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Saturday, March 30, 2013

48 Hours of Fun on a Budget in Kharkov, Ukraine

In this blog series I show you how easy it is to budget travel anywhere and I also give you a quick overview of a new city each time in a brief 48-hour itinerary.

You may or may not have heard of Kharkov. It is new to me, though it is the second largest city in Ukraine. I generally do cities in this series that are well known, but sometimes you find yourself close to a place you may not know much about and then realize it would make a fun day or weekend trip away from your regular vacation.

Photos of Freedom Square, Kharkiv
This photo of Freedom Square is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Day 1
Get up early and visit Freedom Square – the 2nd largest city square in Europe – where you can view one of the surviving statues of Lenin still standing since the fall of the Soviet Union. This is a great place to people watch, but you can see it before it’s crowded and then head off to breakfast at Petit Paris, Kharkov’s only French patisserie. 

Photo credit: Виталий З.
Why not start off your day with some delicious, sugary carbs and caffeine?

After a lovely breakfast, a visit to the Kharkov Historical Museum is in order, where you can learn about the city's history all the way up to the Soviet Period, including cannons used by the Red Army. Though not as big as other war museums, tourists have said this is a plus, because it is easier to see all of it.

Across the street from the museum is a monastery, which is also worth a visit. Pokrovsky Monastery has spectacular domes that are visible from miles away. 

Stop by Gostinaya for a delicious dinner. The restaurant is open 24 hours, so you can eat European and Japanese entrees at any hour. If it's warm out, try to get a table on the patio, where you'll enjoy fresh air and good people watching.

Photos of IT Cafe, Kharkiv
This photo of IT Cafe is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Day 2
Sleep in a bit today and sit down for a yummy breakfast at IT Cafe. It has free Wifi and is a great place for working meals, but you'll find their food very good and the atmosphere cozy. This will be your dining splurge for your two days, as this restaurant is a little on the spendy side.

Photos of Shevchenko Park, Kharkiv
This photo of Shevchenko Park is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Want to see the city with a local? What about a 3-hour city tour that's free! Yeah, I thought you might like that. Free Tour Kharkov has been voted one of the best tours in Europe. The tour meets at 11am on Sundays, though you can book on other days for the free tour instead of just showing up. A local will take you to all the major sites in the city including Karazin University, Mirror Stream and the Lopansky Bridge. Free tours are conducted in English and have been highly praised by visitors. Pitch in what you deem a fair tip and you've had one of the most budget-friendly afternoons of travel.

Photos of Gorky Park, Kharkiv
This photo of Gorky Park is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Remember that old Scorpions song Winds of Change? There is a line in there about Gorky Park and I never knew what that was. Well, it’s actually in Moscow, but the park has been used as a template for parks across the former Soviet Union and you can spend half a day in the Gorky Park in Kharkov taking in the gorgeous scenery, riding theme park rides, playing tennis and letting the kids burn off steam in the playground. Grab a meal at one of the park’s restaurants or cafes if it’s cold out, or have a picnic while you take a break from exploring this huge outdoor space. Maybe next to a fancy fountain!

Photo credit: Kharkov For Rent
After two days of walking around sightseeing, go back to your accommodation and relax and pack up. If you aren't sure how to find a great place to stay on a budget, check out Kharkov For Rent where you can pick from a long list of lovely rental apartments. These are wonderful, because you feel more at home, plus you can save money on dining out. even though you'll only be staying for a few days, maybe you'd like to save on breakfasts by bringing along your own morning staples, like bagels and pastries. If nothing else, you will be able to stock your rental's fridge with beverages and to keep all the baked goods you found while out and about to take back home with you.

You'll find an apartment rental for any budget, so whether you're looking for something upscale or a place just comfortable enough for sleeping, it'll be listed at Kharkov for Rent. In fact, there are apartment rentals for as little as 25 euros. As I've said of other cities, an apartment in Kharkov is more cost-effective than a hotel, as it gives you more living space and is priced per night instead of how many travelers there are in your party. You can find comfortable options all over Kharkov, including the center of the city. With the money you save on convenient, privately-owned accommodations, you can splurge on fine dining or souvenirs.

Photo credit
Even though it's easy to walk all over the city center, you can get around Kharkov on the metro. With only three lines, it is simple to navigate and you can quickly get to any desired attractions in the city by using it.

