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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Visit the Dead in Paris 10.29.11

Since Halloween is just a few days away, I decided to recall one of the most interesting places I’ve ever been that was creepy, cool and also almost free! You don’t often come upon places like this in your travels, and if you do, it doesn’t seem like other people think it’s as fascinating as you do (which can be good if you’re trying to avoid crowds). When I go to a place, I like to see things that tourists are into and then things that most tourists wouldn’t even think of doing. In London we took the train to Orpington to visit the Chiselhurst Caves (also creepy if you are in the area and looking for something to do this Halloween) that were old mining caves used as a bomb shelter and later as concert venues for up-and-coming acts, like the Rolling Stones. In Paris, our stop was Cimetière du Père Lachaise, the final resting place of over one million people.

Now, why would we choose to go to a cemetery when there are so many other amazing sites to see in the City of Lights? The obvious answer is: Why not? There are so many other amazing sites to see in Paris, but this is one of them. It’s a great way to get away from the crowds near the regular tourist attractions, like the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, plus, even with a bunch of tourists entering at any given time, you barely see another person as you wander the cobblestone “streets” between the graves and mausoleums. The cemetery is so large, it requires a map to find your way around. Walkways are labeled with street signs and you could spend the entire day here without ever seeing the whole thing. It is 110 acres and the largest cemetery in Paris. I would wager it is also one of the most unique.

For the donation of a Euro or two, you are supplied with a map and sent on your way. Instantly, you know this is unlike any gravesite you’ve ever been to. Pere Lachaise opened in 1804 and was far enough from Paris that not many people wanted to be buried or to bury their loved ones there. To make the place more enticing, the city moved the remains of Jean de La Fontaine, a French litterateur, and the French playwright Molière to Père Lachaise and then in 1817 the remains of lovers Pierre Abélard and Héloïse along with their crypt where love letters of other lovers or those unlucky in love are placed – either to commemorate the couple’s love or find some luck in finding their own true love. After these two were moved to the cemetery, Père Lachaise became the “It” place to be buried, proving that celebrity doesn’t fade just because you died. Within a few years over 32,000 newly deads were buried in the cemetery.

These streets are better than some neighborhoods
Today you can see the tombs of those dead for hundreds of years and those dead for only a few decades. While the cemetery is brimming with the deceased, the living are “dying” to get in, too. Beyond the first few French celebs buried there, you can also visit the grave of Oscar Wilde, Marcel Marceau, Jim Morrison, Sophie Blanchard, Chopin, Max Ernst, Gertrude Stein and many more. We wandered the streets for several hours and did find Jim Morrison’s grave, which is now cordoned off after being replaced several times due to vandalism, but were so engrossed by the tombs, graves and mausoleums themselves that we didn’t really hunt for those of the famous dead. Some graves have been there so long that tree roots have become one with them, cracking through the large slabs of cement covering the ground over their plot. Not everyone is buried in the ground though, just as many that are buried underground are “buried” above. The cremains of those wishing to be cremated are held in the columbarium.

Jim Morrison's grave
This tree just grew right through this grave
Among the tourists, you will also find those coming to visit the graves of their family and possibly a few sweeping the grave and the area around it to keep the site of their loved one tidy. It’s an amazing place to visit, whether it’s Halloween or the middle of March. Bring your camera and snap pictures of some architectural wonders in the cemetery world. You wonder how much one would have to pay for columns and a roof with a surrounding yard, especially when you know how much a regular plot near your home costs to keep you there for all eternity. All the photos here are ones I took on our visit and for every one you see, I have 20 more that you don’t. There was so much that caught my attention, I wanted to remember it all. I could easily get enlargements made in black and white and use them all over the house for Halloween decor. They would be both spooky and attractive. Père Lachaise is definitely a must-see on my list for those visiting Paris for the first time or the twelfth time. Enjoy the peace you feel over the place where the dead still speak to the living. You can certainly see why anyone would be honored to spend their afterlife in such a beautiful and well-known location. The dead never truly die in Père Lachaise. They are visited every day by people from around the world.

Have you been to Cimetière du Père Lachaise? If so, did you love it and would you go back? What are your other unusual must-see “attractions” for visiting Paris.

