Bucket List, Travel Life, coronavirus

My Time in Europe with the Coronavirus Pandemic

I had to start this post over and over again. Every day, there were new developments announced in the news, and what I had previously saved in drafts was no longer applicable. But here’s what happened: I started what was supposed to be an extended European trip in late February.

Just a couple days before leaving, I heard that the coronavirus, which previously was only really an issue in China, was now infecting parts of Northern Italy, particularly the two cities I was going to visit: Milan and Venice. Thankfully, I was landing in Munich, where at the time there had only been a few cases that were already treated. I left on my trip, knowing that I would need to keep an eye on the news to see if I needed to rearrange my plans with Italy. But since my time in Northern Italy was a month away, I was hopeful that the coronavirus outbreak would be taken care of by then.

My first day in Munich was Ash Wednesday. No one seemed to mind crowding for a glimpse of the annual Fischbrunnen Wallet Washing!

I wasn’t even one week into my trip when I cancelled all my plans in Italy. The numbers kept on growing every day, with no sign of an end. But I was only going to be there for one full day, so it was easy to rearrange my plans

I continued traveling Bavaria, Germany. There were no signs of an epidemic there. No one was wearing gloves (other than winter gloves on cold days) and the only ones wearing masks were extra-cautious foreign travelers. But obviously they were still traveling, and so was I. I spent a week seeing so many of the open museums in Munich. Then I went to Fuessen, where I walked right up to the ticket counter and got tickets to see the famous Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles. (It should have been a clue that the ticketing office was set up with really long queues, but I just figured that I arrived early and it was still off-season.) I went back to Munich for two more nights before heading to the Bavarian countryside near the little town of Eichstatt to volunteer with the Englischhausen language immersion program.

Some Englischhausen participants trying to navigate while on a quick excursion to Eichstatt.

Before the program, the director e-mailed us all asking if we had any of the common symptoms of coronavirus. During the program, we chose to bump elbows instead of hug or shake hands. But we weren’t really concerned with catching it from our small group or the staff at our hotel, so even though it was an intense immersion program, it was fairly relaxing compared to everything that was going on in the rest of the world that week.

Since the native English speakers’ job at Englischhausen was simply to speak English all day, we started the week out by talking about our jobs, our families, and topics like that. While the WiFi was spotty, I and much of the rest of the group made sure to read the news each day, and in the middle of the week we found out that the virus was now considered a global pandemic. By the end of the week, every conversation, no matter how many times we tried to change the subject, always went back to the coronavirus. When Trump announced that the US would close their borders to Europeans, I knew things were going to be different for the rest of this trip. However, since I am a US citizen and could still return for as long as planes kept flying, I thought I could still continue on my journey. I started making back-up plans; perhaps I could go to Eastern Europe or maybe even the UK if my original route didn’t work out.

On our last night there, someone announced that the Czech Republic closed their borders for a month. I was bummed; that meant I couldn’t visit the Prague Easter markets. I figured maybe I could extend my stay in Slovakia, or maybe go from Slovakia to Hungary instead. But with a Google search, I found out that Slovakia was no longer an option either. I didn’t know what to do for the rest of my trip, but my next stop of Salzburg, Austria was still open.

Arriving back to Munich seemed eerie, like it was just a shell of the city I’d seen six days prior. When I checked into the hostel, the receptionist recognized me from when I had stayed there two weeks ago. “Nothing is different,” he told me. While not much had changed within the hostel, the city definitely was different. People were still out and about, but none of the tourist attractions were open anymore. There were government notices on all the church doors saying that individual prayers and visits were okay, but services were discouraged. A couple chain stores were closed, and for the first time ever, I saw hand sanitizing stations in Europe. But no worries for me; I was headed to Austria and then Switzerland.

Going to Salzburg was actually the second time going into Austria on this trip. Since Fuessen is on the border of Germany and Austria, while I was there I enjoyed a lovely hike across the border. I saw where the border checkpoint used to be, and at the time thought how awesome it was that the European Union has such open borders between countries.

I found lots of Salzburg sites that were either featured in The Sound of Music or provided inspiration. This gazebo was used in the “16 Going on 17” number.

But as I headed to Salzburg, I got an email from the hostel there saying they could only host me for two nights instead of the original five. On Monday, all of the accommodations in their county had to close. I stressed out the entire bus trip there to figure out what to do after this shortened time in Salzburg, but I was determined to make the most of the time I had.

I have an upcoming special post that describes my adventure in escaping Salzburg much like the Von Trapps had to, but long story short, I ended up having to leave even earlier to avoid becoming a homeless refugee. But by this time, with all the countries that had announced border closures, in addition to all events cancelled and attractions closed, I knew it was time to start planning how to cut my trip short and go home early… if that was even possible.

I definitely didn’t expect half of this trip to be spent in Munich, but I ended up there yet again. I spent two nights there figuring out a game plan. I compared flights going out of both Munich and Frankfurt, and Frankfurt seemed to have more reasonable options. Through a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend connection, I contacted someone who lives in Frankfurt just to see what they recommended about traveling there. In turn, they offered to let me stay in their guest room for as long as I needed! While I had already cancelled all my bus trips out of frustration, I now had hundreds of dollars worth of FlixBus credit, and used some of that for a day-long trip to Frankfurt. Little did I know that the day I chose to take the bus ride was the last day that FlixBus would be operating in Germany.

My original schedule did take me through Frankfurt toward the end of my trip, but I wasn’t planning to spend too much time there. So I definitely didn’t know how I would spend several days there in the wake of the coronavirus. The recently-implemented laws in the state of Hesse definitely weren’t tourist friendly. Museums were closed. Stores and bars that didn’t sell food or other essentials were closed. Restaurants closed by 6 pm (that rule became even stricter the day I left). But I still enjoyed my time there seeing the architecture, going into the churches that were still open, and going on long walks and bike rides.

Finally, the day of my new flight arrived. I was impressed by the Frankfurt airport, except for at a security checkpoint they didn’t have a place for me to empty my reusable water bottle, and thus I had to chug the entire thing! I was trying Condor Airlines for the first time. This one-way ticket home cost me more than my original round-trip ticket with Delta. While the no-contact guidelines meant there was limited food and beverages, it still had the amenities of seatback entertainment screens and, the always hoped-for but especially appreciated when everyone’s concerned about a contagious virus, my own row with empty rows in front and back of me! I finally knew that I would make it home.

