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Saturday, March 30, 2019

48 Hours of Fun on a Budget in Edinburgh

In this blog series I show you how easy it is to budget travel anywhere and I also give you a quick overview of a new city each time in a brief 48-hour itinerary.

In my last post I showed you how to spend 2 days in Edinburgh if you're a Potterhead, and in this post we're going to talk about Edinburgh if you're not that into Harry Potter and just want to see the city (or you are spending more time in the city than just 2 days). I'll have a week to spend there, though 2 of those days will be doing wedding activities, so that means 4 full days, and part of a couple on top.


Photo by Liam Macleod on Unsplash
If you're going to Edinburgh for a short (or long) getaway, here's how I would spend 48 hours there:


Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash

Day 1

We'll assume you got into town the night before or early this morning. Start your morning with a hearty breakfast from Scran Bistro, specializing in lovely coffees, in-season ingredients, and a cozy atmosphere. This hidden gem gets high praise from locals and tourists alike. Allow £25 for two.

Walk up to the Grassmarket area where you can wander the gorgeous Victoria Street and Royal Mile. Visit an actual castle. Edinburgh Castle is a wonderful historic castle built in the 12th century and a fantastic way to spend your time in the city. Though you may find it very busy with tourists, one of the most popular times to visit is around 1pm when they do the firing of the gun. If you want to enjoy a less crowded experience, head here directly after breakfast. The earlier, the better. Admission is £17pp if you purchase ahead of time (saving you £1.50pp). 

Photo by Ross Sneddon on Unsplash

If you are craving a sandwich, but a really goooood sandwich, fresh-made each day in a historic pub, then skip the castle's cafe and head over to the Canny Arms. This pub and restaurant was established in 1871 and has some of the coolest decor. The main bar also holds over 250 whiskeys, so this is a great place to sample some of the local booze. The food is really reasonable, and the open faced SMØRREBRØD sandwiches are their "bread and butter". Without alcohol, plan for £25 for two for lunch.

Walk back to the Royal Mile and check out St. Giles Cathedral, considered as the home of Presbyterianism, this 900 year old church (or kirk) has amazing gothic architecture and stained glass. Visiting is free, unless you want to take photos, which will cost you a small fee. 


Photo by Juli Vo on Unsplash


Make sure you've got your good walking shoes on and climb up to Arthur's Seat that is a hill formed by a 350-year-old volcano. You'll get some fantastic views of the city, meaning photo ops galore. If you time it just right, you may be able to catch the sunset too. The climb takes about an hour and their are ruins to see on the way up or down. The climb and the view is absolutely free. 

All that walking has probably given your appetite a jump start, so now it's time for dinner. Check out Under the Stairs back in Old Town and indulge yourself with a 3-course set menu (and drink), consisting of the best seasonal ingredients in dishes like corned venison stovies, celery root croquettes, and lamb cutlet. Set menu is £25 per person. 

Now that you're tired and full, head back to your room, rub your feet, get a good night of sleep so you are rested up for your next day.


photo credit

Day 2

Get up and start your day right with a full Scottish breakfast, or something a little more palatable at The Royal McGregor. The food is highly recommended and they feature Scotland's best produce in their dishes. Expect to spend around £18 for two meals and drinks.

Walk a few blocks down and get in on a free tour of the city from Little Fish Tours. See some of the sites you saw yesterday and then some, or totally new things that you might want to see on your next visit. This tour lasts a little less than 2 hours and might take you to and tell you about The Grassmarket, Greyfriars Bobby, and the outside of Edinburgh Castle. Tour is free and runs on tips. Slip your guide £5-10 for being awesome.

Grab a quick bite if you're hungry from all your walking and learning at Alba Bistro. If it's nice outside, you can get a sidewalk table and indulge in some traditional Scottish eats. The soups and the ham baguette both are high up on the list of recommendations, thought you can get something more substantial if you're hungrier (though I find a baguette is always a good choice). I can't find a menu with pricing, but I will estimate a total of £30 for lunch.
A few blocks away you'll find the National Museum of Scotland, a free museum that is home to Dolly the sheep, the first cloned animal. If you want to make the most of your time here, hit up the Scottish history area, the Natural World exhibit and the Science & Technology gallery (where you can find Dolly), then head up to the roof for panoramic views of the city. You could also bring your lunch up here instead of dining at the bistro. Admission is free, though you could drop a few £ in the donation box.

