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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Taking a Disney-Free Trip to Los Angeles

Los Angeles isn’t all about Disneyland and Mickey Mouse. Though kids of all ages love the theme parks, it’s just a short drive from Anaheim and there are many cool things to see there. Leave early when you drive anywhere, because L.A. traffic can be brutal. If there’s no accident – which is rare – you can get into the city in only 30 minutes. Here are some places you might want to check out away from Disney.

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The Hollywood Museum has over 10,000 items on display, including Cary Grant’s Rolls Royce, Marilyn Monroe’s dresses and Indiana Jones’ bullwhip. Allow a few hours here, in case you get sucked in by all the memorabilia. Regular admission is just $15.

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The Hop-on Hop-off bus tour gives you a chance to ride on an open-top double-decker bus along the coast and through Brentwood, Rodeo Drive and Beverly Hills. The bus has running commentary along the route and you can stop off at a number of places along the way. Rides are $40 per person, but you can get a deal if you purchase a GoCard that includes this and other Hollywood attractions.
  • GoCards are great budget traveler take-alongs. They help you do more on your trips and stay within your vacation allowance at the same time. Who doesn’t love that? Even if you’ll just be in town a day or two, it can save you big bucks and allow you to skip the ticket lines at some of the city’s most popular attractions.

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Walk along the Hollywood Walk of Fame and see famous names of entertainers. It’s free and can be really fun for photo ops. It also runs along Hollywood Blvd where you can view the hand and footprints of celebrities in front of Graumann’s Chinese Theater.

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Rodeo Drive is the place to go if you want a chance to spot a famous face and pick up some brand name merchandise. Even if you don’t have the budget to bring anything home, you can still window shop or browse in some of the more intriguing shops.

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Brentwood Country Mart is like stepping into a Martha Stewart magazine. This market has everything from food, dining, shopping and entertainment in a large building that looks like a fancy barn. Less exclusive than Rodeo, but it has many smaller boutique shops under its roof. It’s definitely worth a stop.

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Tour the Dolby Theater, the permanent home to the Emmys and, during the two months they aren’t setting up and taking apart things for that, Cirque du Soleil. Tickets are normally $15. The tour is 30-60 minutes long, depending on how many questions are asked, and you learn about who gets invites to the Emmy’s, security, the red carpet and VIP areas.

Santa Monica Pier has a wonderful beach and Pacific Park. You can catch some rays, ride some amusement rides – like the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel – or try your hand at carnival games. Unlimited ride bracelets are generally $23 for an adult. The pier is also surrounded by fun shops and recommended restaurants.

Venice Beach and Canals are just four miles from Santa Monica. Originally meant to be an exact replica of Venice, Italy, only some of the canals still exist. Not only can you cross the bridges over the water, but you can see some of the most impressive houses in the L.A. area. It costs nothing to enjoy the scenery, so imagine you’re rich and in Italy as you walk along the canals.

Though L.A. seems quite spread out, it isn’t much bigger than any other large city. Many things are just on the outskirts of town and easy to get to due to less traffic. There is so much to do that even frequent Los Angeles visitors may not have seen it all. Learn more about where to go in Los Angeles in my 48 Hours post. Where are your favorite non-theme park places in LA?

My next newsletter is only a few days away. It'll have tips on where to travel in April & May that are budget-friendly. Don't forget to sign up for it, as this won't be available on the blog. (Find the short form right underneath my social media buttons at the top of this post.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Getting Your Fave Products in Miniature

It has been a really long time since I've traveled with a full-size health or beauty product that I brought from home. (I've had to purchase a few things along the way.) I know I don't need a giant bottle of shampoo for two weeks, so why pack it and have to pay to check my bag when I don't have to? When you travel, you need to learn to be a little bit flexible, and that extends to the products you bring. Instead of seeing the TSA rules as an obstacle, I think of it as a way to help me pack light and more efficiently. When someone says "You can't fit everything you need into a quart bag!" I respond with "Challenge accepted!" You know why? Because when you're creative, you can get everything you need into that little bag. 

