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Saturday, June 27, 2015

7 Ways to Save on Your Accommodations

There are plenty of things to consider when finding a place to stow your belongings and close your eyes at night. Price may be the biggest factor for you, but that doesn't mean the less you pay the worse your stay. There are plenty of budget and moderate hotels that offer wonderful service and surroundings if you know where and how to look. It's important to weigh all your options when deciding on where to sleep. Does it have a restaurant? Is it close to fun activities? Is it convenient to public transportation? Does it offer free breakfast? Free Wi-Fi? Is it on a busy street? Do the rooms offer kitchenettes? All these questions are important and if the answer is yes, you could save big. The more inclusive extras you can get on a vacation, the further your money goes.

saving on accommodations

Track Hotel Rates
Use Yapta to track hotel rates. Find a great deal? Search for the hotel(s) you are interested in and then track those specific ones. Even if you have reservations with them already, keep them on your list and keep waiting for prices to drop. Yapta will alert you to any prices that are lower than what you’ve already booked. If the price goes down, get on the phone with the establishment and see if you can change your reservation to reflect the lower rate.

Get Rewarded for your Loyalty
Sign up for Hotels.com’s Welcome Rewards and get free hotel nights. For every 10 nights you book through Hotels.com, you get one free night. You don't need to stay 10 nights in a row, in the same hotel or even in the same year. Your credits just accumulate until you've reached 10 nights and then you are eligible to receive your free night. The price will be based on the average of the price per night you stayed for each of your 10 paid nights. If you wish to stay at a hotel that costs more than that, you will just pay the difference. If you frequent the same hotel or hotel chain, get on their loyalty program and start racking up points with each stay. You can trade these in for free nights and upgrades when you need them.

Avoid the Weekend
Hotel rates are almost always cheaper on Sunday through Thursday nights. Most people travel on the weekend. They know this, just like the airlines, so they make prices for Friday and Saturday stays more expensive. In some cases, they can be twice as much as on weeknights.

Stay in Business-Minded Hotels on the Weekend
Unlike most hotels, those that cater to business travelers don’t get much action on the weekend, so rates drop to encourage visitors to stay. These hotels are also ones to book over holidays, because they can be fairly empty and prices plummet.

Stay in Brand New Hotels
Hotels that have been newly built or totally remodeled often have an introductory period right when they open that offers rock-bottom rates. HotelChatter is a website that not only shows reviews of hotels, but they also list the opening dates of new hotels and update them if they change. The list shows hotels worldwide, so you can search before you book your room.

Go All-Inclusive
I know you’re paying to stay at these places to be entertained and well-fed; most of them also offer free activities in the form of non-motorized watersports and even have nightly entertainment. That’s a freebie in my opinion, though you may feel differently. I suggest pricing out what you would expect to spend on your trip if you didn’t go all-inclusive and see if the savings are significant enough to go one way or the other.

Stay in a Vacation Rental
If you have a large family, this may be your perfect solution. Rentals are booked per night, not by guest counts, so whether you have three people or eight people in your travel party you pay the same price. The other plusses to a rental are: having more space to stretch out, having a kitchen to cook your own meals in (or at least store some snacks and leftovers), there aren’t 20 potential neighbors waking you up at all hours and many rentals have a washing machine.

Every little bit helps when you have to pinch your pennies, so get planning and find all the ways you can lower your bottom line. You might be surprised at how all those little discounts can turn into one big one. Stay tuned for part two on Wednesday.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Preview of Travelon Items For Summer Travel

Happy Friday! Summer is out in full force here in Portland. It's supposed to hit triple digits this weekend, which we are not prepared for. We're heading to the beach instead, where the temps will be much cooler. I know many of you are still planning a trip to ether escape the heat or get more of it, which means you might be looking for some products to help your travels go smoother. Well, as always, Travelon has anticipated this and come out with some new stuff that I'll be reviewing on my trip to Vegas next month, but in case you need something before then, I wanted to give you a little preview.

travelon travel accessories
Whether you want to look cute when you're out to dinner, take only the necessities on your weekend getaway or keep your unmentionables away from prying eyes and from getting crushed, the new products run the gamut. 

