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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Museum Day Live 2014

It's that time again! Time to get your free tickets to museums around your around your area or where you'll be traveling. Last year we hit up Portland's World Forestry Center. This year we'll be traveling, but we'll have just come from Washington, DC where we'll have visited several free Smithsonian museums (free everyday!), so we won't be partaking this year.

Museum Day Live! is a great way to see some of those spendy museums you always mean to get to, but then don't. There are over 1,000 participating across America that can be a fun (and entertaining) for the whole family. I know not all museums are fascinating for children, but there are plenty that are educational and fun for them, including the Pacific Aviation Museum in Honolulu, the Koshland Museum of Science in DC, the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Michigan and Zoo Miami in Florida.

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

Bailey House Museum - photo credit

The majority of the free entries are September 27, but a select few aren’t open on Saturdays and are offering it on Sunday, September 28. You MUST have your printed ticket to get free entry, so don't forget it.

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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Budget-Friendly Hawaii: Molokai & Lanai

Last week, I discussed my meeting with the Maui Visitors Center and how there were so many money-saving opportunities there. Believe it or not, there is quite a lot more to Hawaii than Honolulu and if you're not into a crush of tourists everywhere you go and tons of shops, then Moloka'i and Lana'i may be more your speed. Both offer a more true Hawaiian experience without thousands of people on the beaches and everywhere else you go. These two islands are smaller and pride themselves on having a more authentic and natural vibe. If you planned to spend as much time outside as possible, at the beach, swimming, snorkeling, hiking or scuba diving, then there's no better places to head to, even if you just make it a quick escape from your Maui or Oahu vacation. It's truly a relaxing getaway in a totally different way.

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Because Lana'i is not the "ultimate" tourist destination, you may want to go ahead and splurge on a hotel, like the Four Seasons, which has recently been renovated and has some of the poshest rooms you're bound to step foot in as a budget traveler. In fact, there are two on the small island: Four Seasons Manele Bay - which is offering a 3rd night free right now - is still pretty far out of a budget range unless you weren't planning to do anything else, except take advantage of the complimentary guest hikes. The Four Seasons Koele is a bit cheaper, even if you choose the bed & breakfast options, but still not what I would consider budgety, especially factoring the cost of ferry service to get to the island as well. In fact, if you want to experience the luxury of the Four Seasons, as I suggest with the Ritz, grab a table at Kailani, which offers Italian and Mediterranean dishes, NOBU Lana'i where you can get delicious sushi, ONE FORTY that serves up Hawaiian seafood and steak or the Orchid House which is highly private and fancy, though it is set in a gorgeous greenhouse. (You might want to make a reservation for that last one.)

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Where to stay instead
If spending hundreds of dollars a night on a room you will mostly only sleep in doesn't fit in your budget, because it doesn't mine, look at booking a room at the much more attainable Hotel Lanai, where rooms start at $149 per night, come with free Wi-Fi and a complimentary breakfast and feel a bit more homey. This hotel, built in the 1920s, has been named Hawaii's "Best Little Inn" and was the only hotel on the island until 1990. It is still owner-operated, but because it only has 11 guest rooms, it's best to try to book well in advance.

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This is where you'll find the Lanai City Grill, that offers inventive sushi dishes and other Hawaiian fusion cuisine at an affordable price. There's Opal's, a quaint little boutique gallery and gift shop. Every week you can take part in Friday Night Music Night, which is exactly what it sounds like. You'll experience a variety of music for everyone's taste.

What to do on Lana'i
There are not that many shops on either Lanai or Molokai, but the ones that exist are there for the locals, which means you won't find ridiculously inflated prices for anything you happen to come across and just have to take home with you. That's pretty awesome, right? I thought so, because much of the things I found on our trip to Honolulu was either crazy expensive or cheap and not-so-good quality.

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Learn about arts and culture of Lanai at the Lanai Art Center. It offers workshops, classes and studio access for everyone. You can also learn even more at the Lanai Culture and Heritage Center which houses Hawaiian artifacts excavated on archaeological digs, plantation era documents and more. Find out about the historical sites on the island, which you may want to check out on a day you rent a car.

If you are interested in scuba diving, Lanai is one of the "Top 10 Dive Destinations in the World", which is pretty impressive. There's also only one full-service dive company available on the island. Trilogy Excursions can take you to many unique dive sites that you'll only find here. 