If you're a fan of whiskey (or want to learn more about it), then make sure you book yourself a tour at the Scotch Whiskey Experience. This replica distillery will take you through the ins and outs of the distilling process, the different types of whiskeys and also give you samples during/after your tour. You even get to ride in a barrel while seeing the world's largest collection of whiskey! The Silver Tour is 50 minutes and a great introduction. It can be booked online in advance for £16pp. 

If whiskey is not your thing or you want to do another weird thing before dinner, check out the Edinburgh Dungeon. We've been to several Dungeons around the world, and they are all kitschy fun. Learn the (possibly stretched truth) seedy history of Edinburgh, including the torture chamber, the courtroom, the witch's judgement and a boat ride. I'm afraid of most things, but I find the Dungeons hilarious, except for the hall of mirrors that many seem to have (where nothing actually jumps out at you), though this one has a graveyard. The Dungeons are dark, but you are taken through by a guide. Hold your loved one's hand tightly. Book online to save up to £8pp. The convenient flexi ticket is £17pp. 


Photo by Bryony Caldwell on Unsplash

Grab a late night (or regular dinnertime) bite at The Devil's Advocate, where the chefs create inventive Scottish dishes with in-season ingredients. Some of the stand-out dishes on the menu right now are the fillet of cod & coconut curry, cornfed chicken and couscous, and the winter board of garlic & maple chicken wings, venison chipolatas, and date & bleu cheese croquette. I'll estimate high here and say dinner for 2 will come to £50.

Take a stroll through the Grassmarket and see the castle lit up at night before heading back to your room for a good night's sleep and your trip home tomorrow. 

There's so much to do in Edinburgh, but luckily most things are located in the same Old Town area, which is smallish and very walkable, saving you money on transportation, though getting around by public transport or Uber is also quite easy and affordable. If you do everything on this list, your 2 packed days in the city come to £305 or around $485 for both you and your travel companion, which isn't too bad considering the food in Edinburgh is a little more than you might spend elsewhere. Obviously, you can save off this total by eating more cheaply. These are just the places I've got on my list.

Have you ever been to Edinburgh? What are your top suggestions?

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

48 Hours of Fun on a Budget in Edinburgh for the Harry Potter Lover

In this blog series I show you how easy it is to budget travel anywhere and I also give you a quick overview of a new city each time in a brief 48-hour itinerary.

In an attempt to reign in all my ideas for visiting Edinburgh, Scotland this year, I'm bringing back my old 48 hours series for two separate posts on the city. While I'll be there for a week, two of those days will be attending wedding festivities, so that leaves me with four days to sightsee. I want to see all the great stuff Edinburgh has to offer, but I also want to indulge myself in all the Harry Potter goodness there is. So, this first post will be for the Potterheads and my next post will be for those who aren't.

Photo by Joe Tree on Unsplash

As always, we assume you got into Edinburgh early in the morning or the night before we begin our two days.

Day 1

Start your day off with a nice little breakfast, or just a cuppa and a pastry, at Elephant House. While not exactly “the birthplace” of the Potter books as the restaurant claims, Rowling did do a fair amount of writing here. Maybe you can soak in a bit of inspiration while you’re sipping your coffee or tea, knowing that such an amazing book series was partially conceived here. Don’t forget to take a trip to the bathroom before you leave for a wonderful homage to the Boy Who Lived. Since I can't find any menus online, I'm estimating a meal of $30 for two, assuming they upcharge for the popularity of the cafe. 
Greyfriars Kirkyard
This cemetery has quite a few similar names as those found in the Harry Potter books including a Thomas Riddell and a William McGonnagal. It’s perhaps true that JK Rowling didn’t actually use names from this churchyard for her characters, but that doesn’t make it any less special. The historic church was built in between 1602 and 1620 and was the site for the signing of the National Covenant, which can be found in the small museum there. And even if you don’t believe the residents of the graves here were used for your favorite books, you can find Greyfriar’s Bobby (and John Gray), the the loyal dog who sat next to his master’s grave for 14 years. Tours are available for £8 for adults, and £6 for children, but you can visit for free (or a donation). At most, this means you're paying ~$20 for two adults.
George Heriot’s Schoolbuilt in 1628, was opened as an orphanage and hospital for boys. It’s now a fancy school for boys and girls and not available to the public, though it may have been an inspiration for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Whether true or not, there’s no real reason to not want to wander by and see an awesome historical building. In fact, you don’t even need to go all the way there. You can see it from Greyfriar’s Kirkyard. Free to look!

