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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

48 Hours of Fun on a Budget in London

In this blog series I show you how easy it is to budget travel anywhere and I also give you a quick overview of a new city each time in a brief 48-hour itinerary.

By now you know I love the city of London. Two days is clearly not enough to do more than scratch the surface, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a lot out of a weekend, extended business trip or long layover there. There’s always something to see and always a long list of cool things to do whether you are willing to splurge a bit or are counting your pennies. Though it is known as one of the most expensive vacation destinations, you can certainly make it budget-friendly. If I had just two days to spend in London, here are the things I would pick.

london travel tips

Day 1

You're going to want to set out early in the day, so we're going to assume you got in last night and after a restful sleep you're ready to go. Unlike some people, I could spend a whole day just riding around on the tube. It's fun and I like watching people. It's funny to see that 98% of the people on the Underground are either glued to their phones or hiding behind a paper. Hardly anyone talks to each other, but maybe it's because they all have somewhere important to go, like work. I don't have that obligation, so I say start the day off right by taking the Tube to Notting Hill and head to Portobello Road Market

Once you get there, and before you start shopping, stop into Gail's, a sweet little cafe and bakery where you can get a great cup of coffee and either a pastry, muffin or a real meal. They have a small, but satisfying and scrumptious, breakfast menu, including the above English brekkie. Now that you're fueled for the day and properly caffeinated, head out to the stalls and shops to pick up a unique souvenir or even some delicious fruits, veggies or cheese to nosh on later. Gail's has loaves of bread that you can take away, so you can definitely make a lovely little picnic. The market is free and the average meal (with coffee or tea) at Gail's will run you around £8.00.

When you've had your fill of window shopping, jump on the Tube and make your way to Tower Bridge. People confuse the bridge with London Bridge, because it's the most iconic in the city, but London Bridge is actually pretty unremarkable and the original can actually be found in Lake Havasu, Arizona. Tower Bridge Exhibition takes you inside the bridge, shows you the history and construction and explains how it opens and closes. The walkway on the top now has a glass floor, so you can also watch traffic beneath you while you enjoy the rotating exhibits. Make sure your camera's charged, because you can get some spectacular pics of the city and The Thames from the top. This one-of-a-kind experience is just £8.00 per adult, which is way cheaper than the London Eye and has views just as good.
Slow down and bit and head to Kensington and take a walk in Hyde Park, which is really expansive, but one of the most beautiful parks I've ever been to. you might want to plan out your visit, as it's quite easy to get turned around. We had to use a map and a compass last time we went. If you've brought fixings for a picnic lunch, you have a large choice of places to sit and enjoy it. One of the things on my list still is to have tea at The Orangery in Kensington Gardens, so this is where I would make my next stop in the park. Wandering the park and enjoying the sculptures and wildlife (huge squirrels!) are free. Afternoon tea runs £26.00 per person, which I'm willing to splurge on.

I feel like no trip to London is really complete without a visit to the iconic Harrod's department store. I don't expect to buy anything there, since it's very upscale, but you can find some of the coolest stuff downstairs in their food stalls. They run the gamut from fancy meats, jams, candy and mini restaurants that serve everything from oysters and sushi to coffee and pastries. I actually purchased some really big  macarons here that were amazing. There's so much to see in here, even if you aren't looking for clothing. Harrod's is a London landmark and when it first opened had a whole zoo floor where you could buy exotic animals. Now, luckily, the most exciting thing you can buy regarding animals is a crazy expensive cashmere sweater for your pooch. Totally free, unless you pick up some gifts to take home.
You're probably over walking now, so why not catch a movie? I know you're thinking that you can do that at home, but trust me when I say that you'll not be disappointed by the hook this next place has. Pillow Cinema shows some of the newest and most popular movies in an unused Tube station. Awesome, right? Snuggle up with your travel partner and relax for two hours. If you're traveling in the summer, then visit Pillow Cinema's other venture, Hot Tub Cinema. I bet that hot water will ease your sore muscles, while you make new friends and watch a movie on a rooftop in an inflatable hot tub. Tickets run around £8 per person.

