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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The genius of the Las Vegas Monorail

By now you know I visit Las Vegas 2-3 times per year, so I have seen a lot of the city, have seen it change, and know a lot of tips. My favorite is the Las Vegas Monorail. Many people don't use it, so it's hardly ever packed. It also tends to go behind hotels on The Strip, and that's the genius of the Las Vegas Monorail. You get away from the crowds walking along Las Vegas Blvd and you get where you want to go faster.

I do a LOT of walking in the city, which is fine, but with everything so far away from everything else, never getting to walk a straight shot from one block to the next, and it generally being blazing hot and miserable after a few hours, especially in the summer, it's nice to rest your feet. It's also nice to enjoy some air conditioning away from the casinos (which are also full of people smoking and drinking). 

You could take a taxi or ride share, but depending on the hotel you're at, by the time you get to the designated pick-up area, you could have already gotten to your destination. You could also rent a car, but the majority of hotels charge for parking now, too. Both of those options quickly add up.

Each Monorail pass day lasts 24 hours (which begins as soon as you first use it, meaning you have a full 24 hours, since the Monorail runs 19-20 hours a day). If you start using it at 9:05am, you have until 9:04am the next day before it expires.

I exclusively use the Monorail when I'm in Vegas for the Travel Goods Show each year. You've probably seen my Monorail selfies and Boomerangs on Instagram. I tried driving one year, but it took me nearly an hour to get from one end of the Strip to the Convention Center, and then another 20 mins to actually park with all the construction and it cost me $10 with no in and out privileges. So, if I wanted to leave, I could, but I'd have to pay another $10 when I came back. I tend to leave in the middle of the day, take some stuff back to my room, and grab some food before I head back. That didn't work for me at all. I drove back to my timeshare, parked my car and bought a Monorail pass for the rest of the show.

You can't really walk the whole Strip, and who'd want to? An Uber costs around $8-10 a pop and takes quite a bit of time as well. From one end of The Strip (the MGM) to the other (the SLS), it takes about 15 minutes by Monorail. I took it down to do some gambling, left at 4:30, waited probably 5 minutes for it to arrive, and took it back to MGM, walked the two blocks to my timeshare and met up with everyone to head out before 5pm.

The schedule is really convenient, with trains coming every 7-10 minutes, depending on the season. (There is a sign that says 4-7 minutes, but the average for my visits have been 7-8.) There are 7 stops, with one close to pretty much anywhere you want to go. I find myself getting off at the Flamingo stop pretty often, because it's in the middle of everything and you don't have to walk through a mile of casino to get out. Much of it is a covered bridge outside where you can watch people at the pool. I hit up the Linq Promenade and then go across the street to check out the Conservatory at the Bellagio. 

The view from the Monorail is pretty awesome too. You can see the mountains, pools, tennis courts, a golf course, the High Roller. Plus, you get the joy of seeing all the terrible traffic you're missing from above the streets.

The other day I took it in the evening when everyone else in my party went back to the room and I stayed out to watch people and "invest" some money at the slots. It was only me and another tired lady in our car, and the others weren't much fuller. It's a nice break from all the noise and the crush of people everywhere else. The evening usually tends to be busier, and also lunchtime, as that's when people are most active in the city.

I see all different kinds of people riding, and I even saw a couple bring their little dogs on. I bet they were happy to not have to walk a million miles on the hot pavement. Even taking the Monorail, I walked 40 miles in 7 days, so imagine how much I would have walked if I didn't have a ride.

I plan to buy a multi-day pass on every one of my Vegas trips, as it saves me money and time, plus you pay less per day if you do more than one day. If you have the MyVegas app, you can even get a BOGO pass, so you spend less per person. Bonus all around!

This time I used it via the Google Pay app. No fumbling to find your pass, though you can buy those at machines at all the stops. You just hold your phone up to the turnstile window and go. The only slight issue I had was that this was the first time I'd ever used Google Pay, so I hadn't turned the NFC Bluetooth-y thing on and it didn't work, but the nice man running the desk helped me and then it was smooth sailing.

