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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Out With the Old, In With the New

Can you believe 2015 is practically over? I can't. It's been a good year all around. We got a remodeled a bathroom, got a bunch of landscaping done and a new side fence. We've had a lot of fun parties and get togethers and had some memorable trips that we won't soon forget. I'd say we're ready to welcome 2016. 

Out With the Old, In With the New

We can't wait to see what the next year has in store, though we know for certain it brings a trip to Vegas and New Orleans. Let's look back on some travel highlights from 2015.

Eric and I in the big shoe at the Cosmopolitan in Vegas

As Wayne & Garth at Walt Disney's Halloween party

Some beautiful scenery in Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Orlando

This beautiful stairway at the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida

At Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom

We did this great scavenger hunt in Portland with family // photo credit: Anthony Botteron

I've achieved a few things this year, including being included on a few great blogging lists: 

I'm still hoping to get something published in a newspaper or magazine this year, but I've got a good feeling about my workload. I'm working with a new website called Travel-Wise and contributing monthly with my travel tips.

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So, it's a definite that we will be hitting up New Orleans in 2016, to eat beignets and seafood, listen to jazz and possibly encounter a ghost or two. We also hope to get to Disney and Universal Hollywood before the year is out and I may make it back to the Travel Goods Show for new and innovative travel gear.

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I'm looking into a solo trip (with the pup) in the spring to Montana. I've never been, but I hear it's beautiful and we'd love to take advantage of their dog-friendly cities and gorgeous outdoor spaces.

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We're also planning ahead to 2017 and have a tentative plan to visit the great city of Toronto in Ontario, Canada. We've not seen much of our Neighbor to the North, besides the very brief glimpses we've had of Vancouver and a short trip I took years ago to Victoria, BC. This is going to be a week of Canadian immersion and probably a visit to Niagara Falls.

Keep up with my achievements, extra tips and guest postings by following me on Facebook and Twitter or signing up for my newsletter (it goes out just twice per month). Get a little more inspiration by joining me on Pinterest and Instagram. I look forward to bringing you more travel tips, overviews and reviews in the new year. If there's something in particular you'd like to see more of (packing, a specific destination, car rentals, etc...) please, please, please leave a comment about it. I want to bring you valuable info that you can use. 

And if you have suggestions for what I should see or do in NoLa, I'd love to hear them!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

What to Do if You're Bumped From Your Flight

These days, it’s almost mandatory that airlines overbook flights in order to make money and also fill each and every seat on the plane. There is a small percentage of people who arrive too late to make their flight or just don’t show up and the airlines take this into account when booking seats on each flight. Unfortunately, this means that planes are often crowded and many people each day get bumped and have to sit around the airport for hours waiting for the next flight going to their destination. This is especially true during the holidays. Of course, getting to the gate early could have prevented that from happening. While you could dwell on all the things you dislike about overbooked flights, it’s just as easy to look at the bright side and see how fewer flights per route and stuffed airplane cabins can work for you.

What to do if you're bumped from a flight

You want to get to your destination just like everyone else, but unless you have reservations to do something right after you arrive or are traveling for business, you can easily be a Good Samaritan and give up your seat to someone who really needs to arrive on time. You may be doing a good deed for someone else, but you’re also getting something in return, besides karma points. Airlines hope that people will volunteer to get bumped and are willing to reward you for doing so (even though they will reward Passenger X, too, when he arrives late and can’t get a seat). Maybe his ride was late or there was traffic or his alarm didn’t go off and he’s in a bind. Let him have your seat and wait for the next flight out. You will end up getting to your destination a bit late, but with some extras in your pocket.

While Passenger X happily gets to his work meeting on time, you can browse the Internet, grab lunch or peruse the shops. You might even want to start planning your next vacation, because your empty seat can net you a free ticket on a future flight. That’s right! You now have two tickets for the price of one! The fuller the flight is, the more desperate an airline will be to have people volunteer to be bumped. This gives you leverage. You can haggle for anything from a credit for future travels (a credit is always better than a free ticket, because you can use it like a gift certificate) to a hotel room to free drinks at the bar. Since the seat you gave up was, essentially, paid for twice by you and Passenger X, the airlines aren’t losing money by rebooking and also giving you a free fare certificate for the future. Of course, what you can bargain for also depends on how long after your initial flight your new one is scheduled. The longer the wait, the more you may get.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has imposed a mandatory compensation for all those bumped from a flight and it always helps to know what you are owed, just in case. For flights arriving less than two hours after your original flight, you should be rewarded at least the cost of your one-way ticket, up to $650. For flights arriving more than two hours after your original flight, airlines are required to compensate you twice the cost of your one-way ticket, up to $1,300. 

