destinations, England, saving money, Things to Do, travel tips

The London Pass: Is the Upfront Expense Really Worth It?

I had a great time in Ireland and England! I took a break from writing here so that it could truly be a vacation, but now that I’m back, you can expect a lot of posts with advice for the British Isles in the coming weeks. To start out, I’d like to go back to the very first item I purchased for this trip. I bought it before I bought plane tickets, or even knew what time of year I’d go to Europe: it’s The London Pass.

What I Did With My London Pass

Tower Bridge London
On Tower Bridge. Note the blue London Pass lanyard around my neck. Free souvenir with purchase!

I bought a three-day pass, and those three days were packed! Here’s a quick breakdown, along with the approximate normal price in pounds:

Day One: 

  • Tower of London (normally 28, but the pass also includes a skip-the-line at the entrance)
  • Tower Bridge (normally 10)
  • HMS Belfast (normally 16)
  • The View from the Shard (normally 32)

Day Two:

  • Churchill War Rooms (normally 22)
  • Westminster Abbey (normally 23)
  • Big Bus Hop-On Hop-Off (normally 34)
  • St. Peter’s Cathedral (normally 20)
  • Royal Mews (normally 12)
  • Kensington Palace (normally 20)

Day Three:

  • City Cruises (normally 19)
  • The Fan Museum (normally 5)
  • Cutty Sark (normally 15)
  • Royal Observatory (normally 16)
  • National Maritime Museum (admission is free to everyone, but passholders get a free book worth 5)

Feel free to use my itinerary on your own trip or tailor it to fit your personal preferences.

Although I met my goal of doing an average of five activities per day, I did feel rushed in some areas. A lot of the attractions have fairly short hours (10am-6pm seemed common), so I was never really sure what to do early in the morning or late in the evening. If opening times were longer, I would have been able to see more, plus spend more time in places like Tower of London.

What About Other Cities?

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One advantage that The Leisure Pass Group has over other types of passes is that it often includes transportation, such as this City Cruise on the London Thames.

The London Pass is just one item sold by The Leisure Pass Group. They offer passes similar to The London Pass in different cities around the world. The only time I ever considered another one of these passes was when I was heading to Paris. It offered admission to a lot of the museums that I wanted to see. However, so did the Paris Museum Pass, which was just a fraction of the price. The Paris Pass did offer a few extras, but none that I was willing to pay the extra price for.

To sum it up, out of all the city passes sold by this company, The London Pass seems to offer the best value.

How to Save Money When Buying the Pass

Stonehenge Tour England
Visiting Stonehenge from London can be pricey! But it’s a little less pricey if you use The London Concierge.

The London Pass is a huge expense. The per-day cost was more than my hostel bed and meals combined. Currently, a three-day pass is 125 pounds, which exchanges into more than the $50-a-day that many modern urban backpackers try to budget by. Even the cheapest-per-day pass for 10 days is more than $25 a day, which doesn’t leave much room for housing and food in one of the world’s most expensive cities. So many of us budget-conscious travelers will have to accept the fact that if you really want to experience all that London has to offer, you’ll have to spend more than your usual per diem. You can always balance it out later with some less expensive trips. (I’ve got nearly-free camping trips planned out this summer.)

However, spending money in an expensive city doesn’t mean I’m not going to try to save where I can! The London Pass often offers some money-saving options.

For starters, decide how many days you want your pass to last. Obviously, the more days your pass is valid, the more expensive it is, but the less it costs per day. As a first-timer to London, I found that a three-day pass was perfect for my one-week trip. I fit in everything I came to see (plus a couple pleasant surprises). That left me with a few days without a pass, which were still chocked full as I spent those visiting free attractions (like parks, free museums, and iconic places like Abbey Road), and well as some attractions that weren’t part of The London Pass, such as London Eye and Up at the O2.

If you plan in advance, you can keep an eye on The London Pass’ website to look out for sales. I bought my pass during a sale, and ever since then, I’ve noticed that they often offer online sale prices.

You can also find discount codes online. I won’t share any here since they’re always changing, but a quick search on Google should give you the most up-to-date promo codes. You can combine a promo code with a sale for maximum savings.

One more way I saved with The London Pass was by using The London Concierge. The London Concierge is a discount ticket purchasing website exclusively for people who have purchased The London Pass. You can buy tickets from The London Concierge even before you activate The London Pass. This is where I bought my bus trip to Bath and Stonehenge, making it a good deal.

But Is It Really Worth It?

Kensington Palace London
Feeling like royalty as I wait for my prince on the Kensington Palace staircase? Priceless.

If you total up the amount I could have spent at the attractions I went to during my three-day pass: 86+131+60= 277. Even at the normal retail price of 125 pounds for a 3-day adult pass, I got more than double my money’s worth. Or did I?

As I mentioned before, there were a couple of attractions I would have liked to spend more time in (namely Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral). However, I felt pressured to rush through these a bit so I could fit more attractions into the day and get my money’s worth. If I had been paying directly for these attractions, I would have spent more time at them. There were also a couple attractions I went into just because I had the pass. Although I ended up enjoying the HMS Belfast, I never would have entered without The London Pass.

There were some attractions that I didn’t feel were worth it. The View from the Shard was little more than a rooftop bar with a big cover charge (and it wasn’t even on the roof). Touring Westminster Abbey was okay, but I had a much better time at the free Evensong service I attended there a few days before I started using The London Pass. Of course, every person’s opinion is different, so I didn’t know how I’d personally feel about these attractions until I went there myself. Now that I know, I know not to go back to those places if and when I return to London.

In fact, while The London Pass was good for a first-time visitor to London like me, I don’t think it would be a very good value for a returning traveler. Some of the attractions were one-and-done deals. For those that I would be interested in seeing again, I would plan out my visit ahead of time and try to find discount tickets specifically for those attractions. Or I would just enjoy the abundance of free museums, church services, and parks available to everyone in London. Although you might miss out on a few must-dos, it is possible to spend nothing on attractions and still have an enjoyable time in London.

