What do you do when you want to travel, but can’t? A staycation, of course! But without a theme or a plan, a “staycation” can devolve into little more than a Netflix binge. With the government shutdown and no tourist places open right now, I had to take travel matters into my own hands. I ended up having a pretty fun camping trip in my yard. You can try these ideas while you’re quarantined, or come back to this post anytime for staycation ideas that won’t break the bank.
Pitch a Tent
What’s camping without a tent? Okay, you may choose to use an RV or camper instead, but choose something that will get you in a different element, at least for the night.
If you don’t have any camping equipment, you can post online and perhaps one of your local friends will let you borrow theirs. If not, get creative! If it’s warm enough, you could sleep in a hammock or on an air mattress on the lawn. If the back seat of your car folds down or you have a truck bed, that can make a great sleeping area- make it cozy by filling it with pillows and blankets. Even a living room camp out can be a fun experience for families.I remember years ago, some coworkers and I got really creative and saved a bunch of cardboard boxes that were destined for the recycling bin. We turned that into a makeshift outdoor village, and a couple of us were brave enough to spend the night in it! (You can read that whole story in my first book, Uncommon Adventures.)
If you have a large yard or property area, then you probably have several choices for a flat surface area that would make a decent tent space. Pick an area that will give you a scenic view. But if you live in an apartment, don’t despair. You can still pitch a tent on your porch or balcony if you have one of those, or perhaps a shared communal yard. Going back to camping in your living room, you could do that with just sleeping bags on the floor, but popping up a tent inside can add some extra fun.
Build a Fire
I’m lucky enough to be staying at a place with an outdoor fire pit and pre-chopped wood. But even if you don’t think you can build a fire where you are, you may be surprised! You can collect kindling from moss, leaves, pine needles, twigs, and other things that fall off trees. You can even order firewood online to be shipped right to you. While you’re ordering firewood, consider adding an outdoor fire pit to your basket. That makes for a safe and easy place to start a fire. Check your local burn laws if you’d prefer to build a fire ring, or make use of the charcoal barbecue you already have.
Indoors, you can use a fireplace, or make an imaginary fire. Back in first grade, my class had an end-of-year “camping party” where we decorated the classroom ourselves, and then sat around a “campfire” that one kid made out of paper to tell stories. If you’re lacking kids or creativity, just look up “yule log” on YouTube or a streaming service.
There are several ways you can build a fire. My two preferred ways are tepee and log cabin, both of which are built to look exactly as the name implies. If you build a tepee, put kindling in the center of the area that you plan to set up your logs around. If you build a log cabin, you can put kindling in the center after you’ve built the walls. (Note on kindling: this is a good opportunity to make use of that junk mail and other paper waste.) Once you light the fire, keep an eye on it. Feel free to tell stories and sing songs around the campfire!
Cooking outside can be as easy as roasting sausages and s’mores over a campfire, or you can turn it into a complicated craft. But before we get into food, let’s start with what to cook on.
If you can start a fire as aforementioned, that can be both a fun and challenging way to cook. Of course, if you have some sort of barbecue, that makes for an easier way to cook out. Also consider building a solar oven, which could be constructed using materials found around the house. (I made my last solar oven out of a shoe box, black paint, a thick piece of clear plastic, and some reflective shipping insulation.) Most camp recipes that you make outdoors can be modified for a standard kitchen, but if you’re camping indoors, it’s a fun novelty to roast a mini marshmallow on a toothpick over an unscented candle or a lighter.
My family has been celebrating with a “Fire Friday” every week of quarantining together. Since I don’t eat hot dogs, when they roast those, I’ve put chicken sausage on a roasting stick. We’ve also made “hobo meals” by putting meat, veggies, and seasonings into a foil packet and sticking that on top of the coals. If you get really creative, you can make almost anything. I remember some of my camp coworkers once stuck leftover personal-size pizzas on their roasting stick and cooked them over a campfire. I’m looking forward to a pizza cooked in cast iron. And don’t forget dessert! Last week I made an easy dump cake in a dutch oven over the campfire coals.
Get Immersed in Nature
A camping staycation may be just for one night, but you can include camping activities during the daytime too. Go for a hike, or at least a walk around the neighborhood. Look for wildlife around your home. (I’ve been seeing lots of lizards lately.) Just one look on Pinterest can give you lots of camp-themed ideas, such as:
Play board games (Doing this with my family recently led to a very interesting story that I’ll share someday!)