Multi-Purpose Packing Cube

I know you all love a good packing cube. They can really keep all the goodness in your bag organized and allow you to just pull out what you need and leave the rest in your bag or in the dresser drawer. I have one totally devoted to swimsuits that holds a travel towel and waterproof pouch for my phone. Once we reach our destination, I toss a bottle of sunscreen in there and we have everything we need for a jaunt to the beach. This new cube from Travelon can keep all your undies, bras and other undergarments in one place, plus, it has a side that can be made rigid, so your fancy and expensive bras keep their shape. If you want to use it for other stuff, you can collapse that side and use it like a normal packing cube. It has a snap out zipper pocket and three mesh pockets on the inside top for keeping underwear or socks. I think this has now become my new favorite cube, since it has so many possibilities. I love that it comes in black, but three other bright colors for standing out in a black bag. With all it's configurations, $25 is a bargain.

Compact Hanging Toiletry Kit

Everyone loves a good toiletry kit. I have four or five in my arsenal, because different trips have different needs. I don't need to take as much on a weekend getaway as I do on a two-week international trip. I'll be in Vegas for a week, but it's going to be hot, hot, hot and I don't need my whole beauty regime, so I'm going to get my necessities in this lightweight little bag that won't take up much room in my bag and can hang right up in the bathroom for easy access. As you can see, it has room for three travel-size bottles and all the little extras you take to make you look pretty and put together. This is an especially great toiletry kit for the men out there. It comes in 5 eye-popping colors and is just $20.

Signature Embroidered Phone Clutch Wallet

I love a day bag, but when I'm going out to dinner or to see a show, I don't want to carry all my stuff with me. It's also nice to have a cute little wallet to throw in your travel bag, so you can keep all your important stuff in one place. Not only is this little clutch adorable, but it has RFID-blocking technology, so you know your credit card info is safe. There's room for change, because somehow on vacation you end up with a ton of coins, paper money, several cards and you can get your phone in there (even the big smartphones) with a lipstick and even a flat comb. If you are traveling with your passport, this is just big enough to hold it, too. All you need for getting out of the hotel room for a bit fits in here, plus you can clip the wrist loop to the little d-ring attached to the bag and keep the zipper securely closed (because thieves). It comes in three classic colors and runs just $25.

Stay tuned next month for my full-length reviews of these great items. In the meantime, good luck with your summer travel planning. 

Disclaimer: As always, I was provided with these Travelon products for the purposes of their reviews, but all opinions are 100% my own.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Dining On a Dime (Or At Least On a Budget)

When I travel, I’m almost always thinking about when and where we’re going to eat next. I want to eat my way through a city. It must be the combination of all the walking and the fresh air, or just the excitement of being in a completely new environment. I know it’s impractical. Not just because it’s unhealthy, but also because it’s totally unaffordable. If I did stop to eat a bunch during the day, I’d never get any sightseeing done either! If you’re like me and want to eat all day long, you’re going to need some tips on how to do it inexpensively, so at least you don’t go broke doing it. Here are just a few of the rules I follow to get the best bargains and keep my wallet from emptying out by the end of the first day.

budget travel dining

Bring snacks

Trick your stomach by bringing snacks with you in your bag each day. This way, if you’re tempted to nibble on something, you know you have them on you and are less likely to spend money on food you don’t really need.

Eat where the locals eat

Just by avoiding touristy areas, you can save a lot on your meals. When you’re out, ask a few people where they recommend. They aren’t going to tell you they prefer a chain restaurant over their favorite local pub. The food is likely more authentic than those that you can find right near tourist attractions, making it cheaper, because it’s local and not shipped in from a different country.

Make lunch your main meal

If you really want to try one of the “hip” restaurants by a celebrity chef, make reservations for lunch. The food will be just as good, but it’s usually much cheaper at lunch than at dinner.

Hit up the food carts

Food carts can have a huge variety of different local and international foods, but can be half the price of (or less) than dining at a sit-down restaurant. With this kind of savings, you can try fare from several carts with no regrets.

Rent a vacation home or stay in a hotel with a kitchen(ette)

This is my favorite way to stretch my food budget, because there are so many options. Renting can be a great value over hotel stays if you’ll be visiting for a week or more, plus it gives you the chance to check out the local grocery store. I am not a big breakfast person, so instead of eating out for that meal, I shop for new cereals and pastries that I can’t get at home. There’s never a better time to try new foods! 

