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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Road Tripping on a Budget With The Camry Hybrid

If you're like me, you love a road trip. Unfortunately, having to fuel up can make a long trip less budget-friendly and flying a better deal in the long run. Even with gas prices down, those costs can really add up, which is why a hybrid can be your new best friend when it comes to saving money when hitting the road. Whether you're at home or driving down the coast, Toyota's hybrid selection should be on your list to check out when you're in the market for a new car.

budget road trip // Toyota Camry hybrid

A few weeks ago I had the chance to drive around the 2016 Toyota Camry hybrid and, let me tell you, it made me sad to give it back and return to my non-hybrid. While I didn't have the chance to go on a road trip while it was in my possession, I did have the opportunity to drive it around town quite a bit and take it on the highway to visit a friend outside of Portland (24 miles each way). I also packed it up as I plan to pack for my next trip. I drove 150 miles total over the week and never used a quarter of a tank of gas. Woo!

The Camry was tricked out with all the bells and whistles that make driving fun and easy. It has a push-button start. This is the second time I've driven a Toyota with this feature and, while it's weird at first, it's kind of awesome once you get used to it. You use your key fob to unlock the doors, put it back in your pocket, then hit the brake and push the button and you're good to go. It barely makes any noise, so the only way you know the car is on is the fact that everything inside comes to life. No waking up your neighbors by leaving or coming home really early or really late. Once you've reached your destination, put the car in park and push the button again to turn the car off. Fancy!

I'm short, so it can be hard for me to find a car that adjusts well enough for me to be comfortable. There's a whole brand of cars that are not made for people like me. Toyota understands my plight and has an adjustable driver's seat that makes it a dream for me to drive. It offers lumbar support and seats that go forward and back as well as higher or lower. This means I can be as close as I want to the pedals, but also customize the seat position so I am taller than I would be in a lot of other cars. I can easily see over the steering wheel!

Maybe nobody else gets excited over cup holders in their car, but I certainly do, especially when I'm on a trip. The Camry has at least 8, which means you can always have a bottle of water at your disposal, plus any other drink you've brought along or picked up with your fast food. The front seats have bottle holders on the doors and two cup holders (where the divider can be removed) on the console. The back doors have the same bottle holders and the middle seat flips down to reveal 2 more cup holders and an arm rest. So, it's perfect for all your drink needs and also can be used as a dividing line for squabbling kids. It's a win-win.

Not only are there a ton of cup holders, but the Camry makes use of all the space that can be used for something. The middle console, used as an arm rest in the front flips up to reveal a large space to hold all your stuff, like snacks, CDs (if you're old school like me) or your purse, which is what I used it for. There's a non-skid rectangle between it and the gear stick that can hold your phone or some loose change without it flying off onto the floor when you go around a corner.

 I always have a spare pair of sunglasses in the car, because I never want to be without. Usually I keep them in the door pocket, but the Camry has a lovely sunglasses holder above the rear view mirror. This keeps them out of the way and also from getting all scratched up by throwing them somewhere else or keeping them in your purse. And, bonus is, no one can accidentally sit on them.

Need to plug your phone or tablet or other electronic device in while you're driving? No problem. There's a USB outlet available. You'll also have the usual larger plug that I still call the cigarette lighter, even though it hasn't been used that way in a million years. I have a car plug for my phone and other devices, which means I could keep more than one thing charging at a time.

Being at the helm of the Camry is like being in front of a computer. You can run your bluetooth and radio right from your steering wheel and see it all on the dashboard, so you don't have to take your eyes off the road. See how far you've driven, the weather outside, what station you're listening to and anything else important. When you turn the car off, you can see how many more miles you have to go on the gas remaining in your tank. I love that!

You can do all that and more on the middle screen. It runs your apps, radio, GPS, backup camera, CDs, dual temperature control (awesome, right?) and allow you to make and take phone calls. Your back-up camera automatically engages when you shift into reverse, helping you back cleanly out of driveways, avoid hitting things when you're in a crowded parking lot and for dreaded parallel parking situations. Although I have a lot of experience parallel parking, it is nice to know when I have more space behind me to keep backing up instead of not realizing I have an extra 4 feet that I could be using to park like a pro and doing one of those Austin Powers' 39-point turns to wedge myself in. 

