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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Infographic: Top 150 Secret Destinations

When I travel, I love to find those hidden gems about town. Don't get me wrong, I'm totally into the touristy things, but I also like to eat where the locals eat and go places that other travelers may not find. I always ask my waiters and people I meet where they like to go and have never been steered wrong. Know the best places to go all over the world before you leave home with this fancy infographic that was put together from "local" opinion. Something to give you some inspiration for 2015. Have a Happy New Year!

Where are some of your favorite places to go whee you live or from your travels?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Spending Three Days in Virginia Beach

On our trip to the east coast, we spend three great days in Virginia Beach. My husband loves the beach, so we hoped the weather would cooperate enough for us to get a little time out by the ocean. We did, but we did so much more on our trip, too. You know by now I’m not into just sitting on the beach doing nothing. It’s just not fun and I am not a swimmer of the open water unless I’m in a group going snorkeling. So, besides the beach, here are some of the must-do things we did.

Eat Seafood
Can you visit the beach without indulging in a little bit of seafood? I sure can’t, especially when everything comes with hushpuppies. Yum, yum, yum! Surprisingly, Virginia Beach has, like, every chair restaurant you’ve ever heard of. Skip those and head to some local favorites instead. You’ll end up spending the same amount.

Waterman’s is right on the boardwalk, so you can see the beach and people watch while also enjoying fresh caught fish.

It may look super fancy, but there is no dress code at Lynnhaven Fish House. It’s also right on the beach and is worth the splurge. We split an entrée and were still stuffed when we left. If you would rather your fish be raw, there are plenty of sushi restaurants to choose from.

To really get your money’s worth, I suggest heading away from the water and going to Yukai Japanese Buffet. For $15, you get unlimited access to their huge buffet, hot foods and hibachi grill. The only thing I would not recommend are the desserts. I was disappointed with them all.

If you keep your eye out, you might find a Groupon for this and pay half price for admission. There are actually two lighthouses here, and old one and a new one. The old one is the one you will tour. It has a lot of steps to climb, so bring your walking shoes. It’s also on the Army base, which means you’ll need picture I.D. for everyone, so they can check you out and know who’s on the premises.

Go to the Farmers’ Market
You’ll find some really cool foods at the farmers market, including pickled okra, fancy jams and the biggest grapes you’ve ever seen. We stopped at the bakery there and got a loaf of pepperoni bread! This is where you want to go to load up on things for breakfasts and snacks.

Hit up the Aquarium
Not only will you come face to face with fish and turtles and a giant crocodile, but you’ll learn how ocean currents, waves and other stuff work. Get there when they open, so you have all day to explore, because there are more animals and exhibits than you think.

See a Movie while Eating Dinner
I’m totally into the whole dinner and a movie thing. Well, Virginia Beach is home to a second run theater chain called Cinema Café. You can see the movies you missed at the regular theater and get some surprisingly delicious food. You’ll have your own table and sit in office chairs, which I thought was funny, but they were comfortable.

Walk Along the Boardwalk
You can’t leave the beach without having strolled the boardwalk. We did just that, but with ice creams. Win!

If we had more than three days, we probably would have done quite a bit more. Three days is perfect for relaxing and taking your time really seeing the places you go. We definitely didn’t rush, except to get to the movies.

Have you been to Virginia Beach?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Review: Tracks Air Wireless Headphones from Sol Republic & Motorola

Didn’t get quite what you wanted for the holidays? It happens. Well, let’s talk about something you probably wanted, but didn’t get. In fact, you even have a chance to win a pair at the bottom of this review.

When you travel, you already have a bunch of stuff to contend with. Having another thing to get tangled up in is not really on the top of my list, and probably not yours either, right? Sol Republic and Motorola have teamed up to create the sleek Tracks Air headphones that are wireless, customizable and won’t  be another thing to choke you when you’re just trying to get from one gate to another or move out of the way when your seatmate needs to get to go to the bathroom on the plane.

