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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Eating Healthy Wherever You Go

When I go out to eat, which is at least twice a week, I don't often think about how healthy I'm eating, but when I cook at home, my meals are almost always balanced and nutritious. Unfortunately, when I travel, I have to put a little thought into my choices, otherwise I won't be able to fit into my pants by mid-trip. So, I tend to make my own breakfasts and snacks and then make sure that I have fruits and/or veggies represented in most of my meals. Amazingly, it’s not hard to work fruits and vegetables into your travel diet. Think of it as your mission each day. Make it fun. Try new foods in order to get them incorporated into your meals. So, how to do it on a budget? Believe it or not, it’s pretty easy.

Farmers’ Markets are where it’s at! I love an open-air market, whether it showcases antiques, handmade goods, vintage clothing, food or all of the above. Markets that sell food are fantastic, because they have super fresh, local produce. Usually you can try new foods at fantastic prices and not even realize how much goodness you’ve eaten. When in Hawaii, we stopped at a roadside fruit stand and picked up a big bag of fabulous new fruits, like dragon fruit, apple bananas, papaya and coconut. Not like I’ve never had papaya or coconut, but I never buy it at the store and just cut it up and eat it. But seriously, dragon fruit? How can you pass up trying that? And yes, I said apple banana. It’s a banana that kinda tastes like an apple. Intriguing!

Now, I look for farmers markets to visit on my trips before I leave home and it's on the list right after going to the grocery store. In Virginia Beach, we picked up some homemade bread, apple pears (pears that look like apples) as well as some pantry items that we mailed home.

Eat local. Local is almost always cheaper. If traveling in a foreign country, look for restaurant signs written in the local language (assuming you aren’t in an English-speaking country). If you can’t find something like that, just go a bit off the main path and look for the busy dining establishments. If it’s packed, you know it’s delicious!

Go shopping. Always have a stash of fresh items on hand. The first thing I do when I arrive at my destination is scope out the nearest grocery store. I also bring my own reusable shopping bags(s), because they are so useful for things besides food. We stock up on diet soda, bottled water and fast and easy foods that can be eaten in the room or on the go, like granola bars, bananas, apples and whatever local snack I’ve never seen before and must try, or treats I’ve had before, but usually can’t find at home. Jaffa Cakes anyone?

Order an appetizer. Want something not so great for you? Order it as an appetizer or two and then split a healthier entrée with a travel companion. You can do it the opposite, too. If you find something totally divine on the menu, then order a salad to start or something chock-full of veggies, like a crudité plate, stuffed mushrooms or similar. Now, I know stuffed mushrooms aren’t the best for you, but they are mushrooms! Get creative, but don’t try to justify how potato skins are actually a vegetable. As wonderful as they are, you might as well just eat a deep fried stick of butter.

Look for vegetarian restaurants. Even if you aren’t a vegetarian, it doesn’t mean you won’t find anything to your liking, plus all veggies! I am a fan of many a vegetarian dish. In fact, I sometimes buy vegetarian meats at home, like the awesome products from Quorn. I love, love, love their cranberry and goat cheese chik’n cutlet. So yum! Also, have you ever tried a soy ham and cheese sandwich? You can’t even tell it’s not ham. If they can make h’am taste like ham, then I think they make almost any vegetable taste awesome.

Hopefully, these tips will help you eat better and feel better when you make it back home. Eating healthfully on vacation can give you the motivation to continue to do so once you get home. In fact, by the time I get home, I'm usually ready to eat some real food that I made myself.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Save on Your Next Getaway with Ebates’ Travel Week

By now, you know I love Ebates, because it helps me save money on pretty much everything. I never buy or book anything without checking to see if the merchant is on Ebates first, because I can get cash back and a lot of times there are additional promo codes that I can use to save even more. Who wouldn’t want to save as much as possible?

