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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Happy Birthday, Harry Potter!

It's July 31st, which means it's Harry Potter's birthday! The boy wizard is getting a long celebration this year, as we had a great (annual) party this year and also participated in a local Wizarding Weekend last weekend. Over the next two weekends, we'll also be doing some other magical things, which you will be able to follow along to on Instagram, or you can wait for the post (but why wait? Or enjoy both!)

So, for the last two weeks I've been killing myself to put together my house and backyard for our 6th Annual Harry Potter party. This year's theme was Weasley Wizard Wheezes, so there was quite a lot of candy and high jinks.  

{You can click on these to see them bigger.}

In case you don't get it, this year I dressed as the Fat Lady who resides in the portrait that hides the entrance to Gryffindor tower. I found this amazing dress on Etsy and made my own headpiece and necklace. I got a lot of compliments, so I'm guessing I nailed it.

Eric brought back a previous character with an all new costume that I made for him. Ludo Bagman (who is banned from Weasley Wizard Wheezes) played an integral part in the twins' life during book 4, yet they persevered and were still able to open their crazy popular shop. 

Witches and wizards arrive to a feast made by the Hogwarts House Elves (don't worry, they get paid and vacation days). I choose the menu from the food and drink listed in all the books. This year we had pork loin, sprouts, buttered peas, sausage rolls and French onion cups (in honor of Kreacher's best soup). 

We also had chocolate frogs, peppermint toads, licorice wands, and all the sweets from the Skiving Snackboxes.

As always we gave out wands, but since The Wand Chooses the Wizard, it's a mystery until they pull it from the Ollivander cauldron. Then we sort. Everyone gets a pin with their House on it and then we divide everyone up into those respective houses so they can start competing for the House Cup. And everyone gets a goodie bag as a consolation prize.

If you want to see more pics from this party, go check out my Instagram. In the meantime, check out this video walk thru.

Do you like my new House Points board?

And congratulations to the Hufflepuffs who were able to break the 3-year winning streak of Gryffindor!

The cutest family! Colin Creevy, a tiny Luna, and a 50s Puff. Adorable!

On Sunday, we volunteered with the Harry Potter Alliance for their annual school supply drive. We also helped with a costume contest, selling buttons and gave out House Points for a Horcrux hunt throughout a school-turned-hotel.

Eric had Butterbeer, but I opted for this alcoholic Pumpkin Juice.

There was a small, but mighty (and super magical) Diagon Alley where I purchased some some awesome artwork from one of my favorite artists, Sarah Cosico. The hotel even had themed food and drink. 

So, that was my packed weekend. Are you doing (or did you do) anything for Harry's birthday?

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

How to Use Freebies to Make Your Trips Amazing(ly Affordable)

No matter where you go on vacation there are bound to be free things to see and do. These things are a great way to make your trip dollars go further and allow you to do even more.

As a fellow budget traveler, not only am I looking for fun and exciting stuff to do on my trips, I'm also looking for affordable ones. While I may want to cram as much in as possible, my bank account doesn't particularly allow it, so free things are an excellent way to pad out my schedule. If you know where to look, you can do the same.

Free museums
A few years ago, we visited San Diego, where Balboa Park is a huge resource for culture. We purchased an Explorer Pass for the museums there, because we knew we wanted to visit at least half of them. Several of these we're free anyway, but our pass gave them a piece of the profits as a donation when we visited, which we would have done anyway.

A lot of cities we've visited have had free museums, including large ones like London. Some only have certain free admission days, while others run on donations. Keep a couple bucks in your pocket to spare for those. I know it's technically not free this way, but two dollars is still way cheaper than $18+ that lots of museums charge to get in.

Got kids? This is a great way to give them a way to burn off excess energy and give you a bit of a break, but parks are awesome for adults too. Tons of large parks have more to see and do than just a playground. You might find a duck pond, sculpture garden, botanical garden, etc. Balboa Park is full of such things, plus wildlife, bocce ball courts and more.

