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Friday, August 31, 2012

Super Useful Travel Links 8.31.12

In the true spirit of giving you wonderful people good advice when it comes to travel and everything related to it, I have rounded up a whole bunch of actual useful travel links. It’s true! I have used my research skillz for good instead of for my own amusement, so no funny packing videos or stories about dummies who stay on the phone for 15+ hours to talk to customer service. As always, I hope you enjoy and also share anything, interesting, useful or fun that you found related to travel (in some way) in the comments.

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If you’re like me, you are always thinking about getting robbed when on vacation. The Cumming Patch offers some great tips on how to protect yourself and your valuables while traveling. Although I don’t suggest ever bringing traveler’s cheques with you anymore – many places don’t accept them and it is easier to use a card or cash – there are some wonderful suggestions here. If you have been pickpocketed/robbed or lost your passport/ID on a trip and would like to help me out by sharing your story, please send me an email. I am doing a series of personal interviews for a new project I’m working on with the Clever Travel Companion blog. It can be anonymous.

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Need to wash garments in a pinch? Maybe you just want it done quickly or are on a business trip that is unexpectedly extended or a checked bag is lost and you only have a few keyh pieces with you on your back and in your carry-on. Whatever the case, here are some tips on how to make it easier, faster and less painful from Australian Business Traveler.

You’re in a foreign country and you just realized you didn’t read up on tipping policies. Now what?!? Before you start to freak out and throw money at everyone and everything or worse, decide not tipping anybody is the way to go, read these tipping rules I’ve contributed to Clever Travel Companion’s blog and then bookmark it for your future trips.

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Small children can be fun to travel with, but in an instant they can turn on you and make each second a living hell. You love them, though, so what are you gonna do? Earplugs may help, but it’s not going to solve all your problems, especially when in a car for hours and days at a time. Learn to makeroad trips with the wee ones more bearable for you and them with these handy suggestions from Culture Map Austin.

I love, love, LOVE to eat when I travel and I’m sure you’re no different. Sometimes, it’s hard to find great places to eat on the fly – which is why I am a crazy person who picks out 90% of my dining establishments before I leave home. If you find this to be a problem also, take some advice from top chefs, who know how important a good dining experience is when traveling. From bringing your own spices to asking taxi drivers for their favorite restaurants, these are some really solid tips.

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How many of you cringe when anyone suggests solo travel? I know, I know. Thinking about going to a foreign place where you know no one kinda makes some of you want to hyperventilate. Solo travel doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, it can be downright fun, empowering and help you learn more about yourself and what you’re capable of. Gadling has a fantastic post by Jessica Festa on how to master the art of solo travel. At least read it before you say you will never do it.

What are your thoughts on these links from my weekly web scouring?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Travel Cheaper with Ebates 8.29.12

Did I catch your attention? Everyone wants to travel for less, but sometimes it just seems so hard to figure out how to do it. Well, if one thing is easy, it is using Ebates to save money on everything from buying shoes to booking a hotel. It’s been a while since I hounded told you about the greatness that is Ebates, so I thought this would be the best time to get in another post on the benefits of using it, since prices are dropping on airfare and hotels, and online shops are starting their Labor Day and let’s-get-rid-of-last-season’s-stuff-to-make-room-for-new-stuff sales. What this means for you is DOUBLE discounts.
So, as I’ve said before, I don’t buy/book/reserve anything without checking the merchant lists on Ebates. Yes, I know that my favorites are there, like Clinique, Columbia, Sephora and Groupon, but there are tons more! I just the awesomeness of Asos.com and they are on the list, too! Seriously guys, if you aren’t using Ebates, you are throwing money out the window.
Okay, here’s how it works:
·         You sign up, for FREE!
·         You choose a FREE gift ($5 into your account or a $10 gift card to the store of your choice, either of which will be credited or sent to you as soon as you make your first qualifying purchase – anything from one of the participating merchants. Easy, right?!)
·         Start shopping! Ebates tracks your purchases by your clicks through their site. Say, I want to stock up on more sunscreen from Drugstore.com. I would go to Ebates, find Drugstore.com, click on it, wait for the new screen to pop up that takes me to their actual site and make my purchase. Super simple! Reminder: Make sure you use the same email address with the merchant that you used to sign up with Ebates.
·         Once your purchase has gone through – somewhere between 5 minutes and 3 days – you will get an email from Ebates saying “Congratulation on your cash back! Then it will tell you where you shopped and what amount of cash back they will deposit into your Ebates’ account.
·         You keep shopping, your account grows and every 3 months you get a Big Fat Payment. This can be by check or, if you’re fancy, instantly through PayPal. Now, you can use this free money to buy more stuff, or you can use it to pay for vacation things like I do. Heck, use it to triple your savings by buying Groupons or other daily deal certificates for your destination.
There are other pluses to using Ebates, too. You get $5 for every friend you get to sign up for it. This is unlimited! The more you refer, the more you can make! Ebates lists all available coupon and promo codes for sites that can be used when you go there and make a purchase. They will even list the sales going on at that particular time, which makes it even easier to decide to use certain merchants.