The Camry can seat up to five comfortably, but is a perfect fit for 4 on a long road trip. The seats are plush and the back seat is as equally room as the front, ensuring everyone has enough legroom for long stretched at a time. If you need extra room for hauling items, the back seats fold down. Otherwise, passengers in the back have room for comfort, a cubby hole for their phone in the middle there and seat back pockets to hold books or whatever else they like to have on-hand for their trips.

the car isn't dirty, the camera just made the rain look odd in this picture

I tend to dump a lot of stuff in my trunk for one reason or another and the Camry's trunk is sufficient for everyday tasks, like grocery shopping or taking boxes of books to the donation drop-off, but also for a family's stuff for a road trip or holding all their bags while going to the airport. I did a large-ish store run where I had 5 bags stuffed with groceries. Obviously, another 5+ could have fit back there with ease. 

Then I packed as I would if I were going on a road trip with my husband. Two carry-ons, a bag of groceries and a small cooler fit in the trunks with quite a bit of room to spare. Had I need to stash more bags back there, it wouldn't have been a problem at all. I can see having a larger cooler and also adding your kid's extras like pillows and toys without struggling to close the trunk. I was tempted to crawl inside to see how I fit in there, but I resisted the urge, though there is a safety latch inside if one accidentally became locked in the trunk. 

The model I had included a moon roof, which I loved, even if I could only uncover it to get more light into the car as it poured rain the whole week I drove it around. The main draw for me is how the car can be put into ECO mode to save gas by switching itself to electric when doing a lot of stopping and starting in the city. Just switch it on and the car does it all automatically for you. I mean, how many of you have a car that you can drive 100 miles in town and not be down almost half a tank? Not many of you, I'd wager. It seems like you just filled up and ran some errands and already you're at the station again. Where does it go? 

If you're looking for a great new car for your family, the Camry can't be beat, especially if you have those million soccer runs, PTA meetings, work days and party drop-offs during the week. You won't be wasting your time fueling up, because you won't be doing it as often. It gets an estimated 40/43 MPG (highway/city). Of course, if you need a larger car for your family, Toyota has a great selection of hybrids to suit your needs. This sedan was perfect for us, but there are only two of us and the dog. 

The Highlander Hybrid seats up to 8 and the Prius V seats up to 5 with a hatchback that holds more gear than your typical trunk. Check out Toyota's site for info on all their hybrid models and their options.

What features of the Camry do you think would be most beneficial to you?

Connect with Toyota on social media: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Google+ | Instagram

Disclaimer: I was loaned the Camry for the week for the purposes of this review, but all opinions are 100% my own. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Weekend Getaway Options for the Entire Family

When you want to take your family for a brief getaway, you may find the respite you need by taking refuge in the forests of Oklahoma. The scenic landscaping could recharge you and give you the quiet solitude you seek away from the city. Before you depart for your journey, you can find accommodations like Broken Bow cabins and other lodgings that are designed with your family in mind. These accommodations come with everything you need to be comfortable during your stay.

Beavers' Bend Oklahoma
photo credit

In-Room Comforts

The lodgings found in the Oklahoma wilderness can be a sort of home away from home. The typical cabin comes with everything you would need to take care of your family anytime of the day or night. For example, if you want to stay in the cabin rather than go into town to eat a restaurant, you can find a full kitchen available to you. The kitchen comes with a refrigerator, stove, oven, and other modern comforts that you need to cook meals, store food, wash dishes, and take care of other routine tasks.

The cabins also come with fully furnished living rooms that come complete with a sofa, lounge chairs, a TV, and also a fireplace where you can build a fire. You can spend quality family time playing games, watching TV and movies, or simply relaxing during your vacation. The bedrooms likewise come furnished with comfortable beds and linens so that you can rest after a full day of enjoying time with your loved ones or exploring the outdoors.

photo credit

Outdoor Enjoyments

Taking a vacation to the wilderness can be a unique experience, particularly if you have never before been fishing, boating, or camping out in the woods. You can fish for any of the native Oklahoma fish species in the clear lakes and streams near the cabins. You can also take a boat out onto the designated boating areas. 

