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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Be Your Own Tour Guide 9.29.12

One of the best ways to see a city is by walking around it, but walking tours can be spendy. You can still take a guided tour without having to book a tour or go with a bunch of strangers. With Stray Boots, you can take tours in the US or UK at your own pace and when you can fit it into your schedule. You don’t need to be on someone else’s time. Not only do you learn interesting things about the city you’re visiting, but it combines education and history with a cool scavenger hunt feel. You play your tour by cell phone text messages. You don’t need a fancy smartphone either.

Right now, you can play in Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Miami, Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington D.C., with more destinations to come. Through clues and fun facts, you can see the city from a unique perspective. This is the perfect way to go on a tour without all the structure and it’s great for kids and adults alike. Each tour can last two to three hours, even more if you choose to spend more time at any of the stops along the way.

Photos of Old Town Trolley Tours of Boston, Boston

This photo of Old Town Trolley Tours of Boston is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Want your children to get a fun educational experience while you’re on vacation? Then you’ll definitely all think Stray Boots’ treasure hunt walking tours are awesome. Put your heads together to come up with answers to questions texted to you and earn points that you can redeem for more fun facts! It doesn’t matter if there are two or ten of you, you can all work on one phone and even switch phones to make someone else “captain”. Each tour is just $12 per person and $6 for kids, though I’m not sure how they regulate how many are in your team.

Photos of Portland Walking Tours, Portland

This photo of Portland Walking Tours is courtesy of TripAdvisor

You have a year to use your voucher, so if something comes up, you can do it some other time. It’s all up to you! Check out Stray Boots now to get started!

Win a Wardrobe Makeover from Century 21 in NYC

This post brought to you by CENTURY 21. All opinions are 100% mine.
As if there weren’t already enough reasons to visit New York City, now you have one more. We all know that New York isn’t exactly a budget destination and once you’ve paid for your hotel, entertainment and flights, there isn’t really all that much leftover for shopping, especially if you want to sightsee too! Why not visit the famous Century 21 stores and save on designer clothing? I know, I know. “Designer” doesn’t really scream budget-friendly, but you can actually find top brands at C21 for up to 62% off retail!
Do I have your attention now? Yes, generally I don’t talk about shopping destinations, but I know you are always up for a great deal and you want to look good, right? Of course you do! Plus, what’s a better souvenir from a trip than a carry-on full of new clothes? Choose from two convenient locations: Lincoln Square at 1972 Broadway and Downtown at 22 Corlandt Street. The downtown store in Manhattan has 150,000 square feet and FIVE floors packed with incredible deals for everyone in your family.
PORTS 1961 Deep Gold Pieced SweaterPORTS 1961 100% Wool Navy Pants
If you’re like me, you would love to rock some designer fashions, but can’t really afford to purchase everything I want at retail prices. With Century 21, you can afford to look great anytime. I would love to visit the C21 stores to score deals on some of my favorites: Guess, Tahari, Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs and Columbia. Join the C21 Club for free online and shop exclusive sales when you aren’t physically in New York. I immediately found several items I wanted to buy, from wool navy pants to a lovely cream colored sweater. All were very competitively priced and well below retail for the designer names being offered.

Stacy Keibler 2.JPG (2 documents, 2 total pages)

And before you start to wonder why the prices are so good, Century 21 works directly with designers to get you a good deal on the latest fashions, so you won’t be saving big on last year’s trends either. Look great with clothing and accessories that are in style NOW. There is so much great stuff at the Century 21 stores, don’t be surprised if you see some celebrities browsing the racks next to you. Kim Kardashian, Lindsay Lohan, Olivia Palermo and Stacy Kiebler have all been spotted shopping at C21. Just because their famous and rich doesn’t mean they don’t also like a great sale price. How do you think they stock their closets so full of amazing clothes?

Not in the market for clothes? You can find housewares, décor and more at Century 21, too! Redo rooms in your home with the newest fabrics and patterns for less. Think of what a difference it makes to add just a few new pieces here and there. Purchase some high-quality linens or even an accent piece for a room to bring everything together and make it look the best it can. You don’t have to spend a fortune to take a room from drab to fab, especially when you find those finishing touches at C21.

Marc Jacobs for men

Now, let’s talk about that wardrobe makeover! Hop over to Century 21’s Facebook page and “like” them, then enter the Step Into Empire Attire Empire Hotel sweepstakes to win a $500 C21 wardrobe makeover and a 2-night stay at the posh Empire Hotel in NYC. Think of how many amazing new pieces you can get for $500! Choose classic items that will last you throughout the years or trendy pieces that will create bold fashion statements for you and also transition into new seasons. You can’t go wrong! So, go enter right now.

