Let's Connect!


Saturday, March 31, 2012

Giveaway: $100 Vacation Credit from BookIt

Summer is coming and wouldn't any help towards a vacation be fantastic? Well, right now I'm giving away a $100 vacation credit for BookIt.com. Use it off the total of a 7-day vacation and get away for less. BookIt has amazing packages to all your favorite places. Wouldn't a beach trip be great right about now? Well, "You Know What To Do". That's right, Book It!

BookIt can save you big on your vacations, even if you don't win. Purchase as a package and add activities to save even more. In fact, they have the best discounts on Disney tickets I've ever seen, which is fantastic for us budget travelers. Make sure to check them out the next time you are planning a trip.

This giveaway is open to U.S. residents age 18 and over. Winner will be chosen on April 15th and credit code sent to the email entered with. Good luck!

This could be you!
If you can't wait to find out if you've won this prize to start planning your summer getaway, then consider downloading a copy of my eBook Secrets to Summer Savings which is packed full of money-saving tips and a few extras to help you plan an awesome and affordable summer vacation. For less than three dollars, you can save hundreds.

Don't forget to also check out Shereen Travels Cheap UK. If you're planning a trip to the United Kingdom or live there and looking for budget trips around your "neighborhood". Find some things to see and do that are not typically touristy.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Benefits of Flying JetBlue 3.28.12

FYI: I wrote this post before the incident with Flight 191, but I still stick with the opinions I've given, as I think that pilot having a mental breakdown could have easily have been on any airline.

This last month we took a wonderfully relaxing trip to St. George – of course, you’ll think I’m lying when you read that we were vacationing with a family of 6, but it’s true – and it was our first time flying JetBlue. I was pretty excited that we got a better deal on them than even on Southwest or Spirit (both were charging some crazy prices to Vegas), because I have heard good things. Before, I could never get their website to work if there were no seats available to where I wanted to fly on the days I wanted to fly. This doesn’t’ seem to be the case anymore and you can also find them on airline aggregators now (like Travelocity and Orbitz), which makes it way easier to book an available seat.

Even though it’s been around for a while and people have been using it coast-to-coast for great prices for years, I thought it would be interesting to do a post for those that don’t need to fly across the country and want to save money going somewhere closer to home. Because it’s technically a discount airline the routes are limited on JetBlue. They have a whopping 7 hubs in the U.S.: Boston (BOS), Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International (FLL), Long Beach (LGB), New York (JFK), Oakland (OAK), Orlando (MCO) and Washington Dulles (IAD). This may make some creative flight patterns and fly you totally out of the way in order to get to and from your final destination. If it saves you money though, there are a lot of pluses to flying JetBlue.

  • First bag flies free. In this day and age when airlines charge an arm and a leg for everything, it’s nice to know someone isn’t trying to steal everything you own. On JetBlue, your first checked bag is always free. You don’t have to use it, but it’s there. I like it as insurance that if I buy too much, I can use it on the way home. (That’s $15-35 saved!)
  • Flights are never overbooked. Remember when we talked about overbooked flights and how you can get bumped and screwed over (even if you do get compensated) because you got to the gate 5 minutes later than you wanted or your got stuck in traffic or security took forever? Well, JetBlue doesn’t oversell seats, so you will never be without one.
  • They are partnered with some of the best airlines in the business. It’s true. Now you can also fly on Aer Lingus, Lufthansa, CapeAir, American, South African, Emirates, El Al, LAN, Virgin Atlantic, Iceland Air, Qatar Airways, TAM, Jet Airways, Singapore Airlines, Hawaiian, Japan Airlines and Korean Air. It’s a whole network of savings, plus you can gain mileage points for any of these airlines by flying with any of the others. I flew JetBlue and earned American AAdvantage miles.