I bet the calories from your afternoon tea have worn off by now, so make your way to Picadilly Circus to grab some late-night eats. Jamie Oliver's Pop-Up Diner is crazy good, has large portions and doesn't require a reservation. Choose from comfort foods you'll love like baby back ribs. you could easily share an entree if you aren't starving, especially if you order starter salads and/or dessert. An average meal won't break you at around £25.

Head back to your hotel or vacation rental to rest up for your next day in London.

Day 2

Grab something to eat before heading out today. (As you know, generally I just eat in my room, like cereal or a bagel.) Take the tube to a stop near Buckingham Palace. This is a good time to walk along the river if you can and just enjoy the city. On certain days at 11am, the Changing of the Guard takes place, which is quite a to-do and I've yet to experience. Down the way you can see the Horse Guards as well. Both of these are free and make for awesome photos.

You can't go home from a trip to London without checking out Trafalgar Square. The art and fountains and people watching are fantastic. This is the best place to see all the red double-decker buses, as there seems to be an average of 8 in the surrounding intersections at any given time. Take your art pics of Nelson's Column and then wander down the street for a bite to eat at the Sherlock Holmes Pub. Get a pint and some fish and chips to fortify yourself for the next part of your day. You can expect to pay around £15 per person for lunch.

Make your way to the Victoria & Albert Museum, which is totally free and completely amazing. You'll find exhibits of textiles, clothing, pottery and more from all over the world. If these aren't really your thing, though my husband loved it, substitute a visit to the British Museum instead. Both museums are free and contain enough artifacts to keep you busy for hours. (You can also just stay in Trafalgar Square and go to the free National Portrait Gallery.)

My one must-do when I went back to London last time was to catch a show at the West End, which I was able to do and do so for less by using Broadway Box. you can find discounts for dinner and a show packages and see a wide range of shows. We took in The 31 Steps and had a wonderful 3-course dinner at Grace. Find awesome deals on your evening entertainment and dining from as little as £25 per person. (I kid you not!)

At this point you probably want to head back "home" to pack, or to unwind with a cocktail, but your two days in London have been jam-packed, but also fun and relaxing (and educational!). If you do everything on this list, not including what it costs to get around on the Underground, your two days for two travelers would cost approximately £230, or around $365. Look to Airbnb for affordable and awesome accommodations if you're looking to feel like a local. 

If you've been to London, what are your must-dos in the city?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Your Must-Have Apps for Vacations

A lot of people are planning vacations right now, because the weather isn't the worst everywhere anymore. That means road trips, theme parks, beaches and so much more. If you've got a trip on the horizon, then you're probably bringing your smartphone to keep you occupied and help you out. Fill it with apps that will make your trip better, cooler and easier. That's what we all want when we go somewhere, whether it's Europe, Mexico or the next state over. Here are all the latest and greatest apps to download before you go and have the best vacation ever!
vacation apps // travel apps

I'd suggest AroundMe for finding things to do near where you are and Foodspotting for delicious dishes according to other diners. Download TripIt to keep all your travel info, including confirmation numbers and addresses, with you at all times. What are your favorite travel apps? 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Review: Foldable Flats from Butterfly Twists

Spring is in the air! Well, for some of us. Portland is bouncing between warm, sunny days and cold, rainy days. I know a lot of people are still waiting for the weather to warm up where they live, too, but it's coming. Spring and Summer bring all kinds of outdoor activities, including great vacations that might involve the beach and definitely a lot of walking. You're going to want to look cute, but still be comfortable as well. Butterfly Twists, which have those awesome packable wellies I reviewed last week, has your vacation feet covered, literally. These perforated Julia flats are adorable and perfect for your travels, as well as everywhere you go around home. 