By taking the Monorail and going paperless, you're really helping out the environment. The trains don't run on fuel, so they aren't emitting pollution. You aren't another car on the road clogging up traffic. In fact, there's no driver for the Monorail. It runs by computer system and the doors open and close automatically like elevators. One day I even talked to a cool dude who runs maintenance when the trains are down or have problems. I think he's probably an engineer. He said he loved the work he was doing.

If you feel like you might be unsafe in a metal tube with a bunch of (often drunk) strangers, each car has multiple cameras and there are security guards at every station. They even ride with their dogs sometimes. It's probably one of the safest place in Vegas that isn't the casino floor.

Learn more about the Las Vegas Monorail by checking out their website and next time you're in Sin City, enjoy your own designated driver wherever you go.

How do you like to get around Las Vegas when you visit?

Follow the Las Vegas Monorail on all their social media channels to learn about all the cool stuff going on with the Monorail and along its route:

Disclaimer: I was given a 5-day pass for the purposes of this review and social media coverage, but all opinions are 100% my own.

3 Easy Ways to Avoid Jet Lag

Jet lag. Is there anything worse? Well, probably. Getting robbed or attacked by a bear or losing your passport. Those are all worse actually. There's a really low chance of most of those things happening to you, but jet lag is really common...and annoying. 

You can lose hours or days of your trip because of it, which is kind of like being robbed, because you're paying for vacation you don't get to use. Going west to east is worse than going east to west, but it depends on how many time zones you're crossing. The best way to avoid jet lag is to start combating it before you even leave home. Here are some tips:

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

Adjust Your Schedule
The sooner you can get on your new schedule, the better. If you can do so before you leave home, that's optimal, but if you have to work and can't really do that, then start on your plane ride. Immediately set your watch to what the local time will be and do what you normally do at that time. If it's time to sleep, then sleep, but if it's not, make yourself stay awake as much as possible. I take a quick nap, but occupy myself reading, watching a movie, playing a game or coming up with new post ideas (maybe you journal instead). If you are traveling with someone, break out a card game and make them play with you. In other words, keep your brain busy. 

When you get to your destination, stay on schedule. If it's daytime, do some sightseeing. If it's nighttime, then go to bed. Simple! And don't forget to eat on time. Have problems getting on a new schedule? Try a time adjusting app!

Stay Hydrated
Not getting enough liquids in your body can cause you to be sluggish. Bring a big bottle of water with you on the plane, avoid dehydrating drinks like soda and alcohol, and continue drinking extra of water for the first couple of days of your trip. This can also keep you from getting sick. A great alternative to water is tomato juice. It's known to be one of the best beverages for flying, because it's hydrating and full of vitamins. If you're thinking this sounds super gross, just try it. The altitude from flying dulls your taste buds a bit, so it's actually tastier than you think.

Eat Light and Healthy
Eating is really important, but you don't want to eat a huge meal before getting on the plane. You also don't want to eat fried and junk food. Find something light and healthy (or as much as possible) to eat before your flight that'll keep your going, but not weigh you down and make you sleepy. You'll also want to bring snacks. Protein-packed, healthy foods like nuts or fruit are great options.

If you want to know more about a jet lag "diet", see my post here. I still haven't tried it like I meant to, but I found that getting on schedule ASAP worked really well. I am normally tired the first evening, but after a good night's sleep, I am good to go for the rest of my trip. I've done this for coast-to-coast trips and also trips further away.

Have you ever been a victim of jet lag?