  • Awesome customer service. Okay, it may have just been my experience, but everyone I dealt with was super nice and courteous (and helpful!). From the ticket agents to the ground crew to the flight attendants. Top notch.
  • Free DirecTV on all flights. Again, JetBlue doesn’t try to pinch every penny they can from you. Every seat has its own TV monitor (albeit small) and you can watch anything on 36 channels of DirecTV. I had the Europa Fútbol League on mine so I could watch soccer and also learn some Spanish in between playing a game on my handheld.
  • Free Sirius XM radio on all flights. Not into TV, but want to listen to some tunes other than those you brought (or forgot)? JetBlue gives you the choice of over 100 music channels. If you didn’t bring a set of earphones? Don’t worry. They will sell you some nice ones for just $2 (either from the fancy do-it-yourself bin at the gate or after takeoff on the
  • Unlimited free snacks and beverages. Again, you don’t get stuck with a tiny cup mostly full of ice and a bag containing 3 salted pretzels. On JetBlue, if you want 9 Diet Cokes and 3 bags of cookies, you’ll get it. They’re cool like that.
  • Convenient mobile app. Want to book all your flights from your phone? JetBlue has a new-fangled fancy app that will let you do just that.
  • Free snooze kit for overnight flights. Flying overnight and don’t’ want to look like a complete wreck, follow these tips and then take advantage of JetBlue’s snooze kit that contains a snazzy eyeshade and earplugs and wake up to a hot towel and coffee, spring water or orange juice (or all three, because you can).
  • Finally, an airline with a sense of humor. Usually, I find airlines try to be fun, but miss the mark. JetBlue does it successfully, from their cute sayings on their planes (i.e., You and Me and a Plane Named Blue, Fancy Meeting Blue Here and Major Blue) to their adorably retro and clever adverts to the humorous staff (“We are now boarding all rows, 1-25. If you are in row 26, you are not on this flight.”). Flying should be fun, and they do their best to make it so. “You Above All” is a wonderful slogan that they seem to do well.
  • No first class cabin. Don’t you hate it when you have to walk by all those smug first-classers and you maybe intentionally don’t carry your bag as close to you as possible and possibly you hit a few of them on the way through you your crappy seat that is one quarter of the price and one quarter of the luxury? I do. I have two wishes: 1 – The first class passengers get to board last. Have their glass of complimentary beer, wine or champagne in a fancy VIP area while us “cheap” people get on. 2 – The boarding door isn’t right up front, so I don’t have to walk through first class and be bitter before I’m even in the air. One or both of these options would be preferable to me.                                                                                                                                                     JetBlue doesn’t believe in segregation. The only difference between good seats and better seats is the amount of legroom. You can pay a premium (depending on the flight, but averaging around $30 each way) to sit in the Even More Space seats. On all flights, rows 1-5 and 10 and 11 are EMS seats. Your legs don’t cramp up from not being able to stretch out and, while it’s not super lounge-y, it’s great for tall people or those that need a little extra space. I was lucky enough to sit in row 1 for no extra charge and was pretty pleased with my seat. Just think, you already saved that much by not having to pay to check a bag!

Are you a fan of flying JetBlue?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Ack! I Missed My Flight! (JetBlue is Pretty Awesome) 3.24.12

Of course, it’s not just JetBlue that is awesome, as we’ve had similar experience with missed flights/connections on other airlines, but our most recent has been JetBlue, in which my new best friend in the travel world, Sherie, at the Las Vegas McCarran Airport used her rebooking expertise to work some magic and get us booked on the next flight out and also upgrade our seats, because she rocks and is awesome at customer service. Take note other ticket desk agents!

So, several times we have missed a flight or connection, due to the airline or my own ineptitude (yes, I will take blame on this myself). I hope that aisle seat person appreciates all the extra room they have because we are not there (or some people who REALLY needed to get on that flight made it due to our absence. The time before this we were stuck at LAX, because our flight coming back home was delayed and then it came in late and we had to take a tram to a terminal 32 miles away (or so it seemed) and missed boarding by 5 minutes. Of course, at that point they probably wouldn’t have let us on anyway, as the plane was actually taxiing away when we showed up at the desk. This was on American and the agent was aware our previous flight was late and looked up the next flight for us and was able to rebook us on a flight coming back to Portland an hour later. Score! We got a snack and then played video games while we waited. Lucky for us, LAX is a huge hub, with flights coming and going all the time.

Thank you, Sherie!
This trip it was my own fault we were late to the airport and missed our flight. Our boarding time was 7:40, with the flight leaving at 8:10. The plan was to get up at 4am (as we were in St. George, Utah and had to drive 2 hours to get to Vegas). Note to Android users, your phone may or may not have this same (dumb) function, but when you set your alarm, make sure it is the day you want it to wake you up, otherwise, you, too will have set your alarm for Monday, when you needed to get up on Wednesday. Convenient! We woke up and the clock said 6:30am. I suppose it could have been worse. With the hour time difference in our favor, we crossed our fingers that we would still get there JUST in time. And we would have too, had there not been rush hour traffic once we made it to Vegas.