The rates for staying at the retreat are family-friendy and designed with your convenience in mind. You can book your ideal cabin now by going online. You can also use the contact information on the site to call the establishment directly if you have questions or concerns.

The Oklahoma wilderness can be the ideal location to get away from the busy and noisy city. You can check out the lodgings and other accommodations by visiting the establishment's website today. Broken Bow cabins provide a great budget-friendly getaway.

Have you ever been to Oklahoma?

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post that I received compensation for.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Budget Valentine's Day in Paris

It's that time again: Valentine's Day is coming! I’m sure some of you are racking your brains still for things to buy your Sweetheart. If you had a plan and are totally prepared, why not start thinking about a romantic getaway later in the year or even as an anniversary, birthday or next Valentine’s Day “Wow” vacation? I’m talking, of course, about the most romantic city in the world: Paris. While others may disagree with this title, I think more people than not still want to travel to France to see what they’ve been missing all this time. From the sidewalk cafes to Notre Dame, Paris is really a magical city. There’s so much to see and do that even if you don’t find it extremely romantic, you will find it extremely tourist friendly, with something to see or do around every corner.

Paris on a budget

The only drawback to this great city? Price. Paris can be very spendy if you don’t plan out your trip ahead of time. And don’t let the fact that Euros sound cheaper than British Pounds fool you. Currently, the dollars to Euros exchange rate is 1.09 : 1, meaning 1 Euro = $1.09. This is the best rate in years, making Paris super affordable as it is almost the same as the dollar. 9% is much better than the 30-40% it has been when we have visited, so if Paris is on your wish list, I'd suggest visiting sooner rather than later.

Spring, Fall and Winter are good times to travel to France. Anything, but Summer, really. Fall and Winter are going to be the least expensive times and also the least crowded. While shops and museums may be open shorter hours, you will be able to do more than you would in Summer, since tourists are sparse. Another upside: The air will have a chill, meaning you and your sweetie will spend a considerable amount of time snuggled together for warmth.

If you plan to do any real sightseeing in Paris, you should get yourself a Paris Pass. For one reasonable price, you can then skip the lines at many attractions, such as the Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre, and go right in. In fact, over 60 attractions are included with your Paris Pass, making it the most valuable thing you can take with you, besides your passport and loved one. Gain entrance to 55 museums and monuments (unfortunately, the Eiffel Tower is not included), amazing attractions, like the Seine River Cruise, unlimited travel on the metro, buses and RER within Central Paris, an awesome guidebook and coupons for dining and shopping.

Just looking to take a few relaxing days out wandering the streets? Well, that’s a great way to save money, especially since there are so many things to walk around and see without having to pay entrance fees. Stroll the Champs de Elysee, take pictures of the Arc and the outside of Notre Dame, cross the bridges over the Seine, buy a baguette or crepe from a street vendor, enjoy the sculptures outside of the Louvre and on and on. 
One of my favorite memories, which may seem odd, was our trip to Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust and other notable historical figures have been buried here. It’s free to enter and they’ll even give you a map to guide you around. There is a donation box, and I suggest tossing in a couple of Euros, just for being able to walk among the mausoleums, tombstones and memorials. It’s simply amazing, the money and craftsmanship that went into the houses of the dead. We spent around three hours walking up and down the pathways and taking pictures of the magnificent structures and reading about those who were buried there and didn’t even see half of the grounds. It’s definitely a cheap day, but also very interesting. I plan to make another trip when I return. (Kudos to my husband for planning that day and including the cemetery, otherwise I would never have seen it.)

It’s pretty easy to get around town on public transportation. While it’s not as easy as it is in London and other big cities, mostly just because there aren’t as many stops, it’s still a great way to get from one place to another and also get your walking and exercise in once you arrive at your destination. Paris is a wonderful walking city. With everything to see, you won’t even realize how many miles you’ve put on your walking shoes…until you finally decide to sit down and get lunch somewhere. If you don’t invest in a Paris Pass, get yourself a daily or weekly Metro pass. It will save you money from buying each pass individually and make it much easier to keep track of.

