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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Theme Park Savings Part 4

When I book my theme park trips I am all but jumping up and down for weeks. Yep. I have never resisted the fact that I’m a kid at heart and get just as excited seeing the Disney sign as many children do. I can’t help it. Not only does it bring back great memories, but I love roller coasters and even the cheesy rides like The Jungle Cruise. I can easily lose myself in the world of a theme park. Unfortunately, in all the excitement, it can be hard to be practical. I’ve learned the hard way, which is never cool when you are out four 10+ hours. There are ways not to do a theme park, which we will talk about here. If you missed the previous installments, make sure to check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Don’t wear brand new shoes
Did you buy some fun shoes that go with all your travel outfits, but forgot to break them in? You might be sorry. In fact, 99% of the time I have found that bring new shoes that I haven’t worn before have been the biggest mistake ever. How do you break them in? Wear them all over before you leave and make sure you wear them all day when you have quite a bit of walking to do, on all sorts of terrain. Nothing will ruin your day faster than your feet hurting or getting a hideous blister two hours after you’ve left the hotel.

Remember your sunscreen
The summer sun (and even other seasons) can be brutal. Sunscreen doesn't last forever, and even less when water is involved. After applying your SPF, toss it in your day bag (or carry an extra tube) and reapply during the day. Don't forget your ears, the back of your neck, your shoulders, your nose and the part in your hair. Those rides won't seem as fun when you are sunburned and look like a lobster and it's totally uncomfortable to be in a confined space.

When you're spending hours and hours in the sun and doing more activity than normal, you can easily run low on fluids. Make sure to drink plenty of water. In fact, buy a case of water when you get to your destination and take a couple bottles with you each morning. This will save you money and ensure that you have something to drink anytime you need it and don't have to wait in line for an $8 water.

Bring spare batteries
If you plan to take a ton of pictures, then you don't want to run out of juice right in the middle of the day. I always carry a spare battery for my camera (I bought it on ebay for a fraction of the retail cost) so I don't have to pace myself taking photos and so my camera doesn't conk out at an inopportune moment. 

Rent a car
Traveling in the summer to theme parks, it's easy to use the shuttles to go back and forth all day to your accommodation, but if you choose to go during the slow season (which we normally do) the shuttles may not run all that often and could be quite inconvenient, as we learned when we went to Orlando. Do your research before you travel and plan accordingly. If the shuttles only run once a day to and from the parks, then having a rental car might save you a ton of grief, especially if you're traveling with kids or hope to return to your room at any point during the day.

Take the map
You may think you know where everything is in Disneyland, but maybe you don't. Stop wasting time wandering around and running into dead ends by taking that map they offer at the front of the park and using it to get yourself to where you want to go. We make sure we both have one so we can navigate our way when we we find that we have no idea where we are or can't find where to get on the train.

Take a packable rain jacket
The fun doesn't stop just because of a little downpour, so don't lose precious minutes ducking into a shop until it stops raining. In your day bag, shove a packable jacket in the bottom. It won't take up much room, but it will be a lifesaver if a little shower turns into a deluge. It is also another layer to throw on when you head inside to watch a show and they have the air up full blast and you need something to keep you from freezing.

Despite how many things that haven't worked out in the past, I take it in stride and use it for my future trips. How about you? What are your tips for avoiding theme park pitfalls?

Need more tips to make your summer vacation affordable and awesome? Download my Summer Savings ebook. Spend a little to save a lot!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Theme Park Savings Part 3

Nothing sucks more than getting to the theme parks and then not knowing how to spend your day and then realizing at the end that you have only ridden three rides and spent $200 on food and snacks. While it’s important to save money, it’s just as important to know how to be an efficient theme parker and not waste your time. The more you can do, the more value you’re getting from the money you’ve spent. If you’ve missed the other theme park savings posts, go read Part 1 and Part 2. 

Have a game plan
Get a copy of the park map online before you leave home and map out what rides you absolutely have to do and then come up with a plan on how and when to do them. Also make sure you pencil in any shows, fireworks or parades you want to see and work around those times, otherwise you will find you miss everything good and spent your time going from one end of the park to the next and not really accomplishing anything.