Monday, July 15, 2019

Kids Get Stressed Too! And the Gift of Travel is the Best Relief

What kinds of things do you see crop up on your kids’ Christmas and birthday wish lists year after year? Toys and games? Clothes and shoes? Games consoles? Bikes or skateboards? Phones, tablets or other electronic devices? Weird novelty items that refuse to go away like slime? In a world of materialism, it’s only natural to expect kids to gravitate towards the kids of desirable material possessions that are marketed en-masse to their age groups. And while there’s nothing necessarily wrong with them wanting these things, nor with their parents’ granting their wishes, let’s not forget that the most valuable gifts we can give our kids tend not to be material possessions. Clothes will be outgrown or go out of fashion. Toys will be grown out of and languish in the attic (or escape and have autonomous adventures). Even the hottest consumer tech becomes passe and replaced with a newer, sexier iteration within months. But experiences and happy memories last a lifetime.

Image by Vernon Swanepoel via Flickr 
That’s why travel, whether domestic or (better still) international will always be the best gift you can give your kids. Not only does travelling to new countries and locales and experiencing new sights, sounds and cultures remind kids what wonder is like in an age where the average 10-year old has seen everything, it gives kids the stress relief and relaxation that they so desperately need.

Because, while it may be difficult for adults to acknowledge...

Kids get stressed too!

When we’re older we have a tendency to view our childhood through decidedly rose-tinted lenses. The fog of time has a tendency to airbrush out the unhappy memories and quotidian traumas of our childhoods like a soft focus lens filters out the wrinkles, blemishes and imperfections on a movie star’s face. 

But the fact is that childhood is stressful, and kids get stressed just like we do. Sure, they don’t have to worry about how the mortgage is going to get paid, whether they’ll be made redundant or whether they’re going to be overlooked for promotion again… But they do need to worry about how to gain mastery of a body that seems to be changing faster than they can keep track of. They might not have marriages to worry about but that doesn’t mean that interpersonal relationships can’t cause them stress. They have exams and tests as well as the ever-constant threat of being rejected or alienated by their peers for something as arbitrary as whether they’re wearing the right shoes

What’s more, because they’re experiencing all of this for the first time, it’s more raw and visceral than perhaps we remember it being. Young minds don’t have the worldliness and perspective that we do, and as such, aren’t as able to cope with formative traumas like playground spats or the heartbreak of young love. 

What’s more, just as in adults...

Stress can be a ticking time bomb!

We all know that stress can have a wide range of ill-effects on human health. It can compromise our immune function, place us under great cardiac stress leading to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. It can place a great strain on the renal system and result in anxiety and depression. It can cause fluctuations in weight and push us into compulsive behaviors.

Stress affects kids’ minds and bodies in pretty much the same ways. It can lead to poor sleep, irrational or aggressive behaviors and poor concentration at home and in the classroom. 

Travel is great stress relief for us… But it’s especially valuable and important for kids

We all need to get away from it all every once in a while and immerse ourselves in new sights, sounds, tastes and cultures. Whether we’re planning a discounted trip to Disneyland with tickets from an authorized seller or a bargain mini-break in Europe, travel is a tonic for all that ails us. 

It gives kids distance and perspective on their problems

Just like us, kids benefit from getting some physical distance from their problems, their school, their friendship groups and the things that sometimes keep them up at night. Spending a little time somewhere far away, living like a local and immersing themselves in a new locale with new people and new sights and sounds is a great way to relieve stress and gain perspective on their worries.

While travelling doesn’t make their (or our) problems go away, it does help us return to them with a renewed sense of perspective so that they don’t seem as scary or insurmountable. 

It gives kids confidence

A lack of confidence can be crippling to a child’s personal, social and academic development. It can prevent them from putting their hand up when they know an answer to a teacher’s question or make new friends. However, when travelling they can leave all their social and personal baggage behind in ways that can be very liberating and empowering. They can make new friends who don’t care about whether they’re in the “in crowd” at school. They can reinvent themselves in this new locale and unshackle themselves from the labels which are all-too easily attached to them in the school environment.