Find delicious places to eat on a budget! This one is so easy, I wish I had the options last time I was there. Food can really add up, especially if, like me, you didn’t do your homework and assumed there would be amazing food everywhere you turned. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so. Check out these options for finding and booking meals in Paris and saving money while doing it!

  • Book a Table: Not only can you make reservations online with Book a Table, but you can see diner reviews, menus, get big discounts and accrue points for each reservation you complete to earn your way to a free dining certificate. Even if you’re already in the city and want to have lunch in an hour, make your reservation just to get the points credited to your account when you check in.
  • Groupon: Sign up for this deal-a-day site and get emails each day with the new deal. It can be entertainment, dining, personal services, shopping or more. The point is, there is plenty that Groupon has to offer that might be relevant and useful to your trip. Many of the selections are 50% off, so already that’s a significant saving on one aspect of your travel day.
  • Eat on the street. Paris is full of food carts and much of that food is better than any sit-down restaurant and is a fraction of the price. Do yourself a favor and get a tasty baguette sandwich while walking around. And don't miss out on crepes and French cup of coffee. Just remember these words: Un café au laits'il vous plaît. 
So, you didn’t already plan a getaway or buy a gift and you can’t put together a trip to Paris in two weeks? What’s that? You’re not made of money? Don’t worry. Most of us aren’t, which is why this blog exists. So, for those of you that need a little help to stretch your dollars further, I'll be posting deals on Facebook and Twitter in the coming weeks, and next week I'll have a post on romantic staycations. 

In the meantime, check out the 10 best budget boutique hotels in Paris from MrandMrsSmith and GlobalGrasshopper's list of 10 best budget hotels in Paris. I totally want to stay in all of these and the rates are super reasonable. Of course on our last trip we opted for a cute Airbnb that was close to the Metro. 

Do you have plans to visit Paris in the future?

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Mermaids Are Real in Weeki Wachee

It's been 20 or more years since I've watched a special on the Travel Channel on the mermaids of Weeki Wachee. For those of you who don't know, this is in Florida and it's a kitschy roadside attraction that's been a landmark since the 1960s. I was so interested in these ladies who could stay underwater and do tricks and swim like mermaids that it was put on my life list of things to see. I had no idea where Weeki Wachee was, but since we were doing a fall trip to Florida, I decided to look at it on the map. I was amazed that it was somewhat on the way from Orlando to St. Petersburg, so we planned to use our day driving between the two to make a stop there. 

There's nothing much that sets Weeki Wachee apart from other small Florida towns. It's bigger than I expected and had quite a few big box stores, but right at the edge of town you'll see big signs for the "Live Mermaids" turn-off. Had you not known it was there, you'd probably think it was a little odd. There's no missing this attraction though. 

When we rolled up, there were hardly any cars in the parking lot, but walking up, it was hard to understand why, as the beautiful fountain in the front was very beautiful and welcoming. I was really excited to get inside. Unfortunately, much of the park was under construction, which was not specified on the website, and the activities inside didn't run as often as the schedule available before we arrived. This didn't deter me though, because I was here to see mermaids. 

We had just missed the first mermaid show, so we decided to see what else was available. Usually, there is a beach and small waterpark that you can visit, but they were refurbishing that. For a straight $13 admission price, that seems pretty cool to be included. There was also an animal show, which I was not about to leave without seeing. It ran about 20 minutes and the guy running it brought out several animals native to the Florida area and was highly knowledgeable and funny. It was a great show for kids and even I learned some things. At the end, you have the chance to touch an alligator, which I eagerly waited for with a few of the kids. They're very soft, but you can feel the power in their tails, even a small one like the one you see above. 

One of the big draws of Weeki Wachee is the included river boat tour down the Weeki Wachee River. It runs all day and lasts around 20 minutes. On the boat you will see fish and beautiful scenery. You may also see gators, manatee, kayakers, eagles and other cool stuff. 