Think ahead and get yourself a takeaway meal and enjoy it al fresco. You can't beat that, especially on beautiful days. Some hotels will loan you sports balls, bikes, or other ways to take advantage of the outdoor space. Don't be afraid to take them up on it.

While most zoos cost an admission fee (some quite a hefty one), others are totally free. Check online to see what your destination zoo charges. 

If you have a zoo membership at home that participates in AZA, you might be able to use it elsewhere for free admission or at least a discount. Just don't forget your card. Same goes for children's museums and gardens. Some member benefits extend to travel.

Outdoor historical sites
We walk on vacation. A lot. So, I'm always looking for outdoor attractions and landmarks, like ruins, statues, historical walks and more. It's a fantastic way to learn more about the city and most of them are free. 

We went to Old Town San Diego and explored a cemetery that was discovered with radar equipment. We were able to read some of the stories of those people laid to rest there from old obituaries in the newspaper and from a history book (posted at the gravesites).

Street art
I love nothing more than an excellent mural or a street performer. You never know what you'll find around town, so keep your eyes peeled for cool stuff just waiting to be discovered. A lot of cities are partnering with local artists on beautification projects, so this is more and more common in downtown areas.

Think of how much money you can save by adding free things to your trip. You can do more and then put that extra money to a meal (or meals!) out to make it even more memorable. What are your favorite free things to do in a city?

Saturday, July 20, 2019

How To Travel Well With Family

Traveling with your family can be stressful. Everyone has their own opinion and feelings and sometimes you're all stressed out and snappy at each other. It's to be expected. But knowing things aren't always awesome, doesn't mean you can't travel well with your family, whether that means there are two of you or 20 of you. 

Photo by Jordan Opel on Unsplash

I reached out to some other travel bloggers to get their best tips for traveling with their families to help you travel better with your own. Here's what they had to say:

Dan & Celine from Family Can Travel travel with little ones, so know what it's like to plan around small kids:
  • Our kids are still young (5 & 3 years old) so we try take a little time each day and try to have some “quiet time”, meaning our kids get books or toys to play with quietly in their rooms. 
  • We try to stay in Airbnb apartments as much as possible so we all have our own space, plus we don’t need to eat at restaurants for 3 meals a day. 
  • We will find playgrounds to give the kids time to just be kids and run around. Especially nice if we can find a coffee enroute!   

Coffee is an important part of my day as well, so I can totally relate, especially if it's morning time, and I'm a big believer in having your own space and being able to make entire meals or even just heating up leftovers or making a sandwich. 

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Nicolette from Semi-Budget Travel recently went on a road trip with her family and has some great tips for those trapped in a car for long hours:
  • When prepping and packing, one of the biggest to-dos is to make sure that our kids have enough activities to keep them busy on long drives (or flights...although the seat-back entertainment these days can be quite engaging, even for kids).
  • Flexible, flexible, flexible. Unmet expectations can breed all sorts of nasty. Being more flexible can (hopefully) ward off some or all of the nasty.
  • I do like to plan ahead...especially lodging. One of my biggest travel fears is not knowing where we're going to spend the night. By planning ahead, we can also make sure the price is right. 
  • It's important to take everyone's opinions into consideration, to some degree. In my immediate family, I do the planning. However, I like to at least get my husband's input about things he might like to see. When traveling with extended family, I need to be a lot more flexible with my plans, to ensure that everyone has some measure of input.

I am a planner as well, so I always have my accommodations taken care of, because even road trips can end up ruined by not being able to check in anywhere.

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James of Travel Finn was inspired by an encounter on his own travels:
  • Don't be afraid to go big! I met a father and son backpacking their way through Thailand for the summer. The father was in between jobs and the son was on summer vacation from high school. The one on one time with your kid can create a lasting impact. It was a huge inspiration and I wished I had that sort of opportunity with my father.


I always traveled with my parents and even now that my dad is gone, I travel with my mom once a year. It's important to make those memories before you don't have the ability to anymore.

