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Saturday, August 29, 2015

8 Ways to Stretch Your Travel Budget

Sometimes to travel you need to make some sacrifices. Those sacrifices don't always have to mean a less awesome vacation, because when you cut corners, you may find that you found a new creative way to travel. If your next trip seems like light years away, because you haven't saved enough, try these 8 tips to make your dollars stretch and go sooner.

budget travel tips
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What are your favorite ways to save money to travel more often?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How Vegetarians Can Survive In the Airport

Whether you’re a vegan or a vegetarian, finding things to order when you eat out can be difficult and there usually isn’t much variety either. At least you can go home and whip something up to make you happy. Unfortunately, when you’re traveling, it can be even more inconvenient to find something healthy and tasty several times a day to satisfy your hunger that still sticks to your food ethics. You aren’t the only one that has problems finding dining resources. There are also those with food allergies, gluten allergies, lactose intolerance…and those that just plain don’t like certain things. Restaurants are beginning to branch out and make a broader range of food selections that can satisfy more food restrictions, all while being a bit healthier.

vegetarian travel

Many vegan experts suggest packing your own snacks, like peanut butter and soy nuts. Happily, you can get specialty food items in almost all destinations, so you can save room in your travel bag for things you actually WANT to pack, like clothes. You also save checked baggage fees, because you don’t need to bring those items at all. With a little more education on the subject, and chatting with a few vegetarian friends, I’ve now learned quite a bit about what you can and can’t eat and the different vegan substitute products on the market. I’ve even purchased some myself, in an effort to save money and eat better. And yes, you can save money by buying and using some of these products, like egg substitute, which you can use in your baking. It saves you money, because it last so much longer than a carton of eggs and it doesn’t go bad. But enough of my frugal shopping habits.

As a vegetarian, you aren’t just looking for foods to eat at your destination, but on the way as well. I found a great list of dining establishments found in most airports that cater to your needs, so you can eat before your flights and on layovers without having to live on the baggie of carrot sticks you packed in your carry-on.

On the Ground

Argo Tea
  • Chickpea Salad (vegan)
  • Garden Lentil Salad (vegan)
  • Parfaits: Acai Banana, Green Tea, Mixed Berry
  • Ruggelah: Apricot Pecan, Raspberry Almond
  • Signature Muffins: Banana Nut, Blueberry, Chocolate Chip, Lemon Poppyseed
  • Spinach Tomato Pesto Panini
  • Tea Bite: Roasted Tomato Cheddar
  • Tomato Garden Vegetable Salad
Au Bon Pain
  • Apple Strudel (vegan)
  • Black Bean Soup (vegan)
  • Chickpea & Tomato Cucumber Salad (vegan without cheese)
  • Curried Rice & Lentil Soup (vegan)
  • French Moroccan Tomato Lentil Soup (vegan)
  • Green Bean & Beet Salad (vegan without cheese)
  • Portabello & Goat Cheese sandwich (vegan without cheese)
  • Vegetarian Chili (vegan)
  • Vegetarian Lentil Soup (vegan)
Auntie Anne’s
  • Pretzels: Cinnamon Sugar, Garlic, Glazin’ Raisin, Jalapeño, Original, Whole Wheat (vegan without butter)
  • Delight Grilled Vegetable Plate
  • Philly Veggie (vegan without cheese or mayo)
Caribou Coffee
  • Bagels: Cinnamon Raisin, Multi Grain
  • Banana Bread – reduced fat
  • Chewy Granola Bar
  • Cinnamon Coffeecake
  • Oatmeal: Classic, 7-Grain (vegan)
  • Muffin: Better Morning, Blueberry, Cinnamon Streusel, Double Chocolate Chip, French Toast, Mountain Berry
  • Pumpkin Pecan Bread
  • Scone: Cinnamon Chip, Cranberry, Cranberry Orange, Lemon Blueberry, Maple Oatmeal
  • Southwestern Black Bean Salad (vegan)
  • Veggie Daybreaker Breakfast Sandwich
  • Yogurt Parfait – low-fat
Einstein Bros. Bagels
  • Bagel: Sundried Tomato (vegan)
  • Bistro Salad (vegan without cheese)
  • Chipotle Salad (vegan without cheese)
  • Fruit Salad (vegan)
  • Kettle Chips Classic (vegan)
Jamba Juice
  • Any Drink
Moe’s Southwest Grill
  • Burritos: Made to Order (can be vegan)
  • Chips (vegan)
  • Personal Trainer Salad (vegan without cheese)
  • Tacos: Made to Order (can be vegan)
National Coney Island
  • Hummus Veggie Sandwich/Wrap
  • Vegetarian Pita with Fries
  • Vegetarian Tuna
Panera Bread
  • Bagels: Blueberry, Everything, Plain, Sesame, Sweet Onion Poppy Seed, Whole Grain (vegan)
  • Classic Café Salad (vegan)
  • Low Fat Vegetarian Black Bean Soup (vegan)
  • Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich (vegan without cheese)
  • Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich (vegan)
  • Sourdough Bread Bowl (vegan)
  • Cranberry Flax Muffin (vegan)
  • Fruit Cup (vegan)
  • Hummus Plate (vegan)
  • Multigrain Bagel
  • Oatmeal (vegan)
  • Organic Fruit Scone with Pecans (vegan)
  • Plain Bagel
  • Protein Plate
  • Raspberry Bran Scone (vegan)
  • Ratatouille Sandwich/Roasted Vegetable Panini
  • Veggie Artisan Breakfast Sandwich