I often travel with a pair of earbuds that I can slip into my pocket, but somehow they get all jumbled up when I haven’t even used them and I end up having to detangle them before I can even plug them in and use them. Also, they end up getting lost in my cardigan or scarf and then falling out of my ear while I try to get more comfortable or get my book out of my bag. Is this a problem for you, too?

Well, now there’s something better. Not only do the Tracks Air headphones work via Bluetooth (no pesky cord to get in the way of everything), but they are also noise-isolating, so if you just want to be in your own little bubble, these make it crazy easy. Tune out that loud talker behind you, or the little kid playing his handheld game on full volume and watch a video, listen to a book or just zone out to music.

What makes them even cooler is they can be adjusted to any size head. I’ll tell you how many over-ear headphones have fit my head: zero. It’s true. I guess my head is not normal size, because even on the smallest size, they have never fit comfortably on my ears or my head, which is why I’ve had to deal with earbuds in the first place. The Tracks Air easily fit myself and my husband with just a bit of adjustment. The padded speaker pads are super comfortable and keep the headphones from sitting right on your ears, too, which is another thing that always bothered me about other headphones.

So, not only do these not have wires to get in your way when you travel and have a bunch of other stuff to contend with, it also means that your iPod, iPad or phone can be in your back pocket or inside your bag and out of the way and you can still listen to your tunes or audio book.

The Tracks Air have a nice carrying bag, so you can keep them clean and undamaged when you’re not using them. The powertracks are interchangeable, which means you can add them onto a different headband to make them look totally different and unique to you.

What if you have a long international flight? No problem, because these headphones can last up to 15 hours on a single charge (and they charge really quickly), but if they run out, you have the choice of using a plug to keep you connected. Know exactly how much play time you have left. Once you connect up, it tells you how much battery life is remaining, so you’re never in the dark.

Everything you need is located on the one headphone, from track control and volume, but also the power button and connectability to multiple devices. Listen to your music and then easily take a phone call at the same time.

Need to call home while you’re away? Do so with or without the cord, as the Air Tracks have a built-in microphone. Just hit Play and make/take the call as usual, but hands- an cord-free. When we tested the phone connection out, the sound was really high quality. The same as when we used it to listen to music via Bluetooth from a phone. Sol Republic claims that they have 5 times the range as other wireless headphones (150’!), so I left the phone in the bedroom and wandered around the rest of the house with no loss of sound or quality. I even wore them out in the backyard with no problems. The sound was crisp and clear. I dare say that if you wanted, you could probably leave your device at your plane seat and wear these to the restroom. Or leave your bags and stuff with your travel partner and head across the aisle from your airport gate to get a magazine or last-minute snack without missing a beat of your favorite song.

Even though Sol Republic says the Tracks Air are virtually indestructible, they have a 1-year warranty plus a 100-day money back guarantee. If you aren’t 100% happy with your purchase, return them for your money back within 100 days. That’s more than three months of wireless goodness with no permanent commitment if you decide they aren’t for you, but I’m pretty sure that once you try them, you’re going to be hooked.

More information:
Where can you get them? Online at Sol Republic or Radio Shack
How much are they? $199.00
What colors do they come in? White (shown) | Gun Metal | Electro Blue | Vivid Red

Connect with Sol Republic on Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Instagram | Google+ | SoundCloud 

Want to win some of your own? Enter below: (Sorry, U.S. only.)

Disclaimer: The Sol Republic Air Tracks were sent to me for the purposes of this review, but all opinions are 100% my own (and my husband's).

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Christmas!

I hope everyone is having a fantastic holiday, no matter what you celebrate. I came across a random picture of someone's Christmas Snape (the potions master from Harry Potter) and I decided I needed one, too. Well, I took that idea and ran with it, turning my house into Hogwarts for Christmas, complete with a Gryffindor common room fireplace wall. The decor will be added to in the future, but it's a very fun start, plus the decor will be used for our yearly Harry Potter birthday party in July/August. Anyway, I'm taking the day off, so I figured I would share my decor with you instead:

Obviously, he's a work in progress, but who doesn't love the idea of being
watched over by a stern Alan Rickman bedecked in holiday cheer?