Stay at a hotel that offers free breakfast

You don’t realize how much dining out can cost until you go on vacation. A reasonable breakfast can cost between $8-15 per person. If you multiply that by the number of people you’re traveling with and the number of days you’ll be staying, that number can be huge. If you find a hotel in your price range that offers free breakfast, you’ve hit a jackpot of savings.

Sign up for Groupon (or other daily deal sites)

Groupon.com is an amazing little site that offers daily deals on a wide assortment of things, not least of which is dining. Each day a new offer goes up at a big discount off the regular price. Dining certificates can be purchased quite often and many times I have gotten a half-off gift certificate to a new local restaurant or one just trying to bring in new customers. It works! Sign up at Groupon for the destination of your next vacation (they cover many international locations as well as the United States) and eat for less!

Don’t order off the kids’ menu

If you travel with children, you’ll notice that all kids’ menus seem to have the same small rotation of foods. Obviously, little ones don’t just live on hot dogs, pizza, chicken nuggets and PB&J sandwiches. Not only do they charge an outrageous amount for these “staples” that cost hardly anything to make, but they offer hardly any nutritional value and your kids are likely to eat only half of it before declaring they’re full. Instead, order a meal that you both will eat and share. This saves you money and might get them to eat a vegetable or two.

This is just a small list of things you can do to help stretch your food budget on your future trips, but they can save you quite a bit, as they have me and my family on our travels. Remember, the more money you save on meals, the more money you can spend on doing something else!

How do you sasve money on dining out when you travel?

Saturday, June 20, 2015

How to Be a Courteous Tourist

Sometimes you can avoid being the "Ugly American" only to commit some other faux pas when you travel, because you didn't know some obscure thing that is culturally unacceptable. Make sure you read up on your destination before you go, so you know how to behave in most situations. For a quick look at what not to do in different destination, check out this infographic of some common misunderstandings that can easily be avoided.

courteous tourist tips
photo credit

Have you ever made a major faux pas while traveling?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Why North Dakota Should Be On Your Travel List

What's the extent of your knowledge of North Dakota? Is it only that it's not where Mount Rushmore is located? (Did you even know that?) Well, I'm going to change that for you right now, because North Dakota has a huge array of activities and attractions for you to choose from, especially if you're traveling with kids and you're on a budget. Also, did you know that North Dakota has been crowned Happiest State in the U.S.? To me, that's enough of a reason to plan a trip there. You probably want more though, so let's look at some of the super cool things there are to do and see there.
Photo by North Dakota Tourism/Dan Koeck

Got kids?

If you're traveling as a family, then you'll want to find things to do that everyone likes, and maybe even sneaking in some educational opportunities. Here are just a few of the things the little ones (and everyone else) will love:
  • North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame: Who doesn't love a cowboy? You and the littles can learn more about what life was like for those living on the North Dakota plains for real cowboys, the Native Americans and rodeo riders. Permanent and rotating exhibits ensure you get a good idea about American ranching. The museum is open every day in the summer season and you can buy a family pass for just $30.
  • National Buffalo Museum: Help protect the American buffalo as you visit and learn about bison as a species. The herd includes three white buffalo and are located next to Frontier Village, which is full of old pioneer buildings like a barbershop, jailhouse and post office. Admission is just $5 for adults and a crazy affordable $1 for kids 7-18.
  • Enchanted Highway: Fancy a little bit of a road trip? Make sure you have your camera ready, because this 32-mile stretch of highway has giant metal sculptures that would be fun to stop at and get up close and personal with. Make an afternoon of it and pack a picnic lunch to eat in front of your favorite. Totally budget-friendly, because it's absolutely free.
  • Fort Union Trading Post: This fur trading post is a fantastic way to educate your kids for free. Roll up to Fort Union and learn about what was traded, between whom and how it made everyone's life better. 
  • Knife River Indian Villages: Another free way to entertain the children, Knife River Indian Villages has a recreated Earthlodge, garden and drying racks. You'll see actual Indian artifacts from the Hidatsa people and even get in some birdwatching. Spend an hour, two or the whole day. Between the villages, the museum and the hiking trails, you can expend some of that excess energy the kids may have and learn something in the process.
Photo by North Dakota Tourism/Dan Koeck

Love the Outdoors?