Now, I know you probably have a few pairs of foldable flats in your closet and you're thinking they won't possibly be helpful on a vacation, unless you just plan to wear them on the plane and that's it. It's because you haven't tried Butterfly Twists yet. I, too, have several pair of flats that won't ever go with me on a trip longer than 6 hours, because they may be cute, but they also feel like you're walking barefoot on the pavement. Ouch. Butterfly Twists set out to change this, because they're made in London, a city where most women walk everywhere they can. 

They were created to be your back-up shoes when your heels cause you to hate your life and you aren't going to walk down the dirty streets without shoes on. Butterfly Twists are adorable flats that replace those sexy stilettos and still look fab with your going out clothes. They are so cute and come in so many styles that you can wear these all the time and skip those torture-inducing heels you have when your feet already hurt. Personally, I think this makes them perfect travel companions: 

They pack small, so you could throw in a few extra pairs if you want. I'm totally in favor of wearing easy slip-on, slip-off shoes to the airport and on the plane. My feet tend to swell in flight, so I need footwear that isn't constricting. when going to warm weather destinations, it's nice to have shoes that will go with everything I bring and allow my feet to breathe. Sneakers aren't always the best choice. 

They are a great alternative to flip flops and actually offer more support. They have memory foam insoles, so your feet are going to be happier longer. I'll bring flip flops for the pool or wandering around the hotel (or when I just can't bear to wear real shoes anymore), but with Butterfly Twists' flats, I can leave them at home. They look great on the beach, on a boat, at the theme park and at dinner. Love that!


They look great with everything from jeans to your swimsuit. I put these on with a variety of outfits and, lo and behold, they looked like they were meant to go with it. Why bring a bunch of extra shoes when you can bring a few that go with all the clothes in your travel wardrobe? 

They liven up your LBD day dress. A sparkly pair of flats are a great addition to your travel bag, because it can add a bit of flash to that dress you've been wearing out sightseeing. Put on some fun jewelry and you're ready to go out dancing or to a nice dinner. 

They allow your feet to breathe. OMG. There's nothing worse than walking all over in shoes that don't breathe and make your feet feel like they're all hot and gross. Even the non-perforated flats have a breathable lining, but I loved the look of the Julia flats, because they also have an open toe to show off your pretty pedicure.

They have structure. This might seem like a weird thing to care about, but If ind it really important in a flat. You'll take these shoes out of their carrying bag and notice when you unfold them that they curl a bit. They'll do that even after you've worn them a bunch. This means they'll be stretchy enough to stay on your foot, but they won't rub on your foot and give you blisters, even right out of the box. I cannot stress how important this is, because you want your shoes to have enough structure to conform to your foot, but you don't want them to be loose and flop around or rub your heels raw. Boo to that.

They come in their own travel bag. Like the Windsor Wellies, all BT flats have their own drawstring bag. This means you can bag them up, toss them in your day bag or your carry-on and not have to worry about them getting dirt on everything else inside. 

They easily fit inside your purse. When you're at home and find yourself on a night out, eventually your feet are going to start complaining while you're wearing those tall heels. After you leave the club or your party, taken them off, pull out your BT foldable flats and breathe a sigh of relief. I often keep a pair of flats in my car, because you can't drive barefoot. Well, you can, but the law frowns on that. There have been some times when my feet have hurt so bad I couldn't even wait to get my shoes off before I've made it to the car. If you're the same, you need a pair of these. Of course, you could also wear these instead of those other fancy shoes you planned. 

With the nice weather lately, I've been wearing the Julia flats all over the place. They're so comfortable, even when doing a lot of walking, that I can't wait to take them on vacation with me. They're totally going to complete my outfits in Las Vegas and Orlando and I'll bet you anything that many ladies are going to be jealous of my comfort. 

