Foodie, Money Mondays, saving money, travel tips

Money Mondays: Don’t Buy Drinks!

Money Mondays is a weekly post about how you can save money without sacrificing your travel dreams.

I can’t believe I only have half a week left of my three month Mediterranean Trek! I will miss seeing foreign countries every day, but I am also looking forward to a change of pace (even if it is pretty much back to the old routine). But even though I’ve been on the road for a long time, I can easily count all the times I paid for a beverage:
-I bought a bottle of Perrier in Paris because I wanted to enjoy the fizzy water in its home country.
-I bought a quart of milk in Barcelona so I would have something to go with my cereal. ( The hostel didn’t provide breakfast.)
-I bought two bottles of Gatorade  in Venice because I got sick and desperately needed that potassium and rehydration salt.
-I bought a slushie in Thessaloniki because buying a drink on a boat would entitle me to a free cruise around the bay.
That’s it.

I guess you could say I technically bought beverages when they were part of a prefixe meal, such as a tapas tour in Madrid or three course meals in Rome. But because these drinks were part of the package, if I had paid for everything else individually, it would have cost more than the price of the meal with beverage included. I think that’s almost like saying I pay for the tea and juice included in a hostel breakfast. I guess in a way I do, but I would be paying the same whether or not I accepted these free drinks.

So what have I been drinking? I occasionally come across a free beverage (last week in Athens, a restaurant offered me a free one to convince me to sit down at one of their tables), and you may remember that I brought some Traditional Medicinals teabags with me. But mostly, I’ve been drinking tap water.

Tap water is safe for Americans to drink in most European countries. Just make sure to look it up ahead of time. Today I’m heading to my final destination, and it’s the only place I’m going with unsafe tap water. I guess I’ll have to buy some water there! The good news is, bottled water is typically pretty cheap in places where you can’t drink the tap.

Needless to say, not paying for beverages can save a lot of money on a trip, and drinking only tap water doesn’t really change the experience. This is also something that can be done prior to your trip, and the savings can go to future travel. How much you’ll end up saving depends on your current habits. If you already mostly just drink tap, it won’t make much of a difference. If you drink a soda every day, consider how much that costs you over the course of a month or a year. If you go to bars, stopping drinking could save you a ton! Also factor in that beverages in restaurants, vending machines, and tourist destinations will probably cost more than at home.

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Here are some more tips to help you save on beverages:
–  Bring a large refillable bottle. My Camelbak worked well for me on this trip. But these water reservoirs are uncommon in Europe, so I got some weird looks and questions when I drank from its tube!
– Go to street fairs. I’ve been to three on this trip. The first one in Paris provided me with juice, cola, and lots of different food. The second one in Rome scored me milk, juice, bottled water, and Nutella Bready. The third one in Athens provided me with a hat, tee, and pin. If this trip is any indication, then two out of three street fairs will get you free beverages!
– If you really want a beverage, go to a grocery store for the cheapest selection.
– Some restaurants try to sell you bottled water, or may charge for tap. Discuss this with the waiter before you order, and make sure to bring a bottle with you so that you can drink from it if all liquids cost money.
– Look around town for places to refill your water. Oftentimes, if the water is flowing and there’s no sign that says “non potable”, it’s safe to drink.
-For those times when you do have to buy bottled water, buy it in bulk instead of individual bottles. You can always use a big jug to fill smaller bottles, and this translates into less waste and often lower costs!

There are times when it’s more than appropriate to buy a beverage. You don’t want to miss out on a local drink that’s part of the experience. But if you’re addicted to soda or crave coffee, a simple switch to water will improve your health, the environment, and your spending!

What’s your favorite thing to drink? How long do you think you could go without it?

culture, Foodie, resources

Eating Chocolate con Churros in Madrid

When going into Madrid, I didn´t really have any plans for must-see attractions. But I did have some must-eats! And I think I ate everything I hoped for, from tapas, to paella, to toast covered in tomato sauce and olive oil. But I definitely did have a favorite, and that was chocolate con churros.

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Churros in Madrid may be very different from churros you´ve had before. In North America, churros are thick, straight, and rolled in cinnamon sugar. The Spanish churro is thinner and teardrop-shaped. While it still comes fried with ridges, you have to add the cinnamon yourself if you want it. But you might as well skip the seasonings because it is much better with a nice cup of chocolate!

When you order chocolate con churros in a cafe, you´ll receive the chocolate in a small mug. The consistency is thicker than hot chocolate, but thinner than melted chocolate. Not as much sugar is added like you’d find in most chocolate, but it’s sweet enough. It´s perfect for dunking, or for eating straight with a spoon!

After my first Madrid hostel, U Hostels, served me Spanish churros for breakfast, I was hooked! But they only offered toppings like sugar or butter or chocolate powder, not actual chocolate. So I looked up a few local chocolaterias so I’d know where to go to test this treatimage

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The good news is, there is no one “best place” to experience this deliciousness. Whenever I came across a cafe with the label “Chocolateria” above the door, I knew it was a good place to go. I didn’t notice any sort of difference between the churros or chocolate among the chocolaterias, so the only thing that makes one better than another is the price.

Okay, there is one notable difference, but I didn’t discover it until after I left Madrid. In Barcelona, because this area of Spain wants to be its own country, everything is different, including the language. Here, if you go to a Xocolateria for some xurros, you won’t get them in teardrop shape. My Barcelona xurros were cut into smaller lengths that curled slightly in the fryer, and we served in a paper cone. Interesting how one local treat can go from a cafe snack to a fair food!

