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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Getting More From Your Hotel Budget

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

getting the most of your hotel budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look for Freebies
Free is always a great price, but if you don’t know how to get it, then it’s not really all that helpful. I love travel freebies and try to maximize them on every trip I take, because that’s less money I have to pay out of my own pocket. The more money I save, the better trip I can take or the more I can put towards a future vacation. There’s also the fact that if you save more, you spend less and suddenly a trip that was a little out of your reach is now within your budget!

Free BreakfastFree continental or buffet breakfast is a fantastic saver! On the low end, say you usually only have coffee and a bagel in the morning, you can save $5 per person, but on the higher end, if you like to eat out and have someone wait on you in the morning, you could be looking at $12+ per person.

Kids Eat Free – If your hotel has a restaurant and they offer free dining for kids, this is another big savings. Usually, you can get free meals for up to two kids this way if you purchase an adult entrée. Assuming a kid’s meal is an average of $6, that’s up to $18 per day, per child.

Free Wi-FiI always like to stay in touch while I’m on vacation, so I tend to bring my iPad and netbook everywhere I travel. This way my husband and I can both check up on what’s been happening while we’ve been gone and also communicate with friends and family. Hotels and resorts sometimes charge for internet service, or you can wait in the lobby and use one of their computers free of charge for a few minutes. Your best bet on this is to find one of the many places that give you free Wi-Fi, because it can save you weekly or daily rates, or those per-minute rates charged by Internet cafés. You also can’t do much business if you’re on a time limit.

Laundry On-Site – While usually not free, it’s still a minimal charge to use the machines there compared to the local Laundromat or worse, the laundry services they offer where you leave your bag of clothing and then come back to fresh clothes and a bill. Generally, the machines off-site can range anywhere from $1.75 - $3.00 per load for both the washer and the dryer. If you do laundry out of the country, it can cost almost $8 just to wash your clothes. Anytime I’ve used the on-site facilities, they range from $.50-1.00 for each machine and most times they were free. It’s easy to throw clothes in while you’re resting from your day out walking.

Free Coffee and Snacks – Many hotels offer free coffee/tea and snacks (like fruit and cookies) in the lobby. There’s no reason to not take advantage of such things that are included in your room rate. Think about all the times you want to snack during the day while you’re sightseeing. If you had a banana or some other snacky thing that you snagged on your way out, you wouldn’t have to shell out any money again until lunch or dinner. The free coffee and/or tea provided, while not fancy, can save you a trip to Starbucks in the morning.

Free Alcoholic BeveragesIf drinking is one of your favorite vacation pastimes, there are a few ways to get free drinks on your travels. The most obvious way is to stay at an all-inclusive resort where this is included. I consider it free, because you’re paying for your accommodations, entertainment and food all in one lump sum. Anything beyond that is a plus in my book. Another thing you can do is find a hotel that offers a free cocktail hour. They are kinda few and far between, but if you’re lucky you can find them.

While this certainly isn’t an inclusive list on all the ways you can save your dollars on accommodations, it’s a good start to help you travel within your means. Maybe that extra money you don’t have to spend is just enough to allow you to go to that one place that was just out of your reach budget-wise before. Every little bit helps when you have to pinch your pennies, so get planning and find all the ways you can lower your bottom line. You might be surprised at how all those little discounts can turn into one big one.

How do you stretch your hotel budget?

Monday, January 28, 2019

Top Tips For First Time Travelers

If you’ve never traveled before then, it can be a mixture of emotions when it comes to going on your first adventure. So what are the best tips for first-time travelers when you’ve booked your first adventure?

Listen To Recommendations
If anyone you know has been to your destination before, ask and listen to their recommendations. Going to a new place is a little daunting, so it’s good to have some advice from someone who has already been. Get tips on where to visit and where to stay. A hotel in Fort Pierce, Florida perhaps? Or a villa in the South of France. Find out where to eat and where to sightsee and perhaps where to avoid. Make sure you note everything down so that you don’t forget any of it while you’re there.

