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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

It's Holiday Travel Planning Time!

Can you imagine October is almost over? That means it's time to start (or continue) thinking about your holiday travels. Each year, millions of people take to the road and sky to visit relatives, friends or even just get away from the chaos of everyday life. If you want to be one of them and also want to be able to afford another trip during the next year, then I have you covered with my Holiday Savings ebook. It's over 50 pages of ways to save money and your sanity over the holidays while traveling. There are tips on renting cars, getting the best prices on hotel rooms, saving on airfare, how to pack, what to pack, how to get free travel and ideas for gifts that won't have you stuffing a big suitcase and checking it to your destination. That's not even all!

You probably think this ebook loaded with tips is priceless, but I'm offering it for 99 cents! As an added bonus, this book comes with cold weather packing lists that can be viewed and also downloaded to your computer for use over and over. I've aimed to arm you with all the information you'll need to make the most of your budget and also save as much as possible so you don't have to choose between that yearly trip you want to take and visiting your family over the holidays. 

Small Business Saturday is coming. It's your chance to help small businesses by shopping with them. Shopping small is the best way to help the economy and keep the family-owned businesses going. I think SBS should be every day, so if you need help with your holiday travel, you help keep this blog going for less than a dollar and learn some invaluable tips that will help you for years to come. You can purchase it and download it immediately on Amazon. Save hundreds for less than a dollar! How can you pass it up?

What is your biggest holiday travel challenge?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Ripley's at the Arizona Science Center

Kids can be hard to please. If you have them, you know. Traveling with them can be an endless series of complaints of some sort, unless you keep them interested in things and get them involved in the planning. As a child, I was fascinated by the oddities printed in the Ripley's Believe It Or Not! books and have visited several of the museums. When I was in Tempe, I saw the Science Center was hosting a Ripley's exhibit and figured it would be a good way to spend my free time. I wasn't wrong, and there were a lot of kids there who also thought it was pretty cool.

What better way to teach kids about science and the world around them than by viewing some of the world's most interesting accomplishments and finds? How did the World's Tallest Man get that tall and what would it feel like to stand next to him? You got that chance at this exhibit.

 Whoa! Who knew toast was so fun? Besides eating it, you can make a very awesome picture of someone famous, like Albert Einstein.

Have you ever heard of the titanoboa? This snake, that was related to the boa constrictor, could swallow a whole car or a cow or this little girl, apparently. Could you imagine walking through the rainforest and coming across this beauty? It's pretty amazing what nature can do.

 Another crazy freaky animal is the Mega Mouth Shark. The kids all love standing in the jaw, but what do you think it would be like to see this thing in the wild? Exhibits like this are a great way to start conversations with your family. 

After checking out the Ripley's Believe It Or Not! exhibit, there's still a whole other museum to check out. It has so many hands-on displays to help visitors learn about the weather, electricity, medicine and more. I often visit OMSI here in Portland for the special exhibits, and a lot of cities have similar family museums, which kids always have a great time in. One of my favorite parts of the Arizona Science Museum is the medical area. You can view things like how artificial joints work and mimic the body and even see open heart surgery being performed (as shown in the photo below). On the screen, you see the surgery being done, along with doctor commentary, and the surgery is reflected below on the body on the gurney, so you can see exactly where each organ is located. 

If you are planning a trip with your kids, make sure to set aside some time to hit up the nearest science museum. Not only will they be able to run around and play, but learn interesting stuff in the meantime. Find affordable hotels and other things to do in Tempe on Hipmunk.

What are some of your favorite things to o with your kids when you travel?

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

Saturday, October 25, 2014

How to Save Money on Food

Eating on on vacation can add up quickly. Sometimes I feel like our bank account drains rather fast when we travel just because we want to eat well. Fortunately, we have figured out ways to save here and there throughout our trip when dining out, so we still have money to sightsee and do other things. Not only do we never go around hungry, but we also try many local foods and enjoy our dining experiences.

Food trucks

Mobile meals are all the rage and getting better in quality all the time. In Portland, we have some of the best food trucks in the nation, but street  food is great to try everywhere. It is cheaper than traditional dining and usually there are several food trucks grouped together, so there's a good variety that should please everyone in your travel group. Tempe, like other cities, has food trucks near the university, but also specific days where all the trucks gather at the farmers market. 

University District

The area around colleges can be a veritable mine of cheap eats and shops. School kids can't afford to spend much, so there's often a good variety of affordable dining. When in Seattle, we stayed in the University district and walked to several great small eateries. 