Photo by Jonathan Ricci on Unsplash

Believed to have inspired Diagon Alley, Victoria Street in the Grassmarket District is colorful, narrow, and has similar shops as those found in the books. I mean, you won’t find Quality Quidditch Supplies or Eeylop’s Owl Emporium, but that doesn’t make it any less magical. With the pointed roofs and the shops on a steep incline, one could certainly lose themselves here and very well imagine being inside the books. This is a fantastic place to stop and grab lunch, as the street is packed with cafés, shops and more.

Don’t forget to stock up on all things Potter at the Museum Context, which is also known as Diagon House. The Boy Wizard on Victoria Street also specializes in Potter products, so don’t forget to bring your reusable shopping bag for all your goodies. Maybe also your restraint, so you don’t overdo it. Depending on how much time you spend here, you may want to grab dinner at another Victoria Street restaurant that you saw in your wanderings. Free to browse and take pics. I've chosen Bertie's Proper Fish and Chips for lunch: £10 per entree, though some portions are big enough to share = $35 for two | Howie's for early dinner: 2-course for £14.95 = $58 for two, including beverages and maybe dessert. Lunch and dinner together comes to around $93.

I'd call it an early evening and go back to my room to save my feet for all the sightseeing and walking I'll be doing on my next day. 


Photo by Adam Wilson on Unsplash

Day 2

Get ready for an interesting day by having breakfast at Spoon. This restaurant is the setting for Rowling’s first book writing. When she was laying the groundwork for what would become one of the best-selling series in history, this restaurant was called Nicolson’s Café. It then closed and briefly became a Chinese restaurant, and now it’s Spoon. The building is still the same, and therefore still keeps the “magic” alive. Breakfast entrees are £9 or less. Including a nice cup of coffee, I'll estimate £13 per person, so $40 for two.

Head to the Royal Mile and view Rowling’s handprints in gold in front of Edinburgh City Chambers. You’ll also see other handprints here of those that contributed to the city and won the Edinburgh Award. Free!

Photo by Jörg Angeli on Unsplash

Though it may or may not have been an inspiration for Hogwarts, Edinburgh Castle is a wonderful historic castle built in the 12th century and a fantastic way to spend your time in the city. Though you may find it very busy with tourists, one of the most popular times to visit is around 1pm when they do the firing of the gun. Admission is £17pp if you purchase ahead of time (saving you £1.50pp). $54 for two.

You can choose to eat at the castle cafe if a simple meal is what you're looking for, but nearby is a cute and well-reviewed American diner where you can grab a substantial lunch with favorites like nachos, mac ‘n cheese, burgers and more. The prices at The City Café are affordable and they even serve vegan and gluten free options, so everyone is happy. Entrees average around £10, which makes a lunch for two around $40.
This is where you want to make reservation. The Department of Magic houses a potions bar, where you can create your own cocktails, and several escape rooms that are Potter themed. You can easily spend a fair amount of time here, depending on what you want to do. Choose from Prophecies Quest and Dark Lord Resurrection for the escape rooms. You will also need to make a reservation for the Potions Tavern if this is on your list. Two people for the escape room is £40 and two for the Potions Tavern is £34. Doing both of these will set you back $95.
Though you could drop a hefty chunk of your travel budget to stay in the very room where Jo finished writing Deathly Hallows (552) at the Balmoral Hotel, I’d skip that and instead enjoy visiting the hotel and grab dinner or a drink at one of their restaurants or bars. The brasserie is a bit of a splurge for dinner out, but the menu looks tasty and you can make a reservation online. You could get away with a meal for just £21pp, which I'll round up with drinks to $70 per couple. 

Head back to your room/rental to reflect on all the cool things you did the last two days and to rest your feet from all the walking. Though this hardly includes all the stuff you could do that's Potter-related, it hits on all the best things you can include in a longer itinerary. Your two days, not including the accommodations you stayed in, will cost you around $422, more if you take the tour at Greyfrier's Kirkyard, and less if you start your mornings will a coffee and pastry or choose some more affordable lunch/dinner options. 

Of course, if, like me, you're planning to spend more time in the city, you can always make up your budget by including some cheap and/or free activities on the rest of your trip. 

Have you visited Edinburgh? What were your favorite things to see/do/eat?

