14 Practical Tips to Save Money Before, During, and After Traveling

I’m an American who works full-time with a husband who also works full-time and we have a daughter in school, and we all manage to travel as a family about six weeks out of the year. My husband and I aren’t wealthy, but we do manage our finances tightly and keep an eye on our budget. Over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks to help keep travel expenses under control. We don’t stay in hostels or live in a van when we travel, but we don’t stay in 5 star hotels either. I’d like to pass along a few tips for saving money for travel I’ve learned and share them with you.

1. Plan your vacations waaaaaay far in advance. I’m a planner so this one’s easy for me. By purchasing airfare several months in advance, you not only will pay less, you also have better opportunities for choosing your seats. You’ll also save on rental cars by making reservations in advance, but I personally haven’t seen a huge drop in prices for hotels or on Airbnb by reserving in advance. You will have a bigger selection of available accommodations the further out you look (within 11 months or less out usually), however, so you’ll have a better chance of getting more reasonably-priced accommodations rather than getting stuck with whatever happens to be left at the last minute. I know there are websites and apps out there for last-minute deals on hotels but I’ve never had a need for them since I plan well in advance.

2.  Fly to popular destinations during the off-season or even shoulder-season. For example, we’ve gone to  Colorado in June, Utah in February (but not to ski areas), and Italy in October. Each and every time I was thrilled we chose to go when we did. Not only was the weather great, the crowds were fewer, and prices were lower.

DSC03604
Colorado in June was lovely

3.  Flying during the mid-week (Tuesday-Thursday) is usually cheaper but not always. Always check to be sure. Sometimes flying into a city like New York City may be cheaper on a Saturday because of all of the business travelers during the week.

4.  Watch what you spend on food and drinks when you’re at home. The more you eat out, go out for coffee, spend on drinks, etc., the less money you will have for those things when you travel. My family doesn’t eat out at restaurants that much when we’re home except for special occasions like birthdays so we can eat at restaurants when we’re traveling and don’t have to worry about how much we’re spending on food.

IMG_20170524_130211363_HDR
Restaurant with a view in Valparaiso, Chile

5.  Eat at your hotel, Airbnb place, or wherever you’re staying whenever possible. If a hotel offers free breakfast, by all means partake in it. If they don’t offer free breakfast, buy some groceries so you can make your own breakfast. Depending on what you have in your room or apartment you may be able to have dinner in your apartment a couple of times too, which saves even more money. My family also likes to pick up sandwiches and snacks from the deli at a grocery store before we go on a hike when we’re traveling. That way we don’t have to cut our hike short, go back to find a restaurant and have lunch, then go back to the trails. We get to have a picnic lunch while overlooking some gorgeous scenery, all while saving some money- bonus.

IMG_0401
We recently had a picnic lunch at this gorgeous national park in Chile

6.  If you’re in the United States, look for deals at restaurants through GrouponRestaurants.com, or Entertainment mobile app. While you won’t be able to find every single restaurant that exists, using these three apps together should help you find some good restaurants and save you a ton of money. I’ve gotten many free meals through the Entertainment app, after buying one meal at regular price, or I’ve also gotten deals like 20% off our entire bill pretty commonly.

7.  Seek out free things to do. Be creative! When my husband and I were in Sedona, Arizona, we opted out of the touristy pink Jeep tours that cost starting around $100 per person and decided to go it on our own in our ordinary rental car (not 4 x 4 or anything special). We kept coming to spots where the pink Jeeps had just been or were just leaving and laughed to ourselves. While we may not have had 100% access to every single trail, we certainly had no problems hiking around the area for a few days just using our rental car to get us to trailheads and never once did we get stuck or not be able to go where we wanted. The best part- we didn’t pay a single penny extra and we could go where we wanted when we wanted without relying on someone else.

dsc03956
San Diego is expensive but hiking in most areas is completely free

8.  Play the credit card game and collect frequent flier miles. Many cards give a 50,000 mile sign-up bonus, which is pretty significant. Make sure you’re earning miles every time you buy airfare, pay for hotels, eating out, and all of your every day expenses as well such as buying gas, groceries, and everything else you can put on your card. Just make sure you pay off the card in full every month, otherwise what you pay in interest could wipe out any potential benefits. Also check to see what airlines are affiliated with the card you’re getting. If you always fly with a certain airline but your miles aren’t redeemable with that airline, find another credit card that is affiliated to your favorite airline.

