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Friday, January 31, 2014

Super Useful Travel Links

Super Useful Travel Links
Happy Friday, everybody. It's been an interesting week, but not much travel news beyond there being crap weather pretty much all over the country. I'm sorry for any of you who might be trapped in part 2 of the Polar Vortex in Atlanta. Ouch. I'm sure you're all looking forward to a little warmth. If nothing else, you can at least start planning a trip to somewhere that isn't covered in snow and ice.

With all the awful weather, there's a good chance you'll end up getting stuck at an airport this winter. While nobody loves to get stranded, there are some airports that are better than others to be stuck in. USA Today brings you the best airports for stranded travelers. Make sure you have some emergency funds for your travels this winter, in case you need to take advantage of some unplanned amenities and dining. I took advantage of a manicure at the Butter London salon in the Seattle Airport after a long, long day flying back from Paris.

After getting stuck for hours or days in a city, you are probably going to be stressed out. The worst is when you just want to get on the plane, read your book or watch a movie on your tablet, and getting a seat next to that person who just never takes the hint and keeps talking to you. Airfare Watchdog knows you want to just tell them to shut up, but that makes for uncomfortable flying, so they have better ways for you to stop your chatty seatmate from annoying you.

Another thing that hardly brings more ire when flying is unruly children. I might have the best record of choosing the seat right in front of the kid who spends 5 hours kicking me in the back, despite what I say or how many dirty looks I give. I'm always happily surprised when a child next to me is well behaved. Of course, I'm always in coach, so I can't really complain either way. If I paid money to fly in first class, I would probably feel differently. Unfortunately, this gentleman here also felt differently, though he didn't even wait to find out if the child in question was out of control or not before complaining. What do you think? Should small children be allowed in first class?

Once you get where you're going, you're probably hoping to save some dough. I know that's always my goal, even if I have some splurges tucked into my itinerary. 

Planning on a trip to the UK? London is one of the most expensive destinations to travel to. (Isn't it just my luck that it's my favorite city?) Well, beyond making all my meals in my rented flat, I have to look for "affordable" dining options. I'm not going to stay in every day to eat, especially when there's so much good stuff out there. The Londonist has pulled together a list of 10 great meals for under £20 each. Trust me when I say that even though that sounds like a lot, it's a bargain in London.

Hoping to visit Europe instead? One thing that everyone wants to do in Venice is to take a gondola ride along the canal. The rates can be enormous, and maybe you don't feel like being sung to or you just want to cross the canal. Italy Magazine gives you a tip on how to cross the canal for only 2 euros

This installment of Super Useful Travel Links is short, but hopefully quite useful and maybe though-provoking. Let me know what you think or share your own travel finds in the comments.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Start Planning for Warm Weather

Start Planning for Warm Weather

I know throughout most of the country it is still cold, cold, cold. In Portland, it isn't quite as frosty as some other places, but it sure isn't warm right now. I'm sure, like me, you're looking forward to spring and summer and the days when you can wear shorts...or at least less than the three layers most people are wearing. It's never too early to start planning your trips for the year. I like to spend the time figuring out my wardrobe. Of course, maybe you are also taking a tropical getaway this winter to leave the gross winter weather behind, so you are in need of a few things to add to your carry-on.

Putting away your sweaters and gloves is a sure sign that it is time to update your wardrobe for summer. You can take the first step by donating any clothes from the previous summer that no longer fit your personal style. Donating your old summer wardrobe gives you room to look for new, trendy options for the season. Summer has endless possibilities for your closet that include breezy summer dresses, skirts and lightweight suits for the workplace.

Linen is one of the best materials for your summer wardrobe. Linen is lightweight, wrinkles less than some other materials and is breathable, which allows you to stay cool even when the humidity is high. Linen is a traditional choice for summer suits and skirts. Opt for pantsuits and jacket and skirt combinations made from this material to look great at work without suffering through the season in too-warm clothing. Linen is also usually available in a wide range of colors and styles.