Some places just have amazing natural beauty. North Dakota is one of those places. If you like hiking, biking, boating, fishing or any other outdoor activity, you'll find it here.
  • Lake Sakakawea and Garrison Dam: If water sports are your thing, this is definitely a stop for your itinerary. Lay out on the beach or engage in boating, sailing, or scuba diving. The area is full of wildlife as well, so stay on the lookout for pheasant, grouse, partridge, turkey, waterfowl and deer. Hunting is and fishing can be done in the area as well.
  • Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park: Fun for all ages, the state park was once an important infantry and cavalry post. Portions of the military post have been reconstructed for visitors, plus you can also visit an Indian village and even a playground for children. Take in the panoramic view of the Missouri River and take advantage of the historic trails.  
  • Lake Metigoshe State Park: Rent a cabin for overnight stays here, or spend the day canoeing, picnicking, hiking and even fishing. The lake is full of northern pike, walleye and perch.
  • Maah Daah Hey Trail: If you enjoy biking, then this 96-mile trail is sure to please. Finally complete, the trail runs through Theodore Roosevelt National Park and is also popular among hikers and horseback riders.
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park: "Here the romance of my life began." stated Theodore Roosevelt after his time in North Dakota. If you want to know why, you only need to visit this amazing National Park for just $20 for an entire vehicle. Between the beautiful scenery, the driving loops, the interpretive center and guided tours, you're sure to fall in love with North Dakota, too. 
  • Bully Pulpit Golf Course: Named one of the top 100 public courses in America by Golf Digest, if you're a golfer, make sure to book your tee time at this course that is surrounded by beautiful landscape and rolling hills. You may find yourself distracted from your game.
  • International Peace Garden: Opened to the public in 1932, the International Peace Garden is full of native plants (over 150,000 flowers), lovely places to sit and reflect and fountains. Your whole carload can visit for just $15.
Photo by North Dakota Tourism/Jim Gallop

Want to Get Some Culture?

One of the fun things about going on vacation to a new destination is learning about what makes it cool and unique. Find out the history of North Dakota, learn how things have changed and when with these awesome attractions.
  • Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center: Fort Mandan is an educational and interactive stop along the Oregon Trail. You'll find yourself in the midst of a recreated fort and tons of artifacts and exhibits. 
  • Chateau de Mores State Historic Site: Explore the home built by the Marquis de Mores, a French aristocrat who moved to North Dakota to raise cattle to sell for their meat. He founded the town of Medora, which he named after his wife. Less than 15 years from his move to America, he was killed and his family only visited the chateau once more before caretakers took it over. Now it stands as a museum with period furniture and decor. Adult admission is $10 and children over 6 are just $5.
  • North Dakota Heritage Center: See the complete history of North Dakota from unearthed dinosaur bones to Indian artifacts to a 50's soda shop. You'll learn about homesteading, farming and everything in between through permanent and changing exhibits. And here's the best thing: It's completely free!
  • North Dakota State Capitol Building and Grounds: Want a behind-the-scenes view of what happens in the capitol? Take a guided tour where you can view the Capitol building, Legislative Hall, the Senate Chamber and several other interesting stops where all the government magic happens.
  • Plains Art Museum: If you're looking for some traditional culture, then the Plains Art Museum is full of awesome art that you'll want to check out. Exhibits change periodically and the museum hosts many events throughout the year, like a ceramic sale. Admission is nominal at just $7.50 per adult.
Photo by North Dakota Tourism/Jason Lindsey

Just Like to Have Fun?

If you're like me, sometimes you just look for funky things that will give you a good time. If that's you, here are two bonus activities that can make your trip more awesome.
  • Bonanzaville USA: Did you love the show Bonanza? If so, then you'll want to check out this awesome small town set that includes a log cabin, a blacksmith, general store, newspaper office and more. There are 43 buildings on 12 acres and 400,000 artifacts. So cool! All this and museum access for just $12 per adult and $6 for kids 4-14.
  • Medora Musical: One of North Dakota's most popular attractions, the Medora Musical is a nightly rootin' tootin' show set in the North Dakota Badlands and features live horses, great music and a good time that's fun for the whole family. This is a bit of a splurge at $37/$17, but you can save if you book seats during Kids' days on Wednesday and Sundays when kids get in for free.
  • Scandinavian Heritage Park: Can't make it to Scandinavia? The park gives a unique look at the culture of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland with replicas of important buildings, like the Gol Stave Church, an actual 18th century home brought all the way from Norway and even a 25-foot Swedish Dala horse. It's the only museum in the world that features all 5 Scandinavian countries, it's open-air and it's free to visit. 
Did you know that North Dakota was so amazing? I bet you didn't. Who's adding it to their vacation wish list now?