Get to the parks at least thirty minutes before opening 
What’s the point? Well, there won’t be hoards of people waiting to get in yet and you’ll get first pick of the big rides when the gates open, freeing you up to do less popular rides in the middle of the day. Trust me, once you walk across the parking lot, go through security and make it to the turnstiles you'll wonder why you didn't get there any earlier.

Avoid “Extra Magic Hour”
In Orlando, guests staying at a Disney resort are entitled to the EMH each day at different designated parks. They get in an hour before the park officially opens to the public or get to stay and extra hour after the park closes to the public. With a bit of planning, you can avoid these days and go to other parks instead and avoid the massive crowds at the EMH parks. This worked wonderful for us and we found that each park we hit up that day was almost empty until around noon time. I don’t know how that will work in the on-peak season, but in the fall, it was spectacular and we barely waited in line for anything for the first four hours we were in each park. You can find the EMH parks listed on the online Disney schedules or invest in a membership to TourGuideMike, which will give you all these tips and more well ahead of the actual online schedule.

Use FastPASS
This can also save you much time and get you on more rides. We generally get one for Big Thunder Railroad, Peter Pan, California Screamin’, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Indiana Jones, Rock’n Roller Coaster, Midway Mania or Buzz Lightyear. These are the big rides that always have a line. Go first thing when you enter the park and get a FastPASS, even if there isn’t a line, for any of these attractions (I recommend Midway Mania or Space Mountain, because the FastPASSes go quickly). If there isn’t a line, get on the ride, go do some other rides and then come back at your designated FastPASS time and do it again. If there IS a long line, go off and do some less packed stuff and then come back. This works awesome with rides like Big Thunder Railroad in the middle of the day, because even though the line isn’t humungous, there are a bunch of other rides to do that normally have shorter lines, and you can get to three other ones, come back and get right onto BTR and then head to another part of the park.

Purchase the front-of-line pass
Unlike FastPASS, which is free, Universal and a few other parks have the front-of-the-line pass you can purchase. While it’s not saving you money, it can save you a lot of time and allow you to do a good deal more in the park, especially if you are limited on time and can only go one or two days. Universal has a habit of putting all their shows on at the same times and you often have to wait in long lines for them. Many of them accept the pass and let you get there closer to show time and still get a great seat. You also won’t miss them all because you’re spending all your time waiting in line for hours. That’s the worst.

Make food reservations
While this won’t save you any money, it WILL save you time waiting in line somewhere. Disney has a designated dining reservation number for each park (or you can do it online) to book a table anywhere that has waited tables. You can book up to 90 days in advance. This is especially important if you are dying to eat a specific restaurant, because reserved tables get served before walk-ins, which means if you want to eat at Blue Bayou without waiting 45-50 minutes (when you could be doing other park activities), it’s best to make a reservation ahead of time. Try to book your dining a little earlier than regular dining times, like lunch between 11am-12pm and dinner between 5-6pm. This will help you avoid the crowds, both while waiting to be seated and when you finish dining, because everyone will have realized they are hungry, too, and flee to a dining establishment. Woohoo! Shorter lines for you!

Don’t start at the front of the park
95% of park visitors do this and then by the time you get to the big stuff in the back of the park, it is totally crammed. Head toward some of the bigger attractions near the back as soon as the park opens and save yourself hours of time in line later in the day when everyone else has made their way back there.

Saving all this time might give you the chance to take a few hours to leave the park and take a nap to recharge. What's your favorite way to save time in the parks?

Need more tips to make your summer vacation affordable and awesome? Download my Summer Savings ebook. Spend a little to save a lot!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Theme Park Savings Part 2

So, you’ve decided to take your summer and plan a vacation. We all know by now that summer is the most expensive time to travel, so finding ways to save money can be a challenge, especially at theme parks where they charge your $7 for a pretzel without cheese. If you take every opportunity during the day, you could easily spend hundreds of unnecessary dollars. You want to make sure you budget for everything, including souvenirs and those all-important kiosk goodies, like Mickey-shaped ice creams and kettle corn. It’s never easier to waste money than when it comes to food. If you missed how to save in general, check out my last post.

Bring your own snacks
As you well know, grabbing a snack every time you’re hungry or your kids say they are can quickly add up and bust your budget. Yes, I want to eat all those fries and hot dogs and ice cream sandwiches, too, but I try not to give in each time I feel that stomach twinge – which is nearly every time I pass a kiosk or food window. I’m aware that I want to eat all the time when I’m on vacation and children are no different. Pack your day bag – I suggest an Ameribag or Urban Tour Bag from Travelon, as they save your back, have  pockets for everything and thwart thieves – with granola bars, veggie sticks and peanut butter, crackers, cookies and the like to satisfy your hunger pangs.