Have you eaten chocolate con churros? What’s your favorite foreign snack?

Accommodations, culture, destinations, Foodie, saving money, voluntourism

No Spanish Allowed at Pueblo Inglés

There is a place in Spain that offers a nice break from large cities like Madrid and whisks you away to forest-covered hills and mountain views. Here you can enjoy three-course meals, pool facilities, and a retreat to a villa. Best of all, you can get this for free.
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The catch? At this Spanish location, no Spanish is allowed!

This shouldn’t be much of a problem for native English speakers, but each of these people, referred to as an “Anglo”, will have to spend all day talking with native Spanish speakers who want to improve their English. The English-only rule is a bit more difficult for the Spaniards!
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In order to expose the Spaniards enrolled in the program to different accents and expressions, the program, called Pueblo Inglés, recruits Anglo volunteers from places like England, Wales, Ireland, Australia, and Canada. I was one of the volunteers representing the United States in a recent program. Volunteering does require putting in long hours of sometimes difficult conversation. Most of my day consisted of talking one-to one, having group discussions and partipating in activities that somehow helped practice English. But in return, I received transportation from Madrid to a scenic resort, three-course meals and a stay in a villa all for free!
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Of course the Spaniards do have to pay for this language learning experience, but it is an incredibly effective program as it is an intensive eight days of speaking nothing but English. I saw many people who started the program having difficulty understanding me even when I was speaking slowly, but towards the end of the week we were chatting like I would with someone from home.

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Over the course of the week, Anglos and Spaniards do everything together. At meals, each four-person table had two Spaniards and two Anglos. Group activities included discussions, icebreakers, parties, and even a tour of the nearby town La Alberca. Now THAT is an experience I must tell you about!
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Most of us chose to walk from our hotel to the town through a backroad. On the way, our master of ceremonies told us about the La Alberca black pig. This area is famous for their ham, and one way they promote it is by having the community raise a pig each year that roams around town. We were warned that the pig isn’t always in an easy-to-find area, but at that point I was praying for a special experience of finding the pig! And boy, was that prayer answered!

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After looking at few of the notable La Alberca sights, our group sat on the cathedral steps a block away from the town square while we listened to the beginning of a story of an earthquake in the town. Suddenly, someone sitting in the back began shouting. Among other choice words, he notified us that there was a pig climbing up another set of steps. Of course, the story had to be paused while we all attempted to take a selfie with the famous pig. But after a few minutes of trying to get the pig to smile, out MC convinced us to sit down again as the pig started to wander away from the excitement.
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Little did we know, once we were settled down, the pig wanted to cause some chaos. She wandered up behind us. Then, she decided to root for food right where I was sitting! I never expected to get that personal with a pig! But it only got worse. Since she couldn’t find any food underneath me, she did a taste test of me! She bit the closest part of my body she could find. Since I was trying to stay seated on the step and not interrupt the entire group, there was one particular body part right next to her face. At this point, there was no way that the group wouldn’t be disrupted as everyone was already pointing and laughing and getting out their cameras. The pig continued to make her way through the group, sampling the bags and shoes she came across. Our MC finally hollered, “Forget about the earthquake story; let’s move this way and leave the pig!” The rest of the tour finished the way a normal walking tour typically does. When we had some free time after that, I busied myself exploring the cobblestone back roads, but from a distance I spied the pig, who had found new victims to harass. To continue our time in town, we were treated to a wine, cheese, and meat sampling where we learned the secret way to cut the perfect slice of ham straight from the leg. I dont normally eat pork, but since the pig tried eating me, I sought my revenge by eating a tiny bit of pig.
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I just finished my last day of Pueblo Inglés, and it was surprisingly hard to say goodbye. I had come to teach the Spaniards English, but they taught me even more about the world and life in general. The week had a feeling akin to an adult summer camp, so along with that came the kindling of new friendships that I believe will last a long time. I hope to see many of them again, either by traveling to their home country or by inviting them into my home. And I may have to attend another program in the future!
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Spending a week volunteering (or possibly enrolling in) Pueblo Inglés may be one of the most meaningful and most fun things you can do in Spain. Just make sure to keep a safe distance from that pig’s snout!

Foodie, health, travel tips

Tea: A Drink With Jam and Bread… and Everything Else!

I only drink soda on rare special occasions, and I can’t stand the taste of coffee. And even though I live in and I’m going to land that is famous for its vineyards, I’ve never tried wine. Most of the time I drink water. It’s a healthy habit that has allowed me to save up money for travel, but I do enjoy drinking other beverages too, especially if they also have health benefits. I don’t typically drink tea because even the decaf kind has enough caffeine to affect me. But I absolutely LOVE the naturally caffeine-free goodness of herbal tea. There are a few brands of herbals that I’m partial to, including Celestial Seasonings, whose factory I toured last September. But on this upcoming trip, I’m dedicating all my tea drinking to Traditional Medicinals!

Traditional Medicinals shipment box

Traditional Medicinals is a brand that I know I can truly stand behind due to several of its ethical practices. Many of their products are organic, GMO-free, fair trade, and/or kosher. They practice environmental policies such as using recycled cardboard for their boxes, utilizing renewable energy in manufacturing, and providing compostable bags. But best of all, each flavor of herbal tea is made not only to be delicious, but to promote a particular health aspect as well!

box of Traditional Medicinals herbal tea

Bringing medication along with you is important on any trip you take, since you’ll be exposed to a new environment, new altitude, new foods, and new water treatment. Medication is especially important when going overseas since things can be dramatically different and you may not be able to get the same sort of medical care internationally. I already have ibuprofen, diphenhydramine, and vitamins packed up to go, but I also figured I would need to get some more medications for things like stomach upset, nervousness, and immunity. Now don’t get me wrong, I will take medications when I need to, but I don’t really have any idea of what exactly goes into a pill. So if there is a natural substitute that does something similar, I’d much rather take that! With Traditional Medicinals, I was able to shrink down my medicine bag, and bring yummy tea instead!