We were lucky to catch a glimpse of a pair of bald eagles. How awesome, right?

The water is crystal clear and you can see almost everything in it.

There are a few places to sit and get something to eat. The Galley was the one open when we were there, so in between shows we went inside and ordered a drink and some nachos while we relaxed, looked at a map to see what was in between Weeki Wachee and our final destination and if there were any discounts we could use on the rest of our trip. There's a decent variety of foods, drinks and desserts available at the Galley at reasonable prices. When it's warm out, there's also outdoor seating.

We couldn't pass up a fun photo op, especially when it was becoming a mermaid! How can you not? I'm not saying we make great mermaids, but it was hilarious and we had a good time doing it and goofing off.

And then it was time for the mermaid show!

The mermaid theater was small, but could seat several hundred people. All seats are good and have the ability to see everything going on in the water. While you wait, you can enjoy videos of the older shows that have been performed there, including the original shows in the 60s.

Because we were visiting in the off-season, the show was fairly short (around 20-30 minutes) and only featured two ladies and a man. You can see the mermaids perform in tails and also in other costumes. In between the separate themed performances, you learn (and see) how the "mermaids" are able to rise, sink and stay in one place while underwater. They tell you about the tank, the air hoses and the changing station (kind of like the backstage area where the mermaids change outfits). Then you are treated to some of their visual tricks, like drinking a bottle of soda while underwater.

The skill it takes to be a Weeki Wachee mermaid is pretty involved. I could never do it, but then I'm not great at underwater things and am not fond of things like diving. It's impressive seeing them do their shows while not freaking out and not getting tangled in their breathing hoses. Here's a quick video of the mermaids in action:

Even though I was disappointed with the length of the show, I can't complain since I was the one who visited during the off-season. We were blessed with little to no crowds throughout the park though, which I doubt would happen anytime during the summer. It's something I can cross off the list of awesome things I've wanted to see in life and I would even go back again. For the price of admission, I'd definitely recommend it, especially if you're traveling with little kids who would be amazed by seeing a "real live" mermaid. At the end of the show, they can visit with a mermaid and get their picture taken with her.

Have you been to a cheesy roadside attraction that you loved?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Coffee, Cranberries and Chocolate

If you thought Epcot's Food & Wine Festival was just about getting your extra money for trying all the fun foods from around the world, you might be surprised. While that is the big part of the festival, they also want to educate visitors on nutrition, growing and harvesting. Each year they tend to focus on different things, but they tend to present things that are universally appealing. The great thing about these extras are that they are included in your admission and often give out freebies.

Epcot Food and Wine Festival

I love learning new things, especially about food, because...FOOD! If I eat it, it's fun to know where it comes from. Epcot knows that education and awareness helps people make better and more informed decisions about the things they buy, so even though you're excited to get to the Greece kiosk to get all that delicious baklava in your face, take a few minutes to check out these other areas and wander around the Festival Center, too.

I'm a fan of a great cup of coffee. Of course I was going to check out this little set-up that takes me from plant to cup. Not only is the area beautiful looking, but you can also get up close and personal with actual coffee plants to see what your beans look like. And there's that guy standing there to answer any questions you may have. He knows all about the coffee-growing process, so ask away.

There are always great signs with a bunch of cool info on them, which will probably answer a lot of questions for you if the expert on the scene is otherwise engaged - I find this is hardly a problem, since most people are too busy eating and drinking to stop at these areas. 

Here are a few things I learned here: All those green sprouts on the map above are where coffee is grown in the world. it shouldn't be surprising that almost all of it is on, or close to, the equator. The darker the roast, the less caffeine you're actually getting, because it takes longer to roast. So, when you order your double-espresso to wake up in the morning, just know that it's not hugely different from decaf. This is also why the dark roast cost more than the lighter roasts. Want to taste it for yourself? There's a coffee stand nearby and the expert is more than happy to give you a coupon to make it little cheaper.

