Monday, December 24, 2012

As I Grow

As 2012 quickly comes to a close, I have been spending some time reflecting on my year in travel and I must say - I'm quite pleased.  Not only did I travel to most of my targeted destinations for the year (although I did fall short with my US destination list), I found a way to slip in an unexpected trip to Paris!
But, what I’m most pleased with is how much I have grown as a traveler.  For instance, I use to go for long weekend trips to beautiful places and lay around the beach for the majority of my time.  But now I plan longer trips and while I still spend a lot of my time on the beach, I make sure I find time to explore my destination.  I now take the time to get to know the people, the culture, sample the food, etc.
I have also broadened my travel horizons.  While I still prefer beautiful beach destinations, I am planning trips in 2013 to non-beach destinations such as Madrid/Barcelona (Spain), Siem Reap (Cambodia) and Bangkok (Thailand).  OK, I can’t fool you guys, OF COURSE I will hit up some of the best beaches while traveling.  Ibiza while in Spain and Phuket while in Thailand.  It would be a shame not to.

And while my travel year ended in a bit of disappointment (I should be writing to you from Hong Kong) I look back over the past 12 months and I can't help but smile when I think about the new friends I've made and the adventures I experienced.   I've learned new ways of doing things and opened my mind to new ways of thinking.  For the first time, in a long time, I'm excited about the New Year and all the things a New Year brings:  new people, new destinations, new adventures.

Enjoy the journey everyone and as always - SAVE TRAVELS!

2 Girls & a Bikini

View my year in pictures by clicking here.




Monday, November 12, 2012

I Did it My Way

How I Afford To Travel


If you follow my blog you know that I am a huge fan of everything Quintana Roo, especially the town of Playa del Carmen, and the islands of Isla Mujeres and Cozumel.  Yes, I have visited these destinations frequently and have done most (certainly not all) of the touristy things to do.  One of my absolute favorite things to do in this area is snorkeling at the Underwater Museum and the Mesoamerica Reef, which is the largest reef in the Western hemisphere.  I love the vibrant underwater life around both of these spots and typically this is my choice activity.  Which is why on my latest trip to Playa del Carmen, I decided to do something I had never done before.  I decided to head over to Cozumel, walk right pass all of the snorkel tours, rent a scooter and take a self-guided tour of the island.

If you aren't familiar with this area, Cozumel is the largest inhabited island in Mexico and is a quick ferry ride (about 45 minutes) from Playa del Carmen.  With a population a little over 100,000 in 2011 and a year round temperature right around 80 degrees, Cozumel has become one of the most important tourist destinations in Mexico.  But enough of that.  Let's talk about my day!

I arrived on the island a little later than planned due to hanging out a little later than planned the night before, but I still had plenty of time to explore.  To save a bit of time, I rented a scooter from the vendor on the ferry ride over.  This was probably more expensive than negotiating a rate with a vendor on the pier, but the price was still much less than I anticipated - $35 for the entire day, including full coverage insurance. 

The vendor gave me a map of the island but there were a few things that I already knew I wanted to see, such as Celarain Lighthouse located on southernmost part of the island inside a park called Parque Punta Sur and at least one of the Mayan Ruin sites.  I set off on my plan to circle the entire 30 mile long island, but it didn’t take long to find something that peeked my interest - a military base with  a circa WW II fighter plane at the gate. Rumor has it that during WWII, this division of the Mexican Expeditionary Air Force was assigned to an Air Force unit based in Luzon (Philippines).  These pilots, who called themselves the Aztec Eagles, participated in more than 90 combat missions, totaling more than 1,900 hours of flight time in support of U.S. and Filipino troops*.  Interesting right? 

I pushed on and ran across a lighthouse located inside of a busy marina.  I walked around taking pictures and watching as the workers of the marina smiled and carried on with their day.  There is also a large residence inside of the marina that looks abandoned.  This was one of two lighthouses that I saw during my journey.  The other was located on a dock.  Neither was open to walk up.

I continued my self-guided tour of the island.  The scenery was breathtaking as I passed beach after beach (there are close to 40 official and unofficial beaches total).  The crystal clear water continued to call my name and I had ignored it long enough.  I simply had to stop for a sun break, and some lunch.
Because someone had recommended Playa Mia Beach Club, this is where I headed.  I didn’t realize there would be an admission fee, but I sucked it up and paid.  Playa Mia is very commercial and I found out later, a popular tour for cruise ship passengers.  Luckily for me, there were no ships in port and I had the beach practically to myself.  I lounged around for most of the afternoon, enjoying the sun and the quiet. 