While linen allows you to stay cool at work, you will need some basics for the beach. A swimsuit is a must-have if you spend a lot of time near the pool. Modern styles include tank top style bikinis that cover just enough to allow you to feel comfortable in a crowd. You will also want to choose a sarong to use as a cover-up. For instance, Fair Winds sarongs have the benefit of being able to be used in many different ways. You can wear a sarong as a dress or skirt on the beach by learning a few simple methods for tying the material. Sarongs can also be used as a scarf for cooler evenings and nights.

Dresses and skirts are the best option for showing off your summer skin. Dress a skirt up with a sequined top for a night out or wear something a little simpler for a casual evening with friends. Add a lightweight scarf to a basic summer skirt and top for a splash of color and style. A hat is natural choice for sunny summer days. A wide brimmed hat protects you from harmful UV rays and adds charm to any type of outfit. With cool summer suits and beach wear, you can easily be ready for summer with just a few basic additions to your wardrobe.

A sarong is one of the best multipurpose items you an take with you on any vacation. Not only can it be used as skirt, dress or cover-up, but an impromptu beach towel, a picnic blanket, a shawl, a beach bag or even a head covering (for when you visit some of those very religious sites). It's never a bad idea to keep one or two in your bag, especially since they are lightweight and don't take up much room. Start planning for your warm weather trips now by making your first stop at Fair Winds Sarongs

You can also follow FWS on Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What to Expect From Travel in 2014

Travel is something that changes constantly, but there are some trends that can be forecast for the coming year and here are 3 that I find to be important and/or fun.

Truly unplugged vacations
We are bombarded all day every day with digital media and our electronics that people are returning to the true vacation and leaving their laptops and mobile phones at home. Two weeks of no posting, tweeting, poking, blogging. The more access we have to digital lifelines the more we are glad to get away from it. Sure, we may want to share our travels with all our friends and followers, but we find that it can wait until we get home. Yes, the Digital Detox is becoming more and more popular. Maybe you'd like to plan a trip and spend more face time with your family/spouse than with your smart phone.

More exciting airports
So many people just hate hate hate going to the airport, but that may be about to change. In 2013, airports are getting more exciting around the globe. In addition to airports that have amazing entertainment already - like museums, sculpture gardens and day spas - other cities are giving travelers a reason to head to the airport early to enjoy cool stuff while they wait for their flights. It also helps to have a back-up plan to sitting around and being bored when a flight gets delayed or you have a long layover. Here are a few things you can look forward to:
  • In-airport gyms
  • Meditation and yoga rooms
  • More pet relief areas
  • More free Wi-Fi
  • Play areas catering to kids and their harried parents

Airfare Hikes?
Nobody likes to hear about rates going up, but go up they do. Of course, this year it appears we may be paying less overall for U.S. travel, but with airline mergers, this may not make a big difference. Fewer planes means they will continue to be overbooked and routes will be as sparse as possible. You will have a harder time finding reward seats when using your frequent flyer miles, so the earlier you can book them, the larger your selection. These are not the times to wait until the last minute if you have plans to travel or absolutely have to be somewhere on a particular day. Make your budget plan and stick to it, so you can make your goals of booking between 6 weeks and 3 months in advance for paid tickets and further from your desired travel date when cashing in your frequent flyer miles.

Have you noticed any travel trends that you're looking forward to in 2014?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Harry Potter Studios in London

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Harry Potter. I'm not the only one out there that loves the boy wizard and the world he lives in. In 2011 Harry Potter:  The Exhibition stopped in Seattle, so I made a point to take a weekend getaway surrounding it. While I was in London, there was going to be no way I could miss a trip to Leavesden Studios, so Eric and I splurged on tickets to the place where the movies were filmed. In some ways it was a good deal, because it was hours of fun for a Potterphile. (Purchase your tickets online for package deals. You also won't run the risk of tickets being sold out.) Props, sets and videos crowded two buildings and a courtyard and I was in Harry Potter heaven. Here are some photos from our visit.