Connect with more North Dakota awesomeness here: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | Pinterest | website

Disclaimer: This post has been brought to you by North Dakota Tourism. // All photos courtesy of NDTourism.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Cruising Isn't As Cheap As It Seems

Do you dream of getting on board a cruise ship with your bag full of shorts and bathing suits and sailing the seven seas, all while being completely catered to and visiting new ports of call? With Summer fast approaching, there are cruise deals galore! Of course, not all of them are for Summer, many are for late Spring and even Fall. Luckily, with the exception of Alaskan cruises, the weather will be warm and (hopefully) beautiful. I learned a lot on my first cruise, both while I was planning it and while I was on it. Here are some tips to help you get the most from your money both onboard and in port.

budget cruise tips

The price you see is not the price you pay – It’s true! When you see a cruise rate that seems too good to be true, it’s because it isn’t listing the taxes and port fees that each cruiser has to pay. The more ports you visit, the more fees you incur. One could, theoretically, pay twice as much as the listed price once fees and taxes are added. Don’t let this scare you, though. I was able to Google port fees for my chosen cruise and find out exactly how much they would add to my rate. It may take a bit of detective work, but you can find it. If you don’t want to take time for that, just assume the cost will be twice what you see and anything less will be a nice surprise when you’re ready to book!

Get involved – Your cruise is (mostly) all-inclusive. You’re paying for activities and entertainment whether you use them or not. My suggestion? Use them! If there’s miniature golf or a shopping talk or a trivia session available, go do it! Unless it sounds like you’ll hate it, mark all the things on the daily schedule you want to do. It’ll keep you busy, keep you moving, keep you from being bored and give you the most value for your dollars spent. We never once set foot in the pool on our cruise. Not because we didn’t plan to, but because we ended up being so busy that by the time we thought about it, it was time to go to sleep. Also, the water slide was shut down practically the whole time we were on board. Some activities do cost money, like some exercise classes, rock climbing and dinners you need to make reservations for, but there are a lot of free things to do. Between crushing other passengers at trivia, going to the rivalry party, dancing, taking in an art auction, playing extreme dodgeball, watching all the entertainment and sleeping and eating, we didn’t really have time to be sitting around doing nothing.

Book your own excursions – No, don’t book it yourself through the cruise line, unless you want to pay double or triple the going rate. Book it completely on your own. There are many reputable excursion companies out there and you’ll find them if you look. I employed Google for this one again: (destination) excursions. You’ll get a whole host of companies that specialize in excursions that fit into the cruiser’s schedule. In my quest to find something fun and affordable to do in Grand Cayman (which we ended up being refunded for, because the ship couldn’t dock), Belize City and Isla Roatan (Honduras). I found some fantastic tours that were highly recommended by other cruisers and similar, if not exactly, to what the ship offered, but at a fraction of the price. Two tours were half the cost of the similar one offered onboard and through the Carnival website and the other was only one-third the listed price! The cruise line takes a cut of each excursion you book online and on board with them, so they mark the prices up higher than retail.

Most people don’t realize they can book on their own, or they are scared of doing it. As long as you find a reputable company with good reviews, you are safe in booking and also on your tour. My husband and I were the only two on our Isla Roatan tour and we ended up getting an extra 90 minutes out of it. Our Belize City tour only had two other people on it and we all had a great time. All the tours I booked were guaranteed and only required a 20% deposit. My Grand Cayman tour was cancelled due to weather. I was sad that I didn't get to go swimming with the sting rays, but our deposit was refunded to our credit card, as it wasn’t our fault that we couldn’t dock.

Book early – The earlier you book your cruise, the better chance you will have of getting a great deal on a good cabin. You’re bound to be given some extras as well, like onboard credit, cabin upgrade and more. If you aren’t sure what cabin is right for you, take a trip over toCruiseCritic and you can get the low-down on which decks have bigger and/or quieter rooms, which cabins and decks to avoid and more.