Through Monday, thirteen of Ebates’ travel merchants are offering special deals, promos and double cash back (or more) for Travel week, so now’s the time to start booking your Spring and Summer getaways! Check out these great merchants:

Figure out where you want to go and what’s awesome to do there, plus have some fun reading material for the plane with Magazines.comFind the best hotel for your budget and destination with ChoiceHotels, Holiday Inn, Hotels.com and MarriottFind airfare, packages and more on Expedia, hotwire and OrbitzGet a boss deal on a rental car at NationalDo more (and eat better) for less with Groupon and LivingSocialNeed a new bag for your vacation? Then get a great one at a great price from eBagsAnd you can fill that new bag with new clothes and shoes with fab finds on Amazon.

Yup, they’ve covered everything, so you can save on every aspect of your trip. Haven’t used Ebates before? It’s easy and free! Pull up Ebates any time you want to make a purchase or travel booking, click through the link on Ebates and it will track your purchase to give you cash back. Four times a year, you receive a Big Fat Check or Paypal payment with your accrued cash back. Not only that, but you get a freebie just for joining and making your first purchase. There’s no downside. If you haven’t signed up yet, do it now and have a fabulous vacation.

Have you used Ebates to save on any of your past trips?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

How Not to Kill Your Travel Partner

We travel as a couple and it's not always smooth sailing. Sometimes you get mad at each other. Sometimes you a crabby and snappy and sometimes things just don't go as planned. How can you be around each other 24/7 without wanting to murder each other on a one- or two-week vacation? It's not always easy, but with a little planning you can minimize ruffled feathers and maximize quality time on your trip.
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Eat! - My number one rule is to make sure you eat when you're hungry. If you don't and your partner is notorious for getting hangry (angry when hungry) as I am, then everyday is going to end up with snappish or yelled "conversations". Find somewhere to eat when one of you is hungry or pack snacks in your bag for those times between meals or when you have to wait a little longer than you want to eat. I can't even tell you how many mean things pour out of my mouth when I get too hungry and snacks will only last so long before a real meal is needed. Luckily, Eric knows it and will quickly steer me into a food place even if he's not hungry.
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Compromise your travel styles - No one is the same, which is good, because that would make the world a very boring place. Unfortunately, this probably means you and your spouse don't travel exactly the same. Understand your differences and understand what the other wants. Meet in the middle when things differ and you'll enjoy your trip a lot more if you're not butting heads at every turn.

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Take some alone time - I understand that you are on vacation together. I do, but if you don't take some time to just go off and do your own thing, you will start to stress out and hate the other person's face before long. This doesn't mean that you have to spend a whole day all alone. Maybe go do a little shopping or even just make time to have your own space. We often have a vacation rental and will just go into different rooms for a while each day or he'll go swimming while I just lay on the couch and watch the news or a cartoon. Even 30 minutes of privacy can be helpful.

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Do something you don't want to do - You aren't always going to want to do the same stuff. That's life. But this vacation is both of yours, so if you don't want to do all the same things, make a promise to do something the other wants and vice versa. You might find you have fun, but if nothing else, you'll know you made each other happy and that goes a long way, especially when you at least act like you are enjoying yourself. (If you don't, it really doesn't count as being nice.) Just remember, if your significant other refused to do the one thing you wanted to do most at your destination, you'd be pretty pissed, so keep that in mind when you're doing the thing they truly want to do.

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Get enough sleep - Sleep is important, and when you don't get enough of it, it's like operating on only partial power. This is going to make you moody, crabby and probably mean. Make sure you get enough winks in, so you aren't close to snapping at any moment. It's better to miss out on something than to not enjoy doing it because you didn't sleep enough and hate everything.

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Communicate - If you don't talk to each other, then it's inevitable that something will cause an unnecessary fight between you. If you have questions about something or aren't sure how to get somewhere, communicate it. If you aren't having a good time, let them know. Maybe just voicing it will make things just a little bit better. Also, you can't fix something if you don't know there's a problem.

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Be open to change - I can't even tell you how many times things didn't work out as planned on our trips. Nothing is going to go smoothly 100% of the time. Expect and accept things may change/go wrong/come up and be willing to adapt and roll with it. It'll all work out in the end.