Have you shopped at Century 21 before? What were your favorite fashion finds? And if you haven’t, do you plan to add a stop at C21 on your next NYC trip?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Super Useful Travel Links 9.28.12

Happy Friday! I hope you all have fun plans for the weekend or have a great vacation coming up to look forward to. In this week’s edition of Super Useful Travel Posts, I’ve found some interesting posts for you. From riding the rails to a very sleepy plane traveler, I tried to find something useful and interesting for everyone. 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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Ever heard of a travel trust fund? No? Well, then maybe you’d like to learn about them. The new thing in wills is giving the gift of travel when you pass on. If you’d like to ensure your children or other beneficiaries get to follow their dreams of traveling the globe, then this is the perfect way to do it.

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Our favorite budget travel spokesperson is back! That’s right, William Shatner has returned as the Priceline Negotiator. Due to popular demand from fans, Priceline decided to rehire Shatner after 7 months and bringing him back from the (supposed) dead. Admit it. You missed him. And if you haven’t seen his comeback commercial, you can view it on this link.

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If you’ve been thinking about going to Europe and debating how to get around between countries, then this post that gives you 7 tips for touring Europe by train may give you some help in how to do it and do it better than you expected.

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While I don’t think this would ever happen again, make sure if you’re truly tired that you set your alarm to wake you up…or maybe avoid taking any kind of sleeping pill. I have no idea how this woman slept for a straight 18 hours, but I bet she’s really relaxed now. After completing a roundtrip flight from Pakistan to Paris and never getting off, the airline has some explaining to do when it comes to why nobody noticed this sleeping woman on the plane when she was the only one still on it.

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United has been getting a lot of grief lately, and they didn’t even “accidentally” miss a sleeping lady on their plane. On top of all the incoming complaints for various other things, the airline seems to have misplaced a child traveling alone. This does tend to happen every now and again, but this is just more bad news heaped onto this not-so-loved airline that simply didn’t seem to care that they didn’t know where someone’s 10 year old daughter was. The worst part? The family had to find out from their daughter’s camp that she never showed up. I feel like this story has two morals: 1.) Don’t fly United. 2.) Don’t let your children fly alone if they don’t have to. It’s worth the extra money to know they are safe.

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Travelers are getting fed up with more airlines than just United though. They are finding more and more hassles associated with flying and are looking for alternative transportation. The winner in all this is Amtrak. With similarly priced or cheaper tickets, on-time trains, faster security, new electronic ticketing and readily available WiFi, passengers just find it more travel-friendly all around.

Often I’ve gone to a foreign country only to come back and realize I have a bunch of random coins or “dollars” in my pocket or the bottom of my purse. If this has happened to you and then you don’t know what to do with it, since exchanging it for your home currency is going to gain you practically zero, many airlines are now participating in a UNICEF program called Change For Good that takes your spare change and uses it towards useful projects around the world like tsunami and earthquake repair. 

What are your thoughts on this week's travel postings?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Eat Frugally at Food Carts 9.26.12

Dining out while traveling can get pretty expensive. Since you can’t always get a vacation rental or a hotel with a kitchen(ette), then you gotta find other ways to cut costs. If you get  tired of sharing entrees or ordering some of the cheapest things on the menu or going to budget restaurants, then consider trying a variety of local cuisines at food carts and food carts. Let me tell you why:

Food carts are the new gourmet dining. Food trucks are all the rage. They are booming the world over. Lucky for me, I live in the number one food cart destination on the globe (as named by Travel + Leisure) and can eat cuisine from all over the world everywhere I go within Portland. From ice cream to Lebanese to Cuban, there is something for everyone, including this delicious waffle cart that makes a dough for their waffles and then tops them with all kinds of yummy combinations. Within the same block, we can have hot dogs, Hawaiian, Thai, Mexican, dumplings and Mediterranean. That’s not even all the choices! Each truck specializes in their few menu items, so you know it’s the best it can be.

More choices. How can this be when food carts are so small? Where there’s one food cart/truck, there are usually others. It’s unlikely for several of the same cuisine carts to gather in the same place, which means you have a choice of different kinds of food. This is great for those traveling with kids who are picky and never seem to want the same thing you are eating. Don’t like the dessert one cart is serving? Go check out what the others have to offer!

Mobile dining. Not only is your restaurant mobile, but you can also take your food with you. Either eat nearby or enjoy your meal on your way through the city. It’s a great way to burn calories and save time when you want to get more sightseeing done.