I hope this brings a bit of whimsy to your day and you get everything you wished for. Here's to a happy and prosperous 2015!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Getting Through Airport Security with Your Sanity

The holidays are here and that means more travelers hitting the airport to visit friends, families or possibly just take advantage of a rockin’ travel deal. There’s no doubt that the airport will be crowded with travelers and lovely people picking up and saying goodbye, but the busiest place won’t be the stores or eateries, or even the waiting room, but the security line. No one likes to wait in it and everyone thinks it’s a hassle, even though it’s kind of exciting, because you’re going somewhere, hopefully, fun. While your airport might be more organized than some others out there, they still need you to do your part in making security an easier process for everyone. Here are some tips to help you get through security quickly and easily, even if they pull you aside and dig through your bag.

Have your photo ID and boarding pass in-hand – You can’t even get to the security conveyor belts and scanners if you don’t make it past the TSA agent in the line. Make sure to be prepared and keep the line moving, by having your photo ID (or passport) and boarding pass at the ready. Nobody wants to wait for you to dig around in your bag to find it and you will just make enemies of those people in line behind you.

Have your 3-1-1 bag out – Don’t wait until you get to the airport to start rummaging around in your toiletry bag and finding all your liquids and gels. Buy a TSA-approved 3-1-1 bag online or at the store or pick up a box of 1-liter zip-top bags and fill it up before you leave home. It will make you less stressed and you’ll know that everything fits in there.

Wear easy-on, easy-off shoes – Do you want to spend 20 minutes untying your hiking books to take off and put in the security bin? Probably not. Also, the people behind you do not want to wait for you either. Make sure you wear shoes that can easily be taken off and put back on, so you can make security procedures that much less painful for you and everyone else involved.

Do not wrap your gifts – TSA is all about seeing everything in your bag. Even if you only have one gift in your bag, don’t wrap it. You will have spent all that time and energy making it look pretty and then getting it into your bag, only to have an agent rip your paper to shreds to find out what you packed. Bring small gifts that can be packed without boxes and wrapping paper. By all means, bring those staples with you to wrap at your destination if you have room in your bag. 

tip: Flat sheets fit easily in that front pocket of your bag, but you can always pre-cut your sheets from a big roll, write the name of the recipient on the back and then roll them up and slip them in one of those small tube mailers so they don't get munched. Look for those flat bows that you pull on and they fluff up like nobody's business. I love these, because they never get squashed in my bow box and when employed, they are awesome looking.

Make sure your laptop is easily accessible – If you’re bringing a laptop, netbook or iPad, make sure you can quickly access it and slide it in and out of your carry-on. It will make the security line that much faster when you have to dump all your individual things into a bin: shoes, jacket, purse, pocket contents, laptop, 3-1-1 bag. The quicker these things can be put into a bin, the faster you can push them towards the X-Ray machine and make room for other travelers’ items and bins on the counter.

tip: Usually, the left-hand security lines go faster, so jump in one of those if possible, since most people tend to stray to the right.

Now, look at your being less stressed while everyone else looks like they want to pull their hair out in the security line.

Where are you traveling this holiday season?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Enduring the Midwestern Cold

I doubt there are many of you who are looking to plan a trip to Minneapolis in the winter, but you might find yourself there anyway. Either you live there, live in a nearby city/state or have to schedule a business trip there. If you can make it when there isn’t some snowpacalypse happening (which the Midwest and East Coast seem to be having more frequently in recent years and not being able to leave a destination is not always the most enjoyable), then it can easily be a fun winter getaway.
Despite packing your carry-on with some warm sweaters and boots and having to bring a bulky coat on the plane, you can stay warm in Minneapolis even when wandering the downtown area. In fact, the best thing about downtown – in my opinion only maybe – is that it has a Skyway system. It’s an above-ground clear tunnel system that connect downtown venues and businesses and helps visitors to the city get around without freezing their bums off. It covers 11 miles and 69 blocks, allowing you to have an entire day in the city without actually setting foot outside if you don’t want to. It’s fairly awesome that it’s temperature controlled, but with windows along each side, you can easily see the city and enjoy any sunshine that may be peeking its head out or even see the beautiful snow.