Right now, you can sign up for Ebates and get double cash back on participating merchants for Labor Day. There are 20 merchants on the list, including travel partners, and the promo lasts through Monday, September 3rd:
Banana Republic
at 4%
Dell Small Biz
at 4%
at 4%
at 6%
Holiday Inn Express
at 13.5%
Home Depot
at 5%
at 6%
HP Home
at 5%
at 8%
at 6%
Lands' End
at 6%
at 6%
at 6.5
at 5%
Omaha Steaks
at 12%
at 6%
at 6%
at 4%
at 6%

And there are coupons! Here are the Top 5 you might want to get in on: 
·         Overstock - Shop the Labor Day Sale! Plus 3.0% Cash Back
·         ULTA - Save 20% off any order. Code: 73078 Plus 4.0% Cash Back
·         Clinique - Get a free best-selling Mini with any order. Plus free shipping! Code: EbatesMini. Plus 4.0% Cash Back
·         Diapers.com - Starts today - up to 40% off sitewide! Plus up to 4.0% Cash Back
·         Disney Store - Online preview: new markdowns up to 50% off. Plus 3.0% Cash Back

On vacation - So happy with all the money you saved!
Got questions? Don’t hesitate to ask. I’m always happy to help a fellow budget traveler/shopper save some extra dough! If you’re a current member of Ebates tell us how you like it!
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. Ebates does not pay me to write good things about them. I write about them because I think they are a great company, have used them for many years and think my readers can benefit from what they have to offer.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Traveling Food Champion 8.25.12

Have you been pickpocketed/robbed or lost your passport on vacation? I'm looking to interview people like you by email. If you would like to help me out by sharing your story, please email me.

I don’t know about you, but you are well aware how I like to travel for food. I’m also a big fan of the show Man Vs. Food with Adam Richman, even though I really detest food eating competitions. Yes, I am a conundrum, but that’s what makes me so awesome, right? I figure since someone is just trying to beat the clock – or their own tolerance for painful amounts of food or heat – rather than competing against 6 other sweaty guys to see who can stuff the most chicken wings in their face, it is much more socially acceptable…plus, I have that whole thing where I can’t stand to see people with grease dripping from their chin or making the vomit face while they are still shoveling food in their mouth. I can’t be alone in that!

The Wall of Flame
Now, that you’ve probably been grossed out and clicked over to Ebay or something equally tame, I will get to my point. Adam Richman – and probably Andrew Zimmern in his unique way – has created a new mission in traveling. As much fun as eating on vacation is, wouldn’t it be even MORE fun to leave your mark as you go? There are dining establishments all over this great country, and possibly the world, where you can stop and try their ultimate food challenge! The objective: eat something huge or eat something crazy hot within a specified amount of time, though sometimes they think it is so hard that you don’t actually need a time limit, just finish it without getting up from the table.