Conclusion: For London first-timers who are spending several days or more in the city, go ahead and buy The London Pass. Buy a short-length pass (three days seemed almost perfect), and supplement your non-London-Pass days with an abundance of free attractions and sites not included in the London Pass. If you’ve been to London before or are only going for a very short trip (say, a weekend getaway or a business conference where you won’t be available during the daytime), try to find other ways to save on the attractions you want to visit.

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travel tips

Capture Every Moment on Your Trip of a Lifetime!

Image: https://www.pexels.com/search/photographer/

 

Do you have the holiday of a lifetime booked for this summer? Perhaps you’re counting down the days- as maybe after years of wanderlust you finally went ahead and booked that bucket list trip that you’ve always dreamed about. If so, you’ll want to make sure you remember every detail when you get home, and capture as many moments as you can. Here are just a few ways you can go about it!

 

Bring a good quality camera

Almost everyone these days owns a smartphone with a decent camera on it, however, the pictures taken on these devices will never be as good as ‘proper’ cameras. If you’re going on the holiday of a lifetime, you’ll want to take the best pictures you possibly can and so it’s worth investing in the best camera possible. Something like a bridge or DSLR can give you some really professional shots, but with so many shooting options you might want to go on a short course beforehand so you know how to use it properly. Otherwise, even point and shoot cameras these days can give you excellent clear photos and are something that anyone can use. You could still use your smartphone as well, but it’s worth taking out a decent camera at least on a few of the days, especially if you know you’re going somewhere really scenic.

 

Have some professional photographs taken

Another option for capturing the best pictures you can is to hire a professional. This is a good choice as it enables you to get pictures of all of your party together, rather than one of you always having to be behind the camera. Do some research before you go. For example if you’re heading to Santorini, you could search for a professional photographer in Santorini and see who is available for the dates you’ll be there. In some locations there will be professional photographers already out and about that you could utilise if you see them. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment when you’re away, but once you return home your pictures are so important as they help you to remember everything. So it really is worth booking something like this.

 

Create a scrapbook

All of those ticket stubs, receipts, luggage tags and more can all be kept and added to a travel scrapbook when you get home. Add some pictures and some cute embellishments and you have something really interesting you can look back on for years to come. Keep hold of any interesting bits of paperwork and other items you accumulate while you’re away, and purchase a scrapbook once you’re home. It’s the perfect way to remember your holiday!

 

If this is a really special trip, maybe even the holiday of a lifetime then you might never return to this place. So it makes sense to soak up every moment, and capture all of the details you can so you can remember it as clearly as possible.

 

Couponing to Travel, jobs, saving money, Travel Life, travel tips

April 2019: Work Hard, Save Hard, Travel Hard

April had a lot going on. I worked a ton of hours, but I also traveled a ton of days. And yet I still had time and energy to focus on saving. In fact, I far surpassed my goal of couponing $2000 this year! How did I do it all?

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This past month, I accomplished a one-day goal of making it to the top of this mountain, but I also accomplished a long-term goal of couponing to Europe!

To find out about my current savings challenge, click here.

Check out my previous savings challenge updates: January, February, and March.

Work, Work, Work

April Fools
Work doesn’t have to be boring. It’s the perfect place to throw April Fools

My main job doesn’t usually allow us to work overtime, but I was given a few exceptions this month because there were shifts that no one else was available to cover. (Like me, pretty much everyone who works there has multiple jobs, and some take time off to travel too.) Yay for extra hourly pay! I also got paid time-and-a-half for working several hours on Easter evening. Since I did all the Easter activities in the morning and afternoon, I didn’t miss out on the holiday while earning holiday pay.

Besides the pay and knowing that my work makes a difference in the world, another perk to working more hours is that I’m not tempted to spend money while I’m at work. Still, I’m excited to turn the pay from this work time into fun during travel time!

Travel, Travel, Travel

Keep Portland Weird Sign
My first trip to Portland in nearly five years. The rest of my travels were to smaller towns (or even to the backcountry)

To be honest, I thought I’d be further along in preparing for my trip to Europe. But here I am, just a week away and I haven’t even packed yet! (On my last trip to Europe, I was all packed over a month ahead of time.) But other travel opportunities kept popping up, and I wanted to take advantage of them all! I don’t think there will be any more travel until I head to the airport on Wednesday, so now I’ll be able to focus on getting ready to go. But everything else was definitely worth it!

I mentioned last month that I got a super discount on a cruise to The Bahamas. My mom and I decided to buy our plane tickets to the departure port a few weeks ago. While that would normally cost less than the cruise itself, because of how much I saved, the plane tickets will be the biggest expense! I also purchased two excursions through the cruise line and saved a total of 19%. (That’s 10% off during a sale weekend, and another 10% back for using the cruise’s credit card.)

But the real fun was all the travel I got to do in April. The first weekend was sort of a camp weekend, except it didn’t take place up at camp. It was my first time participating in the annual coast trip. Even though it rained the entire time, we stayed in a cool rental home and did get to go out a little.

It felt more like camp last weekend when I went up to the mountains on my own. I visited the church we attend during most weekend camps, and afterward, I went a few miles up the road to hike a bit of the PCT. Despite being a native Oregonian, I don’t have much experience with the Pacific Crest Trail. This was the longest I’ve ever hiked on it, and my first time hiking it in the state of Oregon. It made for a pretty good day trip, all for the cost of just a little gas in my car!

That wasn’t my only hike this month. I spent one of my days off hiking on Roxy Ann, which is just a few miles from my house. I went up to the summit of the peak and then explored a new trail I hadn’t been on before.