Ginger Aid Traditional Medicinals

The herbal tea I wanted most was Ginger Aid. Ginger Aid obviously tastes like ginger, which has qualities that can help ease digestive pains. I need to focus on promoting good digestion even at home since I seem to be more sensitive than most. When going to new countries, eating and drinking new things, and having new experiences, I am more likely to get stomach upset or nausea. So it’s great that I’m bringing two boxes worth of Ginger Aid. It has been of benefit for me in the past, so it’s now an invaluable part of my health and travel arsenals!

Traditional Medicinals herbal tea- ginger aid, echinacea plus, chamomile with lavender

Another helpful tea for travel is Echinacea Plus. Echinacea is a type of flower with qualities that promote immune system health. Whenever I feel a cold or other common illness coming on, I grab the Echinacea Plus right away. I used to get several colds a year. This past winter, I didn’t get a single one! (And with the few I had the year before, I immediately went to the Gypsy Cold Care!) Echinacea can’t prevent the common cold (nothing really can), but supporting your immune system means that your body could be stronger in fighting off illnesses. I’m taking sixteen tea bags of this along with me to help my body with whatever it may come up against.

Chamomile with Lavender Traditional Medicinal herbal tea

The last kind of herbal tea I’m packing is one that I had never tried before, so I decided to make a cup of it to enjoy as I sat down and wrote this post. It’s called Chamomile with Lavender. Both of these floral ingredients are known for their calming qualities. They’re also good for digestion and aromatherapy. As I tore open the tea bag, I could tell right away that this smelled really good, and I couldn’t wait to sip it! But Traditional Medicinals prints the proper instructions of how to make the perfect cup of tea on each box. That includes covering the cup to let it steep for ten minutes before squeezing the tea bags out and enjoying the drink. Wow, that was delicious, and I already feel a bit calmer!

one quart bag of herbal tea

Herbal tea, particularly Traditional Medicinals, has so many benefits, but I have noticed one problem. The cardboard boxes that the tea bags come in may be environmentally-friendly, but they aren’t packing friendly! To remedy this, I transferred the tea bags into a not-so-eco-conscious plastic baggie to prevent liquid damage and keep everything compact and organized in my suitcase. When packed like this, they don’t take up much space at all.

herbal tea in a mug

Tea is one of the easiest things to make while on the road. If you get tea in packets like these, you don’t need any special equipment. You can choose to bring your own travel mug, or you can probably borrow a mug from any type of lodging you stay at. Most lodging includes a coffee maker, microwave, or teapot to make hot water with. I’ve even filled my mug up with free hot water at places like convenience stores and bus stations. Tea goes great at any meal and just about any food, and that echos throughout the world! In Canada, I remember sipping tea around a breakfast table with Europeans and Asians. In Peru, tea was commonly served with dinner and dessert with the idea that the hot water and herbal qualities could aid digestion. With it being so easy to make tea just about anywhere in the world, the only difficulty will be choosing just one of the many flavors!

Overall, I think herbal tea is a near-necessary item to take on extended trips. I’m so glad that I have Traditional Medicinals to sustain me through my travels!

I am happy to include Traditional Medicinals as the newest sponsor of my European excursion! Traditional Medicinals provided the mentioned tea for the purpose of reviewing. All opinions are my own and no additional compensation was made. 

Accommodations, destinations, Foodie, road trip

The Tri-State Journey

Here it is: the last part of my recent road trip! It started by going through Northern California, then to Twentynine Palms, and then small attractions around Southern California. (Click on the links to catch up.) To really capture the road trip style, we chose not to take the I-5 back home and instead explored some cities I had never been to before.

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For our first night, we stayed at Mammoth Lakes. Mammoth Lakes is a ski and summer resort type of town, and we just so happened to hit it between seasons. So while we were too late to be snowed in (and I was very thankful that the only snow seen was just a little bit high in the mountains), the summer activities weren’t in full swing yet. But we still found plenty of things to do- drive through the National Forests, see a few of the lakes, and of course, eating. Our no-frills Travelodge surprised us with cookies in the afternoon and round-the-clock free beverages in addition to the included breakfast. That was great, but we still needed dinner. We chose to share a plate of nachos at Gomez’s in Village Plaza. The Village Plaza looked like it would be a happening place to hang out at in season, but even then, there were lawn games such as ladder golf and cornhole, as well as a fire pit in the center of the square!

Mammoth Lakes offers year-round bus service- for FREE! This even includes a free trolley. Most people take it to get from place to place, but we decided to turn the trolley ride into a round-trip sightseeing tour. For most of the trip, we were the only passengers, so the driver was telling us about all sorts of places to visit. One of those was Obsidian Dome, which we visited the next day.

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It was really cold and windy there, so we didn’t spend as much time as we would have otherwise, but it was neat to see all these rocks made of beautiful shiny obsidian!