Happy Halloween!

We have several good things to talk about this time! Shereen Travels Cheap has been going through some good changes. The STC book will be available for purchase in the next few days. Woot woot! Look for a dedicated blog post and newsletter:

Which prompts me to remind you that we have a great newsletter that goes out once a week (maybe twice if something too good to miss presents itself) with updates, tips and blog reminders...you'll get a fancy one as soon as the book is available for you to buy copies for everyone on your holiday list!

I've become a new frequent contributor on FareCompare, which is a fantastic site that brings you amazing travel sales, tips for finding the best airfare anytime of year. Next up, saving money and time as a business traveler. If you've missed my last few posts, you can read them here:

5 Strategies for Avoiding Airline Fees

Making Overbooked Flights Work in Your Favor

Explore London While Staying Within a Budget

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cruising into the Holidays 10.26.11

Cruise lines and booking sites are doing everything they can to entice cruisers to go right now. With all the deals flying around, it’s hard to not find one that fits your budget. Now you can be the one that comes back home with a tan in the middle of January and make all your friends jealous of your globetrotting. While cruising seems like a luxurious and expensive endeavor, it can be really affordable if you know when to go, how to cruise and what to book where. Of course, cruise shopping is not always easy. With so many hidden fees, rates can look fabulous and then when you try to book, you end up looking at a not so reasonable total. If you’re like a lot of people, you give up and either don’t go at all or spend way too much because you aren’t informed. Let’s look at what’s included and what’s not.


Entertainment. Almost all entertainment is free once on board. Unless you want to do something where you will win money, like bingo. All shows, trivia, lectures and movies are generally included in your price.

Gym. The exercise facilities are free of charge for everyone, as are the locker/shower rooms. Many exercise classes are also free, but some are not. If you have to sign up for a class, make sure you look to see if it requires payment.
Pools and hot tubs. Many cruisers spend the majority of their time out by the pool with a drink in their hand. While this can certainly be a fun way to spend your time, make sure you don’t imbibe too much (see non-inclusives) and get away from the pool to make more of your time.

Most food. Almost all your food is included in your cruise rate. All buffet and main dining room food is included in this. If you dine at one of the other restaurants that you have to make reservations for, you will use your "sign and sale card" and the cost of that meal will be added to your account to be paid at the end of the cruise. The same counts for the coffee shops where you can purchase pastries.
Some beverages. Unless otherwise specified, alcoholic beverages, sodas and some other specialty beverages are not included, while water, coffee and tea are. You can buy a soda card, which will give you unlimited soda, but it is extra from your cruise rate and you must buy it at the beginning of your cruise. You will usually also be charged at any of the coffee shops.

Port fees and taxes: This is a big one. The more ports you cruise into, the more fees you pay and each country has its own tax rates, so you can’t really estimate the totals. I like to assume a high rate and consider if I would go on the cruise if I were spending twice as much as the published price. This can happen with many cruises after taxes and fees are assessed. You can always Google port fees, too.

Alcoholic beverages and soda. This is how the cruise ship gets you. By charging you up to $4 for a soda and $10 or more on booze, your account can quickly add up to hundreds of dollars on just drinks alone. Not only do they charge you an arm and a leg on drinks, but they even add an average 18% "gratuity fee" to each drink you buy. 

Some entertainment. Things like bingo, rock wall climbing and miniature golf can be extra charges to your account.
Spa use. The spa sounds awesome and relaxing, but prices can be much more than those on land, unless you reserve a time on port day, where they discount services.
Some exercise classes. Some exercise classes are free, while others incur a fee. These are generally what they consider the most popular classes, like pilates or spinning.
Shopping. Anything you purchase on the boat will be charged to your account.

Eric using the ship's internet cafe
Internet. Internet fees can be horrendously high, but if you want to be connected, buy a package deal, as it'll be much cheaper than paying a la cart.
Land Excursions. The crew on your ship will do everything they can to get you to buy an excursion package once on board. Book through an independent company before you leave home and save up to 65% (and in some cases, even more).

So, what can you do to minimize costs on your cruise? 