There are lots of places you can find small sizes of your favorite products that will make your travel bag lighter and will allow you to fit everything you need into you 3-1-1 liquids bag.
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The Makeup Counter
If you shop the makeup counter for your beauty products, make sure to plan your visit when there's a free gift (Clinique and other large beauty companies advertise these several times a year). This is when you'll end up with trial sizes of some of the products you already use. Pop them in your travel bag and leave your large sizes at home. I find that most trial sizes, even if they are really small, still have enough for a week or two. 

Sephora always offers minis when you spend a specific amount (whether you shop online or in-store). Become a Beauty Insider (if you aren't already) and accrue points for purchases that you can trade in for deluxe samples. Before you get to the check-out, you can find tiny versions of some of their popular products, which might also be items you use everyday. This might be a dangerous way to shop while you're waiting in line, but it can also be useful.

I go to Target all the time, but maybe you frequent Rite Aid or CVS or Walgreens. They all have a travel size aisle. I find these the best place to find deodorant, bottles, toothpaste, contact solution and other generic minis. If you use regular shampoo brands found in drugstores, you can often find travel sizes of these, too, like Loreal, Pantene and Garnier. 
Looking for more upscale brands? 3floz specializes in these, but in sizes that specifically fit into your travel bag. Whether you need a small packet of facial wipes, a fancy eye cream or makeup remover, you can find them on this site that ranges from selling natural brands like Yes To... to more expensive products from Dr. Dennis. You can pack a miniature spa in your carry-on to help you feel at home and pampered wherever you go.
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So, there are lots of products you can't find at a drugstore even though they exist. You are almost guaranteed to find them at Minimus. Not only can you find a huge range of beauty products here, but you can also find health items (aspirin, antibacterial cream, anti-diarrheal chews, vitamins) and even food products (single-serving snacks, salad dressings, condiments).  I have bought quite a few things from Minimus, including a variety of useful medicine cabinet necessities to put together an emergency kit for when my sister-in-law went off to college.

I have a collection of travel bottles, spray bottles and jars. If I can't find a travel size of my fave product, I decant. And sometimes you just don't need all that much of something, like moisturizer where a little goes a long way, so you don't need a large jar of it, so you can downsize even further by putting it a contact case or something similar.

With these tips, you can easily fit everything you absolutely need in your 3-1-1 bag and toiletry bag to help you go carry-on only. What's your favorite way to stock your travel bag with minis?

My next newsletter is only a few days away. It'll have tips on where to travel in April & May that are budget-friendly. Don't forget to sign up for it, as this won't be available on the blog. (Find the short form right underneath my social media buttons at the top of this post.)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Get More Vacation By Avoiding Jet Lag

Jet lag. Is there anything worse? Well, probably. Getting robbed or attacked by a bear or losing your passport. Those are all worse actually. There's a really low chance of most of those things happening to you, but jet lag is really common...and annoying. You can lose hours or days of your trip because of it, which is kind of like being robbed, because you're paying for vacation you don't get to use. Going west to east is worse than going east to west, but it depends on how many time zones you're crossing. The best way to avoid jet lag is to start combating it before you even leave home. Here are some tips:
Adjust Your Schedule
The sooner you can get on your new schedule, the better. If you can do so before you leave home, that's optimal, but if you have to work and can't really do that, then start on your plane ride. Immediately set your watch to what the local time will be and do what you normally do at that time. If it's time to sleep, then sleep, but if it's not, make yourself stay awake as much as possible. I take a quick nap, but occupy myself reading, watching a movie, playing a game or coming up with new post ideas (maybe you journal instead). If you are traveling with someone, break out a card game and make them play with you. In other words, keep your brain busy. When you get to your destination, stay on schedule. If it's daytime, do some sightseeing. If it's nighttime, then go to bed. Simple! And don't forget to eat on time. Have problems getting on a new schedule? Try an app like this one!

Stay Hydrated
Not getting enough liquids in your body can cause you to be sluggish. Bring a big bottle of water with you on the plane, avoid dehydrating drinks like soda and alcohol, and continue drinking extra of water for the first couple of days of your trip. This can also keep you from getting sick.