It builds social skills 

Interacting with new people is extremely important in aiding kids’ social development and helping them to become confident, personable adults with outstanding interpersonal and communications skills. Meeting new people and conversing with them (even in different languages) is a great way to build social and listening skills. While they may not feel confident in doing so at first, interacting with new people in unfamiliar locales is a great way to build social confidence. What’s more, these skills will be reinforced when they come home and tell their peers about all the cool stuff they’ve gotten up to on their travels.

It helps kids to engage and focus intellectually

When travelling through new and unfamiliar surroundings, kids don’t have the luxury of immersing themselves in their phone screens. They are put in a situation where it’s necessary to observe and engage with the world around them and focus in ways that they don’t always get to at home. This kind of focus not only helps them to make happy memories that they’ll carry with them wherever they go for life, it could also help them in their studies when they return home. 

It gets them sleeping like babies

Sleep is extremely important, both for mitigating stress and for overall good health. While we’re asleep, our bodies carry out all the routine repairs and maintenance that make for happy and healthy bodies. But because kids are always growing and developing, they need more sleep than we do… And in the digital age there are more distractions than ever to keep them from getting the 8-11 hours they need. As such, many of today’s kids aren’t getting as much sleep as they need.

However, exploring new sights, meeting new people and all the walking that tends to come with a family vacation is a surefire recipe for night after night of restful sleep. 

Because you’re less stressed, they’re less stressed

Finally, as adults, it’s easy to forget that our own stresses can imprint on our kids. When we’re stressed, we risk infecting them with our stress if we’re not very careful. Thus, our money worries can become their money worries. Arguments with our spouse can cause them the stress of believing that they might have to cope with a separation and even seeing us worried or upset can cause them to internalize this and blame themselves. 

However, when you relieve your own stress, you relieve theirs by proxy. Rested and happy parents lead inevitably to rested and happy kids. 

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Be a Traveler Not a Tourist

When I vacation, I like to immerse myself as much as possible in my destination. I know a lot of people find it hard to get into the swing of how things work when they go somewhere new, but it can be the best way to really feel where you are. If you're constantly in your home state of mind, you're never going to get the most of your destination. 

There's quite a difference from embracing a new place and being a traveler and trying to hit everything on your must-do list as a tourist. Doing your research before you leave can certainly help you make the leap. It can also help you avoid being "the Ugly American". 

Go Off the Beaten Path

I love seeing tourist attractions, even in my own city, but I don't want to fill my whole itinerary with them. I enjoy research, so I will spend quite a bit of time looking at all my options. If you aren't into that, keep space in your trip plan to go interesting places. I have asked waiters at restaurants, the owner of my Airbnb, people I've met in line, hotel staff, employees at museums and tour guides. Sometimes I ask which I should do if I could only do one of a few things, sometimes I ask where they like to eat and sometimes I just ask for tips in general. If nothing else, get out of the touristy areas and see new neighborhoods, cafes and shops.

Learn the Language

You don't have to learn everything and be completely fluent, but it helps to learn key phrases that might help you if you're out to eat, shopping or at a museum. People will be impressed you try and want to help you. You have to remember, even though much of the world can speak at least a little English, it doesn't mean you should assume they do. You're in their country, so they aren't there to make you comfortable, just as they wouldn't expect you to know their language if they came to visit America, Canada or the UK. Get a phrase book, a set of Pimsleur CDs or an app on your phone to learn things like "Please", "Thank you", "Where is the bathroom?" "How much?" and "I would like..."

Get a Vacation Rental

Instead of staying a in a hotel with hundreds of other tourists, stay in neighborhoods in apartments, condos and homes. Not only will you get more of a sense of what it's like to live where you visit, but you'll even feel more at home and save money, because you'll have a place that is more lived in and probably has a kitchen and possibly laundry. There's nothing better to me than coming back from a long day of sightseeing and making a snack to eat while watching a movie and doing a bit of laundry. Am I weird? Maybe, but I love feeling like I really live somewhere for a week or two. This leads me to...