Get an inside cabin – Since we had never been on a cruise before, we weren’t sure if we were going to like it or not and decided that spending more money to get an oceanview or balcony cabin wasn’t really something we wanted to do. Oddly enough, those rooms don’t tend to be that much bigger and we figured we could just go up on deck to see the ocean. Besides the big drop in price, inside cabins are very quiet and VERY dark when you turn off the lights. If you have trouble sleeping with any sort of light coming at you, an inside cabin is the way to go. I might suggest bringing a portable nightlight with you, though, as trips to the bathroom can be super tricky without turning on a bedside lamp or the overhead light.

Don’t tip the staff – This sounds really mean, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not. You want to know why? All specialty drinks (soft drinks and alcoholic beverages) are charged an 18% gratuity right off the bat. If you throw extra money in the tip jar, you’re actually tipping twice and making that drink – that’s already cost you twice what you would pay in any restaurant or bar – even more expensive. Also, you will be charged a certain amount of money for each guest for service gratuity. This includes tips for your awesome steward, maitre‘d, waiter staff and more. I think it generally costs $10-15 per passenger per day, so on a 7-day cruise for two people, you’re paying an extra $140-210 for those people to do their jobs. Of course, you can contest this at the purser’s desk and have them lower the amount if you feel the staff didn’t deserve so much, but I think you’ll find that they go above and beyond your expectations.

Save your drinking for the ports – I know you’re on vacation and you want to do some drinking, but alcoholic beverages are marked up quite high. Seriously, I had a piña colada and it cost around $15 after their added gratuity. Add up several of those per day across your stay and you’re in for a heart attack come “cruise bill” day. Port cities are depending on your business, so get several drinks on land for the same price as one on sea and keep your wallet happy. You’ll help the economy and have a fun time with your fellow cruisers.

A good way to get free drinks on your cruise is to attend the captain’s welcome party. Anyone can go and they generally serve free snacks and alcoholic (and non-alcoholic) beverages. There is also the goodbye party at the end of your cruise where you can take advantage of free drinks. And during your cruise, if you take advantage of any tastings they are offering, you can get drinks for much cheaper. On our trip there was a deal for a tequila tasting. Six different tequilas for $20. What a bargain compared to my ONE piña colada. At least I got to talk to a lovely waiter from Bahrain.

So, while it seems like a cruise can be a money pit, there are a lot of ways to make it affordable and even a cheap vacation. You can meet a lot of different people, learn to be more outgoing and even discover more about countries around the world both on the ship and off. Keep an open mind and make sure to participate in games and other things around the ship. You’ll be surprised how much fun you can have if you just let go. Hey, you’re never going to see those people again probably. I made quite a fool of myself during the sail away party and again at a blindfolded trivia and probably several other times over our week, but so did other people and I just laughed about it and had a great time. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

6 Steps to Carrying On Like a Boss

Do you ever see those travelers who have one bag – that’s not even bulging! – that look super put-together and get right off the plane and into a cab and you wish you could be more like them? So often I’m walking through a hotel lobby or past the check-in desks at the airport and watch families that seem to bring everything they own on vacation with them, and I wonder how much they paid in baggage fees and chiropractor visits. It was not all that long ago that I thought I couldn’t live without taking individual outfits and a dozen pairs of shoes either. Once I realized I never wore half of what I packed, I decided to downsize my packing. Then when airlines started charging for checked bags, I decided to downsize more.

carry-on travel tips

When my Eric and I went to Nassau and our checked bag was almost lost, we committed to carry-on-only travel. This not only saved us money, but also time and headaches. No more waiting at the baggage carousel forever wondering if our suitcase would be, yet again, the last one off the plane. No more worrying that we will have to vacation with just the few clothing items we packed in our carry-on. No more backbreaking trips up the stairs hauling our too-heavy bags behind us. And absolutely no more paying for our clothes to travel out of our eyesight.

Yes, it can be difficult at first to ditch the comfort of a large suitcase that can carry all your shoes and hair products and “what if” items. We now can pack by a set list of rules and go on vacation with everything we need and only a few things we might need. It is rare that we come back from a trip where we haven’t used everything we’ve taken. In fact, on our last trip to Los Angeles, we each packed three bottoms and four tops each, in addition to what we were wearing on the plane, and those clothes got us through 11 days. What’s more is that we packed it all into one carry-on bag and a bag that counts as a “personal item”. So, how did we pack so little and not go crazy? Here are the rules to travel by:

1. Mix and match everything you take. I used to go wild when I packed and took all my favorite things regardless if they went together or not. If you do this too, stop it. Pick a few things you love and want to take with you and then build a travel wardrobe around them. Make sure everything is in the same color palette. If you like bright tops, then bring neutral bottoms. That way, everything you take will match other things in your travel bag. Bringing mix-and-match separates is the perfect way to travel, because if you have four bottoms and five tops, you can make 20 different outfit combinations! It also helps with Rule #2.  