Sexy towel bunny

  • Cruise in the off-season. Different cruise destinations have different peak seasons. Choose a destination that has an off-season that coincides with your vacation time.
  • You are allowed a case of soda or bottled water (on most cruises) per passenger. Bring your own and store them in your cabin fridge. 
  • As I said above, book your shore excursions before you leave home, through a reputable independent company and save a mint on them. More money for souvenirs and other sightseeing at your port city.
Cruise shops
  • Avoid buying art and/or jewelry onboard, unless it's deeply discounted on one of the last days. Chances are, you can find the same thing on land for much cheaper. I'm talking about real jewelry, like gold and diamonds.
  • Find an internet cafe on land and pay a fraction of the cost as you will on the ship.
  • Get an inside cabin. If you're active, like we are, you will be so busy NOT being in your stateroom that you'll barely have time to enjoy the room anyway. Don't spend up to twice as much on a room with a view if you won't be in it longer than to change clothes and sleep.
Eric doing dress-up karaoke
  • Spend time going to free activities, instead of hanging out by the pool all day. Honestly, you are paying to have the crew entertain you, so go to karaoke, towel-folding classes, trivia and all those other fun sounding activities. Each day you'll get a schedule for the next day. Plan out what you want to do and maximize your time on the ship.
  •  Shop at "non-approved" stores in port. For the most part, these shops get a commission for each cruise passenger that buys from them. If you go just a few blocks away and shop "off the map", you can get much better deals. Of course, if you plan to shop for jewelry or other pricey items, make sure you get a certificate of authenticity and that your jewelry is stamped. 
Our room before our beds were made into one
Don't know how to pick a cabin or a ship or want to know more about the activities or read reviews? Check out Cruise Critic. I found that they have more information and are easier to navigate than the cruise websites. And if you STILL need more tips on cruising, like how to get FREE alcohol, then make sure you pick up a copy of my book when it’s available in the next week. Want to know as soon as it’s available? Sign up for my newsletter and/or my Facebook page.

I've become a new frequent contributor on FareCompare, which is a fantastic site that brings you amazing travel sales, tips for finding the best airfare anytime of year. If you've missed my last few posts, you can read them here:

5 Strategies for Avoiding Airline Fees

Making Overbooked Flights Work in Your Favor

Explore London While Staying Within a Budget

Monday, October 24, 2011

Travel Green with Tervis!

Thanks to Tervis for sponsoring my writing. Visit their website http://www.tervis.com to learn more about the world’s first smart cup.

While I love to travel, I often think about how my actions on vacation effect the environment. I do my best to recycle everything I can, bring my own shopping bags – or reusing the ones I get on my trips – and generally leave as little waste as possible. I know it can be hard with all the brochures and ticket stubs you gather along the way, but if you truly don’t want them, make sure you recycle them. I keep all mine for scrapping when I get home. The one thing people probably don’t even think about is how many cups can be used and thrown in the garbage when they are constantly on the go. From the morning stop for coffee to stops at that yummy looking food cart. You get thirsty, and water isn’t always fun.
I have been taking along reusable water bottles on my trips, but they aren’t good for everything. I mean, I’m obviously not going to sip a hot latte out of one. A – how would I get it in there? and B – how many times would I burn my hands before I left it in the room? Here’s a new plan: Bring along a travel cup that works for everything from coffee and tea to soda and water. It makes sense and I’m not sure why I haven’t thought of it before. I take a travel mug with me on road trips and my work commutes, why not take it further? It is a ‘travel’ mug after all. This is where Tervis comes in. With affordable pricing, attractive (and customizable) patterns, the double-walled construction keeps hot stuff hot and cold stuff cold, without freezing or burning your hands.