Explore the gorgeous Hawaiian landscape by UTV and four-wheel your way through the trails of Ironwood Forest, check out some of Lanai's beautiful plants and flowers and interesting wildlife. Lanai Grand Adventures has three different experiences to choose from, one of which you can try your hand at clay shooting.

As you may have guessed, Lanai is full of hiking opportunities and world-class golf, plush even more ways to relax, like white sandy beaches that are almost deserted, even on a busy day.

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Moloka'i is another outdoor oasis in Hawaii. The 28-mile island is home to the tallest seacliffs in the world, the longest wharf in the state (Kaunakakai Harbor) where you can go deep-sea fishing, and beaches that are quiet and crowd-free. The entire south shoreline is fringe reefs dotted with fishponds that are ancient and a great tourist attraction. They are available to visit at certain times. These ponds are 700+ years old and were constructed to keep fish in while still allowing sea water to go in and out.

Stop off at the Molokai Museum and Culture Center, where you can learn about the sugar plantation days and more of the island's history.

Molokai is so laid back, there are no street lights on the island, because there isn't that much traffic. If you want to go whale watching, canoeing, kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling or hiking without tons of tourists everywhere, this is the place to do it. No matter how you spend your days, you'll feel properly relaxed after your visit to Molokai.

Getting to Molokai
You can fly to the island by air from Maui or Honolulu, via Mokulele Airlines or Makani Kai from just $70 each way. You can also take a ferry from Maui's Lahaina Harbor every morning except Sunday.

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Where to eat and What to do
Molokai has plenty of farms in which to buy produce, nuts and coffee. Farmers markets are a fantastic place to get a ton of fruits, veggies and homemade goods. Historical Kaunakakai Town is where you want to go to eat where the locals eat, because honestly there are no other kinds of places to eat here. If you want to pick up some souvenirs or other items, the town has several owner-operated shops to find some gems in.

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Where to stay
Amazingly, you don't have to spend a lot of money to stay the night on Molokai. While a lot of travelers just visit for the day, those that want more of an escape can choose from a handful of lodgings. Rent an apartment at Ke Nani Kai for a week at just $750. Hotel Molokai has oceanfront bungalows that have kitchenettes and can be stayed in for around $159 per night. For even less, check out the Blue Goose B&B. Rooms can be had for around $100 per night and each morning you'll be served a hearty breakfast before you head out to explore the island.

Molokai and Lanai are definitely places to head to if you are wanting a true relaxing vacation. Even if you spend your days being busy and active, the vibe of the islands will surely settle into your bones and leave you feeling totally refreshed and ready to get back to your daily grind when you head home. Have you been to either island? If so, what did you like best?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Getting Ready for Your Next Road Trip

When you travel on a budget, it can be necessary to skip the airport and load up the car instead. While road trips haven't always been the money-saving opportunities they are today, you can be happy to know that no matter how long your road trip is or how far you go, you will probably never spend $188,000 on one like the very first cross-country road trip. Not only was it uncomfortable, but it was the worst return on investment for a bet ever. So, no matter what goes wrong, remember, it could always be worse. We're going to focus on the positives though.
Summer may be winding down, but that doesn't mean that road trip opportunities are over. In fact, I have always found that late Summer and Fall is the best time to travel in a car, because it's still nice out, roads are a bit less crowded and it's nice to get out and stretch in the sun and sit to eat outside in a cool breeze. Before you head out on your next road trip though, you want to make sure your car is in the best shape it can be in, because breaking down on the side of the highway over something that could have been prevented does not make for a fun trip.

Now, I know the very basic of car maintenance. I can check my oil and put air in my tires (though I never do it right, so that my low tire goes off. I either put too much or not enough in, I guess), but that's about it. It's always smart to go get your car checked out before your trip. A licensed professional, like one at Advanced Auto Parts, can do this for you, but they can also show you how to check it yourself, so you know when to come in and get the replacement parts you need. 