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While continuing on our road trip, we stopped by Mono Lake. Unfortunately, we were there on a Tuesday, when the visitor center happened to be closed, but we still enjoyed seeing the unique tufas (salt towers). IMG_20150429_095518_023

Then we took a detour to Bodie. I’m not sure why anyone would want to live in Bodie, but that probably explains why no one lives there anymore! It is a ghost town several miles off the road, and was once a bustling, godless mining city. I’ve only been to a three-building ghost town before, so it was incredible to see all the old buildings, and most of the town had been burned down! We even went to the cemetery and saw the gravestone of the town’s founder W.S. Bodey. (Yes, his name is spelled differently than the town itself- the town was named after a typo!)

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After more driving, it was time to cross the border into Nevada! Have you ever tried to take picture of a state sign from a speeding car? It’s so hard to get it to look good!

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We ended up in a little city… or was it a big city? Oh, that’s right, it was the biggest little city in the world!

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We stayed at Harrah’s. I had never stayed at a casino before, so it was really interesting to see everything there.

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But while many people go to Reno thinking “Ooh, I’m gonna win big at the slots”, my mom and I were thinking “Ooh, I’m gonna eat a lot at the buffet!” And that’s exactly what we did. The best part of the buffet was the crepes that you watched being made right in front of you, and you pick out all the fillings and toppings!167

After dinner we decided to walk off our buffet babies. Our intention was to go through the different casinos and attractions like that, but we found some other interesting things too. For instance, we happened to come across a part of the sidewalk where blue jeans were invented.

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Just a little bit further down the block, we found a Blarney Stone stuck to the wall!

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Circus Circus was a blast. It is connected to several casinos, so it was a change of pace to suddenly walk into a room that was offering toys for prizes instead of big bucks!

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Besides looking at (but not actually playing) the games, we took a train ride in a connecting casino and then went back to Circus Circus to watch a free show called “Best Friends”. We thought it might be a clown show or singing or something like that, so we were thrilled to find that it was actually funny and incredible dog tricks!

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When we got back to our 14th floor hotel room, we decided to sleep with the window shades open so we could enjoy all the lights and sights of Reno.

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The next day we visited some small towns. One such town had the Alpine Drive-In, a locally-owned burger joint where we ate lunch.

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And our final stop of the day was… a landscape supply yard? Okay, it wasn’t planned like that. But after we crossed the border into Oregon (after we crossed from Nevada back into California), my mom dropped me off at Harry and David to get my allotted former employee free food while she picked up a few things for dinner. It took her awhile to come back to pick me up, and I was almost worried that something might have happened. Something did happen, but it wasn’t that severe of an emergency. My dad had called her explaining that he was picking up some gravel (they’re redoing their patio), when the van’s fuel pump stopped working. So we had to come rescue the dog from the heat and make sure that his coworker could pull the gravel home while making sure the van could stay there until the tow truck arrived. It was an unexpected way to end a tri-state road trip (hey, we were even in all three states that very day!), but one lesson from the school of travel is to expect the unexpected!

Accommodations, destinations, Foodie, road trip, tour

The Beginning of a Road Trip: Exploring Northern California

Just last Thursday, I returned home from a nine-day road trip with my mom. Some days didn’t have too much going on, so I won’t bore you with details of the mundane. But some days were jam-packed with activity, warranting multiple posts to describe all that happened on the trip. The very first day was probably the most eventful day, so this post only covers Day One.

Oh, and one more thing before we begin: last month I finally got Instagram! Feel free to follow me (I’m @JessicaLippe, of course!), and to see all the pictures specific to this trip, check out the hashtag #roadtrippingwithmom.

We decided to leave early on Tuesday, April 21st in order to pack a full afternoon of fun at that night’s destination. And even though I think 6 am was a little too early, we’d often leave at 3 or 4 am when I was younger. Most of our relatives live in Southern California, so our family would usually make a straight shot of the 11-hour drive to get there. But I had a little treat for my mom this time around, so in exchange she agreed to take me to the Sundial Bridge, an attraction I always saw from the freeway but we never had time to stop at.

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The Sundial Bridge is a piece of art spanning a river in Redding, California. It is literally a giant sundial and has markings for telling time at certain times of day. The bridge itself has a walkway made of green glass. Even though it isn’t exactly see-through, our first few steps out on it gave us that shaky feeling!

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When taking these pictures, we both noticed that the cable was pulsing (possibly from the birds landing on it further up?). But somehow this inspired us to have me hang from one of the cables.

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The Sundial Bridge was not the only thing around. It was actually part of a very large park with several other attractions. We did walk around a little bit, but I would love to go back there someday, perhaps with a bicycle.

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The next stop was a place we used to always use when going on trips to California: the city of Corning. You may not have heard of Corning before, but there’s a good chance you’ve eaten olives from there. And our go-to place is the Olive Pit. It’s been about four years since I last went this way, so some of the things have been changed a bit, but I was comforted to know that they still have a wide variety of oils, vinegars, and jams to sample on. 055

One thing from Olive Pit that I had never tried before was their shakes. They have some typical shakes, but they also have specialty shakes made out of flavored balsamic vinegar. I chose the Dark Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar shake. Yes, it sounds weird, but it is so good. You’ll just have to try it for yourself to see what I mean!