Eat Light and Healthy
Eating is really important, but you don't want to eat a huge meal before getting on the plane. You also don't want to eat fried and junk food. Find something light and healthy (or as much as possible) to eat before your flight that'll keep your going, but not weigh you down and make you sleepy. You'll also want to bring snacks. Protein-packed, healthy foods like nuts or fruit are great options. 

Need more advice? Check out this informative infographic that gives you eve more ideas on how to stay awake and on course on your vacation.

If you want to know more about a jet lag "diet", see my post here. I didn't try it like I meant to, but I found that getting on schedule ASAP worked really well. I was really tired that first evening, but after a good night's sleep, I was good to go and made the most of all my vacation days.

Have you ever been a victim of jet lag?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

My Travel Bucket List

I kind of hate the term “bucket list”, since it’s a little morbid. I’d prefer to call this my Travel Life List, because I like to live life to the fullest and travel certainly helps me do that. I know I probably won’t get to everything on my list, but that’s okay. In my next life, I’ll work towards the ones I didn’t cross off. Yes, I totally believe that’s how it works and we learn each time we come around. Here’s a short list of places I want to visit and some of the things I want to do there.

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Greece & Malta
If you’ve ever seen a picture of the gorgeous Greek seaside, you won’t wonder why this is on my list, or really anyone’s list. Between the Mediterranean, the food and the people, this is really quite high up on my Life List. And since Malta is, literally, right there, there’s no reason to skip it. I blame old World’s Strongest Man competitions for making me drool over this destination. It’s small, it’s beautiful and it invokes a little bit of Greek heaven. I guess I better get to work on the elliptical, so my legs can handle the millions of steps I'll have to climb on my trip.

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How am I ever going to test out my Spanish if I don’t go anywhere that speaks it? That can’t be the only excuse to visit Spain though. The buildings, the history, the landscape. I just want to wander the villages and eat tapas my whole vacation.

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This is the ultimate budget travel destination on my list. Once you fly there, everything is quite affordable, plus it’s not like your typical European destination. I want to visit Cappadocia and sleep in a cave hotel and go on a hot air balloon ride and take a ride on a yacht. I mean, don’t all those things sound just the coolest? Everywhere else this would cost a fortune, but not in Turkey!

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I adore London, but I acknowledge that there’s so much more outside the city too. We almost made it to Stonehenge on our last visit, but a freak hurricane (I wish I was kidding) hit too close to the city and messed up the trains. Coupled with an unfortunate life choice of one who ruined everyone’s commute by jumping on the underground tracks, there was no way we could get to the station to catch our bus. Ah well, next time we’ll get there, along with Bath and the Cotswolds.

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Drive around Ireland
I don’t know why I think this is a good idea, but the lush green hills of Ireland and the fact that you may just have to stop and wait for animals to cross the road before you can continue on your way just sounds very appealing to me. I also feel like the laid back feel of the whole country will make for an incredibly relaxing trip.

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Tokyo Disneyland
Ah yes, Tokyo itself sounds really amazing, and I’m going to make it there one day, but one of the attractions I am dying to see is the Japanese version of my favorite theme park. It’s so different, yet I know it will probably still feel like home, but probably with more politeness. How can this not be on my list? Also, is it weird that I kind of want to spend a night in a capsule hotel? Yes? Okay then.

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Australia & New Zealand
I know these aren’t the same, but when I go to one, I’m going to the other. If I’m spending $2,000 per person on airfare, I’m probably only going to do it once. I feel like a three-week trip is in order here and will give us almost enough time to see the most important points of our must list. I want to see the desert, the amazing animals and giant spiders (hopefully from a very far distance), the cities of Melbourne and Sydney and try Vegemite (or not), then see both sheep and the high-rise buildings of Auckland.

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French Riviera
As much more as I still have to see of Paris, I also want to spend some time on the beaches of France, sipping aromatic coffee and viewing some of the rolling countryside. I feel like I’m going to do a great job learning my French and this is going to be a crazy awesome and beautiful trip.