So, in between traffic – which was still faster than anywhere else I’ve ever driven – having to get gas and return our rental car, we got to the actual ticket desk right as our flight was leaving. We were pretty sure the next flight out wouldn’t be until 4pm, so we’d be at the airport for 8 hours, at the least. I had an inkling of hope that we might be able to be rebooked on a different airline, though the chance was slim. I walked up to the desk and told Sherie my problem and she checked our connection in Long Beach. We originally would have a 2 hour layover there and the next flight out there wasn’t until 7pm. She said they had seats available from Vegas to Long Beach on the next flight that went out on 9:50am and would get us there just before the other flight was due to board. She was even awesome enough to get us row 1, so we could grab bags and jump off the plane as soon as the doors opened. Hallelujah! Row 1 is in their Even More Space seats that usually cost $30 more, but we were getting them for nothing (you know, except what we originally paid). I thanked her profusely and was excited that we now had over an hour to hang at McCarran and could eat breakfast and not have to fight for a seat at LGB, where they are under construction and the waiting room is probably as big as my house (6 gates all crammed in one end, 5 feet from each other) and the bathrooms and café are outside in portable buildings.

We made it to LGB on time and then realized nobody seemed to be in line for boarding our Portland flight, which was supposed to leave 15 minutes from when we landed. Lucky for us, the plane that was coming in from San Francisco had weather problems and delayed the plane 10-15 minutes, so we were actually early for that flight to make it home at the original time.

While much of this was luck, I can also say that we always fly on the least busy days of the week (Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday). On this trip we left on Saturday and came home on Wednesday, so we were able to get some seats on another flight. Two other plusses on our side were that we had no bags to check (in case we did miss our connection and it got lost waiting for us to show up) and JetBlue does not overbook their flights. This helped us not have to be put on standby, as she could see there were seats available. Our seats were already paid for, so instead of making us pay extra for the fancy seats in the front, she just put us in them, or else they would have gone empty. Yay for us.

LGB airport is so big...
Had any of the above three things not been a factor in our travels, we may still be at the airport trying to get back or missing half our clothes at home until our bag finally resurfaced. They didn’t seem like big things at the time, but planning ahead actually saved us in the end. I’ll talk about the benefits of flying JetBlue in my next post.

Have you ever missed a flight and been stuck at the airport for hours? Or do you have a story about an awesome ticket agent that helped you tremendously?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tips for Traveling with Kids - From a Practical Mom: Part 2

Okay, not every vacation revolves around a character, and my practical best friend and mother of 4 knows that. She also can’t afford for every trip they take to be a big blow-out, so they take day trips as well. Last week I gave you her tips for Disney and theme parks in general, but we’re switching gears with her tips this time. If you guys are outdoorsy and love nature, then national parks are where it’s at. Go hiking, see cool rock formations, check out caves and more. Kids love that stuff and it’s fairly cheap. We made a day out of it and had a great time when we vacationed together last week. Make sure you bring snacks and things for the kids to do in the car.

Buy a national parks yearly pass. You can get a yearly pass for just $80 and use it for entry at all national parks all year long. Sounds expensive, you say? Well, if you plan to visit at least 3-4 parks a year, it is already saving you money. In fact, most parks have a $25 entry fee (per car), but some are even more. The Grand Canyon cost $40 when we looked recently, so just two trips there would cost you the whole amount of a yearly pass.

Buy a national parks passport. For just $8.95 per book, you have an excellent way to collect souvenirs from each park you visit. Make sure you stop by the visitor’s center to pick yours up and then get it stamped at each location. This is a wonderful thing for kids to do, because it teaches them about travel and each book tells you facts about every national park you can visit. Stamps are free. They also have a sticker available at each park that you can buy, or you can do what Lydia does and buy a pack of stickers they sell in the gift center and let the kids pick out which one they want and use the leftovers for scrapbooking. The stickers come in packs of 9 (3 of each kind) and run about the same as the individual sticker they sell specifically for the passport.

Become a Junior Ranger. Another awesome activity for your kids to do is to get involved in the Junior Rangers. It’s free and each location has a book of activities for them to complete that teach them important lessons about the environment and the area the park is located in. We visited Bryce Canyon and the questions were all about plateaus and rock formations. The children watched a movie to get the answers, answered other questions found in the packet and then picked up litter to complete their ranger training. At the end they had a real park ranger have them repeat the Junior Ranger oath and then they received a free pin (some have patches). Not only did they learn some cool stuff, but they also got a free souvenir out of the experience and had a fantastic time.