Cheaper meals. The truth is that even some of the spendiest items on a food cart menu are still less than plates at a traditional restaurant. There’s no dining room to fill with customers and staff, so overhead is much lower, allowing them to charge you much less for similar food. You also save gratuity, because instead of an expected 15-20% tip, you can leave a few dollars or none at all (if there’s no tip jar) and not feel like you’re committing some heinous faux pas.

Eat on-the-go for less and try many different dishes all in one places. I love food carts. They are some of the best ways to try local foods when you’re traveling and a fun way to interact with the residents of your destination. Here are some photos of food cart food and my enjoyment of them.

Where are some of your favorite food cart travel destinations?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

10 Ways to Save Money in Honolulu 9.22.12

It's prime time to book a trip to Hawaii right now. You can save quite a bit on airfare and hotel stays, so in honor of that, I thought I would bring back a post from my travels to Honolulu last Fall. Enjoy!

Last [Fall] I was off to Oahu in Hawaii and we stayed in the Waikiki area. While we saved quite a bit on airfare, our lodgings and even our activities (by using Groupon), there were things that we still had to pay for that could be quite spendy. We planned out some meals (using Groupon for a few) and then winged it the rest of the time. We planned to splurge on a lunch at Morimoto’s, but it turned out to be quite reasonable ($22 for a “lunch set” that included your entrée, a small salad, miso soup and sushi). I know many people love Hawaii or dream of going there. If not for the obscene cost of things, they would have already traveled there. While you can keep an eye out for affordable airfare and hotels, it’s not always easy to save on doing things there, so I’ve put together this list for you that may want to go and not have to pay on your credit cards for the next 5 years.

1. Take TheBus – At just $2.50 per person, TheBus will take you around the whole island. Cheap way to tour and also get places! You can pick up a bus pass at participating ABC Stores, but I found we didn’t need it and we also walked a lot.

2. Hit the beach – You’re in Hawaii. No matter where you are, the beach is probably not that far away. Not only is lying on the beach and playing in the water free, it can also be fun! Buy a volleyball or sand bucket and get some exercise or search for buried treasure. Make sure to put on lots of sunscreen and bring it with you for reapplication! That sun is hot.


3. Check out the Dole Plantation – Sure, it’s touristy and it’s a long ride on TheBus (not such a long drive if you rent a car), but it can take up most of your day. Browse the gift shop, purchase plumeria starts or fresh fruit at the Farmers Market, ride the train, get lost in the maze, eat at the Plantation Grille and learn about Hawaii’s native plants and flowers. Oh yeah! You can even see how pineapples are grown, ship some back home and eat lots of Dole Whip! Extra tip: You get a lot of food in the platters for little money, so there is more than one of you, split a plate.

All this for only $9!
4. Window shop – There are lots of shops in Honolulu/Waikiki. While you may not want to buy anything, it’s still fun to look. From the giant Crocs store to smaller art shops, there are things to look at for weeks on end. Here’s another tip that I can give you: See a print you like, but the price tag makes you cry? Look to see if they have a calendar of the artist’s work. If they do, pick that up for a fraction of the price and get 12 pictures for the price of one. Once in a frame, no one will be able to tell that it isn’t a print, and you can switch it out anytime you like for one of the other 11 reproductions you have.

5. Shop the International Market Place – While it’s not so “international”, there can be some fun stuff to be found in the market. From plumeria barrettes and “Hawaiian” shirts that you can find everywhere to original artwork and things like caps with wooden bills, you can get lost in the market for hours on end. If you do plan to buy, practice your haggling skills and then head up to the 2nd “floor” in above the real shops and smoothie café to mail items home at the post office. Aside from checking out funky handmade items and other things, you can watch free shows every day, too!

Look at that turtle!
6. Snorkel for cheap – If you are a snorkeler and don’t need to go with a guide or a group, purchase your own mask and snorkel for around $6 and hit the beaches and look underwater for free. There are people everywhere who can tell you the best places to go. One of those places is Hanauma Bay. While not free, it’s only $5 per person for a day pass. You can take the bus or drive (park for $1) and then head down to the beach, where they have changing rooms, food vendors and more, including some of the best snorkeling on the island.

That's Diamond Head back there.
7. Hike Diamond Head – If you want a fantastic view of Honolulu and the beaches, strap on some good walking shoes, grab your water and hike to the top of Diamond Head. It’s free and a popular activity.

