Budget Tips, Travel Advice

Stay-cations: Learning To Love The Best Of Where You Live On A Budget

October 23, 2011 • By

There’s no denying it.  Most of us have found ourselves virtually housebound when in actuality we would love to go out there and see the world.  The reality of the situation is that times are tough and it’s becoming difficult to purchase the necessities, much less think about what some would characterize as “indulgences” like travel.  Well, before you throw in the towel, consider alternative ways of traveling without leaving the city limits.  “Stay-cations” is more than a buzz word these days, it’s an answer to a prayer for many families who are trying to navigate through this stagnant economy.

What is a Stay-cation?

Stay-cation is a combination of the words ‘stay’ and ‘vacation’ which essentially means that you stay home and enjoy what’s in your city instead of traveling to another.  I think we tend to take the things closer to home for granted.  We can walk around our hometowns and notice the tourists but never quite ‘see’ what they do.   To some, familiarity breeds boredom, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  You can treat a stay-cation the same way that you treat a vacation.  Save, plan where you want to go and do the research.  The immediate benefits are there: you save money on airfare, hotel and souvenirs because you will be at home.  All it takes is a little ingenuity and creativity and you can create an experience for your family (or for yourself if you are single).

How do I get started ?

First, set a budget of what you can actually afford to spend for this stay-cation.  Naturally, how much you spend depends mostly on how many people you are planning for.  Once that’s done, determine what things you like to do as a family.  It should be noted what things you would not like to do as well.  Here are some ideas of activities you can partake in during your own specialized Stay-cation that you  craft for your family:

  • If you own a gaming system like Wii or PS3, plan a multimedia day that consists of borrowing video games from the library to play with the family.  Be sure to grab a great movie from the library while you are there, that you can watch later on.  If you must have a more  recent release, visit your nearest Redbox (usually posted outside Wal-Mart or your local grocery store) dispensary and rent one for the night for one buck!  Buy a large bag of popcorn that you can cook with an air popper and a couple of theater sized candies from the grocery store.
  • Again, the library can offer a veritable fount of ideas for staycations.  My local library actually lends their patrons annual entry and parking passes to any of our state’s parks and recreation centers for one week.  Check to see if your local library offers similar perks.  Psstt……while you are there I hear they let check you out books too!
  • Check out online coupon sites for various fun activities.  Sites like Half Off Depot,  Groupon and Living Social, among others offer great deals for family outings, you will just need to select the city closest to you.  Some of my local deals were for hot air balloon rides ($25.00), a Spa day that consisted of a mani-pedi and massage ($100.00), a hayride and a corn field maze on a local farm (5.00) and a bowling night (30.00).  As you can see, the activities are varied and reasonably priced so you’re bound to find something to keep everyone happy and busy.
  •  If you are still a member of Bank of America (and why are you?), they offer free entry into your local museums the first full weekend of every month.
  • Go see a live play or concert.  It not only promotes the local arts community, but enriches our lives.  Many cities have outlets that provide discounts of up to 50%!
  • Don’t discount how much fun a weekend trip close to home can be.  I live in Atlanta so I decided to take a quick trip (4 hour drive) to Savannah with two other girls and had one of the best times!  I was able to book a one night stay at Courtyard by Marriot for $90.00 via Priceline.  We managed to take a $15.00 trolley tour of the city (talk about photo ops!), do a little souvenir shopping, sightseeing, having lunch at Paula Deen’s restaurant, Lady & Sons (the $16.00 buffet is to die for), attend a musical, visit Tybee Island and walk along the beach and nosh on seafood.
  • Try to see your city through the eyes of a tourist.  What famous landmark or event or activity is your city known for that you haven’t seen?  My city is known for having the world’s largest aquarium, being the birthplace of MLK, Margaret Mitchell (author, Gone with the Wind), CNN, Coca Cola & Centennial Olympic Park.  I’m sure yours has its own treasures to discover, so take the time to check out what you’ve been missing in your own backyard.
  • If you are a college student make use of your student I.D.  There are lots of discounts available to museums, restaurants, comedy clubs, theaters, etc. via your University that you can use for you and your family.  Ditto for Seniors who can enjoy several discounts from companies seeking their business!
  • Visit your city’s website.  They offer many activities sponsored by their parks and recreation department for families.  Some of the things that our city provides are firework displays during the holidays or movies on a gigantic screen at the beginning of summer for the kids.
  • Local churches or community centers often sponsor free exercise driven activities like Zumba to help promote physical activity among their members.