Go hiking. Yup. You’re in this awesome wilderness with hiking trails and amazing views. Strap on some comfortable shoes, grab some water and snacks and get going. It’s a great way to get exercise and also let the kids get out all their energy. Cap off the day with a picnic or a stop at a fun restaurant on the way home and you’ve had a full and fun outing. We picked Chili’s, mostly because it’s family-friendly, the adults all wanted to eat there (neither of us have one near where we live) and it was a little too cold out for a picnic.

Invest in a baby backpack (or sling or carrier). If you have a baby in amongst your kids, don’t give up on ever going anywhere until they’re old enough to walk. Depending on how hard-core you are when hiking, get yourself the appropriate baby carrying equipment. Lydia has both a folding hiking backpack for the baby and a front carrier for their little one. Strap it on and go. Just make sure to bring a change of clothes (possibly for both of you), some spare diapers and you’ll be prepared for whatever happens on your walk. It’s great to start them early and it gets you all out of the house without having to figure out how to get the stroller down the hill.

Want even more tips for traveling with kids and planning your summer vacation? Download my ebook: Secrets to Summer Savings. For just $2.99 you get 24 pages packed full of ways to save money and stretch your budget. Less than $3 to save hundreds (or more)?! Why haven't you clicked yet?
Do you have a national parks pass for your family?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Tips for Traveling with Kids - From a Practical Mom

Last week I went to St. George to see my best friend for 20+ years, Lydia, her husband (who I’ve known forever, too) and her kids. It was our compromise for a meeting place, since she lives far from a reasonably convenient airport and having to fly with 3 children and a baby is not cheap. They drove 3-4 hours and we flew into Vegas and drove 2 hours to meet them. Considering the rental company was out of compacts and we were upgraded (for free!) to a Crown Victoria, the ride was pretty cushy. We spent a lot of time driving around in their van, so we had plenty of time to talk about traveling and some great budget tips that didn’t include “leave your kids at home”.

Being a single-income family, they can find it hard to get away often, but they tend to find the time, energy and money to do it more than a lot of families I know and not because they are using credit cards they can’t afford to pay off or sleeping in their van on the side of the road. To let you in on the big picture, Lydia has 4 children, aged 3 months to 9, a (sometimes more than) full-time job, a dog, coaches the soccer team her girls play on, teaches Sunday school and always has a house full of her children’s friends. So, she doesn’t have even as much time as other parents and still makes time for all the family time she can.

She and I are big researchers and planners, so we get each other on this whole saving money and still having fun thing. Life isn’t all that fun when your day consists of working, helping with homework, having dinner, going to bed and then getting up and doing it all over again, so she plans as much time as she can away from home doing things the whole family will enjoy. She had some great tips that were new to me and I had some for her. Good trades! To give you idea why I think she’s an authority of family travel, she says they can do 4 days at Disney (including meals, park passes and hotel) for around $1300. They don’t fly, because they live somewhat close, so they do save on airfare. Now, I know couples that can’t figure out how to stick within that kind of budget. There are FIVE of them (we won’t count the baby yet, because they won’t have to pay for him for a few years), so I believe if they can do it, then those with fewer children can do it, too.

Buy Disney t-shirts. This is a smarty pants idea. Go to your local discount store, like Target, and pick up a cheap Disney tee for each of your kids, then get some fabric pens. Instead of buying $10 autograph books at the parks, you can have the characters sign the shirts. It’s a souvenir and also won’t be thrown in a corner and forgotten once they get home. Lydia says the best ones to get are the 50/50 poly-cotton blends, since they don’t shrink and tend to be more fade resistant.

Buy pins on ebay. Are your kids all into the pin-trading fad? Try to avoid spending gobs of money at the parks on new pins and get a bunch of pins in a lot on ebay. Get 30 for $30 or similar, so you are getting a bunch for way cheap, and dole them out among your little ones for them to trade to their heart’s content. (Make sure they SAY Disney on them, though, or they won’t be able to.) Some cast members will only trade with kids and they can also get rare and limited pins this way. You can also trade with other pin owners.

Bring your own snacks. I’ve told you this as someone who does it, but now you know I’m not the only one who relies on this as a way to save money. They basically make sandwiches the morning before they leave for lunches and only eat one meal in the park if possible. This way they save big each day by cutting out a big chunk of cost. I mean, dining for five can really add up! Another great snack tip is to buy the thing that comes in a souvenir bucket (usually popcorn) and then make your own popcorn to bring with you every other day you go back. That way you have a souvenir and also a cheap snack.

