Category Archives: Travel

Saving Up For 2014 Travels

One year down, another to go! 2014 is going to be a year of travel and adventure. I can already feel it in my bones. How we are going to pay for our travels is another story.

I’m very much a savvy budget travel person. We tend to go to places that are off season for tourism. This allows me to find pretty good deals. But I fear I can do better. I know several personal finance bloggers who finance their travels for the year with credit card bonuses. I’m actually considering this as a way to pay for a couple of our trips this year.

Looks like Peru may be in our sight. I have a friend from graduate school who is from Lima, Peru and he has invited us to go visit. I have always wanted to visit Machu Picchu and I would love to cross it off my list. I’m still trying to coordinate with him to see when we can go. Since it needs to be a 10 day trip to see everything, I’m trying to see if we can leave on a Friday evening and come back on Sunday. Perhaps 4th of July weekend to really maximize our vacation.

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We can also go visit family in the US. We have some family in Ohio and Virginia. They live in rural parts of the states, which would be great for that trip in the wilderness we need every so often. One of my best friends is in Boston and I would love to go visit her. Maybe a 4 day weekend? Maybe I could pull it off memorial day weekend. I have another friend in San Francisco that has also invited me to visit her. It would be really cool!

I’m sure we would like to hit the beach too. We love the beach and really need to figure a long weekend getaway to a beach destination.

So how are we going to pay all these troubles. I’m not quite sure, as I’m trying to figure it out myself. But I’m checking out websites and I’m considering getting a credit card with a travel mileage bonus of some sort. At least to pay for our trip to Peru!

Some credit cards that look interesting include Aeroplan Visa. The Noob Traveler, also, posted a US Airways Credit Card. Holly recently posted an article about credit card churning and whether it hurts your credit or not. Learned a lot from this post.

I think I may end up setting one of my goals to be figure out how to travel for free!

What are your thoughts on credit card churning? Have you found it successful?

* This post includes a sponsored link.

Sailing on a Carnival Cruise

In May, we decided to take advantage of Carnival’s misfortune due to their ship mishaps, and buy a trip on sale.

If you remember, we paid for the vacation upfront in May, a total of $672. Check out this post to look at the May details of the Western Caribbean cruise. But at the time I did not account for any extra charges we would encounter.

In June, I found a really great deal on a Dallas to New Orleans flight on Spirit Airlines. I used one of their $10 off coupons, and ended paying about $200 for two round-trip tickets. But we ended up having to take a last minute flight on Southwest Airlines that cost us $500 one way to New Orleans on the first day of vacation. It was an unexpected hick up in our trip. Next time we take a cruise, I will make sure to fly out the day before the cruise and rent a hotel the night before. In our plan, we decided to stay the night after the cruise in New Orleans, but next time we will do the opposite. Spirit Airlines is a really cheap airline, but make sure to understand there will be delays, and you will get charged for everything. The first day of our trip, we found out our flight was delayed and we would miss our cruise if we didn’t take another flight. Spirit did reimburse us the Dallas to NOLA leg. Luckily, we live in DFW and there are two airports! So we had options. Thanks to my in-laws who wake up early and check our flights for us, we found out early.

Once we got to New Orleans we took a shuttle to the port (Cost $42). The cruise itself was awesome. Service was great! The cruise ship was clean and we met a bunch of fun people. We ended up hanging with an older couple who were cruise veterans. They showed us around and gave us tips! We spent $250 on the ship. $150 for gratuities (well worth it), $100 for alcohol.

Our ship, the Carnival Elation, was one of the smaller boats of the fleet, but it wasn’t as crowded. Definitely recommend it.

We stopped at Progreso City and Cozumel. Progreso City was awesome! It was cheap and the beach was nice. We didn’t buy any excursions. We just hopped on a bus (free) from the port to the little town. There we spent $10 (beer and chips), $10 on bottle of alcohol we poured into our tumbler to sneak back into the boat (alcohol on the ship is super expensive!), $30 on massages for both of us. In Cozumel, you have to pay a taxi fare to get to the beach, and the things at the beach are more expensive. Just FYI.

We went to comedy shows at night, danced at the club, lounged by the pool, ate so much delicious food.

In New Orleans, we stayed at Royal Hotel. The hotel was great. We paid $86 on Hotels.com for the reservation. They have great service and it’s right off the party area in Bourbon street but not on Bourbon street. So when I wanted to go to sleep, I went to sleep in a quiet area. Parking in NOLA is expensive about $40 bucks a night. You can find free parking in the residential area, but make sure to move it before 9 am to another area.

We spent about $50-70 bucks on food, tips, and alcohol.

