Travel Advice

20 Top Tips for planning a dirt cheap vacation

June 30, 2015 • By

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Plan ahead!

* The sooner that you decide where you want to go, the more likely you are to realize your best deals. Visit travel oriented websites like Frommers, Fodors, Virtual Tourist, Lonely Planet and Rick Steves among others to get solid ideas of where you would like to travel. Once that has been established, start looking for airfare and hotel deals to the destination.

* Consider the possibility of getting a package deal which consists of air, hotel and some taxes and junk fees. It’s a kind of one stop shopping where you often realize discounts by purchasing them together.  Also, if you are going with a partner, you may find that this is the most economical way to travel because single travelers are often hit with a supplemental fee to offset the lost revenue that a couple would bring.

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You may find that it is cheaper to book a package deal where you pay for a visit to two or more cities, round trip air, hotel, attraction tickets and train fare b/t cities for one low (or at least reasonable) price. There are several reputable online travel agencies that have exceptional package deals like Go Today, Gate 1 Travel and Nordique Tours, among others.

* The further out you plan your itinerary, the more lead-time you will have to locate deals, especially during your destination’s “off-season”. While there are last minute deals to be had via sites like Travelocity, it’s prudent to take a proactive approach and plan early. Once, I missed a great fare deal to Paris because I took to long to decide if I really wanted to go; when I finally decided the fare was long gone, which meant that I had missed an opportunity to save a lot of money because I was not decisive.

* Be flexible about your travel dates, fare amounts can be extremely volatile and change radically from one week to even one day to the next. If you can save hundreds by postponing your trip by a week, isn’t it worth it?READ MORE


Consumer Advice, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide to booking accommodations – part 2

June 1, 2015 • By

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Today we are continuing with the second installment of our three part series that breaks down the choices one has in selecting accommodations for vacations or holidays. We will now look at midrange options for those travelers who want a little more comfort than hostels can provide but at a more reasonable price than hotels.

If you think you are up to the task, I would recommend trying Priceline because it allows you the chance to place bids on the price of a hotel room.  However, if you don’t like taking risks, then I would suggest trying aggregator websites like Home AwayVRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) and AirBnB.  They list homes, rooms, guesthouses and cabins owned by people who want to rent them out to vacationers for a set daily, weekly or even longer rate.

Some of the aggregators will charge a service fee that will not be refunded should you cancel.  However, you should always note what the owner’s cancellation policy is because you are usually charged for the full stay as soon as you book it.  Most will refund your money if you cancel well in advance of your stay; some are generous enough to refund in full with one day’s notice.READ MORE


Fun stuff, Gardening

How to propagate hydrangeas in 6 easy steps

May 18, 2015 • By
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What’s not to like about this beautiful blue and white, variegated leafed, lace-cap hydrangea?

I used to hate hydrangeas.  And roses.  But, let’s stick with hydrangeas for now because I hated them for the same reason.  My mother had so many that I became immune to their beauty.  They shared equal billing with kudzu and weeds, something else that we had a lot of.  Like many kids, I hadn’t yet developed an appreciation for all that they were.  Luckily, I grew out of my aversion to them and now welcome them gladly into my life and more specifically, my garden.

I have almost every variety too!  From lacecaps, mopheads, oakleaf to peegees, most are somewhere in my garden.  Whenever I troll the local garden centers, I am mysteriously led to the aisle where these lovelies can be found.  As you can imagine over time, it gets expensive.  So, I decided to ask my friend, Sharon, how she manages to have so many in her garden without going broke.

She gave me a really simple explanation on how to propagate hydrangeas so that they keep giving back.  I had my doubts because while I love to garden, I’ve pretty much stuck with digging a hole and planting a bulb or perennial in said hole.  My garden limitations were propagation and planting seeds.  I had managed to maneuver my way around not having to know how to do either until I decided, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained!”.READ MORE


Gardening, Inspiration

My English Cottage Garden redux

April 28, 2015 • By

Have you ever had a vision of creating something fantastic and the final outcome only registered a “blah”?  That’s precisely what happened when I bought my house in 2001.  I had just sold my townhouse because I had a dream of living in at least my version of an English Cottage Garden oasis and 300 square feet of outdoor space wasn’t going to cut it.

I needed something larger, something that would allow me to realize my vision of what a garden that was situated in the Cotswolds would look like.  Except, the location would end up being in a sleepy little town in North West Georgia.  I can’t say exactly what drew me to a little blue and white cottage but I knew that I wanted to buy it even before the realtor pulled up to the driveway.

I knew the land that it sat on, as imperfect as it was, would be the perfect setting for achieving my dream.