Stay off-property. Another thing I always recommend because think of what you can do with the difference in cost between staying at the Disney hotels (~$250/night) compared to a regular hotel (~$70/night). That can pay for food for several days. They like to stay at one of the parks across the street from Disney, so if they get tired or hungry, they can easily go back for something to eat or a nap.

Take naps! Like I just said, staying close makes it easier to go back to the room for a nap. If your kids have a regular nap routine, you can’t expect them to not be totally crabby my mid-day if they don’t get one. Naps are good for adults, too, and you actually end up doing more when you take time out to rest, because you’re refreshed and can make decisions and not hate the world because you’ve been up for 10 hours and it’s only 3pm. Also, those around you don’t want to be witness to your child’s total meltdown in line for Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride either.

We'll continue with her non-theme park travel tips in our next post. Do you have any creative budget tips for visiting theme parks with your kids?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Sweet Side of Travel 3.14.12

Don't forget to enter to win $100 from Ebates!

It’s Girl Scout Week and with GS cookies being one of those things we sometimes look forward to all year long, it got me thinking, as it always does, about desserts when I travel. Of course you can prolong cookie season by freezing your boxes and savoring them throughout the year, like as a snack for travel, but how many of us either forget they are in there altogether or just say “Eff it!” and eat them all a week later? Well, short of buying more or working on our willpower, I think that we should fill in those sad, cookieless months with other sweets that can be found all year round.

And don’t get mad at me for playing off your cravings and encouraging you to eat things you are trying to avoid, because we all know that calories don’t count on vacation and all that walking you should be doing when you sightsee and explore a new destination should be working in your favor when you’ve given up and just go for the chocolate cake (or anything else that sounds good). Here are some of my most loved sweets to get you started:

One of my favorite desserts is tiramisu. I love it! I want to eat it everywhere, but there are so many ways to make it, it’s one of those sweet endings that you are never sure what you’re going to get. I’ve had it where it was so soaked with alcohol I could barely eat it and also where it was so bland and still a bit frozen that it was also hard to finish. I would love to make it to Italy to sample some traditionally made tiramisu. What better way to follow up a heavenly dessert than with a visit to St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice? The Byzantine church that sits in St. Mark’s Square is free to enter and is full of amazing mosaics. 40,000 square feet of mosaics to be approximate. That’s a lot of stuff to look at for free!

Sticky toffee pudding is another delicious concoction, which I have had the pleasure of trying several times in London. Pudding is a term for a dessert, so sticky toffee pudding is actually a cake, soaked in a caramelly toffee sauce. It’s not a sophisticated-looking dessert, but it’s something you should try at least once. Pair it with a cup of coffee and you won’t feel so much like your teeth will fall out (if you aren’t used to super sweet dishes). Follow up your dinner and dessert with a themed walk from London Walks. Choose from a variety of walks, like the London Ghost Walk, Hidden Pubs of Old London Walk, the Ancient City at Night Walk and more. Not only that, but London Walks are affordable and you never have to make a reservation. Find where your preferred walk starts, get there 15 minutes early and give the guide your money (Approx. $15 per person).

Try a bit more savory dessert with a flaky, sticky and crunchy piece of baklava. It is one of those meal-enders that satisfies many. I love honey and nuts, but I enjoy that it can be made with pretty much any nut you love. My favorite is a baklava made with pistachios, instead of the more common use of walnuts, but when I get to Greece, I’ll be eating as much as I can handle, because even though my Greek in-laws make a killer baklava, I’m pretty sure nothing can compare to having it in a Greek restaurant or pastry shop that have been using the same recipe for hundreds of years. Once you’ve stuffed your face full of sticky goodness in Athens, then go explore the Acropolis and Parthenon. For just around $15 per person, you can wander the ruins and learn about the history of the site.

A Tortuga rum cake is something in Nassau that everyone will suggest you try for dessert – or even a snack. Made from Tortuga rum (but can also be made with Bacardi, if made from scratch), these tasty cakes come in many flavors: plain with walnuts, pineapple, chocolate, coconut, banana, key lime, orange, coffee and cinnamon raisin. These cakes are light, moist and a bit boozy. They make a great ending to lunch or dinner as well as gifts to bring home to loved ones. You can walk off the calories by heading up the street to learn about the history of pirates in the Caribbean with the Pirates of Nassau museum. For just $12 per person, the museum covers everything you would need to know about how pirates came to the islands and how they interacted with the landlubbers and each other. Get educated on famous pirates, like Black Beard and their weapons and rules of the sea.