Monday, March 25, 2019

Main Areas To Save Money When Traveling

We all know that traveling is certainly not the cheapest thing in this day and age, but that doesn’t mean that it has to majorly break the bank either, and there are definitely plenty of great ways to travel the way you want to without spending a fortune and actually saving a lot of money, so in this post I'm going to share with you some of the main areas that typically cost a lot of money when it comes to travel and how you can save money in this areas.

Flights:

Flights, whilst certainly a lot cheaper than they were perhaps 20 years ago can still be quite costly depending on things like what time of year you’re traveling, where you’re traveling to, and also how many people you’re getting tickets for, but when it comes to finding cheap tickets there are definitely ways to do this. The first thing you should do when looking for tickets is to use a tool like Skyscanner or Google Flights that will search all of the airlines to get the best prices, you can also look across a broad range of days and dates to see when tickets are cheapest.

Accommodation:

Accommodation is typically one of the biggest travel costs, but you can avoid things like high hotel costs by staying in places like hostels and even doing couchsurfing or looking for other alternative forms of accommodation since there are certainly no shortage of options designed to cater for travelers on a budget.

Activities:

Though not all activities are going to cost a lot of money, some will definitely cost a bit more, but you can do things like book tickets online, so for example you could click here to book places for things like indoor shooting and get better prices than you’d have to pay on the day.

Food:

Food is typically the second biggest expense when traveling, so it’s important that if you’re traveling on a budget then you’re able to plan ahead for this and perhaps do some research before you leave. One of the best ways to avoid overspending on food is by choosing to eat at the places the locals do instead of in the main tourist spots since those will be over-hyped and over-priced. Another way to save money on food is by cooking for yourself if you’re staying in a private apartment or are couchsurfing.

Domestic Travel:

Traveling between places such as visiting another country or city close to the one you’re visiting is perhaps something you’ll want to do during your trip, and this doesn’t come without a price - however, that doesn’t mean it has to cost a fortune either, so for example instead of flying, you could take the bus, train, or even hire a car to drive if you prefer to.


Hopefully this post has helped you see that it’s actually quite easy to save money when traveling and that you don’t have to spend a fortune to have a great time or travel the way you want to.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Expect the Unexpected

Travel is awesome, but it doesn't always go smoothly even at the best of times. You have to learn to roll with the punches and be ready to employ a backup plan at any given time. If you're a person who does as little travel planning ahead of time as you can, you're probably used to that, but if you're not, it's sometimes hard to change things up at a moment's notice.

Know your alternatives

As an avid planner, I generally schedule out all my vacation days so I get to all the cool stuff I know I want to do. That said, I always add the alternate open times for things just in case something happens and I can't go or I find something last minute that I really want to do. That way I can move things around if needed.

Be open

You never know what you'll find when you travel. Sometimes someone suggests a thing you've never heard of or an amazing opportunity pops up that is only available at a certain time. Don't lock yourself into everything you want to do ahead of time.

Book most of your activities ahead of time

Avoid sold out tickets for things that you really want to do by purchasing tickets or making reservations before you leave home. Some things book months in advance, so it's good to know what those are and to lock those in beforehand. 

I'm not going to Scotland until September, but I've already booked my falconing experience. I'll also be booking things like my visit to the Cauldron Experience and the Harry Potter Studios pretty soon here too.

Don't overbook yourself

Yes, I schedule out my days, to the point that we have an itinerary, but I always allow more time than I think we'll need like, and usually that gives us extra downtime or time to wander around more or to do things we see on the fly. 

I also plan in time to do laundry, which forces me to go back to my room and chill. I unwind from the day, rest my feet and go to bed on time to get enough sleep for my next day. Sometimes we get takeaway on these evenings, and then we don't have to go back out. If you're in a rental or a place with a kitchen, this might be when you make a meal in or eat leftovers.

Knowing that things don't always work out the way you want them to doesn't mean you can't have a great vacation. Expect the unexpected and you'll never be disappointed, or at least learn how to deal with it so you don't feel like your whole trip has been ruined or you're too stressed to go on. Knowing things can and will change is your key to making the most of your trip and the time you have at your destination.

How do you roll with the punches when you travel?

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Philadelphia's Elfreth's Alley

When I travel, I love to visit historical sites. I find them to be full of beauty and interesting architecture. No place is that more true than in Philadelphia. Everywhere you look there's something gorgeous to look at, and Elfreth's Alley was one of my favorites. This is the nation's oldest residential street that has only been occupied by private citizens since it was built. 