You can choose from a huge selection of patterns for your tumbler, to show of your personality. From animal prints to your favorite sports team, there is really a style for everyone. You can also choose the type of lid you want for each cup you purchase, as they are sold separately, for a reasonable price. Your tumbler has an unconditional lifetime guarantee, so if it cracks or breaks, as long as you still have the bottom of the cup with the company logo, that’s all you need to send with the return form to get it replaced with the same or similar design. How many other companies offer that? I can name quite a few who don’t!
Get one for each person in your traveling party and fill them up and use them wherever you go. Already, it’s saving you at least 1 cup each morning for not using a paper or Styrofoam cup at the coffee shop or in your hotel room. Some places, like Starbucks, will even discount your drink purchase for bringing in your own cup. While you’re hanging out in your hotel room, you can drink from something that wasn’t covered in plastic wrap or meant for juice or teeth brushing. In short, a cup big enough to not need refilling after every two sips. You don’t even have to pack it in your bag and take up valuable room you need. Fill it up at the coffee shop or soda fountain when you get through airport security and take it onboard with you. You won’t have to wait for the drink cart to make its way down the aisle to quench your thirst! And if you take a lot of road trips, there’s never been a better reason to get one (or more) for your car’s cupholder!

turvis tumbler

With so many designs to choose from, you and your traveling companions can all be unique and help save the environment by creating less waste for landfills. When empty, toss them in your day pack to refill later.

Some other important facts:
·         Tervis products are made in the USA.
·         All tumblers come with an unconditional lifetime guarantee, even if you received it from someone else, and can be replaced free of charge.
·         Most designs are available in 10oz, 12oz, 16oz and 24oz sizes, some also available in 10oz wavy tumblers & 15oz mugs.
·         Tervis has a “Green Team” that participates in green initiatives for the surrounding communities.
·         Tervis participates in the Relay for Life with a team and campaign funding.
·         While most physical Tervis stores are located in the Southeast, you can purchase from the convenience of your own home through Tervis.com and several other online retailers (as well as local offline retailers).

I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective. To learn more about Tervis, visit their website http://www.tervis.com.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Library in Your Carry-On 10.22.11

Nobody likes to be bored when they travel. No matter where I go, I bring along some form of entertainment, whether it’s reading material, a game or a puzzle book. Sitting on the airplane, train or in the car, you can’t always pass the time sleeping or shooting the breeze with your fellow companions. Also, sometimes you just want some time to yourself. In anticipation of the Shereen Travels Cheap book coming out in the next week, I’ve been thinking more and more about ebook readers and what great travel companions they make. While I LOVE a good book, I also love saving space in my luggage. Before Kindle came along, I always took up too much room in my packing with physical books. With one book that I was in the middle of and another as backup for when I finished in the middle of my vacation.

Are you a lover or books and reading? If so, this may still be your problem. While you can leave books in many hotel lobbies for other avid trip readers, books still take up room in your bags. Whether they are travel books, reference books, novels, journals or text books. Now, I carry 80% of the books I own with me, as well as blogs and newspapers I read often. I take notes on my device, too. The space I save by owning a Kindle is invaluable, because I have a wealth of information at my disposal, infinite reading material as well as Internet access, should I need it.

You rarely see me go anywhere without my Kindle and anytime anyone asks me about it, I am singing its praises. I love, love, love my Kindle, though I know it’s not the right ebook reader for everyone. There are new and improved models, but you can also choose from Nook, the Sony ereader and numerous others. There is certainly one for everyone now. While they may get smaller, the font size is always adjustable. Great for your little sister or your grandma!

Ebook readers can be super useful, as many have Wi-Fi now and can be used as tablets on-the-go. Plus, if you own an iPad, you already have a book reader. With free reading apps, they do double duty. Take pictures, write notes, check email, pay bills, Skype with friends and family, update your blog and read all the books you want. In the same space of a regular size novel, you can take every book you own (or at least the ones you downloaded). Kindle books run cheaper than actual books and you save paper and space at home and on the road. You can find most books for around $9.99, though some are more if they are new releases and many are cheaper to entice you more. In fact, there are many free and $.99 books for download and this is true on other services that are not on Amazon. Order with the credit card you have on file and get it wirelessly in under a minute. Lend books to friends, upload your own books and even listen to audio books or MP3s.

Here I am enjoying my own Kindle.
I prefer my Kindle with the 3G, because I don’t have to find a Wi-Fi connection to download a new book. As long as there is cell service, I can read something new. If you spend a lot of time in coffee shops and other places that are Wi-Fi hotspots, then you may wish to save money on your ereader and get one that has Wi-Fi only. As long as you aren’t continually using the wireless function, your battery will last much longer than you would have thought. When I’m not on vacation, I read on my lunch break at work. I have been able to read for 8+ hours on one battery charge, which is more than I can say for the battery life of any other electronic device I own. So, whether you’re on a 2 hour plane ride or a 15 hour train trip, your ereader can make the journey with you without needing recharging for a long time, making it one of the best travel companions you could own.