If these desserts are too tame for you, check out the World's Strangest Desserts according to Travel + Leisure, like the dessert breakfast from Dublin that you see above. Maybe you'll want to change your travel plans in order to try some of these out. 

What are your favorite desserts or where would you like to travel to try them?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Affordable Vacations with Kids 3.10.12

This week I’ll be spending my days with three energetic children, a baby and their (probably super tired) parents. With Spring Break upon us and Summer vacation right around the corner, I decided that another round of travel with kids was not only appropriate, but necessary. My best friend – whom I will be spending said week with – is great at saving money and taking family on trips throughout the year, which should be inspirational to those that don’t have three or four children. When I hear people say they don’t have the money to travel, it makes me sad, because I know that with some planning and research, they could find it in their budget. Their children (and they) are missing out on all that travel has to offer. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune. You just need to know how to do it.

Use your zoo membership. Almost every family I know has invested in a zoo membership, because for one price, they can go to the zoo and aquarium all year long. This helps when money is tight and they have to get out of the house, and I don’t know any kid that doesn’t love fish and other animals. If you have a membership, you can use it to visit other zoos and aquariums across the country and, in some cases, in other parts of the world. It can be fun for kids to feel like the day is totally about them and they can learn about new animals in different parts of the world that your zoo might not have. See the zoos that participate by going to AZA.org.

Visit State and National Parks. Hiking, running, jumping and climbing are great ways to entertain (and tire out) your kids for a very nominal cost. Sometimes it’s free and sometimes you pay per carload. You get to enjoy some nature and wildlife and your kids get fresh air and exercise. Turn it into a bit of an educational trip by giving them cameras and having them take pictures of the different things they see along the way (i.e. trees, flowers, animals) and then print them out later for identification. Many parks have education centers where they do talks and have exhibits that explain about the plants and animals of the region. Make time to stop in and have your kids ask the rangers questions about their visit.

Shop the farmer’s market. If you can find an open farmer’s market where you are traveling, you can spend some time finding new and unusual foods, interacting with locals and then you can buy a nice selection of foods for lunch and find a spot in a local green space to enjoy your new fare and the fresh air. If a farmer’s market isn’t available, it’s likely you can seek out street carts with local cuisine. You’ll save money by not paying sit-down meal prices and tipping isn’t required. Don’t forget your reusable shoppers from home, because they are green and convenient for more than just groceries. This set from Blue Avocado is brilliant!

Dine at food carts. Kids seem to have endless energy and don’t always like to sit still for very long. They can also be picky eaters. Food carts are perfect for family meals, because usually where there is one, there is many, meaning you can find a variety of foods in one area. Food carts are much cheaper than traditional sit-down dining and you can eat on-the-go or find a nice park to enjoy your dishes in…and then kids can burn off their energy by running around and playing for a bit. Bring your own sets of reusable utensils and be ready for anything…and save some plastic from the landfills. I love the bamboo ones from To-Go Ware.

Visit developing countries. I think this is one of the best tips for everyone, not just those with families, because developing countries have lower economies and come with super affordable price tags for your entire vacation. You don’t have to cut costs if you don’t want to, because accommodations, dining and entertainment are all so much cheaper than at home. You’re also helping a country that depends on tourism to survive and finding an entirely new vacation experience. Countries like Ecuador, Belize and Peru are great examples, and if you want to go further, India or Morocco can be budget-friendly destinations, too.  These trips can be a total immersion for you and your family. This is a nice option if you have kids who like to try new things and meet people. Learn Spanish with Nintendo’s My Spanish Coach for your DS (or French, Japanese, Chinese or English). It’s the perfect way for kids to build their language skills while also having fun. It’s great for adults, too.

Bring snacks and games. While this may not save you much money, unless your children are always complaining that they’re hungry, it can keep them entertained between activities. If you’re waiting in line or taking a break from walking, having a small snack you can dig out of your day bag or a game to play for a few minutes can alleviate boredom and keep kids happy when nothing’s going on. I find that games are a fantastic way to pass time on the airplane and snacks can save you money on the airline food menu. Have smarty-pants toddlers or kids over 5? Try Fluxx card game. It’s the game of ever-changing rules that is fun for hours, even if games last just 10-30 minutes. You might also like Zigity. It’s a fantastic game from the makers of Cranium that asks players to spell, add, complete a picture and match objects. The cards are plastic coated, so they are pretty much child-proof. Spills and spit wipe right off!