9.  Be loyal but up to a point. I’m a loyal Delta flyer but only because it’s the most convenient airline for where I live and where I fly most of the time. I recently flew with Southwest, however, simply because the flights for my family were cheaper and direct flights (versus Delta’s more expensive flight with a layover). I have the Delta credit card, so I did at least earn miles with Delta by buying my airline tickets with my card, just not as many as I would have if it would have been a Delta flight.

10.  Speaking of flying, you will save hundreds of dollars, especially if you are part of a family for just one round-trip flight if you can pack minimally and not check any bags. My family and I have flown to multiple places around the world including two weeks in New Zealand, three weeks in San Diego, and two and a half weeks in Chile without any of us checking a bag for years now. At $50 for a suitcase for each flight segment, which is a pretty common fee charged by most airlines, that adds up.

DSC02692
Flying to New Zealand is expensive but we saved money by not checking any bags

11.  I use Hotels.com. For every 10 nights you stay, you get one free, with no blackout dates or restrictions. There are also different tiers and once you become a higher level tier, by more stays, you are eligible for deeper discounts than those available to everyone else. I’ve saved thousands of dollars by using this website. No kidding.

12.  I also use Airbnb. Sometimes it’s cheaper in the long run if you can rent an apartment with a fully furnished kitchen rather than stay in a hotel room with no cooking facilities so you’re forced to eat out every single meal. Many times you can also wash clothes, so you don’t have to over-pack, and can save money by not checking bags. You can sometimes negotiate the price with your host as well.

IMG_0377
Dinner one evening at our Airbnb in Chile

13.  When you do eat out, eat where the locals eat. Not only will the food taste better, it will be a fraction of the price of a meal targeted at tourists. If a restaurant has menus in English but English isn’t the native language, say no thank you and find another place.

14.  Shop around to find the best market in the neighborhood where your rented apartment, condo, or house is. Each of the small markets will have different varieties of foods and other items they carry so try multiple markets to find one you like best. We had the good fortune of finding a supermercado in Chile that had their own baker in the back of the shop. We quickly learned to pick up hot, fresh bread straight out of the oven for dinner most days. Luckily we did a lot of walking to counteract all of that bread!

How do you all save money when you’re traveling? What tips do you have?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Advertisements

What to do When You’re Sick or Injured and Traveling

I guess if you travel enough, you’ll inevitably end up sick or injured during your vacation. Over the years, I’ve been sick or injured or someone in my family has been and I’d like to hope I’ve learned a thing or two about what to do. There are of course some things you can do to prevent getting sick or injured but sometimes things just go wrong and there’s not a single thing you could have done to have prevented it.

One of the most memorable examples was when my husband and I were in Costa Rica many years ago and toward the end of our vacation we decided to take one of the resort’s ocean kayaks out for a paddle. We were having a grand time when suddenly the tide changed and our kayak began to get pushed into the nearby coral reef. After being thrown out of the kayak we were tossed around by the waves and struggled just to hold onto the kayak. Neither of us were wearing water shoes or any shoes at all and both of us got some deep cuts on our feet from the coral.

Suddenly my husband screamed out in agony and let go of the kayak. I held onto the kayak and fought against the churning waves to get back to shore as my husband told me what happened. He felt a sharp pain in the heel of his foot and thought he might have stepped on something other than coral. His foot was gushing with blood and he said he was beginning to see stars. We knew we had to get back to our resort quickly and hoped there was someone that could help us.

Costa Rica 2
My husband and me in Costa Rica before our kayaking adventure

Fortunately the resort had an on-site doctor and nurse so we immediately made our way there. Although the doctor spoke no English, the nurse spoke a little English so along with my limited Spanish we were able to communicate. The nurse told me the doctor suspected my husband stepped on the barb of a stingray and she said the poison released is typically very painful. They administered morphine to my husband for the pain and cleaned up both his and my cuts from the coral. The lesson from all of this? Wear water shoes when ocean kayaking where there is coral? Sure, that would have helped. Make sure you know the language of the country where you’re going on vacation? Well, that certainly was helpful but maybe more importantly, make sure your health insurance covers you when you’re away from home. Call your health insurance company before you go out of town, even if it’s just to another state within the United States, to make sure you will have coverage if you’re injured or hurt. Ask what your limitations are as well. Fortunately for us my husband’s health insurance paid for all of the charges for this.