I left Playa Mia and made stops at a few secluded beaches, watching the sunset along the way.   Needless to say, I never made it to Celarain Lighthouse or the ruins, but I had no regrets.  Cozumel had impressed me and I knew I would be back.  Sooner rather than later.


*courtesy of World of Warplanes
For more pictures of my day, please click here!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How I Afford to Travel

The other day a friend of mine sent me a text asking if I wanted to go to dinner on Saturday night.  I responded with “Sorry, I’m in Mexico” in which she responded “Must be nice”.  I stared at the screen annoyed for a few minutes.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on why her message was bothering me so much.  And then it hit me:  I invited this friend to come to Mexico with me over a year ago and she said she could not afford it.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand that there is a recession and that people are having financial difficulties.  However, in the case of this friend, every time I see her she is wearing designer clothing from head to toe, she is carrying the latest “it bag” and her hair/nails are freshly done.  Which brings me to the point of this blog:  I don’t question your priorities, please don’t “must be nice” mine.

Whew, feels good to get that off my chest.

Now that we are past that, let’s talk about the question I get asked most frequently – “how do you afford to travel?” and the answer is simple - I plan for it.  What does that mean?  It means that I do what I have to do in order to travel the way I want to travel.  This includes:

·       Budget – we have talked about this before.  I have a yearly travel budget.  I sit down at the beginning of each year and map out where I want to travel that year and when.  I then spend some time pricing flight options, hotels, etc. so that I have an idea of what each trip will cost.  I also give myself a cushion for other things I might want to do.  For instance, if I’m going to Australia I know that I will be snorkeling and other water related activities.  If I’m going to Paris, I know I will be doing some shopping.  Add it all up, and I now have my yearly travel budget.   

·        Separate Account – I have a set amount, which was determined based on my travel budget, direct deposited into my travel account each pay period.  I also have certain reimbursements, such as my Flexible Spending Account, sent directly into my travel account.  I use this account only for travel related items such as plane tickets, hotel reservations, and spending cash while traveling.

·     Cut the Fat – I have cut out things in order to save money.  For instance, outside of a regular trim and a deep condition I do not have my hair professionally done, I do my own manicure and pedicure using professional tools that I purchase from a wholesale website, I do not have cable TV and I take public transportation every chance I get to save on gas, parking, etc.

The most important thing I do:

·        Plan in Advance and Remain Flexible – since I know early in the year where I want to go, I set up airfare alerts in order to receive emails when fares to my destinations are dropping.  Most travel websites have this feature, I use Airfare Watchdog, but I do not depend on these websites to find me the best fare.  I randomly check airfare for my destinations, using different departure and return dates.  I also try and purchase my tickets at least 6 months in advance using a site that has a price guarantee so that if the price does drop I will receive a refund.

And there you have my answer to the question “How do you Afford to Travel”.  Of course, there are other things that help such as having points and friends that work for airlines and in the hotel industry; but for the most part, I stick to my budget and never loose site of what is important to me.

How do you save to travel?

Friday, September 21, 2012

IT'S A PARTY, IT'S A PARTY, IT'S A PAR-TAY!