It only took a few minutes for all passengers to board the nearly-empty flight.

I had a six-hour layover in Seattle. I heard that the health screenings for European travelers the previous weekend took at least seven hours, but now with fewer travelers, I got through both the health screening and immigration in just minutes. The health screening seemed kind of like a joke. We just had to fill out a couple forms with our contact info and checking off where we’d been, and then someone asked me how I was feeling. They didn’t even take my temperature. So I had several hours to wait around in an airport where half the shops were closed until I could finally take my late-night flight home.

Now I’m approaching the middle of my two-week quarantine in what I call the plastic bubble, named so because there’s plastic sheeting separating my bedroom and bathroom from the rest of the house. I’m taking quarantine seriously. I even drove my own car home from the airport by myself. I went from being able to explore an entire continent to only being allowed in two rooms. But I have been keeping busy with a variety of things, including thinking about how I’ll finish my original itinerary when I get to go to Europe again!

I Didn’t Get to…. BUT

Remembering the positive moments of this trip

I didn’t get to see the 11 countries I came to see… but I got to see two countries that I hadn’t before.

I didn’t get to go to Milan and Venice… but I had a delicious authentic Italian pizza made by Italians at a restaurant in Fuessen. Plus, I’ve been to Italy in better times.

I didn’t get to see the Matterhorn… but I got to take nature walks among the German-Austrian Alps (Bucket List Accomplishment!)

I didn’t get to visit the famous Anne Frank house… but I got to see TWO of her houses from her early years in Frankfurt.

I didn’t get to see the Little Mermaid statue… but I still felt the Disney magic at Neuschwanstein Castle.

I didn’t get a week to enjoy the museums of Salzburg… but I had a super-eventful weekend there where I could tell the hills were alive with the sound of music!

I barely got to go to any museums… but I saw all the ones I wanted to see in Munich, and beyond that, I still enjoyed the local history through architecture, cathedrals, and the outdoors.

I didn’t get to take a Swiss chocolate-making class or go to Prague’s Easter markets… but I bought a lot of German chocolate that I will enjoy for Easter!

I didn’t get my “break week” in Bratislava, Slovakia… but I’m definitely getting a break now with a two-week quarantine!

I didn’t get the adventure I was planning for… but I got an incredibly unique adventure I’ll never forget!

What’s been your biggest struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic? Share in the comments below, and maybe we can all support each other!

saving money, Things to Do, travel tips

What Credit Cards Do I Use for Travel?

I use travel prep as an opportunity to do some minor upgrades in my life. I just ordered a new phone. (My current one cracked on my first day in Dublin and I haven’t replaced it for the past eight months.) And I typically get a new credit card too. Prepaying for transit and accommodation for my trip allows me to easily reach the minimum spend to get sign-up bonuses.

For this upcoming trip, my new credit card is Capital One Quicksilver.

I signed up for my first Capital One card on my trip to the British Isles. That was a Savor card, and I really enjoyed the sign-up bonus, free currency conversion, and cashback, among other benefits. But that one was Mastercard, which isn’t quite as widely accepted as Visa. It also had an annual fee.

That’s why I was excited that Capital One Quicksilver (which is a Visa card) had no annual fee and 1.5% cash back for every purchase, plus a signup bonus after you spend $500. It also has the benefits you can find in every Capital One card, like not freezing your card just because you’re in a different country. My experience has been that Capital One is very traveler-friendly.

Sign up for a Capital One Quicksilver Card here.

Cashback

I’m not as deep into the rabbit hole as many credit card-hacking travelers, but I do take advantage of the perks when I can. Unlike others, I typically prefer cards that have cashback bonuses instead of airline miles or hotel points. With cashback, you know exactly what you’re getting. With “miles” or “points”, the values of these pseudo-currencies can change on a whim. Plus, with cashback, I can use my reward to pay for whatever I want. I can use cashback for bus trips, meals, gear, or even paying my bills when I’m back at home. This allows greater freedom than being tied to a certain airline or hotel chain.

I try to get more than 1% cash back on every purchase I make. That’s why I like how Quicksilver gives 1.5% cash back across the board. While making purchases for this trip, I’ve been using the Swagbucks shopping portal for their partners at online stores like Tracfone and Hotels.com. Then I get a percentage of cash back from Swagbucks in addition to the cashback offered by the credit card company. It’s like getting a 3-10% discount without having to clip coupons or scour sales!

Signing Up

Nowadays, it’s so easy to sign up for new credit cards. I remember when I had to go to my bank every time I was interested in changing my spending medium. Just go to the website and sign up! This is a big advantage when you want to use a bank that doesn’t have a physical location near you. I’ve done all my Capital One banking exclusively online, which makes it simple to keep tabs on how much I’m spending. And by monitoring my spending and saving, I can redirect funds to things that are more important to me (like trips).

It only took me a couple minutes to apply for Capital One Quicksilver online. The hardest part was deciding which credit card I wanted to get next, but I guess I already did that legwork for you!

Making Your Credit Card Work for You (and not the other way around)

As our society becomes more and more cashless, I’m assuming most people reading this already have at least one credit card. And it’s obvious that I’m encouraging you to sign up for another one. (You should always travel with at least two credit cards in case one gets lost, stolen, or frozen.) I think credit cards have a lot of benefits that paper money doesn’t, like theft protection, spending reports, and, of course, cashback and bonuses.

However, I don’t think EVERYONE should get a credit card. If you’re in debt or struggle to pay on time or in full, then, by all means, get rid of your credit cards! Cashback and bonuses are only useful if you’re not paying late fees and interest. If you’re not in a place where you can be smart with a credit card, go all Dave Ramsey and focus on managing your money in more physical ways.

If you have a track record of being responsible with money and paying bills on time but don’t yet have a credit card, this might be a good time to consider building your way to an excellent credit score. Apply for a credit card and you can literally fund your next trip or any big monetary goals you have!

2020 Capital One Quicksilver Reviews - 1.5% Cash Back

Do you use a credit card to help you travel? What do you think are the biggest advantages/disadvantages?

Disclosure: This is not a paid ad. I do get a signup bonus for the first five people to use this link and qualify for Quicksilver card, but no other compensation has been or will be made. I just get excited about credit card benefits that travelers can take advantage of!

resources, saving money

20 Ways I’m Saving Money in 2020

Do you want to save money this year? Of course you do!