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The next driving break we took was for lunch. It’s not right to go to California without stopping at an In-N-Out. There are two things I really like about In-N-Out: 1. There is a Bible verse printed on every cup and food wrapper, and 2. Instead of ordering frozen french fries like most fast food places, they get shipments of fresh potatoes and make the fries right there. (I also like their milkshakes, but since I just had a balsamic vinegar one, I decided to skip it this time.) I tried to convince my mom to dress up in their paper hats, but she refused, so the only picture I have is of a cup and food wrapper:

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Not too long after lunch, we arrived at the place where we’d stay the night. In order to make the most of this trip, I offered to introduce my mother to hostelling. She agreed to it, but since she can sometimes be particular about things, I wanted to ease her into staying in hostels instead of scaring her away. I found a hostel along our route in Sacramento that was originally a Victorian mansion, and I knew that would be just the sort of thing she’d love.

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Probably the best part of being in Sacramento was just looking around the hostel at all the Victorian-style things they had!

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And because there wasn’t much of a price difference between two dorm beds and a two-person private room, I sprang for the private room. I’ve been upgraded to private rooms at hostels before, but I’ve never actually paid for one, so I guess that was a first for me too!

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The one attraction we didn’t want to miss out on was touring the California State Capitol Building. We went in the travel clothing we had been in all day, but once we got past security, we realized that everyone else was wearing business suits and dresses. We stuck out like sore thumbs! We tried to make excuses, such as it was just because we weren’t from the state, but my mom was actually born in California, so that didn’t really work.

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We learned a lot of things on the tour. For example, for many years the building was not earthquake-safe (not a good thing for the building that represents California!), so everyone that entered the building during that time had to sign a waiver. Eventually they closed down the building for several years and a did a complete remodel. My mom then realized that when she had toured the capitol with her dad as a teenager, it must have been just a matter of months before it was shut down!

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We also learned that the dome seen on the outside isn’t the same dome that is seen on the inside. The outer dome is too tall for artwork to be seen from the inside, so a shorter inner dome stacked inside creates the illusion that they’re the same. However, there’s quite a bit of space between the two!

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And although there was no chance we could get inside, we did have to stop by the outside of the governor’s office. When Arnold Schwarzenegger was in office, he got a bear statue and let it stay at the Capitol. Our tourguide told us they had secretly named it “Bacteria Bear” because so many tourists rub it!

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The Capitol was our only planned attraction, but we decided to walk around and see the other sights too. We went to some of the shops in Old Sacramento and also looked over the Sacramento River.

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Before retreating back to the hostel, mom and I stopped at a Pho restaurant. We’ve enjoyed the soup made at home, and I was interested to see what it was like when authentically made. The spring roll was delicious, too.

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And although we got some sleep at the HI-Sacramento Hostel, we once again had to get up early the next morning (though not as early as the day before) and make it the rest of the way down California. But I’ll save that for tomorrow!

Accommodations, Bucket List, destinations, Foodie, photography, road trip, travel tips

Back on the Blog!

Has it really been a month and a half since my last time sharing with you? Well, I’m back and with some good news:

It’s May!

I will confess, winter is by far my least favorite season. I am always up for travel, but it just doesn’t seem as fun if I can’t play in the sun. So I tend to save my trips until the weather gets warmer, usually in April. But May is my official kick-off for travel season. My birthday is on May 10th, so I typically like to celebrate that by doing some sort of crazy adventure. And then the adventures just continue from there.

The biggest reason I didn’t blog during April was because I was trying to jam-pack a whole lot of travel into just a few weeks. While that was tiresome, it does come with a reward as you will soon get to hear about all of the following:

What’s the view from the other Table Rock?

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What to do on the Oregon Coast when it’s too cold to get into the water. (And it’s almost always too cold!)

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Can you wear shorts in the snow while at Crater Lake National Park?

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Weird wonders of Union Creek.

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How to turn a giant sundial into workout equipment.

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How to under-dress to go to the California State Capitol. (When you typically overdress every other day!)

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How to introduce your mother to the wonderful world of staying in hostels.

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Where to find these prehistoric pals.

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The good, the bad, and the ugly of the desert.

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Why what appears to be an ordinary mall parking lot was probably the best, most outatime attraction!139

Why what appears to be a typical McDonald’s doesn’t allow people to buy burgers… and is surrounded by a security fence!

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Where the best place to stop is in the limited miles I’ve traveled on Route 66.

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What these rocks are and where to find them.

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What to do (besides gamble) in The Biggest Little City in the World!

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Stay tuned as you’ll hear all the details!

What are you most interested in reading about? 

Foodie, Nonprofit, voluntourism

Angel Banquet

This post consists of Part II of my Saturday events. Click here for what I did prior. 

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The place setting on my banquet table, complete with pictures of children to pull at the heartstrings!

I may get some flak for this, but here it goes: I’m a pro-lifer. I believe that every human life is precious, regardless of race, religion, class, disability…or size. I believe induced abortion is harmful, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as it can lead to years of regret. But I don’t believe that believing these things truly makes you “pro-life”. The British dictionary defines pro-life as ” …supporting the right to life of the unborn…” It’s not just about your personal beliefs; it’s about support. If you commit to carry a pregnancy to its natural ending in situations or conditions that are less than ideal, you’re supporting life. If you adopt or provide foster care, or do what you can to allow others to provide these special gifts to children, you’re supporting life. My current way of supporting life is to serve as an on-call housemother for the Magdalene Home, which is a house that provides a safe place and life skills for pregnant and parenting teen girls from Southern Oregon who may otherwise lose their child, drop out of high school, be homeless, or worse. Because Magdalene Home is not state-funded, I’ve been impressed with the executive director’s work ever since I met her. She requests donations, applies for grants, and, most notably, prepares the annual Angel Banquet and Auction, which I was thrilled to attend this past Saturday. 

