Tag Archives: “frequent flyer miles”

Birthdays in New Orleans

Hubby and I are exactly 365 days apart and this year he turned 30 so he wanted to do something more than just go out for dinner and drinks with friends. He had never been to Nola before so that’s what he decided to do. I had gone a few times but only with work people during the week so it was VERY different. The benefit though, was that I knew my way around the French Quarter pretty well, which took a lot of stress off of planning.

We got free flights through Southwest Airlines so the trip was relatively cheap, but it was also REALLY quick because the only free flights we could do were Saturday morning and Sunday night. Not much time to spend exploring a new place. We also went during the first weekend of Mardi Gras, so it was much more crowded than I had ever seen, and made the hotels much more expensive. Our solution was to get a hotel outside of the French Quarter, near Lake Pontchartrain. MUCH CHEAPER. For Christmas, a friend of ours bought us what is basically a City Pass. It’s an entrance ticket for the Audubon Zoo, the Aquarium, and the Insectarium, because he knows how much of nerds we are that we basically plan our trips around that kind of thing. However, since our trip was so short, those three things took up A LOT of our time, so we are already planning on going back to see the historical stuff, and do a little more of the French Quarter than we got to do.

We landed in New Orleans at 8 am, and we were walking around the French Quarter by 9. It was really nice because no one was out on the streets yet (well, almost no one. The only people we saw were stumbling home from the night before-yikes). We had the streets to ourselves for actually appreciating the architecture, getting lost looking for Jean Lafitte’s, and find a bistro for some breakfast.

Bubbles show you where the party's at
Bubbles show you where the party’s at – even at 9 am.

Artists line the fence of Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral
Artists line the fence of Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral

We didn’t get to eat at Cafe Du Monde because there was a CRAZY line from all the tourists that were in town for Mardi Gras. Luckily we found another beignet cafe across the street with no line so we were still able to eat beignets while over looking the Mississippi River.

Cafe Du Monde - famous beignets
Cafe Du Monde – famous beignets – Crazy crowded

The zoo was great – they even had a climbing tree!

Beautiful Coastal Oaks make great climbing trees!
Beautiful Coastal Oaks make great climbing trees! But please do not go beyond the sign 🙂

We spent a good chunk of the day at the zoo, planning on hitting Bourbon Street in the late afternoon/evening, so I was able to spend a long time with the Amur Leopards, who were surprisingly active while we were there. I took a ton of photos, but this was my best one.

Tranquil Amur Leopard
Tranquil Amur Leopard

I plan on editing out the chain link fence…one day….

The zoo was great, but it was definitely obvious that we were in Louisiana…

What kind of zoo tells you how to eat the animals here?!
What kind of zoo tells you how to eat the animals here?!
And gives recipes for them???
And gives recipes for them???

And they say Texas is like a whole other country…

Since our flight home was on Sunday night, we spent the rest of the day enjoying the French Quarter and Lake Pontchartrain. Sunday we went to the Aquarium and Insectarium which were both pretty dang cool.

Huge shark tank
Huge shark tank

In this giant shark tank we saw a huge pile of Nurse sharks sleeping on a rock together. We counted 9 sharks! Who knew they were so social.

Dog pile of Nurse sharks....Shark Pile?
Dog pile of Nurse sharks….Shark Pile?
Sea anemone
Sea anemone

Also at the aquarium, they have a huge aviary where you can buy food for the Parakeets. They fly all over you, land in your hair, and try to sneak out by climbing into your purse. Because Parakeets are cavity nesters, there is a sign when you leave to make sure you check your jacket hoods, purses, and backpacks for any stowaways.

Getting attacked by adorableness
Getting attacked by adorableness

At the insectarium there were tons of displays of beautiful beetles and butterflies from all over the world.

Beautiful insect displays at the Insectarium
Beautiful insect displays at the Insectarium

The insectarium is a federal building, so make sure you don’t bring anything in that you can’t bring past airport security, essentially.  It was a great trip and Hubby and I already looking forward to exploring Nola more.