Depending on your personal health insurance plan, or lack thereof, you might want to purchase travel insurance. Travel insurance is more than just health insurance; your airfare, hotel, baggage fees, and other travel-related expenses will also be covered in the event of an emergency, with varying levels of coverage depending on the plan you purchase. I know a lot of people that travel internationally are big fans of Travel Guard, an American travel insurance company. They provide three levels of coverage called Silver, Gold, and Platinum Plans.

Several years ago my husband, daughter, and I were going on vacation to Hawaii with my in-laws who were older and in poor health and I purchased travel insurance in advance of this trip. This was a two-week expensive vacation and I didn’t want to potentially lose all of the money spent on our airfare and other costs if one or both of my husband’s parents fell ill and we had to cancel the vacation. The money I spent on travel insurance gave me peace of mind so I didn’t have to worry about cancellation fees, so it was money well-spent, although fortunately no one had to cancel the vacation.

Hawaii 2007 077
Fortunately everyone was able to enjoy our family vacation in Hawaii

A good thing to do before you travel internationally is to check online to see if you need any specific vaccinations. The CDC website is a good source for recommendations in each country. Some vaccines require multiple shots spread out over time, so do this in the early stages of planning your vacation. I’ve heard some people say they just asked their doctor what shots they needed before traveling to a specific place, only to be told, “Oh you don’t need anything to go there,” which was incorrect information, so always check online to be sure. Depending on where you’re going you might want to get hepatitis A and typhoid vaccines to protect against contaminated food or water.

If malaria is a risk where you’ll be traveling, you can take a prescription medication before and during your trip. When you arrive at your destination be sure to cover up exposed skin and use insect repellent with DEET to protect against mosquitoes.

Not drinking the tap water is easy enough but there are some additional steps you need to do to avoid getting diarrhea from the local water. Only drink bottled water that you personally open yourself. Don’t worry about seeming rude by refusing water from a bottle that is already opened. Your health is more important. Also don’t eat any uncooked vegetables or fruit that have been freshly washed, including salads. Finally don’t forget to skip the ice cubes in drinks.

In the event you do end up with “Montezuma’s Revenge,” despite all your best intentions there are things you can do to feel better faster. Pack some Immodium in your carry-on so you don’t have to worry about finding a pharmacy when you can barely get off the toilet. Activated charcoal tablets can be taken for gas from GI distress and can be found at most major drug stores as well.

dsc03936
This kind of “Montezuma’s Revenge” is fun; the other kind, not so much!

I also like to pack pain reliever such as ibuprofen, allergy pills, band-aids, and even a thermometer is good to have if you’re traveling. Most of these things can easily be purchased at drug stores in the US, but if you’re overseas it might not be so easy to buy them, especially if the language is different and the packaging won’t be in English. Also, it’s much easier to just pull out the needed medication from your carry-on bag than find a pharmacy and buy the medicine then get back to your hotel to take the medicine and rest. When we were in Oregon, our daughter was so sick with a cold she was vomiting phlegm. I had forgotten to pack some tested and true Mucinex so we had to schlep to a drug store to buy some for her. After that she began to feel much better but it would have been so much easier and quicker if we would have already had it with us.

Over the years I’ve also experienced food poisoning, migraines, bizarre rashes, and cuts and blisters but thankfully nothing life-threatening. Sickness and injuries are bound to happen at some point when you’re traveling but there are some things you can do ahead of time to give you peace of mind and you can arm yourself with a few things that will make you feel better quicker.

What about you all- have any tips or stories to share?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

Travel Meltdowns

Similar to my Racing (Running) Mishaps post, I started looking back to travel meltdowns I have had over the years. One of my biggest travel meltdowns happened many years ago, before all of the security that happened as a result of 9/11. I was flying to the small Bahamian island, Harbour Island, and missed my flight, completely unaware of a time change by the airline until I showed up at the ticket counter.

So let’s go way back to the early 90’s when this travel meltdown happened. This was before smart phones or even cell phones, before everyone checked in online before their flight, when you were issued a paper ticket then just showed up at the airport to check in and check your bags. Continental Airlines, which doesn’t even exist any longer, changed my flight time, moving it up an hour earlier, unbeknownst to me. When I cheerfully told the ticket agent I’d like to check in for my flight to Harbour Island, and she said they just closed the gate and no one could board, I started to panic. “What do you mean I can’t board?” I asked, tears starting to form. I knew flights to this small island were extremely limited so it’s not like I could just wait an hour and board another flight there. In the end, the extremely nice gate agent booked me on a flight on a different airline entirely, which meant I would get to Harbour Island, but instead of arriving around 11 in the morning, I would arrive around 9 pm that evening. It meant I would pretty much miss an entire day on the island, and I was only going there for 3 nights, but still, it was better than waiting until the next day, so I took it.

Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 9.57.07 AM
Harbour Island; photo credit meteoweb.eu

Many years later, my husband and I had a destination wedding on the island of St. Kitts and we were on the ferry to the island of Nevis for our honeymoon. We had just received a very nice camera as a wedding present from my mother-in-law, which we had used while were at St. Kitts. Pretty early in our ferry ride, my husband was going to take a picture of me when a nice man offered to take a picture of my husband and me together. Just as my husband was handing the camera to the man, the camera slipped, hit the boat, bounced, and never turned on again. It was broken. We wouldn’t have our camera for honeymoon pictures and we didn’t know if the memory card was still intact. I couldn’t help but give the man on the ferry dirty looks the rest of the ferry ride even though I knew it was an accident. When we reached Nisbet Plantation, where we were staying on the island, one of the workers offered to go into town and buy us a disposable camera. So yes, all of our honeymoon pictures were taken with a disposable camera, but at least we have photos!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Beautiful St. Kitts

Not long after my wedding, I was planning a trip to Italy and realized my passport was still in my maiden name so I would need to change my name on my passport. There was no way I would have time to get it updated and there were no regional passport agencies near where I lived. Again, this was before 9/11 so you didn’t have to put in your passport number when you purchased an airline ticket, like you do now. I had already bought our airline tickets and it was only a couple weeks before our departure when I realized this about my passport. I started to panic, but then I remembered something. Lucky for me, we just so happened to be going to Philadelphia for a half marathon, The Philadelphia Distance Run, and Philadelphia also just so happened to have a regional passport agency. I went there and updated my passport on the spot, and breathed a sigh of relief.

104_0500
Beautiful Italy

Over the years, my family and I have also gotten hurt or injured (nothing life-threatening), forgotten items in hotel rooms (we discovered this after getting home), had to run through airports multiple times to get to the gate on time because of delayed connecting flights, gotten stuck at airports because of bad weather, gotten lost driving in strange places more times than I can count, gotten swindled by a taxi driver in Italy, and probably swindled by others more than I realize, and I’m sure there are more incidents that I can’t remember. We’ve been in countries where we barely (and pretty incoherently sometimes) spoke the language and have had to muddle our way through. While none of these experiences were exactly pleasant, they didn’t cause a meltdown either.

My daughter has had so many meltdowns on vacations, I could write a whole book about just that. I remember once when we were standing in a TSA line to go through security at an airport, my daughter was crying (I don’t remember about what) and a nice agent gestured to me to come through another area she just opened up, so we essentially got to go to the front of the line. Sometimes traveling with children can have its upsides even when things look down!

IMG_3475
One of my daughter’s not-so-happy moments. Just look at that face!

In the end, even with all of our travel mishaps and meltdowns, things have always worked out although not exactly what we had in mind originally. We certainly haven’t been deterred by all of this. On the contrary, the more we travel, the more we want to travel. We’ve been shown over and over again, we are resilient and people are generally helpful and honest.

What about you all?  What travel mishaps or meltdowns have you had that stand out in your mind? Please share them!

Happy traveling!

Donna

How to Plan a Vacation to Charleston, South Carolina, Part 2

In ““How to Plan a Vacation to Charleston, South Carolina-Part 1” I went over how to decide when’s the best time of year to visit, based on your interests. I also went over some of the best places to stay, also based on your interests. Now I’m going to dive into some of the best places to eat and things to do.

IMG_0493

To say there are no shortage of top-notch restaurants in Charleston would be an understatement. Charleston must have some kind of record for most “foodie-friendly” restaurants per capita or something. If you want southern classics like fried green tomatoes and shrimp and grits, Hominy Grill is a popular choice. I personally had some of the best shrimp and grits I’ve ever had at High Cotton. There’s also the ever-popular Fig, Husk, Poogan’s, Magnolia’s, and I could go on and on. For something a little different on our last vacation to Charleston, we went to Leyla and had some truly delicious Lebanese food.