Things like fried chicken can also double as lunch items if you don’t want to spend the money on (sometimes) ridiculously priced meals. This is especially helpful if you kid orders the same thing from the menu everywhere you go, like PB & J or chicken nuggets. Save your $10 and bring it in with you.

Don’t forget the water
Bottled water is the biggest rip-off. $5 for a bottle that you can buy a whole case of at Target or Safeway and still get some change back? Buy them before you head to the park, put them in the freezer or fridge – or buy one of these Cool-it Caddies to keep stuff cool on-the-go – and save yourself some aggravation by having to buy 32 drinks throughout the day. Not only will you have fresh water, but you can refill the bottle at water fountains (and Disney employees will refill your bottle at any of the counter restaurants) to save even more all day long.

Not loving less that icy H2O or need some variety? Purchase some of those drink packets and turn it into tea or punch or lemonade. Universal also has a new beverage plan that enables you to pay one price and get a souvenir cup that you can have refilled all day long at any of the participating food locations in the park.

Eat breakfast before getting to the park
If you have a vacation rental or a hotel that includes continental breakfast makes this pretty easy. If you just have a regular room with a microwave and fridge, make some instant oatmeal, have cereal, eat a bagel or load up on pastries or those Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches. That meal alone will save you $10-20 per person each day.

Leave the park for meals
It’s no secret that you can eat more cheaply if you leave the park and eat at a restaurant off-property. If you don’t have the budget to eat within the park, then do some research and plan out where to eat each day. I enjoy trying different places inside the park and save time by not leaving, but during the summer Disney and other theme parks can be open 14+ hours a day, so if you are gone for a couple hours, you won’t miss out on much.

Look for restaurants that have kids eat free options. You can also have the children share a regular size entrée. Not only is this cheaper than two things off the kids’ menu, but they are more likely to eat a vegetable. Sharing a meal with your child can also save money since most places serve much more than one person should eat.

Sign up for the meal plan
Got teenagers with you? They seem to be eating machines. While I don’t find the meal plans worth their price normally, if you have teenage boys who have bottomless stomachs, this might be just the way to go for you. You get a certain number of meals, beverages and snacks included each day and you don’t need to be around to give them money every time they claim they’re hungry, since they either just need their ticket or wristband.

Have you found a good way to save money on food when traveling to theme parks? 

Need more tips to make your summer vacation affordable and awesome? Download my Summer Savings ebook. Spend a little to save a lot!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Theme Park Savings Part 1

Summer is here and the kids are out of school – or will be soon – which means that summer vacations are not that far away. I, myself, will be going on a trip, too, but unlike the majority of travelers this summer, I will be headed to Las Vegas. Not that I’m not jealous of everyone willing to wait in increasingly long lines and enjoy Disney and other theme parks. Though I will miss the opening of Universal Orlando’s Diagon Alley, I hope to be able to beat the crowds by planning my trip next fall. If you’ll be headed to a theme park this summer as well, then you probably want to make the most of your time and money. Today we’ll talk about how not to empty your wallet before you even get there.

Get discount tickets
While I know a lot of people just buy their tickets at the gate, not only does this waste time when you arrive – you could be riding It’s a Small World! – but you can also end up spending more than you have to. Why not save wherever you can and then have a few dollars leftover for a churro (or four)?

You can save money by buying your tickets online at various locations. Search online for promo codes, too. I prefer to buy my tickets through the local AAA travel store, because I find they have the best deals, but you can also get Disneyland park hopper tickets through Costco and many credit unions sell discounted ones as well. If you’ll be purchasing a vacation package, check out BookIt.com and add your park tickets on that way and save big. Besides AAA, they have the lowest prices on Disney tickets out there. For great deals on Disney World, use OrlandoVacation. Going to Universal? The best deals on tickets, including adding the front of the line pass, is on their website.

Purchase a park-hopper ticket 
These can save you money over buying individual day tickets and you can use the same one over the course of your visit. They just scan your fingerprint now, instead of the old school way they did it before where you needed to sign the back of the ticket and present ID each day. Much quicker. You still need your ticket for them to swipe and also to be able to use the FastPASS machines.