Learn The Basics Of The Language
If you’re going away to somewhere that’s foreign to your language, it’s respectful and helpful for you to learn basic elements of the language. Being courteous and attempting to learn the country’s language will likely earn you more respect from locals. It’s also useful if you need help or wants to interact with the native individuals. You can get most language books from your local bookstore or online. There’s plenty of free lessons too online that can teach you the basics.

Have Multiple Forms Of Payment
Something may always go wrong when traveling and the last thing you want is to have no money if you get a credit card stolen or you lose all your travel money in a bag that didn’t come through baggage claim at the airport. Having multiple forms of payment is a great safety precaution so that you don’t end up with no money in another country. So take a credit card and a debit card. Take some travel currency in cash with you and also travel cash cards are good for loading money onto a separate card used just for your trip.

Try Something New
Being in a different country means that you’ll encounter a different way of living, different sights, activities and cuisines. So try something new that you’ve never had or done before. Eat snails in France or skydive in Dubai. Travelling is about new experiences so don’t just stick to the norm, think about what you’ve always wanted to do or try and do it.

Make a list so that you can tick them off as you go!

Watch Out For Scammers
Just like your own home town, city or country, there are scammers just waiting to take your money or swipe your valuables. It’s always good to remain cautious when it comes to your personables. Keep a level head at all times and if you are traveling with others, make it a rule that you watch each other’s backs. You’ll likely find a lot of information online and through others who’ve been about what to look out for specifically.

Going traveling for the first time is something you’ll love no matter where you go or whether you travel alone or with others. Always take caution, organize the trip but don’t be too strict with your plans and make memories. You’ll soon get the travel bug itch!

Saturday, January 26, 2019

How to Travel With Kids

Traveling with kids is not always easy or cheap, but you can make it a bit easier on yourself by planning ahead. No last-minute packing or planning, because it can definitely mean the difference between a great flight and a terrible one. I can help you save money and sanity on all your future family travels. Here are just a few ways to make the most of your trips and keep everyone as happy as possible.

flying with kids

Tell Them What to Expect 

Kids are super-adaptable, but it does help to explain things to them. Traveling is kinda weird when you think about it. You stand in line to go through security, where people judge you and look at all your stuff, then you wait to get herded into a big metal room, where you strap yourself in and the air pressure is all funky and makes your ears hurt on occasion. It's sort of like being in the car, but with 200 other people and you can't get out when you need to stretch your legs, but there's a bathroom. Crazy, right? Explain to your kids what they'll be expecting, and more than once. It's better for them to be excited that they're flying than for them to be freaked out and hate every second of your journey. Not only will you also hate it, so will everyone on the airplane.

Travel in the off-season or during winter break

If you have smaller children, you have the luxury of traveling all year long. With this in mind, avoid traveling in the summer. Summer is easily the busiest and most expensive time to plan a vacation. If a beach or other warm-weather location is your destination of choice, plan a trip in the spring. Springtime is always less crowded and one of the best times to find sales on both airfare and hotel rates. If your children are in school, wait until Christmas break to make your journey. If you fly on Christmas Day, you can get rock-bottom airfare, since most travelers want to be at their destination by that day and it’s one of the lightest travel days of the year.

Fly free

Children under the age of 2 fly for free if you aren't opposed to them sitting in your lap the whole flight. Probably not so doable on a trip across the Atlantic, but not too bad on a flight that's only a few hours long. Babies are easier to deal with this way and if they get cranky due to air pressure changes, feeding them does wonders, because they're constantly swallowing.

Stock up on snacks 

Kids always want to eat when it isn't snack time and can get super hangry if they don't get something in their tummy pretty fast. Vacation is no different than at home. Bring snacks on all your plane rides (and outings) to tide them over until it's time to actually sit down and have real food.

Pack games

I find that games are a fantastic way to pass time on the airplane, even for us big kids. Have smarty-pants toddlers or kids over 5? Try Fluxx card game. It’s the game of ever-changing rules that is fun for hours, even if games last just 10-30 minutes. You might also like Zigity. It’s a fantastic game from the makers of Cranium that asks players to spell, add, complete a picture and match objects. The cards are plastic coated, so they are pretty much child-proof. Spills and spit wipe right off!