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Yellowstone Part 4 – Saving the Best (and Worst) for Last

Wow, it took a lot longer to get this post pulled together than I thought it would! I finally learned how to put Watermarks on my photos, so I was trying to get that done before I posted these photos.  So, without further ado – here is the final installment of our epic Yellowstone trip! You can catch up and read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 here.

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Seeing as how this was a trip to Yellowstone, it was high time we spent some time in the park. By this time we moved to our cabin on the Idaho/Montana border, just outside of the western park entrance. Based on my limited knowledge, the western portion of the park was where you were most likely to see the wolves, so I made sure to book several nights at these cabins to give us a good chance at seeing them. It was also cheaper than staying in the town of West Yellowstone, which is mainly just a tourist attraction since you have to go through the town in order to use the West Entrance. This is also where the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center is located, and I wanted to be sure to check that out as well.

On our first full day in West Yellowstone, we headed straight to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. It was smaller than I thought it would be, but I still learned A LOT. They had dioramas of different seasons and species, and had a lot of information about why the grizzly and wolf numbers dropped so quickly. (Mainly, the government at the time thought of bears and wolves as pests, and hired government trappers to kill them off. But more on that later). We were able to watch the grizzlies in their enclosure wrestle and play, search for food under rocks, and munch on tasty elk legs! (Road killed animals go to the Center). The wolves that were there are all extremely old, for wolf standards. They all looked like they were about 15 or so years old and were happy to lay in the sun and get tasty free meals that they didn’t have to hunt down on their arthritic legs.

After the center we went next door to an Authentic Mexican Restaurant. I know, I know. Why on Earth would you go get Mexican food in Montana? It was there, I was starving, and I didn’t think about it. Okay?!

Needless to say, it was terrible food. No flavor. I mean really. I couldn’t make food that flavorless on purpose. Live and learn, right? Now I’m passing on my knowledge to you so you have a better meal somewhere else.

After lunch we headed into the park to look for wild wolves! Yay!

One of the best things about Yellowstone is also one of the worst things about Yellowstone: the number of tourists. We were there before the summer crowd, but toward the end of the week more and more people started coming into the park because it was a holiday weekend coming up. So by Wednesday the park was packed! However, like I said, this is also a great thing because when one person sees awesome wildlife, everyone pulls their car over and you are sure to see whatever it is that they are looking at.

We saw a bunch of cars pulled over so of course we pulled over too. We got to see a huge coyote hunting rodents in their tunnels by pouncing on the ground and breaking their tunnels open, much like they do through the snow (see Part 3).

We continued on into the park, headed toward Lamar Valley, where everyone said is where you see the wolves. We stopped at another pull off where we saw a ton of cars and people with spotting scopes, and sure enough, our first sighting of wild wolves! While talking to a gentleman who had a spotting scope the size of our rental car, we were informed that they had killed an elk earlier in the day, and they were still lounging around letting their fat, happy bellies settle. There was a black wolf, and white wolf, and a dark grey wolf. They were really far off so I didn’t get great pictures, but they were wolves!

After the wolves wandered off, we continued up to Lamar Valley. On the way we got to see a black bear or two, but our only focus was wolves. We got to Lamar Valley and it was the most beautiful place I think I have ever seen. It is now on my favorite places list. Mountains, rolling foothills, herds of bison and antelope, grizzlies grazing on grasses and flowers. It was spectacular. We knew we were in the right place because of the number of people pulled over on the roadside with their scopes and cameras ready. Normally you would wonder what they are looking at, but then you notice that everyone is mingling, and simply waiting. They knew something was coming, and I wasn’t going to miss it.