Many theme parks have deals that can save you money the more days you go. In fact, Universal generally has a buy one day, get the whole year free, which means you can go for the day and then come back whenever during your trip without paying again. I love this! Some have deals where you just pay a little extra and get unlimited visits throughout the year, which might actually save you a ton if even if you plan to just go twice.

Book a vacation rental
Though there may be a whole slew of hotels right across the street from the theme park, you might find that a vacation rental with similar rates can actually save you money. First of all, you will probably find you have more room, which might make it easier live with everyone you’re traveling with. Cramming 4-6 people in a room with only two beds does not make for a loving environment and paying extra for adjoining rooms or a suite just may be out of your budget. A vacation rental is likely to have more than one room, which also means you don’t have to go to sleep just because the kids do.

You’ll also have a kitchen, so you can make breakfasts and save a ton each day. If you want to save even more, come back to the room for more meals. Eating lunch and taking a nap is always a lovely afternoon activity. A quick trip to the grocery store either before checking in or once you’ve settled in is pretty easy. You can also make use of grocery delivery for a few bucks and have food brought straight to you while you’re unpacking.

Some rentals have washers, so while you’re resting or waiting for the kids to take their daily nap, you can do some laundry, which will also save you from packing a bunch of unnecessary clothing or having to spend a handful of quarters down at the Laundromat. Yep, even if you end up spending a little more on a rental than on a hotel, the savings may far outweigh what you would end up spending in the long run going with the cheaper option.

Who needs a Luigi's tire hat anyway? No seriously. Who?

Buy souvenirs ahead of time
Yes, I know this sounds weird, but if you have little ones, they are going to want toys and shirts and balloons and candy. You can try to evade some of these costs by stopping at one of the grocery or discount stores around Disney and stock up on some inexpensive souvenirs (many of which you will find at the parks for much more) and dole out a bit each day before you leave. Or keep them in your bag until the kids are getting restless and cranky. You're sure to make some happy faces. The Disney Store online or in your local mall often has great sales on stuff your kids will love.

My best friend, and mom of (now) five, has some fantastic tips for doingDisney as a family on the cheap (or as cheap as you can get without compromising the fun). If they can find it in their budget, on one income, to make the magic happen for their family, you can too.

We’ll talk about more ways to save money on food during your theme park vacation in the next blog post. Do you have favorite ways to save at the theme park?

Need more tips to make your summer vacation affordable and awesome? Download my Summer Savings ebook. Spend a little to save a lot!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Talk Instantly with Prip

I don’t know about you, but when I’m on vacation (or at the farmers’ market or the mall), I don’t want to have to keep calling my travel mates to find out where they are in a crowd or where they want to meet. You could text, but sometimes if it’s loud or in your purse you can’t hear it and if you don’t have unlimited texting, then you probably don’t want to do that either. Enter Prip’s push-to-talk. It’s the way to turn your mobile into a walkie talkie.

Do you remember being a kid and getting a set of walkie talkies and thinking it was the coolest thing? As an adult, we have often thought about getting a set to use at the theme parks or on a cruise ship, but then that is just another thing to have to carry around. By turning your phone into a push-to-talk device, it gives you the best of both worlds, only requires you to carry around one thing instead of two, has an unlimited range instead of only 200 feet and even makes you feel a bit like a kid again.

Save all your minutes for something truly important and download the Prip app to connect to all your friends and family for just $1.99 per month (the first month is free!). When on vacation, make sure all your travel buddies have Prip on their phones. It’ll definitely make finding each other during that Disney parade or figuring out where to meet up for lunch that much easier and less difficult to coordinate, since it’s faster than texting and you won’t be subjected to the miscommunication that can often occur…or waste time text-arguing when it could be easier to just use your words.

Make your phone use more personal, too. Texting is great, but without voice or inflection, things don’t often come across as well as we would like. You aren’t limited by characters either. If you’re like me, you always want to say more than 140 or 160 characters. I don’t want to write 9 different texts. With this, I’m happy, my message gets across and people can hear my actual voice, so no need to use emojis and emoticons, even though they are fun. What exactly do you mean when you post a banana, a steamboat and a top hat??? While cute, they don’t make much sense if you are using them as a language, right?