Many of the restaurants in Charleston are upscale but there are also some great casual restaurants. The Grocery is great for brunch and lunch, with a wide array of meals to choose from. Brown Dog Deli  has great chili, hot dogs and sandwiches, and you can try She Crab soup here if you’ve never had it before. If you want to try chicken and waffles go to The Early Bird Diner.  This is just a sampling of some casual fare in Charleston. On our last visit to Charleston, we had milkshakes at Kaminsky’s and they were some of the richest, creamiest milkshakes we had in a long time.

dsc03746

I’m a big fan of staying in Mt. Pleasant when I go to the Charleston area, so I would be remiss to not mention some of my favorite restaurants in Mt. Pleasant. It seems like every year there are more and more great restaurants in Mt. Pleasant. One of my favorites on my last visit there was The Obstinate Daughter. We also had some great BBQ at Home Team BBQ, which has locations in Sullivan’s Island, downtown Charleston, and West Ashley but we ate at the one in Sullivan’s Island.

Just like there is a long list of great restaurants to choose from, there is a long list of activities in Charleston. If you enjoy history, Patriot’s Point is home to the USS Yorktown Aircraft Carrier, USS Laffey Destroyer, USS Clamagore Submarine, Vietnam Experience Exhibit, aircraft, and a museum. You can even sleep on the USS Yorktown, like my daughter’s Girl Scout troop did one year.

20160828_075829
USS Yorktown

The Old Exchange is another great historical site to visit. My daughter enjoyed being able to handle replicas of historical money thanks to a volunteer who gave us a bit of information about each piece.  She also got to sign a replica of The Declaration of Independence. We all thoroughly enjoyed our guided tour of the dungeon and learned quite a bit about the area. If you have younger kids (around 4-6), the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry might be a better fit for your family. America’s first museum (from 1773) is also in Charleston, The Charleston Museum, with a focus on the Lowcountry’s cultural and natural history.

Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie are great options for families as well.  Although Fort Sumter does not charge a fee for entrance to the national monument, it is only accessible by boat and there is a fee for that.  Fort Moultrie is accessible by car at 1214 Middle Street, Sullivan’s Island and you can buy a family pass that covers up to 4 adults for $5, with free admission for children 15 and younger.  See more information here National Parks Service.

DSC03744

If you’re interested in seeing a historical plantation, Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens is a fun way to spend an afternoon. Included in one fee ($24 for adults, $12 for children), you get a presentation about the Gullah culture, a house tour, plantation coach tour, black history exhibit, slave history presentation, butterfly pavilion, and garden tour. There are also special events throughout the year such as for Christmas, a strawberry festival, and oyster festival to name a few. There are several historical homes you can tour, such as Nathaniel Russell House and Edmondston-Alston House.

IMG_0515

There are also many different tours to choose, from carriage rides, walking food and/or drink tours, ghost tours, and general walking tours. One of my personal favorites is a nature boat tour offered by the company Sandlapper. We took their guided nature tour and cruise of Charleston harbor recently and it was a highlight of our vacation other than the total eclipse. You can read more about our nature boat tour here if you’re interested in more details.

If it’s shopping that interests you, you can shop for everything from jewelry at Crogham’s Jewel Box, shop for unique gifts and sign up for a candle-making class at Candlefish, or browse fine books and gifts relating to Charleston’s history at the Preservation Society Shop.  To meet with locals and shop their wares, stop by Charleston City Market, which is busy day and night.

Finally, the Charleston area has some beautiful beaches. Two of my family’s favorite beaches are Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island. They are completely free and open to the public.  Another option for a beach near Charleston is Folly Beach. Lifeguards are on duty mostly during the peak summer months of May through part of September. Check out more info at Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission.  A word of warning about the waves, as they can be quite rough.  We found the water to be considerably calmer at an inlet we were able to walk to at Sullivan’s Island going through neighborhoods to the far end of the beach.

DSC03740

There are also some options for side trips if you have several days in Charleston. If you’re a runner like I am, the Kiawah Island Marathon and Half Marathon is a great race that I’ve personally ran (read more about that here if you’d like) and I have friends that have ran it multiple times. It’s only about a 45 minute drive to Kiawah Island from Charleston. Another fun city full of fantastic restaurants and southern charm is Savannah, Georgia and it is about a 2 hour drive from Charleston.