So while times may be tough going, there are several ways to spend quality time with loved ones without going broke.  The benefit that you will get to see and do things that you’ve been putting off without having to pay a bundle.  What home treasures have you put off going to see?


North America, Reviews

Learning to FlyFish with Will Dornan, the Snake River Angler, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

October 9, 2011 • By

Unrealized childhood dreams.  When it came to the subject of fishing that was mine. My dad was in the habit of taking each of his children to the local lake for fishing lessons. I eagerly awaited my turn but it never came. Fast forward to the present and the opportunity to learn how to fly fish presents itself in freaking Jackson Hole, Wyoming, no less!

I jumped at the chance to realize something that I thought I’d missed out on. I wanted to experience the sport and would be taught by none other than Will Dornan, a well-known fisherman from Jackson Hole who has over 30 years of experience under his belt.

He owns the well-established Snake River Angler, a full service fly fishing shop and guide service. Be aware that there are many ‘guides’ in the area. However, they are limited to a very narrow part of the Snake river because they do not have permits to work as official guides. On the other hand, the legitimate guides like Will can work the entire length and breadth of the river located in the beautiful Grand Tetons.

snake river

READ MORE


Inspiration

Starting Over Can Lead To Your Rebirth

September 25, 2011 • By

I have a secret.  I used to be homeless.  As is the case for most, it wasn’t entirely by choice.  However, it was something that I felt had to happen in order for me to start again with a clean slate.  At the time, I literally had nothing but the clothes on my back and an eight month old child in tow.  We were on our own and I was scared.  I’d left everything and everyone that I knew behind. Starting over was frightening, even when it’s something that you know you MUST do.  
 
At some point in your life you are faced with a choice: a decision to continue on a path that you know (deep down) is detrimental to your well-being or taking another path that leads to sanity.  It’s literally about taking a stand for yourself. I think that we all know people who are quick to stand in defense of others, yet are reticent to fight for their own survival.
 

READ MORE


City Views, North America, Travel Advice

Pictures of New Orleans

September 20, 2011 • By

My trip to New Orleans in June was my first and was very enjoyable.  We didn’t really do much partying; we wanted to just see as much of the city as we possibly could.  But rest assured, we certainly visited the French Quarter while we were there and were treated to great entertainment and delicious food.

But true to its southern roots, the humidity was a bear.  The heat was palpable and very uncomfortable, so forewarned is forearmed.  Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated if you ever plan to visit in any month that does not end with -ary!  Despite temps that could send you to the brink of madness, good times were still being had.

I think one of my highlights were the old, Victorians that we saw as we rode the green trolley through the tree lined streets in an eerily quiet neighborhood.  Our cruise on the Creole Queen was relaxing as we took in the ambiance and beauty that is New Orleans, Louisiana.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.

 


North America, Reviews, Trip Reports

Rafting the rapids with Dave Hansen Whitewater in Jackson Hole, WY!

September 13, 2011 • By

Boyhood visits with his parents to Jackson Hole made an indelible impression upon young Bud Chatham. So much so, that he made a resolution to continue his family’s tradition as a young adult. Life and circumstances took him to other places, but his heart was firmly ingrained in a little town in Wyoming.


He never forgot the rolling mountains dotted with Cottonwood trees that clustered along the riverbanks; nor could he get the exotic wildlife and expansive parcels of land out of his system. Once he decided to permanently settle there, he started out working odd jobs on his uncle’s campgrounds, Snake River Park KOA. After putting his in his time toting that barge and lifting that bale, he along with his wife, Kelly, purchased the campgrounds. Continuing his quest for world domination, they purchased the legendary Dave Hansen Whitewater eight years ago.