While this blog focuses on budget travel, I realize that not everyone is working on a travel goal right now. But I bet pretty much everyone has a money goal, whether that’s to get out of debt, stop living paycheck-to-paycheck, or save for retirement. Here are 20 things I’m doing this year to save money. I hope you get inspired and figure out a few ways that you can improve your savings, too.

cash coins money pattern
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

  1. Changing Up My Retirement Savings I try to max out my Roth IRA each year. In 2019, I was allowed to deposit $6000. So I set up an automatic transfer of $500 to this retirement account each month. But when I realized that $6000 would make more in a CD Time Account than in the Roth account, I decided to put a lump sum $6000 into a CD. It was a much bigger upfront investment, but when it matures towards the end of the year, I can put that $6000 into my IRA just as I had before. I’ll still be earning interest with what’s already in my IRA, plus I’ll get interest from the CD that I can use for whatever I want- no need to wait for retirement!
  2. Downsizing My Belongings True, this is mostly spurred by the fact that I’m moving and don’t want to deal too much with storage while I travel. It’s also true that used items won’t sell for as much as the cost to buy new. But when I do need to buy furniture and appliances again, you can bet I’ll be buying them used. Here’s an example of how buying and selling used items can save you big: nearly two years ago, I bought my washing machine off of Facebook Marketplace for $150. Now I’m selling it for $150. That’s basically like renting a washing machine for free all this time!
  3. Taking Care of What I Have This will be even easier to do once I’ve downsized everything. If clothing gets a tear, it’s better to sew it up than to completely replace it. Even though my car will just sit in a driveway when I’m in Europe, I’m taking it in for an oil change and tune-up before I leave so that I can drive it in top condition when I return. Just using things gently can make a big difference in how long they last.
  4. Doing Everything Digitally I think I still have the same book of stamps that I bought five years ago! Living in the digital age can save you on postage as well as the gasoline that it could cost to do some tasks in person. Most things can be done online. I correspond, pay bills, sell stuff, buy stuff, fill out applications, and sign contracts online. You don’t even need that much equipment anymore. If your phone or computer has a camera, that eliminates the need for a scanner in most cases. As a bonus for buying online, it’s easy to compare prices. Most stores post their prices online, so if going to a brick-and-mortar store really is a better deal, you can find out before making that trip.
  5. Loving the Library My local library did away with late fees, so it truly is a free resource. But it’s more than books. I love borrowing TV shows on DVD instead of having a streaming subscription. My library also loans out ukuleles, sewing machines, e-readers, and more- find out what’s available at your branch. I also go to some of the free community events at the library.
  6. Being a Free Trial Queen While ordering Christmas presents on Amazon, I got an offer for a free month of Amazon Prime. I accepted the offer and got free shipping on my Christmas gifts. I haven’t bought anything from Amazon since, so I decided to cancel my membership when my free trial ended. But until then, I enjoyed a month of free movie and show streaming and free exclusive coupons. A lot of services offer free trials to new members or former members. I’ll probably take advantage of a few more free trials over the next year. (Tip: Only do one trial at a time. It’s easier to keep track that way, and you’ll be able to take better advantage of what the service offers when you’re only focused on one.)
  7. Getting Rewarded Recently, I signed up for a new credit card. I just got my $150 bonus, in addition to the 1.5% cashback I get with every purchase. Is it time for you to get a new credit card? You can get even more rewards, with or without a credit card, when you shop through certain portals. Right now, as I’m making reservations for my time in Europe, I booked many of my hostel stays through Hotels.com. Users of this site get a free night for every 10 nights booked, plus a percentage back through Swagbucks. Yes, I still use Swagbucks since they partner with so many companies for extra cashback opportunities!
  8. Buying in Bulk Creatively Despite living alone, I love my Costco membership. No, I don’t buy the 10-pound bags of produce since over half of it is guaranteed to go bad. But I still have half the toilet paper that I bought there two years ago. Buy nonperishables in bulk, or create a coop with a couple other people so you can share the savings of a bulk purchase. You can even group things together to try to create bulk savings of your own! I had to make reservations for 11 different bus trips, and each reservation required a $2 fee on top of the bus fare. Instead of paying for each trip separately, I lumped all 11 reservations together at once and saved $20!
  9. Saving “Last Chance” Food I’ve never been dumpster diving. I’ve found a (legal!) way to get fresher food inside the store for half price or less. A lot of grocery stores will discount their food within a couple days of its expiration date. It could also be discounted if the packaging is damaged, or if they just have too much of an item that isn’t selling as well as anticipated. I usually see these foods with a brightly-colored 50%-off sticker, but sometimes they’re discounted to just pennies per item. It’s a great chance to stock up and maybe try some foods you’ve never tasted before. (Bonus tip: A lot of non-food items go on clearance too. Some stores leave items on their original shelves to make a scavenger hunt of finding them, but a lot of stores have a clearance shelf- find the ones at all the stores near you and check them with each shopping trip!)
  10. Caring for the Environment My home state of Oregon implemented a bag ban this year. Many are groaning at having to pay for shopping bags, but I celebrated it. I’ve been bringing my own bags for a while, and now it’s benefitting more than just the environment. A few of the other examples and tips I’ve mentioned, such as taking the bus instead of a plane, going digital, borrowing from the library, and buying/selling used items, are environmental as well as economical.
  11. Taking Finance and Business Courses I’ve been out of school for quite a few years now, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped learning. In fact, since there are a lot of free adult education courses out there, this is a great way to learn how to save money without spending any money at all. I’ve been to some courses I’ve found through the chamber of commerce in the past. This week I attended a webinar about breaking bad money habits. I’m even listening to a financial YouTube video as I type this! Keep educated so you can learn to grow your money.
  12. Questioning the “Necessities” You need a roof over your head, right? Probably, but I decided to get rid of my apartment anyway. Since I’ll be traveling for a significant amount of time this year, it didn’t make sense to pay monthly rent for an empty apartment, plus pay for accommodations where I am. In fact, my hostel costs will be about the same as my current monthly rent when I’m in Europe! Of course, this exact option isn’t available to everyone. I’m grateful that I can store some of my belongings in my parents’ barn until I find a new place to rent. But think about what “necessities” you don’t actually need in your situation. Do you need to buy lunch if your workplace offers free meals? Do you need a car if you live in an area with excellent public transportation? Find out what works for you, no matter how unconventional it may be.
  13. Not Doing it for the ‘Gram I’m not opposed to Instagram, and I’ll definitely be using it to document my adventures this coming year. But so far this year, I haven’t posted anything. I considered posting about a camping trip, a family trip to the coast, or even just a post to greet the new year with what I want to do, but ultimately decided not to. When we “do it for the ‘gram” or otherwise do things mainly to impress other people, it can get expensive! Furthermore, you may not like paying for those things as much as you thought when it doesn’t garner attention. My time off of Instagram has allowed me to define my own goals without the influence of an audience.
  14. Reducing Sugar Intake This is the third January in a row that I’ve kicked off the year with 21 days of no sugar. Sugar is addicting and I love it. But this fast allows me to reset after a holiday season filled with cookies and cakes and all kinds of deliciousness. I didn’t start this to save money, but it turns out that it saves in multiple ways. Long-term, it saves on health costs since I’m eating more nutritious foods. And short term, I’m not buying junk!
  15. DIYing I got a bottle of clay mask facial for Christmas. Since I didn’t buy it, I’m not sure how much it cost, but I bet you it cost more than my activated charcoal powder and bentonite clay. Plus, I like making my own facial so I can fine-tune it to the needs of my skin at the time. After comparing the two, my homemade mask really does work better, plus the ingredients are multipurpose.
  16. Comparing and Price Matching I briefly mentioned in #3 that you can compare prices online, but I want to emphasize how important this is both online and in-store. Oftentimes, two nearly-identical items have a several-dollar price difference. Or, the same item in different sizes can have a significant difference in value. (Check the price-per-unit label that many stores now display.) A lot of stores and websites have a price match policy, so take advantage of that if you find a better deal elsewhere. The only thing I’ve really been shopping for lately is hostels, which I’ve been doing mainly on Hotels.com. I still check other websites (especially Hostelz.com and the hostel’s own website) because they sometimes offer rooms not available through Hotels.com. But Hotels.com is often the best deal, and in the few cases I’ve found that it isn’t, it’s easy to price match. I even found a lower rate for a hostel in Fuessen, Germany on Hotels.com a couple weeks after I booked it, and upon my request, the website offered to refund the difference.
  17. Buying Discount Gift Cards Hopefully you’re making use of any gift cards you got for Christmas. But lots of people out there got gift cards that they don’t want or need, and they’re selling them at a loss! Take advantage of this by buying gift cards from places like GiftCardGranny or GiftCardSpread. (Make sure you’re only buying gift cards for places you know you’ll shop anyway, such as grocery stores and gas stations.) I know I’ve already mentioned a few ways I’m saving by using Hotels.com, but I’m saving even more since I bought a discounted Hotels.com gift card!
  18. Driving Less Obviously, I’m not taking my car to Europe. I’ll be walking within cities and taking busses between destinations, so I don’t have a reason to rent one there. Even at home, I’m not going out as much by combining trips and having no-drive days. For the times I do drive, check out how I get super-discounted gas.
  19. Enjoying Money-Saving and Money-Making Hobbies Right now, my main downtime activity is planning my trip to Europe, and how I can save money on it while still doing the things that I’m interested in. This includes researching hostels, looking up discount codes, and scheduling admissions and other activities. And you probably know that I am a writer who started publishing books last year. I’m continuing to write so that I can sell even more books very soon. If you can find a hobby that can make you some extra money (especially if it could eventually turn into a career), great! For other hobbies, try to find ways to cut costs or do them for free.
  20. Giving Generously It may seem counterintuitive, but I wanted to save the best tip for last. Instead of wasting too much time trying to sell insignificant items or looking for online moneymakers, it’s often more valuable to give those times and possessions. I’m giving away a lot of my items, and have given some of my money as well. It allows you to refocus your mindset and appreciate what you already have.