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Panama Canal Cruise
I’m not even sure why I want to do this, except paying just $500 for a two-week cruise sounds like a giant bargain to me. Plus, I really know nothing about the Panama Canal except that the views are amazing and it’s used for imports and exports. Can I use my Spanish here?

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Galapagos Islands
We’ve been to Ecuador before, but we went the complete opposite route of the Galapagos. We stayed in Quito, visited the cloud forest and enjoyed a trip to Otavalo with its lively markets, historical buildings and food, glorious food. We also spent a lot of time getting lost. A trip to the Galapagos, while allowing us to view unique animals up close, will also cut down on the chances of getting lost for hours at a time – unless it doesn’t, in which case, we might be doing it wrong.

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The Mall of America
Maybe this is a dumb thing to put on a list, but I can’t help but want to see a place where you can spend over a week in a mall and never see everything there is available. Between shops, theme parks, entertainment, dining options and people watching, the only thing really missing is fresh air and sunshine. This is the kind of vacation where you take a day trip just to go outside.

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Oh man. Can I even tell you how much I want to sit in a geothermal spring and eat cod that was cooked by the same thing that heated the water? Why does that sound so intriguing to me? I don’t know, but the fact that the people of Iceland also believe in elves and I can see the Northern Lights there, I’m willing to try to figure out how to pronounce some of their gigantic words and also eat some gross fish dishes at unreasonable prices.

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Tour castles in Scotland
Not that there isn’t fabulous other things to see in Scotland, but I’ve been corrupted by Harry Potter’s Hogwarts and all the stunning photos of the tons of castles in Europe and the UK, so there’s no way I’m headed to Scotland without traveling the Highlands and visiting at least a handful of crumbling castles. It sounds like a brilliant way to spend a week or two of life.

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Castle Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, Germany
Yes, I’m going to head to Berlin and maybe get on the Autobahn and stuff myself with red cabbage and see Checkpoint Charlie in person, but if I miss out on seeing the historic Castle Neuschwanstein – the inspiration for Cinderella’s Castle – then my trip to Germany is a fail.

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Am I one of those weird people that love Dracula? Yes, I am, but doesn’t Romania just sound exotic? I want to see the home of Vlad the Impaler, catch sight of some wild bears and just immerse myself in a culture that is so far removed from what I’m used to that it will be a true travel adventure.

Okay, so this is hardly my whole Life List. I also want to go on African Safari, eat pasta in Italy and watch the fisherman bring in their hauls in Maine, but not everything can fit in one blog post and my list is forever evolving. I know you have a bucket or life list of your own. What are some of the things and places that will help complete your travel adventures?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

How to Pack for Spring Break Travel

Spring can be one of those weird times of year where you just aren't sure what the weather will be like, even when going somewhere warm and sunny. I've gone on those trips and forgotten to bring a coat or packed only warmer clothes. Just like with all travel, Spring should be one of those times you pack an dress in layers, because it might be cool in the morning and evening and then hot in the afternoon. Bringing just shorts and sandals might be a mistake, so here's a list of what I would bring on a Spring getaway in order to keep warm or cool an still pack light.

Spring Break

Go-to Dress
You always want to bring a dress if you plan to go out or just want something you can throw on and go. A shirt dress or a plainer LBD can always be dressed up with jewelry, giving you the option to wear it out dancing, to a nice dinner or just out sightseeing.

A few pairs of pants are essential, because when it's chillier than expected, it's nice to have something other than shorts to wear and you won't have to buy anything to augment your wardrobe, especially when that money could be better spent on food. I always pack a pair of khakis and wear a pair of stretchy lightweight jeans on the plane, giving me two options and neutrals that are easy to match with.

Bring your 2-3 favorite pairs of shorts that are solid colors, preferably neutral colored, that'll go with all the tops you bring. Solids work best, because then you can bring patterned tops and mix and match for maximum outfit combinations.

A Cardigan
I get cold on the plane and in the hotel room. I also get chilly in the evenings in a lot of places, so having a cardigan on hand is a must for me. I usually bring a back one, because it matches everything, but a big pattern can also work for your wardrobe. As long as it's warm an you love it, you'll make it work.