Well, I think that about covers the highlights anyway!  I once heard a podcaster talking about Charleston and she said to allow two days to spend in Charleston, and I couldn’t believe it.  There’s so much to see and do in Charleston, there’s no way you could even scratch the surface in two days. I would recommend spending 4 or 5 nights in Charleston, adding another day if you do a day trip. You wouldn’t have to have a rental car especially if you’re staying in the historical area, but if you want to be able to get out of downtown Charleston and explore on your own, a car is highly recommended.

Hopefully I’ve piqued some of your interests about Charleston and you’ll see for yourself why so many people voted it number one city in the United States by Travel and Leisure.

How many of you readers have been to Charleston?  Do you love it as much as I do? How many people have never been but would like to go now?

How to Plan a Vacation to Charleston, South Carolina-Part 1

Once again Charleston, South Carolina was chosen best city to visit in the United States by Travel and Leisure for 2017. In fact, Charleston often makes the top ten list for many travel companies, whether chosen by the editors or readers. However, to make the most of your visit to Charleston, some planning is involved. Hopefully that’s where I come in.

While I don’t claim to be an expert on all things Charleston, I have been there many times through the years, both before kids and with my daughter so I do have the perspective of what young couples and families might be interested in. When it comes to planning a vacation anywhere you first have to ask yourself what are you interested in doing or seeing there. For Charleston, what you do may be dictated by what time of year you go.

DSC03753
The walk along Battery Park is lovely no matter what time of year it is!

If you’re not familiar with the weather of Charleston, the summers get quite hot and humid. The average highs in July and August are 91 and 89 F and the lows are 73 and 72 F. For someone coming from a much cooler climate, this might be a bit much, even for relaxing by the beach. You might want to wait until October when the average high is 77 and the low is 57. The water would still be warm enough to swim in the ocean this time of year as well. The average highs in December and January are still quite comfortable, at 62 and 59, respectively, with average lows then 40 and 38 F. This is definitely too cold for most people to swim in the ocean and even relax at the beach in a swimsuit, however.  All that being said, my family and I have taken our annual beach trip to Charleston in August several times and we’ve always had a great time but we are from the south, so we’re used to heat and humidity.

DSC03766
The beaches are very clean with soft sand and dunes scattered about
IMG_0515
Morris Island, an uninhabited island accessible by boat

What if you’re more of a foodie and are primarily interested in partaking in some of the fabulous restaurants that Charleston has to offer and have zero interest in going to the beaches? In that case, November would be lovely, or alternatively you’ll find near identical temperatures in March (70 for the high, 47 for the low). These times of year would also be great if you’re a history buff and are interested in seeing historical sites in the area.

20160828_075829
USS Yorktown at Patriot’s Point

Now that we’ve got time of year down, we can move on to specifics, like where you’ll stay. There are no shortage of hotels and inns, such as the number one rated hotel in 2017 by Travel & Leisure The Vendue. Other highly rated accommodations are Zero GeorgeFrancis Marion Hotelthe Meeting Street Inn, and Governor’s House Inn. There are literally dozens of inns and bed and breakfasts in the area, so if this is where you’d like to stay, there are no shortage of this type of accommodation. Many of the inns are in the heart of the historical district of Charleston, so as you may guess, they are not exactly for the frugal traveler. The advantage of staying in the historical district is you can walk to many restaurants, shops, and art galleries so you don’t  have to worry about parking which can be difficult to find and/or expensive.

If you’re traveling as a family with young children, be advised, some bed and breakfasts do no allow children to stay at their establishments, so a hotel would be a better option. Basically, the further you get from downtown Charleston, the more affordable your accommodations are. However, I do not recommend staying in North Charleston, which is also where the airport and convention center are. North Charleston is very residential (which that alone isn’t necessarily a bad thing) and the stores and restaurants there are generally not independently-owned so you would be spending much of your time in your car to get to places of interest and the better (in my opinion) independently-owned restaurants. Unless you enjoy eating at chain restaurants and shopping at chain stores, in which case, you’d be very happy here.

IMG_20160826_101658525_HDR
City Market

Personally, I like staying in Mount Pleasant, which is located in-between downtown Charleston and the beaches of the area. I’ve stayed in both hotels and Airbnb lodging and was always happy with my choice. No matter if you’re going to historic Charleston, Sullivan’s Island, or Isle of Palm, you won’t be any further than a 20 minute car ride there, and often it’s only about 15 minutes. However, if you have no interest in going to the beaches in the area, I would stay closer to downtown Charleston. Again, there’s no shortage of hotels or Airbnb properties.