So while we waited with the pros, we got to see some great stuff. Antelope coming close, bison calves running and playing, a grizzly family running away from some mysterious unseen object up on the hill. Then we noticed the Giant Grizzly on the river below us. Now, I’m no good at judging distance, but I would guess she was about 500-600 yards away. She was feeding on a wolf kill from several days before (according to the pros that were waiting for the wolves to show up) and her name is Scar Face. I’m sure for good reason, but she was far enough away that I had to only take their word for it. According to the pros though, Scar Face has been photographed more times than the Kardashians; I’m guessing because she frequents the area that the wolves are often found in, so people do like I did, and take pictures of her while we are waiting for the main attraction 😉

However, while we waited, Hubby noticed that people were leaving. There were still the same number of people there waiting, but the crowd itself had changed; the pros had given up to try a different spot!

I suddenly panicked – What do I do? Do I stay here and hope that they show up? Or do I try my luck somewhere else? And what if I leave and then find out that the wolves showed up right after I left? Luckily Hubby was there to help me decide. Lamar Valley is pretty big after all, so maybe they will be in a different area. We headed back down the road a ways, and when we were sure we were no longer in the valley we turned back around and headed back to a different pull off we saw. I was getting a little discouraged because by hearing all of the stories, wolves would be everywhere! I wanted to get some good pictures of wolves! Not just zoom in on a picture and have to point out “See? That black speck? That’s a wolf!” I had to see them closer!

By this time my back was aching pretty bad, so I wasn’t going to get out of the car unless there was something photo-worthy, so Hubby got out and made friends with some Canadians who are living in an RV and watching the wolves for the summer. (Fun Fact: the wolves of Yellowstone came from Alberta, Canada. It’s funny that the Albertans come all the way down to Wyoming to see the wolves they gave us!) Suddenly, out of nowhere, a black wolf runs by, down on the river about 1,000 yards away. I’m not sure where she came from, but we saw her swim the river and dash up the mountain before she was gone. I got a couple pictures of her, but nothing spectacular since she was running pretty much the whole time.  Apparently she was Number 89, and she is a rogue female that frequents the valley.

We learned a lot about the wolves by talking to all of the “wolf chasers” (or “sighters” I guess would be a better term).  Because the National Park Service is broke (because it’s always the good programs that get their funding cut first) they could no longer afford to tranquilize the wolves from a helicopter. This leads to shotting them with net guns and tranquilizing them once the researchers have gotten up to them, so the wolves have gotten a bit skittish of people. We also learned that the research program is now on a voluntary basis. The rangers that were paid to follow the wolves now must volunteer their time because the park service can’t afford to pay them. Such a sad situation. What is good though, is that there is such thing as “Citizen Science” much like with bird surveys. Enough people are interested in this subject, that they seek out the animals, watch their behavior, and report back to the rangers. Many of the observers know the rangers and vice versa, so the data that are provided are understood to be factual and non-biased (mostly).

After Number 89 ran up the hill, we started heading back, since it was getting late and we had several hours to drive back to our cabin. We stopped again at our first location because I saw something feeding on the same carcass that Scar Face had been eating earlier.

IT WAS A SILVER WOLF.

We stopped the car and I ran up the hill with my camera and tripod (I had the speed clip this time). While we were watching this grey, I decided to get some video of him feeding (unfortunately, WordPress won’t let me upload my awesome video…I’ll have to figure out how to get it onto YouTube or something). In the video you can hear Hubby and I quietly discussing if the wolf was wearing a collar or not, and if Hubby was going to hide behind me so he wouldn’t get eaten. I stopped filming right before the wolf came right passed us so I could get some still shots of him as well. I probably should have just kept filming because the pictures didn’t turn out great (it was getting dark and he was running) but live and learn, right? (that seems to be a theme for today). After the grey ran across the street into on-coming traffic and almost got plowed by a car, he disappeared up the hill and was gone. At his closest, he was probably 20 yards from us.

Ah. Maze. Ing. I was so happy, and he had gotten so close! I was in heaven. But of course you know what that means, right?