Another outdoor adventure was a day trip to the Lava Beds National Monument. While this normally isn’t a cheap excursion (it’s now $25 dollars per vehicle entry), I time my visits to Lava Beds around the National Parks Service’s free entry days. With a free entry day to kick off National Park Week, I got to explore about a dozen lava tubes for just the cost of getting there. I also made short stops at Tulelake National Wildlife Refuge and Valor in the Pacific’s Camp Tulelake on my way there and back.

Pear Blossom is my city’s annual big festival. Although I ended up working the morning of the parade, I did attend the street fair the day before while I was babysitting. I actually walked there with the kids, which was an adventure on its own. While they each bought a snack, we mostly walked around to snag freebies from some of the booths. I got some good stuff! Some of it, like a travel tube of sunscreen, will be useful on my trip to Europe.

I housesat for a few days. It was just while my parents were on a camping trip, but being in a different environment (and using their hot tub) is a change of pace.

But my biggest trip of the month was at the very end, and actually went into May. I knew I’d have to go to a passport agency if my passport didn’t come, so I made an appointment in Seattle. It did end up shipping, but I decided to head north anyway. Like March, I was invited to another advance screening of a Christian movie. However, they didn’t offer this screening in Medford. Although know I spent more in gas to get there than what a movie ticket would cost, I did get to see the upcoming Kendrick Brothers’ movie Overcomer. I took a friend along, and we both really liked it.

Portland was just supposed to be an extended day trip, with me driving there while my friend slept and her driving home while I slept. However, shortly before we left, she decided to get an AirBnB reservation. This extended our trip by a day and allowed us to pack in more adventure. (Since May 1st involved travel up until my scheduled work time, and then I went to bed immediately after work, that’s why I’m posting this update late.)

Save, Save, Save

National Pretzel Day free pretzels
We each got a free pretzel on National Pretzel Day

I’ve saved $2,243.91. I also made a lot of extra money working, but I decided to stop counting that as I’ve already met my earning goals and it was getting difficult to keep track of all the extra time I worked.

One fun way I saved this month was while babysitting on National Pretzel Day. After picking the kids up from school, we all headed to Wetzel’s Pretzels to grab a free soft pretzel.

Overcomer wasn’t the only movie I saw this past month. I saw Unplanned during my local theater’s discount Tuesday. I used my Cinemark Rewards to get a $3 off coupon for my movie snack pack. My local library also had a free movie day this month, and they provided popcorn and soda for free! The library was also a good place to borrow materials and attend a lecture about a local historical area.

I bought a Groupon last year that I wasn’t able to use, but Groupon allowed me to exchange it for another one. I used it towards a massage and used a coupon code on top of that. So I got a super-inexpensive-yet-quality massage!

Lowe’s had a spring sale a few days ago. When I first saw someone post about it on Instagram, I thought it was a scam. Why would they send you a gift card just for texting them that was good for one day only? Later when I found out this was legit, they had already run out of coupons. However, I’m a part of a few Facebook saving groups, and someone from one of those groups gave me a $10 code that she wasn’t going to use. I used it to buy potting soil (for free seeds I got at Pear Blossom) and some spinach seedlings. I’m now growing a variety of herbs and veggies in containers on my front steps.

I was a little lacking in Swagbucks this month, but I did end up earning enough to get a discount Visa gift card as well as a discounted gift card to Domino’s.

The biggest savings was using my Carnival credit card towards my cruise. Not only do I get savings when I book shore excursions, but I also got a $200 credit with my first use! Two of my credit cards actually owe me money right now due to rewards.

What May Will Look Like

2019 Couponing Savings Goal
My April spreadsheet. Check out all the ways I surpassed my goal!

I’ll still be saving money, at least for parts of May. It’s my birthday month, so of course I’ll be redeeming a few birthday freebies! But since I’ll be on my trip for the majority of the month, I will also be taking a vacation from tracking my savings. I may travel frugally, but am willing to spend money if it’s worth it. At this point, my savings have added up to a big amount. With it, I’ve been able to pay for my flights, hostel reservations, and packaged attractions. Basically, the only extra expenses will be food, ground transportation, and maybe a souvenir or two. I’ve been working so long for this, but I can’t believe that it’s finally here!

travel tips

5 Exciting Things To Do In Ecuador

1600px-Vicuña_-_Chimborazo,_EcuadorImage Source. Licensed under Creative Commons.

 

Ecuador often gets overshadowed by its neighbour Peru, but the country is just as fascinating – it has some unique natural sights and a rich history. Here are just five things you must do whilst in Ecuador.

 

Explore the unique wildlife of The Galapagos Islands

 

The Galapagos Islands are Ecuador’s biggest tourist pull – these islands are renowned for their unique species of animals including Galapagos penguins, the marine iguana and the flightless cormorant. The islands are also home to some of the oldest giant tortoises in the world and contain a large population of sea lions.

 

There are lots of ways to explore the Galapagos Island. Taking a boat such as the Camila catamaran could be a way to tour the islands in style – you can find out more details about the Camila catamaran. Alternatively, you may wish to stay on the islands and do some hiking.

Basilica-Quito-Ecuador

Image Source. Licensed under Creative Commons.

 

Visit the historic capital, Quito

 

Ecuador’s capital Quito is tucked away high in the Andes and is the second-highest city in the world. It’s colonial architecture is some of the most well preserved in South America – this includes a cathedral and several churches dating back to the 16th and 17th century. There are plenty of restaurants here for trying some of the country’s best food and a number of museums for learning about the city’s history.  

 

There are lots of hotels and hostels to try in Quito. Those wanting to absorb the history should stay in Quito Old Town, whilst those looking for nightlife should stay in La Mariscal.

 

Trek your way to the ruins of Ingapirca

 

The ancient ruins of Ingapirca may not be as impressive as Machu Picchu, but they’re still a sight to behold. The ex-Inca stronghold is made up of several buildings – the most notable being the Temple of the Sun. It also contains a museum run by indigenous Canari and the grass around it is grazed by llamas.