A Variety of Tops
I make sure that I bring a few tanks and few t-shirts. Remember to bring tops you actually want to wear. I limit myself to four, because I can mix and match and then do a bit of laundry to rewear throughout my trip. Don't forget that the shirt you wear on the plane will rotate into your travel wardrobe, so with five tops, two pants and two shorts, you can make twenty different outfits. 

Two Pair of Shoes
I know, I know, this seems like not enough, but think of the activities you'll be doing an pack for those, not for those "what if" things. I go with a pair of comfy flats that I can wear all day long and a pair of nicer sandals that go with everything I've brought an can double as dressy shoes should I want to go to a nice dinner, but will be totally fine on the beach too. If you plan to do some more outdoorsy activities like hiking, wear your best walking shoes on the plane and save that packing space for something else.

Spring Break 2

Now that we've taken care of the necessities, let's get down to the optional things I still think you should definitely pack.

Rain Jacket
You never know what the weather will bring. The report may claim rain for the next three months, but if you don't plan for it, it will pour down rain in the middle of your trip. I always assume there might be some rain storm or a freak cold front, so a lightweight rain jacket is a must. It can shield you from the downpour, but also makes another layer if you need one. (Remember my trip to Paris where it was 20 degrees out and I wore four layers of clothes to stay warm?)

Sun Hat
Protect your face, head and hair with a sun hat if you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors. You don't want to bleach out your hair or get sunburned on your scalp (because that's a big ouch). If a hat isn't for you, then make sure you use sunscreen in your part and your tresses. I put a small amount in my palm, rub my hands together, then run my fingers through my hair and rub into my scalp. No sunburn and no fading color.

Your eyes are very important. Squinting isn't pretty and neither are the crow's feet they cause. I wear a pair and pack a pair (because I have a history of losing or breaking my shades on trips) so I'm never without protection for my eyes. 

Lightweight Scarf
Just like with the jacket and cardigan, you never know when you'll need an extra layer of warmth, or a way to cover your head or shoulders if you're planning a trip to a church or other religious establishment. Not all will let you in wearing shorts and a tank top, so make sure you do some research before you head out looking like a tourist. If it's quite warm and you aren't willing to put on something with sleeves, bring your scarf. It's also nice to have when you go inside and they have the a/c blasting.

Bathing Suit
I hardly wear my bathing suit when we travel, but I'm not a big swimmer. Still, I bring it with me just in case. Even if you don't think you'll have occasion to wear yours, it takes up hardly any space, so throw it in your carry-on. You'll be glad you have it if get the chance to swim or jump in the ocean.

Even on overcast days you can get burned and sun damage can occur. I usually pack two small tubes of sunscreen in my 3-1-1 bags (because there are two of us), but I've also used sunscreen wipes and they are easier to use, give the same level of protection and don't have to go in your liquids bag. I like that you can throw them in a bag for mess-free reapplication. If you wear make-up, look for moisturizers and/or foundations with SPF. I like the Take a Deep Breath moisturizer from philosophy.

Lip protection
You don't want cracky and chapped lips on vacation. Make sure you're protecting your pout and making it look pretty too by using a tinted moisturizer with SPF. I'm loving the Fresh Sugar lip treatment that comes in a bunch of colors to match your mood and lets you leave the harsh lipsticks at home. You'll look fresh and also your lips will be protected from the sun.

All these items will easily fit in your carry-on, allowing you to skip paying baggage fees and jump right off the plane and get onto your trip. Now, don't forget your passport (if you need it) and your reading material for the plane and you're set! 