How are you saving money this year? Share with everyone in the comments!

20 Ways to Save in 2020

 

Suggestions for the Travel Industry, Travel Life, travel tips

The Best Travel Advice from Home Alone Movies

Christmas came a few days early for me this year! Delta Airlines sent me a check for $685.03. That extra three cents seems odd, but that’s because it’s an exchange of 600EUR, which I earned just for filling out a form and having a flight delay in Europe four years ago.

EU Flight Delay Payout from Delta

I only just found out about an EU law that says if your flight is delayed for mechanical reasons in Europe, you can request that the airline compensate you up to 600EUR. I wasn’t sure if my flight from Paris back in 2015 was outside the statutes of limitations, but I decided to check it out and fill out the form anyway. Sure enough, it worked! Part of me is kind of hoping that my flight home from my upcoming European trip will have a mechanical delay; this reimbursement check would end up being more than what the flight cost me!

While my first flight delay for a Eurotrip ended up paying me royally, I had another experience with delays on my second trip to Europe that was a nightmare. But first, since this is a Christmas blog post, let’s talk about popular movies for this time of year.

Home Alone and Home Alone 2

Oh, that Kevin! Most of us remember these Christmastime movies for the booby traps a lonely boy pulled that should have killed the two robbers multiple times over. (Remind me how this puts us in the holiday spirit?) Like many Americans, I spent part of this December watching Home Alone and Home Alone 2, while pretending that Home Alone 3, 4, and 5 never happened. (And now Disney+ is making a sixth movie? I don’t think I ever got around to seeing 4 or 5.) But this time around, something struck me in the earlier scenes of the movies.

Eiffel Tower Paris France Europe
I managed to make it to Paris without forgetting anyone.

In the original Home Alone, Kevin McCallister’s family forgets him at home on their flight to Paris. As soon as they get to Europe, his mom doesn’t even get a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower as she immediately tries to turn around and go back home. Since most flights are fully booked, she has to bribe passengers and go to places other than her hometown airport in Chicago. She ends up in Scranton, which at the time was a mostly-unheard-of city, but now is pretty well-known thanks to The Office. While I spent a few more hours at the Charles de Gaulle airport than I would have liked, I’m thankful that most of my time in the area was spent enjoying Paris. I knew I couldn’t accidentally leave anyone behind because I was traveling solo.

In the sequel, the family manages to make it to the airport with Kevin, but then immediately loses him. Thanks to being a decade before 9/11, Kevin accidentally hitchhikes on a plane to New York while the rest of his family headed to Florida. Were my mom and I supposed to bring Kevin on our Christmas trip to Florida earlier this month? Oops.