 

Most people trek to Ingapirca via the Inca trail. You can take three-day tours from Cuenca via Expendiciones Apullacta.

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Image Source. Licensed under Creative Commons.

 

Climb to the peak of Cotopaxi

 

Cotopaxi is an active volcano in the Andes and the second largest summit in Ecuador. It offers some of the most picturesque views in the country and is one of the best places to spot condors.

 

Climbing Cotopaxi is no easy task and is best done with a guide. Most people begin the climb at midnight – it can take five to ten hours to reach the top.

 

Spot dolphins in the Amazon river

 

The Amazon river also stretches into Ecuador as does much of the rainforest. Here you can spot all kinds of diverse wildlife including howler monkeys and caimans. One of the most unique creatures in this part of the Amazon is the pink river dolphin – by taking a boat trip from Dolphin Lodge, you may be able to spot one of these creatures.

 

You’re best off travelling to Panacocha via bus. You’ll find many tours that you can take throughout this region.

 

resources, road trip, saving money, travel tips

How to Save Money on a Passport

Can you believe there was an upcoming road trip that I DIDN’T want to go on? I really didn’t want to go to Seattle. It’s not that I don’t like Seattle. In fact, that’s the city where I first really fell in love with travel. But I wasn’t looking forward to the reason that I might have to go there.

The government was forcing me.

Seattle Pike's Place Market Pig Art
At Seattle’s famous Pike’s Place Market when I was sixteen. This was a trip taken out of necessity, not pleasure. But it did end up letting me save money on a passport!

This is my personal experience in getting two passports in twelve years. Read to the end for tips on how to save money when getting YOUR passport!

Seeing Seattle

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The Seattle Space Needle. Money tip: It’s super expensive to ride the elevator to the top, but totally free to walk around the artsy perimeter!

You see, when I was fifteen, I applied for my very first passport. I was headed to Peru with my youth group. Unfortunately, this was 2007, when it first became a requirement that US citizens have a passport to go to Mexico and Canada. That really increased the demand for passports, and mine somehow got misplaced or pushed to the back burner in the passport-producing office. No matter how many times I called to check on it or how many times it got expedited, it was just not coming on time. And I applied months in advance! My mom had to drive me to an appointment in Seattle to get a same-day passport just a few days before I left. My original passport ended up arriving the day before I RETURNED from Peru! So I ended up having two US passports for a short period of time, but since that’s illegal I had to send the unused one back. (I also ended up with two birth certificates due to this fiasco, but apparently, that’s allowed.)

On that trip up to Seattle, I was excited. I had been a couple times before on choir trips. I think I fell in love because it was my first time being out of state for multiple days without any relatives. Who knew this independence would cultivate a solo female traveler? Even though I was going with a family member now, I was excited to see things on my own terms this time. My mom had never been to Seattle, but she wasn’t nearly as excited. She warned me that she would turn the car around if we heard word that my passport was being shipped. She wanted to leave Seattle pretty much as soon as I had a passport in hand. However, it did take several hours between our appointment and the time that the passport got printed, so I did have time to show her the main sights. While I did understand that this excursion was unplanned for and an inconvenience, I didn’t get why we couldn’t think of it as a fun bonus trip. Now that I’ve had experience as an adult getting my second passport (well, technically it’s my third if you count the one I had to return), I’m definitely more understanding.

I Almost Repeated this Seattle Incident

Eiffel Tower Paris France Europe
Paris was the first stop of my first trip to Europe. But will I be able to complete my second trip to Europe next week if I don’t have a passport?

For my upcoming trip to Ireland and England, I made plans. I bought tickets. I made reservations. I saved money. I kept you all updated in my progress for getting there. I even booked another international trip for later this year. I was excited to go, and nothing could stop me. Except for maybe the fact that I didn’t have a valid passport.

My first passport expired in 2017. I originally planned to renew it six months before its expiration so that I would always be ready to jump at any opportunity to visit another country. I even got my passport photos taken and filled out an application. But then I decided not to send it in. I didn’t have any travel plans in the works. I figured that I would wait until I actually needed a passport again. Since an adult US passport is valid for 10 years, I could extend the validity by waiting. Unfortunately, I waited a bit too long.

I applied for my passport seven weeks before my departure date. The government asks for 4-6 weeks for processing, and lately, I’ve heard most people getting their passports in less than four weeks. So I figured I was good to go.

Four weeks passed. No passport. I started checking online. All it said was that it was “being processed”. Finally, I had to do it. I made an appointment at Seattle’s passport agency.

There’s actually a closer passport agency in San Francisco. I couldn’t go there in 2007 because it was all booked up for weeks. (It probably wasn’t as bad as the agency I saw when I went to New York City in June 2007. The line of people waiting to get passports there wrapped around the block! If I’d known that my passport wouldn’t be coming, I would have stood in line with them.) I considered going there this time, but I’ve driven in San Francisco traffic before. It might be faster to drive to Seattle. I also wanted to take a quick trip to Portland, so I could just tack on a detour to Seattle after that.

Thankfully, the day after I made my appointment to go to Seattle one week before I leave the country, I got an update that my passport was being shipped. This not only saved me time and stress, but also saved me the extra day I would have to take off of work to get to Seattle, the costs associated with driving up there, the night in a hostel, and parking fees, not to mention the expedited fees.

Did I Save Money?

Inca Kola Peru
My first time using my passport was a mission trip to Peru, where I fell in love with their Inca Kola.

So yes, I guess I saved money by planning ahead (although I barely squeaked by with only a one-week buffer). I won’t have to cover the costs of a mandatory bonus trip. But even when I did have to take this bonus trip for my first passport, my family was surprised that we still ended up saving some money.