If you're planning a trip for Spring Break, my next newsletter will be full of apps to keep the kids busy on the plane, in the car or while waiting to do something. If you aren't signed up for it, it goes out twice a month and is full of extra tips and deals, sign up now so you aren't missing out:

What are your must-pack items for Spring travel?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Where NOT to Go for Spring Break (And Where to Go Instead)

Somehow, Spring break is different across the country, so that means it really lasts six weeks or so, no matter where you live or when you travel for your own holiday. There are certain destinations that just draw all the vacationers for Spring Break and make doing things more difficult, lines longer and rates much more expensive. If you want to save money – and absolutely need to get away for the Spring Break holiday – then these top ten destinations (compiled by CheapOair) should be off your list and planned for another time of year. 
Popular Destinations for Spring Break Travel

Book Your Spring Break Travel

Start looking for more nontraditional destinations for our trip if you want to evade the most crowds. 
  • Avoid Florida altogether and head north to Myrtle Beach, SC where great deals on beachfront condos can save you a ton and keep you close to the action.  
  • Want to go somewhere more exotic? Bermuda has some fantastic options for its shoulder-season (which falls before May).
  • If you aren't too concerned about getting some sun and working on your tan, Vermont calls the budget-minded skiers with rock-bottom lift tickets and up to 30% off accommodations. 
  • Portland is neither covered in snow or bright and sunny this time of year. Our crowds show up mid-May and stay through the start of the school year, so now's the time to visit for affordable lodging and to spend your savings from that on the many local microbreweries and wineries. This is also a great time to get outside and do some outdoorsy activities like hiking, biking or bird watching. (Here are some other ideas for you.)
  • While everyone else is flying south, why not pack a coat and visit Washington, DC. With so many free attractions  museums, national landmarks, etc. – you can fill a few days or a whole week really easily. Flights aren't crazy expensive like for other destinations, which means you'll really only need to worry about dining. Luckily, it's easy to find cheap eats around the city. (Here are just a few ways to fill your itinerary.)
  • If you'd rather go somewhere warm and wear your summer clothes early, try a getaway to San Diego. You can enjoy the sun and everything they have to offer from the San Diego Zoo to Balboa Park with its 15 museums, play areas, hiking and biking trails, gardens and variety of restaurants and cafes. You don't have to go far to find things to entertain everyone in your travel party.
If you're planning a trip for Spring Break, I've got more tips coming, including how to pack your bag, so you only fly with a carry-on, and my next newsletter will be full of apps to keep the kids busy on the plane, in the car or while waiting to do something. If you aren't signed up for my twice-monthly newsletter full of extra tips and deals, sign up now so you aren't missing out:

Where will you be spending Spring Break? Not going anywhere, but still want to make the most of your time? Check out my Staycation Pinterest board.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Let’s Be Spies: The DC Spy Museum

Stealth and espionage always sounds so cool, right? Of course it does. James Bond is so suave and has all those fantastic gadgets. Well, after a visit to the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC, I was both more intrigued and far more impressed by those that actually lived their lives as someone else. There were so many awesome gadgets from all decades of spying, but first-hand accounts of spies in the real world and ways to test your own skills as a master spy.

Can you keep cool under pressure? Can you remember you cover story? How to answer in-depth questions about your secret identity? Spot a suspicious person on the street? Find clues from other spies? You’ll find all these things out and more at the Spy Museum.

Our visit fell during the 50 Years of Bond exhibit that had tons of trivia and memorabilia from the James Bond films. Unfortunately, there was so much there that we had to rush through half of it, so I would suggest getting to the Spy Museum when it opens instead of mid-afternoon, because you’ll likely need half the day to see everything there is. Between the displays, videos and interactive elements – not to mention the extensive gift shop – you’ll notice time slipping away quite quickly. Your admission ticket includes re-entry, so you can leave to have lunch and then return when you’re refreshed and ready to do more spy stuff.

Remember that telephone shoe from Get Smart? Want to know where the concept came from? Real spies!

Ever wonder how spies connect with each other and pass along information without giving themselves away and also getting murdered in the process? Important data can be encrypted, or more likely hidden in objects, like what appears to be litter on a rarely used road, a coin and in between the layers of postcard.

What about weapons? Spies have a lot of them, hidden in everyday object. They may not be as sophisticated as those you see in movies, but they are definitely innovative. One of my favorite old shows was the Avengers with Emma Peel and John Steed. Mr. Steed, ever the gentleman, wore a bowler and carried a fancy umbrella that was used to aid him in fighting bad guys. It concealed a sword for those he needed a little extra help with. This wasn’t so farfetched, because they actually existed.