Fort Lauderdale
Despite Kevin’s protests, Florida is a great place to spend Christmas… although I went for a pre-Christmas celebration

What do both of the McCallister’s horrific flight mishaps have in common?

American Airlines

I never had a problem with American before my flight to Dublin this past May. Then again, I can’t specifically recall any flights I previously took with them before this. Now, in their defense, when everything goes exactly as planned, flying on American can be pleasant. I even got ice cream on my flight from London Heathrow to Phoenix, Arizona. But if one hiccup happens, you have to deal with their customer service. That’s where the problems happen.

aeroplane air travel airbus aircraft
Photo by Quintin Gellar on Pexels.com

I had a Chicago layover, but my flight there couldn’t land on time, supposedly due to weather. (If there’s a delay they can blame on weather, airlines aren’t entitled to compensate you anything. However, if it’s solely the airline’s fault… see my beautiful payout above.) However, I’m not entirely sure how weather-related it was because my flight to Dublin took off on time. So of course, I missed that connection.

The captain told us that if we missed our connecting flight, our new schedule would be emailed to us. The problem was, when I was boarding that plane, the gate agent took my carryon from me without any warning and told me it would be checked all the way to Dublin. Unfortunately, I had packed my charger in my carryon so I really had to conserve my cell phone battery. I hesitantly turned on my phone and checked my email, but I had no email from American Airlines.

I went to the nearest American Airlines gate agent and asked what they could do. They told me to check my email, duh. They seemed completely uninterested in helping any of the stranded passengers. But eventually, they gave me a phone number to call. At least they pointed me to some payphones when I explained my carryon and phone charger were taken away. (When I asked if I could get my carryon back, they told me probably not, but the only way to find out was to leave security and ask at the check-in desk. But, because it was so late the desk may already be closed and I wouldn’t be able to get back into the secure area.)

I called the customer service number and the first person sounded really helpful. He told me a flight was currently boarding to London Heathrow, and he could get me a ticket that had a layover there on the way to Dublin. I happily accepted, and he told me I could pick up a boarding pass from the gate agent. I dashed over to the boarding gate, but when I got there, the two gate agents said I couldn’t board. I explained that customer service just sent a ticket for me, and they said that wasn’t possible, because my original ticket was going to Dublin, not Heathrow. They told me I would have to wait until the next night for the next Dublin flight. I still wonder what really happened between that customer service agent and those gate agents.

I ran back to the phones and called customer service again. That representative confirmed that they weren’t allowed to reschedule me on the Heathrow flight and didn’t know what the other customer service rep was talking about. This rep apparently tried to find a better flight for me so I didn’t have to spend an entire day in the Chicago airport, but instead hung up on me. During the third call, after I explained how rude and unprofessional his coworkers had been, this representative finally figured out that if I flew to Philadelphia the next day for another layover, I could catch a flight that would arrive a few hours earlier than if I waited in Chicago. I would be missing my first day in Dublin no matter what at this point, but I was ready to get out of Chicago as soon as possible. I still had to spend the night inside that airport. That was incredibly miserable. (I would rather sleep in the Chicago Greyhound station than the Chicago airport, and this is coming from someone who’s slept in both!)

The worst part? My original plan was to arrive in Dublin the day before my birthday. Instead, my 28th year started out on a cramped plane with hardly any of my personal belongings and no sleep or showering for days. Due to the time change, I also lost 6 hours of my birthday. I’m not sure if I fully turned 28 if my birthday was only an 18-hour day.

Dublin
Crossing Dublin’s Ha’penny Bridge on my birthday (but did I really turn 28?)

Of course, I still had a great time in Ireland as well as England later in the trip. But my American Airlines flights home experienced delays as well. I decided on this trip to no longer support this airline. While some of the events were out of their control, friendlier customer service would have made this ordeal a completely different experience. Even before I found out about compensation for my Delta flight, this company provided extra in-person customer service reps to answer passengers’ questions as well as extra snacks. I could easily spin my Delta delay into a positive experience, while American Airlines’ indifference kicked my trip off with a nightmare.

Watching Home Alone will Never Be the Same

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Guess what airline the McCallisters took in both of their Home Alone movies? That’s right, American Airlines! While the airline obviously agreed to this product placement, these movies will now forever serve as a reminder of how horrible their customer service can be when things go wrong. I can’t blame the airline for leaving Kevin at home, granted. But as I watch the ticket agent shrug her shoulders and tell the mom no to her requests to get back home, I’m reminded of how little the customer service reps cared when I was alone and needed help.

The funny thing was, I didn’t realize it at the time, but the Chicago airport that I was stranded at was the same airport that started both of the McCallisters’ misadventures. (At least they just barely managed to make their flights at this airport… well, everyone except Kevin, that is.) Maybe Chicago O’Hare and American Airlines together create the perfect epicenter for travel mishaps, whether real or fictional.

Whether you travel this season or having future trips on your Christmas list, I wish you the best of travel. Merry Christmas!

Have you ever experienced a flight delay, cancellation, or missed connection? Share how it turned out in the comments!

destinations, Recap, The Bahamas, Travel Life, travel tips, Winter

Postcards from Sunny Florida and The Bahamas

It’s finally happened: the cruise I’ve been planning for months! Although I didn’t get the chance to send postcards even to close relatives, here are a few “Christmas postcards” I hope you all can share. Wish you were here!

Fort Lauderdale

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It’s been a fun time in Florida. My mom and I arrived to our beachside hotel, and the next morning, we walked the less populated section of Las Olas, and the afternoon was spent at the beach. The food’s been good too: a French cafe, Pimenti Brothers sandwiches, and Bubba Gump’s! As much fun as we’ve had, I bet the cruise will be even better.

Carnival Sunrise

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The newly remodeled ship, Carnival Sunrise, was packed with so many great things, like a minigolf course, two waterslides, and a high ropes course overlooking the sea. I spent my time onboard playing games, eating from several restaurants, watching ice carving and other art, going to great performances, and just relaxing in our stateroom or on the Lido deck. Our cruise director was The Flying Scotsman, so we were always in for a treat of his singing and kilted comedy.