I HAD TO SEE THEM AGAIN. This wasn’t nearly enough. Andrew and I were already planning the next day. Get up SUPER early and get to Lamar Valley before sunrise because that is reportedly the best time of day to see the wolves.

Of course then it took us a few hours to get back to our cabins. And it doesn’t get dark until about 9:30…So we didn’t get back to the cabins until midnight. Last thing we needed to do was get up at 3:30 am after going to sleep at midnight, so we decided that the next day we would relax, get up whenever we felt like it, see the rest of the park, and go to bed early that night so we could get up super early the NEXT morning.

So we did the whole “geyser” thing again the next day and relaxed, doing our last bit of souvenir shopping as well. We had dinner at a restaurant/bar in West Yellowstone called The Slippery Otter, and this place was great! The owner was super nice, they had great food, and really good beer. Finally, we had found good food in Montana!

The next morning we got up at 3:30 am and I drove into the park. At about 5 am we were flagged down by a truck coming up the road, telling us to pull over because 4 HUGE BOATS (on trailers, duh) were about to be coming down the road, and they needed as much road space as they could get! Well of course he flagged us down at a terrible spot – not only was there no shoulder to pull onto, but there was actually tons of tree debris on the side of the road from doing road work in the park the day before! HOW MUCH SPACE DID THEY NEED?! I hoped we had scooted over enough; all we could do is wait. And all I could do while I waited was think about how I’m going to miss the wolves because I’m pinned between a boat trailer and the hillside! Finally they drove by without incident and we headed down the road again, but slowly this time. One thing I didn’t count on was the mount of fog that we had to drive through. Cool morning+geothermal activity=lots and lots of scary fog. I love looking at fog; I hate driving in it. I was super nervous that a herd of bison would be in the road in the fog and I was going to miss my opportunity to see the wolves because there was a dead bison on the hood of my car. So I drove carefully and as quickly as I dared. As the sky began to lighten, it was easier to see that we were engulfed in fog, and it was much brighter than I had thought it would be. I was going really to miss the wolves!!!

Finally we made it to Lamar Valley. I was in such a hurry to get to my spot and wait, that when we saw a truck stopped in the road I almost went around him. Then Hubby saw why he was stopped – the same Silver wolf  from before was standing on the hillside!

The next events were a blur – I took tons of photos, and he wandered off into the sage brush. The truck drove away, and we waited to see if he would come back. He did, and he was actually carrying a child’s stuffed animal in his mouth. No, I wasn’t confused and he really had a live dead squirrel in his mouth – it was a toy. You could see the tag on the plush, and the little stubby legs.  We have no idea why, but he was carrying around a toy.  He dropped it after a few minutes of carrying it around, and then he sort of zig-zagged in front of our car  while he tried to decide where to go, until he walked across the road back toward the river where we had first seen him a few nights before.  Then Ranger Rick pulled up. Seriously. That’s his name. He’s a Ranger named Rick. He asked what we were looking at, and when we told him a wolf, he pulled over and got out his radio telemetry equipment – SCIENCE AT WORK! Sort of. Rick couldn’t identify the wolf because the batteries on his collar were apparently dead; but that didn’t matter, because I got some amazing photos of him while he was with us. Suddenly more and more people started showing up, and we met a huge group of wolf chasers. Rick told us that the black female would be coming by soon (her radio collar was working so they knew where she was), so we waited until, far off in the distance, we saw her making her way through the river valley.

By this point my back was killing me. I could no longer appreciate the magnificent scenery I was surrounded by, because I was in blinding pain.  I told Hubby we had to go to the doctor now.  We headed to the northern portion of the park where the doctor’s office was, but they didn’t open until 8:30, so we had to wait. I was about in tears by this point and when they finally opened, I was at my breaking point. Talking to anyone would cause my voice to break, and I finally broke down and cried in front of the nurse while he asked me all the questions that he had to ask, and cried some more while talking to the doctor. He wrote me prescriptions for muscle relaxers and Vicodin and we had to drive up further north to get them filled at the pharmacy. By the time I received my prescriptions and ate some breakfast, I was done. It was probably 10 am on my second to last day of my vacation, and I couldn’t move without being in blinding pain. I was heartbroken that this is how our vacation ended. Hubby had to drive for the next 2 days because my drugs kept me knocked out. But while I was awake I was still in pain.