If you are looking to get bumped in order to score some free travel, arrive at the airport early, check in at the gate to see if the flight is oversold and travel with only a carry-on to make it easier to get your stuff to your destination with you. Do something nice for someone else and reap the benefits in big ways. Now you can travel practically for free again in the future, helping you to stretch your trip budget enormously. Woot!

Have you ever been bumped from an overbooked flight?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Making the Most of Airline Perks

When you travel, you want to make the most of your dollars, so you get the most value on your trip. Frequent flyer programs can help you get free flights, upgrades and more, but 1. You need to sign up for them and 2. You need to know how to use them. Double-dipping is bad when eating chips at a party, but it's totally acceptable and, I dare say, necessary and encouraged when it comes to travel. Ebates knows the best way to stretch a dollar with cash back and promo codes, and now they want you to travel better, too. Check out their infographic below to see how to make the most of your airline perks. 

Making the Most of Airline Perks
Are you a member of any airline frequent flyer program?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Make Your Gifts Mean More This Year with World Vision

What are you buying those people who already have everything on your list? When you grow up, the holidays mean something different for you than when you were a kid. You probably realize that you don't "need" a lot of things. You start thinking about things a little more and want your gifts to mean something. Often, we make gifts for the adults on our lists now, and in our house Eric and I forgo traditional gifts in order to give ourselves experiences instead. Now, you can give something wonderful, but also give back when you shop World Vision.

World Vision
We simply can't always travel during the holidays, though when we do, we make sure we do our part to put money into the economy where we're visiting, by shopping boutiques and small businesses. Even on our regular vacations throughout the year we try to do this and bring back locally-made gifts for our family. We try to donate where we can and volunteer when we have the time, but there's never a better time to do this than during the Christmas season. World Vision wants you to give you a gift when you give a gift. One of these is the beautiful bracelet you see me wearing in these pictures. Let me tell you how it works.

World Vision is a company that takes donations and turns them into fantastic gifts for those less fortunate around the world. You can choose the amount you can afford and then purchase life-altering gifts for children and families, including animals for their farm, career training and even lanterns for children to do their homework more easily. In the past, we have simply donated in the name of a family member and given them a card saying "For the holidays, we've gifted a family a goat in your name." along with info on the process and how the animal(s) will be used to make their life better. World Vision takes this a step further by giving you wider options for your gifting. I love that you can give a small business loan to a mom so they can feed and clothe their children, or gift a family clean water (because not all of us are fortunate to have running water), or seeds to help a community grown their own food. Whatever you can think of, you can probably gift it and make someone's life better.

Photo credit: Marc Wasserman
Now, when you make a gift, you can get one in return, so you don't just have that little card saying you made a donation. The bracelet I'm wearing is one you could receive if you make a donation of $45 or more, but there is something for everyone, including hand-carved serving spoons, coffee, coasters, scarves and more. All are handmade or harvested and give you a little taste of another culture while reminding you of the good you did. Keep the gift for yourself or give it with the card explaining the donation you made on the behalf of your recipient. 

photo credit: WorldVisionGifts.Org

Finally, you can give a gift that really matters to you and others. If you've ever traveled to a third world country, you can see the poverty with your own eyes and you've probably wondered what you can do to help. Well, World Vision gives you the answer and turns your money into something amazing for others who desperately need the help. Your gift doesn't just help those in other countries either. World Vision realizes that there is a huge poverty problem in the U.S. as well and don't leave them out. Clothing, food and more go to help those families in need, especially the children who need good nutrition to do well in school. 

photo credit: WorldVisionGifts.org
Now's the time to realize that we are fortunate enough to have enough to eat, have a safe place to live, have jobs and be able to provide for our children and even have money leftover to travel. Make your money and gifts mean more this year, so you can do good and feel good this holiday season with gifts that will be give back all year long. Plus, don't forget that all your gifts from World Vision Gifts are tax-deductible! 

How do you like to give back during the holidays?

Disclaimer: I was given the Mango Wood Beaded Bracelet for the purposes of this review; however, all opinions are my own and I highly recommend using WVG.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

5 Destinations to Travel to in 2016

In the midst of all your holiday stress and travel plans, why not slow down a bit and take a look at some great destinations for your next real vacation? Now's the time to start making the decisions of where to go, so you can budget for it as soon as possible. This year we'll be headed back to Vegas for our annual trip in July, but we're also going to make our first trek to New Orleans. While those are popular choices for a lot of people, let's take a look at some other popular destinations and some lesser known cities for the next year to give you travel inspiration to ponder on when you just need to take a break from your family and all the end of year craziness.