If you've ever been to Ukraine, what was your favorite part of your trip?

Disclosure: This post was brought to you by Kharkov For Rent. You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Super Useful Travel Links

Happy Friday! I hope you all are having a great week – or at least gearing up for a great weekend. Perhaps you’ll be hiding eggs for your little ones or kicking back by the pool in a sunny locale. Whatever you’re doing, let’s learn some fun and interesting stuff about travel this week.

FareCompare always brings us some of the best travel tips. If you missed their 7 unexpected travel problem fixes, then here it is again. It seems that wearing offensive words across your chest would be a given as something you shouldn’t do in a family-friendly space, but some people just don’t get it. I once witnessed a lady coming for her first day of work (in a retail environment) in a pair of ripped jeans and a beat up t-shirt with the phrase Paxil is for P***ies and photos of razor blades on them, so I am not all that shocked when people wear crazy inappropriate clothing anymore. Here’s why you should use your common sense regarding travel clothing, as well as 6 more problems.

I’ve been trying really hard to eat healthy lately and I’ve been making my own (mostly vegetarian) meals and freezing extra servings for later. Luckily, this makes dinner time so much easier and gives us a decent selection of ready-made meals. The “problem” with eating so well is that when you travel, it’s hard to find similar options, especially at the airport when you are faced with the likes of McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Chili’s Too. ABC brings you America’s healthiest airport food. If you are a vegetarian, take a look back at my post on what items you can order and where at most airports.

I love food, and I don’t like to offend anyone. If you’re the same, then you may want to check out Budget Travel’s international dining etiquette rules. I learned a lot that I will be taking with me on my trips.

Want to see your destination like a local? Then maybe book a tour a local suggests.  Peek.com pulls together some of the most interesting activities and tours that have been highly rated by other travelers. Don’t go in blind and just assume something is awesome just based on the company website. Learn more about Peek here on USA Today.

And I leave you with this super-impressive use of frequent flyer miles. I posted this on Facebook from my new favorite travel blogger, Vanessa from Turnip Seed Travel, but in case you missed it, it deserves another post. Vanessa and her husband are doing a mini round-the-world trip with seven stops and they paid just $700 and 80,000 frequent flyer miles to do it. So, if you think you can’t afford to travel anywhere her post can show you how it can be done, as long as you are willing to put in the effort to find great deals and use (and accumulate) your miles. This way beats my $5 tickets to L.A.

Have you found any interesting travel links lately?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Basics to Help You Blend In

Packing. It can be a four-letter word for some. What do you take? What do you leave at home? How big a suitcase do you need? While you want to be comfortable, unless you’re trekking around the Outback, you probably don’t want to be seen in zip-off pants and hiking boots. Dressing like a traveler will only put a big target on your back that screams “tourist”. It’s always nice not to be pegged as an easy mark the second you step off the plane. You can still be stylish while being relaxed. In fact, you can find things right in your closet to coordinate with other versatile items to pack in your carry-on. You can pack light and look great.

Bring your new favorite jeans. Look for denim with stretch that will be comfy to wear on the plane and walking around all day (and after you’ve eaten way too much five days in a row). This is not the time to skimp on a pair of jeans. Get a high-quality pair that will look amazing on you and last for a long time. James Jeans and Hudson make great stretch skinnies that hug your curves in the right way and pack easily without taking up as much room as your regular denim. You can wear them with anything and they can be dressed up with the right shoes and accessories. You’ll love them so much you’ll want to wear them all the time. And you will!

Basic black always works. Black pants are a fab travel staple. They don’t show dirt and you can find them in any fabric you like. Rayon is perfect, because it is lightweight and resists wrinkles. Linen is great option for tropical climates. You can even find your favorite khaki pants in black. These also can be dressed up or down, depending on what you wear with them. Pretty much everything matches a pair of black pants, which means you only need to bring one pair.

Blaze a trail. Sure, you could bring a fleece with you, but in some destinations the locals wouldn’t be caught dead in such a thing. Blazers work for jeans, trousers, skirts and dresses. You always look sharp and put-together when you throw a blazer on, even over a basic tank or t-shirt. Not only will you be trendy, but it also doubles as a jacket if it starts to get chilly.