Read books or magazines
Create and compete in a scavenger hunt
Send out postcards (bonus if you make them yourself)
Play with glow sticks
Tie-dye shirts, pillowcases, or bandannas (especially fun if you use squirt guns)
Play yard games
Plant potted seeds or bulbs
Race in an obstacle course
Journal or write
Just take a look around your house and see what supplies you can creatively use for a fun and memorable camping experience. The other day, I got a delivery that was kept cool with dry ice. I decided to use the blocks of dry ice to make smoke, to make metal scream, and to flash-freeze a variety of foods. The point of a camping staycation is to have fun and take a break from the normal.
What is your favorite camp-themed activity? Share in the comments below!
Want more camping and staycation ideas? I’ve written a couple books on the subject that I think you’ll find useful:
For various reasons, many people are in need of extra money at this time. Workplaces have long-term closures. People are getting sick and need care. Essential items have become scarce, making prices of what’s available skyrocket. I personally had to spend a lot of extra money to come home from Europe early, and then spend two weeks without pay in quarantine.
This is a budget travel blog, but since “travel” is a concept that isn’t really available in the world right now, I’d like to take some time to focus on the money-saving aspects that can be applied to other areas of our lives.
Many governments are taking measures to help prevent this economic crisis from becoming worse than it needs to be. As an American, I will be getting a $1200 check. But don’t spend that entire check on toilet paper! Let’s go over some ways to use money wisely, grow money, and prevent further financial burdens.
Use Money Wisely
Have you made any cancellations recently? Make sure you’re getting a refund. Even with non-refundable deposits, many companies are being more lenient and offering a full refund or at least vouchers for a future date.
If you don’t have one yet, open a savings account. Unless you are secure in the fact that you currently have enough money to live on for an extended time, you probably won’t want to take advantage of long-term savings such as IRAs and CDs at this time. But a savings account will at least provide you with a little monthly interest, plus prevent you from spending your cash at hand.
If you do have money tied up in long-term savings, don’t try to cash out now unless you’re absolutely desperate. You’ll have to pay an early withdrawal fee, and you will likely get better earnings off of it once the economy starts to improve.
Determine what is essential. Look at your last billing statement or write down each item or service you buy. What can you stop buying, at least temporarily? Can you make cheaper substitutions for your essentials? With so many stores closed, many people are finding it easier to spend less on the non-essentials.
Enjoy life with a few freebies and super-discounts. I’m frequently running specials on my books during this time, and many other authors on Amazon are doing the same. When you do have to go to the grocery store, check the clearance shelf for some great deals on great items. Keep an eye out when you browse the web, as there are a lot of freebies out there, like in my G4C newsletter.
I say this a lot, but it seems even more important now: do some money-making activities on Swagbucks. Since it can be done from the safety of my own home, I’ve been doing my online shopping through the Swagbucks portal so I can get cash back on each purchase. Some of the shopping in the “Discover” section actually pays more than it costs, meaning you get free merchandise PLUS cash! Of course, if you are putting a total freeze on shopping right now, that’s great. You can still earn on Swagbucks through taking surveys, watching videos, and more.
Many people are using this time when they’re unable to work to invest in growing their own business. You can’t expect a lot of return at the moment, but it will likely provide a few extra dollars to help make ends meet. Plus, this could set up the framework for even more success in the future. Personally, I am using this time to work on publishing books.
How many times a day have you been unlocking your phone? Might as well make some money when you do so! When you download the free S’more app, it will install a new lock screen on your phone that occasionally shows ads. You’ll earn points every day that can easily be redeemed to places like Amazon, Target, Starbucks, and more! Use code GWG1XE for 25 bonus sign-up points.
Keep yourself and others healthy. The most important thing you can do right now is to stay home as much as possible. While at home, eat healthy foods, get your vitamins, drink plenty of water, and exercise.
Take inventory of what you have. Are you making use of all your belongings and resources? Some people have canned and packaged food in the back of the pantry that they forgot about, but it’s still good to eat. In case shutdowns or economic crises last longer than expected, also consider items that you only purchase occasionally, such as clothing or transportation equipment.
