Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Plane Tickets- Limbo your way to flexibility

I get frequent flier miles almost exclusively from Delta because my American Express is tied to it and this makes me pay off my purchases immediately and plus when I buy delta tickets I get like triple points or something. I probably should pay closer attention to that :)

Anyway next Summer I will be taking my son on a trip. I have promised all my kids an international trip before they graduate from HS and his choice was Berlin. When I saw how close this was to Prague (and frankly since we live in Texas we consider a lot close...in fact we will be driving 4 hours to travel from a larger city to get better flight prices) I decided it needed to be a Berlin/Prague trip.

So basically my plan was to find tickets that were around $900 each. Flights to Eastern Europe are typically more expensive than say Paris or London. Unfortunately no matter where I looked I couldn't find anything less that $1100. Even driving to the bigger city where I would stay with a friend the night before we get on the plane.

So the flexibility plan works like this 2 cities + travel to another city to fly out of + frequent flyer possibilities = lots of time needed to come up with the best possible scenario.

I tried online sites like expedia and cheaptickets and while I found a couple of decent prices none of them fell in the $900 range. Plus it seemed to only be cost effective to fly in and out of the same city. This would mean on the way home we would have to ride a train BACK to the initial city hope on a plane and then drive 4 hours home. I wasn't looking forward to this in the least.

So I started looking at multiple city plane tickets. To my pleasant surprise not only was this extremely affordable, it saved time but it was flexible no matter which city came first. Plus i moved around some dates and found that travelling a month later would be better. AND it was so far in advance that when I looked up on my frequent flyer site I had more than enough miles to get a free ticket! So basically I found tickets with only one stopover with a multiple city ticket for $100 less PER TICKET than I was hoping for! A good day!

Basically, I know people say this all the time, but flexibility pays off!

Some things to think of:
Try a home airport that might be farther away but has more service. You are guaranteed to get cheaper tickets from there if for no other reason than because more carriers use that airport.

Be willing to change your dates. Originally I had one month in mind but things kept happening to push it back. The final month actually works out well because this means we will be in Berlin on my son's birthday. What a 17th birthday present! I bet he will never forget it!

Realize distance is relative. So if you want to travel to say Poland, I know flights are far more expensive than Berlin. but if you factor in a rail ticket and the ability to see multiple countries you would be shocked how much you save flying in to one country and taking the rail or renting a car to get to your final destination. Make sure you do your research though. I've had people travel to Texas and want to know if I could meet them in Dallas. This is 6 hours away. 3-4 hours is my max to drive without it consuming my whole day. So think about that and what you are willing to exchange for cost.

Days of the week matter. make sure you stay over a Saturday and try to avoid travels on the weekend (for a variety of reasons such as crowds and cost). I also think that the day you book matters too. I have heard that booking on Wednesdays is cheaper. I know that Delta gives deals on Wed. Find out if your preferred carrier does this too.

Hope these help and Good Luck!

Monday, September 28, 2009

New York, New York & Chocolate?

There is a small chance that I will be visiting New York again in January and if so I plan to take my daughter with me to see Mamma Mia! on stage. We love that movie and I'd love for her to see it on stage.

Additionally, because I love Context Travel (and seriously I cannot compliment them enough) I checked to see what tours they have of New York and this one immediately jumped at me: A Chocolate Tour! To be honest I'm not a huge chocolate fan, but my daughter and mother are and I could suffer for the masses ;)

Here's my favorite song from the movie :)

Friday, September 25, 2009

I feel the need to verify

I really did buy so many books for Rome last year. I won't share my pile for the trip next year but here is the shelf of books for Rome.

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I look like I could open my own travel book store, if the insides weren't ripped to shreds!

Today my son and I sent in the application for his passport. It's feeling more real now. He says it will feel real for him when the plane tickets are bought. I wonder what the tipping point for people is when they start thinking...this trip is going to happen!!!

Note a couple things.