I have a friend who looks for these when they travel and then I have friends who decided that conquering those challenges in their own hometown would be good enough. For now. In Portland alone, I can think of three food challenges just off the top of my head:

  • Eat the giant doughnut, equal to 6 doughnuts, at Voodoo Doughnuts in 80 seconds and get it for free and a commemorative pin. If you fail, as most do, you are stuck with the bill (a whopping $4.20) and probably cramps. Of course, that parting gift is bestowed upon you even if you DO finish it.
  • Salvador Molly’s Great Balls of Fire challenge where they dare you to eat 5 flaming hot cheese fritters made with the hottest peppers they can find (100,000 - 350,000 Scoville units. For reference, a jalepeño pepper is 3,500-8,000 Scoville units) and then set in some equally burning hot pepper sauce that you also must eat. You don’t have a time limit and you have to pay for them either way. You must sign a waiver before you start and if you win, you only get the joy of having your sweaty red face pinned to the Wall of Flame and you “may” be used in future advertising.
  • Pancakes the size of a baby await you at Stepping Stone Café. They call it “The Stack” and you can get them plain or add blueberries or bananas for an additional $1.50 on top of your $8.50. Stepping Stone’s motto is “You Eat Here Because We Let You” and if you can eat 3 massive pancakes – or mancakes – then you get your photo on the Wall of Shame/Fame, depending on how you feel about yourself afterward. Many have tried, most have failed. These things are like eating 3 pizzas. They are 13” in diameter, don’t even fit on the plate and are at least an inch thick.
Harmless looking, right?
Last weekend we headed over to Salavador Molly’s to support a friend who wanted to do the challenge and also get dinner while we were there. A good crowd turned up and we ordered three servings: two for the guys ready to take on the Great Balls of Fire and one for the rest of the table to see just how impressed we should be with their achievement. Let me tell you, these crispy little fritters look sneakily identical to hushpuppies, which I LOVE. I bit into mine with little regard for the waivers the two guys just signed and started chewing on half of it. The heat hits you instantly and just gets worse the longer you sit. My gums were still burning on Day 2.

This was MY challenge :)
So, I would have failed this challenge miserably, since I like to taste my food and find that shoveling everything down as quickly as possible is not something I can justify doing, but that’s exactly what this challenge required you to do. Eat the fritters and the sauce before your brain told you it was a bad idea. Both guys got this and were CHAMPS, as you can see from the photos. They were barely sweating at all and acted like it was something they do every day.

Many of these challenges will leave you so full you can’t even think about eating more for, like, 3 days. So, besides being fun, you might also find it budget-friendly, especially since much of the time the meal is free if you are successful in completing it. Your vacation will also be much more memorable and, if you win, you’ll leave your mark on each place you visit. If you don’t think you can do a challenge, feel free to order it anyway and split it with your travel companions.

Have you ever done a food challenge at home or on your travels? If you have, did you finish?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Late Summer Frugal Fun 8.22.12

August is winding down, but with Labor Day Weekend coming up, we still have at least three good weeks/weekends to savor before all the outdoor coolness goes away (unless you live in a year-round warm climate). Most cities have fun things to do every weekend of the Summer, like free or cheap concerts, parties in the park and more.

This past weekend we took advantage of the good weather and attended Ecopalooza in a lovely Portland Park near the waterfront. There were food trucks, vendors and a line-up of bands leading up to the main event: Everclear – One of my favorite bands that also happens to be from the area! Ecopalooza is a yearly festival that celebrates green living and is totally solar powered. Better yet, it was only $12.50 to get in and lasted a good 9-10 hours.

Events like these are great, because they’re affordable, fun and you can bring a blanket and let your kids run around while you enjoy whatever’s happening – music, fashion shows, poetry slam – and munch on foods you brought from home or check out some of the latest food trucks or restaurants that are sponsoring the event and have food on-site.

Portland has a variety of free things going on each weekend between mid-June and Labor Day. You should check your city’s travel site to see what is happening around your local area. Here are just some of the things that you can do for free or cheap at home or on vacation:

  • Concerts in the park or town square – sometimes they will be free, sometimes they will be cheap, but usually they always feature local bands/musicians. 
  • Free movies in your neighborhood park or city center – bring a blanket and some snacks to watch a flick with hundreds of your closest friends.
  • Neighborhood parties – this weekend we’ll be attending a party in our nearby park that has free food, drinks and games. Your neighborhood might have vendors, parades and other awesome stuff.
  • Seaside celebrations – Near a port? Many times they offer days that are open to the public with games, prizes, face painting and other cool stuff. Terminal 4 at Port of Portland has a day each year that they bring in local musicians, offer giveaways and jetboat rides for super cheap. 
  • Air shows – Enjoy amazing plane acrobatics. 
  • Fairs! – County and State Fairs are all over this time of year. Churros, rides and 4-H animals. Oh yeah! 
  • Farmers’ markets – If you love fresh foods, then you will want to get up early on a Saturday morning (or some other day of the week if that’s when your local one is), bring some cash and a sturdy reusable bag.
  • Fountains! – If it’s hot and you have little ones and no pool, then your local park probably has a fountain for jumping in. It’s like sprinkler jumping times ten! 
  • Shakespeare in the Park – I did a post on my viewing of a performance nearby. 
  • Flea markets – Like farmers’ markets, but with old…I mean, VINTAGE goodies.

Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list, but you get the idea. Your paper likely has listings for cool stuff happening near you on the weekends. Don’t forget that parks are great places to bring your kids, because there are playgrounds and plenty of space for them to burn off energy and enjoy the Summer.

What’s your favorite frugal way to spend Summer days at home or on vacation?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Review: Pocket Rocket Bag from Scout by Bungalow

Do you ever wish you had a multipurpose bag for beach trips, road trips, to bring your farmers’ market goodies home in, lugging around baby toys and necessities and maybe even use as a carry-on bag? One that has tons of useful pockets that keeps all your important stuff safe and readily available? A bag that is both stylish and easy to clean? If that’s what you’re looking for, you will love the Pocket Rocket Bag from Scout by Bungalow.

With six outside pockets, you can carry a bunch of beverages if you want. I tested it with a regular size bottle of water (24 oz) and a larger one (34 oz) and they both fit perfectly. Get really thirsty? You can carry half a dozen giant bottles of water, beer, sodas or bottles of booze for that impromptu beach party. I stuffed it with everything I would take with me to the seashore, but you could easily fill it with fancy cheeses and snacks and fill those outer pockets with a variety of wines or throw some ice in it and carry picnic goodies to the park.

As you can see from the photos, the bag is large enough to carry all your essentials and then some. I stuffed this bag with a beach towel, sunscreen, flip flops, my camera, phone, a beach cover-up, my bathing suit and reading material – my Kindle and a good magazine. The bag can be left open for easy access to things inside or you can zip it closed, so nothing falls out.

It has two sets of handles – short and long – so you can hand-carry or sling over your shoulder. They are sturdy and reinforced for even your heaviest loads. Which also brings to mind another use for the Pocket Rocket: use it on vacation to carry your laundry and detergent to the Laundromat. The bottom is also reinforced, which gives you peace of mind when packing the bag as full as possible. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a bag and when carrying a big load, the bottom has not held up or the handles have just snapped. I either had to make it work or buy a new bag that I didn’t want to spend money on.

The inside and outside are easy to wipe down, in case of spillage. This makes it perfect for carrying wet clothes, like bathing suits or even baby items. I immediately thought that the Pocket Rocket was not only great for the woman on the go, but awesome for the busy mom. Carry this bag on road trips and load it full of travel games and toys. All their goodies will be in one place and easily identifiable, because the bag comes in so many fun patterns. The Pocket Rocket I received was the Coral Barbara Stripesand pattern and is on-trend with this season’s nautical styles. You won’t want to leave home without it. If you love this bag, check out some of their other cool bags and coolers.

More information
Where you can buy itOn Bungalow Co.’s website
How much it costs$34.50-43.00
Colors it comes inCoral striped (Barabara Stripesand) | Pink and orange stripe (Meryl Stripe) | Blue animal print (Boca) | Pink animal print (Flamingo) | Bright Paisley (Flashback Paisley) | Black paisley (Racy Lacy) | Blue paisley (Rad Paisley)
Size: 15″ x 14.5″ x 5″
Other specsZip-top tote, leatherette reinforced bottom, durable polywoven water resistant fabric.

Disclosure: I was provided with a bag from Scout by Bungalow for the purposes of this review, but all opinions are-my own.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Fall Getaway Tips 8.18.12

So, it appears as if Fall may be right around the corner, at least for the travel industry. Airfare is on its way down to more reasonable rates come Monday and that means there will be deals galore for September/October/early November travel. If you want some of the best discounts, then make sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter. Today, we’re going to talk about what you can do to make your fall travel less stressful and more affordable.