Princess Cays

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This exclusive section of the island of Eleuthera, The Bahamas, is only available by cruise ship. As the name implies, the resort is owned by Princess Cruise Lines, but since Carnival is owned by the same company, we were allowed to enjoy. Most of our first day in my 14th country and my mom’s 4th was spent relaxing in lounge chairs on the beach, enjoying a barbecue buffet, and snorkeling with the tropical fish.

Nassau

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Prior to our day in the capital city of The Bahamas, I designed my own walking tour. It was fun to follow the sites I’d been planning on seeing plus a few more surprises along the way! We went to places like Fort Fincastle, the Queen’s Staircase, Government House, a chocolate factory, a church, and so much more! And since the cruise port is right in the middle of downtown, we could easily get back on in the middle of our time there for a free lunch, which was good because I started feeling landsick while at the Straw Market! (Okay, it was actually vertigo, but it’s funny how being on land can start to feel strange after a couple days at sea.) It was also pretty neat to see so many flowers in bloom at the same time that Christmas decorations were being put up! Overall, it was a jam-packed day exploring all over (the safe part of) Nassau on foot.

Freeport

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Our last stop in The Bahamas involved an incredible shore excursion. We boarded a glass-bottom boat and saw the city from a unique point of view. Below us, we saw yellowtail and blue tang. Then when we went to deeper waters, I saw a shark! Pretty soon, dozens of sharks were swarming the boat. When we safely returned to shore, we spent some time at Port Lucaya and picked up a souvenir or two before bussing back to the cruise port.

Everglades

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Just because our cruise ended doesn’t mean that the shore excursions had to end! Our last trip before headed to the airport for our flight home was my first visit to the Everglades. They were a lot different than I imagined! First, we had an hour-long airboat ride where we learned about the local flora, fed the birds, and saw two wild alligators. We saw even more gators, all of whom were rescues, at a gator show where a handler stuck her head in one of their mouths! Last on the schedule for me was to order alligator tacos, which tasted like chicken. It was a fun time in Florida and on this whole sunny vacation!

 

I hope you enjoyed these “postcards”. Of course, you can read even more like this when you follow me on Instagram.

If you want even more to read, be sure to check out my books. They make great Christmas gifts! See the books I’ve authored here. 

travel tips

5 Activities for Rainy Travel Days

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Image Credit: Pexels. Free to Use Licence.

As much as we may wish for them, clear skies don’t always grace us while we’re travelling, especially in some parts of the world where it’s more likely to rain than shine. Of course, rain doesn’t need to stop you from getting outside and exploring whichever destination you have visited but if you’re feeling a little more like staying dry then here are 5 activities that you could do to escape the rain.

 

  1. Go bowling
    Bowling is a popular sport all around the world which means you probably won’t need to look too far to find a bowling alley near you. A great way to stay inside and away from the rain, bowling is also a really easy sport for people to understand so even if there’s a language barrier between yourself and some of the people you have met on your travels you’re bound to still have a great time and make some fun memories.
  2. Visit an indoor museum
    It’s likely that museums were on your travel itinerary anyway so why not switch around what you had planned for certain days and visit the museums on a day when the weather isn’t being so kind. Don’t rush your way around the museum, take your time and purchase the audio guide to make sure you really take in everything that the museum has to offer and remember to check out the gift shop to help support the museum.
  3. Go swimming
    If you’re going to get wet anyway why not go swimming! If you’re in a city then you’ll be able to find a swimming bathe or leisure centre near you for you to have a splash around in, or if you’re by the beach and the waves are still safe, then why not take a dip anyway and enjoy the beach while it’s a little quieter. Snorkelling can be a whole new experience when it rains and the raindrops landing on the surface of the sea look magical from underneath, an experience you have to try at least once.
  4. Check out a shopping mall
    Another fun rainy day activity is to go shopping and find some gifts and souvenirs for your friends and family back home. To stay dry and undercover try to find a shopping centre, market or mall which is all enclosed and undercover, or if you are going to brave the streets then just pack a trusted umbrella and make your way from shop to shop ensuring to have plenty of food and drink stops along the way.
  5. Visit the local library
    Almost every major city has a library and many smaller ones do too. Libraries are great places to cosy up on a rainy day, you can either bring your own book and simply enjoy the ambience and read or why not do some more research on your travel destination by searching for some local maps, guide books and magazines? Some libraries also have postal services which make them a great place to sit and write your postcards before sending them off to your friends and families.  
Accommodations, saving money, travel tips

4 Ways to Get a FREE Hostel Stay

Hostels are known as a great way to save money on accommodation while still getting amenities such as breakfast, information services, a central location, and free WiFi. But what if I told you that you could stay at an already-affordable hostel for even cheaper? In fact, what if I told you that your next hostel stay could be FREE?

Here are four ways that you can get a free night (or more) at a hostel. Every single one is legit: no stealing or sneaky work is involved at all. I’ve done all of them myself, so I guarantee they can work!

1. Win a Contest

Eggplant Sandwich Niagara Falls Canada
I won free hostel nights by leaving a Facebook comment about this eggplant meal I ate overlooking Niagara Falls over five years ago.

I’m getting two free nights in a hostel on my next trip to Europe! I just found out that I won a contest on St Christopher’s Inns’ Facebook page. Of course, I’m excited. (Although they have a lot of hostels in a lot of European cities to choose from, I think I’ll check out their new Berlin hostel.) But it has been a numbers game.

I started entering their weekly contests when I first found out about them, hoping to get some free nights for my trip to London. Instead, I paid for my stay there (but I did save some money by booking all my hostels directly). I stopped entering the contests for a while after that trip, but then when I decided to go back to Europe in 2020, I started entering the contests again. Last week, only about a dozen people entered versus the usual 50-90, so I had greater odds when they picked my comment as the winner!

Other individual hostels and hostel chains may occasionally offer contests. Booking sites like HostelWorld do this every now and then as well. The best way to make sure you’re notified about any upcoming contests is to follow social media pages and sign up for newsletters. This may not be a guaranteed way to get a free hostel stay, but it’s worth trying!

2. Check Out Promotions

Dublin performer
The hostel even gave me a free ticket to access this evening concert in addition to my free birthday stay.

I got a free night in Dublin on May 10th. Why? It’s my birthday, and I found out Isaac’s Hostel offers a free night’s stay to celebrate! Originally, I wasn’t planning on arriving in Ireland until a day or two after my birthday, but when I discovered this promotion, I booked my flight accordingly. (Upon my arrival, the hostel staff even gave me a few freebies, like a rental locker that normally had a 5-euro deposit and a free evening event.)