Our last night was spent in Centennial, Wyoming, through the Snowy Range. The Snowy Range is one of my favorite places in the US, but I slept through it because of my medicine. We got to the hotel and ate dinner in one of the 4 restaurants in town, and then I went to the room to sleep. Hubby, since he was still on vacation, wanted to go check out the town, so he bar-hopped at the 4 bars in town and met wonderful people wherever he went. I was glad he had a good time, because I felt guilty for being the reason we had to cut the trip early.

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Now my back is feeling better, although not 100%, but Hubby and I are already talking about going back to see the wolves again.

Yellowstone Part 1

May is my favorite month. It’s starting to warm up but it’s not too hot, the humidity is usually pretty low, and it’s that wonderful time of year when Hubby and I do our annual week long vacation. For the last few years we have gone to the Florida Keys but this year we wanted to do something different and cheaper. (We are saving up for a big trip in a couple years, so the next couple trips we do will have to be less expensive.) Just like we do every December, we planned and booked our entire trip, this year to Yellowstone National Park. Hubby had never been there before, and I was dying to go back. My family and I went there in 2001, so I wanted to see it again from a Conservationist’s point of view, instead of a teenager point of view.

This time I put all of the photos into a slideshow at the bottom. I thought that might be better than making this post 8 miles long. Enjoy!

The flights were free because of my frequent flyer miles I get from flying for work, and the hotels/cabins we stayed in were cheap because we booked them on Hotels.com, (which is an awesome website, BTW). By the time May came around, all of our lodging, except for one B&B that I didn’t book through Hotels.com, was paid for months ahead of time, so all we had to do was pay for our food and gas on the trip. And of course all of the little cheesy souvenirs that are required.

We flew into Denver and the plan was to drive up to Cody, Wyoming for the first day.  Hubby had booked a cheap rental car through some no-name rental company and when she asked us where we were heading and we said Cody, she said the cars can’t leave the state of Colorado. I’m sorry, what?! How many people do what we were planning on doing? I thought this was a common method of getting to Yellowstone?!

Clearly this woman had had issues like this in the past, because she basically said, “sorry I’m not sorry,” so we went next door to Thrifty to rent from them instead. It was a bit more expensive, but I guess we saved money in the long run since we could actually leave Colorado in this car…

We headed north and started seeing mesas, mountains, and snow. It was a big change from the 85 degrees in Houston. Our first stop was Cheyenne, Wyoming. This is the capital of the state, so we found the beautiful courthouse and then walked around town for a bit. We even found a cool farmers market on the square and I got to play with some puppies that needed homes, that were with Black Dog Animal Rescue. We continued north and stopped at Hell’s Half Acre. This was an interesting place that apparently I used to scatter my toys all over when I was a child. Which is interesting, because until this day I didn’t know it was a real place…hmm… The geology of this area was really cool, but I’m not a geologist so I have no idea what caused it other than erosion.

When we got to Cody, several people suggested we eat dinner at The Silver Dollar Bar. I think there must have been better places to eat, but this place was pretty good – it just wasn’t what we were expecting. I guess since people were suggesting it for dinner I thought it was more of a restaurant/bar. It was really a bar that also served food. It was good food though!

We walked around town a bit and had drinks at The Irma, the historic hotel and restaurant owned by Buffalo Bill Cody. We also had breakfast there the next morning. It was really neat to sit in there and see all of the old 1900s décor. I don’t think they have changed anything in that place since Bill Cody owned it, except they turned the saloon into a restaurant and the famous Cherry Wood bar was now purely decoration and no longer held liquor, glasses, or the shotgun to keep the cowboys from getting rowdy on their trip into “the big city.”