What do you know about cranberries? They're sweet and tart and taste good in vodka? Sure, but if, like me, the most you know is that and whatever you see on those cranberry commercials, this set-up was fascinating. Apparently, cranberries grow on bushes (the very bushes you see growing around this bog) and the bog is only flooded for a few days when they are ripe. The water causes the ripe berries to float to the top, so they can be easily harvested. I don't like cranberries, really, but I was insanely interested in the growing process. Nearby was a kiosk that would give you more info if you wanted and bags of samples of dried cranberries and covered cranberries, so you could enjoy what you just learned about.

Chocolate. Who doesn't love it? I barely know anyone and am a bit sad for the few people I know that are allergic to it. Inside the festival center there was a spot set aside for learning about the growing and harvesting processes of chocolate and cacao plant. Obviously, there is a Ghirardelli guy on-hand to answer your questions and give you some samples and coupons (because who doesn't want free chocolate?). 

This past year had a wonderful display of chocolate Disney scenes which were amazingly detailed, including this one from Frozen. It's all chocolate. Pretty amazing, right? There were several Star Wars themed ones, as well as the Jungle Book and others. I wouldn't even be able to do this with clay, but these masters could bend chocolate to their will and were talented enough to make it look like something awesome. It was crazy impressive and detailed. I wonder who gets to eat the mistakes. 

So, while you can spend your days at the Food & Wine Festival in Epcot stuffing your face and getting drunk (there is a never-ending supply of beer, wine and other libations), don't forget that these other freebies are there and can save you money, give you a great education on foods/beverages and are a fun way to pass the time while you wait for your small plates to digest. I love the chance to ask an expert about things, especially when there's not another line to stand in. Extra tip: The Festival Center has nice bathrooms that you usually don't have to wait for in the evening, plus it's usually deserted, so you don't have to fight the crowds to do a bit of shopping of festival merchandise and wine-related products.

Have you ever been to the Epcot Food & Wine Festival? If so, what was your favorite part?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Planning a Budget Spring Break Getaway

Thinking about taking a grown-up (or family-friendly) Spring Break trip? Believe it or not, you can make it affordable. Because Spring Break can vary between early-March to mid-April, there are a good 6 weeks when things are more expensive than normal. Unfortunately, Spring is a great time to travel, because the weather is warm, but not too warm and most kids are still in school, so the crowds are small if you avoid typical Spring Break destinations like Miami and Cancun. So, let's take a look at how to be a grown up and take a vacay that doesn't look like those old MTV shows full of sloppy-drunk, loud-partying, half-naked 20-somethings. 

spring break planning

Choosing a destination

Set your budget
Here's a thought. Instead of picking a place and planning your trip around it, decide on your budget and work around that. You may find that there are places you hadn't thought of before, but are just as awesome (or better) than where you first thought you might go. 
  • Scour deals on Groupon, Living Social and other daily sites for affordable vacations that might work for your time off. 
  • Use Kayak's Explore feature to find destinations that fit within your budget for the month/season of your choice.
  • Look at BookIt's promos for vacation packages that are awesome and budget-friendly.

Visit non-beach destinations
There are a lot of places that don't really fluctuate in price for travelers throughout the year. Some even have beaches nearby, even if they're only lakes (which can be fun in themselves). 

Travel to less-popular beaches
Some destinations just draw college kids. You can avoid those large crowds so you can at least get a little strip of sand for yourself and not have to fight people to get to the bar for a drink.
  • Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
  • Daytona, Florida (the small size makes it perfect for those looking for a bit of quiet)
  • Puerto Rico (cheap accommodations and dining)
  • Myrtle Beach (rent a condo for as little as $50)
  • Costa Rica (stay way from the touristy spots)
  • St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands (no passport required!)
  • Willemstad Curacao (stick to the all-inclusives here)

When to buy airfare

Usually, the perfect time to buy your airfare for domestic flights is right around 5 weeks out, but because the deals for Spring Break travel might be few and far between, look to book your flights 6-8 weeks out. If you have a stash of airline miles, this is the time to cash them in, even if it's just for one way of your trip. 25,000 points and $5 (on average) is hard to beat for a flight, but the earlier you book, the more likely you will be to find a reward seat. Start looking now. 
  • Book airfare on Tuesdays, and Sundays for lower fares.
  • Fly on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturdays for the best rates. These are the least busy days to fly.
  • Fly early in the day. The earliest flights out are generally a bit cheaper and have less of a chance of getting delayed.
  • Travel light and skip baggage fees. 