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Pack less, even when your clothes are bigger. Yes, this is totally possible. I will always tell you to plan to do laundry whenever you travel, but it’s even more necessary when you are taking things bigger than tank tops and shorts, because more items mean less valuable space for things that aren’t clothes. Look for lightweight and warm layers, like a fleece pullover or waffle-knit hoodie. I take one or two of these that will match with all my travel clothing and am set to layer them over my t-shirts if they weather becomes chilly.

Women's Savvy Zippy from ExOfficio.com
You will also want to look for a good packable jacket. I have several and prefer to bring one with a hood when traveling, as weather can be uncertain and nothing sucks worse than getting rained on when it’s already cold. You could also bring a hat, but I don’t like to bring more things than I have to. This is also why I choose a hood over an umbrella, aside from the obvious reason that umbrellas are cumbersome and only really good for one thing. Everyone in your travel party is likely to bring a jacket, so everyone is covered. (Pun intended.)

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Late September and Early October are the cheapest times to fly during the year. Kids are back in school and it’s not Labor Day or Halloween, so there are no notable parties or holidays. This makes it the ideal time to travel, if you can, and can save you huge dollars. Airfare can be as much as 50% less than the rest of the year and hotels slash prices in order to get their rooms filled. Can’t beat that with a stick!

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Pay for your rental car up front. This is actually a trick that works throughout the year, but when trying to cut costs somewhere while planning the basics, this is a brilliant way to do it. I’ll use myself as an example. I’m traveling next month and was looking for a car for 11 days. If I booked through the regular sites for car rentals that let me pay when I picked up my car, then my rate was going to be somewhere in the range of $432. That includes taxes, but come on! That’s over $40 per day.

I’ve been holding out for something cheaper and caught a great email in my inbox saying I could find rates as low as $9.95 per day. While I never find that rate when I see that email (like once every two weeks), I did click through and find one for $16.95 and was able to book my rental car with Hertz through Hotwire for a total with taxes of $247. That’s almost $200 less! I paid up front and it is non-refundable, but I’m fairly sure that is the best deal I’m going to find and also will be making that trip. If my flight gets delayed or cancelled, it says I’m covered, so I will revel in my rental car hunting skillz. It pays to do your homework and compare multiple times before booking. A week ago that rate was up to $303.

Head to the beach when the weather cools down. Fall and winter are not the times that people flock to places like Myrtle Beach or Santa Monica, so it’s the perfect time to go and beat the crowds and the soaring temps if you can go right before the weather turns. Next month is going to give you great weather and cheap hotel and condo rates. If you have a big travel party now is the time to book for a budget vacation for everyone.

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Plan a trip to Disney and other theme parks. Once school is back in session, the crowds drop dramatically around the big theme parks, so you can find huge deals on vacation packages to Anaheim and Orlando. You’ll face way shorter lines and be able to do more, even when the parks are open shorter hours. A lot of them have special events this time of year, too. Eric and I will be taking part in our 3rd Disney Halloween party. If you have little ones, this is like magic times two: Their favorite characters who are dressed up in (different) costumes, they get to stay up late, see special shows and fireworks and they get to dress up and go trick-or-treating in the parks. What?! Uh, yes! Even big kids like us have a blast on the trick-or-treat trail.

If you are into bigger thrills than Tigger dressed as a pirate and meeting Maleficent for the first time ever, then you might be more inclined to do Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios. It’s truly terrifying, for those that like pee-in-your-pants-scary fun. These parties cost their own admission fee, so you can skip the park during the day to avoid paying double and then ride what’s open and see all the cool stuff that’s not available to the regular public before the sun starts to go down.

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These are just some of the ways to save and create a unique vacation experience outside of Summer. I’ll be using many of these tips myself and you’ll be bombarded with I-told-you-so posts in the coming months, along with a review of GoCards from SmartDestinations.com. They will save you a ton and should be super-easy to use. I guess we’ll all find out!

Do you have some useful Fall Travel Tips that have saved you big? Let us know what they are!
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