It met all of my requirements: It had a basement, a deck and a front porch.  The deal breaker would always be the porch.  As a lifelong southerner, it was imperative that I had somewhere to sit and people watch.  The best part is that it sat on one acre of land.  The yard was mostly remnants of what could be termed as grass but you could tell that the former owner had tried to add her own touch to it at some point.READ MORE


Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide to Cruising, Part 3

April 13, 2015 • By

Now that you’ve actually booked your cruise, it’s important to make sure that you take care of a few things before leaving.  Here’s a handy checklist to assure that you will be ready before the ship leaves:

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  • Check with your medical and renter’s/homeowners insurance to see if you and your belongings are covered by your current policies when traveling abroad.
  • Check with your cell phone carrier for international rates; beware of exorbitant roaming charges.
  • Notify your credit card company and your bank of your travel plans.  They will usually deny suspicious transactions from foreign locales if they weren’t forewarned about your plans.
  • Make from 2-3 copies of your passport, birth certificate and identification. Have one copy of the documents on your person separate from the actual documents when in port cities, place a copy in your luggage and if you opt to utilize a stateroom safe, place a copy within it as well.
  • Make sure your passports are 6 months or more before expiration when traveling.  Most countries will not allow you entry otherwise.
  • Be sure to purchase travel insurance.  It truly buys peace of mind in the event that you find yourself unable to travel after booking airfare, car rental, hotel stays, cruise fare, etc.  If you do not have it, if you have to cancel, you will lose any monies that you’ve spent.
  • Your Cruise Line will probably send you self adhesive luggage tags that will have your stateroom number printed on them.  Be sure to affix them to your luggage as instructed before leaving home.  

READ MORE


Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide to Cruising, Part 2

February 20, 2015 • By

Alright.  You’ve decided that you want to give this cruising thing a go.  You’ve determined where you’d like to go and have already booked your cruise  with your preferred cruise line.  What should you expect the day of the cruise?

How do I check in?

Each Cruise Line is different but Celebrity allows you to check in well before your sail date.  If it’s possible,  I would recommend that you do that.  If you are familiar with flight check- ins at the airport, this works the same way.  You will go to the cruise line’s website, create an account and put in your information.  This in effect, pre-registers you for the cruise.  You will be able to print out your guest ticket which will give you pages of info on what to expect during your cruise, your cruise itinerary, etc.

We received luggage tags via regular mail with our stateroom number stamped on it and were advised to affix them to our luggage before leaving home.  One can only imagine the logistics involved in keeping up with the luggage of thousands of passengers, so we made sure that we followed their instructions to the letter.

I’ve heard that it’s best to arrive one day before your scheduled cruise departure.  Why?

Most cruises, particularly, Caribbean cruises depart in the late afternoon.  That might lead most people to think that it’s a safe bet to fly in on the day of the cruise.  My advice is to plan on flying in the day before, this will allow you breathing room to be prepared for embarkation the next day. Can you imagine booking a flight on cruise day and something happens to delay the flight?  Trust me, the cruise lines will not wait for you, so save yourself the stress and fly in the day before.

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What if I choose to drive directly to the port from my home?

This has become such a “thing” that you will find that hotels located close to ports will offer “Park, Sleep and Cruise” specials.  If you pay for one night’s stay, they will allow you to park your car on site for free and reclaim it at the end of the cruise.  They will usually provide a complimentary shuttle from the hotel to the cruise port.

This might be the most desirable option should you choose to drive in because port parking fees are high (approximately $20.00 per day).  I rented a car during my last cruise and after dropping it off at the rental agency, I was shuttled to the port by the agency for free.

What can I expect when I arrive at the port?

We flew into Fort Lauderdale (FLL) because the flights were cheaper but our port was in Miami.  We hired a shuttle service to drive us to our Miami hotel and the next day we took the hotel’s shuttle to the port.  It cost $10.00 pp but it was worth it to assure that we’d get to where we needed to be on time.  As soon as you reach your particular cruise line, the driver will remove your luggage and you will then turn it over to the porter who works for the cruise line.

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Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide to Cruising, Part 1

January 26, 2015 • By

 

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When you consider how busy people are these days, it’s no surprise that Cruising is one of the most popular modes of traveling.  Think about it.   Literally, you will have 3+ days of pure bliss on a floating resort, practically any type of food you’d like, be treated like royalty by staff, participate in daily activities like Zumba, volleyball tournaments, trivia games, try your luck in the casino, enjoy nightly entertainment from singers, ventriloquists, dancers and musicians, be pampered in the on-site Spa, eat till your heart’s content or burn those same calories at the full service gym. What’s not to like?

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Add on the fact that cruise ships visit different ports and it’s easy to see why this would be a very cost effective way to get away from it all. I will admit that previously, I’d decided that my first cruise would be my last and only  recently realized that perhaps, I’d been too hasty.

If you prefer a relaxing, care-free vacation where you only need to show up and have the time of your life or just opt to relax, lounge around the pool and do nothing, cruising may be the ideal solution for you.

That sounds lovely, but everyone knows that there are a billion cruise lines.  How do I go about choosing the right one for me?  