When I first started my Facebook travel page and blog, there were a few travel bloggers that I was immediately drawn too.  Something about their online “spirit” and passion for travel spoke to me and I knew that one day our paths would cross!  One of those individuals was Tracey Friley, AKA One Brown Girl, and creator of The Passport Party Project.  Tracey inspired me, so when I saw her post about The Passport Party Project coming to Chicago, I immediately volunteered.
I had no idea what to expect.  I anxiously waited for Tracey to contact me regarding the date of the Chicago event and find out what she needed me to do.  I reached out to her a couple of times via email to let her know I was still interested in volunteering and to let me know if there was anything she needed.  Yes, I was excited and didn’t want her to leave me out. 
Let me back up a little and tell you a little about Tracey and her goal to gift 100 girls (ages 11 - 15) with their very first passports.  Frustrated by the statistic that “less than 40% of Americans have a passport”, Tracey decided to make a difference.  Now Tracey was already conducting a successful travel and learning Adventure Camp where small groups of girls traveled to tropical destinations for travel and learning adventures; but that did not stop this award winning entrepreneur from teaming up with Expedia and providing young ladies with the tools necessary to obtain her very first passport.
So let me tell you about that day.  I arrived at the Hilton Chicago bright eyed and ready to work.  I was even more excited because I knew another one of my travel idols – April Thompson of The Absolute Travel Addict – was also volunteering.  We worked hard getting the room ready for the girls.  There were travel magazines, glitter glue sticks, travel themed stickers, funny glasses, boas, and my personal favorite:  blinged out airplane rings and earrings.  OH MY!
The girls arrived and the fun began.  We created travel vision boards in the shape of a suitcase using the items I mentioned above while the girls chatted about the various places they would love to travel.  There was travel trivia with questions such as “Is having a Passport a right or a privilege?” or “Name a travel occupation?”  There was even a test in currency conversion.  We laughed, we ate, we danced and there was a cupcake eating contest (I could have won, but I figured that would be bad etiquette!).  The most moving part of the day came when travel blogger volunteers shared their traveling experiences and spoke about why travel is so important to them.  Tears came to my eyes as I spoke about my Mom and my trip to Paris.  I could see light bulbs going off in the girls’ heads as each volunteer spoke.  By gosh, I think they got it! 
Tracey took passport pictures of each one of the girls and a passport application was given to each, along with a money order to cover the required processing fees.  The girls were beaming and filled with gratefulness as we said goodbye and “safe travels”.  And just as quickly as they came, they were gone.
It had been a long day and I was exhausted, but full of pride.  I was a part of something bigger than me, a movement that cannot and will not be stopped.  I am convinced that these 8 young ladies are the future faces of travel and thanks to the help of Tracey's Travel Angels:  The Absolute Travel, Farsighted Girl, Sky Chi Travels, BlackAtlas, and Empowering Youth Through Travel – they are one step closer.  After all “a passport can give a girl perspective on her place in the world and plant the seeds of global awareness...not to mention how ready she will be for that unexpected invitation to travel for fun, a travel grant or even study abroad!  She might as well be ready!” Tracey Friley

View all of my pictures from The Passport Project Party here.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Go for the Parade, Stay for the Island

Recently, I drove over 500 miles from Chicago to Toronto to attend The Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival (AKA Caribana).  When I tell you I was excited, I was EXCITED!  This was my first Carnival type parade and I was seriously like a kid at Christmas.  
 
My journey began before sunrise, arriving in Toronto early afternoon and the excitement in the air was contagious.  The hotel was buzzing with activity while the sound of calypso music floated through the lobby.  Groups of masqueraders checked in, carrying their colorful costumes and large head pieces. Everyone was in good spirits and why not?  After all, the largest Caribbean style parade in North America was about to happen!

I had some time on my hands so I decided to explore Toronto a bit.  I will admit, I had not done any research on things to do in the Toronto area since my main focus was the parade, so I took the easy way out and spoke with the concierge.  He was eager to share with me all of the best things to do in his town and started his rundown, “Toronto Eaton Centre, CN Tower, Royal Ontario Museum, Yonge-Dundas Square, Toronto Island where there are beaches, including a clothing optional beach”  STOP THE PRESSES…did he just say beaches?  Clothing optional?  Nothing he said after that mattered.  I began my interrogation: 

Me:  I’m sorry.  Did you just say beach?
Him: Yes
Me:  Did you just say clothing optional beach?
Him: *LOL* yes, I did throw that in there
Me:  *hyperventilating* where
Him:  A 10 minute ferry ride across the harbour
Me:   Where is ferry
Him:  Right behind us.  $7 round trip

Ohhhhhh – the joy!  It’s not 2 Girls & a Bikini for nothing!  I had to get there, but it was already mid-afternoon, not to mention overcast skies.  There was always tomorrow – but there was also the parade.  I was in a bit of a quandary.  Surely I would find a way to fit it all in, I simply had to. 

I set out of the hotel to explore downtown Toronto.  First, the Eaton Centre, a beautiful glass structure rising above downtown and filled with over 250 retailers and restaurants. Then a quick walk over to Yonge-Dundas Square, Toronto’s version of Times Square, not as large but filled with people and activity.  I walked and walked.  Toronto was busting at the seams and alive with languages and accents.