If you can just learn to be a little flexible and selfless, then you can have much better vacations that are filled with fun and excitement instead of stress and crying. Not everyone is going to travel well together, but it can really test the limits of your relationship sometimes. If you can get through a whole trip without tears or sniping, I consider that a success, but it almost never happens over the course of two weeks, I'll take the little victories.

What are your best travel tips for not stabbing your significant other?

Monday, February 23, 2015

5 Essential Must-Dos to Saving Big Bucks on Homestays

As you know, I'm a big believer in saving money by staying in vacation rentals. I like having the extra room, because tripping over each other can be frustrating, being able to make my own meals and having a separate living space from my sleeping space. It's nice to have more to sit on in your room besides the bed and that one hard chair shoved in the corner, right? Even though many homestays can cost the same as a hotel, you're getting more, but we still like to get the best bang for our buck, so here are five things to do to get an even better deal on your rental.

Look at this amazing kitchen in London

1. Look for the extras
I'm all about the included amenities when I travel. Anything I may use and don't have to pay a fee for is awesome. WorldEscape may not include locations everywhere in the world you want to go, but it is constantly expanding and it allows you to search by destination and date and then focus on things you want in a rental. My searches always include WiFi, TV with DVD player (because I'm not always out sightseeing) and washing machine so I can pack light. Homestays enable you to feel like you're at home no matter where you are or how many people you travel with.

A washer is a definite must, like this one in a Philly apartment

2. Use the extras
This is really important. If you're paying for something to be included, then make sure you use it. There's no point in renting a home with a huge kitchen if you don't plan to make a meal or store your snacks. When I travel, I specifically look for a full kitchen, because I don't like to get up earlier and waste money on breakfast. I pack my own coffee and nibbles from home and stop at the grocery store right at the beginning of my trip to pick up bagels, fruit, eggs, bread, butter, cereal and milk. We always en up with a few leftover meals on our trips, so those get stored in the fridge and heated up or turned into something else before we leave.

I love this pretty little Paris apartment

3. Travel during the off- and shoulder-season
Just like with hotels, homestays usually offer better deals when your destination isn't expected to be crazy busy. You'll save more, have more time to relax in your rental and won't have to fight crowds all day every day to see the sights.

Such a great view from this Rome apartment

4.Get closer to the action
No matter what your plans on your vacation, there's probably a convenient location for you to stay at your destination. Homestays can be found in the middle of a city, on the outskirts or anywhere in between. Choose what works best for you. Maybe you want to skip a rental car and get close to all the good stuff. Maybe you want to stay a bit further out and enjoy a quieter, more laid back trip. If you stay a little off the beaten path, you can still skip the rental car by booking a place on a public transportation route. It's saves money and allows you to let someone else take care of the driving.

I could certainly call this Dhaka apartment home

5. Avoid booking fees
I hate these. I like to book my whole vacation myself. If I wanted to pay someone else to help me out, I'd just go through a travel agent. Travel merchants online shouldn't claim their giving me the best rate and then charging me a fee for their service. WorldEscape has done away with booking fees and credit card fees, so what you see is what you pay.

Make sure to ask any questions you have before booking. This is really important, because you want to know what you're getting, what you're not and learn how to make your trip even better. You'll also want to read reviews from other guests, because this is another way to learn what you're getting. With homestays, sometimes they can sound too good to be true. Of course, I've had experiences where I'm surprised by my stay...in the best ways possible. WorldEscape verifies all listed properties, so you know they'll be good and you get all their extras included in the home rate, which is pretty awesome.

Get connected with WorldEscape: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Google+

What's your biggest pet peeve when it comes to booking a hotel or a homestay online?