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Amber Porter of Melanin Homemaker has some great road trip tips as well: 
  • Always fill a cooler with fresh fruit, drinks, and any snacks that need to be chilled. Also take some other snacks like chips, nuts, fruit snacks, beef jerky etc. 
  • Play games in the car as a family, take a card deck of conversation starters, License plate game, scavenger hunt bingo, etc. (if they have a tablet and you're OK with that pack it) 
  • I always let the kids take their favorite blanket and pillow while traveling. Even at the age of 17 it still soothes them and gives them some sort of comfort away from home. I have a DVD player so as they cuddle up in their blanket we love watching family movies that bring them lots of laughter on the road.


Games are always in my bag, as well as snacks. I get hangry routinely, so having something in my purse to tide me over is a must.

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Crystal Kirkpatrick of Mrs. K Teaches has plenty of experience with kids, especially with her own kids that are not good travelers. Here's how she preps for travel of any kind with her littles (3 and 5):
  • Snacks. Snacks are HUGE for our daughter specifically. This helps with the “boredom” she faces. Now, the type of snacks is kinda important. They need to be small and plentiful, meaning - cheerios, goldfish, mini pretzels, and the like. These take time to eat, and we usually will take 2-3 small baggies just for her, and 1 mixed baggie for our son (because he is easy that way). I give her 1 bag about 10 minutes in, another bag about 20-25 minutes in, and then a final one about 45 minutes in (assuming we are traveling more than 45 minutes). I figured out snacks because she would use that as an “excuse” to complain when simply complaining that she was bored wasn’t working on us.
  • Mini Notebook with pen attached. This was a beautiful idea from my mother (kids call her grammy). You get a dollar store mini notebook (say a 4 x 6 size), a pen (or in this case a multi-colored pen), and a 10” piece of ribbon with one end attached to the pen, and the other tied to the notebook. This notebook stays in the car. This is important. It must stay in the car and be called the “Travel Book”, or something similar to make it special. She gets to draw, or ask us how to spell things - this keeps her pretty occupied a lot of the times now.  Our son doesn’t need anything like this, no entertainment needed or asked for or even wanted. 
  • Trick potty question. For our son, his biggest issue is needing to pee immediately because he held it so long he is leaking. Our biggest issue was using the potty before we left, and anytime we stopped. So now, my husband and I will take turns on this… we say “uh oh mommy needs to TRY to potty before she can leave (then I will go)… now it’s YOUR turn!” (saying very excitedly)... then he tries and he says “now sister turn!” (he says all excited), and she has figured this out and so she plays along too. When it is a longer trip (1 hour or more), we stop every hour, and say something along the lines, “can you come potty with me so I don’t have to be alone? Please?”, and this pretty much works every time.
  • Tablets. Not my favorite thing. Really not. But we do have a kids kindle table for each kid for those longer trips. We only bring them if the trip is 2 hours or longer. For us, this means every time we go visit our family (4-5 hour drive). We charge them up (they are old now so a full charge only last about 3 hours), and remind them at the beginning of the trip that once the battery is gone, that’s it for this trip. Then we re-charge them at our family’s house for the trip back, and we remind the kids again of the rule. It works out pretty well.


We all have to potty sometimes. I found that when road tripping alone, I'd stop, then have to go again as soon as I was on the road (maybe I have a nervous bladder). I would make a point to go, take 10-15 minutes to walk around or check my email and then go again. Learning bathroom habits of your kids is pretty key to traveling.

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Leea Moody of Instagram has a tip that works for any travel that involves more than one person:

  • Make sure there's at least one activity for each person to look forward too, looking forward to something can help ease the tension and stress of everything.

Everyone should be happy when you travel, which means you need to get everyone's input on your trip, so you can do their top thing(s).

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Traveling with family isn't easy for everyone, and learning how to compromise and what to expect is very important. I'll be meeting up with family in Scotland and 5 of us will be sharing an Airbnb. I have a lot of things planned for Eric and I, but I know others will have their own plans and that's okay. Not spending all of your time together can really help in not hating each other by the time your trip is over. 

What are your tips for making your family trips better and less stressful?

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?
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