I've gotten up before and had an issue with my car starting. I finally got it going and my husband and I went off to do our normal Saturday routine. On the way home, we stopped to get gas and then it wouldn't start again. Boo! Lucky for me, there was a nice guy who helped push the car away from the pumps and gave us a jump for us to drive straight to the service center. Turns out my battery just gave up. If I had known better, I could have checked it before I left home, or gone to get it checked by a professional. Before the last year or so, I really didn't know how to jump a car, but it's not that difficult once a friend of mine and I put our heads together to give her car a jump from mine. If you aren't quite sure how it works, Advanced Auto Parts made this great video to help you do it right and safely, and not get a horrible shock:

My last car wasn't the greatest. It was a used car that I bought off a family member. It ran and got me to work and anywhere else I needed to go, which was what I cared about at the time. It took us on several decent road trips without breaking down, which is always a bonus. Near the time I knew I would need to replace it, the brakes weren't doing so well. If it's taking a little more pressure than needed to stop your car or you hear some squealing when you slow down, those aren't good things. You don't want to find out your brakes are shot when you're in the middle of nowhere. Just because I read about how to slow down a car on the highway when your brakes fail, doesn't mean I want to have to use that information. Make sure you know when to get yours replaced:

Don't forget to check important fluids, because there's nothing worse than ignoring crucial maintenance and then ending up either broken down, overheated or doing irreparable damage to something that then cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to replace, making your road trip totally not budget-friendly by the end. You can check all your car's fluids yourself, so you know what needs to be taken care of before you head out...and remember, keep a large bottle of water (a two-liter or gallon jug) in your trunk for emergencies:

Even though you have taken care of the important things, that doesn't mean that something unfortunate still won't happen, like a flat tire or something equally annoying. Be prepared by making sure you have your emergency kit in the trunk. If you don't have one, you should make sure you get one that has the essentials in it, in case you break down or otherwise need to call attention to your unmoving car. Things that you should keep in your kit are:
  • Flares -- Make sure you keep yourself and other drivers safe by alerting them to your situation.
  • Hazard Triangle
  • Jack, because you aren't He-Man and need some help holding the car up to change a tire.
  • Lug Wrench
  • Jumper cables -- Just because you can get a stranger to help you, doesn't mean they have the necessary equipment.
  • Flashlight -- You can't always see in the dark or find things easily in the trunk, even during the day. That fancy headlamp you have at home is perfect for this.
  • Rags or Paper Towels -- It's just nice to not ruin your clothes, especially when you've packed light to save space. This is also where antibacterial wipes come in handy.
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Some optional items that are good to have, just in case are:
  • Foam Tire Sealant or a Portable Compressor and Plug Kit, because nails and other sharp objects happen and these will at least get you to the next service station.
  • Portable Battery Booster, because you aren't always near civilization when the least convenient things happen.
  • Fire Extinguisher, because you hope there isn't a fire, but things don't always go the way you expect.
{All of the above can be found at your local Advance Auto Parts location or their website.}

Connect with Advance Auto Parts on 

Now that you're all prepared for your trip, you can worry about narrowing down all the stops you'll be making on your way. Go out and have an awesome and affordable trip, plus save even more with these tips from AAP on how to pay less for gas.  What are some of your best road trip tips? Find more on the AAP website!

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Advance Auto Parts and was brought to you through my partnership with the Quality Blue Community. All opinions expressed are my own.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Visit Las Vegas' Neon Museum

Over the years and countless trips to Vegas, I've said every time that I will visit the Neon Museum. Who doesn't want to wander among the long forgotten signs from Sin City's golden age? The idea that there is a "boneyard" where these signs go to die makes at once happy and sad, because people should get to see them, but so many less get to do so where they are now. On my last trip, I finally went online, bought tickets for a tour and we all dragged ourselves out of bed in the early morning to get to the first tour of the day, hoping to avoid the ridiculous heat. Unfortunately, it didn't work, because even at 9am it was already 100 degrees. Lucky for us, the tour is only an hour and at least a quarter of it is in the shade. I thought I would share some photos from our trip. 

Have you heard of the Moulin Rouge? The woman who designed this sign 
also designed the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign!

Aladdin's old lamp, along with letters from the old Sahara sign.

Did you know Binion's was the first hotel to offer seating at slot machines 
and comp drinks?

Behind the Tropicana sign is the old Tam O'Shanter marquee, and the tartan 
tam (hat) in front of it used to sit on top and spin.

Who doesn't love the futuristic styling of the Stardust, what was once the tallest 
sign on The Strip?

The Tropicana has been through several reincarnations, but their old sign remains. 
You may not remember the Silver Slipper, but the actual Silver Slipper has been 
restored and put back on Las Vegas Blvd out front of the Neon Museum.

You can view the old signs that have been retired, too, for $18 per person, or $25 if you take the evening tour, where the signs are lit up and the four working signs on the property are plugged in and shine bright. If the nights are cooler when you travel, it might be worth the extra cost to beat the heat. Surprisingly, we found out that all the signs they have here have been donated, but in order to get them restored, the Neon Museum puts up the money and then the original company that made the sign (if still available) take care of the actual careful restoration. There are several signs that are part of the collection, but are actually on The Strip, so more tourists can appreciate them.