Disclaimer: This is a post sponsored by WorldEscape, but all opinions are 100% mine.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Challenge Yourself to Freedome + Giveaway

Last week I wrote about a great service that keeps your online activity invisible. F-Secure Freedome allows you to surf without worrying about thieves stealing your personal information. If you missed it, read about it here. Now through next Sunday at midnight (PST) I'm going to be running a promo. Leave comments, check out F-Secure on Facebook, follow them on Twitter and/or tweet about the giveaway and you could win a 16GB iPad Mini and 12 months of F-Secure Freedome. Sounds easy, right? Enter below! (Sorry, open to US residents of 18 years or age or older only.)

In the meantime, I challenge you to try Freedome free for three months and see how much safer you can feel using the internet.

Use Freedome for 90 days by using code qsf257.

Disclosure: As a brand ambassador for F-Secure, I am being compensated for my time, however, this is a company I back 100%.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

My Tampa Wish List

So, you already know how excited (like jumping up and down excited) I am about going to Orlando to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter expansion at Universal Studios. Days of Butterbeer, wand-waving and rides on the Hogwarts Express. Enough about that though, because I'm going to be spending four days in Tampa, too. It's not a lot of time, especially since I have firm plans for two of those days, but that doesn't mean we can't make the most of it. Here are the things we plan to do and things we want to do if we have time:

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Busch Gardens Tampa
Our main reason for heading to Tampa, but unlike our last visit, we wanted to do a bit more, so instead of only going for the day, we've decided to stay in Treasure Island on the beach, outside of Tampa. I love that Busch Gardens Africa mixes awesome animals with equally awesome theme park rides. You'd think that after a week at Disney, we'd be over rides, but they are pretty different.

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Okay, so just like Busch Gardens, the vibe here is totally different here. I'm sure we'll be the only ones with kids like we were at the California one, but the rides are low key, fun and it's a nice day. Plus, Legos! Some of the best stuff here is seeing the cool stuff they build out of Legos and getting ideas for building at home.

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Weeki Wachee Mermaids
O.M.G. I have been wanting to go see the mermaids for years. Sure, it's a kitschy roadside attraction, but that's what makes it exciting to me. I had no idea it was anywhere near as close to Orlando and Tampa as it is. We're going to leave Orlando early in the morning and hit Weeki Wachee right after breakfast to see the mermaids, the wildlife and take the boat ride, then we can head to Tampa for lunch. 

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Sunken Gardens
I'm a sucker for a botanical garden, especially in a place that has tropical-esque weather. This one has waterfalls, bridges and is over 100 years old. It's just a hop, skip and a jump there to St. Petersburg from Tampa. I hope to get a lot of great pics from our visit.

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Big Cat Rescue
Not sure if I'm going to have time for it, but this place rescues lions, tigers, panthers and other big cats. It runs on donations and tour fees. Getting close-ish to these amazing creatures is definitely worth the price, I think. If I could also hug a big cat, I'd be totally in...and probably also make a trip to the hospital. Luckily, they are smarter than I am regarding wild animals.

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The Great Escape Room
Puzzles are fantastic, aren't they? The Great Escape Room gives you clues to put together and solve in order to, you guessed it, escape the room. You have a one-hour time limit and the brains of those you brought with you and any other visitors there during your game. I don't know how hard it'll be or if it'll end up being as much fun as it sounds, but I'm really excited to find out.

Believe it not, I haven't actually planned where to eat yet in Tampa, but I have months to come up with ideas. Do you have suggestions for me? If so, I'm all ears, because I want to try some delicious dishes. You can follow along with my expanding Tampa Wish List on Pinterest.

What are your favorite things to do and eat inn Tampa?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Infographic: Travel for Chocolate

Just like many of you, I love chocolate. I adore unusual combinations, too. Yes, I'll indulge in a Jaffa Cake or Hershey's Kiss, but I will always gravitate towards something different, like a chocolate ganache with chili powder or maybe chocolate-covered ants (not that I've actually tried these yet). So, when I see something awesome on my travels, I'm likely to pick it up to try. Chocolate fried chicken? Yeah, I'm all over trying that. Here are some truly spectacular spots across the world with legendary chocolate picks for each.