Don’t know where you’re going? Many of the walkways have a stand with the free Downtown Guide that you can pick up and figure out how to get around. So, where can you go besides the bank? Lots of places, actually. Here are just a few of the places I would check out if I were headed to downtown Minneapolis:
The Oak Grill Restaurant is a hidden gem that’s located on the 8th floor of Macy’s department store. It has Chinese favorites like sesame chicken, shrimp stir fry and beef and broccoli, all at under $10 a plate. You can make reservations on OpenTable to ensure you get a table and rack up points for free dining. Download the app for easy booking on the go!
For a night out, I’d splurge on a dinner at Zelo. It’s an Italian restaurant with fantastic seafood selection, including wood grilled ahi tuna, salmon with blood orange sauce and walleye Milanese. Yes, good seafood is possible when you don’t live near the sea.
Apparently, if you’re into live performance, then the Orpheum is a must. It is a vintage theater that gives tours where you can learn about the history, architecture and more. Of course, you can just take in a show. Broadway Across America performances stop here as well as dance and concerts.
I love a museum, especially when it’s unique. The Mill City Museum is an old flour mill and takes visitors on an interactive tour of the history of the milling industry. That’s pretty cool, right? Though the mill had been nearly gutted by age and fire, it has been restored to its former glory so you can learn all about it while escaping the cold. If you visit in the warmer month, there is a nearby farmers’ market to check out after.
Traveling with kids? Stop at the Wells Fargo History Museum. This museum offers hands-on fun for the whole family. From an authentic stagecoach from the late 1800s to real gold nuggets, you’ll learn the history behind Wells Fargo and what it was like to drive a coach, send telegraphs and more. Take a free guided tour by reservation!
That’s just a few of the cool things there are to see when traveling by Minneapolis Skyway. The convention center and many shops are also connected to the system as well as a bunch of hotels, so you could almost spend your whole trip inside and not feeling like it. Note that the Skyway portions are owned by individual businesses, so they don’t all open and close on the same schedule. Make sure you pay attention to this, so you don’t get stranded and have to unexpectedly hike the city or hail a cab when it’s super cold outside.

Hipmunk can help you find an affordable hotel in the downtown area if you want to check out the Skyway for yourself. If you’re on a budget, don’t fear, because there are plenty of hotels in all price ranges.

Disclaimer: This post was inspired by my partnership with Hipmunk - a great site to find low hotel rates wherever you travel. #hipmunkcitylove

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Travel is Good for Your Health

I'm not going anywhere this holiday season. Luckily, almost all our family and friends live close by, so we can see everyone pretty easily through Christmas and New Year. We also feel like using your hard-earned vacation days (and budget) to visit family doesn't really count as a real vacation. When you only have finite dollars to spend on trips, you have to pick an choose carefully. Go visit your aunt and uncle in Ohio or take that cruise to Mexico? You can justify a trip to Ohio by also seeing the sights only so many times before you start to feel regretful that you don't go somewhere you want to go. So, if you haven't been on a real trip lately, start planning one now, because not only is it fun, but it is also good for your health.(Maybe your aunt and uncle can meet you there.)

Now you know, I'm a big believer in traveling no matter how much money you have. Budget for it and go somewhere, preferably somewhere you haven't been before. You can't make excuses anymore, because you can argue that travel is good for you and your health. Once I get on a plane, I feel like I can finally breathe deeply. It relaxes me and starts me off on a clean slate when I get back home, so I feel recharged and renewed. How does travel make you feel?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Stocking Stuffers and Email-Worthy Gifts

So, you're still working on your gift list for the holidays and you've run out of ideas or have no idea what to get for the people who don't live nearby? Well, you're in luck It's not too late to stuff stockings, buy real gifts on a budget or buy for far away friends and family. If you missed my main gift list, go check it out first. Remember that though Amazon doesn't wrap gifts, they will put a nice note in the box for the recipient, and if you're a Prime member, shipping is free or super cheap.