A more common promotion is if you pay to stay a certain number of nights, you’ll get one night free. (Most of the offers I’ve seen are either three nights for the price of two or book a week and your seventh night is free.) To find the most up-to-date offers with specific hostels, check out the hostel’s direct website or social media pages.

3. Do a Work Exchange

Niagara Falls Fireworks
A fantastic fireworks view on the hostel rooftop was one of the many things I got to help promote in Niagara Falls.

If you’re planning on staying somewhere for a month or longer, it makes sense to try to get a job at the hostel. A lot of hostels don’t actually pay most of their employees, but they do provide free housing. Usually, the work exchange is part-time so you still have time to get a paying job, attend classes, travel, or do whatever else you were planning to do in the area.

If you don’t want to stay long-term, available work exchanges are rarer, but still sometimes possible. I’ve done a few short-term hostel work exchanges by doing some promotional work. Some social hostels will give a free night to musicians who are willing to do a performance in their commons. If you have a special skill that a hostel business will find useful or marketable, start asking around.

4. Be Loyal

Piazza San Marco nighttime Venice
I ended up with a stomach bug during my two free nights in Venice, but that meant I could afford to pay for an extra two nights and get these great Venetian nighttime views.

Why are people still booking on HostelWorld? There are better hostel booking sites out there that actually reward you for using them. I got two free nights in a private room in Venice (just steps away from St. Mark’s Square), because I made several of my bookings for my Mediterranean Trek using HostelsClub. This site is great at rewarding loyal customers, as reviewing the hostels you’ve stayed at can get you a discount off of your next booking!

Hotels.com also has hostel listings in addition to the hotels they’re known for, and many of them are affiliated with Hotels.com Rewards that allows you to stay a free night for every 10 nights you book through this site. I’ve only made one hostel reservation for my trip to Germany so far, but because I booked through Hotels.com, I got the best price AND I’m already close to getting a free night!

The downside to loyalty rewards is that you’ll have to pay for some nights upfront. Because of this, I suggest that you compare the rewards booking site you’re using to the website of the actual hostel. Sometimes it’s significantly cheaper to book directly with the hostel, making the booking site’s offer worthless. But some booking sites, like Hotels.com, offer a price match guarantee, so it’s still more economical to book through them. You may not get a completely free hostel stay, but saving money will add up over time.

Get more hostel and money-saving travel tips in my book, Uncommon Adventures, available in Kindle and paperback!

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Have you ever gotten a free night’s stay? Tell me about it in the comments. I love hearing from you!

Books, saving money, writing

Bulk Order Books Now Available from Jessica Lippe

Big news! I when I say big, this time it literally means BIG! You can now order all my books in bulk!

Yes, you are still more than welcome to order single copies of my books from places like Amazon. But if you want to save money and at the same time get a lot of books, then you’ll want this personal author service from yours truly!

To request a bulk order for any of my books, shoot me an email at lippejl@gmail.com. I’ll get back to you promptly with the exact details about your order.

Below are some FAQs about this bulk order opportunity. If you have any additional questions, ask them in the comment section down below.

Which books qualify for discount bulk orders?

All three of my books qualify:

Any of my books published in the future will likely also qualify for bulk discounts. I will keep this page updated if that changes.

Do I have to manage a store or business to qualify for bulk copies?

No way! Of course, if you DO have a store interested in selling these books, you’re welcome. But bulk copies are also great for people like:

  • Camp leaders who want to equip their counselors or other staff with relevant reading material.
  • Book club and Bible study participants who’d like to save money for their entire group.
  • People who want to get great Christmas gifts for their relatives, coworkers, neighbors, and friends.
  • Teachers who would like each student to have their own copy of a book, or to provide each classroom in the school with the same book.
  • Book collectors who have always dreamed of having an entire shelf filled with the exact same books.
  • YOU! Just by coming to this page out of all the places you could be on the internet, I can tell that you’re a great candidate for this deal.

What kind of discount are we talking about?

The discount depends on two factors: which book you want to order, and how many copies you’d like. For example, Uncommon Adventures sells for $6.98 on Amazon. But with bulk ordering, you can get it as low as $3! And Girls Who Change the World, retailing at $9.99, could be bulk ordered for anywhere between $3.50 and $6.

Is this available outside the US?

Certain countries may be able to receive books in bulk, but note that shipping will be higher than in the US. Contact me with your specific request and we’ll see what we can work out.

What’s the minimum order?

A minimum of only three copies is needed for bulk orders. If you just want one or two books, considering asking a friend to chip in for a third. However, keep in mind that the more you order, the bigger your discount will be. Ordering three copies might save you a total of a few dollars, but ordering twenty copies could save you a few dollars on each and every book.

Please note that the three-book minimum applies to each title. You can’t order one copy of Uncommon Adventures, one copy of Girls Who Change the World, and one copy of The Ultimate Survival Guide to Working at Camp and expect to get a discount. While we’re at it, I should mention that there’s also a maximum. Please keep your order under 1000 copies; that would be way too heavy of a box!

Am I getting a lower quality by ordering these bulk copies?

Nope! You’re getting the exact same paperbacks that everyone else is getting. You just get them for less money because you’re a smart shopper and I appreciate you ordering extras to share.

But there’s gotta be a downside, right?

Okay, the shipping time may take longer than if you order it on Amazon. So if you need it rushed, go here.

How do I make a bulk order?

I am handling all bulk orders directly, so you can get the personal service of the author herself! To get an estimate, email me at lippejl@gmail.com with the subject “Bulk Order”. In your email, please include order details like which title(s) you want, how many copies, and the shipping address. I will respond with the total cost and instructions to finalize the order. Then you should be seeing your books arrive at your doorstep soon!

Thanks for thinking about my books!

 

Couponing to Travel, destinations, resources, saving money, travel tips

October 2019 Recap: It’s Almost Here

October feast
Some food I made for work the other day. Savings tip: Don’t limit cooking to your own home. You can often cook while traveling and even at work!

Now that it’s November, we are in the month that I’ll get to take my first trip to The Bahamas! I’m counting down the days both for this cruise and my 2020 backpacking trip around Central Europe.

If you’re new to this blog or haven’t been following this series, you can click here to find out how I got this incredible deal on a cruise to The Bahamas. I write up a recap as each month passes, so that you can see my travel savings progress and get some tips for how you can save, too!