20160828_081939
Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge connects Mt. Pleasant and Charleston

Now that we’ve worked out the when to go and where to stay, we’ll move on to where to eat and what to do in my next post.

How many of you have been to Charleston or would like to go there someday? If you have any questions or comments about Charleston, I’d love to hear them!

 

 

The Top of My Travel Bucket List

I feel like I’ve traveled a lot in the United States but not nearly as much throughout the rest of the world. Sometimes I envy people in Europe because they have so many other countries at their fingertips. I’ve only recently been to Chile, my first adventure in South America and I’ve never been to Asia, Africa, or Antarctica, which means I’ve been to four continents. This also means there are a whole lot of places I’d like to go to. I’m only going to give details here about the top three places on my bucket list, otherwise this post would be way too long!

One place I’m extremely curious about is the Canary Islands. It’s kind of funny because I’ve never been to Spain but I want to go to the Canary Islands, which are a Spanish archipelago off the coast of Africa. Some people might ask, “Why aren’t you going to Spain? Why the Canary Islands instead?” I guess my family and I just don’t travel like most Americans. We don’t go to Disney every summer or the same beach house every summer. We don’t always go to the usual hot spots (although we have been to many of the more popular places too including Disney); we like to veer off the beaten path a bit, however. I have no doubt I will eventually go to mainland Spain, but it’s just not a priority on my travel bucket list right now.

Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 12.43.06 PM
Canary Islands- photo credit theculturetrip.com

So why the Canary Islands? The weather for starters. The Canary Islands have near-perfect weather year-round, perfect for spending time outdoors. Each of the islands are also diverse from one another, with subtropical greenery on one island, another has mountains and waterfalls, another has lava fields, and still another has plains and cacti. There are of course the beaches but I’m looking way beyond lying on the sand all day. I’m looking forward to hiking and exploring all day, then maybe relaxing by the water with a cocktail in the evening. Now that’s my idea of a perfect day.

Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 12.51.50 PM
Photo credit thomson.co.uk

I’d also love to go to the country Georgia. I’ve heard other people rave about how beautiful it is, how friendly the people are, how delicious the food is, and how affordable it is. It’s no secret I love mountains, and the bigger the better. The highest mountain range in Europe is actually in Georgia (not the Alps). The Caucasus Mountains, which separate Georgia from Russia, look stunning.

georgia
Georgia- photo by David Jafaridze
Gergeti-Trinity-Georgia.-620x465
Photo credit:  YourAmazingPlaces.com

Another place that most Americans probably aren’t dying to go to but I am is Malta. This is another place similar to the Canary Islands where the weather is (almost) perfect year-round. The lows in the winter are only around 55 F and the highs in the summer average around 90 F, so the summers are a bit hot, but nothing too terrible, this coming from someone who hates winter but loves summer. Malta is an archipelago off the coast of Sicily full of diverse history, great food, gorgeous beaches, and beautiful architecture. An advantage of going to Malta is the majority of people speak English, so other than a few key words and phrases, I won’t need to learn Maltese.

Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 1.03.47 PM
Malta- photo credit davidsbeenhere.com
Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 1.06.58 PM
Photo credit slh.com

There are so many other places in the world I’d love to go to and I have no doubt I will eventually go there. Some of those places include Uruguay, Montenegro, Croatia, South Island of New Zealand, Spain, Portugal, England, France, Ireland, Thailand, and Japan, for starters. I’m always discovering new places and/or hearing about places I’ve never been and my interest will be piqued.

What about you all? What’s at the top of your bucket list? Have any of you been to the Canary Islands, Malta, or Georgia and have tips or suggestions for me?

How to Stay Sane on a Long Flight

The mere wording “long flight” is a subjective one, I’ll admit. For one person, a long flight might be anything more than 2 hours, and for another it might be anything longer than 6 hours. For me, a long flight would be anything more than 5 or 6 hours, so for the purpose of the rest of this post, we’ll go with that length of time.

The longest flight I’ve ever taken was when I flew to New Zealand, which was really two consecutive long flights. I flew from North Carolina to San Francisco, California, then from San Francisco to Auckland, New Zealand. The flight to San Francisco was 6 hours and from San Francisco to Auckland is a 13 hour flight. These were both long flights, but surprisingly, they didn’t seem that long. I’ve also flown across the United States many times including going from the east coast to Hawaii twice, flown from the US to Europe multiple times, and from the US to Chile. What are my secrets for surviving on long flights?