In the Air
Cibo Express offers over 1,000 packaged, ready-to-go menu items that you can grab to eat on the plane. Many are vegetarian or vegan and are fresh and organic.

Most airlines don’t serve real meals anymore, but they do offer snack boxes. The airlines that offer vegan/vegetarian options are as follows:

American Airlines (vegan)
Continental Airlines (vegan)

Delta Airlines (vegan)

United Airlines (vegan)

US Airways (vegan)

Air Canada
British Airways
Aer Lingus (vegan)

Virgin Atlantic
Air Malta (vegan)
Turkish Airlines
Qantas Airways (vegan)
Air New Zealand (vegan)
Indian Airlines
Cathay Pacific (vegan)
Malaysia Airlines (vegan)
Qatar Airways (vegan)
Singapore Airlines
Vietnam Airlines (vegan)

Unless you’re on an international flight, chances are you’ll be paying for these in-flight meals and snacks, so you may be better off bringing your own to begin with from Cibo Express or from one of the many other dining establishments above. If you don’t mind paying for a meal, make sure you request a vegetarian or vegan entrée well ahead of your flight to ensure the meal actually makes it onboard for you. Usually, you can choose food options when you book your flights. If that is a choice when booking, make sure you order it then, because some airlines will not let you change it later once your reservation is in the system.

Are you a traveling vegetarian? Have you found other food options at popular airport restaurants and delis? Had a good or bad experience with the meals on airlines? Let us know, so you can help your fellow trip-takers have smoother and more delicious travels! 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Hop On the Bus, Hop Off the Bus in Vegas

It wasn't that long ago that I was all excited about the concept of the Hop-On Hop-Off buses that I'd never been on before. Once I started, as predicted, I've never wanted to see a city any other way. Okay, that's not true, but I enjoy the tour buses so much, I've not gone anywhere since without climbing onboard one. Vegas has two routes for their buses (downtown and The Strip), so you can learn about different parts of town and have totally different photo ops and cool places to check out. The bus tour was included on my Explorer Pass from Smart Destinations and makes up a large portion of the cost, giving you a great discount on your activities while in town.

vegas tour bus

We spend a ton of time on the Strip each time we're in Las Vegas, so we chose to take the downtown route, since we've hardly made it down there on our many trips. You need to catch the bus out front of Circus Circus (the tour office is across the street). Choose a seat on the top deck of the double-decker for the best views and unimpeded views for your picture taking. The top deck has an attached shade to keep you from frying in the sun, but I suggest slathering on the sunscreen, popping on your sunglasses and picking a seat in the fourth row from the front, so you don't have the windshield in your way or the top, if you want to take photos. You'll thank me, especially if your bus is crowded. 