 I got some truly delicious chocolate in Ecuador. Though the majority of their chocolate is processed elsewhere, the stuff that is actually processed in the country is tremendous and still affordable even though it's expensive in comparison to that which is imported.

Have you ever visited any of these spots or do you have a favorite chocolate spot from your travels?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Moov to Get in Shape for Your Vacation (Review)

Spring Break and Summer Vacation are coming. If the prospect of putting on a swimsuit is making you twitch, then you need to Moov! There are a ton of fitness trackers out there, but how many actually show you which exercises to do and how to properly do them? If you need a coach to help you get in shape, like I do, then Moov should be on your shopping list. Not only that, but Moov can get you in shape in less than 10 minutes per day!

I’m in love with this, because I don’t have motivation to exercise for an hour every day, but even I’m willing to get moving for 7 minutes. That’s right! Purchase your Moov wristband and download the Moov 7 Minute + Workout to your iPhone or iPad and get started. Moov is quick and easy to set up, so you can get started right away. You aren’t spending half an hour inputting all your information and then over the whole thing by the time it’s time to start your workout. You know what I mean.

Your workout goes through three sets of six exercises: jumping jacks, squats, lunges, planks, push-ups and sit-ups. You don’t have a chance to get bored before you’re on to the next exercise. It asks if you’re ready to go and then shows you via a swirling counter how well you’re doing with each individual exercise, which helps you improve each time and do the exercises correctly. After each set, you get a quick 20-second cool down to catch your breath, drink some water and get ready to go again. It’s long enough to rest, but not too long that you want to sit down and give up early.

How much of a workout can you really get in 7 minutes? (About 8 ½ with rest periods) I hate to exercise, because it’s boring and I never know what I should be doing or for how long. Plus, without someone to motivate me to keep going, I often quit in the middle or just don’t do it. Moov made it easy for me to do the exercises, because I knew how long I would be doing them. They go quickly and, because you see the meter for how well you’re doing, it makes you want to do your best. The day after my workout, I could tell which muscles I was working and was sore the same way as if I’d done a longer workout of just a few of those same exercises, so knew it was working.

Keep up with your daily routines – changing levels when they get too easy – and you’ll find yourself ready for that swimsuit in no time. Because the only things you need for your workout is your phone or tablet and your wrist band, it’s easy to take it with you everywhere you go. Get your 7 minutes (or more) in even after a long day of sightseeing. Starting your day with a brisk workout can give you more energy and wake you up so you’re ready to do everything on your list.

Since the workouts are so short, and you can connect more than one wristband to your device, you and your partner can exercise when it’s convenient, whether it’s before you leave for the day, before you head out for dinner or any time you can fit it in. Challenge each other to be better and match each other’s workout levels. If you're just exercising on your own, it's okay. Moov encourages and coaches you via voice. Just turn up the volume on your phone or tablet to hear it.

So, if you are pressed for time, but still want to look your best, then find ten minutes in your day for a quick, but efficient workout. You’ll be glad you did when you get to the beach and put on that bathing suit you’ve been dreading. Plus, you know you’re going to be eating some high-calorie meals on your trip, so why not start losing them before you eat them? It’s a lot better to lose a few extra pounds that you know you’ll gain back than have trouble getting your pants on by the end of your vacation, right? It’s happened to me before and I’d much rather have little extra waistband room to spare at the start of my trip than have to go buy something a little looser before I head back.

Are you ready to start exercising in just minutes a day? If you are, then go get your Moov today!

Other information:
Where can I get it? On the Moov website
How much is it? $119, but only $89 for a limited time + just $69 each if you buy 2 or more
What colors does it come in? ice (white/clear) | black
Other specifications: Each Moov comes with 2 bands (so it fits everyone and can use the longer for your ankle) and a charger. Apps you can use: Moov 7 Minute+ Workout, Run & Walk, Cardio Punch and Swim. Yes, you can swim with your Moov!