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The program with the evening’s events

The evening began with appetizers and silent auction bids. Many of the silent auction items looked intriguing, but I’m on a budget, and the ones I was interested in had astronomical bids. (Which I suppose is a good thing, because that means more financial support for the home!) I about filled up on the hors d’oeuvres, which consisted of a multitude of fruit, dips, spreads, and veggies. But the evening hadn’t even officially begun yet, and I soon had to sit down for the dinner to begin!

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Some of the silent auction bids. (I took this picture later in the evening after some of them were already claimed, so just imagine twice as much on the tables!)

I had a table in the back, and thus some people kept on trying to move me up closer where there were some empty seats. But I actually preferred it in the back where I was opposite the stage and could observe the 200 people who came to support a great cause. (Plus, this way I wasn’t awkwardly in front of everyone when the director called out each housemother by name and the ones that were there had to stand up so people could applaud.) The events of the evening consisted of some short speeches from the executive directors and board members, a promotional video about the Magdalene Home that I had never seen before, a keynote speech from a former resident of the home with her healthy, happy family, and a live auction. Oh yes, and food, too!

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The transformed banquet hall with hundreds of supporters.

A local restaurant by the name of Rosario’s catered the main course. I selected a lasagna with yummy fillings that I had never tried in a lasagna before to go with my salad and bread. Dessert was served during the keynote speech, and the young volunteers served each table plates with a variety of finger desserts, such as cream puffs, lemon bars, and raspberry brownies! Since the local Catholic church was really involved in this fundraiser, the least of which was letting us use their building to hold the event, I’m assuming a lot of the attendees were Catholic. My dad was raised Catholic and had told me before that drinking is more acceptable in Catholic denominations than it is in most Protestant denominations, but it was still kind of surprising to go to an event at a church where wine, champagne, and beer were served and alcohol was a sought-after prize in the bidding! Speaking of bidding, I stayed for the live auction even though I knew the prices would quickly go out of my league. I just love listening to the fast-spoken auctioneer and seeing people get excited over each and every prize. Maybe someday I’ll actually hold my number up in an auction I attend!

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Although water and sparkling cider were my beverages of choice, I still somehow ended up with half a dozen glasses in front of me!

Overall, it was a fun night, and quite classier than events that I’m accustomed to attending. To honor the occasion, I wore my favorite dress. I seem to only save this dress for super-special events, as the only other time I wore it was to another fundraising dinner. I got it from Dainty Jewell’s, which is an online boutique started by an inspirational young woman. I love that all her dresses (and skirts and tops too!) can be worn to elegant events without having to worry about any wardrobe malfunctions, because your chest, back, and thighs are all adequately covered! It’s conservative without any hint of frump, and I really love how my black-and-white polka-dotted dress looks! It was also the first opportunity I had to wear a fancy shawl I got for Christmas. My outfit was just one of the many reasons that contributed to making the Angel Banquet a great new experience for me. I was proud to be among hundreds of other contributors dedicated to supporting life!

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I didn’t realize I hadn’t taken any pictures of myself until I returned home.

I would like to thank Magdalene Home for making the Angel Banquet possible and also Dainty Jewell’s for providing me with a super-cute dress!

Foodie, saving money

15 Actual Ways a Budget Traveler Can Save for a Trip

Have you ever seen these not-so-unique ways to save for your trip?

Instead of a hotel, book a private room inside a hostel. That would be great, except I already stay in the absolute cheapest dorm room in hostels. If I took this piece of “budget” advice, my trip would probably cost twice as much!

Use a credit card to rack up enough airline miles for your trip. I’m sorry, but have you ever stopped to calculate how much you’re spending on your credit card versus how much it costs to just buy a plane ticket? Most of these rewards programs require that you put at least $1000 a month on your card. I don’t even know how I would spend $1000 every single month, unless I was buying a thousand-dollar plane ticket every month!

Fly with an airline that offers free checked bags. Here’s a better idea: don’t take checked bags! Seriously, it’s been so long since I’ve taken checked luggage on a vacation, that I don’t even remember how I filled that bag! A carry-on and small backpack provide plenty of space, and is less that can be lost, stolen, or slowing me down!

If you’re like me, you want to save a lot of money so you can have an amazing trip. But after hours and days of scouring the internet looking for some advice, all you find are these not-so-budget-minded “savings” tips. For awhile, I was convinced that I saved so much already, that there was no possible way that I could save anything “extra” for my trip. But every once in a blue moon, I would find a golden nugget of travel tips. Here they all are in one place so you don’t have to waste as much time as I did!

1. Keep your cash safe for free. Money belts can be handy, but the key to not getting all your money stolen is to distribute your cash throughout your person. A twenty dollar bill inside the sole of your shoe is a place that thieves won’t easily be able to get to!

2. Don’t spend money on beverages. Many saving tips say to order water in restaurants (and if you’re in Europe, be sure to order table water to avoid being charged for a bottle), but this can translate into not even buying beverages at the grocery store. When I travel, I carry a reusable water bottle or reservoir with me, and most convenience stores and restaurants don’t mind me using their fountain when I need a refill. (However, I always ask first, especially if I’m not buying anything else!) This rule applies to alcoholic beverages too, especially since they tend to be the priciest. I don’t drink, and the thought of spending hundreds to thousands of dollars per year on alcohol is one of the reasons I never want to start that habit! If you like to travel but also like to drink, consider that cutting alcohol for one year could save enough to fund a decent trip for yourself!