Learn a few skills that will help you save money. Learn to mend. Learn to cook (bonus points if you learn to cook without electricity). Learn home maintenance. YouTube and Wikihow are great for learning a variety of subjects.
Physical health is critical at this time, but mental health is at risk, too. Staying inside, being away from people you care about, and not knowing what the future will bring can take a toll on our emotions and well-being. Practice some breathing exercises, open the windows (or go outside if possible), read some helpful books, or do whatever it is that you know will be beneficial to you. Avoid turning to quick fixes like drugs, alcohol, or even junk food, as these can cause further health problems as well as create more of a financial burden. Be sure to check in on others regarding mental health, too.
Even before the stock market crashed, I was watching financial videos on YouTube from people who had a proven track record of knowing what they’re doing when it comes to money. If you watch these videos and read financial articles you find on Pinterest, you’ll gain a lot of insight for what to do in your own situation. If you can make it through during these tough times, you’ll be set to have a fantastic financial future.
Backpacking Europe on the brink of a pandemic sure brought on a lot of interesting travel experiences! I think the most unusual was what was supposed to be a week-long trip to Salzburg, Austria: home of The Sound of Music.
My original plan was to start in Bavaria, Germany, then go to Salzburg, Italy, Switzerland, and back through Austria on my way to seven other countries. When I realized that Italy was no longer a possibility due to safety concerns, I restructured my time in Switzerland and Austria, including adding a sixth night to my five nights in Salzburg. A week later, the seven other countries I wanted to go to were no longer an option due to border closures. At the time, I wasn’t sure if I would go to a different part of Europe, explore Germany, Austria, and Switzerland more deeply until the borders started reopening, or fly home early, but since Salzburg was next on my schedule and still available, I would head that way and figure out what to do from there.
I had literally just checked out of a Munich hostel and was headed to the bus station for Salzburg, but decided to check my email while still connected to the hostel WiFi. I’m glad I did, as the Salzburg hostel sent me an email at that exact moment! It read:
How are you?
Unfortunately we have to cancel your bookings from the 16th of March till the 14th of April 2020.
So that means that you just can stay two nights with us!!
The hostel and actually all of the accommodations in the county of Salzburg have to shut down due to safety precautions. The parliament decided to take stricter measures to combat the spread of the Coronavirus.
We are very sorry that we can’t accommodate you this time.
Thanks for understanding.
We hope to see you another time here in Salzburg.
I considered turning around and checking back into the Munich hostel. But what good would that do? I decided to make the most of the two nights I would have in Salzburg. After the bus left the Munich station, I reconnected to Flixbus’ WiFi and started researching what to do.
With all the museums in Salzburg closed, I wouldn’t need the three-day museum pass that I was planning to buy. That meant I could do everything else I’d been planning to do in two nights, or three days. I decided to stay as long as I could on the last day and take the last bus back into Munich unless I could find another destination from Salzburg. Flixbus ran the Munich-Salzburg route back and forth several times throughout the day. So once I talked with the hostel about how late I was allowed to check out on March 16th, I would figure out which bus to take then.
Flixbus actually dropped us off a few miles outside away from my hostel. I asked a young, English speaking local how to take the city bus to Mirabelle Gardens, which was the bus stop closest to the hostel. She told me the bus number to take and even saved me money by telling me to buy a ticket from the kiosk instead of from the bus driver.
As I rode into town, I enjoyed the scenery. The scenery on the ride from Germany into Austria was beautiful the few times I looked up, but I was so busy stressing out and researching ideas that I hadn’t had much time for viewing then. But now on this short ride, I saw the mountains, the castle, and people filling the streets. When I got off at my bus stop, I walked in the opposite direction from Mirabelle Gardens, knowing I’d go back there as soon as I checked in and dropped off my suitcase. And that’s exactly what I did.
The Hills Are Alive
While many Austrians hate “The Sound of Music”, it sure does a lot for the tourism industry in Salzburg. That’s because it’s the setting for the classic movie, and some scenes were even filmed on location. There is a Sound of Music Tour that seemed to be the only tourist activity that was still running during my weekend there, but in order to practice social distancing (and save some money), I decided to see the sights on my own.
