieties for every hair type and you can even get solid conditioner for a matching set. Don't forget to pick up a shampoo bar tin for her to keep it in for safekeeping (and to keep it from gooing up her other toiletries).

Save your mom's back by getting her a stylish and functional Healthy Back Bag from Ameribag. I've talked about it before and have gotten positive feedback from other owners as well. They come in several different sizes, a million colors (including floral) and a variety of fabrics. The ergonomic design is perfect for carrying everything around all day, it has a wide padded shoulder strap, a bunch of functional pockets and the main compartment is only accessed by a zipper that is next to your body when you are carrying the bag, so thieves are instantly thwarted from stealing all your valuables! The medium and large sizes have a large enough outside rear pocket to fit a full-size water bottle, too. You're going to need it with all the walking around you'll be doing at the botanical gardens! 

Did you know you can subscribe to the Shereen Travels Cheap blog on your Kindle? No? Well, you can! Take Shereen Travels Cheap everywhere you go, get real-time updates when new posts are published, so you can read and enjoy STC at home, at work, on the train, in FranceDon’t have a Kindle? You can still use that fancy Kindle reading app, which is FREE, by the way, to read on your other web-enabled devices (iPad, Blackberry, Android, etc.).


Let’s make it to 50 readers on this blog!
Shereen Travels Cheap has several fantastic and fun prizes to give away, but I’d like to make them goal-oriented. I know there are a lot of readers that come by each week to read the new content here, which is great! What would be even better is if you guys would also subscribe to the blog – either on Google Friend Connect or Networked Blogs – so I know how many of you are repeat customers. Once the total between the two reaches 50 readers, I’ll be giving away some great wine-related travel products. Being able to ship back or bring back your favorite wines from your travels in your checked luggage make a nice souvenir for yourself and others that weren’t lucky enough to go on your trip with you. This giveaway will be a perfect solution to that! The faster we get to 50, the faster we can start giving away prizes! We will do another one at 100, 150 and so on.

Join me on Facebook! We just started a new giveaway for a prize pack with 2 Knock! Knock! travel products in it: A Bon Voyage packing list tablet and reusable airplane bingo to keep you busy on your flights. Enter by becoming a Fan on Facebook and filling out the form. Get an extra entry by following me on Google Friend Connect or Networked Blogs and leaving me a comment to that effect on this post.

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