We ate at Rita’s Tequila House, which is on Bourbon Street. They run happy hour specials like $2 tacos and 2 for 1 margaritas. The tacos were good, see pics below. We, also, went to Cafe du Monde to get some beignets. Delicious, wish I had gotten more!

We took a bus tour. It was a deal from Travel Zoo.Do not recommend it! It was 2 hours of hell. Just skip it and walk around NOLA.

Approximate cost of trip: $1800. It would have been $1300 without the last minute flights to New Orleans on Southwest Airlines. So definitely a nice, affordable trip for a couple.

Other travel posts:

1. 5 Tips for Planning a Budget Friendly Vacation

2. Prepping For Vacations

2. How to Cruise The Right Way

To check out more posts, check out the travel section.

Pictures below:

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Back from Monterrey, Mexico

I’m back from my vacation in Monterrey, Mexico. I went to see my family, and had a fun time. I got sick the first couple of days and really wanted to come back to Texas. Strange…when you get sick, you get homesick.

Sometimes a picture says a thousand words.

A view from El Obispado

 

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A view from Parque Chimpinque

 

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A view from Las Grutas de Garcia

 

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A rainy day by La Presa

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Nature juxtaposed against urbanization

 

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How to Cruise the Right Way

We just got back from our first vacation this year. I have to admit I already want to go on another vacation. It was great being away from our “normal” life. I didn’t have access to the internet on the cruise ship because we were out at sea and internet on the ship is super expensive and slow!!!

So, I haven’t broken down how much our trip costs in total, although there were some circumstances that increased the cost by $500.

We went on a five day Western Caribbean on Carnival. Service was great! The experience was phenomenal! Can’t wait to go on our next cruise.

We talked to a lot of people on the cruise. These people had at least been on their sixth cruise, so they knew how to cruise the right way.

Here a couple of lessons we learned from our first cruise:

  1. Fly or drive in the day before the cruise sails – So we woke up Saturday morning, realizing our Spirit flight had been delayed. It had been so delayed, we were going to miss our cruise. So we booked a redline flight on Southwest, which costs us $400 for two one way tickets. Ouch. Next time we are arriving the day before to make sure we are prepared for everything. 
  2. Spirit is cheap, but expect delays – We have flown with Spirit the past couple of times, but because it can be extremely low cost compared to other flights, expect things may not go as planned. We should have flown out the day before. If you fly Spirit, make sure the day you fly, you have no plans.
  3. Alcohol – Be prepared to burn some cash drinking alcohol. My husband bought a shot of tequila for $12. We overheard people had spent hundreds of dollars on alcohol. There’s ways around this. When we landed in Mexico, we bought a bottle of rum and poured it into our big tumbler. The bottle of Bacardi rum was the same cost of the shot of tequila.
  4. There’s so much food – Food everywhere. Try losing ten pounds before you go on a cruise because all you do is eat and lay down all day!
  5. Entertainment – It was really fun and relaxing to go on a cruise. We went to comedy shows at night, and even went to the club a couple of nights.
  6. Talk to people – We met some pretty cool people on the cruise. Don’t be afraid to talk to people.
  7. Look for deals – Everyone one we talked to was a deal hunter. It felt pretty good not being the only one :)
  8. Excursions are cheaper at the port – Excursions are more expensive through Carnival.

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Prepping for Vacations

So, I haven’t taken a single day off this year. Some people say this is fine when you’re starting out, since you can save your days for later, but my vacation doesn’t accrue year over year. I have to use it up otherwise I’ll lose it. Don’t want that to happen!

We are already planning to go on a cruise in September, I went ahead and bought our airline tickets to New Orleans this past weekend. I booked the tickets on Spirit Airlines. We have flown on Spirit to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Washington, D.C. before. They are a bare bones airline, but you don’t really need much when you’re only going to be on the plane for less than 2 hours. The flight to NOLA from Dallas is only 1 hour.  I, also, need to book a hotel for one night after we come back from our cruise and buy/schedule transport from the airport to the cruise port. Does anybody have any advice on hotels near the fun in NOLA?

I, also, bought my plane ticket to go see my family in Mexico in the fall. I’m very excited as I’m going to surprise everyone. Only my aunt knows I’m coming since she’s going to pick me up from the airport. I can’t wait to see my grandparents’ surprised face when they see me. I booked my ticket via Priceline. Priceline is pretty easy and it let me compare multiple flights across multiple airlines at multiple price points. Woahzers that was a sentence!  I will be flying American Airlines.  I have never flown American Airlines so I will make sure to write a review of my experience.