If you have an ebook reader or other web-enabled device, you can subscribe to this blog on it through Amazon. You’ll also be able to download the Shereen Travels Cheap book when it becomes available in the next week or so (it may be a bit behind the physical book). Why wouldn’t you want to take all the best travel tips, websites and packing techniques everywhere you go? Know when to plan, what to pack and where to book even when you’re not at home. If you love this blog, you’ll love the book even more!

We have several good things to talk about this time! Shereen Travels Cheap has been going through some good changes. The STC book will be available for purchase near the end of the month (final edits have run through the proof and the final final is on its way. Woot woot!

Don't forget that we have a great newsletter that goes out once a week (maybe twice if something too good to miss presents itself) with updates, tips and blog reminders...you'll get a fancy one as soon as the book is available for you to buy copies for everyone on your holiday list!

I've become a new frequent contributor on FareCompare, which is a fantastic site that brings you amazing travel sales, tips for finding the best airfare anytime of year. If you've missed my last few posts, you can read them here:

5 Strategies for Avoiding Airline Fees

Making Overbooked Flights Work in Your Favor

Explore London While Staying Within a Budget

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Why Vacation Rentals are Awesome 10.19.11

Do you get "Vacation Rage" as I do? I don't think I can be the only one. There is one day of my vacation that I just have a complete meltdown and I'm in a corner crying and yelling at people who bother me. It could be from lack of sleep, jet lag, or being in a new environment. Not getting any alone time will do it, too. After I make it out of the room, you will usually find me eating chocolate cake and probably buying something I don't need that I will wonder why I bought when I get home.  If you travel with other people, then you may know what I'm talking about. Being with people (or just one person) all day everyday can be stressful and annoying. You may alleviate your "rage" just by getting some time away from them. At home, you can go in another room, but when you're traveling you rarely get that opportunity. What's the solution? More room! How do you do that? My suggestion: rent an apartment, house or condo. 

Don't get me wrong, I don't have anything against hotels. I love them and stay in a lot of them, but sometimes, renting a house, apartment or condo is simply more practical. I've come up with my top reasons why I would choose to rent:
  • You are spending a week or more in a destination. Prices on vacation rentals are cheaper if you rent by the week. 
  • You are traveling as a family or a group. Unlike hotels, vacation rentals are booked per night/week, not by occupants. They don't care if 2 or 10 people stay there (providing you don't trash the place and the rental can accommodate that many people), the rate is the rate. 
  • You have more space. Most rentals have separate sleeping, dining and sitting spaces, so even if it's not a big place, you don't have to be right on top of your traveling companion(s). Unless you book a suite in a hotel where you have more room to spread out, you are basically stuck with one room and the bathroom, which is generally tiny. Plus, hotel suites can run twice as much as a vacation rental, and you don't even get as much for your money.
  • Cook your own meals in the kitchen provided. Cooking on vacation doesn't always sound like a fun idea, but if you know you don't HAVE to, it becomes less of a chore. It also saves you money, because dining out can cost an arm and a leg. For the price of one meal out at a restaurant, you can make a trip to a local grocer and pick up food for breakfast...for the week. Even if you end up buying several different things (i.e. eggs, oatmeal, cereal, bagels, fruit), you still end up saving a lot. While I''m at the store, I also pick up some sandwich stuff and snacks (if I want something different than what I've brought with me), so we don't have to go out after dinner when we feel like munching on something and also to take with me during a long day out sightseeing. 
  • You don't have to clean up after yourself each morning, to make sure all your belongings are out of the way. (For those of you who don't do this, shame on you!) You can wait until the night before you leave when you're packing up to wash dishes and hang up towels. 
  • You're less likely to have noisy neighbors and you're guaranteed to not have children running up and down the hallway screaming at the top of their lungs at all hours...unless they're yours.
  • You can come and go as you please. Sure, you can do this if you're staying in a hotel, but many hotels lock the doors at a certain time of night, or you have to give your key to them every time you leave (this is common in the UK). 
  • Feel like a native. This is one of my favorite feelings. You aren't going back to a hotel, but a home. It's like you're actually living there during your travels, making it easier to feel at home in your new surroundings. 
  • If you're renting a car, you almost always get free parking! Many hotels will charge $15+ a day to park in their lot/garage. That's money in your pocket!