Turn their phone into an awesome(r) camera with cell phone lenses. This kit from Photojojo works on iPhones and other brands of mobile while it lets travelers take all kinds of funky pics, like through a fisheye lens.

Give them a personalized tour with the Anywhere Travel Guide deck of cards, which inspires creative traveling wherever you go. You could even use it in your own hometown.

By now, you probably already know that I love games and I love one more than all others when I travel, because it's cards, it's fun and it can be played anywhere. I'm talking about Fluxx. We have three different versions, which can be played together or alone. We even got our friends to play when we had a recent game night an it was big laughs. It's easy to learn and it's never the same game twice, plus you can get them with different themes. We have original Fluxx, Monster Fluxx, and Zombie Fluxx. I think Holiday Fluxx might be next on my list.

Kids love games, too, especially board games (in my experience). While it's not always feasible to pack up the Game of Life or Sorry, there are always the travel versions of some games and then there is this fun little board game that fits in your carry-on. It's called Zombie Kidz and it is easy to play and fun for all ages. Eric and I own it and it employs simple strategy and teamwork to win.

It's always nice to have a drink on hand and when you're expending so much extra energy out traveling then it's imperative to keep hydrated. The Vapur Water Bottle collapses when it's empty, making it easy to carry and ensures you always have a bottle on hand to fill up wherever you go. It rolls up to fit into your pocket and also has a clip on it to hang on your day bag or belt loop.

3-1-1 bags can be a pain to deal with, but Travelon has some great ones that I use and totally recommend. The one quart plastic toiletry bag is sturdy and last way longer than your zip-top bag you are probably using, plus it comes with travel-size bottles and jars. The wet/dry bag comes in fun colors, has travel bottles and allows you to keep everything in one bag, plus it's TSA approved. One side is your 3-1-1 bag and the other side holds your other toiletries. Get something in between the two with the Deluxe one quart bag. It is basic, but trimmed in color and comes with a set of bottles and jars, too.


Give them the gift of cheaper travel with copies of my ebooks right to their inbox. Do they often travel in summer? Get them my Secrets of Summer Savings ebook. If they more often travel during the holidays, you can purchase How To Survive Holiday Travel on a Budget. they are so affordable, you can even buy both for the rabid traveler.

Know someone who goes on a lot of long plane rides? help them keep the blood circulating in their legs/feet/toes in style with a pair of compression socks like these from Sockwell. If, like me, they have swelling problems even from long days of walking, they will think you're a travel angel. 

Wearing shoes on the plane can be the worst and totally confining. Nobody wants to put their bare feet on the dirty floor though...and nobody really wants to see you without shoes, no matter how pretty your pedicure is, in such close proximity. Nufoot makes these awesome Neoprene slippers that are like shoes, with the comfort of socks. They have slip-resistant grips on the bottom (for when you are traipsing around your hotel room and lobby for continental breakfast) and are antibacterial, too.

Keep all your delicious travel snacks together and looking scrumptious in the Bentgo Bento Box. Not only will it keep your fruits, veggies and homemade granola bars from getting all squashed in your bag, but it also comes with utensils if you happen to pack something that needs a fork or spoon. 
Don't you hate it when your phone runs out of battery in the middle of the day and you want to call someone or look up a restaurant address? Yeah, me too. Everyone does. The HALO portable battery pack can charge your phone twice, but it also charges anything else that uses an iPad, iPhone or mini USB tip, like your iPod mini. I carry mine with me everywhere I go and it has come in handy quite a bit. They're fun too, because you can get them in different colors an patterns.

Hopefully, this helps you complete your holiday gift list for the traveler on your list. What are some of your favorite travel gifts to give? 
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