One more note on water: there are some countries where drinking the water would be unsafe. Do your research ahead of your trip to confirm this. If your destination does indeed have dangerous drinking water, you will have to buy bottled water, but there’s still a way to do it cheaply! Instead of buying individual water bottles each day, buy the biggest bottle you can find in the store. (When I was in Peru, all the convenience stores offered 3-liter water bottles which we would use to refill our personal-sized bottles.)

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I would buy the largest bottles of Inca Kola in Peru, too!

3. Buy multipurpose products. My hands can get dry in certain climates. I also sometimes have trouble falling asleep in uncomfortable or unfamiliar places. And although I enjoy the rush of traveling, it sometimes makes me nervous. I could purchase lotion, melatonin tablets, and anxiety medication to solve each of these problems individually, or I could just get one bar of lavender-scented lotion. (Lavender is a natural herb that can calm nerves and help you fall asleep.) Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap is a traveler’s favorite, as it can be used as soap, shampoo, dish soap, and laundry detergent, just to name a few. A thermos not only holds soup and hot beverages, but it can be used as a water bottle, and it could even carry meal leftovers! Even a large scarf can quickly transform into a shawl, swimming cover-up, blanket, or head covering. Multipurpose products not only save you money by putting less on your shopping list, but as a bonus it will also save room in your suitcase.

4. Earn more from your savings. No matter how you travel, planning for a trip involves saving up a chunk of cash. Talk with your bank and tell them your plans to see how you can gain the most interest. Sometimes, putting money in a CD can earn you the most interest, even if you have to pay a small fee to cash it early. If your banker knows about your travel plans, they might be able to provide you with special offers, such as exchange-free credit cards and short-term savings plans. These will all vary by your bank’s services and your personal saving habits, so it’s best to schedule an appointment with your bank to see how they can maximize your savings.

5. Make your own food. Cooking at home can greatly help contribute to your trip savings. Generally, the less packaged and processed your ingredients are, the more you’ll save (and it’s healthier that way, too)! Before I leave on a trip, I try to eat out of my pantry as much as possible to avoid food spoiling while I’m away. I also prepare some snacks to take along with me. As long as I have oatmeal, I can throw in just about anything from my kitchen (nuts, sweets, spices, dried fruit, seeds) and make a batch of granola. I also try to eat out for only one meal per day while traveling, but if you’re not as much of a cultural foodie I’m sure you could go with even less dining out. I usually stay at accommodations that provide free breakfast, and then I eat out at lunchtime (since that’s usually cheaper than eating dinner out). For dinner, I’ll either eat my lunch leftovers or fix something in the kitchen of the place I’m staying. Virtually all hostels and guesthouses provide a guest kitchen, and many hotels and even camps are jumping on board with this idea. Because it’s tricky to travel with perishable food, map out inexpensive grocery stores near your destination so you can buy food from there.

Bonus Foodie Tip: Turn your food-making into a memory, like I did with this dessert-building team.
Bonus Foodie Tip: Turn your food-making into a memory, like I did with this dessert-building team.

6. Use your feet. This tip could save you hundreds on travel costs, plus give you a good alternative to your gym membership! When traveling, I stay near downtown so that I can walk to all the attractions I want to visit. There have been days where I’ve logged upwards of ten miles, but that’s okay because it means that I’ll get a great night of sleep! It also adds a new perspective to travel, as the slower place allows you to notice more of the scenery and culture. You can use this tip before a trip, too. I’ve seen so many people park in the parking lot of one store, shop there, and then get back in their car and drive to another store…which is right next to the first store! It’s okay to leave your car in one parking lot. I will sometimes even stick my bicycle in the back of the car so I can bike to places near my destination.

7. Volunteer or get an extra job. The obvious advantage to getting another job is that you’ll make extra money. But even if you don’t get a paying job, I believe a volunteer job provides many benefits as well. Getting a job or otherwise involved in the community will introduce you to more connections. I worked a part-time retail job while going to college, and because everyone that worked there was broke to some degree, we often exchanged ways that we save. You may meet people that could turn out to be travel companions, mission trip sponsors, or simply someone who encourages you to reach your dreams. Some volunteer jobs offer things like free meals, free entertainment, and possibly free travel. This of course shouldn’t be your goal behind volunteering, but it is a nice reward. Another great benefit of spending some extra time working is that these are a few extra hours each day where you won’t be tempted to spend your hard-earned cash!

Sometimes, your job may involve doing some hard work, like going on an all-expense-paid conference in the Northern Wisconsin where you get to jump from the second floor of a building.
Sometimes, your job may involve doing some hard work, like going on an all-expense-paid conference in the Northern Wisconsin where you get to jump from the second floor of a building.

8. Ask for discounts! Many tourist companies that don’t post discount rates may still have them. If you’re a student, AAA member, AARP card holder, veteran, or anything else that could possibly qualify you for a discount, ask about it! Oftentimes at independent and locally-owned businesses, you can get a discount just by asking the owner (often cleverly disguised as receptionist in these small businesses). Even if they can’t offer you a discount on what you asked for, they may be able to throw in a freebie or offer insider information that could help your trip. Ask on a discount for everything, from the food you eat to the bed you sleep in. The worst that can happen is they’ll say no, and the best that can happen is you’ll get everything free! (But don’t expect to get anything for free, and definitely don’t be pushy or annoying when asking!)

9. Enter contests. This isn’t a guaranteed way to save, but someone out there has to win that all-expense-paid trip! I have yet to win a travel contest (probably because I forget to enter every day), but I have won books, food, gift cards, and scholarships that ultimately helped me put more money towards travel.