Prip works via your 3G or 4G network, on roaming and with WiFi. You don’t even have to just use it with people you are traveling with. Use it to ask your husband if you need peanut butter when you’re at the store, find out where your kids are, talk to friends and family across the country or even in other countries (including users of Nextel Mexico, Nextel Brazil, Nextel Peru, Nextel Argentina and Nextel Chile), across cell carriers and on iPhone and Android devices. If they are near their phone, you can instantly communicate with anyone who has the app installed. Want to use Prip outside of the U.S.? No problem! You can use Prip anywhere WiFi is available.

You can add multiple lines to an account, so you can easily pay for your whole family on one account, employees for your business or manage the lines for everyone you are traveling with. At only $1.99 per line per month, that’s pretty darn cheap and better than all those overage fees you could end up paying when you have to constantly call or text each other to find out where they are or when they’re going to show up. Each user has their own login and password for their individual app, making it personal at the same time, even if one person is in charge of managing and paying for all the lines. There’s no commitment either, so if you decide you no longer need Prip on a phone, you can quickly cancel the plan online.

Doesn’t Prip sound like a great app that you could be using all the time? If you think so, then try it now! I think you're going to like it as much as I do. You can download Prip directly to your phone from iTunes or the GooglePlay Store and start using it right away.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post, but all opinions are 100% my own.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

When to Buy Airfare for Your Destination

OMG! Did you know that there is a certain time frame for each section of the world to get the best deal? I sure didn't, which could be why it always seems like deals are totally random when you're traveling out of the country. I am the one who would love to plan and book an entire vacation as soon as I get back from the one I'm on. Unfortunately for me, that doesn't yield the cheapest rates for everything, especially airfare. This infographic from Buzzfeed gives you the best weeks or months out from a trip to book. 

The only things I don't agree with are at the bottom. You should almost never book your tickets on the weekend, because the deals show up on Monday or Tuesday and go through Thursday. New "deals" are posted on Saturdays, but 99.9% of the time they are much higher, because this is when people have the time to sit and browse travel sites. I've also never found a better deal for returning on a Monday, since that is one of the busiest days to fly. So, wrap up: book in the middle of the week, fly on Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday and have fun! What's the best travel deal you've ever taken advantage of?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Father's Day Travel Gifts

Father's Day is in just 4 days away. Have you gotten your dad/husband/brother a gift yet? If you haven't and the dad on your list likes to travel or has to travel a lot for work, then I have a great list of ideas for you, all of which can be purchased now at the last-minute and get it before you see them on Sunday. For my favorite splurge-worthy and budget-friendly gifts, check out my article on Parade.com. And here are more options for however much you have available to spend to make your dad's day the best, most of which are available on Amazon.

On a little budget

We loved the one we had for travel so much that we bought one of these for our house, too. This compact little gadget is perfect for traveling, because you can make one free outlet into five! We plugged it into our adapter and were able to charge our laptop, cell phones and iPad mini at the same time. Pretty awesome, right? Yeah, I thought so. Belkin is a great brand and you can turn the plug 360 degrees, which means if you have a tight space, it will always fit. Double score! 

Since most American electronic devices are now dual-watt, it's not necessary to purchase a power converter anymore, but if you're traveling outside of the US an adapter is a necessity. I purchased this bare bones one a while ago and it changes configurations for the different outlets in different countries (which saves space!) and works amazingly well. It's also super affordable and if you buy this pack of two, you can keep one for yourself. It slips right into a carry-on pocket, so it won't take up much space that your dad needs for other things, like pants!

Is your dad going somewhere specific soon? Pick him up a one or two Knopf travel guides. They have fantastic pop-out maps and suggestions for all the fun and cool things to do in each neighborhood. They will be more excited than ever to plan their trip and will have a nice list of affordable things to do, see and places to eat. I took these guides with me to London and Paris (both times I traveled) and they were invaluable for finding attractions and underground stations.

On a moderate budget
Got a budding photographer on your list, social media addict or a blogger to buy for? The Eye-Fi card is perfect! With built-in WiFi, it magically sends any photos or videos taken with it (you know, with a camera) to an iPhone, iPad, Android device or computer. Instant back-up! Not only that, you can set up your card to also send your photos and videos straight to an online sharing site, including Flickr, Facebook, Shutterfly and even YouTube. Pictures don’t need to be uploaded at the end of the day to be able to add them to a blog, making it so much easier to share and save. They can be a lifesaver, especially if a camera gets stolen on a trip, because all their memories will be backed up. 