These flats only come in whole sizes, so if you need a half size, choose the larger size. I usually wear a 6.5, and my feet are a bit wide, so I asked for a 7 and they are perfect. If my feet swell on the plane or after miles of walking, I'll still have some wiggle room. {Don't the moms in your life deserve a little comfortable elegance? Mother's Day is coming up and I bet the ones you know would looooovve a pair of these for trips and around home.}

Other Information
Colors they come inDusty pink (shown) | Black
How much are they? $49
Where can I buy themOn the Butterfly Twists website
Other specsfaux leather, flexible rubber outsole, lightweigh

Like Butterfly Twists? Why not connect with them on: Facebook | Twitter | YouTubeInstagram | Google+

Disclaimer: I was provided with a pair of Butterfly Twists Julia flats for the purposes of this review, but all opinions are 100% my own. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Flying Budget Airlines Abroad

Here in the U.S., our idea of a budget airline is one that has a slightly discounted rate. Southwest and Spirit are no longer really considered budget when their airfares are really not much cheaper than all the regular airlines or they screw you over by making you pay for carry-on bags. Around the world there are true budget airlines that can save you hundreds of dollars on trips, making it cheaper to fly than riding Greyhound here in America. When we were in London, we flew to Paris for less than $60 per person, including taxes. Now that's budget! (Thank you, easyjet!)

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Wherever you travel in the world, you have the choice of booking a flight on a big name or a budget airline that may skip the perks, but leave you with money in your wallet to actually enjoy your trip. I don't know about you, but I'm willing to buy a beverage before I board and bring my own snacks and entertainment to save some bucks. As long as the airline has a good safety record, I'm willing to give it a shot. easyjet, while being cheap, also had amazing customer service. The boarding process wasn't the greatest, but they got me to my destination on time and in one piece. There are thousands of airlines out there and you may not have heard of most of them. RyanAir gets a bad rap for being greedy and unfriendly, but they aren't the only option out there:

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Traveling to Africa and the Middle East? easyjet's offshoot FastJet is a great airline for those wanting to hop around the continent, especially South Africa. Round-trip flights can be as low as $85 and $100. Those focusing on the Middle East and North Africa can rely on AirArabia and FlyDubai. Both are popular options for budget travelers. Some other carriers to check out: Nouvelair, Fly540, Flynas, UP and Jazeera Airways.

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Asia and the South Pacific haven't had the greatest press lately, but you'll discover more than just Malaysan Airlines to save you money. AirAsia offers rock-bottom rates to 85 destinations in Asia, the South Pacific and Australia. Some promotions have gone as low as $14. I'd check into travel insurance though. IndiGo is quite popular and flies travelers between India, the Middle East and the South Pacific. The Australian-based Jetstar, as well as Singapore-based Tiger Airways and Scoot are highly-ranked budget airlines as well. Even more options: Spring Airlines,Jeju Air,Nok Air, PAL Airlines and Lion Air.

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easyjet and RyanAir are not your only choices in Europe. Norwegian Airlines is notorious for great deals, especially between the U.S. and Europe. There are quite a few great low-cost carriers to choose from, including Icelandair that offers an up to 7-day layover in Iceland to bring more tourism to their beautiful country, as well as SmartWings, XL Airways, Wizz Air, Aer Lingus, Blue Air, Vueling, Pegasus Airlines, Dobrolet Airlines, Fly Romania and Flybe.

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Our neighbors to the north, Canada, has WestJet that offers some of the lowest rates to destinations in Canada, the U.S. and Europe.

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South America is affordable for travelers, though airfare might be a deal breaker. Gol and LAN try to offer some great rates to draw more tourists, but some other carriers to check for big discounts are Amaszonas, Azul Brazilian Airlines, AeroSantaigo, EasyFly, VivaColombia, Interjet, Volaris and Peruvian Airlines.