I have been looking to buy an all-inclusive resort package to Cancun. We have been saving up for a while. I almost bought one to Cancun yesterday. The trip was for early December. I was looking at Excellence Playa Mujeres. I ended up backing up because I didn’t like the price point. I noticed deals get better slightly closer to the date on Cheap Caribbean. Since we still have time, I’ll be keeping my eye out for a good resort package. We want to go to Cancun, but really could go anywhere else with nice weather and a nice beach. Any advice???

Travel is one of my priorities in life, and I feel like I’m not doing enough. A lot of times it is the hesitation over giving up money. I tend to be practical and save for practical things. Vacations are a splurge.

Dimespring: 5 Tips for Planning a Budget-Friendly Vacation

Check out my staff post on Dimespring. It’s titled 5 Tips for Planning a Budget-Friendly Vacation.

At work, I often find myself fantasizing over where I’m going to travel next.

I grew up in an immigrant family, and traveling, as much as we wanted to do it, was not often in the budget. I can remember only a couple of times we went on vacation, including a trip to San Antonio’s Six Flags (best childhood trip ever!), Schlitterbahn (close second!), and a couple of other times we went to see family in Houston and Oklahoma.

Click on the link to read the rest of the article!

Let me know what you think!

A True vacation spirit

A True vacation spirit (Photo credit: Kenzoka)

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Carnival Cruise on the Western Caribbean

Cheap cruises rock! I’m not the only who thinks so. Crystal from Budgeting the Fun Stuff is also taking advantage of Carnival’s cheap cruise rates, and taking off on vacation!

Remember the saying buy low, sell high? Well, I also think it applies to vacations. I love traveling, but what I love even more is the thrill of knowing I searched for a good deal.

Some people think I’m cheap. Well, if they actually knew me, they would know I’m not cheap. I’m not afraid to spend money when I want something, but I also shop around, and make calculated decisions.

Booyah, is what I’ll say, when my hubby and I are older, financially independent, and doing what we want :)

So, back to the point. I booked a 5 day cruise on the Carnival Elation. We are going to be leaving out of NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana). Our trip is going to be from Saturday, September 7 to Thursday, September 12. We have a friend who lives in Baton Rouge, and are going to visit him for a couple of days before heading back to Texas. Hopefully, he won’t mind driving us to NOLA to drop of us at port. :) We are going to be stopping at two ports, Cozumel and Progreso!

Now, here is the breakdown of the costs:

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We are going to be in an interior stateroom. I know we, also, have to pay gratuity, which comes to $115.

I’m budgeting $200 for gas and food (I get hungry) to get us to and back from NOLA.

So, our approximate cost for the vacation will be $987.94 for two of us!

Oh, did I mention I will get 5% back on my discover card for any Carnival charges. It adds up to $39. Become a Discover cardmember and you’ll get $50 Cashback Bonus with your 1st purchase within 3 mos. Click on the link. I will get $50 Cashback bonus if you become a Discover member.

Quite a good deal, if I do say so myself.

So, if you are interested in going on a cruise, now is the time to book them! I know I will keep my eyes open for any other good cruises.

We are also looking at going to Cancun. Give me a shout out if you see any good deals :)

Share your recent vacation deals! :)

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What Are Your Vacation Plans for 2013?

Today as I stared off into my beach screensaver, I thought about our vacation. A vacation that is not yet planned, but desired. This year as we save aggressively for a down payment towards a house, we are debating what vacations to plan. Some of our friends invited us to go to Cabo with them with a Group On coupon. $950 per person for a week in Cabo, Mexico. We passed. Most of the vacations we have been on we have managed to spend less than $1,300 on airfare, hotel, and food. So for this year’s vacation it’s my goal to maximize our vacation money.

This time we want to head to a beach destination like Cancun, Mexico.

We are, also, considering taking a Caribbean cruise.

I am going to start looking at deals and hopefully, we will find a deal under $1,300.

Has anybody been to Cancun or taking a cruise? Any tips for this newbie?

The plan is to take a week’s worth of vacation in the early fall. I am going to attempt to find a deal around Labor Day weekend. It would be great if we could take our vacation during Labor Day week. I would only have to take 4 days off work, which would leave me with 18 vacation days. I really want to take a long Christmas break. It would be great if I could take off the last three weeks of December. Remember, last year I sold a week’s worth of vacation? I really regret that, even though the money was nice. However, this year I am not going to sell days. Uncle Sam taxes that week and takes 30-40% of it. So,  I would rather just take it and enjoy it. But I have noticed I am getting more and more fatigued. My hubby has, also, said the same thing. The question will be if can we last until September to take our vacation?

How many vacation days do you have this year?

The more and more I think about our vacation, the more and more I want to go. Sometimes I wish we lived near the beach. It would definitely be a plus to escape and hear the waves. Maybe when we retire? Texas has such boring geography. It’s just flat!