What an amazing view
8. Take a day tour – Sure, these can cost around $60 per person, but you are entertained for the whole day, meet some cool people from around the world and learn so much from the guide. I recommend VIP Transportation tours. Request Earl as a driver, because he will take that tour van to places others won’t even dare…and it’s so worth it!

9. Drive around the island – If a tour isn’t your cup of tea, then rent a car for the day and drive the circle island loop on your own, stopping at roadside fruit stands, all kinds of beaches and more.

10. Learn to hula – There are so many places where you can learn to hula for free. It’s fun, great exercise and easy for all ages. Shake your hips, wave your arms and mesmerize the masses!
Other tips to consider:
·     Pick up the coupon booklets that are on the streets, in hotel lobbies and even in the airport to save dollars off on activities, entertainment and shopping. You can also get free gifts (with purchase), appetizers and desserts with some coupons.

     ·You can save money by not buying a bus pass. A four-day pass is $25, but you would have to ride the bus more than 10 times in those four days to make it worth your while. A transfer is good for 2 ½ hours (or longer, depending on your driver), which means most places you go, you can return for free.
     ·Stop by Mac 24/7 for pancakes. For $15, you get the pancake challenge portion size, but you don’t have to take the challenge. Split the flapjacks between two or more. If you splurge for lunch or dinner entrees, they are worth the price. I loved the mahi mahi.

          ·Hit up Tiki’s Grill and Bar on Tuesday for Tiki Taco Tuesday. Their fish tacos are amazingly good and just $2 each on Tuesday!

          ·Use the free Hilo Hattie’s trolley to get to the mall or save bus fare if you are heading to that area.
           ·Beware the kitchy merchandise at the ABC Stores. The closer to the center of town you are, the more it seems to cost.

          ·Much of the merchandise at the Dole Plantation is overpriced. A lot of it can be found elsewhere for cheaper, except at the airport. You can also save by taking your purchases with you and mailing it home at the Post Office instead of shipping from there.
          ·Enjoy the best view of Waikiki from the revolving restaurant, Top of Waikiki. While the entrees may be expensive, you can show up for happy hour and get a couple apps (starting at $7). You don’t even have to order any alcohol if you don’t want to.

           ·If, like me, you plan to eat a lot of awesome food, even if it’s all seafood you are going to gain some weight. Everything comes with carbs, carbs and more carbs and it seems that Hawaiians don’t know what a veggie is. Combat the expanding waistline by walking more. Everything is within walking distance in Waikiki. On one occasion we took the bus to a restaurant right outside of Waikiki, but we still had to walk about a quarter of a mile to get there after getting off the bus. On the way back, since we didn’t know the bus schedule, we just walked the whole way back to the room, which was easily two miles. With all the distractions you can find in the city, it’s easy to walk a lot without realizing it.
           ·It’s Hawaii! You don’t need much. Pack a few tops and bottoms, throw your swimsuit and cover-up in the bag and off you go. Do some laundry while you’re there and save even more space in your travel bag to help you pack lighter.
           ·    Book a shuttle to/from the airport. Cheaper than a taxi and more reliable than the bus.
           ·    Rent a condo. It will be much more affordable than a hotel and you can buy food to make instead of dining out all the time. We saved by buying breakfast foods and even though it cost us around $40, that was still cheaper than buying breakfast every morning.

Do you have some other good tips for budget travel to Honolulu, or other cities on Oahu or the other islands?


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Room 77: Let's Plan a Trip! 9.19.12

As you all know, I’m always on the hunt for a travel bargain and sites that make finding them easier go right to the top of my list. I had heard of Room77 in passing and then found them on Facebook through a friend who shared one of their amazing photos. I’m a sucker for a gorgeous destination picture, so I “liked” them and started following along and also submitted a few of my own photos from my trips. You know I just couldn’t say no when asked to review their super useful site.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the site is clean and easy to navigate. There are no useless bells and whistles getting in the way of what you’re there for: finding the best deal on hotels at your destination. I tested out the search engine as if I would be booking for my upcoming trip to Anaheim and was surprised by how much information they pack into the results page. You can search by destination city or landmark, which is super awesome if you want to stay within a certain distance from where you will be spending most of your time. In my case, I put in Disneyland and got a whole slew of great options for where to stay. I then sorted by price to get a more concentrated list of hotels within my budget.
As a blogger, I can’t stay at a place with no internet connection. Hello! It’s 2012. Hotels that don’t have internet shouldn’t even exist. The ability to search my list of hotels for those that offer free Wi-Fi (such a savings for you and no loss for the property at all!) was so helpful. I am always spending my mornings, and sometimes my evenings, checking email, updating Facebook and also writing reviews and blogging, so hotels with free Wi-Fi is a huge plus. Many hotels can charge $8-10 per day for this which makes it the same cost as a night’s stay if you will be there for a week or more.