The downtown route takes you past the Mob Museum {you can read about it here} and the awesome new container park. If you don't know what a container park is, it's an area made up of those metal shipping containers, turned restaurants and shops. There's an amazing metal praying mantis out front that lights up the night by spitting flames to music when the sun goes down. It's free to enter and you'll find all different kinds of shops and dining venues. The kids can burn off their energy while you shop at the playground in the middle of the park. After 9, the park is 21 and over only and alcohol starts flowing. Wednesday and Sunday nights movie nights, where you can kick back with a beer and watch a popular classic. When we were there Caddyshack was playing.

Get back on the bus and check out Gold and Silver Pawn Shop from TV's Pawn Stars. You can get off here and stand in the quick-moving line to get inside. Along the way you'll see some of the city's graffiti art (which is commissioned by the city), famous chapels where celebrities got married, buildings that mark Las Vegas history and even Fremont Street. Jump off at the Golden Nugget, now a remodeled and chic hotel in the heart of downtown, and walk through to downtown's biggest draw. During the day, you'll be able to walk freely around the three-block stretch under the lighted canopy. Sit outside with an iced coffee or try your luck at any of the original Vegas casinos like Binion's Horseshoe or 4 Queens. At night, the only time it's dark here is when Freemont Street Experience is getting ready to run the show in the sky. The crowds are thick and there are tons of things to look at, including 3 stages with live music.

Further down the route, you can get off at the Las Vegas Outlet shops. If you're hoping to get a great deal on designer duds, this is where you want to go. You'll save an average of 30% off retail prices, plus the mall is inside, so you can cool off in the air conditioning while you shop 'til you drop. Other stops on your loop are the Stratosphere, the Las Vegas Convention Center and Circus Circus. 

The Strip loop takes you to the Las Vegas sign, the Linq's High Roller, the Eiffel Tower, the Miracle Mile Shops and more. You'll learn all sorts of Vegas trivia and you'll never look at the city the same again. 

What's your favorite part of Las Vegas?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Why I Love Vacation Rentals

I love a good vacation rental. They offer so much more than a hotel ever could, all with one rate. Last month we were in Vegas and stayed in a timeshare property we've stayed in before. It's on Las Vegas Blvd but far enough away from the action to be quiet and relaxing. It's also a great place to cool off from the heat of the summer sun, because Vegas can get hot. The rooms are comfy, cool and a great respite from the chaos of The Strip.

vacation rentals

The property was right across the street from some restaurants, it had a small market on-site and they had a shuttle bus that ran to the grocery store for guests to stock up their kitchens. As you can see, we had a large bedroom, washer and dryer, a nice dining area and a good size kitchen. not only that, but we had a huge balcony overlooking the pool, with more than enough seating and a grill. If we wanted to grill more than our little BBQ could handle, there were shared grills downstairs in the common area. In fact, other guests were down there making some racks of ribs.

We had a perfect view of the lazy river on the property, which we made good use of. Nearby was also a play area for kids and a play area for adults - a game room with pool, ping pong, an arcade, a lounge and movie rentals. The resort had a spa where you could get a massage and also a gym (which I didn't get to, again). 

We had a two bedroom that was large enough to share with friends without us getting in each other's way or business since we had different morning routines. The rooms have a nice roomy kitchen and large dining table, so we could enjoy morning meals, leftovers and snacks. Our first stop is always the grocery store once we get into town, so we can stock up for our trip and save money on dining out.

I love all the amenities on the property. The market itself contained almost anything you could want. In fact, it was the only place I was able to find running shorts last time I was there, which I had somehow left at home. I don't run, but I do use them to both sleep in and sometimes as a swimsuit bottom. Now I have an extra pair to keep in my carry-on. The market sold bathing suits, board shorts, cover-ups, Las Vegas souvenirs, every grocery staple you could need, sunscreen, essential toiletries and a coffee shop that sold Starbucks coffee drinks. 