Evening came and after a quick dinner and a visit to the official “Tribe House” I was off to bed, looking forward to the day ahead.
  
I arrived at the parade route early to get a prime spot and to be up close and personal with the masqueraders.   The parade was fascinating and more thrilling than I imagined!  The music.  The colors.  The people.  The unity. The diversity. 
I was having a great time, but you know me and the promise of a beach was still calling. The sun was shining bright and it was time to check out this Island I heard about.

Toronto Island is actually several islands, loaded with green space for picnics, a lighthouse, a children’s garden, boat and bike rentals, a farm, wading pools, tennis courts, and of course – BEACHES.  It was beautiful.  I spent the reminder of the afternoon walking and exploring.  This little island was captivating and I was captivated.  The ferry ride back provided the best view of the Toronto skyline.  I was in my happy place.

Sunday afternoon I headed out of Toronto with my car pointed towards Niagara Falls.  I have never seen the Falls in person and excitement began building in me all over again, but I regretted not seeing more of Toronto.  My heart was already planning a return visit with more time to get to know the city, and of course, lots more time on the little island I didn't know existed.



See all of my pictures from the weekend on my FaceBook page!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Curacao - Surprisingly Happy

As you must know by now, I am a lover of all things beach.  I’m talking powdery sand, waters various shades of blue, the sound of the waves….ahhhhh.  And like most beach lovers, I have my favorites:  Orient Beach, Shoal Bay East, Trunk Bay, Tulum – and if I can’t get out of the country and need a quick dose of sand under my feet – South Beach.  So, when one of my travel buddies emailed with “Curaçao” as the subject, I didn’t even have to open the message to know that I would soon be laying in crystal clear water.

I began my research:  Curaçao, pronounced (pronounced kyur uh sow) is a Dutch Caribbean island located out of the hurricane belt with year round temperatures  hovering right around 80°.  This island is the largest of the three islands in the Lesser Antilles, better known as the ABC’s (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao) and is one of the few places in the Caribbean to be placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. 

The heritage of the island is both European and African, representing more than 50 nationalities and while the official language is Dutch, most residents also speak Spanish, and English – as well as a local language, Papiamentu, which is a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, English, French with some Arawak Indian and African influences.

There are over 35 named beaches and over 60 diving and snorkeling locations, a sea aquarium, various restaurants and world class shops to explore.  Just reading about these 171 square miles of pure happy was making me, well, happy.  We set the date, booked the flight/hotel and off we went for 5 days of doing what we enjoy most:  NOTHING. 

But wait a minute.  What is this?  Culture?  Architecture?  History?  Hmmmmm, very unexpected and certainly not your normal cruise port.  This island piqued my interest and I could not get enough.  I began to read more about the history of the island and  quickly realized that the people of Curaçao are proud of their history and their heritage; and it shows.
All around the island I found remnants of a time long gone, but certainly not forgotten.  Beginning in Willemstad where there are approximately 700 buildings that are considered protected monuments to Den Dunki National Park, a former slave holding camp where many original structures still stand.  There were Landhuizen (Country Houses) where I could learn the history of the original occupants or I could check out one of the 6 remaining forts on the island and learn how the island protected itself against attacks.   Or walk the halls of the Kura Hulanda Museum, set on the site of a former slave trading yard, where you can almost hear the cries of former slaves.  Or visit the United Congregation Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, which has been functioning for over 350 years making it the oldest active Jewish Congregation in the Americas.  Or view the limestone formations and the Madonna statue at Hato Caves.
Of course I had to spend some time on the secluded beaches (I mean, that's what I was there for) and the Bocas were a do not miss attraction.  There was so much to see and do, yet so little time.  Before I left the island, I was already plotting my return.  Maybe for the upcoming North Sea Jazz Festival or for next year's Carnival, not sure yet.

I was surprisinly happy to find that that there is more to Curaçao than meets the eye.  I guess that’s why it’s called “the Caribbean’s best-kept secret”.

For more pictures of my visit to Curacao, please visit my Facebook page.

Friday, April 27, 2012

What About Your Friends?