Where do you plan to go on vacation this year?

***Please feel free to share your vacation plans, costs, and the deal website.  I will definitely appreciate it, and I’m sure others would love the information :)

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Washington, DC Vacation

I finally sat down to write down how much we spent on our Washington, DC trip, and quick recap of how much fun we had. First of all, here’s how much we spent…

  • Two Round Trip Tickets from DFW to BWI = $311
  • Airbnb Accomodations for one week = $430
  • Transportation – Metro/bus for one week = $96
  • Food = $335.47
  • Tennis Shoes = $52.99
  • Souvenir = $24

Grand Total = $1248.47

I’m kinda surprised by the number. I thought we had spent a lot more money then we actually did. Every meal we bought, we dropped a minimum of $20. The entire time we were there, my mind kept adding up how much we were spending, and I was freaking out. Now that we added it up, it wasn’t that bad.

Spirit Airlines (Airline Tickets) = Again this is a super cheap airline. You get what you pay for. Small seats, packed airplane. But we don’t care because it’s only a 3 hour flight. I recommend it if you are trying to save on airline tickets :)

Airbnb Accommodations = We stayed in a neighborhood in DC called Columbia Heights. It was awesome. The couple we stayed it was super cool, and we had our room, den, and bathroom! Everything was super clean. The house was only a ten minute walk to the metro. There were restaurants, bars, and stores everywhere! It was a super cool neighborhood. Here is a little dub on the neighborhood.

In 1999, however, the city announced a revitalization initiative for the neighborhood focused around the Columbia Heights Metro station that opened that year. The opening of the Metro station served as a catalyst for the return of economic development and residents. Within five years, it had gentrified considerably, with a number of businesses (including a Giant Food supermarket and Tivoli Square, a commercial and entertainment complex) and middle-class residents settling in the neighborhood. However, unlike some gentrified neighborhoods in the city, it had not become homogeneous: as of 2006, Columbia Heights is arguably Washington’s most ethnically and economically diverse neighborhood, composed of high-priced condominiums and townhouses as well as public and middle-income housing.On March 5, 2008, DC USA, a 546,000 square-foot (51,000 m²) retail complex across the street from the Columbia Heights Metro station opened. The space is anchored by retailers Target and Best Buy. The shopping center also includes 390,000 square feet (36,000 m²) of underground parking. A number of bars and restaurants have since opened in the neighborhood, including Pho 14, which was voted best pho in Washington City Paper’s Best of DC 2010 poll.

Transportation = We bought a weekly pass called the 7 say short pass for $35 each. It allowed us to use the metro unlimited times. We spent $12 on a bus to get us from BWI to the metro station.

Sights = We went to see the Smithsonian museums, all the memorials, and lots of food! Our favorite museum was the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. My favorite memorial was the FDR memorial. It was so beautiful. Definitely recommend you see it!

Favorite Restaurants = We ate twice at Ted’s Bulletin. They have breakfast all day, and make their own pop tarts. My favorite was their pancakes. I want some more!!! We also ate at Taqueria Districto Federal in Columbia Heights. They had awesome tortas and tacos :) We also ate at Pho 14 in Columbia Heights. It was delicious. It was my first time trying pho.

If you are planning to go to DC in the near future for vacation, let me know, and I can give you some tips :)

Check out some of the photos in Twitter :)

Cashing Out Vacation Time

Companies have different vacation policies for employees. At my company I am lucky to have the option to sell 1 week of vacation time ( 5 business days), and receive the equivalent of one week’s pay. When I started work this summer, part of my vacation package included 8 days of vacation time, 3 personal business days, and 2 personal floating holidays. I decided to sell 1 week’s of vacation to put it towards our DC vacation. There are definitely a few benefits to cashing out vacation time = AKA Money! Plus, you don’t have to miss work.

But what do you lose?

  • Time Off- This time can be used to visit family, work on personal life, or go on vacations. I would probably use it as relax time on the couch. The ability to sleep in is sacred and I miss it!
  • Money- Yes, you lose money. Little did I know, 40% of my week would be put towards taxes. My company, also, doesn’t match retirement contributions, even though this extra money is part of my salary. In essence, I just paid the government to work more? Hmm…

I’m glad I sold my vacation to fund our DC trip. But this morning when I didn’t want to get out of bed, I thought of the extra week of vacation I could have had all to myself.

Next year, I have 15 vacation days, 3 personal business days, and 4 personal floating holidays. I, also, have 10 days of sick time. I’m not sure if I will sell vacation. Right now, I’m leaning towards not, but things always change.

What do you think about cashing out vacation time? What is your company’s vacation policy?

 

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