That morning we headed into Yellowstone. We drove through areas that still had so much snow on the mountains, and the areas were so steep, that you weren’t allowed to stop your car for fear of being lost in an avalanche. Scary stuff for Texans! There were also areas where they keep dynamite charges in the mountainsides just in case they need to blow a bunch of snow all the way back to Hell’s Half Acre.

Pretty soon after entering the park we saw our very first Grizzlies! It was impossible to miss them, because there was a line of cars and people with GIANT spotting scopes and cameras pulled over other the side of the road. It was a large male and a smaller female laying down in the shade up on the hill. Apparently before we showed up, the male had been putting the moves on the female, but she was having none of it.  After watching them for a while and talking to the other photographers, we started driving along again, just to see another grizzly up on the same ridge, grazing by himself. It was the start to a very successful wildlife trip!

Of course we did the geysers and thermal pools, we saw the frozen Yellowstone Lake, and then putzed around in the Old Faithful area of the park for a little longer to see Old Faithful, the lodge, and the geysers before heading down to Jackson Hole for our first real night of the trip.  While we were walking along the boardwalks of the thermal area we spotted a female grizzly and her young cub! We were so excited to see them. Earlier that morning, Hubby had said if he could see a bear with her cubs, that would make the trip perfect, and sure enough, here she comes wandering out of the woods.  It was amazing! Seeing them wander around, grazing here and there, and just being bears without being harassed was wonderful. It was almost like I was the only person there.

On our way down we kept our eyes peeled for wildlife along the road and got a chance to see a bull moose standing in the water right by the road, along with the range where the deer and antelope played (along with bison and elk as well). Our first view of the Grand Tetons was not great – they were covered in low-lying clouds and we weren’t even sure what we were looking at. That night we saw the night life of Jackson Hole and I made my first-ever attempt at astrophotography. I tried it right outside of our cabin and it went so well that we drove down the road a couple miles and found a pull-over to try it again in an area without light pollution. It was fantastic! I definitely found a new hobby! The only bad part is that it makes for some late nights, and our cabin had a window that wasn’t covered so it got bright QUICK. There wasn’t much in the way of sleeping in on this trip.

We spent the next day checking out Jackson Hole which is an awesome little tourist town. Everyone is so nice, and there are sculptures everywhere! We went into the most amazing store too – It was a fossil shop and to get your attention there was a huge Triceratops skull for sale in the window. The sign said “Yes, I’m real! $450,000.00” Holy craps! But it was SO COOL! The shop also contained things like a woolly rhino skull, cave bear skulls, fossilized sting rays, and of course, trilobites! All of these items were real, so of course out of my price range. I would have killed for a cave bear skull though…

The shop also had reproduction items that were still pretty pricy, like this guy! (this is actually a picture of the REAL crab, taken at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, but the fossil shop had a reproduction of this).

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After checking out the town, we headed into Grand Tetons National Park, just north of Jackson Hole.

I think this is actually a good stopping point for the first part of our trip. We were really busy, and I want you to be able to appreciate the adventures without getting bogged down in the literature!

Enjoy the pictures in the slideshow!

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How to Have An Awesome Vacation While Not Blowing Your Budget

Over the summer after our trip to the Keys, I wrote a guest post for my sister, That Clever Chick, about vacationing on the cheap. I had done a little plug for it here, but I thought to myself, ‘why on EARTH would I force ALL of you to divert from the post you were already reading to read another post?‘ Especially because I know you, fellow travelers, and I know that you got so drawn in by my stories and descriptions that even though you thought, ‘I’ll read this post and then go to the guest post and get two posts in one day!‘ that you completely forgot to read it, didn’t you?

So, here it is, in all its glory. How to Have An Awesome Vacation While Not Blowing Your Budget.