Our friend took photos on his phone and when he was looking back through them on the ride back to the main strip, he declared that you couldn't take a bad picture there if you tried. It's true. Even with the sun in our eyes, between the three of us, all our pictures were wonderful.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Budget-Friendly Maui

Last month I was invited to a meet and greet with the Maui Visitors Center and several reps from the area. I was thrilled to learn more about Maui, Moloka'i and Lana'i. These three islands are not as crowded as Oahu and are pretty unique and totally embody everything you expect Hawaii to be. Most of us know that Hawaii can be pretty expensive and I know there are tons of travelers who have it on their wish list, but think they can never make it there because they are on a budget. What I learned was, with a little planning, it can easily be done. Today we'll talk about Maui and next we'll talk about the other two islands.

What to do in Maui
When in Hawaii, you want to do what the locals do, because those are the most cultural, fun and also affordable. When you get there, turn the radio dial to 93.5 FM (which also streams online, so you could listen even before you reach Maui). Not only will you get to hear some great local music, but this is also where they will announce community calendar events. Make sure you add the Maui Arts & Cultural Center to your vacation schedule. They offer free events and entertainment for the locals and tourists throughout the year. Those with a rental car should also make the road to Hana trip. With just the investment in gas, you'll be able to see some of the most beautiful scenery. All beaches in Hawaii are public, so bring your swimsuit and towel, so you can jump out and explore the beach and waves whenever the mood strikes.

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You know by now how much I love food and Hawaii has some of the best seafood and other cuisine I've actually had on my travels. If you also have an inner foodie, it's worth the splurge to visit Maui in August for the Food and Wine Festival. You'll be able to sample some of the most delicious foods from amazing area chefs. Go budget and only spend a little more on a few great restaurants that you wouldn't be able to dine in otherwise by visiting in May or November for Restaurant Week. These weeks are so popular that visitors plan far in advance to make sure they travel during that time. Three-course prix fixe menus run $29, $39 and $49 and this next week (November 9-15) has 23 resort restaurants in Wailea participating. A portion of your dining total also goes to benefit the Maui Food Bank.

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How else can you save on dining? Hawaii has some fantastic farmers' markets, and since the weather is great the majority of the year, they are open year-round. Purchasing locally-grown fruits and veggies helps you save money, try new things and support the locals. If you have a kitchen in your accommodation - which I highly recommend - you can use these to make salads and side dishes. Fruit is also a quick and easy breakfast. Dine out for less by hitting up restaurant happy hours. This is a great way to try several different dishes instead of just one, do it on a budget and maybe indulge in a little Hawaiian cocktail. Grab restaurant-quality meals without the sit-down experience at the food trucks in Maui.
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See the beautiful Maui landscape from above, with a zipline adventure. Pi'iholo Ranch Adventures offers multiple line canopy tours for adults and older children. It's a fun way to spend several hours. If heights aren't really your thing, look into their horseback riding tours. Indulge someone else in your party by booking a zipline and waterfall hiking combo where your zipline tour ends with a swim in a waterfall and lunch. Don't forget your camera!

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Realistically, we all can't stay at the Ritz Carlton, though we'd like to and they include a bunch of activities in their nightly rates, which makes it more of a value. If you want to experience the incredible service of this luxury hotel, without going broke, there's a great way to do it. Take the Coastal Trail to Kapalua Bay and park for free at DT Flemings Beach. After you have soaked up some sun, throw on a beach cover-up or a sundress and walk over to the Ritz's Beach House for an upscale oceanview lunch. This casual restaurant serves of Hawaiian favorites with outstanding service. You can expect to spend $20-25 per person, which is pretty great considering the amazing view and that you spent no money enjoying the beach. You'll feel even better knowing that the Ritz Carlton does more than its share to help the environment and preserve the gorgeous Hawaii landscape.

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So, where can you stay? There are actually some beautiful and comfortable Maui resorts that cater to the budget traveler. Be aware that budget-friendly for Hawaii is a bit more than budget-friendly elsewhere, so you may need to save a little more before you plan your trip. Ka'anapali Beach Hotel doesn't offer all those extras that are hardly ever used, like a monster pool or fitness room. Instead, if offers daily breakfast, oceanfront views and complimentary activities for all ages from a modest $174/night. Parents and their kids can take part in the Aloha Passports for Kids. 12 years and under receive their passports and can get stamps and rewards by doing different activities where they will learn about the culture of Hawaii. The hotel offers more for families and just the adults, including ukulele lessons and a nightly hula show. Think of all the money you can save when many of your activities can be found right on the resort grounds.