Bring Your Tablet

Kids are super tech-savvy now. If yous are too, then make sure you load up your tablet with games, videos and books they'll love. A long flight can fly by when they have everything they need at their fingertips. Don't forget a back-up battery to keep it charged and headphones, because as happy as everyone will be that your kids are entertaining themselves, they'll be less happy if they have to hear Dora the Explorer at full blast, because that's how your little one likes to watch it.

Pack light

I know that with kids it’s hard to do this, but it’s not impossible. Each of your children can bring their own carry-on for the plane and help spread around the weight. Whether it’s a small rolling bag that can fit under the seat or a backpack they can wear, they can share the load. While their clothes can be fairly lightweight, everything they want to take from home may not be. Pack as much of their clothes as you can in your own carry-on (Spacebags or Pack-It cubes may help) and then have them carry any spillover and a few things from home in their own bag. This might be some small toys, a coloring book and some snacks. Anything that will make traveling less of a chore and keep the whining at bay. 

If there is more than one adult in your party, this may be done more easily, and you will have everything with you when you land, saving you checked baggage fees and time waiting for your bags on the carousel. Check out the Trunki ride-on carry-on from Melissa and Doug. It’s fun and functional, plus you can accessorize it, giving your kids another activity to do when waiting around and getting border and border. I want one for ME.  

Let them pack their own bag

When you go anywhere, you probably let your kid(s) pick a few things they can’t live without. As long as it can be reasonably packed and will make it through security, don’t worry if they want to bring 32 miniature cars or their favorite doll or even their pillow. If it makes them comfortable, it will help them be a better traveler. You could pack their clothing in your carry-on and have them bring their “busy-time” stuff in a backpack or teach them responsible travel and buy them their very own carry-on bag that they can use. They’ll feel like a grown-up when they pull their little wheelie case behind them through the airport and you’ll save on baggage fees. Plus, by having them carry their own belongings, they might learn to pack lighter.

Rent baby equipment at your destination

This doesn’t sound money-saving at all, but it can be. Dragging around a stroller and other cumbersome products can be hard, cost you checked baggage fees and may even damage your own items in the process. Sites like BabiesTravelLite have lists for worldwide locations that rent baby equipment from strollers to baby baths. These places often rent equipment for an entire week for less than you would pay to rent them for a day at amusement parks and other places. You can pick them up on your way to your hotel or vacation rental and then drop them off on your way to the airport. You don’t have to juggle extra things at the airport and you won’t have to worry about damage to any of your own gear.

Invest in a footrest

Skyrest makes the perfect footrest for children. Okay, it’s really a resting pillow for sleeping or reading, but for little legs that fall asleep from not being able to reach the floor, it makes the perfect airplane ottoman. Nobody likes being kicked in the back for a whole flight and when kids have tingly legs, they are going to flail about. These inflatable rests have removable covers, too, so you can remove it before the flight to keep it from getting dirty from the floor and feet.

Fly really early or really late

If your child is on a regular sleeping schedule, see if you can book a flight that will coincide with it and they may just conk out the entire flight. We used to fly the Red Eye often and sleep on the plane overnight and wake up in our destination. While these seem to be few and far between – or even non-existent – now, you can certainly try to find an available flight that is super early in the morning or even later in the evening. These flights are usually undesirable, which makes them cheaper than the same flight in the middle of the day.

Run it out

Some airports have playgrounds. If you're taking off from one or have a layover, then let make a beeline for the closest one (if you have time) and let the kids run and yell and get all their energy out. They'll be less antsy on your flight this way.

Just because you have children doesn't mean you can never vacation again or have to pack up the tent and go camping. Of course, I'm not opposed to camping. I did it all the time as a kid, but nothing beats a good old fashioned family vacation. One where you don't have to do all the work and take freezing showers for a week. Sure, traveling with more than two can be hard on your wallet, but you can save on things to make it more manageable.

What are your tips for traveling with kids?

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Useful Budget Travel Tips Infographic

We all like to travel on a budget. Even Marriott knows it. Sometimes a few key tips and tricks can save you a ton on your vacation and the following infographic gives you a handful of the best ideas on how to change your travel style a bit to make your trip more budget friendly.

What are some of your favorite ways to save money on your trips? One of mine is finding free activities. 

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Relax with a 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. 

staycation tips

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 Italy, 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 one from IKEA.) 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.