Elfreth's Alley was not included on the original plans for Philadelphia, but being the port city it was, artisan's and merchants bought up so much land close to the waterfront that overcrowding happened pretty quickly. Two landowners decided to combine their properties to create Elfreth's Alley for residential housing and also a path for carts to use to get goods to and from the river.





People have lived in Elfreth's Alley continuously since 1713. 29 of the 32 homes are residential, 2 make up the Alley's museum, and the last hosts special events. The sheer colors, brickwork and feel of the alley make it a place you want to just wander all day. 






Amazingly, Elfreth's Alley is just a few steps from other historical attractions, like Benjamin Franklin home and museum and Betsy Ross's house. You can take tours of the Alley on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, as well as check out the museum (open 12-5pm). We visited on a weekday evening, so we just wandered through by ourselves. The best part is that it's totally free! (Guided tours are $8 and museum admission is $3.)

If you want another taste of history, there's the original Olde City Coffee Cafe right around the corner. Yum!

What's one of your favorite historical places where you live?

Saturday, March 16, 2019

There's Still Time to Plan a Spring Break Trip

Much of the country is under snow or having terrible extended winters. It's March and we have had two snowfalls and weather in the 40s in Portland and I'm sick of it! I'm really just excited to head to Las Vegas, even if I have to work much of the 4 days I'll be there. All I want is to not have to coat when I go outside. If you're in this boat also, there's still time to plan a Spring Break trip, and on a budget.


Here's where to go:

Las Vegas

This isn't just on the list because I'm going there, but rates drop pretty good during this time of year. Your only problem with finding a cheap flight may be if where you live is a great Spring Break destination. Apparently, Portland is a place people want to come and my return flight was going to be outrageous, so I changed my return to Seattle and am taking the train back, and still saving hundreds or half a day. 

I've been seeing really low flight deals to/from other cities to Sin City, plus great rates on hotel rooms. Enjoy the weather, hit the pool, party your butt off and then save money on other activities and dining. Don't forget to get some rest and stay hydrated between all your foot-long margaritas.

Photo by William Carretero on Unsplash

Miami

Florida is getting some hot weather right now, which seems about right, but also really necessary for some people to get in on. I was just happy to get some sun this week, even with the abnormally cold weather, but I wouldn't say no to having to put on some shorts and taking a stroll on the beach. Spring flights to Miami are dropping more than 40% this Spring and you can even take advantage of Miami Music Week the last week of March. Miami is very popular for Spring Break though, so if crowds are not your thing, you may want to skip it.

Orlando

If you want to hit some theme parks on your Spring Break, flights to Orlando are dropping to as low as 70% regular rates. Not only can you spend all that money you saved on Butterbeer, but you can also get in on Universal Orlando's Mardi Gras celebration, which lasts through April 4. If theme parks aren't for you, head to the beach instead, hit up Gatorland, visit the zoo, take a city tour, or check out the aquarium. 

New Orleans

With Mardi Gras being finished, the swarms of people visiting Nola leave, meaning the city is seeing a downturn in tourism, despite the New Orleans Bourbon Festival and the Tennessee Williams Festival going on for the last two weeks of March. There's a lot to do even without these things. Here were some of my favorites.

Honolulu

Hawaii is on a lot of lists for travelers, so why not head there over your Spring Break? The weather is gorgeous, the beaches aren't packed full of people like they can be, and you can actually get a table at that restaurant you've had your eye on. It's been some time since we've visited Honolulu, but if you actually want to get out and do things in between bouts of getting some sun on your body, you can check out my post here on how to save.

Photo by Thomas Bormans on Unsplash


New York City

If the chill weather isn't a concern to you and you want to take a non-traditional Spring Break, NYC flights can dip below 20% off this time of year. If your top must-do is a Broadway show, that's cool, but you're going to bust your budget fairly easily that way. Don't worry though, because Lonely Planet has a list of 45 free things to do in NYC.

Los Angeles

California has some fantastic weather much of the year, or at least better than other parts of the country. I've never turned down a trip to LA, because Disneyland, Universal, Hollywood, delicious foods, amazing art. I mean, the list goes on and on. Couple that with flights that are almost 25% less than other times of the year and you really can't go wrong. My friend and I spent two days in LA last year when we did theme parks and we were never disappointed by what we found to do.

Obviously, there are plenty of other places you can head to this Spring to get away and also save money, but these are some easy ones to get to. I've been packed for weeks for my trip, because I, honestly, can't handle anymore snow or freezing rain or icy winds. 

What is your top destination for Spring Break?
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