2. Two pairs of shoes are all you need. When everything in your bag has a similar color scheme, it’s much easier to find shoes to coordinate. Almost everywhere I go calls for the same two kinds of shoes: general walking shoes and comfortable dress-up shoes. With ballet flats being so popular these days, it’s easy to find a great pair that will be comfortable to walk in all day and still look good with everything from shorts to dresses. Wear your heavier shoes on the plane and pack the smaller ones, so you have more room for clothes and other necessities. 

{{There is an exception to this rule and that is for flip flops or similar sandals. They take up little space and are convenient for many things, so shove them into an empty space in your bag and pretend they aren’t shoes. You can wear them to the pool, to do laundry, get your continental breakfast, the beach and so much more. }} 

3. Prepare to do laundry. I hear you groaning and whining, “But I’m on vacation!” I’m aware. I go on vacation, too. I also do laundry on my vacation. When you take so little, unless you want to walk around in dirty – and possibly stinky – clothes, you will want to throw them in the wash at some point. Most decent hotels and vacation rentals (my personal preference) have laundry facilities. You can pop your clothes in on your way to dinner or when you get back from sightseeing and just want to sit and rest your feet. It will take much less time than you think and then you smell fresh the next day.

If your accommodation doesn’t have on-site laundry, you will normally find a Laundromat nearby. I have hoofed it down the street for clean clothes. I take a book or game for my husband and I to play while we wait and then we take our freshly laundered duds back to the room and get on with our trip. If you are at a destination long enough to need to do laundry, you will have enough downtime to do it.

4. Don’t forget to layer. When traveling to cold weather destinations, or even preparing for chilly nights during your stay, don’t start dumping in bulky sweaters and jackets. You will get three of those in your bag before it’s full and you can’t pack anything else in it. Look for lightweight fabrics that pack well and can be layered with other pieces. When I travel, I always bring at least one cardigan and a pullover, like a hoodie. I get cold, but I don’t need to wear my winter coat to stay warm. These pieces work well over most of your normal clothing, like a t-shirt or tank top, and can be crammed into your day bag when not being used.

If you are traveling in the winter time, layering works just as well. Sweaters that are thin and lightweight fleece are great, because sometimes you think it’ll be cold and then it’s not as cold as expected. If it is, you can wear layers underneath these to stay warm. T-shirts and tanks work here, too, but if it’s going to be really cold, look to purchase base layers – thin, but super-warm separates that look like long underwear. They trap heat to your body, but also wick moisture, so you don’t sweat to death while trying to prevent hypothermia. You can pack several sets of these in your bag and they take up little room and are undetectable under your everyday clothing. 

5. Downsize your toiletries. How long does it take you to go through a full-size bottle of shampoo? Two months? So why take that big thing with you on your vacation? TSA rules allow you to bring a one-quart plastic bag full of three-ounce bottles. If your problem is that you can’t find your same shampoo, conditioner, facial scrub, hairspray or whatever else in a travel-size container, make your own. Purchase small bottles, pumps, vials or jars and decant your favorite items into them. This gives you just the right amount you need for your trip and allows you to take them with you in your carry-on. If you’re one that needs to carry beauty tools with you, like a flat iron or curling iron, purchase a mini version specifically for your travel bag. You can normally find the same brand you use at home that works just as well, only smaller. I love my mini flat iron so much, I almost want to use it instead of my full-size one at home. It takes up half the space in my bag too. 

6. Streamline your beauty routine. Don’t stuff your toiletry bag full. Your objective here is to pack as little as possible. Look for make-up palettes and multipurpose products that will enable you to pack less. I am a fan of tinted moisturizer that has SPF in it and pairs perfectly with a powder foundation for a flawless look. Cheek tint is often meant to be used as lip tint, plus it can be applied with your finger, so you don’t need to pack another brush. 