Last weekend I traveled to Atlanta to support two friends who have started their own Event Management and Entertainment Company. Another friend picked me up from the airport and we proceeded to pick up another friend who was flying in for the night on her way to Haiti. The five of us hung out in the lobby of the hotel drinking, chatting and laughing. We shared our dreams, discussed our successes and laughed at our failures. We cheered each other on and encouraged each other to go for it, regardless of what "it" was. 

On Saturday evening, we all attended a concert where we were joined by 4 other friends. More drinking, chatting, laughing, sharing and encouraging took place. We danced until after midnight and as quickly as the group came together, we separated; vowing to see each other again soon - maybe in LA, Vegas, Montego Bay, Paris, Thailand or Dubai. 

Sunday morning I headed to the airport, mentally recapping the weekend. I smiled as I thought about my friends, and suddenly I realized that I have known 6 of these individuals for less than 48 hours and the other two for less than 6 months, yet I felt as if I have known all of them a lifetime!  I laughed.  This is the madness that is Nomad·ness!

Ahhhh yes, the Nomad·ness Travel Tribe, AKA The Tribe, was created by Evita Robinson and stemmed from her travel series Nomad·ness TV.  This is a place where likeminded individuals can gather to show why they are nomads. Where you can post your own stories, photos, videos, and travel plans. Where friends are made and support of a nomad lifestyle is given. Where there is no judgment, no "but why" - only answers and recommendations.  Where you can travel across the world with one post and hundreds of comments. Where there is always someone to talk to. Someone who understands your unquenchable need to go, to see, to do.

This group of almost 2,000 members have become my lifeline. We talk on a daily basis. We keep up with each others comings and goings. We kick each other in the butt when needed. We jump on an internet connection and find flights for stranded members.  We open our cities and our homes for visiting members.  We hop on flights to attend events, or to simply meet each other.   We text, Skype, and Face Time day and night because we can't sleep. And neither can the person on the other end because he or she is up looking for the next destination - just like you. 

I am constantly in awe at the wonderfulness that is The Tribe.  Jumping on flights, exploring the world, making a difference and changing the face of travel.  My life has been greatly impacted by these new friendships.  Friendships that inspire, encourage and motivate.  I am no longer intimidated by my desire to see the world and get lost in it all because I know that no matter where I land, there will be a Tribe member close.  I know that no matter what, success or failure, I have a friend (or 2,000). 

This is Nomad·ness!!!



Wanna see more pictures?  Click here!

Friday, February 24, 2012

I've Got Spirit...How 'Bout You?


If you know me, you know that I am a huge fan of Spirit Airlines.  I mean, there is no other airline that can get me from Chicago to Ft. Lauderdale or New York for under $100.  Or to Los Angeles, direct, for under $200.  And YES, before you ask, that includes baggage fees!

I have been flying Spirit for a couple of years now, and I swear I have heard every objection.  So here are my responses to the most common complaints.

They have “hidden fees”:  None of the fees are hidden. Just take the time to read the words on the screen instead of simply hitting next to breeze through to checkout.  But, now that Spirit is required to include taxes and fees in the cost of the fare upfront, that should make some of ya’ll happy.  Personally, I preferred viewing the fares without all the taxes/fees included and then viewing the total after all costs.  But hey, that’s just me. 

They charge for bags, even carry-on:  Yes, they do.  But in most cases, even after the cost of my bag, Spirit still comes in as the least expensive option.  For instance, a recent ticket to NY cost me $96.11 total ($50.11 for the ticket and $46 baggage fee).  And that was for a checked bag.  The next lowest fare for that same weekend on a different carrier was close to $200. So technically, the other carrier’s “baggage fee” was even more.

It’s not comfortable:  Neither is my trip to the dentist, but that doesn’t stop me from going.  And when was the last time you were comfortable on a domestic flight in coach?!  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you will be comfortable (unless you are less than 5’ tall).  But I am saying that for a 2 to 3 hour flight, it’s tolerable.  And I’m usually on the first or last flight of the day.  In other words, I’m sleep.

They charge for beverages:  This one usually gets the blank stare.  Seriously?  Buy a can of Coke before you board the plane.  On my flight home a few nights ago, I stopped by the restaurant near my gate and paid $.71 for a large cup of ice.  I then filled said cup with water from the fountain.  Problem solved.

I’m sure there are other complaints, or what I like to call “justifiable excuses to spend more money”, but if you are ready to give it a try, here are some additional tips and tricks:

Become a $9 Fare Club member:  You will have access to even lower fares and you save on baggage fees.