Leavesden Studios

Leavesden Studios

Leavesden Studios

Leavesden Studios

Leavesden Studios

Leavesden Studios

Leavesden Studios

Leavesden Studios

Leavesden Studios

Leavesden Studios

We also went on a Harry Potter walk, which I will write about in a different post. it took us on other filming locations around London.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Versailles: a Luxury Palace Visit on a Budget

On our last day in France, we packed our day with some interesting things, including taking the RER out to the city of Versailles to see the infamous "chateau" where Marie Antoinette and other French royals once called home. Most don't know that the palace began as a small hunting lodge and was expanded enormously by Louis XIV, the Kardashian of his time. He used his excessive wealth to create the biggest and most lavish dwelling he could, causing the people of France to dispose him. A few rooms were good, but 100 would be better! Giant gates and ironwork are nice, but covering them in real gold was totally awesome. By the time Louis XV and Marie Antoinette moved in, there was almost nothing left to "improve" on.

People have a bad opinion of Marie Antoinette, but walking from room to room, I had to admit, it probably wasn't entirely her fault. She was cut off from everyone she knew and her only friends lived at Versailles with her. If you spend every minute of your day inside what can only be viewed as a small city and never leave the grounds, you have no idea what it's like in the real world or see how the common people live. Eventually, you just assume everyone lives so luxuriously and can't imagine why people would riot against you. Each room is just as decadent as the next and the grounds, even though they were being worked on during our visit, were sure to be even more amazing in their heyday. Here are some photos of our visit.

The infamous Hall of Mirrors 

The grounds of Versailles are huge and we didn't even see all of them in the few hours we were there. During the warmer months, you'll be able to see all the fountains working and every statue in the gardens. There's also a place within the garden maze that sells snacks and beverages, as well as a restaurant on site and several gift shops. it's really a great place to visit and the entry fee is quite reasonable considering the opulence within. Be prepared to have your bags (and possibly your person) searched before entering. Versailles is highly secure. From the photos, you can see why.

Have you ever been to Chateau de Versailles? What are your favorite mansions/palaces/castles?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Super Useful Travel Links

Happy Friday! It's been a long few weeks for people with bad weather and travel delays of all kinds. I hope you're back home safe and sound and looking forward to a warm getaway. I know I am. Unfortunately, I'm going to be waiting a while, but maybe something unexpected will come up. While everyone has been snowed in, I have been looking for links to help you travel better when you get back out there.

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Before I moved to the great Northwest, I used to enjoy going camping a lot. Of course, we didn't always have much money, so camping was a great way to get away from home and also get in some fantastic family time. It saved us money that we could spend on a real vacation later. When we moved here, we tried to go camping and there were so many camp sites that we just had to guess which would be a good place to go. Our blind choice was not the best. Boo for us.  Has this happened to you? Wish there were campsite reviews? Bam! You're welcome! 

I love going to different markets wen I travel. Portobello Market was a dream of mine that I realized when I went to London, but what to buy? If you want to pick up souvenirs that are specific to your destination, then Budget Travel has a post for you on hidden gems at markets around the world. And if you don't care about what you should buy, it's a great list of markets to check out when you travel.

It's been realized that Americans don't take all their travel days, don't stay long enough at their destination to really relax and spend way too much time working. William Chalmers looks at how we travel in general and ask the question "Are we doing it wrong?" There may be no right or wrong answer, or the answer could be yes. What do you think?

Did you fly airlines in the past that don't exist anymore? Maybe you loved Pan Am or Northwest Airlines. At least they were good airlines which made sense (and actually flew). Thrillist rounded up a short list of defunct airlines that were doomed from the start. How many have you heard of?

Planning a trip overseas? I'm not going this year, but I just came back, so I can't complain. I've got plans to go next year, though not sure just where yet. If you are, Huffington Post has some of the stupidest things people do overseas. We like to break out of that rut of the Ugly American (even if you're from a different nation, you aren't always immune). Try to travel more consciously of your actions, because what we do at home is not always acceptable in other cultures.

Some stupid things you do could get you in real hot water, so make sure you know the laws in your destination before you go and totally make a fool of yourself, or something worse. Here are some strange laws that can land you in the Clink, from Gadling.

I love seeing things from a different perspective. I'm a fan of taking photos from the airplane of the place you just left landing in, but Gray Malin takes it to a whole other level. Check out how cool beaches around the world look from above.

If wearing shorts and those zip-off pants are an absolute no-no for you, perhaps you'd be interested in visiting 12 of the most fashionable cities. Believe it or not, you can pack light and still fit in! Find out how here.