When I stayed in Tempe, I was not far from the ASU campus. Though the area is bustling with some of the hippest restaurants and nightspots - not really all buddies to your wallet - it also has quite a few gems that are moderately priced and downright cheap. I opted to grab dinner at a little place called Glutton's and was given a choice of ordering off the menu, consisting of Chinese and American dishes, or items on kabobs that were grilled. Not knowing what I was really hungry for, I ordered 5 skewers, a side of rice and a soda. It was fun food and full of flavor and cost me less than $11...for dinner. That's crazy, right? Tempe us full of little finds like that, and so are many other university towns.

Split plates
You gotta eat, but unlike when you eat out at home, you don't always want to take leftovers with you. It's tough to carry your take out box around sightseeing and sometimes you don't have a place to store it or warm it up in your room. Since many places serve you more than you can or should eat, it can be really convenient to split an entree between two of you. Eric and I do this quite often when we travel. It saves us money and helps us not overeat.

Eat breakfast in your room 

I will often book rooms that have kitchens or kitchenettes. I'm not a morning person and would rather spend my time getting ready, checking email and listening to the news. I don't particularly look forward to getting up an hour earlier so I can ho grab breakfast before I'm starting my day. Instead, I hit the grocery store when I get in and purchase quick items for breakfasts: cereal, bagels, eggs & fruit. It's enough to get me going in the morning and last me through lunch, plus it's a lot cheaper than going out to eat (even to Starbucks) everyday.

Another good way to save on food without having to make a grocery run is bustling o book a room that includes breakfast. There are quite a few that now offer hot breakfast instead of just a cold continental, and the rates are not much more than for a regularly priced room. When I was searching rooms to stay in Tempe, even many of the very budget hotels included breakfast and other extras, giving you a better value for your money.

These are just some of my favorite ways to save on food everywhere I go. Find more ways to save on your trip to Tempe, check out the city guide on Hipmunk.

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

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Finding a Hotel Deal in Tempe and Beyond

Earlier this year, I visited Phoenix to go to the International Travel Goods Show. I had to search for a bit to find a good deal on a hotel that wasn’t too far away, but found that most hotels near the convention center were out of my price range. Luckily, I knew that Tempe wasn’t that far from my daily destination and had lower rates than I was finding nearby. Since I planned to rent a car anyway, staying a bit out of downtown was a perfect option for me.

Considering there were a lot of events happening in and around Phoenix the days I was going to be there, I was lucky to find a deal at all, but I did. If I booked out earlier, I would have had a few more options, though I was quite happy with my choice. So, what are some things to look for in order to stretch your dollar?

Suite – If you have kids or are traveling with one or more others, a suite can be a sanity-saver. Do you want to go to bed at 8 and wake up with the sun? Probably not, but if you share a traditional room with your kids, likely that is what you will end up doing. I like a suite, just because it gives us a few different spaces to hang out in. If Eric wants to go to bed before me, then he can and I can do my own thing. And if I’m just sick of being with other people, I can go hang out and read or check email in my own little space. It's also cheaper than two rooms.

Freebies – Anything you would need/use during your stay that you don’t have to pay for is always a plus. Some of the things I look for are:
  • Breakfast – I’m not a huge breakfast person, but I’m happy with a bagel and some fruit in the morning. If I don’t have to go out and buy them, then that saves me a trip to the store and money I can use to do something. It’s also nice when a place serves hot breakfast, because you know there’s more to choose from, plus you probably eat better than you would otherwise.
  • Internet – As a blogger, I pretty much need internet when I travel. Of course, now it’s great to be able to get online and check your emails or watch shows or play games, so not having to pay extra or wait for the shared computer to be available is a big plus.
  • Parking – Some places you go, you’ll find charge for parking everywhere. When you have to pay at a hotel, it’s often $15+ per night you stay there. That’s totally money you could spend on dining or souvenirs.
  • Kitchenette or microwave & fridge – This is another way to save money. I like to have cold drinks and a variety of snacks on hand when I travel. Inevitably, I’ll want something right before bed. It’s nice to not have to run down the hall to the ice machine or use the microwave in the lobby. 
  • Gym/swimming pool – Eric finds having a swimming pool a plus. I also know a lot of travelers use a gym if they have one available, especially business travelers who need the exercise when they spend much of their time on a plane or in meetings.

On-site laundry – Laundry is a must for us when we vacation for longer than 3 days. It’s really inconvenient to go out to a Laundromat and, even though I am not opposed to hand washing in the sink, it’s a lot easier to do it in a machine for a few quarters.

Proximity to things you want to do – As much as I’m willing to commute, sometimes it just makes more sense to pay a little extra to stay near things you have planned, or to be in the middle of everything downtown. 