Enjoy!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

My sister, Beans, has a great blog of her own, but every once in awhile I can convince her to throw some text my way so I can take a nap. Here’s her guest post about saving money on vacation:

There are many ways to go on vacation, and there are many ways to save money.  For most people, these things cannot go hand-in-hand.  That is because many people think that a vacation isn’t a vacation unless you splurge on everything that you wouldn’t normally splurge on.  That is pure insanity to me, but…to each his own, I guess.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand if you are going to have a romantic get-away, and you plan on eating fancy food, drinking fancy wine, and getting massages every day.  But usually people do not do these things on every vacation.  Vacations don’t have to be a romantic get-away, because technically you should have romance all year long, not just in the jungles of South America, living in a bungalow for a week, getting waited on hand and foot.  But that’s a rant for another day.

No, vacations mean travel, seeing the world and other cultures, and experiencing new things that you can’t experience by watching the Travel Channel (because let’s face it, the Travel Channel has just become a channel where you watch people eat weird “food” items now). There is a way to travel on the cheap and still have a great time, and I’m going to give you some tips on how to accomplish this!

The first thing Hubby and I do every year is pick where we are going to go.  That is probably the hardest part anyway, right?  I think the easiest thing to do when planning a vacation is deciding on the dates of travel, and putting it down on the calendar.  If you write something down on the calendar, you are much more likely to do it, rather than putting it off for something else.

The next thing we do is book the plane tickets.  And this is done MONTHS in advance.  Every year we book our vacations in December and plan to go on them in May, so by the time the trip actually arrives, it’s almost like you have a free trip planned, because the travel has already been paid for.  In fact, this year I had enough frequent flyer miles to get free flights to Key West, so it really was free to get where we were going!

Over the next month we book the hotel and the rental car, and pay for as much of it ahead of time as possible.  Rental cars can’t be paid for completely in advance, but if you get the Loss Damage Waiver (which we do every time we rent, no matter what) then you can pay for that before you get the car, and that is usually half the cost of the rental car in the first place.

Another tip is to go before tourist season, if possible.  Now, this has pros and cons, so this is mainly a personal decision.  One benefit is that hotels are usually not full, so you can ask for a free upgrade for your room, and you can easily get a room with a view of water for instance, instead of a view of the parking lot.  However, sometimes tours (such as SCUBA or Snorkeling tours) have a required number of people that need to be signed up for the tour before they can take the tour group out.  So, since it’s before tourist season, you are risking not being able to go on the Ghost Tour of Seattle or something because not enough people signed up the night you planned on doing it.

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Another great money saving trick is probably the simplest, but most people would never think of.  FIND THE GROCERY STORE.  Most hotel rooms have a mini fridge in them, right?  And you probably never use the mini fridge, do you?  This is the easiest, cheapest way to do several things: buy sandwich fixin’s and make a picnic on the beach.  We even brought a collapsible cooler with us on our trip, so we could keep food and drinks in the car.  Buy sodas, bottled water, and/or sports drinks to keep you hydrated while you explore the area and buy a small bottle of liquor to mix in with the previously mentioned beverages to relax by the pool.

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Remember not to buy more than you will consume while you are on vacation.  True, you can check your leftover beverages in your luggage, but if your bottle of tequila starts leaking under the plane, I have a feeling that the other passengers will not be happy with you when you land.  It is easier just to go back to the store if you ran out of something.  Also, keep in mind that some cities, like Austin, have banned plastic grocery bags, so maybe you would want to bring some reusable green bags with you too.  Sometimes your hotel room will also have a microwave in the room.  If that’s the case you just scored big, because that means that when you DO go out for dinner, you can bring your leftovers back with you for another meal! Or midnight snack, whatever.  Either way, it saves a trip to the vending machines, right?  Or you could be like my Hubby, and not even require a microwave.  (He’s not a picky eater).