Road to Hana - photo credit
Go all-inclusive with Travaasa Maui in Hana. While you can also pay a la carte, it just makes more sense to book your stay for 3+ nights where you will receive three meals per day, a $125 spa credit, a free flight from Maui's Kahului Airport with shuttle service from Hana Airport to the resort. Need a rental car for the day or your entire trip? Travaasa has partnered with Enterprise Rent-A-Car to help you out. Your beautiful room and delicious meals are not the only things to make this resort worth the $600 per night rate (a la carte rates start at $350/night). All your activities are included. Travaasa offers many complimentary tours and hikes, nightly Hawaiian entertainment, yoga and archery. I realize this doesn't scream budget-friendly at all, but for a a short escape from the real world that includes a ton of romantic and relaxing activities, this might be just the place to splurge.

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If Travaasa is way out of your price range, and believe me, I totally understand if it is, since many of us only have $1,800 for our entire vacation, then you might want to check into Napili Kai Beach Resort. The resort's motto is "We don't nickel and dime our guests." Room rates start at $280/night and starting August 23rd they are offering a 7th night free through the end of the year. Now through October 17, book three nights and the third night is free in certain rooms where the pool is not available (the beach is rightthere.) There is never a resort fee, even though they offer countless activities for guests. Go snorkeling for free with complimentary beach gear. Enjoy nightly entertainment, including Polynesian song and dance performed by the children of Napili Kai Foundation. Kids eat free, mid-morning refreshments, hula lessons, bocce ball, weekly Mai Tai parties and so much more. You get free Wi-Fi and boarding pass printing in the lobby, plus most rooms include kitchenettes, so you can save even more, which is perfect for families. There are even laundry facilities with complimentary detergent, so you can pack light and avoid baggage fees. Score!

Have you been to Maui? What are your favorite ways to save?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Why Traveling in the Off-Season Can Save You Big

I always choose to travel in the fall. It is usually cheaper wherever I want to go and, since I have no kids, I don't have to worry about a school schedule to work around. Of course, if you have little ones, you can often work with the teacher and school to take all the required reading and homework with you to keep up. If you can take advantage of not traveling during the most expensive times of year (summer and holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas), you can really save big bucks. In particular on airfare. Fall is one of the best times to go to Europe. Airfare can easily be halved at that time. With all the kids in school, it ensures that crowds during the week will be much smaller and allow you to do and see more while at your destination. This infographic shows the different travel seasons in the U.S. The same principles can be applied to other destinations around the world.

Off Season Travel Guide

What's been your best experience traveling during off-season or shoulder season?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Shave Time, Shave Money on Travel

Traveling, even when heading out on a road trip and staying with family, has never been called cheap. If you're on a budget, and you probably are if you read my blog, then you'll want to find ways to save on all aspects of your trips. There are some pretty simple ways to do it before you start trying to do complex algorithms on how to book flights that will give you a ton of frequent flyer miles and eat up all your free time. I don't have time to figure out how to spend most of my time on the plane and I know you don't either. Here's what I suggest instead:

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Book Tuesday-Thursday
Airfare sales come out each Tuesday and you'll see other airlines trying to match or beat said sales before Friday, when rates go back up for when the majority of travelers start actually looking for flights on the weekend when they have free time. (money shaved!)

Fly on Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday
These are the least popular days to fly, which means seats cost less on these days. Most people want to take advantage of the weekend for their trip, so the airport is busiest on Thursdays and Fridays (when people fly out) and Sundays and Mondays (when people fly back home). We often fly on Wednesdays and the the airport is pretty dead, especially in the morning, which is another good time to fly, but Saturdays are equally easy travel days...and family is available to drop us off and pick us up. Bonus! (time + money shaved!)