5 Destinations to Travel to in 2016
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Sometimes you just want to go where everyone else is going to see what all the fuss is about. Or maybe you're like me and want to know where the crowds will be so you can go elsewhere. Whatever your motivation, here are some of the most popular cities to vacation in based on booking trends over previous years*.

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Gatlinburg, Tennessee
With one of the largest jumps in bookings from 2014 to 2015 (67%!), Gatlinburg is coming up as a new hip travel destination. While Memphis and Nashville get all the hype and glory, Gatlinburg is a fantastic place for those that love the outdoors. The Great Smokey Mountains National Park is an unspoiled landscape that offers things for visitors year-round; however those that prefer the city life shouldn't discount this trip. Gatlinburg has a wonderful downtown with delicious dining, an observation tower and an aerial cable car that can take you to Ober Gatlinburg, the city's amusement park. Add in the fact that the average hotel can be booked for $110 per night and you've got a fun budget getaway.
Orange Beach, Alabama
You need to get to this lovely seaside town on the Gulf of Mexico before it gets anymore popular. With 91% more bookings in 2015 than 2014, this gem is becoming less hidden. If a beach vacation is on your list for 2016, skip those more popular and crowded destinations *ahem Cancun* and check out Orange Beach. The city has less than 6,000 residents, sandy white beaches and heaps of fresh seafood. What else could you ask for when looking to enjoy the sun, sand and surf. Oh right! An affordable hotel. Average off-season rates go for a little more than $100 per night.
Anchorage, Alaska
You read that right. More and more people are finding the gorgeous landscape of Anchorage a place they want to spend their vacation time in. In fact, 34% more people booked last year to get in on both the winter activities as well as the summer ones. It may not seem like the most traditional place to get away from it all, but Anchorage is a destination full of history, culture, amazing food, microbreweries and even a beach. Yup, a hidden beach that you can only get to by hike that is beautiful and sandy. Hotels average around $120 per night, but you can certainly get an even better deal by booking an Airbnb or other vacation rental.
Moscow, Russia
Not all the up-and-coming destinations are in the United States. Moscow is a bright and vibrant city that is often overlooked when it comes to travelers finding an interesting place to spend a week or two. The city is full of historic buildings that serve as a fantastic backdrop for your vacation photos. The Kremlin is just one such place. It's easy to get around on public transport, there's the beautiful Moskova River to walk along and over 90 parks, too. With the modern mashing with the historical, it's sure to be a unique trip, plus hotel rates can run as little as $50 per night. 
Brighton, United Kingdom
London is by far one of the most popular places to vacation, but it's also very expensive. Brighton, is a sweet little seaside resort town just about an hour away. The British weather isn't always perfect, but a trip to the beach is always a welcome getaway. With a 60% increase in visitors from 2014 to 2015, the iffy weather doesn't seem to be a deterrent to travelers. Brighton has some rocky beaches, but has wonderful arcades and historical buildings along the waterfront. It hosts many festivals throughout the year, has a thriving arts scene, cuisine to rave about and is a popular place for nightlife. Unlike London, you can find a hotel here for less than $100 per night, so you can spend more money on souvenirs and fun.

Have you already planned your vacation for next year? If so, where will you go?

*stats provided by TripAdvisor

Saturday, December 5, 2015

What Will You Be Eating For Christmas Morning?

Sometimes waking up to a nice hot breakfast is all you want. Generally, when we travel, we buy stuff to make our own quick breakfasts in the morning, so we don't have to rush out early and spend money on something I'm not that excited about. It saves us quite a bit, though we do make a point to take at least one morning meal out. You can learn a lot about people by the way they start the day, plus beverages are always slightly different. I found a love of watermelon juice in Ecuador and strong, flavorful coffee in France and slightly sweet tea in London. I like to research just what I'll be looking at when sitting down to a local breakfast before I go, because it can be weird to expect eggs and pancakes and be faced with a menu full of totally different stuff. Check out these 20 different breakfasts from around the world.

What Will You Be Eating Christmas Morning?
I'm all about the croissants in France, but I'm highly intrigued by the morning meal in the Phillipines. Which breakfast are you most interested in trying?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

How to Score Free Flights

It's the holidays and usually that means packed flights and lots of drama from some passengers who think it's all about them. What this means for you is a good chance of getting bumped or the chance to volunteer to get on the next available flight. Why would you do this? To get a free flight, of course. 