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

Friday, January 18, 2019

Malaysia Can Be Magical If You Know Where To Go

There are so many beautiful places for you to visit if you are going to be taking a trip to Malaysia. Unfortunately, not many people take the time to come to this amazing place, but they should because there are some truly fantastic sites to see. Malaysia is a magical place to visit if you know where to go, otherwise it could be a bit of a hard place to navigate. So, take a look at this guide for some of the best places to visit in Malaysia and make it a trip to remember.

Petronas Twin Towers

These two twin skyscrapers and held the title of world's tallest buildings from 1998 to 2004. Despite losing their tallest building status in 2004, they still hold the record for being the tallest twin towers in the world. They are a wonder to behold, and you end up wondering if people get scared being so high up! If you go into this building you are going to be treated to some wonderful views that you would only get one other place, and that is in the sky in an airplane!

One of the towers is predominantly owned by Petronas, but the other one is home to a variety of companies such as Huawei, Microsoft and other big names. Many companies use these offices to run some of their branches, but the main reason you should visit here is for the views we mentioned above. You can’t understand until you have experienced it, and how amazing it feels to look up and wonder if the building even has an end.

Mount Kinabalu

If you head over to Sabah, you will find the World Heritage Site Kinabalu Park. As well as being the highest mountain in Malaysia, Mount Kinabalu is also the highest mountain in the Malay Archipelago. It is a long way up and down though, so make sure that you are in the right level of health to be able to do this. You don’t have to get all the way up, and you don’t even have to go up at all if you don’t want to. Enjoying the view from the bottom is still a great way to spend to spend some time in Malaysia.

If you are a photographer or a painter, you are going to love this place. It is such a scenic destination, and you are going to get some excellent pictures out of this experience. Even if this is the case, don’t spend so much time trying to capture its beauty that you forget to experience it.

Batu Caves

If you are looking for an adventure to go on while you are in Malaysia, then one of the best ones is the Batu Caves. These are on a limestone hill and you will find a range of caves and cave temples to go exploring in. The name of this place comes from the river that flows past the hill, the Sungai Batu. This is also the focal point for the Hindu festival of Thaipusam which attracts thousands of people every year. If you do manage to get to this place when the festival is on, you are going to be in for a real treat.

Tioman Island

Just off the East Coast of Malaysia you will find Tioman Island. It is a nature reserve that is surrounded by beautiful beaches that you can enjoy. This area is well known among tourists, and has a great reputation for its diving spots which are full of beautiful corals and sea sponges. There is no nicer place that we can think of to experience diving than this wonderful island. You will also find a whole range of shipwrecks that have happened on the island, so if this is something that you are interested in, you should certainly check it out.

Once you get there, the first thing that you will notice is that the entire island is covered in tropical rainforest. You will be able to see animals such as butterflies, lizards, and monkeys all roaming around the island. If you go a little further east, you will find the Juara Turtle project which is a hatchery. Here they protect and study the sea turtles, making sure that they aren’t getting injured by the sea, or anything else.

Sunway Lagoon

If you are looking for a theme park to go to, then Sunway Lagoon is definitely one to consider. It is located in Bandar Sunway which isn’t far from Old Klang Road which has a lot of properties, which will be especially good for tourists to stay in. You want to be somewhere within walking distance for this theme park so that you can get there and back without a hitch. Did you know that Sunway Lagoon has hosted various international lifestyle and music events, including MTV World Stage for six years.

It is somewhere that everyone can enjoy because there is always going to be something for everyone. It can be a long day visiting here though because there is so much to do, so ensure that you take plenty of water.

Sri Mahamariamman Temple

Sri Mahamariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Kuala Lumpur and was founded in 1873. Today, many people come from all over the world to visit this place, and see its beauty. There was a new part added to it in 1968, but it has not taken away from the historic beauty of this amazing structure. If you are interested in the history of the temple, you can learn more about it when you get there. It is one of the most beautiful sites to see in all of Malaysia!

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Hopefully you have found this post helpful, and will use this as a guide to travelling around certain parts of Malaysia. It is a beautiful country, and you should take the opportunity to go there and experience everything on this list if you can.

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