Another huge cost on a trip is food. Looking at the list of hotels I already found through my search, I also plugged in hotels with free breakfast. That can be another $10+ per day per traveler and a complimentary breakfast – continental or otherwise – is a big help towards cutting down on eating out and gives you a bit more freedom with your budget. We don’t really get excited about eating out in the morning and would rather have a little something while we’re getting ready and then have a good lunch, so free breakfast is perfect for us. It’s easy to go down and grab and then we can finish up in our room and even take fruit or other nibbles with us as a snack if we have leftovers.

Once I narrowed down my options even more, I noticed there were plenty of choices really close to Disney, so I could take the ART shuttles or walk to the parks if I wanted to. This would enable me to skip a rental car, saving me even more(!), and still book an affordable hotel. (You can also search for hotels with free parking or free airport shuttle.) But how to choose? Well, luckily you can see the hotel rating right on the listing (1-5 stars) plus the satisfaction rating of previous guests via their ratings on TripAdvisor. Pretty cool, right? Obviously, I want at least a 2-star property, because I don’t need luxury for a room that I won’t be in much more than to sleep, but I still want it to be safe and comfortable. I also want to see a lot of good reviews (I unchecked average, poor and very poor as user rating choices) and I don’t want to pay more than $100 a night (which I also noted on the pricing scale). Anything less than that would be ideal. This still gave me quite a few selections. My top picks being: Travelodge Anaheim Inn and Suite on Disneyland Drive, America’s Best Inn & Suites at the Park, Extended Stay America-Orange County-Anaheim Convention Ctr. and Quality Inn & Suites Anaheim at the Park.

Based on previous visits to Anaheim, guest reviews and the many, many photos of the room and the rest of the hotel provided by Room 77, I was able to determine that staying in the Travelodge Anaheim Inn and Suite on Disneyland Drive was the way to go. It’s basically right across the street from the park on Ball Rd, has lovely rooms, free Wi-Fi and offers AAA hotel discounts. As you can see, Room 77 gave me exactly what I wanted and can book my reservation for $8 less per night than other search engines. For a one-week stay, that saves me $56. While that may not seem like much, that’s $56 I can spend at the parks on food or that I can keep in my wallet to make my trip that much cheaper. Between that savings, my WiFi savings and no rental car or shuttle trips to/from the parks each day, I have saved hundreds of dollars on this trip all thanks to Room 77!

Never wonder whether you've gotten the best deal on your hotel room again. Check out Room 77 when planning your next travel adventure! 

Disclaimer: I was selected for participation in this campaign as a member of the Clever Girls Collective.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Free Museum Day is Coming! 9.15.12

In just two weeks, over 1,400 museums in America (and Puerto Rico) will be offering free admission all day. This is a great promotion and can save you big bucks whether you are on vacation or at home. It’s also the perfect time to get your kiddos some culture without having to dish out the cash when they may or may not let you stay long enough to get your entry money’s worth.

We almost always visit at least one museum on any trip we take. From the slavery museum in Nassau to the Museum of Tea in London, we have seen some very interesting bits of history indeed. I know not all museums are fascinating for children, there are plenty that are educational and fun for them. In Oregon alone, I found several that would keep their attention: ScienceWorks Hands-on Museum (Ashland), Oregon Air & Space Museum (Eugene) and the Antique Powerland Museum (Salem).

Photos of Wallace Collection, London
This photo of Wallace Collection is courtesy of TripAdvisor
If you don’t have kids and just want to see some fantastic art, that’s great too, and you will have plenty more to choose from. Museums of history, art and sculptures fill the list in each state, so you will find something that will fit your mood. All you have to do is go to the website, choose your preferred museum and submit your information. You’ll get an email to print out your free ticket and gain admission for two people. It’s that easy! You can get a free ticket for two per email address/household. If there are more people in your group, use your husband’s email address or a friend’s. I don’t think you’ll need to go so far as to pretend you don’t know each other when you enter, but use your own judgment.

Photos of Imperial War Museum, London
This photo of Imperial War Museum is courtesy of TripAdvisor
The majority of the free entries are September 29, but a select few aren’t open on Saturdays and are offering it on Sunday, September 30. You MUST have your printed ticket to get free entry.

Will YOU be attending Museum Day Live! organized by Smithsonian Magazine?
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