So, what happened to spies who got caught? Nothing good. None of them ever were able to go back to their normal lives, and the majority of them were killed, brutally. Even the best spies were always one step away from being found out.

During your visit, you’ll have the chance to pick your cover identity and soak in the information of this person. See how well you retain the information in just a few minutes to be able to answer questions at checkpoints throughout the museum. Will you slip up or are you a master liar? Eric and I both took pictures of our alternate identities, just in case, but I was able to easily answer questions about where I’ve been, what I was doing in the country and how long I planned to stay.

If you want to do many things in DC, then take a look at the NOW Pass for DC, which is what we bought in order to get the most of our money and time.

Who’s Your Favorite TV/Movie Spy?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

An Animal-Lover’s Guide to Tampa

Florida is known for many things – the beach, theme parks, retirement communities – but you don’t often hear of it as a destination full of unique animal encountersLast month I shared my Tampa Wish List, but if you're interested in visiting Tampa too, it's possible you're going to go for more than 3-4 days and you'll want to do things other than we do. Tampa offers visitors more than the standard zoo, which makes it a wonderful destination for animal lovers of all ages. Along with the sunny, warm weather and the proximity to the beach, Tampa could well be your perfect getaway all year long.

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The largest accredited big cat rescue facility in the world is located in Tampa. When cats are abused, mistreated or not able to be properly cared for, BCR takes them in and gives them a new lease on life. Large felines live out their lives in natural habitats, where they will get the attention they need and deserve, while also being spokescats for visitors who would like to know more about how they can get involved and also help change the world around them.

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Located in the discharge canal of the Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach, the Viewing Center was created when it was discovered that Tampa Bay’s manatees would seek the warmer waters of the canal as the waters of the Bay became too cool for them. At the Viewing Center, you can learn about Tampa’s environment and weather, how it affects the animals and view manatees in their natural surroundings. The power station uses environmentally friendly practices to supply power to the community, while providing a reliable sanctuary for these endangered animals.

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A true animal lover is not going to balk at visiting a zoo; especially one voted #1 in the U.S. by Parents Magazine. This 56-acre park is jam-packed with animal activity, education and interactive experiences. Most zoos only offer views of animals from behind a barrier. At Lowry Park Zoo, you can get up close and personal with critters in a variety of attractions: Giraffe Feeding, White Rhino Feeding, Lorikeet Landing, Bushland Budgies, Wallaroo Station and Stingray Bay. Little ones and their parents will greatly enjoy this unique animal haven.

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Over 20,000 plants and animals reside in this 250,000-square-foot aquarium. Take the journey of a drop of water, originating in one of Florida’s fresh-water springs, until it makes it to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, you’ll explore wetlands, the beach, a coral reef and more. Outside, the aquarium offers a 2-acre water adventure zone for everyone to cool off or just relax. Inside, you’ll find a vast array of sea creatures. Touch a shark, watch penguins play or even scuba dive with sharks (and a certified instructor).

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Mix your love of animals with your love of roller coasters at this popular theme park that features creatures from Africa. Interspersed between some of the most exciting thrill rides you’ve experienced, you can view everything from lemurs to elephants in realistic habitats. Meet the animals in person (some with extra fees beyond your park ticket), including the Serengeti Night Safari, Jambo Junction and Walkabout Way. It’s the most interesting and fun way to get a glimpse of African animals without the expensive plane ride.

As you can see, Tampa is a haven for the furry, feathery and scaly and those who enjoy being near them. There are plenty of other things to pique your interest in the city as well, including delicious dining options and shopping opportunities, all with sunny weather during many months.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

3 Ways F-Secure Freedome Can Save Your Vacation

I don’t know about you, but the fewer things that can go wrong on a trip, the better I feel. Of course, I’ve taken vacations where it was one big learning opportunity (ahem, Ecuador), but not in the way where I had to just give up and go home or spend my whole trip trying to take care of some horrible problem that occurred. F-Secure’s Freedome can help prevent some of those terrible things from happening. Here are just a few of the reasons why you should install it into your web-enabled electronics before leaving home:

Avoid Computer Viruses
First of all, getting a virus is highly annoying, because it can wipe your computer or just take over so you can’t use it. It’s happened to the best of us, but that’s also why we have anti-virus protection. Believe it or not, those don’t keep all viruses at bay, but F-Secure Freedome gives you an extra level of protection and shows you just how many viruses and hacks it has deflected. When you’re on vacation and something takes over your computer, it can really mess up your trip.
  • You’ll have to spend your time and money looking for a place that can – hopefully – fix your laptop.
  • If you use your laptop/netbook for work, you’re pretty much screwed if you have files on your actual computer you need to access.
  • You either have to use your phone, use the hotel’s business center or find an internet café to be able to check/send emails, access your travel info and confirmations or look up your bank or credit card accounts. This is just as safe as not using any protection on your laptop, too.
  • You’re basically now carrying around a useless block. You may as well have left it at home – except if you did that, you probably wouldn’t have gotten that virus.

Keep Your Personal Info Hidden
So, if you’ve ever had your identity stolen, or even just a credit card, you know it sucks. Ten years ago I was unfortunate enough to have someone steal my debit card info and then proceed to use it to go online and purchase a computer. After several phone calls, I was able to convince the bank that I didn’t buy that thing and had no idea who the person was who did, but it wasted everyone’s time, plus I had to wait for a new debit card and for my money to be returned. Freedome blocks your ISP and internet activity to the world, so if you keep any of those personal things on your computer, tablet or phone, it’s safe from those nefarious folks who want to use it for themselves.
  • Keep your money in your bank account for you to use. If you log into your bank account online, those keystrokes won’t be able to be swiped and reused to drain you dry.
  • You won’t spend hours on the phone – and possibly hundreds of dollars in foreign call fees – trying to sort out all your issues when you could be out having fun.
  • No one will be able to hack into your computer and find all the info they can use to steal your identity and make you super sad when you get home, or possibly even before then. It wouldn’t be awesome to find out that none of your credit cards work and you have no money to finish your trip or get home.
  • You can use unsecured public Wi-Fi hotspots without fear, because you never realize how much you rely on free internet while you’re out in the world, especially when you travel and need to find directions and such. 
  • Less annoying than a stolen identity, but just as irritating and time consuming is having someone access all your passwords to your accounts and having to change them all…again. I bet I’m not the only one who yells at their computer when they see one of those “Please change your X password” emails. 

Be Able to Connect to All Your Accounts
Have you ever gone somewhere and tried to log into a site you use all the time only to be told that no, you can’t, because you aren’t in your home country? I have, and it sucks. Freedome works as a VPN (virtual personal network), so you can trick the internet into thinking you’re anywhere in the world. While this isn’t really something that can ruin your trip, it helps to have the option to use said websites, especially if you’re in a country that blocks normal things, too, like Facebook.
  • Access your Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services wherever you are. I’m not always outside of my hotel doing things. Sometimes I like to relax. Maybe eat in my room and do some laundry. There’s nothing better than catching up on a movie or show when I have the time. 
  • Be able to watch streaming TV on the channel site. Once when I was in Nassau, we were stuck inside due to a hurricane warning, so we were tired of watching the news and playing Gameboy. We attempted to get online to watch some CBS shows we had missed while we were away and were blocked. Bummer. With Freedome, I can set my location to the U.S. and watch whatever I want that’s available online. On the other hand, I can set my location to other countries and watch shows I liked when I was there.
  • Maybe your kids like to play games online or have a show they can’t live without that you stream and haven’t downloaded. Well, prevent a breakdown when they are cranky and just want something they are used to by using the VPN function of Freedome. 

Imagine how much grief F-Secure Freedome can save you in your everyday life and on your travels. I know that my security is more important to me than saving a few bucks a month. In fact, Freedome is only 29.90€ for a year, which comes out to less than $2.80/month. But don’t just take my word for how good Freedome is. Take my challenge and try it for yourself for free:

Use Freedome for 90 days by using code qsf257

Make sure your devices are safe wherever you are and head off those snags that can happen before they do, because there are some things you can control.

Disclaimer: As a brand ambassador for F-Secure, I am being compensated for my time, however I fully support this company and product.
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