10. D.E.Y. (Do EVERYTHING Yourself!) I fully back up making homemade laundry detergent (especially since it’s concentrated for easy travel), but as a single person that only saves me about $20 per year. But combined with money saved from patching up my old clothes, making more creative gifts, growing herbs in the windowsill, and making some of my own toiletries and cleaning products, it eventually adds up to a lot! I know I spend hundreds on car maintenance, but if I could learn a few auto mechanic skills, I wouldn’t have to pay nearly as much. The more you can do yourself, the more money you’ll save.

D.E.Y.-ing doesn't mean missing out on the fun, it just means getting creative. Got invited to a costume party? Make your own costume!
D.E.Y.-ing doesn’t mean missing out on the fun, it just means getting creative. Got invited to a costume party? Make your own costume!

11. Don’t sell on eBay. Unless you are selling an in-demand product for an incredible profit, using sites that charge you to sell is often a waste of money. If you’re just trying to sell some items you no longer want, Craigslist is probably the best option. Plus, since you’re selling to someone nearby, you won’t have to spend money on shipping. To get even more local, many communities have Facebook groups where you can buy and sell from neighbors. In my experience, these tend to be fairly effective. Even posting your for-sale items on your social media could garner your friends’ interests!

12. Take care of yourself. The right foods, a little bit of exercise, enough sleep, and taking care of your physical and emotional self will work wonders. You’ll have a better trip (and ultimately, life), and you’ll save money on doctors, medications, and numerous other consequences that you can expect when you neglect your health.

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Biking does double duty: It’s a good overall workout, and it’s a fun way to travel locally!

13. Need something? Phone a friend. Ask your friends and family if you can raid their castoffs before they’re sent to the thrift store. (Of course, offer to let them do the same with your things- you could even plan a castoff swap!) If you’re looking for a specific item for your trip, such as a backpack or an ice chest, ask your friends before you buy one. These kind of items are often kept in storage, and your friend probably won’t mind you borrowing it for a few weeks.

14. Give up whatever you use most. Cut out one frequently-bought item cold turkey. Maybe it’s junk food. Maybe it’s movies. Maybe it’s coffee. Maybe it’s clothes. If you find that you’re craving it, ask yourself if you really want to spend your money on short-term gratification, or use it to take a trip with memories that last a lifetime. Even if you’re only spending money on necessities, think about cheaper substitutions you could make.

15. Take online surveys. These don’t pay much, but can help fill the time when you’re bored or waiting for something. They’re are a ton of survey sites that pay their users, so look up a few and choose which one you think is best for you. (Or sign up for them all!) You can use your earnings to buy gift cards, airline miles, or other rewards.

Am I missing any important travel information? Leave a comment with your best ways to save!

Foodie, saving money

Adventures that Happen When You Don’t Travel

I strongly believe that, even when you’re not on the go, you should still be open for adventures. Take an example from what happened to me in the past 24 hours.

I could have chosen to spend a wild weekend at Wilderness Trails for the third time, but I decided that, since I had both Saturday and Sunday off for the first time in a loooooooong time, I would honor that by taking a real weekend. Besides, I had to work until 7:30 pm on Friday. So on Friday, I headed off to Job #1, but was excused an hour early.

When I got home, I checked my phone and realized that Job #2 had been trying to contact me. They were in desperate need for someone to work the overnight shift. Since I hadn’t worked there for awhile, and I actually like that job, I decided to spend ten hours of my free time working there.

I’m allowed to sleep on the overnight shift if I get all my work done, but only in two hour increments. After three two-hour naps and a one-hour rest, it was finally Saturday morning. When the next staff member came to relieve me, instead of going home to my own bed, I headed back to the site of Job #1. But I wasn’t working. There was something much better going on.

I had heard the long-time employees rave about the Employee Warehouse Sale. I wasn’t even sure if it would be worthwhile, but after hearing about it enough, I decided to at least check it out. Boy, was I glad I went! Being a foodie, and being frugal, I’m always up for a good deal on gourmet food. In the warehouse, there were all kinds of Harry & David foods at dirt cheap prices. My first discovery was something my mom had requested, so I called her up and said “Tins of Moose Munch are $1. How many do you want?” When she asked for ten and gave me a few other ideas for what to buy, I knew I would have to make a couple trips. Too bad I had to park my car so far away!

One hour and two trips running back and forth from my car and with only twenty dollars less in my wallet, I ended up with an overflowing trunk full of the following:

-Ten tins of Moose Munch

-Three Blocks of Cheddar

-Three Pear Trivets

-Two Organic Gift Boxes

-Two Kosher Gift Towers

-A Double Box of Honeybells

Ironically, the only thing I was missing was a partridge in a pear tree… although I think I got enough pears to fill a tree!

After getting some help unloading and putting away all the perishables, the cardboard boxes are still overtaking the kitchen table. I foresee a bonfire coming up! Immediately following a lunch consisting entirely of the bargains I picked up, I took a nap. I was exhausted!

Today wasn’t a typical day, but it was an adventure. And I’ll have plenty of fruit and candies to take along on all my upcoming adventures!

Coming Up: Surprisingly, I’m continuing to work at Job #1, at least until Valentine’s Day, and next week I’ll be taking a class to learn a new position for it. I’m glad that’s on weekdays, because next weekend will be busy! Job #2 is having an exciting fundraising banquet, and I’m planning some fun local adventures for Job #3. Until then. I’ll continue all my freelance and recreational writing, which I like to refer to as Job #4!