Travel can be so much more enjoyable when you have access to true budget-friendly transportation that doesn't take half the day to get you where you want to go, plus you can see more than you expected with the money you have to spend. Have you had a good experience on a little known budget airline? (Or a bad experience on a well known one?) We won't talk about how I won't even travel on Southwest anymore.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Travel Internationally to Save Money

Yes, you read that right. Why plan a trip to the beach – where hotels can cost as much as airfare – when you could spend the same amount on a trip that's more exciting and might include a beach? I'm always in favor of going somewhere new and farther away than someplace old that I can go to anytime. Here are 5 destinations you can visit where your dollars will go further and you'll get more culture than your nearest waterpark or boardwalk.

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South America is always a great money-saving destination. Buenos Aires – "The Paris of South America" – is a hotspot for culture, nightlife and food. Take your time lingering over amazing dining experiences, learn to tango and explore historic neighborhoods and museums. You'll find plenty of affordable wine sipping opportunities, plus you can save on accommodations. Find suites for as little as $60 per night.

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Dominican Republic
With tons of all-inclusive resorts, you can pay one price and have your sleeping and eating – and some entertainment – totally taken care of. Lay on the beach, go hiking and generally enjoy nature in one of the prettiest and budget-friendly destinations you'll find anywhere. 3- and 4-star resort rates will totally floor you and you'll find yourself looking for ways to splurge a bit in between the tanning and relaxing. Maybe by spending a little extra for the luxury of a 5-star resort.

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If you can handle some of the crowds in the touristy parts of the country, like Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, you can find some really great hotel rates. It's no secret why a lot of people flock south when they go on vacation. Look at resorts along the Yucatan Peninsula for more scenic views or search for places that have all the things you enjoy doing on your trips, because Mexico has it all, and at better rates than many other countries. You just want to make sure you do your research so you aren't stuck in a million-room resort with a bunch of stuff you'll never do or use. Check into cottages, bungalows or boutique hotels instead.

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One of the most up-and-coming vacation destinations, Nicaragua is a country where you can get by on as little as $25 per day. Up the luxe for just $50 more, which is still cheaper than a lot of other places you may have on your travel list, but it still gives you a historical and European-esque feel, but with the lower airfare of a Central American location. Instead of huge resorts next to the crowded ocean beaches, you can enjoy a quiet forest eco-lodge or beautiful beachfront cottages, plus engage in amazing diving, a visit to coffee fields or a hike in the cloud forest. 

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Portugal (and Spain)
Even on a budget, you can totally plan a trip to Europe. Portugal and Spain are culture-laden, delicious (and affordable) cuisine and tons of local wines. Spend your days lounging on the beautiful beaches, wandering the myriad museums and walking along cobblestoned streets. Both off everything you could want for less and also give you the chance to practice your Spanish with the locals. Just make sure you set up a price alert for airfare, because that's the only thing stopping you from enjoying Europe right now.

What are some of your favorite budget-friendly vacation destinations? Have you ever been surprised by how cheap a place has turned out?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Review: Packable Wellies from Butterfly Twists

April showers bring May flowers, but sometimes it just leads to more showers like it does here in Portland. From November to July 5th, you pretty much just plan for rain when you go out. There are other places like this and if you want to go out and do things, you’re going to face mud and big puddles. I have a ton of shoes, but when it’s particularly rainy or I go somewhere it’s bound to be muddy, it’s nice to have a pair of Wellington boots (wellies) in your closet to put on and enjoy the day without ruining your normal shoes or fancy boots.

I love wellies, because they are fun and cozy, but the problem is that normally they don’t have much support for all-day wear and you usually have to wear, like, three pair of socks to keep your feet warm. Butterfly Twists have taken care of all your wellie problems, including the fact that most aren’t all that pretty to look at. They’re made in London – where it rains all year round like it does in Portland – so you know they know all about wellie woes, especially when having to wear them walking around the city and up and down tube station stairs. Unhappy feet are a no-go which means these are perfect for traveling, too.