Look to the trees. Everyone loves a t-shirt and they are always acceptable. Leave your cotton tees at home in favor of those made of bamboo or soy. They are softer, keep their shape, dry quickly and they don’t hold odor, so even when you don’t have time to do laundry, your clothes won’t smell like it.
It’s a classic. Just like you have your favorite LBD at home, you will want one on the road. Travel dresses come in all shapes and sizes and you’re going to want to find one you love, because it will go everywhere with you. While you may be tempted to pull a dress from your closet in this case, think about how wrinkle-resistant, moisture-wicking and breathable it will be. You can find a huge range of styles, prices and brands on sites like Backcountry.com and REI.com.

Layer it on. If you’re like me, a good number of pieces in your closet are cardigans and cover-ups of some kind. The ¾ sleeve cardi can be your best friend on travels. It guards against chills and can be thrown over t-shirts and tanks. Bring one or two in neutrals that will match the other items you’ve packed and you can make more outfits out of fewer pieces.

Step it up. Walking shoes are a must when you travel, but that doesn’t mean you have to wear trainers that make you stand out like a sore thumb. There are more walking shoes out there than ever now and many probably come from some of your favorite brands. A nice pair of sandals or ballet flats can go with everything from shorts to dresses and won’t get you kicked out a fancy restaurant like a clunky pair of sneakers will. Plus, this way you don’t have to choose between fashion and function.

When you have a handful of versatile pieces in your carry-on, it doesn’t take too many others to complete your packing list. Coordinating items enables you to pack less and still maximize your outfit options. You’ll be stylish and, as long as you’re not walking around with your nose stuck in a guide book or map, no one will ever think you’re a tourist. When you get asked for directions by other visitors, you’ll know you’ve really blended in with the locals.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

5 Apps for Better Travel

In this day and age, with all the social media, electronic gadgets and the presence of the internet here, it's easier than ever to find deals on airfare, book a hotel and reserve a rental car, but what do you do when you're in-transit and find that you need to be able to make your commute faster or more convenient? This is when you whip out your smart phone and employ trusty travel apps you've downloaded. You have downloaded them, right? If you've avoided adding any apps just because there are so many that just trying to pick one or two is making your head spin, then possibly these five suggestions will break you out of your digital paralysis and get your feet wet in the wonderful world of apps, especially if you can use them to make your travel life less complicated.

Going through a new airport and need to know where to find everything? GateGuru shows you where you can grab a magazine, find a nutritious (or not so nutritious) meal, pick up a giant bottle of water to keep hydrated or even where to go to get that last-minute souvenir for someone special. GateGuru is your free guide to all the dining, shopping and service an airport has to offer.

Go paperless and eliminate all those confirmation papers you normally take with you by uploading all your trip details – airfare, hotel, dining reservations, tour info and anything else you could need on vacation – to TripIt. This free app lets you email confirmations to them and will automatically update your trip itinerary with them, saving you time and energy. TripIt will also give you information related to your itinerary, like weather and maps.

B4YouBoard is a free app that enables you to eat at the airport no matter tight your connection is. Use the app to order from available menus and have your meal delivered to your gate to either eat while you wait for boarding or once you get on the plane. So convenient and easy to eat well on-the-go. So far, it's only available for three airports (Chicago O’Hare, JFK, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Sacramento International), but more are to be added in the future.

Be totally prepared you for those unexpected flight snafus where you get bumped or your flight is canceled. NextFlight is a great free resource for the business traveler who just needs to get on the next flight out, those that don’t like to spend hours at the airport or those that have an emergency and need to get somewhere as soon as possible. The app searches over 1,200 airlines at over 4,000 airports to get you the most updated data.

Got airport anxiety? MyTSA is for those that want all the security info in the palm of their hand. Know what approximate security wait times are before you even get to the airport, as well as any general delays and TSA packing guide, including lists of prohibited items.

Whatever your travel style, there is an app to help it go more smoothly. Even just getting through airports can be challenging, especially with summer vacation coming. Why not make the most of our time and look like a pro as you navigate through security, crowds, gate changes and anything else that gets thrown at you.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Do You Love Legos?

You don’t have to have kids to go to Legoland, but it helps. Or maybe not. When we visited the colorful, rectangular theme park we were probably one of only two couples there that didn’t have children under 6 with us. Eric and I are children at heart, so we thought this was hilarious and we enjoyed every minute we spent in the Southern Californian park.