As I said about my experience in a French restaurant, I try to read about the etiquette of each country I travel to. Some countries don't have these books so the internet is your most valuable tool there. But Western european countries definitely have them so find one to help you. I like to get all the typical books and then find a few that aren't typical (like the Born to Shop which really helped me in Provence).

Also note the language books. Please do not travel to any country without knowing basic niceties like please, thank you, hello and goodbye. Seriously with those four phrases you will feel better about yourself and the country and the local people will treat you better. Ciao!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

San Francisco---countdown to trip

I've been to San Francisco twice so far. Once was a women's trip through the Napa Valley. The second time I took my daughter to visit my friend Janet who is hosting me this trip too. I've put the trip in her hands and told her I had two things she had to plan around.

The first was hot air ballooning. This is on my bucket list and I thought that SF would be a perfect place to enjoy the bird's eye view. Here's hoping it's clear that day!!

The other was The Nike Women's Marathon. I had given myself this goal as incentive in March. This was a lottery system and I figured if I got chosen it was a sign to get my butt back in gear. Shock to all that I was chosen (and no one else I knew was chosen as well!) Of course the real reason I chose this race in particular was the Tiffany Necklace they hand out as you cross the finish line. I had wondered what I would do for a Tiffancy Necklace. Apparently, I will walk 13.1 miles :)

Our last planned adventure was Janet's idea. But I'm all for it! How could I have gone to SF before withOUT seeing Beach Blanket Babylon? Can't WAIT!!!


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Enjoy your home town...don't only eat out well on vacation!

I live in one of the top vacation spots in the USA. This year we had a staycation (more on that later) and I've vowed that my children will see all the local spots that tourists see. I always laugh when I visit friends and want to see things and they have never been there themselves. Additionally, I HATE chain restaurants. Unfortuantely San Antonians prefer chains. They do make an exception for a handful of restaurants though.

One example is La Fogata. I love this place!



Things to look for in a Mexican Restaurant
There are a couple of things that I prefer in a Mexican restaurant. It may mean they are more "authentic" or that I'm OCD but whatever. Here are a couple things I look for.
Choice of borracho or refried beans
A patio
Excellent Margaritas Actually a choice of drinks beyond beer and coke.
Hot salsa Not tomato sauce with onions
A Menu in Spanish There better be some words in Spanish!
Spanish speaking waiters Some restaurants here are ok, but they are like chains and basically a Mexican Bennigans
Restroom door to say Damas So maybe it is just my OCD :)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Another reason to travel-- or why I didn't go to Vegas this weekend

The reason Craig took off without me is because I spent Saturday in a race. The Urban Dare. If you haven't ever done an urban race and liked the show Amazing Race then you have GOT to try it!! Another alternative is High Trek Adventure. I haven't tried any of these races but they look similar to Urban Dare in premise.

The race is outlined over a 5 mile course. The problem is the clues are in no particular order so we probably covered 7 miles (what with the backtracking) Part of the reason is that we could not figure out 2 clues and when we did (after solving most of the others) we found we had to go back to where we had started! ARGH.

Basically you get a sheet of 10 or so clues that lead you to either a place to take a picture or a dare. The dare can be physical or mental. We had 4 dares. One to figure out a puzzle of letters/numbers, one to walk three legged around a park, a bean bag toss, and one wheel barrow dare. the rest of the places we had to take pictures of ourselves at the location and both of us had to be in the pictures.

For example:

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The clue for this one was: This daycare is named after a Lewis Carroll novel. Get your picture in front of their sign.
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If you do this race I would recommend the following:
~Figure out your clues BEFORE you take off running. This way you don't make your course longer than needed.

~Have good phones/smartphones. I had a 2 year old iphone that was temperamental and my friend had an ancient flip phone. Lesson Learned!

~Have a friend to call that knows the history of the area. While it was nice to know the city somewhat, the fact that my mother went to school downtown and was raised in the city helped tremendously. YAY MOM!

~Have several (3-4) friends who are google savvy help you figure out clues and find addresses for you. Without the help of my friend's husband and my son (who I think I will do a race with) we never would have found the last two clues.