A vacation rental is one of the best choices for families or groups, because they offer so much and give you a ton of room to spread out in. It's like having a house at your destination. You have everything you need at your disposal and can save a ton of money by using your kitchen, entertainment and washer/dryer. When you can do your own laundry, you don't have to take much clothing, meaning it's so much easier to pack light and avoid baggage fees. We packed everything for our weekend in one large carry-on, but we could have packed just a few more things and been good for a whole week or two. More on what we did in Vegas later.

Where to find vacation rentals: Airbnb | FlipKey | VRBO | RedWeek | HomeAway

What are your favorite parts of a vacation rental?

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Shereen Travels Cheap Turns Five!

Sometimes it feels like I just started blogging and other times it seems like I've always been doing it. I've come a lot way from writing posts for a few of my friends and now five years later I'm getting opportunities I only hoped would be a possibility and being called out on "best of" lists from some of my favorite companies, like Tripadvisor. There are still a lot of things I'd like to accomplish as a travel blogger, but I'm so thrilled with what I've done so far, including helping the lot of you find great deals and save money on your trips.

blogging birthday
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As always, I want to take a look back at the five most popular posts over the last year. (I've left out reviews, because you guys adore those.) Maybe you missed them or maybe you'd like to read them again, but here they are:
  1. How Not to Kill Your Travel Partner
  2. 14 Ways to Stay Healthy When You Travel
  3. Where Not to Go On Spring Break
  4. 6 Steps to Carrying On Like a Boss
  5. Please Stop Wearing Your Pajamas On The Plane

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I always love to share my victories (no matter how small) with you guys. If you missed out on any of these, be sure to check them out, because there are some great bloggers listed that you might want to follow too:
  1. 20 Budget Travel Bloggers Share Their #1 Wallet-Friendly Vacation Spots (TripAdvisor)
  2. Top 50 Travel Blogs to Follow (Trekeffect)
  3. Top 25 Budget Travel Bloggers to Follow in 2014 (FlipKey)
  4. Top 50 Frugal Bloggers (Grocery Coupon Network)
  5. I have been named as a Travelocity Gnomad, because I'm a travel influencer and my very own "roaming gnome". #gnomads
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I'd love to hear about what sort of posts you'd like to read on here, aside from those on Las Vegas, because they are always a big hit. Would you like more on saving on car rentals, going to the beach or specific destinations? Comment here or on Facebook, so we can help each other.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Around the World in 80 Drinks

I don't drink much when I travel, because it's dehydrating, but I sometimes indulge in a cocktail or two. When in Rome right? Well, there might be something to that statement, because there are different libations that are popular in different destinations and sometimes it would be a shame to miss out on this drink of choice, just like I think you should at least try one of the most popular dishes. Though I had had Guinness before going to London, I had never had full-strength Guinness and I was hooked. What you know of that drink may turn out to be totally different when drinking it where it is actually made. Want to know what to order next time you're at the bar on your travels? Here are 80 drinks in 80 countries across the world.

specialty drinks around the world
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Have you ever had an awesome drink on your travels, alcoholic or non?

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Packing Light For Your Warm Weather Getaway

As long as I've been traveling light, it has gotten easier each time, but I still hear people saying they can't go carry-on-only, because of shoes or toiletries or whatever else. We spent over a week in Vegas last month and we did it with just one medium carry-on bag and a smaller, shoulder-bag carry-on...for the two of us. We have traveled with two carry-ons when we visited Europe (here's a link for men's travel wardrobe), but generally we try to get all our stuff in one, so we don't have to drag too many bags with us and we are able to just pick up our stuff and get on with our vacation. 

winter packing tips

Here are my tips for how we are able to pack a wardrobe that maximizes everything we bring and getting it into a small bag:

 Mix and Match
Everything you bring should work together. All your tops should go with all your bottoms and your shoes should be able to do it all as well. My plan starts the same: three bottoms, four-five tops, a dress (or skirt) and two pair of shoes. I make sure I have great walking shoes. One will be traditional and the other a bit dressy, like a good pair of sandals. If I can't walk a mile in shoes I've brought, they aren't good travel shoes. Generally, I wear my regular walking shoes on the plane, so the smaller ones go in my bag and take up less space. If you're going to the beach or like to spend time at the pool, I always suggest throwing a pair of flip flops in your bag as well. They hardly take up room and they are great for a lot of things, even if it's just going down to the hotel lobby.

Consolidate and Roll
I used to roll everything individually, but I watched a video where a guy packed 20 t-shirts and some shorts and pants into his backpack and decided if it worked for him, it might work for me. So, on my last trip, I tried this technique. Take all your shirts and lay them out flat one on top of the other, fold them in half and then roll them into a bundle, do the same with your bottoms. 

When you roll your clothes like this you can help eliminate a ton of wrinkles, all your stuff is together and it fits easier into your bag. Another plus is that you can get about 30% more into the bag than when you fold everything individually. Now, coming back, we had a few extra pieces and I was able to get it all in the bag even with no spare room (3 pair of shorts, 2 shirts and 2 dresses). 

Use All the Room In Your Bag
Maybe you think you're already doing this, but I bet you aren't. There are crevices  that can be filled with items and if you don't realize you're missing them, you probably think you need another bag when you don't. I squish socks, underwear, bathing suits and one-off items in these spaces. You can cram your hair straightener in there or your pajamas (mine are just a pair of running shorts and a t-shirt) or one of those packable shopping bags you like to have on hand for your purchases at the farmers market (can't be just me, right?). 

Don't Forget About Your Plane Outfit
Unless you're going from cold weather to hot weather and need to bundle up, you can rotate those clothes into your wardrobe. I like to layer on the plane, so I'll throw on a cardigan and often a scarf, just in case it's cold on the plane or in my room or I need something to stave off the chill during a show. This works when going to Vegas, because you may need a layering piece inside, but that tank or tee you wore under it can be worn with shorts as well. You can be comfortable but still look like a person.

Pack a Plastic Bag or Two
I use one to keep the dirt from the bottom of my shoes away from my clothes and another for putting any dirty clothes in on my way home. I use the same rolling technique as above with the bigger items on the outside and the smaller on the inside. That way, when you get home you can just dump the contents into the laundry.

Get Used to the Idea of Doing Laundry
I don't love the thought of doing chores on vacation, but since I can make 15-20 outfits out of the mix-and-match wardrobe I've brought, I'm going to have to wear things more than once. You can pack a squirt bottle and a tiny bottle of vodka to spritz on your clothes to eliminate odors, but that won't deal with dirt or stains. You can just as easily bring powdered detergent and just throw everything in the wash, go have dinner, and then come back for it. If leaving your clothes sounds sketchy to you, this is why I bring a deck of cards or several travel-size games. It makes laundry fun, especially if you have to sit in the laudromat. You will  have downtime, so use it doing something productive. 

I always travel with a mesh, folding laundry basket. It doesn't take up much room, it works as a hamper and I can keep quarters in the pockets should I ever need them. It keeps all your dirty clothes together and off the floor, plus it's easy to take your clothes to and from the washer, no matter where it is.

Use the Straps
You know those straps on the inside of your suitcase that seem to get in the way when you're trying to zip it up? Don't ignore them. Use them to cinch all your stuff in place. Not only will compress stuff, but it'll make it easier to close your bag and keep everything from josteling around if you have any spare room in there (you know, for souvenirs). When I travel, I tend to throw a spare bag inside my carry-on (like this packable one or this crossbody that converts to a duffel) for extra purchases.