Connect with Moov: Facebook | Twitter

Disclosure: I was provided a loaner Moov band for the purposes of this review, but all opinions are 100% mine.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Personal Freedome From Identity Thieves

You may feel pretty secure in your anonymity on the internet when you're in the safety of your own home, but what about on your phone, tablet or when you travel or go to the coffee shop and use the open Wi-Fi network? There are hackers everywhere that want to steal your personal information, no matter where you go or who you are. Having a VPN on your side can be the difference between safely using the internet wherever you are or having to spend your free time calling all your credit card companies and banks to straighten out problems that have arisen from identity thieves stealing your personal information.

As a frequent traveler and a brand ambassador for F-Secure Freedome, I feel compelled to let you know how important and convenient it is to sign up with a VPN. So, what exactly is a VPN? It stands for Virtual Personal Network, which gives you privacy on top of any security measures you have on your digital devices. It cloaks your location and everything you're doing from others on the internet. When you log onto the internet, your device is given an IP address that can be tracked. With a VPN, this is IP address is not shown, so you can surf anywhere you are on whatever device you've installed Freedome totally securely and anonymously.

Ever wonder why you can't access certain websites when you travel out of the country? I hate it when I want to watch something on my DVR or Netflix, but I can't because I'm not in the U.S. at the time. With a VPN, I can set my location to U.S. and resume using services I pay for.

Almost everyone owns a smartphone now and use it for everything from finding directions and phone numbers to checking email. Phones are hackable, especially as you're out and about using un-secure networks to check your bank accounts  or even just sending texts to family and friends. Keep everything in your phone and what you do online even on your phone away from prying eyes with Freedome. With a VPN, your personal info will never be leaked again, no matter how much you use your phone while you're on the go.

Do you ever read the terms and conditions when you sign on to a public network? Most of us don't. Did you know that a lot of these have terms that you probably wouldn't agree to if you did read them?  The video above shows what happens when a free Wi-Fi hotspot was set up in London and people blindly sign on in order to get online.

Know what else is creepy? Those sidebar and banner ads that seem to follow you while you surf, trying to sell you items and services you searched for recently? Buy that top. Buy that top. BUY THAT TOP! Block the advertisers with Freedome. As it blocks your data and surfing, it doesn't enable search engines to sell your info to those site that bombard you with ads for those things you may or may not have wanted in the first place. Freedome encrypts your data and masks your connection, making your virtually invisible online.

Anti-virus software is not 100% secure, so even if you have it installed on your laptop, it doesn't mean that you are protected. Freedome from F-Secure gives you an extra level of security by blocking viruses, malware and other bad things that can result from surfing the web. Can you imagine how inconvenient it would be for your computer to go down when you're hundreds or thousands of miles from home? Couple that with someone stealing all your personal info and emptying out your bank accounts and your vacation has now turned into a nightmare. Why wouldn't you protect yourself the best you can? 

Not sure if Freedome is right for you? Why not try it for free? 
Use Freedome for 90 days by using code qsf257.

When I travel, I'm always relying on Wi-Fi from hotels, timeshares, Starbucks and other networks to get online and do work, check email and look up directions to places I want to go. Aside from keeping all my passwords changing and hard to guess, it never occurred to me that I might still be at risk from identity thieves. With Freedome, I know I can feel safe and still have access to all my accounts and services. You know what's also cool? If I find sites that I love in other countries that are location-dependent (like streaming shows on BBC websites), I can use those when I'm back home just by using my VPN. 

Find F-Secure on Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | YouTube

Have you ever had a computer or phone hacked, either at home or while traveling?

Disclosure: As a brand ambassador, I am receiving compensation from F-Secure, but all opinions are 100% my own and I never recommend products/services I wouldn't use myself.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Budget Spring Break Ideas

Spring Break is almost here and that means you have a whole week to think of how to entertain your children (if you have them) or worry about your college student (if you have one) or figure out how to fit your travel plans into your budget (if you have one). Spring is a great time to travel; however, it can get a bit dicey during the month of March, because Spring Break varies across the country, making it impossible to know when you will have to share your space with a bajillion hard-partying college kids – and sometimes those well out of their college days – or have to pay twice as much for hotels and airfare. Luckily, with the economy still kinda sucky, deals are easier than ever to find. You just have to pick one, pay for it and go. But where?