At the recommendations of friends, my mom and I stayed in SeaTac, the Washington city between Seattle and Tacoma that houses the airport. A motel there was cheaper than downtown Seattle. On the way there, we did have to stop in Salem, Oregon so I could get a new birth certificate. (My original birth certificate was wherever my original passport was.) That cost money, but even today it’s nice to know that I have a backup birth certificate in case something happens.

We knew there was an additional expedited fee, and my mom assumed that we’d also have to pay the passport fee. When we got to our appointment, we found out we didn’t have to pay the passport fee again (we already paid it when we applied for the original passport). But it was a nice surprise to find out that we didn’t have to pay the expedited fee either. It wasn’t our fault that my passport was left untouched for months, so the government was nice enough to cover their mistake. Since the agency is in a metropolitan area, we did have to pay for parking. But while we waited for the passport to print, we were able to sightsee on foot for free. We went to the sports stadiums, the Space Needle, and so much more!

Renewing a passport is a little less expensive than applying for a first-time passport IF you send in your previous passport. I kept my old passport in my dedicated travel supply drawer, so I sent that in with the lower fee. The renewal application is something you just have to print and mail, which saved time. I paid extra for tracking with the postal service, but overall spent less than my first-time passport.

Or did I?

Here’s the super-special way I saved on my first passport that I like to brag about, since I don’t think it could ever be replicated.

How old was I when I applied for my passport? Fifteen. For children who apply for passports at age fifteen and younger, the passport is only valid for five years. It costs less than an adult passport. If you apply after your sixteenth birthday, you have to pay for a full-fledged adult passport, but that is valid for ten years.

By the time I was headed to Seattle to get my same-day passport, I had already turned sixteen. That meant they had to give me the ten-year adult passport. But the agency considered the payment that was sent with my original passport application as payment in full. That meant I got a ten-year passport for the price of a five-year passport. When I did receive the original passport, it was indeed only valid for five years. Actually, it was never really valid at all since the government demanded that we send it back. But I definitely enjoyed those extra five years on my first passport. For the first five years on that passport, I took two trips to Peru and a trip to Mexico. With my five free years, I walked to Canada a couple times. (Yes, I walked to Canada. Okay, I was staying less than a mile from the border in Niagara Falls, so it wasn’t that big of a feat.) It was also during those five free years that I spent three months backpacking across the Mediterranean. That’s a well-used discount passport!

How to Save Money on Your Passport

US Passport
Headed home from Seattle with my very first passport. Glad I don’t have to go through that this time around!

Note that these are based on my experience in the US. Your results may vary.

  • If you have an expired passport, keep it in a safe place so you can use it to save time and money on your next passport application.
  • If you don’t have travel plans, consider waiting to apply for a passport. (But don’t wait too long!)
  • Don’t get your passport photos taken only to not apply for a passport. It’s illegal to send in photos that are older than six months, so these pricey pictures are pretty much worthless after that.
  • Don’t pay to expedite your passport. Apply for it more than six weeks before your departure date. If it doesn’t look like it will come in time with this precaution, call to have the government expedite it for free due to their delay.
  • Spring on the few extra dollars to get tracking when mailing in your passport application. Once it’s arrived at the processing center, you can track it for free at passportstatus.state.gov.
  • If you do end up having to visit a passport agency, make the most of your trip. Check to see which agency is closest to your home, but also consider further agencies if it will save you money or make your trip more fun. Depending on the circumstances, you may have to pay the expedited fee at the agency, but if it’s due to a processing error, you should be able to get your passport at no extra cost. Make sure you have all the needed documents (and maybe some extras, just in case), so you don’t take this trip for nothing. There are only a handful of passport agencies scattered across the United States, so it will be an ordeal of a trip for most of us!

Did you think it was possible to save money on a passport before you read this? Did anyone besides me end up with a discount passport? Share your thoughts in the comments!

 

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travel tips

3 Important Tips For First Time Visitors To Thailand

Thailand is one of the most popular destinations for people that are on their gap year and that’s what people tend to associate it with. People have this picture of Thailand as being a place filled with 20 somethings that are looking to party, but that’s not all it is. Bangkok is a pretty hectic place and if you’re looking for a more relaxing trip, it might not be ideal to stay there for the whole time, but you shouldn’t write off Thailand completely because it’s an incredible country to visit. If you’ve never been there before and you’re planning your first trip, here are some great tips to help you get the best out of this amazing country.

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Image From Pxhere

 

Avoid Hostels

 

If you want the true gap year travelers experience then you’ll probably end up in a hostel somewhere, but if that’s not what you’re looking for then you should avoid them. They’re very basic and they’re not the kind of place you want to stay if you’re looking for a relaxing trip. They’re better suited to people that just need somewhere to keep their bag and catch a few hours of sleep before heading out again. A lot of people think that all of the accommodation in Thailand is going to be like that but that isn’t the case. In fact, there are some great hotels like the ones run by the New Nordic Group which offer a luxurious experience. According to their CEO Kurt Svendheim, Pattaya is the next place that they’re going to start renovations and new developments on their hotels. If you want to stay somewhere more comfortable than the classic hostels, that’s where you should head.

 

Always Carry Cash

 

You’re probably used to paying for everything on a card these days and a lot of people never carry cash at all, but that isn’t going to work out very well for you in Thailand. You’ll be fine paying on a card at your hotel and a few of the more high-end restaurants, but apart from that, everywhere is going to expect payment in cash. You can usually find ATMs in most places but if you’re heading somewhere off the beaten track, make sure you get plenty of cash out beforehand.

 

Watch Out For Scams

 

Thailand gets a lot of tourists and there are plenty of people out there that will try to rip them off. Most of the locals are very friendly which often means that people get careless and fall victim to scams. Before you go, you should read up on the most common scams in Thailand so you know what to look out for. Tuk Tuk scams are one of the most common. When you get in, they’ll ask you where you’re heading. Then they’ll tell you that the place that you’re going to is overpriced or not worth visiting and recommend somewhere better. The thing is, they’re getting paid to deliver you to an overpriced shop or underwhelming tourist attraction where you’ll waste money. Do your own research first and stick to your itinerary. This is just one of the many scams that you need to watch out for.