Another thing I'm a fan of is things turning into other things, like a jail-turned-restaurant or a monastery-turned-hostel, and if this were a little more affordable, it just might make my wish list. While looking for weather at a destination city, I came across this former sea fort that was refurbished and turned into a luxury hotel. It's like being on a cruise ship, but not going anywhere. You can only reach it by boat and is one-mile from land. Maybe on a future trip to the UK, I can splurge on a night or two for a mini romantic getaway.

From one cool building to many, the site Bored Panda has 33 of the world's strangest buildings. I am totally into strange, interesting and abandoned places, but you have to admit these are pretty awesome.

Have you found any cool, useful or interesting travel-related posts lately? If so, share them below! 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Where the Geeks Go

If you're like me, going to a totally obvious thing at a destination can be really awesome. As a self-proclaimed geek, this list is pretty fun. I have done some on the list, but I could definitely do better and have marked some for future travel. I also like that a lot of them are totally free! Where do you stand on this bucket list? Have you been to any of these destinations already?

A Geek
See original post at Cheapflights

Saturday, January 11, 2014

What to Do After Fat Tuesday is Over

Mardi Gras is right around the corner and it got me thinking about Fat Tuesday celebrations. It’s all in good fun, but what to do when you aren’t partying it up and watching parades? There are actually a lot of things to do in New Orleans when there aren't drunken crowds showing their goods for beads. If you're wondering how to fill the rest of your trip around the hoopla of Mardi Gras.

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Did you know that New Orleans is a great budget destination? I didn't either! Why not take a little detour from the revelers in the street and explore these options after a big plate of beignets:

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Save on your trip to New Orleans with the Power Pass. Starting as low as $28 per day, gain entry to the must-see attractions of the city. Choose from places like the Musee Conti Wax Museum, Audubon Zoo, Cajun Pride Swamp Tour and much more! Available in 1, 2, 3 and 5 day durations. Add a 1-3 day MealTicket to eat at awesome restaurants for one low price. If you know you’ll be stuffing your face with étouffée, jambalaya and other Cajun deliciousness, this is definitely the way to go!
You can also take advantage of OpenTable’s deals for dining. With special menus at some restaurants, you can save money, or just reserve a table that will get you points towards a free meal in the future and ensure you don’t have to wait around if the restaurant is busy.

Here’s another fantastic way to save on meals. Fodor’s lists 10 places to eat under $10. You can’t beat that. Almost. Here’s the short list, but if you want to know more, check out the Fodor’s website for all the wheres and whys.
·         Angeli on Decatur
·         Balcony Bar & Café
·         Café du Monde
·         Clover Grill
·         The Joint
·         Juan’s Flying Burrito
·         La Peniche
·         Mimi’s in the Marigny
·         Parkway Bakery & Tavern
·         Trolley Stop Café

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Like to be scared? New Orleans has always claimed to have a rich history in the occult and creepy myths. For an hour and a half walk among the darkened streets on the New Orleans Vampire Tour for only $20 per person. Many other walks are available, but who wouldn't want to believe in the undead and the horrible things that happen in the shadows of the city? Of course, if you’re heading to Louisiana for a little romantic getaway, you might want to pick a different tour…although, this will probably give you a fantastic reason to snuggle close to your significant other, even after the walk is over.

Bringing the kids with you? Take a trip to the Louisiana Children’s Museum. Admission is $8 for everyone ($10 if you wait to purchase tickets at the door) and children 1 and under are free. They have more than 30,000 square feet of interactive exhibits to keep you and your little ones entertained for hours and hours. Learn a whole bunch of stuff while you’re having fun, so you don’t even know it’s educational!
Hop on the Canal-Algiers Ferry for free (if on foot) and get some of the best views of New Orleans from the Mississippi. (Also, how many other times are you gonna get to travel the Mississippi?!) Before returning on the ferry, grab a bite at one of the many cafes and take a walk along the Jazz Walk of Fame.

The streetcar is a very affordable way to get from point A to point B while also giving you a city tour. It stops at a variety of attractions along the way and it only costs $1.25. Super cheap sightseeing!