Pay baggage fees at time of booking:  The fees are cheaper if you pay the fee when you book your flight.  For instance, the $46 I paid for my checked bag above would have been $36 if I had paid the baggage fee when I booked my airfare.  Also, if you are traveling with someone, consider packing ONE large bag and split the checked baggage fee rather than both of you paying for carry-on bags.

Sign-up for email notices:  You will receive notices of travel deals via email.  Here is the trick – DO NOT HESITATE.  If you can, check out the travel deal immediately.  The lowest fares will go quickly. 

Use Spirit Airlines as a Regional Carrier:  Spirit may not fly everywhere you want to go, so use Spirit to get as close to your destination as possible.  For instance, to get to Hawaii, I will book an inexpensive Spirit Airlines ticket to Los Angeles and then fly to Hawaii from there.  Also, whenever I see a deal to Ft. Lauderdale, I jump on it since flying to the Caribbean is much cheaper when leaving from the Ft. Lauderdale/Miami area.

Be Flexible:  Spirit Airlines flies to destinations that may not be on your “to do” list, but if a great deal to a place you have never been shows up, consider making it a long weekend trip.  Or, a great deal to a place you have been but would like to visit again.  Why Not? 

The choice is yours.  I will say that Spirit Airlines may not be for everyone.  But for me, they are always my first choice when looking for ways to save money while getting to my desired destination.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The "B" Plan

It has been brought to my attention that airfare prices are at their highest levels since 2009 - SIGH.  And while this information is disappointing, it doesn't completely knock me out of the traveling arena for the year.  I just have to implement (insert dramatic music here) "The B Plan".  


Here are some of the ways I will adjust my travel plans:
·      MORE DOMESTIC TRIPS:  Domestic flights are less expensive than international flights simply because they carry fewer taxes.  Yes, I was hoping to make it to Europe this year, or maybe even Asia.  But until airfare prices begin to come down, I will concentrate on checking a few domestic locations off my list such as Key West, San Francisco, Washington, DC and Atlanta.  New to the list - Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, CA.

  
·      ROAD TRIPS:  Even though gas prices are still elevated, hitting the road is a less expensive option than flying, especially when traveling with kids.  Living in Chicago makes weekend trips to St. Louis, Milwaukee, or the beach and wine counties of Michigan an easy drive.  You might even find me and my convertible in Canada for a long weekend.  And let's not forget that Chicago itself is loaded with things to do and neighborhoods to explore. An entire weekend could be devoted to visiting the many architecture landmarks in the area including quite a few Frank Lloyd Wright buildings and homes.  
  • TAKE ADVANTAGE OF LAST MINUTE PACKAGES:  I am a planner who prefers to have my trips planned out well in advance.  This builds excitement and helps me get through rough days.  However, in these tough travel times, I will have to be flexible with my travel dates and stay on the lookout for last minute package deals.  Signing up for email alerts from sites such as Airfare Watch Dog and TravelZoo will help me track down the best deals out there.
  • VOLUME DISCOUNTS:  I am constantly receiving emails from sites such as LivingSocial, GrouponTabletBungolow, and Jetsetter offering deals on hotel accommodations.  The catch?  The total amount of the stay must be paid in advance and dates are limited.  Another option is Vacationist (the eBay of travel), where you bid on hotels and vacation packages.  Again, these options will force me to remain flexible.  If a great hotel deal comes across the radar - and I can find reasonable airfare - I'm off. 
  • COMBINE TRIPS:  I have two family trips on the docket this summer:  Atlanta and Cancun.  After giving it some thought, I realized that flying to Atlanta, back to Chicago, and then 3 weeks later, flying from Chicago to Cancun makes no sense.  Instead I have combined the 2 trips.  I will fly to Atlanta and from there fly straight to Cancun.  I checked the price difference and combining the trips saves me $134 per ticket.  That’s over $400 savings for the 3 tickets I must purchase! 
There are so many other ways I have, or will, adjust for the rising cost of travel.  But my biggest adjustment will be remaining flexible.  Yes, I wanted to attend the North Sea Jazz Festival taking place in Curacao, but I’m sure Curacao is just as beautiful during a time when prices are a little lower.  I just won’t get to sing along with Santana.  Maybe next time……
How are you combating the rising costs of travel?  Have your plans changed?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What Are You Collecting?