Pack light. I know that with kids it’s hard to do this, but it’s not impossible. Each of your children can bring their own carry-on for the plane and help spread around the weight. Whether it’s a small rolling bag that can fit under the seat or a backpack they can wear, they can share the load. While their clothes can be fairly lightweight, everything they want to take from home may not be. Pack as much of their clothes as you can in your own carry-on (Spacebags or Pack-It cubes may help) and then have them carry any spillover and a few things from home in their own bag. This might be some small toys, a coloring book and some snacks. Anything that will make traveling less of a chore and keep the whining at bay.
If there is more than one adult in your party, this may be done more easily, and you will have everything with you when you land, saving you checked baggage fees and time waiting for your bags on the carrousel. Check out the Trunki ride-on carry-on from Melissa and Doug. It’s fun and functional, plus you can accessorize it, giving your kids another activity to do when waiting around and getting border and border. I want one for ME.  

These are just some of the ways to travel with kids and save both some sanity and money. Remember, kids are usually happy to check out new places, because they are new and exciting. Make sure they get to eat and sleep as they regularly would at home and you will be able to minimize any complete meltdowns that are bubbling under the surface. Think of how cranky you get when you are hungry or tired. You would probably cry, too, if it was socially acceptable to do so on a crowded subway train.
 Get more tips! Purchase my Secrets to Summer Savings Ebook for $2.99.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Secrets to Summer Travel Revealed!

Don't forget to enter to win $100 from Ebates!

I know there are many of you dreading summer break, because it means that the little ones (and not so little ones) are anxious to get out of the house and have some fun and summer travel is not cheap. Well, I have your answer! For the low, low price of just $2.99, you can be in possession of tips that can potentially save you hundreds of dollars. Sounds good, right? While it’s just a taste of what is offered in my full book, this 24 page eBook will give you the secrets to unlocking discounts for summer vacationing.

Add to Cart

So, if you want to go on a real family (or couples or solo) trip when the temperatures start to rise, but don’t know where to start to fit one into your budget – or just need a help fitting more into your trip for less – this will be your handy guide to being the budget travel king/queen you always wanted to be. Your kids will applaud you for planning an awesome trip, your spouse will be thrilled there’s still some money in the bank when you get back, you won’t still be paying it off a decade from now and your friends will bow down to your greatness in frugality. Not that you have to tell them your “secrets” or anything.
Know more people who are having a hard time planning a summer getaway? Send them a link to this post or share it on your social media sites. A big thanks and happy (summer) travels!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Are All-Inclusive Resorts Really “ALL”-Inclusive? 3.7.12

Don't forget to enter to win $100 from Ebates!

When planning just doesn’t sound like very much fun to you, then all-inclusive sounds pretty sweet. It implies that you go there, have everything taken care of for you and you don’t have to worry about anything. Too bad all “all-inclusive” resorts are not created equal and without getting all the facts, you may end up spending more than you have and having a crummy vacation, knowing that you are going into debt to pay for all the extras that you thought were built-in to your price. Many all-inclusive resorts also cater to regular guest show don’t want everything included and just want to pay for their room rate and then go out and do other stuff every day.

So, who are all-inclusive resorts for?
·         Sun worshippers and beach bums. If you just like to lie on the beach all day, then you’re set.
·         Families. Entertainment, food, the beach and kids clubs all within easy walking distance is convenient, but so is not having to pull out your wallet every five minutes.
·         Vacation non-planners. Do you hate to plan trips? Well, everything is taken care of in one bundle with all-inclusive vacations.
·         Light sightseers. If you aren’t really interested in doing too much outside of a resort, beyond beach activities, they have plenty to keep you from wanting to wander off-property.
·         Luxury vacationers. If you’re used to having someone take care of everything and just sitting back and feeling like a VIP, all-inclusives have that feel. Splurge a bit and head to the spa for a treatment.
·         Ocean lovers. Is your idea of a great vacation going snorkeling, diving, surfing, boogie boarding, kayaking and swimming?
·         Budget travelers. Many resorts offer big discounts that just can’t beat booking hotel and airfare separately, that include activities and dining that maybe are better than could be afforded if paid out of pocket each day.