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Don't you wish, as an adult, that you din't have to pay holiday rates just because you wanted to travel during Spring Break? Yeah. Me too, but until someone figures out how that works, we will have to continue to avoid the crowds and search for discounts. I suppose if anyone shouldn’t have to pay holiday prices, it’s the poor parents that have just come off of Christmas and already dreading planning how to keep their kids out of trouble and entertained for the three months of summer that’s right around the corner, but I digress.

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What else is out there? Well, you can always do the old standby and plan a frugal trip to Vegas.  Southwest, JetBlue and many other airlines are offering deals to Sin City and BookIt has rooms from as low as $22 per night. If staying on the Strip, skip the car rental and book an airport shuttle instead. You could save $100+ on a week stay and can take the free tram from one end of the strip to the other instead. Your trip can be super budget if you need it to be. Here are some free and cheap Vegas activities to do while you’re there.

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Lake Tahoe - If you were thinking of maybe taking a trip to Vegas, consider a trip to Lake Tahoe instead. With the high stakes of Vegas, but with the added bonus of lakeside activities, hiking trails and skiing. Depending on where you stay around the actual lake, you can have totally different experiences. New and interesting shopping and dining, as well as the option of a fantastic day drive around Lake Tahoe. 

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New Orleans, LA - Here's another destination that no one really thinks about outside of Mardi Gras. With so much interesting history, architecture, music and delicious food, New Orleans should be a must for any culture junkie. For those that don't care about culture, take a walk on the dark side with ghost tours. Save on your trip to New Orleans with the Power Pass. Starting as low as $28 per day, gain entry to the must-see attractions of the city. Choose from places like the Musee Conti Wax Museum, Audubon Zoo, Cajun Pride Swamp Tour and much more! Available in 1- to 5-day durations. Add a 1-3 day MealTicket to eat at awesome restaurants for one low price.

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Visit State and National Parks. Hiking, running, jumping and climbing are great ways to entertain (and tire out) your kids for a very nominal cost. Sometimes it’s free and sometimes you pay per carload. You get to enjoy some nature and wildlife and your kids get fresh air and exercise. Turn it into a bit of an educational trip by giving them cameras and having them take pictures of the different things they see along the way (i.e. trees, flowers, animals) and then print them out later for identification. Many parks have education centers where they do talks and have exhibits that explain about the plants and animals of the region. Make time to stop in and have your kids ask the rangers questions about their visit.

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South America is always a great Spring Break destination, because not only is it not a destination college kids look at to par-tay, but it's also budget-friendly. If you are looking to spend about half the price for a vacation, then South America (and even Central America) is where you should look. You'll have a less traditional Spring Break, save some money and help a struggling economy. Brush up on your Spanish and pack your warm weather clothes!

Are you traveling for Spring Break? Where are you going?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Take a Valentine’s Day Staycation

Some of us either don’t have the money to take a romantic getaway or want to spend that extra cash that you could use for a larger vacation later. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to enjoy a Valentine’s Day that will impress and create lifetime memories. Believe it or not, some of the best things in life really are free or at least cheap. Show your significant other that you care by doing something a little out of the box and unexpected that won’t empty out your pockets.

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Have a Picnic
If you happen to live in an area of the country where winter has decided to give up, it’s pretty easy to find a nice little spot to take a meal to, or even throw a blanket down in your backyard. If, like us in the Northwest, you have cold and usually rainy weather, you have to be a little more creative. Push the living room furniture out of the way, light a fire or put on a yule log video (this is streaming year-round on Netflix) and toss a blanket and some throw pillows on the floor.