I have been lucky that we have had a lot of rainy days since I’ve received my Windsor wellies. I put them on with a pair of jeans and felt ready for anything. I wore them to an arena football game and immediately received a compliment from the lady next to me on how cute they were. And they are cute, but they are super functional, because they have memory foam insoles that support my feet and also make them really comfortable to wear all day.

These wellies are also lined, so they keep your feet warm, whether you wear fatty boot socks or not. That’s perfect for wear I live where it rains in the winter and in the summer and all the months in between. Butterfly Twists come in whole sizes. I wear a size 6.5 in shoes, so I had to choose to go up or down a size. The wellies are made a bit bigger for those who like to wear thick socks with them. Because they are lined and I wanted to wear them year-round, I went towards the small size (a 6 instead of a 7) and they fit perfect, even with socks on.

You know what else? There’s totally enough room for my toes! That probably sounds weird, but often you get boots and it feels like your feet are crammed into them. These boots fit fantastically. Your foot doesn’t jostle around in them (as happens with a lot of rain boots), but they don’t squish your feet either. Even if you wear normal socks with them, they have the fun sweater detail to make it look like you’re on trend and own those special socks to go with wellies, but without actually buying them and stretching them out for the look. Not sure you like the sock detail? Get a pair of Carlisles instead that are just as cute, but a little more stylish and like regular boots that will also go with dresses and slacks.

Aside from being pretty attractive and comfy, the Windsor boots have your back…er, feet? They have a grippy sole, so you won’t slip and slide on rainy sidewalks at the farmers’ market or while squishing through the mud in the forest or through a corn maze (which I’m totally going to wear these boots for in the fall).

Because they are lightweight, I can keep them in my bag wherever I go, plus they won’t make my carry-on extra heavy like other boots. That packability is what is going to make them a perfect travel companion to rainy destinations and on winter trips. These would have been awesome on my trip to Paris where it rained almost every day and was crazy cold. Next time I’ll have them and you can make sure you have a great pair of Butterfly Twists on your next trip like that as well, and at home when you need them most.

On my trip to Ecuador, I needed a pair of rubber boots to wear in the rainforest, but I didn’t have room in my bag to pack any. We ended up buying some cheap pairs at an outdoor market and then leaving them at the eco-lodge for future visitors. If I’d had these Windsor wellies from Butterfly Twists, they would have fit in my carry-on, not cost me any extra on my trip and also fit much better and offer support for my hikes.

Don’t get dirt and general bottom shoe gunk on your other belongings. Your Windsor wellies come with a waterproof travel bag so you can keep them separate from the other stuff in your carry-on or day bag. Bonus! {P.S. These would make a great gift for the mom on your list for Mother's Day!}

Next week I'll have a review up for Butterfly Twists' foldable flats!

Other Information
Colors they come in: Navy/Yellow (shown) | Green/Orange | Grey/Pink | Black/Grey | Red/Black | Navy/ Red
How much are they? $80
Where can I buy them? On the Butterfly Twists website
Other specs: Rubber structure, fleece-lined, 100% waterproof

Like Butterfly Twists? Why not connect with them on: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Instagram | Google+

Disclaimer: I was provided with a pair of Butterfly Twists Windsor wellies for the purposes of this review, but all opinions are 100% my own.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Saving for Travel + Tax Refund Getaways

Happy Tax Day, everyone. Okay, collective groan. I hear it. Everyone hates tax time, but not me, because "refunds, man"! It's money you didn't have before and can use in something fun...hopefully, because hone repairs and student loans suck and  the only thing that sucks more is coming up with the money to pay for them.
Use your tax refund as a vacation fund
If you don't have an official vacation fund started (or you do and want to add a good chunk to it,) you can look forward to using your refund as a "savings account" of sorts. You pay into it all year, so it's basically money you weren't able to spend. Unfortunately, you don't really know how much you're going to get back, but many times it stays pretty consistent if you're doing the same thing year after year. Use your hard earned money to take that vacation you deserve.