Love your booze? Then take a tour of the Old New Orleans Rum Distillery. This is probably a much safer way to sample some cocktails than getting wasted on the streets with everyone else. For a whopping $10, you can tour the distillery, get free transportation there, a free rum cocktail and a tasting of all four of their rum products at the end.

If that was just too much fun for words, make you way to the Museum of the American Cocktail. Explore their collection of books, rare spirits, glasses, shakers, photos, gadgets and so much more to see how cocktails have evolved over the years. This, too, is just $10 per person. Unfortunately, all you get at the end is a trip to the gift shop, but then you can buy some fun books on vintage cocktails and go home and recreate them for friends in a funky retro party.

These are just some of the ways you can fill your time on your visit to the Big Easy that doesn’t involve crowds of people or emptying out your wallet. Check out my Facebook page for airfare deals that are popping up all over the place in order to make your trip “cheaper” and Laissez les bons temps rouler.

Have you been to New Orleans? What are your budget tips for the city?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Plus Your Points and Maximize Your Road Trip Fun

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Enterprise Rent-A-Car for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

We rent a lot of cars when we travel. Sometimes it’s just a necessity at your destination, like to get to all the theme parks in Orlando or to get around to parts of a city that doesn’t have the best transit. Rental cars can make your vacation a lot more convenient and saves you time. In the past, we have even rented a car to take road trips. Your family car can take a rest and you can get something roomier that is more comfortable to ride in for long periods of time.
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Though I generally choose the best deal I can find, my preferred rental car company is Enterprise. Their customer service can’t be beat and they have a great array of cars to choose from. Now, you can make the most of your rentals by signing up for Enterprise Rent-A-Car’s Enterprise Plus loyalty program and taking advantage of the Plus Your Points promotion going on now through March 31st. This annual promotion doubles the points you earn on qualifying rentals. The more points you earn, the faster you can redeem them for free rentals – with no blackout dates!

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Winter is a perfect time to take a road trip. To get more bang for your buck, popular summer destinations are less crowded in the winter and hotels offer lower rates, because they have more free rooms available. My choice would be taking a trip to Disneyland. Lines are shorter and you can do more each day than any day during the summertime. I like being able to take my time and not rush. Dining is less of a hassle, too. So many options, but no crowds of people making me wait forever for a table. With my rental car, I can also drive to other theme parks – like Universal Studios – or even the beach! It might be too cold to get in the water, but it doesn't mean I can't take a stroll along the Venice Canals or visit the Queen Mary.

Though driving can be a bit far, we’ve often made the drive to save money on airfare and stopped many places along the way to maximize our fun and not feel like we’re spending 4 days (2 there and 2 back) just sitting in the car. Some of my favorite stops along the way:

  • The Oregon Vortex. It’s totally hokey, but fun and amazing. How can I be the same height as my husband who is normally 9 inches taller than me? How does water uphill? How can I walk on a wall? It’s crazy – crazy fun! (located in Gold Hill, OR)
  • Pea Soup Andersen’s. Buellton, CA may not be on your radar, but if you’ve ever stopped to eat around there, you know that Pea Soup Andersen’s is THE restaurant to dine in. Besides delicious soup, they have other great food and a huge gift shop.
  • Gilroy, CA. If taking the scenic route to Southern California down Highway 101, Gilroy should certainly be on your itinerary, unless you aren’t a fan of garlic. They hold a garlic festival every summer, but even if you visit during other months, the smell is very powerful even before you reach the town.

By renting a car through Enterprise, I can leave my car at home and put the mileage on a rental. If anything happens to the car on the road, Enterprise will take care of it. I can also earn points a variety of ways, so I can rent a car for free in the future and travel more budget-friendly.

Once you register for the Plus Your Points promotion, you can earn points by renting a qualifying vehicle, adding a GPS to your rental, sharing the program on Twitter, referring friends who then rent during the promotional period and more. Your points never expire as long as you rent from Enterprise at least once in each two-year period, which is so much better than many other rewards programs!

Remember, you can earn double points + bonus points now through March 31st, so register now at Enterprise Plus Your Points promotion website and start accruing. Enterprise can help make your winter road trip better than ever and also keep you on or under budget, plus make a future vacation even more affordable. You can’t beat that, right?

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