Tempe budget hotels have all these conveniences and more, making it easy to choose a place to stay in your price range. With so many awesome things to do in the city, you’ll definitely want to spend more money doing them than staying there. Soon, you’ll be able to read about all the fun things to do in Tempe, along with the best places to stay in the city based on your budget and travel style, on the Hipmunk travel site, where I am now a contributor. You can also find great a hotel in Tempe  as well as my city guide  and others on Hipmunk.

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How I Enjoy the Beach

Last month I was in Virginia Beach. We had planned several afternoons at the beach, because my husband is totally into that. Unfortunately, the weather didn't totally cooperate with those plans. As much as I like the beach, just hanging out there for hours is not really my thing and I rarely get in the water. Yes, maybe I'm not all that fun to some people, but I like to enjoy the beach in my own way. It also means I'm making more out of my trip.

Seafood! There's always bound to be some delicious seafood when you're near the ocean. The fun is trying different dishes and seeing how they differ from the seafood you have at home and have eaten other places. One of my favorite things about Virginia is hushpuppies. While not technically seafood, they do come with fish and are totally worth the whole trip to me. 

Eric mad about his rapidly melting cone

The boardwalk - This is great for getting exercise, seeing the beautiful coastline and people watching. It's also perfect for enjoying seaside treats without them getting all sandy. Eric and I checked off eating ice cream at the beach from our Summer wish list.

The aquarium - Cities by the beach almost always have an aquarium, where you can check out some of the local marine life without getting in the water. Of course, even if you did get in the water, you probably wouldn't see most of the animals there, so you're actually getting a better view. Some facilities also have other animals you may find in the area, as the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center did. while we saw sharks, sea turtles, sturgeon and other fish, they also had komodo dragons, which a fun viewing bubble.

Lighthouses - As many times as I've been to the beach, even in Oregon, I've never actually visited a lighthouse. For some reason, I always assume they're haunted. Is it just me? Not that that's the reason I've never been, since I love visiting abandoned and possibly haunted places. Well, I didn't meet a ghost at the Cape Henry Lighthouse, but it was the middle of the day and there are not stories that suggest it might be even the tiniest bit haunted.

Reading and people watching on the beach - Yes, just because I don't usually just sit on the beach doesn't mean I don't ever. While Eric tested out the waters, I read up on things to do in the area that I might not have known about, enjoyed the sunny day and watched the people around me having a good time building sandcastles and surfing.

I'll write more about the cool things to do in Virginia Beach and include a lot more photos. In the meantime, what are your favorite ways to enjoy the beach?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Top 10 Apps for Your Travels

Sometimes, you just need an app to get through life. I rely heavily on my weather app, when I'm at home and when I travel, but one of my other favorites is Voxer. It's a messaging app that doesn't use up data like your texts do, plus it's free, so you don't have to pay for international texts when you go out of the country. It works with WiFi and it enabled me to send text of any length, pictures and even voice messages to anyone with the app. If you don't have a WiFi connection, you can still "send" them and they will push through when you do. I love this list of apps, especially TripIt, which I find invaluable every time I travel. The only app I'd replace is Yelp. I'd use TripAdvisor instead, as it is less biased and a lot better for restaurants and other activities, since it encompasses pretty much anything you'd do on a trip.

Do you have a favorite travel app that you can't live without?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Washington, DC in Pictures

Last month I was on the east coast and we spent three days in Washington, DC. You may have read my last post on how I stayed in an Airstream trailer through Airbnb in Arlington. We did quite a bit on our short trip to our nation's capitol, but three days was simply not enough to do everything we hoped to do. In fact, I have a feeling we may not have gotten to everything we wanted on a two week vacation. I'll go more in depth about this trip over the coming weeks, but for now, I though it would be fun to share some of the many photos I took.

a flower in the children's garden of the U.S. Botanic Garden & Conservatory

planes used to be so much smaller

...and, ironically, much more comfortable.

I love how funky the Madame Tussaud's building is compared to the rest of the block

a heroic government pigeon spy

The opening of the 50 Years of Bond Villains exhibit at the Spy Museum

Large portions of the actual Berlin Wall

You know I never go anywhere without trying some delicious foods. 

Yorkshire pudding and chicken curry poutine from Elephant & Castle

Lamb and other kinds of handmade sausages at the farmers' market

Visitors waiting to get into the White House

Unbelievable picture from the top of the Washington Monument

Washington Monument as seen from the Lincoln Memorial

Good ol' Honest Abe

Time to fly. A lovely picture of the city and the Potomac from the airplane window

If you want to find ways to spend your short trip in DC before I share more, you can read Krizstina Williams's guest post and another one I did after that on saving money there. If you visited DC, what were some of your favorite things to do there?