Shop the Farmers' Markets and/or Grocery Stores

Because we often stay in rentals and have a kitchen, we plan to make our own breakfasts when we travel. This gives us an excuse to hit up the local grocers for necessities. We've found some unexpected things when we shop and also things we love and bring back home with us. Before we head off anywhere, I check out local markets in the area where I'll be staying or sightseeing. Getting produce that's grown nearby is always awesome, plus you can get handmade goods, foods and even an affordable meal. It's a perfect way to interact with locals and ask them questions about things they make and grow.

Don't Forget to Be Flexible

Not everything is going to go as planned whenever you travel, but don't let those times get you down. You might also find that someone gives you a suggestion that is too awesome to not take. Sure, maybe you were going to go to that Michelin-starred restaurant and then that famous landmark, but instead have the chance to go see some local ruins or go ice skating with new friends and try food from the nearby night market. I like to make daily schedules, so we can get to things we definitely must do, but we aren't so locked in that we can't skip things or move stuff around to do something else instead. Hope for the best, plan for the worst and always expect the unexpected can and might happen.

Eat Local

Dining venues near tourist attractions are going to cost more than other restaurants and are generally not that good. There are exceptions, of course, but it's always smart to wander about a little further from your sightseeing. You never know what you might find if you just walk a few blocks away. Look for restaurants that serve up local favorites and you'll save money, but also will probably find some new yummy foods. Not sure how to pick a good place? I go by two rules: If there's a line, you know it's good. Food trucks/carts = win! Some of the best foods I've had in Paris have come from a cart. Some of the worst foods I've had anywhere were because I was too hungry to do any research and ate at the first place that served something edible. This also leads me to a different tip: Always keep snacks on your person, so you don't make a bad decision based on necessity. More budget dining tips.

Ask Facebook Friends

Chances are you have some international friends on social media you may not have met in real life, but can give you great tips for your upcoming trips. I have done this several times, asking for suggestions from my friend in Vancouver BC for my 12-hour layover or sending questions about a friend's recent trip to a place I'm headed to. 

In that same vein, have a meet-up with Facebook friends. If you're like me, you have friends all over the place. Ask some of those friends to meet you for breakfast or plan an outing with a group. This gives you the sense of belonging and you can really see our life in this place with people you know. Let them show you around their favorite places when you get there. Not only will it be fun, but you'll see something less touristy than you would if you just went by our guide book.

Get Lost

I'm fantastic at getting lost, but instead of seeing it as a curse, I use it as an opportunity. Some of the coolest things we've done are because we stumbled upon them when making a wrong turn or getting off at the incorrect stop. Just as many times as we rent cars, we rely on walking and public transportation. Going at your own pace can afford you the chance to see things you wouldn't if you took a cab and stayed on the main thoroughfares. It also lets you meet people when you have to stop and ask for directions or pop into a cute little cafe for a bite or a cup of coffee. 

What are some of your best tips for being a traveler instead of a tourist?

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

10 Tips for Planning an Awesome Staycation

Sometimes you just need to get away. Unfortunately, it's not always in the budget. I travel 3-5 weeks a year and it's not always enough. I get it. During those times you can get a few days off, but you can't afford to get on a plane for a full-blown getaway, you can give yourself the gift of a relaxing and fun staycation. 

Staycations are great, because you can make one fit into any budget you have. Here are my tops tips for a staycation that rocks.

photo credit

Throw a themed party

Just because you can't go to Greece or Paris or Tokyo, doesn't mean you have to miss out. Find some themed tableware (I suggest Shindigz, but sometimes Oriental Trading has what you need and it's more affordable) and a great backdrop, or pictures you print out from the internet, and invite some friends to bring a dish that goes with the theme, that way you aren't footing the bill for the whole thing. Stream some appropriate music, find some interesting facts about your "destination" and enjoy a couple hours in another city.

photo credit

Pitch a tent

We all know that packing up the car and doing all that stuff that comes with camping is stressful. Instead of that, get your tent out, pitch it in the backyard, make it comfier than usual with your favorite blankets, pillows and cushions and add details to make it awesome: battery-powered fairy lights, a short table (I have a similar one) or trunk to use for eating and playing games and pull your fire pit close by for s'mores, ghost stories and weenie roasts. (Here's a good one, but we have this one.) Make life easier on yourself by ordering out, then it'll really be relaxing. Still do those s'mores though!