What’s the legendary Dave Hansen Whitewater, you ask? Well, he’s a guy…obviously. But what makes him uniquely special is that he was the first to get permission to raft down the Snake River. He started his company in 1967 and became one of the first owner’s of a commercial whitewater rafting company in Jackson. He is responsible for naming two of the humongous rapids on Snake River, the big kahuna and lunch counter probably because he was the first to live to tell about it. Dave worked side by side with Bud for one year as they transitioned ownership of the business.READ MORE


North America, Travel Advice, Trip Reports

My Jackson Hole, WY Trip Report

September 6, 2011 • By

I confess. I’ve always had a love and affinity for westerns. I grew up watching shows like Bonanza, The Big Valley, Bat Masterson, The Rifleman….you name ‘em, chances are, I saw ‘em. So, it stands to reason that someday, I would have to go exploring and see the west with my own eyes. I saw some pictures of Jackson Hole, Wyoming online one day and decided that it would be the first place on my list as I tore a swath through the wild blue yonder.

I think sometimes, we are attracted to things that we don’t get to see on a regular basis. I was intrigued with the idea of roaming areas unaffected by commerce and developers and Jackson Hole fit that bill to a “T”. Surrounded by mountains, Jackson Hole is 48 miles long and 8 to 15 miles wide, and its floor slopes from 6,779 feet above sea level in the north to about 6,069 feet at its southern end.

The Snake River, originating in the high country of Yellowstone, meanders through the valley, fed by the Gros Ventre River, Flat Creek and others. To the west, the famed Tetons soar into the sky without the preamble of foothills. The Grand Teton, the highest peak, is 13,772 feet above sea level. To the east of the valley, the Gros Ventre (Big Belly) Mountains rise more gently from the valley floor.READ MORE


Budget Tips, Reviews, Travel Advice

11 MORE Of The Best Free Travel Apps That Will Make Traveling A Breeze!

August 28, 2011 • By

Since my previous article on 12 of the best free travel apps that will make traveling a breeze went viral, I discovered that there was a real interest in finding applications that would be useful to people who were travelers at heart.  After doing a bit of research and checking the functionality, I can say that I have been fortunate enough to find 11 more apps that are equally delightful.

1) Apple’s Find My iPhone app is probably the the must have for iPhone users.   If you can’t find your phone how can you use these apps, silly?  ;-D

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2) Crackle – funny name, good stuff. I have a roku and Crackle is one of my favorite channels. Imagine my giddiness when I found out they have an app for it too? This ‘channel’ offers some really good movies from back in the day. I am noticing a trend where they are offering more current movies these days. The good news is that the movies are pretty stellar, not just B movie only fare, but something that everyone in your family will enjoy. This is a must have for anyone who has the capability of downloading apps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3) TravelZoo – This mammoth travel deal aggregator is a fantastic resource for those who are seeking great package, airfare or hotel deals.  I have used them extensively to purchase activities like Vegas shows for a mere pittance.  A new feature on the site is local deals which in a lot of ways is a Groupon competitor.  You can secure great deals around your city like a $70.00 dinner jazz cruise in New Orleans for $29.00!READ MORE


City Views, North America

Travel Photo Thursday – New Orleans Victorian Home

August 18, 2011 • By

Today’s pic is a Victorian home that I passed by as I rode on a streetcar in New Orleans. This area of town wasn’t as flamboyant as the French Quarter, instead it was teeming with elegance and old world charm that was nonintoxicating.

One of the things that impressed me is the residents’ commitment to preservation which is precisely why visitors are anxious to come to the city because they will get to see old New Orleans as well as its modern day skyscrapers. One of these days I hope to see how this house turned out.

 


Inspiration

Be Your Own Hero

August 14, 2011 • By

For some, life is a spectator sport. These people hear about the great things happening in the lives that surround them, but have not yet embraced the fact that positive things can happen to their own. They continue to live a life where they run on automatic pilot with no significant events in their lives; only the ones relating to the sport events that they may attend. Sometimes. There’s no sense of urgency about tomorrow; no plans considered beyond today.