You can see how Eric's stuff and my stuff all fit into this great eBags hardside carry-on and things like our 3-1-1 bags, travel docs, snacks and laptop fit into my Travelon React Tote. I hope this helps you pack your own bag. What are some of your packing problems and did I help you solve them?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Enjoying the Mob Life

There are so many things to do in Las Vegas that aren't gambling or going to shows. One of the things I've done on my recent trips that I loved is visiting the Mob Museum. Located downtown, just across the street from the Fremont Street Experience, you can learn all about how Sin City was built from the ground up by mob money. 

las vegas travel tips

Once inside, you can pose for a lineup. See what you look like if you were arrested. I wish I took a pic from inside, too, since it’s very odd to go behind the one-way glass and just see yourself and your fellow suspects – in my case, Eric.

Getting into the museum is not super cheap, but $19.95 was not a bad price of admission for all the knowledge and history you leave with. There are three floors of amazing facts, evidence and interactive exhibits. The building itself is the old courthouse and when it was in use it was the tallest building in Vegas. You can see what a long way the city has come. If you plan to do more sightseeing, you can save up to 55% off when you buy an Explorer Pass from Smart Destinations, and you'll skip the ticket lines at most attractions you visit.

Not only will you learn about the mobsters that are big names – like Al Capone – but also about lesser known names that were a big part of crime in Vegas and other parts of the Mafioso. 

The Mob Museum has the real wall from the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. The bricks were numbered, the wall was taken apart and then moved and reassembled. You can see the actual bullet holes and watch a video about what went down. 

Do you know gangster lingo? What about cop slang? Listen in on some calls between criminals or police and see if you can figure out what they’re saying. You also learn that how you got whacked and with what weapon is a message to his family and others who think they might want to do their own thing instead of what the boss wants. 

Even though the mob isn't cool, they did rid the streets of many bad criminals - probably because they were messing up their operations - and also brought the people alcohol and gambling during prohibition, welcome distractions from the daily grind. I was surprised that some of the major crime bosses were taken off the streets not that long ago -within the last decade. You'll see interviews with undercover agents who infiltrated the mafia and pretended to be mobsters in order to take down the criminals from the inside. Those are really interesting. 

The American Dream was not easy to come by for immigrants to this county and when hard work proved to be a disappointing way to make a living,t hey made money the only other way they knew how. They stole it. Irish, Polish and other foreigners formed gangs that terrorized neighborhoods that eventually became more sophisticated and known as mobs. In fact, the after visiting the Mob Museum, I'm convinced that the mobs may have made Vegas what it is today and possibly improved the economy of the nation as a whole. 

Next time you visit, make sure to stop by the museum. You'll never look at the city the same way again. Make sure to check out my post on the Explorer Pass or purchase one now.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

40 Reasons Florida Is a Popular Vacation Destination

More people have visited Florida than any other state in the U.S. for three years running, and for plenty of good reasons. No matter what kind of traveler you are and what your tastes are in entertainment, nightlife, dining, and/or recreation, this state has something for you. When you visit Florida, you can dine on seafood, Cuban cuisine, southern-style comfort food, or tasty all-American burgers and fries. You can visit one favorite city or take a road trip around the state to see the sights in multiple spots on the map. (In fact, I'm heading to Florida this fall for fun in the sun.)

Some attraction-filled cities to travel to include Bradenton, Naples/Fort Myers, Jupiter Palm Beach County, Vero Beach, Destin, Tampa Bay, Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Kissimmee, Fernandina Beach, and New Smyrna Beach. You’ll find the globally renowned theme park Disney World full of family fun, museums, historical spots, miles of breathtaking beaches, golf, fishing, and so much more. Whether you’re traveling with your children, your spouse, friends, or venturing to the state solo, you’ll find so much to do that it might be mind-boggling. There’s a reason 95 million visitors trek to this sunshine-filled state year after year. For more information on each city’s offerings in the way of food and fun, take a look at this infographic. It is full of tips on restaurants, sports venues, culture and the arts, museums, amusement parks, and beaches to stroll during your vacation.  

florida travel tips

Where are your favorite places in Florida or, if you've never been, where would you like to go most?

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