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Fly Carry-on Only
Did you know that a checked bag can cost you $35 or more? That's $70+ for your bag to fly under the plane and possibly not even the one you're on. Yep, my bag has been lost and also diverted. I have also spent way too much time standing around at baggage carousels when I could be exploring my destination. Pack mix and match items for an optimal wardrobe that takes up minimal space. 3 bottoms + 5 tops + 1 dress/skirt + 2 pairs of shoes = perfect number of items to take you through one week, one month or one year. Throw in some accessories, like a cardigan and jewelry and you're set for mixing it up. (time + money shaved!)
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Keep Your Bag Packed
As much as I like packing, I don't like doing unnecessary work, which means I keep the important things in my bag at all times: underwear, toiletries like toothbrushes, toothpaste, comb, shampoo bar and moisturizer and a packable jacket. You can find travel-sized items of almost all your favorite products now, and if you can't there are always bottles, jars and spritzers that you can decant your full-size ones into for vacation and doesn't cost you having to pay almost the same price for something 1/4 of the size. Keep things packed that you use all the time, like a good razor for shaving your face or legs. Sign up at Dollar Shave Club for a your home razors and keep one out for your travel bag. You can get awesome razors and shaving creams and lotions starting at just $1/month. Hey! Bring one razor and two heads if you have someone you could share with. (time + money shaved!)

Sign up for Groupon and Other Daily Deal Sites
I can't tell you how much money I've saved on entertainment, dining, tours and activities by using Groupon. You can adjust your subscriptions for every trip you take and then save a ton all over the world. I've purchased and used daily deals at home and Hawaii and as far away as London and Paris. There's almost nothing you can't save on. Just sign up for the emails for home and your next vacation destination, then change them when you come back. Usually, three month ahead of your travel date is perfect for finding anything you want to see, do or eat at a discount (50-90% off!). I also use Amazon Local, Living Social and KGB Deals. (money shaved!)

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Avoid Summertime
I know it's not always possible to travel whenever you want, but summer is notoriously the most expensive time to fly. By avoiding those three months when the kids are out of school, you can save up to 50% off airfare and even hotel rates. We choose to travel in the fall for our large yearly trip, because the weather is still pretty good, the crowds are smaller on the weekdays and we don't pay an arm and a leg to fly to our destination. If Disney World or Europe are on your list to visit, September is the best month to travel to both. Think of all the deals you can take advantage of when destinations are clamoring to get visitors to come there! (time waiting in lines + money shaved!)

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Stop Ordering Off the Kids' Menu
First of all, if you travel with kids you'll learn that A) all kids' menus offer the same 3-5 dishes and B) they almost never finish the food they swear they are starving for. Make sure your kids eat healthier when you go out by either having them share an entree with you or with your other child. They won't be living off pizza and chicken nuggets and you won't have to eat extra calories when they don't finish them (because we all know that's what happens). (money shaved!)

These are just some of the (very) many ways to save when you travel, allowing you to budget better or spend more on souvenirs or splurge on a nicer hotel. What are your favorite ways to shave time or money when you plan your vacations?

Disclosure: This post was inspired by Dollar Shave Club who want to Shave you Time and Money.

Shereen Travels Cheap is 4!

Can you believe it's been 4 years since I started this blog? At times I feel like I just started it and others I feel like I have been doing it forever. This last year has been pretty exciting. I was able to go 100% freelance, pick up some great writing jobs, go on what I assumed was a once-in-a-lifetime vacation when I took it 7 years ago and went to my first trade show. I hope to do just as much in the next year and pick up even more sponsors to bring you cool products and services at the same time. Let's take a look at some of the most popular posts over the last year, which aren't all from 2013 or 2014.

I need to make this cake. It looks delicious! photo credit
It looks like a lot of you get bored on the plane and needed some ideas on how to pass the time. My post Fun Ways to Entertain Yourself on the Plane was read quite a bit.

Travel insurance can be pretty baffling. Many readers don't know how it works, where they can get it or that they even need it. If that's you, too, check The Importance of Travel Insurance.

I've missed some flights. It's not the most convenient thing to happen to you, but jetBlue totally helped me out when we overslept and got to the airport 30 minutes late. Ack! I Missed My Flight! tells my tale of being dumb and how the jetBlue agent saved my butt and money.

Everyone wants to fly for free. It's a total dream come true, right? Well, it's not one of those things where there's some secret and you can just fly all over the world for nothing. There is an easy way to do it, but it takes some time and effort. Here's How to Get Free Airfare.

Packing sucks, or so many people tell me. I enjoy it, but I know most don't. Having a bag that's pretty much ready to go is really helpful and makes traveling less stressful. Learn how Creating a Grab and Go Travel Bag can save you time (and also money).