They merely drift and wander in and out of view that one barely notices their absence. The spotlight is meant for others. Standing out isn’t something that makes them comfortable; they are blenders in. They are the stereotypical modern day Cinderellas who are sure that nothing will change in their all too boring lives unless someone else comes to save the day.

There are so many unfulfilled dreams floating about their owners’ heads; lingering into perpetuity, homeless, aimless and desirous of being claimed and utilized but left wanting. I’ve lived that existence. I’ve wanted to experience things that I’d read about, seen on TV or had heard about in passing.

I believed that I wanted a life different from the one I’d presently been living. I could envision my new life, I just didn’t know how to create nor claim it. I think somewhere deep down inside, I thought someone would just show up and guide me to my destiny. I was waiting for my Superman.READ MORE


Budget Tips, Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide To Frequent Flier Programs – Part 3

August 8, 2011 • By

Last week, we discussed how to quickly accrue Frequent Flier miles.  Today, in our final installment, we will discuss how to maximize those miles and make them stretch farther for you.

Frequent Flier

Before we get started, there is one point that I failed to mention last week.  Do yourself a favor and secure a copy of your credit report before you begin to apply for credit cards.  If you are a US resident, you are entitled to a copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies every year for FREE.

There are plenty of fake websites out there, but the only one sanctioned by the US government is Annual Credit Report .   If you pull your own credit report, it is considered a soft inquiry and will never hurt your credit.  A hard inquiry is when a credit card company (among others) pulls your credit report to determine if they will grant you a line of credit which can temporarily hurt your credit score.

Remember when I said your credit could take a hit?  This is it.  It will drop your score by a few points, but it’s impact will lessen within a few months (usually six), however it will remain on your credit report for two years.  I do not mind this because I have no plans of buying another house or car which would be impacted by the points drop.

The main reason why you should  check your score is because many lenders have reported incorrect information and those errors could impact your score and creditworthiness, so it’s imperative that you know exactly what is on your report by checking all three credit bureaus once a year.  If you do find some discrepancies, you will have time to correct it before proceeding to attempt to secure more credit and getting wrongfully turned down.

 

Frequent Flier

How can I maximize my miles?

Another way to maximize your miles is to forego domestic trips altogether unless it’s cross country.  Domestic flights tend to be inexpensive by comparison, so it would make sense to dedicate the miles that you’ve earned for something that will allow you to cross an ocean or two.  Instead focus on international travel in order to get more bang for your buck.  Your miles will spread further if you plan an international trip in segments.

One’s natural instinct would be to book a flight that’s straight from your home airport to your International destination, correct?  Why not make the most of traveling such a distance?  Instead of booking an (for example) Atlanta to Paris trip, how about an Atlanta to London to Prague to Paris trip?  You can stay in each city for several hours to several days and use the same number of miles on one award ticket!

Although my initial destination was Paris, I would be able to sneak in another couple of cities along the way because it’s possible to take several legs to get to your destination.  Most people in their impatience to get to where they’re going don’t think about how they can achieve a maximum benefit with their miles by making stopovers and transfers along the way.  Stopovers usually last for more than 24 hours while transfers last less than 24 hours.

There is a maximum permitted mileage (MPM) between the two cities (stopovers) that you can travel to.   Each airline has its own MPM standards where you can ascertain the maximum distance allowed between any two cities on your itinerary.  So using the example above, You can’t depart from Atlanta, stopover in Los Angeles, then continue on to London.

Also, the routing has to make sense.  Any airline will permit you to circle the globe traveling either east or west of your home airport.  The general rule for RTW trips (for example) is that you must cross the Atlantic and Pacific oceans at least once.  You can travel between zone 1 (North, South America, Caribbean, Hawaiian and Easter Islands), zone 2 (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) and zone 3 (Asia and the SW Pacific: Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Tahiti).  You must end your RTW in the country where you began it.