CityPASS – CityPASSes are great for travelers, because they allow them to see and do more on a budget. Pay one price and get the most popular (and sometime obscure, too) attractions included.  On average, CityPASSes save half off regular attraction rates, which is a huge savings if they get to all of them. They are good for 9 consecutive days starting with the first use. Even if they just going live in one of these cities they are available all, it allows them to be a tourist at home, which is always fun.

Travelon has been a wonderful review partner for me over the years. It’s no surprise that I love their bags and other products. They are well-made, look great and are made for both men and women to carry. The Urban Tour Bag is one we continue to take over and over again on trips and is my husband's "personal item" on the plane where he stashes books, the iPad, snacks, gum, pens and bottles of water. It's handy, doesn't cut into your shoulder and looks great. I've even used it on bike rides. If you need more reason to buy one, here's my review of it.

I hope you find something here or in my Parade article that suits your dad and your wallet. Remember, it's the thought that counts and not the amount of money that goes into a gift that will make the receiver happy, so if you are low on funds and can only purchase a little something, maybe construct a funky handmade card, throw in a hug and you're golden! What are some of your favorite travel gift ideas? 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Making the Most of a Staycation

Sometimes, you just don't have the funds to take a full-on vacation. Maybe you lost your job or you needed a new refrigerator or your kid needed braces or any number of other unforeseen expenses can occur and you just can't fit it into your budget. Well, just because you can't go anywhere doesn't mean you can't make the most of a staycation, just to get out of the house and see more of your own town or a neighboring one. It's better than sitting on the couch watching old TV shows on Hulu.

Take a walking tour. All cities have one, so why not fork over a few bucks (or nothing) and go on one. You're sure to learn a bunch about where you live and maybe look at it much differently than before. You can find all kinds of walking tours by Googling or looking at your local Chamber of Commerce website. Many cities have free tours run by locals that are super fun and informative or you can download a free or cheap walking tour app to your mobile device and do it yourself! Bonus if you ever win on a gameshow because you knew historical or random fact about your town!

Get a CityPASS. If you've been reading my blog for any amount of time, you know I love CityPASS. Uh, who wouldn't want to save up to 50% off a whole slew of attractions? Skip the ticket lines and go straight in, plus never pay for anything after you buy your pass (except lunch and souvenirs). Not only does it save you time and money, but it's convenient and it comes with discounts on dining, transportation and more. They are good for 9 days starting on the first day of use.

Hop-on, Hop-off bus tours. Maybe I'm a sucker and I also like taking the bus on vacation, so the hop-on, hop-off buses are up there on my list of vacation activities. With gas prices on the rise in most places across America, paying $15-20 for one of these tours seems like a bargain. Check out all the touristy places in your neighborhood and don't waste any of your own gas!

Attend a sporting event. When’s the last time you went to the ballpark or stadium and got a hot dog and beer and rooted for the home team? You can sometimes find discounts on tickets, too. Check your Entertainment book or sign up for a daily deal site like Groupon and look for 2-for-1 tickets and other discounts.

Take in a Broadway/off-Broadway play. Most cities have plays and Broadway-style productions going on all the time (or if you are in New York City, you get actual Broadway shows) and you can get half-price tickets the day of the performance, find discounts in your Entertainment Book or find amazing deals online at Broadway Box if you live in NYC, Orlando, Las Vegas or London.

Shakespeare in the Park. In the summer, you can get free culture on the weekends by seeing Shakespeare productions done at your local parks. Who doesn’t enjoy free entertainment? My husband and I do this every summer and bring a picnic and our dog. The dog loves to be outside and check out people and then we all eat lunch or dinner during intermission. Toss a couple bucks in the donation box at the end of the show and you’ve just had a super cheap afternoon out. Kids love to watch the performances, too, even if they aren’t entirely sure about the language being spoken. Other theater companies do this with non-Shakespeare plays as well, but you will have to search for them or check your town’s local paper. You might even find listings via What’s On When.