Did you have a favorite blog post from this past year or earlier? I have quite a few, but then again, I wrote them all :)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

To Tip or Not to Tip

Before I travel outside of the country, I look up several things, like who and how much to tip. I am so used to the heavy tipping we do in the U.S. at restaurants that I feel really awkward either only leaving a few coins or nothing at all. I know that most wait staff get paid a decent wage, unlike here in America, but it's still hard to break out of that habit we have when we go out to eat. If you also have trouble trying to remember what to tip or even if to tip when you travel, this great infographic acts as a great cheat sheet.

Do you find it difficult to break out of routine when it comes to tipping on your travels?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

48 Hours of Fun on a Budget in Portland, Oregon

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.

I’ve lived in Portland since 1996 and it is, quite possibly, one of the most beautiful places I’ve been. Living for the majority of my life in Tucson, Oregon is much different. For one, it has trees and grass. For another, it’s not 112 degrees 80% of the year. I’ve got nothing against the heat, but it can get quite excessive and I am more than happy to give up sunny days for having four seasons. In Tucson, winter consists of days in the 60s, which is not really all that cold, and you almost never get snow. Portland rarely gets snow, but I can drive an hour to the mountain for the white stuff. I can also drive an hour or two and get to the beach. If I miss the dessert, I am not too far from that either.

Portland has consistently been named as one of the best family vacation destinations and, though we don’t have major tourist attractions, we do have great outdoor activities and more that can make all travelers happy. If you had two days to spend in the city, you can definitely do it on a budget. Though you can use public transportation like the bus or MAX light rail to get around, in order to get to some great places outside of the downtown area, it makes sense to rent a car. {You don't need to spend a ton on a rental car. In fact, you can save around 40% off regular car rental companies by using a carsharing service like Turo (formerly RelayRides). It works a bit like Airbnb, in that you rent a car from an individual. The car is insured, has roadside assistance, and basically includes everything you normally get when you rent a car, but at a lower rate. You can get a carshare for a few days or a few weeks and can even pick it up at the airport. The only difference between Turo and a traditional rental car company is that you are using a car that probably isn't brand-new, but it's more economical and more eco-friendly. Everybody wins!}

Day 1
I’m going to assume you are staying for the weekend and you got in on Friday evening. Saturday morning should find you standing in line at Voodoo Doughnuts downtown. As seen on several Food Network shows, Voodoo is known for its interesting (and cheeky) flavor combinations like the maple bacon bar what has real bacon on top, my favorite the Arnold Palmer and many varieties with cereal on top. No matter the day or night, it’s possible you will wait up to two hours for a doughnut here, but that’s part of the experience. Voodoo is cash-only, so make sure you hit up the ATM before you get there. We always buy a dozen on our trips there, because standing that long in line for two seems like a waste. You will consistently see travelers going home with a signature pink box or two under their arm. With coffees, you can get out of here for less than $20 for two if you purchase a whole dozen.

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A few blocks away will find you at Portland Saturday Market, an outdoor market (that is also open on Sundays) that sells homemade goods, décor, food, jewelry and more. You can easily spend several hours browsing the stalls and talking to the sellers. Make sure to walk along the waterfront before heading back and searching for some real food. Free if you don’t buy anything, but there’s something to fit everyone’s shopping budget.

Portland is known for its food trucks and is right on the top of the list of best trucks in the world. We have a ton, and it would be sad to miss out on trying some of the best mobile cuisine anywhere. Check out the food cart map in order to choose from what’s around you and grab a delicious lunch that you can enjoy walking around or while sitting in one of our many parks. Depending on what you choose, you normally can eat for under $10 per person.

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Spend more time outside with a trip to Portland Japanese Gardens. You can take the bus here, but it’s easier to drive to. This gorgeous outdoor space is a recreation of five different Japanese gardens, including the sand and stone garden and strolling pond garden. It’s quite peaceful and idyllic, plus it’s close to other attractions, like Pittock Mansion, Hoyt Arboretum and rose tests gardens, the Oregon Zoo and the Portland Children’s Museum, making it a great hopping off point to other Portlandy things. Stroll the gardens, indulge in a beautiful day and get some exercise at the same time. Admission is just $9.50.

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Get a bit of retail therapy in by finding a place to park along NW 23rd. A good tip might be to park in a garage downtown and take the streetcar, since there is not really a good place to park in the Pearl District, though there are shops and restaurants as far as the eye can see. If you came to Portland to buy something truly unique, this is where you’ll find it – from vegan shoes to gorgeous one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry. Splurge on a dinner out at one of the many delicious eateries in the area. My faves are Oba, Trader Vic’s and Sinju Sushi Bar. Window shopping is free, but plan to spend $50 or more on dinner for two.