Try these Great websites for vacation rental listings: 

  • VRBO.com - By far the largest vacation rental website on the net, so you may have to do a bit of searching to find a really good deal amongst them. You will get to see many pictures, the location and rates. Then you can email the owner for more information right from their website.
  • FlipKey.com - Run by TripAdvisor, this site lists many vacation rentals by owner. You will get detailed information about the property, previous renter reviews and pictures. There is a calendar with available dates and rates. You contact the owner directly by email through the site to ask any questions, request more pictures and to make your reservation.
  • ResortQuest.com - You can book a variety of rentals through them, including vacation homes, hotel, condos and resorts. With over 100,000 rentals to choose from in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and now Europe, you’re sure to find one that suits your needs.
  • HomeAway.com - Sponsored by companies like Travel + Leisure and Virgin American, you can't go wrong booking with HomeAway. It boasts over 230,000 listings at reasonable costs.

It's been quite a while since we've had the deals of the week. I often skip them, because I post so many deals on Facebook and Twitter, it seems like overkill. Make sure you follow me on both to see deals each day and take advantage of them before they expire. 

Stay at the Trump International Plaza in Las Vegas for under $100 per night. The low tourism in Vegas can be your benefit with this deal from Travelzoo:

Kick back in a suite at the luxurious 5-star Trump International Hotel Las Vegas and save 45% on regular rates. Guests will also receive a $25 spa credit (per stay). Travel through Dec. 29, including Thanksgiving and Christmas:
  • $84 per night Sundays-Thursdays
  • $114 per night Fridays-Saturdays
Suites include full kitchens, and the bathrooms are outfitted with a spa tub and in-mirror plasma TV. The hotel is across the street from Fashion Show Mall, with stores such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom.  
Make sure you use the promo code provided.

Enjoy free onboard credits up to $250 on your next cruise. Cruise on Royal Caribbean for as little as $45 per night per person and receive up to $200 onboard credit on sailings to the Southern Caribbean, Dubai and Western Europe. Cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line and receive up to $250 onboard credits plus a reduced deposit on Eastern Caribbean, Bahamas and Hawaii sailings. Book by October 21 to take advantage of these deals.

Round-Trip Flights from $512+

Now's a great time to start planning your fall getaway! Take advantage of flight deals to Europe with American Airlines and visit London, Paris, Rome, or anywhere else in between for a steal. Fares start as low as $512+ round-trip, so book now! 

  • Book by October 27, 2011.
  • Outbound travel is valid October 29, 2011, and March 26, 2012.
  • All travel must be complete May 15, 2012.

Country Inn & Suites Orlando Maingate Calypso Cay - $169 - from Yuupon

Original Price: $432 -- 61% off!
  • Three nights in 1BR suite for 2 adults/2 kids just $169
  • Late 3 p.m. check-out ($35 value)
  • Tiki Bar/resort credit ($20 value)
  • 1 time picnic/grill kit with burgers and hot dogs ($25 value)
  • Waived resort fees
  • more!
  • Purchase by October 24
  • Great location near Walt Disney World, Sea World and Universal Studios.

We have several good things to talk about this time! Shereen Travels Cheap has been going through some good changes. The STC book will be available for purchase near the end of the month (final edits have run through the proof and the final final is on its way. Woot woot!

Don't forget that we have a great newsletter that goes out once a week (maybe twice if something too good to miss presents itself) with updates, tips and blog reminders...you'll get a fancy one as soon as the book is available for you to buy copies for everyone on your holiday list!

I've become a new frequent contributor on FareCompare, which is a fantastic site that brings you amazing travel sales, tips for finding the best airfare anytime of year. If you've missed my last few posts, you can read them here:

5 Strategies for Avoiding Airline Fees

Making Overbooked Flights Work in Your Favor

Explore London While Staying Within a Budget

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