Grace your local Renaissance Fair with your presence. Kings and queens, jousting, turkey legs and jugglers. What’s not to love at a Renaissance fair? You can dress up if you want, watch the shows, shop for swords and hand forged utensils, try on dresses and take your picture with a lute-player. Or not. People really get into the spirit of the Renaissance at these things, which can be awesome. Enjoy the cheese, buy a flower crown, eat something with your hands and have a fun day out. Don’t forget your sunscreen though, as many of these festivals don’t have much cover and they are always on the hottest day of the year (or so it seems).

Visit famous landmarks. Your city probably has one or two (or dozens), so why not look them up online and then make a point to tick them off your list. I can drive a half hour or so and visit the end of the Oregon Trail. Last time I was there, I learned how to make flour and that a covered wagon wasn’t really all that good at keeping you out of the elements. Maybe you have something cool in your hometown, like the house that Abraham Lincoln lived in, or Christopher Columbus’ ship (if that even exists somewhere). You know the places that you tell other people to visit when they come to your city (i.e. Alcatraz), but you have never been to.
What are your favorite hometown tourist activities?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

How to Have a Fantastic Staycation

The weather is warming up and summer is going to be here before you know it. maybe you have plans to travel some other time of the year, but still want to enjoy the summer months and don't have the funds to swing another trip, plan a staycation or two. Don't take a typical one though. Anyone can stay home and drive around all day and then come back and sleep in their own bed. Why not make it a real adventure and be creative with your planning?

Just because you aren't flying anywhere, doesn't mean you can't stay in a hotel or pack a suitcase. Staycations are boring, because you spend half your time in your own house (and the word is also annoying to hear and say). Chances are you haven't explored your whole city or even nearby cities. Pretend you have never visited where you live before and get excited about tourist attractions. You probably haven't been to them in 10 years, or ever, so they are new to you!

Stay in a town other than where you live. Not up to hanging around your own town? Go a town or two over and explore that one! Stay in a budget hotel or a B&B and make an itinerary with all the touristy stuff there is to do there on it. Just that change of scenery can really help you relax. And even though you could drive there and do a day trip, why not make it a real vacation by putting some money on an affordable accommodation. Claim you're from out of town, (because hey! You are!) and ask "locals" where the best places to eat and visit are. Even if you've already been there, you might learn about some really awesome cafes, shops or parks that you never knew existed.

Get a hotel or vacation rental in the middle of the action. Come on! You haven't see everything in the city you live in, have you? There are still some things in Portland that I have yet to get to...and in Oregon. And I just found out that a couple hours away from here I can see a replica of Stonehenge! (Filing that away for future day-tripping, for sure.) If you live near a big city, chances are there is a fabulous downtown that is full of fun and weird stuff to do. I also bet dollars to doughnuts (yum!) that you don't live downtown, because it is wicked expensive. This is the time to cash in some miles or hotel points for free nights or look into gettng an apartment or condo rental in the middle of it all and set out each day to discover something new and awesome about where you live.

Look online for popular (and obscure) tourist attractions. You already do this when you go on regular vacations. Do it the same way for your hometown and find crazy things you have never heard of before, do things you always say you will or just go be a cheesy tourist and do things that you tell other people are musts when they visit.

Eat at all those food carts you always say you will try, but then never do. Oh the joy of looking at the Twitter feed and seeing a new food cart has opened. You vow you will try it, and then 30 new carts have come and gone and you have yet to drive the 2 miles into town and find parking and eat maybe some of the most delicious stuff you will ever call food. Okay, maybe it will be mediocre or downright disgusting, but you'll never know unless you try it. All in one day you could try salted cod, deep fried cheeseburgers, ham and cheese crepes and Korean short ribs on a stick! (Of course, you'll have to adjust for what your town actually has.) Seriously though. Your city probably has a ton of really cool stuff. If not food carts, like Portland is famous for, then maybe you can hit up a bunch of greasy spoons or taco trucks. At least you'll get exercise walking to each one.

Bring your camera and take lots of pictures. Don't take your city for granted. Just because you see that stuff every day, doesn't mean it's not cool. You'll be sad one day when you talk to someone about things and then realize you have no photos of it or you being there.

Want more ideas for taking the perfect staycation? Check out my staycation Pinterest board on things you can do to turn your backyard into an awesome getaway and what to do and where to go away from home. We use our backyard as a movie theater and are looking to make it even more luxurious for when friends and family come indulge.

Where did you spend your last staycation and what did you do?

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