Travel Agents Aren’t Helpful

Although I booked the cruise months ago, not all the pieces for this trip happened all at once. Later, we booked plane tickets. My mom and I decided to catch a flight that arrived in Florida the day before the cruise departs, so we knew we’d eventually need to book a night at a hotel.

Then, the airline we were taking there decided to cancel our flight.

Of course, since we’d already paid, they automatically booked us on another flight. The problem was, it would be a day later, so we wouldn’t get to Florida in time to board the ship. My mom called and had them change it to the day BEFORE the original flight. So that’s how we ended up making plans to spend Thanksgiving in Florida! (Do they serve flamingo there instead of turkey?)

The benefit to that was we each got $100 travel credit with the airline. So I guess I’ll soon have another trip to plan!

Now that we had to book two nights at a hotel instead of just one, my mom suggested that we visit a travel agent at AAA. I don’t know if I’ve shared this here before, but the one other time I met with a travel agent at this company, I ended up spending more on a Niagara Falls Pass than if I’d just bought one at a tourist info center when I got there. So I didn’t have a good feeling about seeing another travel agent.

I should’ve trusted my gut.

We gave the travel agent our requirements for a hotel, and everything he showed us was NOT what we asked for. All of them were too far away from the area we wanted to stay in, or too expensive. I thought maybe that’s just what the going rate was, but I was still skeptical and wanted to do my own research at home.

I ended up easily finding a beach-side hotel in an ideal location for 50% less than anything that travel agent told us about. And then I found a price match that made it even cheaper. Find out how I get the lowest rates possible on hotel stays here.

Does this mean I should become a travel agent? Maybe. But the sad thing is, even when you do pay upfront for a service like you do with AAA, travel agents are still looking for the biggest commission possible. Do your own research to find out what the best deal will be for you instead of them.

What to Do in Florida

Epcot
No, Disney isn’t in the plans. This will actually be my first time going to Florida for something other than Walt Disney World.

Having a beach-side hotel pretty much takes care of our entertainment needs while we’re in Fort Lauderdale. So the only other expenses to consider are food and travel (from the airport and then to the cruise port). I’m covering all that for free with Swagbucks.

On Swagbucks, I got free gift cards to a few restaurants in walking distance from the hotel. I also got a free Uber gift card. I’d recommend this site as a way to earn some extra money and cover some costs of any kind of trip you’re planning. They have free gift cards for airlines, cruises, restaurants, gas stations, and more!

My Books Hit the Shelves (+ Other Work)

Uncommon Adventures, Rick Steves, and a pumpkin

A big highlight from October was seeing my books at my local library! Both of my current books are here in Southern Oregon. Of course, you can get them around the world on Amazon!

I’ve also been working on the final touches for my next book that will be hitting shelves in just a few weeks. You can pre-order The Ultimate Survival Guide to Working at Camp as an ebook, with the paperback coming soon.

Speaking of camp, I started back up helping at weekend retreats. That’s been a fun way to spend my weekends and reduce my expenses. (Free travel!)

I worked a few extra shifts, which will help fund my European adventure. And there’s some more exciting things in the works for my work. I can’t share them with you yet, but I should be able to by next month’s update!

November Goals

Beautiful Day Mister Rogers
Do YOU need a November goal? Go see this movie.

My biggest goal is to make sure I have a great time at the end of the month as I leave for my trip! The cruise goes into December, so I will not be giving a December update. I am choosing to not use WiFi on this trip, partly to cut costs and partly so I can be in full break mode. And I won’t have as much savings updates to tell you because I’m not going to be miserly on this trip! But don’t worry, this website has lots of other travel content for you to read, and I’ll probably make a few more posts until then.

I’m working on a launch for my next book. It’s more a niche audience, just people who work at or are interested in working at camps. But I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from beta readers in the professional camp industry, so that’s encouraging.

As far as Europe goes, I still have a lot of planning to do for that. I have a rough itinerary, but a large part of that depends on if I’m accepted into the Diverbo program. I have yet to hear from them, but I loved my time with them in Spain and hope to continue this voluntourism in Germany. If/when I’m accepted, I’ll start booking hostels. Here’s hoping!

Oh, and Christmas is coming up, isn’t it! I guess I have some shopping and preparations to do!

travel tips

Awesome Ways To Travel You Might Not Have Considered

Travelling is a fun adventure that everyone should experience at least once in their lives. However, you might be looking for routes that are not so typical if you are looking to do something a little different with your travel dreams. If this is the case, then it is a good thing you have stumbled across this article, because we are going to be looking at some awesome ways to travel that you might not have considered.

 

Day Trips

Person Holding World Globe Facing Mountain

Image Location – CC0 Licence

 

The first thing that we are going to look at is day trips. Some people think that you can only go on day trips to destinations that are in your country, or even just places that are close to you. This is not the case, and if you go online and search around a bit, you are likely going to find that there are some awesome deals for day trips to places. This saves you quite a bit of money because you are only paying for your flights and spending money, rather than having to book an expensive hotel.

 

Obviously, you are not going to be able to see an entire place in one day unless it is relatively small, so if you want to do it this way we suggest that you make a list of the things that you want to see while you are in certain places. This will mean that you really make the most out of your trip, and you are travelling the world one day at a time.

 

In A Caravan

 

The next thing that we can suggest to you is that you get a caravan and start adventuring this way. Road trips are the best, and you can go so far in one of these vehicles without having to worry! You can even look into hybrid caravans which are great for the environment. So, if you are conscious about contributing to the carbon footprint of the world but you still think this is going to be an awesome adventure for you, then this could certainly be an option to explore.

 

Think of all the awesome things that you could see if you get a caravan! You can set off when you like, wherever you like, and you aren’t going to have to pay for expensive accommodation. All you need is money for gas, and the road is your friend.

 

Systematic Destinations

Couples Sitting in While Facing Mountain

Pexels Link – CC0 Licence

 

Finally, some people like to go to one place at a time, but if you are going travelling for a prolonged period of time, then you might want to do this through planning out systematic destinations. Now, we know that some people already do this, but not enough, which is why we are mentioning it. Plan out where you want to go, and then work out flights to each of these places from the last destination you were in. You will find this an awfully big adventure and saves you a lot of time and money.

 

We hope that you have found this article helpful, and now have a few ideas of some awesome ways to travel.