So check out the sites, and tie up your running shoes and HAVE FUN!

Post Script 9/24
We got the results and we finished 13th out of 50 overall and were 3rd in the female partner division. GO US!!!

Friday, September 18, 2009

My suitcase.....with prayers for its safe return home

Last night my husband packed my favorite suitcase to take to Vegas (he is going without me, but I can forgive him for that...since I went alone last year!) I have only used this suitcase once and I LOVE it. Seriously love it. In fact while I had no problem sending my husband off, the thought of the suitcase leaving without me choked me up. Craig had to promise to keep it safe and agreed to other assorted safety requirements for its safe return home.

It's a 22" Victorinox Mobilizer.

I love its zip in suiter
I love its expandable zipper
I love its mesh pockets
I love its removeable velcroed side pockets
I love its secret tweezers and gizmos

but most of all I LOVE that it was FREE!!! My husband's boss told me he would order it for me before my cruise to the Bahamas in March and a week before when I asked him to check on it, we found out his boss had forgotten to order it! So he put a special rush on it and it arrived THE DAY I LEFT and he felt so guilty he gave it to me for free! Thanks H!!!!

Last night I took a picture of his packed bag for a BEFORE picture in case there is any damage :) But this gave me an idea. How great would it have been if I had a picture with me of my suitcase when I went to Italy last year and they LOST MY LUGGAGE in MILAN (when I was in Rome).

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and then I thought how smart would it be to take a picture of the packed contents. So that if they really do lose it, you can have detailed images of what you had packed.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Requisite Travel packing post- part one

I saw Majorie's extensive list of things she packs and I wanted to comment on things I find helpful.

Medicines are self-explanatory. Once I had a bad experience trying to find headache medicine in Paris. From then on no matter where I travel (even to my in-laws who live on a farm, yet closer to a grocery store than we do-go figure) I take a variety of medications. Not to be TMI but I ALWAYS carry GAS-X strips. LOVE these. If you haven't tried them, get them. They are soooo perfect for packing.

Next bring whatever headache medicine you like. Trust me if you are travelling to see in-laws you will need them. If you switch time zones you may need them. If you change altitude you may need them. If you go to a country that doesn't speak your language and you ahve to write everythign down so they can maybe translate because you botch their language so much no one understands you, you may need them. And take what you prefer. Because I GUARANTEE you, that if you like Tylenol 8 hour extra tremendous strength acetomenophine, the chances of a shortage in the area you are travelling in will be HIGH.

I take some sort of antihistamine. I am so not a doctor, so insert legal jargon about how I'm not telling you to do this, I am just saying what *I* do here. For many reasons, one of which is that it can put meto sleep when I am jet-lagged and can't fall asleep. But also because it is also a travel rule that I will be allergic to whatever freakish national/state flower is in bloom exactly during my trip!

Tummy meds. Is it's too fast or too slow. Enough said.

While you MUST take medications in your carryon they do not need to be in the stupid quart ziploc unless they are liquid. So try to avoid liquids.

Medicine, addendum First aid supplies. I take mainly bandaids, neosporin, and rubbing alcohol wipes.

Ziplock bags Especially if you are travelling near water or travelling to several places and need to pack wet things. I use them to put liquid/gel type souvenirs as well.

Wipes Don't to be Monk-ish, but however you think the cleaning staff cleans the room, it is worse. Immediately when you get in a room, wipe down the phone, the remote and anything that you will be touching frequently. I'm not saying totally reclean your room but I wear contacts so I wipe down the sinks JUST IN CASE I drop a contact in there.

Travel Alarm clock or Cell phone I have an Iphone so I use it for a variety of things, but I have really relied on it for wake up calls. I never trust the front desk.

Cell phone addendum For anything electric DON'T forget your chargers!!

Cell phone/Electronic addendum 2 International adapter/converter. And yeah by the way, if you don't have the converter...your adapter is worthless! Not that *I* have ever had this problem. (Insert No Scrubs song here)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Travel Etiquette

Let me tell you a little story.