Legoland is great at keeping rides short to capitalize on the just as short attention spans of small kids. If you like thrilling rides, you won’t find any here. No, scratch that. You’ll find one. The Bionicle Dragon ride will give you a run for your money. You (and a friend) climb into a roller coaster seat that is attached to a robotic arm. Crew members will ask you to choose your “intensity level”. Choose between one and five. They told us the difference was that level 5 “goes upside down more”. That sounded appealing to us at the time. If you ever wondered what it felt like to be a salt shaker, this ride allows you to answer that question.

Aside from The Dragon, all the other rides are family-friendly and are suitable for little kids. Of course, if you love those kinds of rides, Legoland will be a lot of fun for you, just like it was for us. Everything is Lego branded and you will find amazing, large sculptures made out thousands of the blocks. It makes you want to go home and make your own cool things with your old Legos – and if you don’t have any, you can buy as many as you want before you leave. Of course, there are plenty of opportunities to test out your building skills throughout the park.

Here are some pictures of our visit to Legoland in Carlsbad, California. Remember, many of the older Lego statues look a lot better in pictures than in person, because they have been faded by the sun.

This is seriously the whole ride. And you get soaked! LOL!
A fun shooter game!

Yup, those faces are made of Legos!
There's a whole Vegas Strip. I just love these tourists.
Bionicle spinners, which is just like the teacups at Disneyland

And my favorite thing at Legoland is not the boat ride or the miniature Star Wars lands or the shorty roller coasters, but the signs for the bathrooms:

Funny, right? 
Your visit to Legoland could be included on your Los Angeles GoCard, which I also blogged about here. It's definitely a better deal if you plan to do other stuff on your trip. We found it fun and enjoyable and the middle of the week was a great time to go, because it was super slow and rides were incredibly short. After days of being in packed big-ride theme parks, it was a nice change of pace and pretty relaxing.                                        Have you ever been to Legoland?  

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Flying with Kids Without Killing Yourself (or Them)

It’s no secret that when a small child is seen coming down the aisle of the airplane, other passengers groan. Whether it is audible or not, you have probably witnessed it or been guilty of doing it, too. Some parents are just not equipped for air travel with their little ones. It doesn’t make them bad people, just unprepared ones. Kids are not as patient as adults, nor do they understand why they have to sit when there are so many other things they could be doing and they can get bored very easily. Let’s face it. Sitting in a chair for hours is boring. Save money and sanity when traveling with kids by keeping them busy and making travel fun.

Pack some games. Kids (and adults) love games. Whether it’s a card game, board game or I Spy book, make sure you have a variety to choose from. You can’t play Uno when you’ve just gotten on the plane, but you can look for Waldo or do a five-minute mystery. You can even read a book together, play 20 Questions, use a handheld gaming device or many other things. Make sure you have enough to switch out while in transit to keep them occupied for your entire flight time, and any time waiting around at the airport. There are many travel-sized games that can fit easily into your carry-on and, when you plan ahead, you can shop around for the best prices if you don’t already own them.

Let them pack their own bag. When you go anywhere, you probably let your kid(s) pick a few things they can’t live without. As long as it can be reasonably packed and will make it through security, don’t worry if they want to bring 32 miniature cars or their favorite doll or even their pillow. If it makes them comfortable, it will help them be a better traveler. You could pack their clothing in your carry-on and have them bring their “busy-time” stuff in a backpack or teach them responsible travel and buy them their very own carry-on bag that they can use. They’ll feel like a grown-up when they pull their little wheelie case behind them through the airport and you’ll save on baggage fees. Plus, by having them carry their own belongings, they might learn to pack lighter.

Bring snacks. Kids always want to eat when it’s least convenient. They don’t want to wait for the snack cart to come around and, to be honest, neither do we. Pack some handy munchables in your bag to curb hunger and make them happy while you have to sit in your seat with your tray tables locked. Make sure to buy some bottles of water or juice before you board the plane, too. By packing your own goodies, you can control what your kids eat and won’t have to shell out more money for the spendy snack packs they sell on planes.