Review: Travelon Convertible Crossbody Duffel

When I travel, it can be difficult to pack light while also bringing the right bags for my trip that can accommodate what I’m bringing with me and what I will probably be bringing back. Generally, on vacation, I like to do a bit of shopping. My souvenirs are minimal, but I find travel the perfect time to find unusual and fun gifts for birthdays and the holidays. I often bring an extra bag with me for my purchases, but the problem with that is that it takes up space in my bag that I need for clothes.

Travelon has solved my problem with the Convertible Crossbody Duffel. It comes in all the newest colors and it’s totally innovative, because it’s two bags in one. When you start your trip, you can use it as a regular crossbody bag, which is perfect, because Eric and I take two personal items on the plane with us for things we want to have convenient and which fit under the seat. The Convertible Crossbody Duffel is just the right size for your books, Kindle, iPad mini and has pockets to keep things organized. Put your card games, snacks and other items in it, then toss the stuff in your pockets into it when going through security, so you don’t have to use one of those bins for stuff like your wallet, keys and change that you probably don’t want other people to have such easy access to.

Just FYI, Eric could have made the strap longer for him and I could have made it shorter for me, but we liked to carry it different ways. 

The padded strap adjusts to anyone’s frame to make it comfortable for them to carry. I used it as a day bag on several days of the trip, because it was fun colored and lightweight, but had enough room to carry everything I needed, including a cardigan that I brought just in case it got chilly. I like that it also has swivel clips, so the strap can never get all snarled and tangled from clipping it on the wrong way.

In the small space of our Airstream camper, we used the bag as a laundry bag, because it was easy to place anywhere.

Once we started purchasing things to bring home, we employed this bag's second feature. The back of the bag unzips all the way around and folds out to a duffel size bag. Not only that, but you don’t have to take anything out of the bag in order to make it full-size. Now you have a second carry-on to bring back with you that has a fairly large capacity and can rest on the top of your wheeled bag, plus you don’t have to spend extra money to check it at the gate. As you can see, the strap clips to two new rings that are revealed when the bag is expanded to evenly distribute the weight and make it into a real duffel. Surprisingly, the lightweight fabric doesn't make the bag bulky in crossbody mode. The duffel part folds into the zipper compartment effortlessly and pretty much is undetectable. 

One of the cool things about this bag is that even though you are using the bag for a new purpose on your way back from your trip, it can still hold the original items without compromising space, because the crossbody part of the bag is still there as an extra section to your duffel. It’s also nice to be able to keep your snacks or whatever else you’ve brought separate from your dirty clothes and you don’t have to open the main bag and dig for things that would inevitably end up at the bottom.

As sturdy as this bag is, I wouldn’t suggest loading it up with heavy items, because it is nylon (though ripstop) and doesn’t have a structured bottom. Even so, we put this bag to the test and filled it with a mixture of clothing, food items and souvenirs. It was fairly weighted down on the trip back home, but I wouldn’t do this on a regular basis, nor would I check the bag, since it fits easily in the overhead. If not totally full, it would still fit under the seat.

You can feel free to take this bag with you everywhere. Though it’s nylon, it is stain and water resistant, so whether you get caught in a rainstorm or go to the beach, you don’t have to worry about your stuff getting all wet and soggy.

I’d also like to call some attention to the zippers of the Convertible Crossbody Duffel, because they have nice ergonomic zipper pulls which helps to give the bag a cute sporty look. The bag is quite good for both men and women, as it’s not girly and comes in colors that are appealing to everyone. I see us using this bag often on our future trips and even around town, simply because it's cute and versatile. Even if we decide to pack the bag to use at our destination, it doesn't take up much room. 

The only thing that would make this bag better is if it had a bottle holder, though that might compromise the structural integrity of it. Even without one, it is a fantastic bag for traveling, overnight trips and even everyday use, like going to the gym. Because it is dual-use, we ended up getting a lot more use out of it than expected. Also, the price-point makes it a wonderful gift, as it's pretty budget-friendly, and your recipient probably has never seen a bag with this kind of innovation.

More information
Size: 9.25 x 11 x 4 , Duffel Bag: 24 x 11 x 9.25 
Colors it comes in: black | lime | teal (shown) | pink berry
How much is it?: $45.00
Where you can buy it: Travelon website
Other specs: 190T ripstop nylon

Like Travelon? You can also find them on Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram

Stay tuned for two other great bags from Travelon that I tested out on my trip. 

Disclaimer: I was provided with the Convertible Crossbody Duffel for the purposes of this review, but all opinions are 100% mine.
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