There you have it. Six easy rules to pack by that will help you travel lighter and save you tons of hassle. If you can’t lift your bag to put in the overhead, you probably have too much in it. It’s really true what they say: Lay out all the clothes you want to pack and then put half back in your closet. I make packing even easier by creating a detailed packing list. This can help you see if you have way more than you really need, reminds you of the essentials – like underwear! – and helps you repack on the way home. When you travel with an organized carry-on, not only do you save money on baggage fees, but it helps your trips go smoother, so you only have to worry about what to do first when you get to your destination.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Taking an Affordable Las Vegas Vacation

So, I'm totally going to Vegas next month. NBA Summer League is happening and we are going to hit up some games, do some sightseeing, visit family and eat so much food. It's going to be a billion degrees, but whatever. I'll be working with Smart Destinations and their new Las Vegas GoCard, which is very exciting, because I'll be bringing you cool reviews of things I probably wouldn't get to do otherwise, and certainly not at such a discounted rate if purchased on it's own. Did you know that a trip to Sin City doesn't have to break the bank? Thank goodness, because we still have a big trip to Orlando on deck.

budget las vegas

There is no shortage of things to do in Las Vegas, but without proper planning, you can easily go overboard with your spending. Between the expensive buffets, Broadway-style shows and gambling, your money can quickly vanish. Luckily, it is just as easy to find free and inexpensive experiences in Sin City that can make your trip much more budget-friendly.

All You Can Eat

Many of the major buffets can be a big blow to your wallet, even for breakfast. If you’re willing to get a bit off the Strip, you can find affordable food in other hotels. The following buffets will satisfy your hunger and your budget: 

  • The Fantasy Market Buffet at the Palms 
  • Circus Buffet at Circus Circus 
  • Studio B Buffet at M Resort 
  • French Market Buffet at Orleans 
  • Ports O’ Call Buffet at Gold Coast 
  • Any of the Fremont Street casinos offer cheap buffet prices
Sit down to a real meal with some of these great deals:
·         Ellis Island, behind the Paris, has an inexpensive and hearty breakfast.
·      Get a table at Mr. Lucky’s in the Hard Rock Hotel. Ask for the “Gambler’s Special”, which is not on the menu, and receive an 8oz flatiron steak, three jumbo shrimp, salad and mashed potatoes for just $7.77. 
·         Linger over a Parisian lunch at JJ’s Boulangerie at the Paris Hotel and Casino. 
·    Find dinner at the Four Queens Hotel and Casino’s Magnolia’s Veranda and get a prime rib dinner for just $8.95.

Go Sightseeing

Just because you’re in Vegas doesn’t mean you have to stay there. In fact, you can visit several other cities while you’re there without ever living the Strip. 
  • Stroll past sidewalk cafés and Paris sights at the Paris Hotel and Casino. Take advantage of discounted rates at the Eiffel Tower if you visit before the dark of evening sets in. 
  • Experience the streets of New York City, with an amazing skyline inside and a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge outside at New York New York Hotel and Casino. Unfortunately, they've taken out Central Park and some other fun things to make space for more slot machines.
  • Walk along the canals of Venice at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino. 
  • Explore the ancient glittering city of Rome at Caesars Palace. 

Free Attractions

Your budget can stretch much further when you mix free activities with paid ones. If you know where to look, you can enjoy a lot of totally gratis in Las Vegas.
  • Make your way to the Bellagio and wander the Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Like the rest of Las Vegas, it’s open 24 hours a day. 
  • Behind Caesars Palace in the forum shops you can watch The Fall of Atlantis. This animatronic show that happens every hour that shows the struggles between the Gods and how Atlantis ended up on the ocean floor. 
  • See flamingos and other pretty birds and animals in the habitat at The Flamingo
  • After the sun goes down, several hotels offer nightly shows, including the fountains of Bellagio, the volcano at the Mirage and the Fremont Street Experience – a lighted canopy that plays designs and videos to music.

With just a bit of planning and knowing where the deals are found, you can make what would usually be a spendy trip into one that fits your budget and allows you to do more with the money you have. With so many things to do in Sin City, it’s definitely fun to see a different side of Vegas that doesn’t always include the clanging of slots, although, I'm going to be spending a few dollars there, too. What are your favorite ways to spend the days (and nights) in Vegas?
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