How to choose a hotel

As nice as some hostels are becoming, I still don't recommend them for grown-ups and the U.S. doesn't really have many. Look into hotels that offer extras: a kitchenette, free breakfast, kids stay free, etc. I'd also suggest looking at both Airbnb and HomeAway at vacation rentals. You'll have a bit more space, the prices are comparable to hotels and you usually have both a kitchen and laundry facilities. If you're traveling as a group, this can really save you money.
  • Sometimes paying up-front can score you an awesome deal on a room.
  • If you haven't pre-paid, keep checking prices up to the day you leave, in case the price drops and you can rebook.
  • Skip online booking and call the hotel to see if they can give you a better rate than what you see online.

Alternate choices

Not all vacations are traditional. If you can plan a great trip, but the airfare seems out of reach, look into driving instead. Is it possible that there are really sweet destinations within driving distance from home that you haven't been to yet? I'd be surprised if there weren't.

Looking for more tips? Check out this article that I contributed my expertise to on Cosmopolitan.com.

What are your Spring Break plans?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

12 Ways to Save For Your Travels

We all like to travel. It's fun, but the planning and saving can be not so much fun. I'm terrible at saving, and the only way for me to do it is if I never see the money. That's difficult though, unless I have a separate account that I use for it and never look at what's in it, like I do regularly with my regular checking account. Then I'm all "Oh yeah! That account exists. Woo! Look at all the money!" But where does the money come from? As a budget traveler, we all have limited finances, otherwise we probably wouldn't be on a budget. 

ways to save for travel

If you're already coming up with excuses why you can't ever come up with enough money to travel, Here's some motivation: My best friend has five kids and a stay-at-home husband (because it's impractical to spend money on daycare for all of them) and they go on at least one week-long trip each year and several weekend trips as well. She makes about the same as my husband makes, so she isn't drowning in money either. Their three school age children all do sports and other activities, which are not really all that cheap, but they still find the money to travel as a family. 

What's your next excuse? You don't have enough time? Of course you do! The majority of Americans leave approximately one fourth of their travel days on the table. Is work really more important than your family and/or health? Someone will do your work while you're gone or you will work twice as hard to do it before you leave and really earn that time, but stop giving your vacation days away. You're basically giving your boss free working days when you do.

Okay, now let's talk about real problems: Figuring out where the money comes from so you can travel the world:
Pay yourself first
You know how when you invest in something like a 401-K and it gets taken out of your paycheck before you even see it? And you never miss it? Do this with your vacation fund. You know when you get paid, so set up an automatic deposit, either through work or on your own online, to go to that separate account. Even just $50 per paycheck can quickly add up and it's not so much that you'll notice it's gone. If you can afford more, change the dollar amount that goes, even if this is a one-time occurrence or permanent. A few dollars more is better than no dollars more.
Open a high-yield checking or savings account
Just like I say above, make sure it's separate from your everyday account. While your money is just sitting there, you could be earning more each month for doing nothing more but keeping it in the bank. Free money is good! 
Make a list and stick to it
When I go grocery shopping, I make a list. I try to plan my meals around the same ingredients with some variety. Chicken, noodles, potatoes, carrots, beef and beans are all great staples, because you can make a ton of things with them. Buy enough to make twice as much as you plan to eat and freeze so you have dinners for future nights and can save money in the coming weeks, or have easy food to make when you return from vacation. 