 

Thailand is a great place to visit and you’ll have a brilliant trip as long as you follow these simple tips.

travel tips

New Jersey Essentials: The Best Of The Garden State!

Of course, when in the Northeast of America everyone first thinks of visiting New York, the Big Apple! However, the city that never sleeps isn’t the only place worth a visit around this location. In fact, if you find yourself in this area then a trip to New Jersey, the Garden State is well worth your time as well. Just read on to find out how to get there, where to stay, what to eat and what highlights not to miss.

Places to eat

No matter where you visit food is always important. Happily, you’re in luck here as well, because folks from the garden state love their food, and that means they not only demand a high standard when they go out to eat but that they also make fantastic restaurant owners as well.

Of course, there are several places that you will not want to miss when visiting this area. In South Jersey, the location that you will not want to miss is Illiano Cucina Mediterranea, one of the best known Italian restaurants, serving authentic and delicious cuisine. In fact, there you can expect famous Italian favorites such as chicken cacciatore, and chicken Parmesan, as well as other dishes like black ravioli, and shrimp and veal Pavarotti that you may not have heard of, but will still find delicious. Oh, and don’t miss their desserts that change daily!

Another place that you just have to try if you find yourself in NJ is Cucharamama in Hoboken, a place that serves Latin American style tapas with a spicy twist. The service is excellent too, and it’s a pretty laid back place with a reasonably priced wine list, so it’s a perfection location for a relaxed family dinner.

Of, course if you find yourself in Hoboken, there is another food-related place that you just have to try as a well and its Carlo’s Bakery, made famous by the TV show Cake Boss.


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Cannoli for breakfast? 📷 @actualfoodie

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Now, it’s not a place where you can eat in, but you can swing by and grab some cannolis, cookies, iced celebrations cakes, or other treats as well as some great coffee. You may even get to meet some of the stars of the show like Buddy, his sisters, and their husbands as they still work at the store.

Getting there

Of course, you can’t sample the edible delights of New Jersey without working out how to get there first. This will depend on the original location that you start in, but for many people, this will be New York. The reason being that international flights to the areas tend to get into JFK airport. In fact, there are several options to choose from if this is the case. The first is renting a car from the airport and driving to New Jersey. A trip that only takes around 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Alternatively, you can take a flight from NY to NJ, although this can cost a lot, or even get the Greyhound bus for as little as $13 to Newark. The latter option being a sounder choice if you are an on a budget.

Where to stay

The best thing about the accommodation options in New Jersey is that, compared to the neighboring city of New York, they are super cheap. That means if you so choose you can afford to splash out on a smarter room or apartment and enjoy a little extra luxury during your stay.

In particular, you may like to stay at somewhere like the Hilton East Brunswick Hotel & Executive Meeting Center which is a four-star hotel will rooms at as little as $101 a night. There you will find an indoor pool, and the rooms are both clean and large. It’s just off the highway as well, which mean what you are planning to explore NY or NJ it’s easy to reach your desired destination.

Of course, not everyone wants to spend over $100 a night, or even stay in a hotel, but luckily in NJ, there are plenty of other options.

One of these is to go for a rental apartment close to the coast. Something that you can book through services like Airbnb. In fact, such accommodations are usually clean and well decorated in a coastal style, as well as being close to the beach and boardwalk, something that makes them the perfect choice for families wishing to stay in the area. Also at around $30pppn, it can work out a lot cheaper, while still have more space to spread out in your accommodation.

Sites to see

Of course, New Jersey isn’t just about the food, but about the wonderful places that you can cast while you are there as well. In fact, many of the sites are located along the east shore, otherwise known as the Jersey Shore which is a favorite hangout for a younger NJ crowd in the summertime.

In particular, you cannot miss the impressive Six Flags Great Adventure park in Jackson Township. This is mainly because they have some pretty fantastic thrill ride like the El Toro roller coaster and the Daredevil Dive. Although, those with less of an appetite for adrenaline or younger member of the family in tow will be pleased to note they also have some more sedate options such as Air Jumbo and a Carousel as well.

Also, be sure to check out the Adventure Aquarium in Camden too. A place where you can not only check out the underwater life in tanks but also get a bit more up close and personal and see them being fed as well. In fact, you can even attend the Hippo bedtime event where the animals come out of the water and walk to their enclosures behind the scene for the night!

Finally, when visiting NJ, you absolutely cannot miss the fantastic Liberty State Park in Jersey City. In fact, this is the ideal location for a stroll and a picnic, and as it also overlooks Ellis & Liberty island too. Something that means it’s a great place to take in the marvelous sites that both NJ and NY share and so should not be missed.

 

Books, News, writing

To the Writer Who Saved Notre Dame

Mediterranean Trek 042

I was just one of millions who were shocked yesterday at the fire that destroyed Notre Dame in Paris, France. But all the memories I had from nearly four years ago with this structure came rushing back. While in Paris, I loved walking to this city center and did so several times. I took a walking tour around the island that taught me a lot about the history and art. I climbed to the belltowers, found sanctuary inside the sanctuary, attended an evening service, picnicked in its shade, and even explored the underground crypt. I never imagined that this building that pointed to God for over 850 years would be destroyed in my lifetime.

Without the dedicated firefighters working hours upon hours yesterday, Notre Dame would be in worse condition than it is now, and for that I’m thankful. But we must also remember that it’s possible there wouldn’t be a cathedral to save today if a writer hadn’t saved it nearly 200 years ago.

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Victor Hugo and The Hunchback

Notre Dame de Paris wasn’t always as beloved as it is now. After years of neglect, it found itself in a state of disrepair in the 1800s. At the time, a Parisian writer by the name of Victor Hugo decided to do something about his beloved city center. He wrote a book titled Notre Dame de Paris. It ended up being translated into many languages. In the English translation, it was titled The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Maybe you’ve heard of it?