One night in Paris, my good friend Carrie and I enjoyed a fantabulous meal in a little eatery where the waiter was kind and helpful considering our French was minimal at best. The service was amazing. We enjoyed every minute of it and when we were finished we nursed our wine and waited for our bill. And waited. And waited. This should not be taken to mean the service dropped off. Our waiter checked on us several times asking if we needed anything, but Carrie and I were too embarrassed to ask for the bill so we were waiting for him to just bring it to us. Something like 45 minutes later (I wish I were joking and we were not really this dense) Carrie finally got the nerve to ask for the bill. Once that happened, we immediately paid and left the establishment.

As soon as we returned to the room I looked through one of the travel guides and noted that in France, because meal times are so very important, it is expected that the customers must ASK for the ticket. They will literally let you sit there for hours before preempting the request.

So take my lesson with heart and find a site that will help you with the etiquette of the country you wish to travel to. It may save you lots of time and embarrassment. I have enjoyed the website http://www.traveletiquette.co.uk/ but if you have any others feel free to use. If we had used this before our trip we would have noted the following :)

When dining out, if you need to request the bill, you should never snap your fingers at the waiter or waitress. This is extremely bad etiquette and can translate as rude and arrogant. The best way to ask for the bill is to catch the attention of the waiter or waitress’s by making a writing motion, as well as saying “L’addition s’il vous plait”.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

No Scrubs- Paris/London May 1999

It's funny how songs can take me back in time so fast! Today I heard they were discussing a reunion with the final 2 members of TLC (RIP Left Eye). After the announcement, the station played "No Scrubs" which threw me back in time to May/June 1999 when I took a group of seniors/juniors to Paris and London. This was popular at the time and we must have sung it 20 times on the trip. We sang it every time the rest of our tour group did something incredibly stupid (which was often)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Travel through 2009

Here is the list of the travel I plan to do trough the rest of the year:

October
San Francisco- My friend Janet is planning this one. I want to go on a hot air balloon ride and stay in the Wine Country but other than that I'm open. Oh and I'm doing the Nike Women's half-marathon on Sunday because I want that Tiffany necklace :)

December
Vegas, Baby. Craig and I have a little obsession with Vegas. Like this is our third trip this year and last year I went three times. We stay mostly at Planet Hollywood Resort. Now that I have this blog I'll start taking pictures. We are planning to attend National Finals Rodeo which is the rationalization for this trip. Usually we just go to get away from the kids :)

That's it for the rest of this year. I'm crossing my fingers that I get sent back to NY, NY for work. I can't wait to start planning that one. But that falls under 2010 and I'll list all those out later!

How I travel

So I love to travel and I wanted a place to document the sites I find and books I love. I tend to read dozens of books before I go on a trip. For my Rome trip last year I read 17 travel books (not counting the 3 books on how to speak Italian). Which I then systematically dismantled to create a travel book that was perfect for my trip.



See this trip was with my husband, Craig, and it was his first trip to Europe and he is picky picky picky about food so I had to map possible restaurants for each location of the city we might be located in at any point in time. I swear I spent more time mapping this than the Allies did planning D-Day. This is what I came up with:

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travel1

It was an invaluable tool because I was able to slip it in my purse and reference it at any time, without taking up my suitcase with eleventy billion pages of travel speak. One would think that with all this planning we had a trip scheduled with every moment planned and you couldn't be further from the truth. While we did use Context Travel for a variety of tours (LOVE THEM and so wish they will open tours in Eastern Europe HINT HINT), other than that our time was free. We chose anything we did on the spur of the moment and let me tell you...being spontaneous TAKES PLANNING!.

Anyway that trip was so great that last night when we were talking about my possible future trip to NY, NY Craig said he would rather go back to Rome. YAY! Not that I want to go back there (because there are SO MANY other places in the world and so little time!!) but because he had so much fun I just might get him on a plane across an ocean again :)

So basically I plan plan plan...and then I do anything, everything or nothing!
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