Gotta use your tax refund for other stuff? I feel ya. I do too. Here are some other ways to put money in your trip jar:
Pay Yourself Automatically
Set up a savings account specifically for your vacations (make sure it's separate from other household savings) and have a set amount go there every paycheck. If you can afford $100 twice a month, you'll have saved $2400 by the end of the year. Woot! If you don't see it, then you'll be amazed how fast it adds up.

Toss Your Loose Change (into the piggy bank)
Anytime you pay cash somewhere, you're likely to get change back. Don't spend it. Put it in your piggy bank at home or in that cubby hole you throw coins in your car. Before your trip, take it to the bank. You'll be surprised how much extra spending money you've accrued in pennies and dimes.

Sell Things You Don't Need
There's bound to be a bunch of things in your house (like your closet) that you don't need or use. Sell it on consignment, eBay, Craig's List or at a yard sale. (For tips on throwing a great sale, check out this post from Mavis on One Hundred Dollars a Month). Maybe you have some designer duds that don't fit anymore or kids clothes they've outgrown. Make room for new stuff, or just clear the clutter, and make some money at the same time. It's a win-win.

Do Odd Jobs
Got some spare time on your hands? I know, like all those hours you're not spending at work or doing lame stuff like work and sleeping, right? Well, maybe you have some extra time somewhere. Maybe the neighbor needs help in the garden or your friends would like your expertise at card-making. Sell your time. Find strangers who need your help on sites like TaskRabbit and turn your spare time into spare money.

Use Coupons 
You're probably already using coupons at the grocery store (because you're thrifty, after all) but are you using coupons for other things? I find there are coupons or promo codes for the majority of things you use and buy if you do a quick web search. Retailmenot is a great site to find online and offline coupons and codes. Download the app to your phone so you can use it everywhere and show it at the register. No more clipping coupons for places like Michael's, so you save paper, too.

Use Daily Deal Sites
We have a normal routine where we have breakfast or lunch on the weekends and go to a movie. Groupon, LivingSocial and Amazon Local saves us tons with daily deals. You save 50-90% off regular prices (sometimes more), so your outings can be cheaper and your savings can go straight into your vacation fund. We also use daily deal sites to save when we travel. Sign up for notifications about three months before your trip and look for things you wanted to do and places to eat at. Boom! You're traveling even more budgety.

Get Cash Back
You're going to buy stuff. You just are. Ebates lets you save money on your online purchases by offering you a set amount of cash back on participating retailers, including a lot of travel sites. If you're going to spend money, you might as well save as much as possible. Ebates sends you cash back payments four times a year, either by check or deposited to your Paypal account. It's super easy, and those payments can be used as spending money on your trips. Want to know more about how it works? I wrote a whole post on it!

Make Your Own Coffee
I put this one last, because it's a small thing that makes a big impact. If you're someone who frequents the coffee house, be it Starbucks, Peet's or the local mom and pop, those $3-5 cappuccinos and lattes can add up quickly, even if you just stop in once a week. Instead of spending $20+ a month on frothy drinks, invest in an espresso machine, French press, a Kuerig or a Nespresso. In the long run, it'll save you a ton on caffeinated beverages and you can put those dollars you don't spend into your change jar. Either that, or ask everyone for coffee cards for Christmas and your birthday and make them last. (As for pastries, those can cost even more. Trader Joe's has some great ones in the freezer section. You just have to bake them yourself. A pack of four can cost the same as one to go with your coffee.)

Look at all those ways you can make and save money for your vacations. If you make traveling a priority, you'll figure out how to pay for it instead of making excuses about how you can't afford it. Even if you can't fly to France, you can make your way around the country to cool places you've never been before. Remember, my best friend and her husband have five kids and still figure out how to go on trips, with just one salary. Learn some of her secrets here and here.