Frequent Flier

Each airline has its own rules regarding the number of segments you can take during your trip, so you would need to speak to an agent directly about this.  Delta, for instance, allows up to 8 segments (2 US segments maximum for international ticket) on one award ticket.

With that many segments, you could in effect, configure a round the world trip with one award ticket!  Keep in mind that no alliance partner awards can be booked online so be prepared to call the primary airline to book your award ticket.

Here’s One World alliance’s rules on stopovers:

  • You are allowed to take two stopovers in total within your continent of origin in order to get to or from a gateway to begin or return from your international travel of which a maximum of 1 stopover is permitted in each direction in the country of origin.
  • After departing from your continent of origin, you are allowed to take up to four flights to explore each of the other continents (six flights in North America).
  • You can book up to two additional flights per continent, at a set rate (online booking of additional segments is not possible).
  • You can fly up to 16 flight segments on your trip. Travel between two airports by surface transportation will count as one flight segment.

Here’s  Star alliance’s rules on stopovers:

  • Star Alliance allows 15 stopovers, there is also a special “Starlite” Economy-only fare for 26,000 miles, but this is limited to a maximum of 5 stopovers.
  • As in most of these fares, Star’s rules require passengers start and end in the same country, but not necessarily in the same city.

Here’s Skyteam alliance’s rules on stopovers:

  • Allows six stopovers with a maximum of three stopovers per continent on round the world tickets.

Don’t let all of these rules make your head swim, this is only the rules for now.  These airline policies can easily change, this is only meant to give you an idea of what you can expect when planning to book an award trip.

Additionally, you could maximize your miles by purchasing an open jaw ticket.  An open jaw simply means that you fly into one city and fly out of another.  Going back to our Atlanta to London to Prague to Paris scenario, you would not have to fly from Paris then back to London to get back home to Atlanta.  You would just fly directly from Paris to Atlanta (or if you were allowed to use more segments, you could cover a couple of more cities before going home).  All of this is contingent upon the airline’s rules and regulations, so be sure to check and see what is allowable.  On the other hand, some things are best left to the experts.

I am currently planning a mini RTW (round the world) trip for 2013 and I plan to use the services of Lucky, the young man who runs the One Mile at a Time website that I mentioned in the last installment of this series.  He charges 150 (250 US for two passengers) for booking the best trip for you using your FF miles.  I think it will be worth it to have him to work out the kinks and issues with the airlines and I will just focus on the trip activities.  That will give me a lot of peace of mind.  lol  This is a lot to take in for a newbie…..heck, it’s a lot to take in for anyone…..so continue to do your research, visit the FF boards and learn as much as you possibly can.

 

Frequent Flier

As promised, I wanted to tell you about a great online FF mile tracking program.  You know the many challenges of keeping track of your frequent flyer miles from different airlines and managing their expiration dates. This challenge has become even more difficult recently because of the continual policy changes made by airline award programs.

According to an Economist article there has been over 14 trillion outstanding frequent flier miles!  The Economist appraisal of these miles suggests that they are “now worth over $700 billion, more than all the dollar notes and coins at large.” This amount is so extraordinary it can be compared to the gross domestic product of Indonesia! If just 20% of these miles expire it would mean a total of $140 billion USD in losses!

AwardWallet.com has however found a solution to this common consumer dilemma.  The solution is a FREE frequent flyer mile management website that takes the hassle out of tracking members’ reward balances so they don’t go unused or expire. AwardWallet is specifically designed to organize the numerous loyalty programs you are enrolled in.

They cover 300+ loyalty programs including: airlines, hotels, credit cards, shopping, rentals, dining, trains and other services like airport parking and online surveys. Furthermore, when a program’s balance is about to expire you will receive an e-mail notification. AwardWallet members never have to worry about losing their precious miles they have accumulated over the years.

Frequent Flier

Hopefully, this series overview will encourage you to jump on the FF mile bandwagon.  If you truly want to be a vetted budget traveler, nearly free travel has to be a part of your portfolio.  By following these tips and utilizing the resources recommended in this series, you will be well on your way to “Sampling the world at a fraction of the price”.