One of the most expensive parts of vacationing is the food and drinks.  I know that when I was leaving for our last trip to Florida, several people told me to “drink pretty drinks!”  I’m not saying I snuck away from the restaurant to mix a quick rum and Diet Dr. Pepper and then run back to the restaurant, but while we were relaxing by the pool or on our patio over-looking the bay (from our free room upgrade) I didn’t waste my time or money ordering drinks from the hotel bar, because I had my own adult beverages that I could mix as I pleased.  The price difference? At the hotel bar, the mango daiquiris that I was drinking were about $6 each.  The Kraken Rum and Diet Dr. Pepper that I mixed in the hotel room? About $1.50 each.  Big difference, right?

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We made a plan to eat most breakfasts and lunches in the hotel room, but dinners were usually spent out on the town.  That’s the key to a good vacation – you can’t be worried about how much it is costing the entire time, because then you won’t have any fun.  If you find cheaper alternatives, you can still indulge a bit, and save money at the same time.

Also, go to the Visitor’s Center for the city you will be staying in.  They always have flyers for nearby attractions, and they usually have discount rates, coupons, or Buy One Get One Free tickets that they hand out like it’s Halloween.  Trust me on this: the guy at the Key West Visitors Center really must have wanted me to get drunk, because he gave us about 15 Buy One Drink Get One Free tickets for various bars on Duval Street.

Be sure to check Trip Advisor too.  This can be a big help in knowing what is and what is not worth spending your money on.  My suggestion is to go through all the flyers in the Visitor’s Center and pick out some things that sound interesting.  Then go online to Trip Advisor and check out the reviews for those places.  Who knows, you could accidentally find a place that lets you hold orphaned sloth babies that is $300 a person to go to, but you may find out that it’s worth every penny, because with the purchase of an entrance pass, you get a free pet sloth baby.  Some things you can’t know until you find out other people’s experiences.

Sometimes even free places aren’t worth the money it would take to drive there, so take other people’s opinions seriously, and consider your options.  That said, because Trip Advisor is so important to travelers, be sure that when you get back to your hotel that you review the places that you went on your adventures, too.  Whether they were good, great, or just plain awful experiences, people want to know what to expect.  I know I have written some awful reviews of companies in the past, but I have also written glowing ones.  YOU HAVE THE POWER.

Also there are Loyalty Programs – hotels, rental car companies, and airlines all do loyalty programs.  If you travel for work, you will rack up free car rentals, free hotel stays, and free flights in no time.

If you are going to buy Souvenirs – I have quickly learned that most people don’t want a random crappy shot glass from a bar they have never heard of, from a city they have never been to.  You don’t necessarily need to buy gifts for everyone in the family, or everyone single person at work.  If you feel the need to buy something for work people, like if you are talking about your upcoming trip to a friend and the annoying guy in the office announces, “I hope you bring us something good, since we have to stay here and slave away!” then buy something small, consumable, and that everyone will like: CANDY.  I’m sure every little town is famous for one thing or another.  Key West is of course famous for Key Lime Pie.  I was not about to buy and ship actual pies home for everyone at work, but I did consider Key Lime Pie Salt Water Taffy.  I of course didn’t get my coworkers anything, but that’s beside the point. I still THOUGHT about doing it.

Many places are not cheap to visit, but if they were, then they wouldn’t be very good vacation destinations, because they would be packed with people all the time, right?  So if you take my advice, hopefully you can plan out your next great vacation, and people can be jealous of you while you are getting a tan in the Caribbean, riding elephants in India, or petting wild meerkats on the African savannah.  Who knows, maybe soon people at your office will start trying to predict your next adventure, like the people at my office do with me?

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Safe Travels.

Clever Chick Note: Saving money is about priorities; you’re saving to do the things you want rather than thoughtlessly letting money slip through your fingers. If you approach your vacation the same way you can take MORE vacations, or more expensive ones. Have fun!