How to Score Free Flights

Everyone has heard the term “bumped”. If you haven’t – or if you have and are not sure what it means – it is the term given to a person who has the misfortune to get to the airport too late (read: after almost all the other passengers) to check in for their overbooked flight and loses their seat. They are “bumped” from the flight. With the amount of overall flights being reduced, there are now more people who want to fly on those that are available most days. There are a certain number of no-shows or ticketed passengers that miss their flights each day. The airlines have always planned for this, but in these tough economic times they also want to fill their seats on the limited flights they have, so they overbook. (This was always a common thing on their most popular flights before the recession.) Sometimes everyone shows up and that leaves around 3-5 people without an actual seat. The airlines will rebook them on the next available flight, but will also always ask if others are willing to be bumped instead. This is how you get comped free travel/hotel/food.

Tip: Ask for a credit voucher instead of a free flight voucher. This works like a gift certificate for the airline and allows you more freedom when booking your flight with it (i.e. you can use it for international airfare if you wish or to buy more than one cheap ticket).

When you get to the gate, you will normally see on the monitor at the check-in desk if there is a list of passengers. These people are already on the “waiting” list. They may have checked in after everyone else or were able to be put on stand-by. If someone else doesn’t show up, or someone gives up their seat willingly, they get to board that flight. If you aren’t in a hurry to get to your destination, then maybe you wouldn’t mind volunteering to hang out until the next flight. The more people on the list, the more willing the airline will be to work with you in giving up your seat. Go up to the airline employee and ask if they need volunteers to be bumped. If so, ask what you will be compensated. Usually, because you have been helpful and friendly (this is certainly key in any customer/customer service conversation), they will give you a voucher for a free flight or credit to use at a later date. You’ll, of course, not have to pay extra for being rebooked on a new flight.

This is what everyone seems to look like during holiday travel
Depending on how long of a wait it will be until your next flight, you might also be able to negotiate a free hotel room and/or dining vouchers for the airport while you hang around and wait for the next flight to come in. While you end up with a free flight (and probably more), the airline doesn’t really lose any money by giving you these things in exchange for your seat. They will be flying that future flight anyway and your seat was already paid for by the passenger who will be filling your seat when they purposely oversold the flight. You get all the perks for just being nice (even if it was selfish) and you might have made someone’s day by letting them take your place. This is a great way to be able to stretch your dollars and be able to vacation more throughout the year. You’ll also get more frequent flyer miles added to your account (if you are compensated with a voucher for a dollar figure and not a free flight)!

Tip: If the airline pays for you to stay in a hotel overnight, they must also pay for your transportation to that accommodation.

Want to avoid getting bumped? Make sure you get to the airport early instead of the last minute. It just takes that one person to get there before you for the flight to be full. I always suggest getting to the airport at least one hour early for domestic and at least two hours early for international. Of course, I get excited for any travel I do and want to allow time for anything that might delay me (traffic, long security lines, etc.), so we tend to get to the airport two hours ahead of any flight. We use the extra time to browse shops, watch people and eat. It’s always nice to be able to sit down and have a decent meal, instead of grabbing fast food right before you get on the flight. It gives you time to relax if you stress right before you travel. It also boosts your energy and helps reduce jet lag. Make sure you drink lots of water, too. I always buy a big bottle of water after security to take with me on the flight, since I am often thirsty, flying dehydrates you and I don’t always want to wait 45 minutes to an hour before they bring around the drink cart.

Tip: Want to finally get into the fancy schmancy airline lounge? Ask for a pass to use it if you’re bumped and have to wait a few extra hours.

More tips on getting “bumped”:
  • If you want to get bumped, it helps to get to the airport early as well. Get your name on the list of volunteers before anyone else.
  • Book on a flight that is likely to be overbooked (holidays, afternoon flights, early evening flights, last flight of the day, red eye, etc.)
  • Be polite. Don’t demand higher compensation than what they are offering you. If you know they are desperate, you can use it to your advantage, but negotiate in a polite manner.
  • Know the flight schedule. This can be just as useful to you and your travel plans as it is to the airline employee rebooking you.
  • Make sure you’re booking on an airline that does overbook flights. Some airlines do not. (Of course, this information is also helpful in not getting bumped.)
  • Be willing to fly on a different airline or a different route. This makes it easier to rebook you as well.
  • Pack light. While this doesn’t really help you to get booked, it does ensure that you keep all your belongings with you and the airline doesn’t have to figure out how to reroute your bags in addition to you (and your travel companions).
  • Fly through busy airports when possible. Obviously, these airports have more passengers flying everyday and have more overbooked flights than smaller airports.

I haven't had the chance to get bumped yet, but I am open to it. If it can help me budget a trip for cheaper the next time I travel, then it’s totally worth it. What about you? Have you ever purposely volunteered to be “bumped” in order to receive free travel?

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