Some fun ideas for picnic foods:
  • Salad in a glass, so you have individual portions and can personalize each salad easily.
  • Caprese salad on a stick. These are delicious, simple and fun to eat.
  • Lasagna is delicious, but messy. Make lasagna cupcakes. Bonus that you can feed them to each other!
  • A great baguette or loaf of garlic bread. If you both eat it, it won’t be so unromantic to breathe on each other.
  • Cheese, cracker, fruit and meat platter. It can be sexy to eat with your hands.
  • Fruit! Grapes, apple slices and even chocolate covered strawberries.
  • Pressed sandwiches that you can cut into bite-size slices.
  • A nice (inexpensive) bottle of wine, sparkling juice or fruit water you can make yourself by infusing your favorite fruit in a pretty bottle or carafe of water.
  • Hand pies or empanadas. Put whatever you want in them, from curry chicken to cheese and veggies. You can make them easier by using biscuits or croissants in a tube.
  • Have a tea party with a selection of tiny bites: sandwiches, scones, sweets and all your other favorite things.
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Make Your Own Drive-In
We love movies. For one of my husband’s birthdays, I purchased a Roku projector and outdoor screen so we could watch movies in our yard. You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on such a thing. In fact, you can turn your smartphone into a projector with a few items you probably have around your house. Use it inside with a sheet or do the same outside if it’s warm or you can snuggle up in the car and pretend you’re at a drive-in.

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Get It to Go
I am a big advocate for going out to dinner, but Valentine’s Day meals can be expensive and a lot of pressure. Get the experience you want by ordering a fancy dinner and bringing it home. You don’t have to dress up, you don’t have to see all those other couples and, if you get drunk, you don’t need to call a cab or an Uber. This is also nice, because you can skip paying for drinks and a big tip. (You'll want to dish everything out on real plates.)

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Take a Drive
Sometimes it’s just nice to get out of the house. Pack a lunch and your camera, then jump in the car and drive around your city or to a nearby city or attraction (like a waterfall or historic district) and just take it all in. A nice little stroll along a romantic street or a riverbank can be relaxing and fun. Take photos of the two of you and your surroundings.

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Make S’mores
Got a firepit in your backyard (or not too afraid of flaming marshmallows in your fireplace)? Why not grab some sticks or fondue forks and spend a little time making an old favorite. Everyone likes a s’more, but you can also mix it up by using peanut butter, bananas or cookies. Feed each other your creations!

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Be a Kid Again
Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be all about romance, as long as you enjoy yourself. Head to your local video arcade or laser tag arena and team up to beat the bad guys or rule a group of strangers at virtual war.

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Host Your Own Wine or Beer Tasting
You can do this as a couple or as a group. It’s quite a bit cheaper to purchase a selection of wine or beers and then try them out at home. You can break out your nice glasses and talk about the flavors and smells you detect. Not sure what to look for, there’s still time to order a book to help you through. Here’s one for beer and one for wine. Make sure you have some food to pair with it, because alcohol on an empty stomach is not a great idea. If you’d rather have an expert on-hand, lots of tasting rooms are open on Saturdays.

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Plan a Vacation
Not for Valentine’s Day, but for another time during the year. If you are planning to take a trip and you haven’t worked out the details yet, like we haven’t, this is a great time to sit down and find all the fun things you want to do, places you want to eat and visit and imagine all the fun you’ll have. If you don’t have a vacation planned, how about making a travel bucket list for the two of you (or your family). Post it somewhere you can see it every day so you have goals for your travel future.

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Critique Free Art
There are lots of places that have art and other kinds of museums that offer free admission. Maybe you have a park full of sculptures that you’ve never gone to before. Take your SO to view an art exhibit and talk about the art and your interpretations.

Do it for Less
I’m always going to tell you to use daily deal sites. Groupon, Amazon Local, Living Social and others can save you at least 50% off dining out, experiences and spa services. Many times these won’t be valid on a holiday, but that just means you can use it before or after Valentine’s Day and use one of these other ideas.

You don’t have to spend a lot to have a great day with your loved one. Here are 75 U.S. cities and what to do on a budget in them. Need more ideas? Check out my staycation Pinterest board.

What are some of your favorite free/cheap romantic activities?
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