You’ve had a long day, so head back to your hotel or vacation rental to get a good night’s rest for tomorrow.

Day 2
Start your day with a yummy breakfast made with fresh, local ingredients at Mother’s Bistro. You’ll want to make reservations, as it can become quite full even right after opening. Choose from signature dishes like the Grilled Portabella Mushroom Scramble and Wild Salmon Hash. Look to spend about $15 per person with an entrée and a cup of coffee. If you aren’t down for a whole big breakfast to-do, grab a quick breakfast at a food cart. One of my faves is the Gaufre Gourmet that serves of liege waffles with fantastic toppings that change with the season. There are always sweet or savory options. I love the ABC Waffle, which has arugula, bacon and camembert, with a bit of fig jam, but I often opt for the Monte Cristo, which is topped with turkey, ham, Swiss cheese and strawberry preserves. Order a coffee and you have the perfect Portland brekkie. A beverage and a waffle won’t set you back more than $10.

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If you have rented a car today, put on your walking shoes and bring a sweater or jacket for a drive out to Multnomah Falls. We have the tallest year-round waterfall in the U.S. and the drive is equally is enjoyable as getting to the actual falls. Don’t forget your camera, as you can get some amazing shots from all points of view. I hike up to the bridge on every trip I take there, but harder core hikers can take the steep trail up to the very top. If you’re coming with kids, you will definitely get their energy out here. When you’re done with all the walking and photos, check out the gift shop and the visitor’s center. Multnomah Falls is a lovely place to sit down to a picnic lunch, especially after hours of being in the fresh air and needing to sit back and relax. If you’d rather someone wait on you, the restaurant on-site feels like a log cabin and serves up simple, but really good dishes and desserts. The falls and visitor’s center are free, but a meal at Multnomah Falls Lodge can run $15-25 per person.

If you didn’t rent a car, you can still enjoy something totally Portland. Book a tour of the city’s bridges on a vintage motorboat. It’s informative, beautiful and a little romantic. I’ve been on several different cruises along the river, but Portland Boat Tours has been my favorite by far. Portland has 9 bridges, with a 10th one being built as we speak, over the Willamette River and they are all different. Not only will you learn about the history of the bridges and the city itself, but you’ll also get fantastic views of the city and waterfront. This is a bit of a splurge at $59 per person, but it’s a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. If that price tag is a little jaw-dropping for you, a Portland Walking Tour will run you only $20+ per person and will also give you a fun perspective of the City of Roses.

Luckily, Portland is totally walkable, so if you’ve just taken a walking or boat tour, head up to the Picnic House for a great lunch that will help you rest your feet and feed your inner foodie. Their vegetarian dishes are some of the best I’ve tasted. Lunch will run you around $35 for two.

Indulge your inner child with a trip to Ground Kontrol in NW Portland where all your favorite arcade games can be played again. A handful of quarters can last you several hours if you are a natural gamer. Follow up with another fun Portland activity glow in the dark mini-golf at Glowing Greens. This pirate-themed course makes use of black lights for a truly unique putt putt experience. Just as fun for adults as it is for kids, you can make your game even more challenging by purchasing the 3D glasses, so everything pops even more. We went on an adult-day out and played at Glowing Greens and it was a blast. Games are $10; however, they are cheaper if you get there before 5pm Monday-Friday and a second game the same day is half-price.

Want to try something totally outrageous for dinner? Skip the fancy restaurants and head straight to Brunch Box where you can get a bacon cheeseburger between two grilled cheese sandwiches. Okay, that might be a little gross, though it’s fun to try once, even if you split it with someone else. Don’t worry, you can also order normal burgers and sandwiches here and then split an order of fries – regular, bacon cheese covered or drowning in bleu cheese. You will not be disappointed by the selections here. Two can dine in for around $25.

Now that you’ve walked and ate yourself silly, you are probably ready to fall into bed. Head back to your room and pack up for your trip back to the airport. Hopefully you’ve gotten a good slice of what Portland’s all about and have stayed on budget. Depending on your choices, you’ve spent between $260 and $350 for two of you and may be planning a return trip.

{Some other awesome things to check out in Portland: OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry), the Portland Art Museum, free Shakespeare in Washington Park, the farmers’ market in the North Park Blocks and free concerts and activities in Pioneer Courthouse Square.} Have you been to Portland? What was your favorite thing to see, do or eat here?
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