IMG_20170529_151923615_HDR
12 hour flight time to get to Chile but we got views like this in return!

I always try to book direct flights whenever possible. Stay with me here. I realize this makes for longer flights than if you have a couple of shorter flights with layover(s) in between, but you get to your destination quicker with less layovers, and that’s the ultimate goal for me. If I have to pay less than $50 per person more for a direct flight versus one with a stop, it’s a no-brainer that I’ll take the direct flight. When it’s more expensive than that, it gets a little trickier. I will say that very rarely have I ever had more than two stops on a flight to anywhere I’ve flown. I avoid flights with four or (god forbid) more stops like the plague. I’d rather have one stop (or less) on a plane and drive for 4 hours in the car than two stops on a flight and not have to drive when I got there. Maybe that’s just me, but that’s how I roll.

Hawaii 2007 077
11 hours flight time to get to Hawaii- so worth it!

In my smaller carry-on (I never check my bags) I pack my tablet, a paperback book (I’m old-school and prefer paper to electronic books), and a magazine or two. By the end of my vacation, the magazine will be finished and recycled, and if I finish reading the book, that will either be recycled or donated before I return home (less to carry back). Between all of this I always have plenty of reading material for the plane and rest of my vacation. I always watch a movie on the plane as well, but usually one is plenty for me unless it’s a really long flight.

OK so reading material and the in-flight movie should come as no surprise. I also adjust my watch to the time zone I am flying to as soon as I get on the plane and have found this to be extremely helpful. When I flew to New Zealand I ate when it would have been dinnertime in New Zealand (versus Pacific time where I flew out of), and I slept when it would have been my bedtime in New Zealand. That way when I landed I had already given my body a head start on the new time zone.

DSC02692
19 hours flight time to New Zealand!  Worth it?  YES!

I swear by my eye mask and wear it not only on long flights but every night at home as well. Ear plugs, ear buds, or noise-canceling headphones are all great for long flights as well. I’ve tried various travel pillows and none of them have really worked for me, but they are an option as they do work for many other people. I usually just crumple up my jacket and use that as a pillow. A window seat is great for leaning your head against too. All this being said, I think I’m going to try an inflatable travel pillow again since it’s been a while since I’ve used one and I’d like to see how it goes.

My daughter and I have also passed the time on long flights by playing card games, coloring when she was younger, playing Pictionary, and just goofing off being silly. My husband is a much better sleeper on an airplane than either my daughter or me so it helps that she and I can help entertain each other.

IMG_20160601_133443638
Photo taken from the plane somewhere over the midwest en route to Colorado

I limit alcohol consumption on a plane to one small glass of wine with dinner at the most. Your body doesn’t process alcohol as quickly on a plane as on the ground so you feel the effects more profoundly and I have no intention of getting drunk on a flight. I also limit the use of sleep-aids on flights and only use Benadryl when I’m exhausted but just can’t sleep at all. Most of all, I have low expectations for sleeping on a long flight. If I get a couple of hours of sleep, that’s good for me.

Another thing to pack in your carry-on is plenty of snacks. I like to pack nuts, Kind bars, and dried fruit for just about every vacation I go on. Depending on the regulations of the country you’re flying to, dried fruit may not be allowed into a foreign country so if you bring it just be sure you finish it before you get off the plane.

Wearing comfortable clothes is also a must-do for long flights. Since airplanes are usually freezing cold, I’ll wear comfy pants and a short-sleeve shirt with a nice, soft hoodie or sweater so I can adjust if I get too warm. Compression socks are also great to have for long flights to help with circulation in your feet and lower legs. I personally like CEP compression socks and have found them to be some of the best ones out there.

The final thing that helps me survive a long flight is actually what I do when I get off the plane. As soon as I get off the airplane I adjust completely to my new time zone. If it’s time for breakfast at my destination, I will eat even if I’m not that hungry.  I don’t drink coffee but a cup of tea helps me stay alert. One of the worst things you can do is check-in your hotel and sleep for a few hours. A 20 minutes nap would be fine but any longer is just going to make it harder to adjust. If it’s nighttime then of course go to bed and try to sleep until it’s as close to your usual wake-up time as possible.

IMG_20170222_182802015
Las Vegas is one of our “shorter” cross-country flights at 5 1/2 hours

What about you all? What tips for surviving a long flight do you have? I love to hear tips like this from fellow travelers so please share.