Who aren’t they for?
·         Moderate to heavy sightseers and city explorers. Once you get to your destination, are you dying to get out and SEE EVERYTHING THERE IS TO SEE? Chances are, an all-inclusive is not for you. Most likely, you will be out and about during meal times and won’t be able to take advantage of included dining options.
·         Solo travelers. Like most packages, all-inclusive rates are based on double occupancy. If you pay for just you, it’s likely you will spend 150% of the price posted (and in some cases more), which isn’t saving you any money at all.
·         Those that need to be doing SOMETHING. Like the sightseers and city travelers, you may not get your money’s worth out of an all-inclusive resort. If you have to be out doing something during the day, the monotony of seeing the same resort all day every day likely will make you stir-crazy.
·         Those wanting to get the most out of traveling. If you travel to “see” the world, then resort vacationing is not really for you. You will feel obligated to spend as much time as possible on-property when what you really want to be doing is discovering a new destination and seeing everything there is to see. You’ll pay for meals out that were included had you stayed at the resort and spend money on things you really wanted to do and see.
·         Foodies. While many all-inclusive resorts offer several different dining venues, nothing beats hitting the pavement and finding local cafes and restaurants that serve authentically native foods. On a resort, you will have the options of dining at different locations on the property, but much of the cuisine will be appealing to everyone, meaning you won’t get a truly regional dining experience.
·         Social butterflies. Yes, you could spend each day chatting up a new family or couple to learn all about their lives and city they’re visiting from, but true travel social butterflies like to converse with the locals whenever possible. You probably already know a bunch about Texas or Melbourne. You could talk to these same people at home. Not that they aren’t nice people and life-long friends could be made, but when traveling, it’s way more fun to learn about your destination and the people that live there.
·         Control freaks. I’m in this category. I like to know everything about my vacation and plan it all. If you’re the same, possibly you don’t want to hand the reigns over to someone else and “go with the flow”.

What questions should you ask before booking your vacation?
·         Are ALL meals included? Food is the first thing I think of when going all-inclusive. Are all your meals included or just some of them? This can make all the difference in the world when it comes to cost. If only lunch and dinner are included or you can only eat at designated times, then maybe you want to rethink making a reservation.
·         Are alcoholic beverages included? Maybe you don’t drink, but if you do, then booze really adds up. Having to pay for it is going to be a sad day at the end of your trip when you see your bar tab. If you some relaxing margaritas and mojitos are on your itinerary, then make sure to ask about this.
·         What about fine dining? How disappointed will you be when you’re all excited to try that different dining room with the fancy white tablecloths and filet mignon only to find out it’s an extra charge to your bill? Try not to cry on the buffet food when you end up back in that line.
·         Snacks? Can you tell that I am a lover of food? It’s surprising that I can fit into my pants when I come back home from trips. LOL! Snack costs can add up quickly. Especially, when you have kids and they are constantly saying they are hungry and want to snack on something. A perfect family vacation would include trips to the snack bar 24/7. It would save you a bundle, right? If not, you better start a tote bag with munchies for your trip.
·         What activities are “free”? Motorized activities are usually something you need to pay extra for. If you are just interested in surfing, kayaking and snorkeling, this could be a benefit, but if parasailing, jet skiing and the like are must-do things on your list, having to pay out of pocket (and possibly more than usual, because there’s no other place close by to rent such things from) might be a deal-breaker.
·         Do kids stay/play/eat free? While there are plenty of resorts that include up to two kids with two adults and they can do everything they want for no extra money – except those dreaded taxes – there are just as many that view kids as an additional guest. So, while $65/night sounds like a deal, that is also the rate per person. $130/night is a lot different than $260/night (for a family of 4).
·         Are transfers included? If your resort rate doesn’t include airfare – still you would be better off getting everything in a package, usually – how will you get from the airport to the property? Many all-inclusive resorts are far from the city center (in order to be private, though some will argue that it’s so you don’t try to leave and spend money elsewhere) and getting there can be a bit tricky, as well as expensive.

Hopefully, this covers all the basics of an all-inclusive holiday and what to expect and not to expect. All-inclusive usually comes with a few (or a lot) of stipulations. Make sure your bottom line is really one you can live with and isn’t something you would have paid less for to do more at your destination had you planned it all yourself. The one time I went all-inclusive, I was not all that thrilled with my entertainment or dining choices. Great for a few nights. Not so great for 7 nights. I got bored and wanted to do stuff at my destination that was outside of my resort and eat food that was different than what was available there.

Tip for Southeasterners: If you live close to Florida beaches and just need a quick (inexpensive) getaway, there is a wide range of all-inclusives there that could be perfect for your needs. They don’t require a passport and it’s warmer there than many other beaches. It’s the closest you can get to the Caribbean and Bahamas resorts without leaving the country.
Have you ever been on an all-inclusive holiday? Did you feel like you got your money’s worth or were you bored to tears for a week+?  
Pin It button on image hover