If you asked three people that same question, you would get three different answers.  The answer is highly subjective and truly depends on the type of cruise you are looking for.   Take Carnival Cruises, for example.  They have a reputation for being a ‘party’ cruiser, however, when I was aboard the Carnival Liberty, there were 4,000 kids there.  The lovely thing is that I saw maybe two of them.  Carnival has a very good program for the youngsters that keeps them well occupied for the length of the cruise.  Therefore, families should not be wary of booking with them and singles should know that they will feel that they are almost on an adults only cruise.READ MORE


North America, Reviews

Checking out the Big Zombie Tour with Atlanta Movie Tours, Part 2

November 18, 2014 • By

Last week, I shared my experience with the first part of the Big Zombie Tour in Atlanta.  Today, I want to discuss the second part that covered location shots in the small towns of Senoia, Grantville, Newnan and Haralson, Georgia.  Senoia is roughly 50 miles away from the main tour offices in Atlanta, so you would have to either drive there on your own or use their shuttle service.

The cost of the shuttle is $30.00 RT pp and is well worth it if you are directionally-challenged as I am wont to be.  On the drive there, we decided to eat our packed lunch and were treated to episodes of The Walking Dead on the tv monitors that were installed throughout the cabin.

Once we reached the city of  Senoia, it was obvious that the main street was the setting for the fictionalized town of Woodbury:

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The driver instructed us to go to the Woodbury Shoppe (where the Walking Dead store is housed) on the corner so that we could check in for the second half of the tour.  This store was a Walking Dead fan’s dream.  There was nothing that they did not sell that would not make a true fan’s eyes glaze over.  But fan though I may be, I couldn’t bring myself to splurge on the $270.00 katana sword!

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Consumer Advice, North America, Reviews

Checking out the Big Zombie Tour with Atlanta Movie Tours, Part 1

November 6, 2014 • By

For as long as I can remember, I have always been a fan of the macabre.  Horror movies have always been my favorite genre.  I love the idea of being frightened out of my wits and I suspect I’m not alone in that feeling.  I’m not saying that I haven’t looked away or closed my eyes when the sacrificial lamb met their doom, I have some standards.

But, I still love the suspense, the obligatory run from the villain by the world’s clumsiest victim who can’t help falling down numerous times, then the final showdown where the evildoer meets their inevitable doom.  The formula is predictable but satisfies the essence of a good storyline.

That’s probably why I’m a big fan of The Walking Dead.  I haven’t missed an episode since it debuted in October 2010 on AMC.  It follows the lives of a group of people who’ve banded together to form a protective community in order to survive what is essentially the Zombie Apocalypse.  For me, the show is a perfect blend of unspeakable horror and one’s attempt to hold onto some semblance of humanity while trying to survive it.

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Photo courtesy: amctv.com

Fortunately for me, the show films in the state that I live in.  While I haven’t had the chance to meet any of its stars, I have found pretty much the next best thing:  Atlanta Movie Tours!  Located in the Castleberry Hill neighborhood of Atlanta, this company offers a 3 hour guided tour to scene locations depicted in various episodes of The Walking Dead.  The Big Zombie tour is actually divided into two separate tours.  The first tour covers all of the notable scenes that were featured in and around the Atlanta area.  The second focuses on the more rural areas of Georgia – the cities of Senoia (aka Woodbury), Haralson, Grantville and Newnan.

The tour guides are very likable actors who have all played walkers on the mega-hit which happened to score 17.3 million viewers during its 5th season premiere on October 12, 2014.  These ratings are unheard of for most network television shows, much less a ‘lowly’ cable series, so you can imagine that its popularity will continue to increase.  In fact, a companion series is scheduled to air by 2016 with one of the writers from the Sons of Anarchy acting as the show runner.

The first Big Zombie tour started with a short walk down the street.  There we stood in front of the Norfolk Southern Railway Building which was the scene where the gang had to leave a repugnant Merle Dixon handcuffed to a pipe on the rooftop in Season one.  Our guide, Patrick, mentioned that when nearby residents heard the staged ‘gunshots’, cops and a swat team were quickly dispatched.  Needless to say, no one was arrested.

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North America, Travel Advice, Trip Reports

A Salute to Fall from Prince Edward Island!

September 29, 2014 • By

 

I first fell in love with Prince Edward Island through the narrow view of a photo lens.  Its’ vast beauty shined through whether it was the picturesque countryside or pensive seaside.   I was enamored with its quaint architecture, beautiful seashore and knew that one day I would have to bear witness to it to make sure that it was all real.

I was fortunate to get that chance around this time last October.  Fall was upon us.  The leaves had begun to change, the air was crisp and the island was only occupied by the people left behind to brave the cold weather that was yet to come.  Tourist season was well over which is what made this trip all the more appealing.

While there was public transportation, it was imperative to rent a car so that you could spend time exploring all of the nooks and crannies of the island.  There was always something incredible waiting just ahead and our impatience wouldn’t have been able to bear the constant interruptions of the leisurely island trams.

We wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city and just relax and enjoy the wonders of nature.  We were not disappointed.  Now, a full year later, I want to share what makes PEI such a special place to visit.  Come along with me and explore the first installment of discovering the miraculous natural aesthetics of this wonderful island, won’t you?