Take a drive

We used to do this all the time. We packed a cooler with fun foods, threw a change of clothes in a bag (just in case) and just took a drive without a real destination. We picked a direction and just randomly turned and wandered. Usually, we'd end up somewhere cool that we never saw before, made lunch from our cooler, explored the area and then went home. Don't forget your camera, because you never know what you'll find.

Head to a new city

This probably sounds expensive, but you don't have to go far. Get in the car, head to a suburb that's easy to get to and you aren't super familiar with, park and enjoy it. Being on the outskirts of Portland, we are close to a lot of towns, many we don't really ever go to. In 30 minutes, I can be in a bunch of different places. Look for the downtown area, which usually has a charm of its own, and check it out. 

Find an itinerary for your town

I know you haven't done everything in your city. Go online, check out a two- or three-day suggested itinerary from another local or traveler. Do the stuff they suggest that you haven't done and see your city with a new eye. Take a camera, pretend to be a tourist and really enjoy yourself. Buy a city card if you can and do all those touristy things you haven't done in a while, or at all.
photo credit

Have a picnic

Either put together a lunch from stuff you have at home, pick up ready-made stuff from the local grocery store or hit up the farmers' market for yummy stuff. Head to a great park in your town and spread out your blanket (you can throw it over a picnic table if you don't want to sit on the ground). Enjoy your surroundings, do the cool stuff they have, like hiking or volleyball or frisbee golf and make a day of it. Don't forget your sunscreen.

Stay in a vacation rental

Maybe you're home enough and you just need a little bit of a change of scenery. I get it. Look on Airbnb and find an affordable rental nearby, but not too nearby. Maybe in a neighborhood you don't often go to. Pretend you're somewhere else and enjoy someone else's house for a few days. Bring your own food if that's the extent of your staycation budget.

photo credit

Make outdoor movie night a thing

A few years ago, for Eric's birthday, I bought a Roku projector and screen. We use it to have outdoor movies, where we bundle up (because usually it's a bit chilly), find a Netflix movie and make snacks and popcorn. It's fun and it allows us to use our yard in another way. We've invited others over to partake as well. You don't have to invest in a big projection screen. Instead, grab a white sheet, hang it on a wall outside and you're set! We sit at our lawn furniture, but you can also throw blankets and pillows on the ground and pretend you're at the drive in or do it in the front yard in your driveway, sit in your car and pretend even better!

Dine al fresco

Much like packing a picnic lunch, but this doesn't require you to go anywhere. Sit out on your deck or in the backyard and grill, cook inside or get takeout and enjoy your backyard and lovely weather while you can. Eating outside feels a lot different than eating inside at the table or in front of the TV. For some reason, it feel more like vacation to me.

Learn a new language

Get ready for your next big vacation by learning a new language. I love Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur, but you could also take a class or invite your friends over to help learn with you. You can have your own mini class, have some themed nibbles and get in some fun socializing time.

A few reasons why staycations are awesome:
  • You don't need anyone to take you to the airport.
  • No packing/unpacking a suitcase.
  • You save money for a traditional vacation.
  • Jet lag doesn't exist.
  • Do as much or as little as you want
Here are a few musts to get ready for a staycation, because if you're going to stay at home, you don't want to be pissed that you're there.
  • Clean up the yard.
  • Clean the house.
  • Pull out everything you want to use beforehand.
  • Put new bedding on the beds.
  • Stock the fridge.
If you want more ideas for a staycation, check out my staycation Pinterest board.

Do you include staycations in your life? If so, how do you make them awesome?
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