Invest in a footrest. Skyrest.com makes the perfect footrest for children. Okay, it’s really a resting pillow for sleeping or reading, but for little legs that fall asleep from not being able to reach the floor, it makes the perfect airplane ottoman. Nobody likes being kicked in the back for a whole flight and when kids have tingly legs, they are going to flail about. These inflatable rests have removable covers, too, so you can remove it before the flight to keep it from getting dirty from the floor and feet.

Fly really early or really late. If your child is on a regular sleeping schedule, see if you can book a flight that will coincide with it and they may just conk out the entire flight. We used to fly the Red Eye often and sleep on the plane overnight and wake up in our destination. While these seem to be few and far between – or even non-existent – now, you can certainly try to find an available flight that is super early in the morning or even later in the evening. These flights are usually undesirable, which makes them cheaper than the same flight in the middle of the day.

No one will say that traveling with children is a piece of cake, or even inexpensive, but certainly you can make the journey easier on both of you. Keeping a regular schedule is key, so make sure you bring a meal onboard if they are used to eating at the time you will be traveling, or make them comfy enough to take a nap if they need one. Otherwise, just pack the tools you require to entertain them. You will make your little ones think travel is awesome and you’ll avoid those dirty looks from other passengers if they don’t start freaking out and throwing a temper tantrum. Of course, sometimes you just can’t predict what will happen, only try to make travel seem like a great big adventure. Which it is. 

This post originally appeared on FareCompare.com - For more travel tips with kids on my blog, go here, here and here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

5 Items to "Travel Size" Your Beauty Routine

When you travel, every inch of bag space is precious. Carry-on bags don’t have unlimited room, but they are essential if you are trying to save money, time and our luggage possibly getting lost by the airline. Packing light isn’t always easy and those 3-1-1 bags aren't that big, especially when you're flying during the summer and have to squeeze sunscreen in there, too. While you can buy it once you get there, many resorts, theme parks and grocery stores have outrageous prices on these items. A better way to pack and avoid checking a bag is by streamlining your beauty routine to take fewer products and those that are multipurpose. Here are five ways you can find room in your travel bag for sunscreen and still look great in all your pictures.

Tinted Moisturizer - You may be used to taking your foundation wherever you go, but a tinted moisturizer can do double-duty as a foundation and a moisturizer. Most have built-in SPF, so you don't have to bring a second sunscreen specifically for your face.

Powder Foundation - Avoid taking two products and opt for just one with a powder foundation. Not only does it save space, but a good one, like Philosophy Supernatural Airbrushed Canvas, will be long-lasting and give you a flawless finish over your moisturizer. This can be paired with tinted moisturizer to give you even more coverage.

Tinted Lip Gloss - Get a fresh summery look by bringing along a tinted lip gloss that also moisturizes. It enables you to leave your heavy lipstick at home and you won't have to tote around a tube of lip balm. Smashbox O-Gloss brings out the natural hue of your lips, plus it gives you a slight shine and locks in moisture. Sugar by Fresh is a lip balm that has a coverage a bit lighter than a full lipstick.

Trial Sizes - Those fun trial sizes that you get with makeup purchases are your best friend on vacation. Save those tiny tubes of mascara, lip glosses, and eye shadows, and pack them in your travel bag. 

Shampoo bars - Shampoo and conditioner can take up a lot of room and could contribute the most to spillage in your bag. There's nothing worse than getting to your destination and having to wash off everything in your 3-1-1 bag because your shampoo or conditioner exploded. Shampoo bars don't ever have to go in your liquids bag, they never spill and are simple to use. They work just like a bar of soap and have all the benefits of a great shampoo. You can also get solid conditioners which will leave your hair silky and manageable.

Not only will these tips help you pack lighter, but having fewer products will help you get ready faster each morning and look less made up. Spring and summer is the perfect time to look fresh-faced and natural when you’re out and about, so lighter applications that are extra moisturizing will give you that dewy beach look you want while protecting your skin from harmful rays of the sun.

If you are planning a summer trip, maybe you'd like to learn more tips on how to save tons wherever you go. If so, check out my summer ebook. Make the most of the money you have and maybe even save enough to take another trip another time during the year. Remember: if you don't have a Kindle, you can read Kindle books on any web-enabled device with the free Kindle app.

What are some of your favorite travel beauty products?

Sephora.com, Inc.
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