Mirabelle Gardens, just a short walk from YoHo Hostel and thus my most-visited site in Salzburg, can be seen toward the end of the famous “Do Re Mi” song. Julie Andrews and the seven Von Trapp children run through a garden tunnel, march around a fountain featuring a pegasus statue, and then hop up the famous unicorn-guarded Do-Re-Mi Steps before finishing the song on a literal high note. I got to see all these filming locations, plus step inside parts of the Mirabelle Palace.
The Hills surround Salzburg. Although I didn’t hear the sound of music while hiking them, I enjoyed spending several hours walking around the city from this height. I found some art pieces, churches, and even a green grassy hill that looked similar to the opening scene of “The Sound of Music.” (The real location for that scene is on private property in Germany.)
The Castle makes a couple appearances in establishing shots of the film, but its history and magnificence are so much more. While home to several museums that were all closed during my visit, I did get free range of the castle grounds, including walking around inside its walls. It was my final destination uphill, but I walked down to a fabulous area.
Saint Peter’s Cemetery, just downhill at the foot of the castle, seemed oddly familiar, even though I knew I hadn’t seen it before. It turned out that it served as inspiration for the cemetery where the Von Trapp family hid before escaping to the mountains. However, that scene of the movie was played out on a film lot instead of on-location. The real site is even more beautiful, filled with miniature gardens tended by the survivors of the departed. While the cemetery is clearly named after the adjacent Saint Peter’s Church, it is surrounded by a total of three churches.
Downtown Salzburg was an interesting place to take a Rick Steves audio tour. Naturally, most attractions in this area were closed during this time, but even the shops that were open were closing down as the sun set. Still, lots of people were walking around just because it’s such a fun place to explore. The Von Trapps enjoyed exploring this area too. In the movie, just before the kids learn how to sing, the explore their town in their play clothes made of curtains, including buying produce from the downtown open-air markets.
Toscanini Hof is the festival hall where the Von Trapps sang “Edelweiss” before escaping the Nazis. I should use this moment to point out that “Edelweiss” is not a true Austrian song and was made just for the musical. But this festival hall is really real and really historic.
YoHo didn’t come along until long after everything else I saw in Salzburg, but it’s worth mentioning since it was where I was staying. This hostel offers a free apfelstudel shot, free salad in the evening, and free toast in the morning. But they’re best known for probably being the only accommodation in the world to show “The Sound of Music” every single night in their theater. I settled in to watch the 3-hour movie while stress-eating a chocolate bar and casually researching what to do once I got back to Germany, which was where I decided I was going to go when I got kicked out of the hostel. But it was fun to watch the movie with a new perspective, noticing all the locations I had been to earlier, and getting ideas for where else I still needed to go. When the movie ended, I went to bed. I was in a six-bed female dorm, but it turned out that I was the only one staying that night. Maybe that should have been a sign to leave sooner.
Nonnberg Abbey involved another hike up the hill first thing in the morning. But since I decided to better practice social distancing on this day, I wanted to go to more out-of-the-way attractions. While this wasn’t the abbey used in “The Sound of Music”, this is the real-life abbey that the real-life Maria was a novice at, but then left to go live with the Von Trapps. It was the perfect place to social distance: the entire time I was there, I only saw one nun who came into the sanctuary, set up some things, and then promptly left. And this was a Sunday morning! I considered joining this abbey like Maria did, just as an attempt to get away from all the crazy going on in the world!
Schloss Leopoldskron was one of the mansions used in the movie. The Von Trapp mansion from the movie is actually three different locations: one for the front, one for the back (which is up against a lake), and then the interior which was actually just a soundstage. This mansion is the one used for the front exterior shots, making it our first view of the Von Trapp property in the movie’s runtime. It was a nice, sunny walk out there, but the property was only open to guests of the hotel.
Hellbrunn Gardens is pretty far outside of the main part of town, but I enjoyed the nature path to get there. Although the gardens and palace are not featured in “The Sound of Music” there is a very important movie prop located there. The song “16 going on 17” takes place in a gazebo that the movie producers gifted to Salzburg. The city of Salzburg decided to place it in Hellbrunn.
Villa Trapp was the final Sound of Music-themed location I visited, but it was not featured in the movie at all. Even the star, Julie Andrews, hadn’t seen this location until just a few years ago. This is the mansion that belonged to the REAL Von Trapp family. It’s not as big and flashy as the other mansion was, but this one is also a hotel now, and I was able to sneak onto the grounds for a few minutes. The movie took a lot of liberties when compared to what happened to the family in real life.