When traveling, I always like to bring back a little something from the place that I am visiting.  Not anything like a magnet or shot glass, but something a little more personal – like a handful of sand, a piece of art by a local artist, or even some cool pictures of the local people.  Lately, I have been collecting shells.  Yes, you heard it – shells.  I know, sounds very ordinary, but hear me out.

My love for travel was sparked by my Mother.  Once she retired, she couldn’t seem to sit still.  She wanted to see and do it all.  While surfing the internet, she would say “Angela, we should go here.  It looks pretty.”  I would respond back (with a laugh), “Sure Mom.  Where ever you take me, I’m going.”  Unfortunately, my Mom passed away before realizing all of her travel dreams. 

Dealing with her death was difficult for me.  The hardest part was saying goodbye to the home that held so many memories, but we had to inventory everything, lock the house, and hand over all keys to the estate custodian.  On the day of key hand over, I walked through the house grabbing random items:  the toaster, a cookie sheet, a jewelry box filled with junk jewelry and a crystal bowl filled with, you guessed it, shells.

That was 9 years ago.  I have since moved my Mom’s shell collection to a vase which I add to every chance I get.  My shells, coral and rocks aren’t secluded to the vase.  A large shell I found in Tulum sits on a shelf, rocks and coral collected in Puerto Vallarta are in the second sink of my bathroom, and a large rock that my daughter picked up at Magens Bay  in St. Thomas serves as a door stop.  Each one is a daily reminder of where I’ve been, and why I can never stop exploring.  


What are you collecting?  Is there a story behind it?










Sunday, January 29, 2012

Don't Let the Bedbugs Bite....


An article on Huffington Post today has me thinking of something I use to say to my kids when they were younger:  “Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite”, which for most of us, is just a cute little night time ritual.  But recent outbreaks in hotels across major US cities have made headlines, causing concerns and prompting Bedbug Summits around the country to sell out.

Cimex lectularius, or bedbug, gets its nickname from its preferred hiding place of beds or other furniture where humans sleep.  These blood sucking parasites are not completely nocturnal, but they are most active at night; going un-noticed by its host until red, itchy bite marks appear in either a rough line or a cluster on exposed areas of the victim.  Some victims of bedbug bites experience welts and allergic reactions.

So now that we are all scratching (and a bit paranoid), let’s talk about the best way to avoid bringing these little critters home as a souvenir.

First things first.  Remember that no amount of stars can make a hotel or resort immune from a begbug infestation (see Huffington Post article).  Be sure and check websites such as The Bedbug Registry prior to making reservations.  Also be sure and read reviews from other travelers on websites such as TripAdvisor to get unbiased reviews and opinions of hotels/resorts you are considering.  

Once you get to your room, leave your luggage with the bellhop, outside, or place it in the bathroom since bedbugs are not likely to hang out there.  Do not place your luggage on the bed.  Proceed to check the room for bedbugs using the guidelines outlined here.  If bedbugs are found, request a new room immediately and start the process over.

Once you are settled into your room, be sure and keep your luggage elevated since there are other bugs that can crawl in and make a home.  When leaving, be sure to shake out all articles of clothing and your suitcase before repacking.

Also remember that bedbugs do not only hide in beds.  You can pick up one of these hitchhikers in a cab, on a bus or train, other furniture you may come in contact with during your travels such as seats in the airport or even on the plane.  If you check your bag, a bedbug can wonder into your luggage from another traveler's luggage, which has prompted some airports to offer machines that will wrap your suitcase in plastic.  Once you return home from your vacation, quickly wash ALL articles of clothing (even clothing you did not wear) in warm, soapy water and dry them on the highest temperature setting possible. 

Taking precautions will not guarantee that you do not come home with unwanted guests, but it will reduce your chances.  If you find, or suspect, that you have brought home bedbugs, a quick response is necessary since bedbugs reproduce quickly.  There are various treatments for bedbugs ranging from do-it-yourself remedies to having a professional exterminator come in.  Your treatment may depend on the severity of your infestation.

So, next time someone says to you “Good Night, Sleep Tight" will you run and pull back the sheets to make sure the bedbugs truly won’t bite?!  I know I will.....

For more information on the prevention and treatment of bedbugs, click here.