How do you save money for your travels?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Review: Traveling Scarf by Napper

Ever tried rolling up your jacket and using it as a makeshift pillow for the airplane, car, train or bus? It doesn’t work so well, does it? At some point it starts to slip down and unroll and then your head clunks against the window and your sleep is ruined. Most people can’t just sleep anywhere, and it’s nice to be able to catch up on your Zs when you’re traveling and need to get on a new schedule. Neck pillows are okay, but they don’t block out light or keep you warm or hold any of your stuff. They also don’t pack very small, or if they do, you have to blow them up to use them.

Napper may be the answer to all your commuting sleep problems. Designed for travelers who spend a lot of time on busses, it is also great for all other forms of transportation, including road trips. Napper combines the best part of a hoodie, a scarf and a pillow, all in a convenient little package. It folds up small to fit in your carry-on or a jacket pocket, plus has its own pocket to keep items on-hand when folded up, and two big pockets when unfolded.

The Napper is super soft and feels great against your skin. It’s like your favorite sweatshirt. Throw the hood on and you’ve got sweet padding over both of your ears, so when you lean up against the window (or a wall if you are unlucky), you can sleep easily even through bumps and turbulence. So much better than being woken up with a big knot on your head.

Is it too bright out, or just don’t want people looking at you while you sleep? Napper has drawstrings like a normal hoodie to pull the fabric down over your eyes and blocking out the sun – or your neighbor’s reading light. It also keeps those plane air vents from freezing you to death. Even on a flight that’s hot, I can never turn mine on because having it blow on the top of my head gives me a headache and it blowing in my eyes is super bothersome and drying.

The drawstrings double as earbuds, so if you want to listen to music, play games or watch that in-flight movie, you can do it without extra cords, since the wire is hidden in the scarf and the jack for your phone or other device is in one of the pockets and won’t get all tangled up in your clothes or seatbelt. They have great sound when I used them to play on my phone.

You can totally use the Napper to keep yourself organized while commuting or in the air. Keep all your travel docs, cash and even your ID or passport right on-hand without having to carry it all in your hands or dig through your bag when you need it again. Toss the scarf around your neck – hood on or off – and put those things you need in the pockets. I’m always using my phone on-the-go, so I plugged it in (which also keeps it more secure) in the one pocket and then put my travel wallet (ID, credit cards, cash, boarding pass and passport) in the other with a pack of tissues and my lip balm. Convenient! Now when I go through security, everything is right where I need it and I can take off the Napper and put it right in a bin with my shoes.

Once on the plane, I can put my wallet back in my carry-on and instead use the pocket to keep a pen and puzzle book. A pen is always a useful item to have when traveling, and it’s even nicer to not have to rummage in a bag to find one, and we all know that there’s barely room to spare on a plane anyway.

Does your neck or hands get cold when you travel? The Napper can keep you warm. The scarf is long enough to wrap around your neck for extra coverage and the deep pockets are nice and cozy to envelope your hands up to the bottom of your long sleeves, so you don’t have icy wrists.

If you’re someone who travels a lot on the bus or train, it can be important to keep your valuables and travel docs close, especially while you’re sleeping. The Napper allows you to do that, plus the pockets face your body, so nobody can tell you are even carrying anything on your person. This can also be great when you’re just walking around a city in the cold. Keep items from the prying eyes of thieves while keeping yourself warmer in the process.

Just wearing the Napper around home? Keep your gloves in the pockets, so you’ll never lose them. Got the opportunity to lay down somewhere? Fold the Napper back up and use it as a real pillow. This item is so versatile and useful, you’ll want to buy one for everyone you know who travels or has a long(ish) commute. With Mother’s and Father’s Day coming up, you might have just found the perfect gift.

Napper doesn’t require special care either. If it gets dirty, just toss it in the washer with your other laundry. Even the earbuds are washable.

More information
Colors it comes in: gray/black | gray/red
How much is it?: $58
Where you can buy it: Napper website
Other specs: Made 100% in the USA, Shell: 50% Cotton 50% Polyester Heavy Sweatshirt, Lining: 50% Cotton 50% Polyester Jersey

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