More Music with Mozart
Salzburg was a musical city long before the Von Trapps came to town. Globally, Salzburg is even better known as the birthplace of the classic composer Mozart. Mozartplatz is a big centrally-located pedestrian square with a statue of the namesake’s likeness. I walked by his birthplace downtown, though with the closures all you could really see was the place where you could normally buy tickets. I also went to another house where he lived until he left Salzburg. Unfortunately, he left his hometown in bad circumstances. Come to think of it, the Von Trapps left under bad circumstances too. And as it turned out, I also left Salzburg under bad circumstances.
After a long day of walking, I settled back into YoHo for the evening. I was trying to decide what Austrian food to order from the hostel restaurant when it opened, and looking forward to another night featuring “The Sound of Music.” While I waited, I figured this would be a good time to schedule my return trip to Germany.
There were always several buses between Salzburg and Munich, and my double-decker ride there only had seven passengers. But when I opened the Flixbus app, there weren’t any buses scheduled for the next day. Or the next. Or the next. In fact, there was only one ride available at all, scheduled for that evening.
I quickly searched the news to see what was going on. Germany was closing their border with Austria with only a few hours’ notice. I had to get back that night, or else I’d be a homeless refugee!
The Flixbus app was having some issue where I couldn’t book a seat on the remaining bus. I tried on my phone’s browser, and I had the same issue. I even tried using the hostel’s desktop computer, but the problem was with the website itself. When I finally could get through, even that one remaining bus ride had disappeared. I would have to take the train, for more than five times the price of a bus ticket. I’d also lose out on what I spent on that night’s booking and have to pay for an additional hostel back in Munich, but it was a small price to pay to escape the crazy situation.
I hadn’t been to the train station yet, but it wasn’t too far from YoHo, so it was easy to walk there even with my luggage. A receptionist at the hostel had told me the best kind of ticket to buy to get back to Munich, so after entering the large, modern-style station, I found a kiosk and did as he told me. But I was confused by the ticket and where to go to catch my train. I found two cute Germans who also spoke English to help me out. After a while of waiting and worrying, I was soon on the train and zipping out of Austria, just in time.
I had already stayed at two different hostels in Munich, but that night, I checked into yet another hostel. I only booked one night, but in reality I had no idea what I’d be doing the next day, or if I even could extend my stay. But I knew that it was time to start figuring out how to get home early, even if it cost me a lot extra in buying a brand-new ticket. It turned out that many of the guests at this hostel had also just rushed back from Austria and were stressing out about what to do. Instead of figuring out how to rearrange our travels as we had previously done, we were now focused on getting back to our home countries.
Relating to the Von Trapps
On the train ride, I realized that my experience escaping Salzburg was similar to the Von Trapps. Now, the real Von Trapps and the movie Von Trapps both escaped Austria in very different ways, but somehow I related to both of them.
In the movie, when Captain Von Trapp is hiding his family in the cemetery and speaking with the nuns about what to do, he looks out to a distant mountain, and declares that his family will climb over it to get to Switzerland. Unfortunately, Switzerland is pretty far away from Salzburg, and you can’t see the Swiss Alps from this city. If that was the mountain they climbed, they would be headed right into Germany! That would be a terrible idea for them at the time, but escaping to Germany was the best option for me. (I had to cancel the Switzerland portion of my trip that day since Germany was also closing borders with them.)
The real Von Trapps’ actual escape wasn’t quite so dramatic. They left their mansion with backpacks and went to the train station. It wasn’t the same train station I went to. In fact, I saw where there used to be a stop very close to their house. That train thankfully didn’t take them into Germany, nor did it go to Switzerland. It went to Italy. Italy was originally going to be my next stop, but in my situation, going into Italy would lead to more danger instead of taking me away from it. I probably relate to the real story more because even though it’s urgent, scary, and stressful, it isn’t too dramatic. So you’ll probably never see my Salzburg escape on the silver screen. But at least I didn’t have to climb every mountain!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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!
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!
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
What do both of the McCallister’s horrific flight mishaps have in common?
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.
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.
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
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.