As the popularity of the book spread, readers spilled into Paris to visit the now-famed Notre Dame. This eventually pressured the government to restore the cathedral to its former glory. Why? If you haven’t read the book, the story might not be what you’d expect. Many of us think of the Disney adaptation, which, while I didn’t enjoy it much as a kid, as an adult it became one of my favorite Disney movies due to its unique themes. Victor Hugo actually spent more of his book describing the Notre Dame, with the storyline more as a selling point. It’s even darker than Disney’s darkest cartoon, and does not have a happy ending. But the point was made, and Victor Hugo got his real-life happy ending of a restored cathedral. I was able to visit Victor Hugo’s final resting place in the Pantheon in Paris, lying amid other famous French who shaped their culture.

Mediterranean Trek 057

What Writers Can Do

As I watched the live updates of Notre Dame burning, I couldn’t help but think of Victor Hugo and how he used his character Quasimodo to save the cathedral only to have it destroyed today. But if a writer could save Notre Dame once, could another writer save it again?

I’m not saying that writer is me. Although I have toyed with an idea of a story about a backpacker who visits places like Paris, it’s still only an idea in my head and not on paper. I did feel a personal connection to Quasimodo as I stood in “his” belltower, I actually have the same type of scoliosis that this character did. (Obviously, mine is a mild case where his was much more extreme.) As an urban backpacker, this can cause extra pain as I travel. Paris was the first place I visited in Europe, and while I was already starting to feel pain there, I couldn’t help but feel like it was a place of refuge and freedom.

But most of us are writers in some form or another. In this modern age where anyone can be published, maybe we all can work together in writing our way to save Notre Dame again. I’ve already been inspired by the news reporters saying that it will be rebuilt (though we don’t have a timeframe yet- hopefully in this lifetime!) and the people on social media who have pledged money and shared their own stories. If you’ve been to Paris, share your personal experience so that the Notre Dame’s memories will not disappear, even if its roof has. If you haven’t seen Notre Dame, I know its tales have still affected you in some way. Share what you’ve learned about the historic cathedral, or write about how excited you are to see it being rebuilt. Who knows? Maybe one of us will become the next Victor Hugo, writing a book that features the future Notre Dame.

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Start now: What’s been your experience with the Notre Dame, whether in person or through books/movies/etc? How did you feel when you heard it caught fire? Share with the world in the comments below!

All photos taken by me, Jessica Lippe, July 2015.

Couponing to Travel, day trip, destinations, resources, saving money, Travel Life, travel tips

March 2019: How to Save Money with MORE Travel?!?

Welp, I’ve just about made it! I’ve wanted to save $2000 in coupons and sales in just over four months, and in March alone I couponed over half of that amount. Yes, I scored some super-big deals this month (two of them were each worth about $500), and well as several smaller ones. And yes, I will share how I did it with you.

But first, you may want to catch up on ways I’ve saved each month since the beginning of the year:

Here’s what I did in January.

And here’s February.

If you want to know what I’m saving all this money for, this post explains it. 

Spring Break Bucks

ScienceWorks rocks
Glowing rocks at the science museum… membership and admission covered by babysitting!

Like most adults, I don’t get a designated “spring break”. But kids still do. Parents often need to hire babysitters for longer hours during spring break and other school vacations. Since I babysit on Fridays, I made some extra money for the extra hours.

If you’re good around kids, school holiday babysitting isn’t even hard. In fact, we had some fun playing tourist around town. Since the kids’ spring break covered two Fridays, on the first Friday we went to the nearby town of Ashland for the Scienceworks science museum and Dagoba chocolate factory. The next week, we went downtown to the food truck food court and then toured Harry & David’s world headquarters. (The kids liked the sweets, and I had to agree!) So basically these gigs involved having fun. They did like sleeping in each morning and then playing video games before doing anything else, so I got to use that time to read guidebooks and plan for my upcoming trip. Win-win!

I also took on some extra shifts at my regular job. So far this year, I’ve made an extra $926.26 in additional income. Half of that ($463.13) is going to go toward my trip. While I’m happy with this amount, I was expecting to have earned a little more by this point, so hopefully I’ll have more moneymaking opportunities before I leave in May.

Preparing for Departure

Travelon Packing Cubes
Four packing cubes for the price of zero… now that’s a deal worth getting excited over!

I’m not leaving the country until the second week of May, but I did a lot in March to get ready for it. And I tried to save money everywhere I could!

The most important item that I need for this trip is a passport. Unfortunately, the US government isn’t too keen on offering discounts. (I did unintentionally get a discount on my very first passport, but that’s a different story!) But anyway, I applied for that so I should receive a new passport in time.

Another key element was getting a flight between Ireland and England. The plane ticket I bought last month flew into Dublin and out of London, so I searched Kayak.com and found a ticket for the short hop for just under $34. No couponing was involved here, but I think it’s the cheapest flight I’ve ever flown!

I booked a couple of short tours to major sights outside of the city, and that was a good area to save a few bucks. I’m going on an overnight tour to Blarney Castle, Cork, and the Cliffs of Moher with Paddywagon Tours, and managed to save $11 there. I also used The London Concierge (exclusive to buyers of The London Pass) to book a Stonehenge and Bath tour with Golden Tours. I made my booking during a flash sale weekend, so I saved $15!

As far as gear goes, I’m trying to use what I have. But I did have an Eddie Bauer $10 off coupon. Combined with a 50% off sale weekend, I got a set of packing cubes for free!

Healthy Living

Medford Growers Market
Walking to the farmers market kills two (healthy) birds with one stone- plus I saved on gas!