Don't forget coupons and store rewards programs. Use those apps and coupons to guide your shopping for the week or month to save even more. Tally up how much you saved and put that money in your vacation fund!
Have a yard sale
It's not really yard sale season yet, but it will be before you know it. I'm sure you have a ton of crap stuff around your house that you don't want anymore. Slap a price on it and put it in a pile for spring or summer and then get rid of it. Have bigger pieces? Use Craigslist to sell it for more money sooner. You can easily make an extra $75-100, even on a slow sale weekend. (click on the photo credit link above for tips on throwing a profitable sale.)
Put your clothes up for consignment
This is less straightforward than having a yard sale, but you can also earn more if you're lucky. Gather all those fancy clothes you have in your closet (like those designer jeans you can't fit into anymore or those cocktail dresses you've worn a grand total of one time) and take them to a consignment shop. It's likely they will sell them for you for a small fee, or straight-up buy them off of you on the spot. What have you got to lose? If you'd rather do it yourself, take a load of pictures and do it on ebay. 

Keep the change
If you're like everyone, you have a ton of change just sitting in your car or the bottom of your purse. Make a jar or container at home to throw all that change in at the end of each day. You wouldn't know it, but all those cents can add up over the months and you might find you have a spare $100 or so that you can use as spending money!

Fill your free time
Do you find yourself sitting in front of the TV for an hour or two? Earn points through Swagbucks. You can use these points to earn money and gift cards. It's easy to accrue a lot of points in an hour or so and you can trade them in for travel cards, Amazon gift codes and even Paypal cash. Download the app on your phone to earn even more. It's super easy and totally mindless. 

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

Groupon Getaways

Scour daily deals
Not only can this help you out at home, but also on your trips to save even more. I get emails from my favorites (Groupon, LivingSocial, GetMyPerks) and purchase deals throughout the year to save on entertainment and dining. You can save 50-90% off local deals (or destinations around the world). This way you can do more on vacation, but also not feel like you're missing out at home just because you want to travel. 
Ask for gift cards
When the holidays and your birthday rolls around, ask for gift cards that can be used towards your trip. This could include cards for theme parks, airfare on your chosen airline, restaurants or grocery stores where you can shop for snacks and meal staples (you know how I like to buy breakfast stuff and eat before I head out into the world. Now you've gotten free money you can use on vacation and have to save even less than you thought. 

On the other hand, you can buy your own gift cards at a discount through Target. If you have a Red Card, you can save 5% on their gift cards, including Disney, Starbucks, Chili's and Rainforest Cafe. If you don't have a Red Card, you can get one that links to your checking account for free and without a credit check. Bring a voided check with you on your next Target run and sign up quickly and easily. Your Red Card works just like a debit card and you get free shipping when using it to make purchases online.

Another great idea for your wish list is to ask for city cards. CityPASS and SmartDestinations offer a bundle of popular attractions in a specific destination for much less than paying separately (around 40%) and they allow you to skip the ticket queues, too.

Take on extra work
This can take on a few different forms. Can you take on some extra shifts at work? Do overtime once in a while? Maybe help out a friend with something they can't do themselves? Another thing you can do is help strangers out. Check out TaskRabbit for odd jobs that people need help with. This could range anywhere from helping out at a party, running random errands or mowing their lawn. You choose the jobs that sound good, respond to the inquiry and get paid. 

Drive past the coffee shop
Getting your morning coffee can set you back $3-5, which easily adds up to $60-100 over the course of a month. I love a professionally-made cup of Joe as much as the next person, but I know they can really be expensive. If you want a fancy cup of coffee, think about investing in an espresso maker or French press and frothing whisk. You'll work the cost off by the end of the year and might even find you like your own coffee better. You'll defiinitely save calories. Don't worry, I think it's perfectly acceptable to break out once in a while and splurge on a grande triple macchiato with whip. 

You don't have to totally turn your whole life upside down to save money for your travels. Once you do a few of these things, you'll find it easier to incorporate other ways to save without feeling like you're missing out on anything or being too restrictive. Maybe instead of going to the movies one night, you pick up a Redbox or find something old that's streamable on Netflix. Skip weekend brunch and whip up something at home that's just as fun. Or enjoy the game at home by getting a bunch of friends to come over with a potluck dish instead of splurging on expensive tickets. The line for the bathroom will be considerably shorter!

What are you favorite ways to save for your vacation?
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