The word “health” and “cheap” don’t normally go together. I had an unusual case of adult hand-foot-and-mouth at the beginning of the month. Because of the blisters covering my throat, I could only eat and drink certain items for a few days. To get a better deal on these foods and avoid spreading germs to innocent shoppers, I tried Fred Meyer’s ClickList for the first time. I ordered everything online, used digital coupons, went to the parking lot, and everything was delivered to my car. I still prefer shopping in-store so I can price compare and find clearance specials, but it’s nice to know that this option is available and cost-effective.

After I was back to my healthy self, I decided to get even healthier. My plan is simple: walk a few more miles and make sure at least 50% of what I eat is vegetable. This will get me in better shape so I can walk even more around Ireland and England (though I won’t necessarily follow the vegetable rule there!) This hasn’t directly saved me any money, but it will allow me to do more on my trip and save on health costs in the long run. And so far, it hasn’t cost me any more than my usual food.

Big Ticket Savers

Couponing Spreadsheet March Update
Look at all I’ve saved and earned! Just $100 left to coupon!

I’m so glad I got a reward credit card. My CapitalOne card offered a $500 reward for spending $3000 in three months. This was on top of its regular cash back. Normally, $3000 is a lot of money, but I put all my trip expenses on it, plus made a few other strategic purchases.

And Finally: How to Save Money with MORE Travel

Union Creek Oregon
The views from our snowshoe trip. But soon, I’ll exchange snow for sea!

At the beginning of the month, the only entertainment I had planned was seeing an advance screening of the movie Breakthrough. Entry was free with an invitation, and I bought a discounted Cinemark gift certificate from GiftCardGranny so I could get free popcorn. The movie was great and you should go see it, but I was in for a surprise at all the adventures the rest of the month would bring!

As I mentioned above, day trips while babysitting were a great way to get paid to adventure locally. Helping at camp two weekends this month was also a way to free fun. Meals, lodging, and activities are covered, so I’m spending less than I would need to spend at home.

On a free weekend, I went snowshoeing and sledding with my parents. By going as a group, I didn’t have to buy a sno-park permit just for myself. Plus, it’s not safe to snowshoe solo.

But the best travel deal I cashed in on this month won’t happen until November and December. Swagbucks recently added Carnival Cruises gift cards as an option for redemption, and they were extra discounted when they were first posted. Although that offer is no longer valid, I’d encourage you to keep checking on Swagbucks‘ rewards as they often offer some good ones, but long story short, I got the entire base price for a 5-day cruise to The Bahamas for just $30!

I also got a Carnival credit card to help pay for the taxes, fees, and excursion expenses for this trip. So I’ll soon be getting another credit card reward, this time for $200 plus FunPoints. And despite being in my 20s, I joined AARP Rewards for Good so I could get 10% off another cruise gift card. (I bought it with my CapitalOne card to help me reach my $3000 minimum.) I’ll still have to pay for my flight to Fort Lauderdale where the cruise departs, so maybe I’ll be doing these monthly couponing updates even after my Eurotrip so you can see how I’m saving for my cruise!

 

 

 

faith, News, Nonprofit

Prayers for Nebraska

Nebraska was on my mind a lot this month. I lived just outside of Fremont, Nebraska for two years. Even though my last visit there was in 2014, I still think about it.

Platte River, Camp Rivercrest, Fremont, Nebraska
The outdoor riverside chapel where I worked at Camp Rivercrest in Fremont, Nebraska.

At the beginning of the month, I was asked to write this blog post called Omaha After Five, part of a series for business travelers who want to explore the cities they’re visiting after work hours. I had to do a little research to freshen up and make sure my memories were accurate, but it seemed like time moves slower and nothing ever changes in the Midwest.

Then the flood hit.

Much of Fremont had to be evacuated, along with many other areas along the Platte River. Since I lived and worked on a property situated right above the Platte, it’s been crazy to see how what normally is a fairly calm river among the plains can cause so much damage.

Platte River Fremont Nebraska
The Platte River during my last visit to Fremont, September 2014

While there is danger of the flood returning, the water has mostly subsided. However, the damage has been done. Families have been displaced. Roads have ruts bigger than the cars that can’t drive on them. Structures have been swept away. Farms have been ruined. So what can we do to help?

There are two things that need to be done: help for the people and restoration for the state. I’ve made two donations to different organizations that are each helping with one of these aspects.

Help People

My heart really goes out to the people. That’s why I’m so glad so many people and organizations are stepping up to help those in need. I made a donation to the Salvation Army who has been doing a lot in Fremont, Nebraska, but other relief organizations and churches are involved as well.

I first signed up for the Operation Blessing’s volunteer alerts when I was living in Nebraska myself. I’d just heard about another flood, though this one was in New York. I wanted to be in the know in case any nearby disasters struck and I could get involved. This charity organizes work projects for disaster-affected areas. Although I no longer live in Nebraska and am unable to make it there at this time, I still get Operation Blessing alerts for all over the country, and they have one for Fremont right now! As with any relief effort, make sure you register ahead of time and follow all of the guidelines instead of just showing up at the worksite. You don’t want to contribute to creating more of a problem than they already have!

Restoring the State

When I first stepped foot in Nebraska, it was also a pretty stormy day! It was raining and thundering while I was still in the air. While the plane was landing, the guy in the window seat next to me told me to look at what he was pointing down to: a farm covered in water. When a coworker picked me up, before we even left the airport, we thought someone threw a baseball at her windshield. It turned out to be the first drop of a softball-sized hailstorm that ended up totaling her car. But the next day, all was clear. My northwestern upbringing left me in shock at the view of endless corn and soybean fields.

Since Nebraska provides much of the country with beef, corn, and soy, this flood could affect all of us. Obviously, helping the farmers will help restore the economy, which will ultimately help with the roads, buildings, and everything else that needs repair. That’s why I donated to Nebraska Farm Bureau’s Disaster Relief Assistance.

004Have you ever felt personally connected to a disaster? Share in the comments so we can support each other!