Accommodations, destinations, resources, road trip, saving money, travel tips

The Best Hostels from My Oregon Road Trip

I hadn’t realized that I’d only seen a small part of my home state. After years of numerous road trips, I still missed so much that Oregon has to offer. This past November, I took a road trip to explore a town I’d never heard of as well as revisit a city I’d only ever had a glimpse of. To maximize my time and money, I stayed in centrally-located hostels. Road tripping to hostels isn’t always easy, especially when it comes to finding parking. But so far, all of the Oregon hostels I’ve stayed at have provided plentiful parking in a good area, as well as so many other unique amenities. Both hostels from this trip were great; I think you should stay there too!

Bonus: Be sure to click on the links to see my full reviews at Hostelz.com!

Mitchell, Oregon

Painted Hills Mitchell Oregon

To be honest, I didn’t even know this tiny town existed before I starting researching for my road trip. But I had heard of the Painted Hills, one of the 7 Wonders of Oregon. A short drive and several quick hikes took me through a sightseeing tour of awe-inspiring multicolored formations. Mitchell, Oregon is the nearest town to this national monument. While the Painted Hills are the most notable landmark, the entire drive from Central Oregon to Mitchell offered scenic views.

 

 

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Just eight miles away from the Painted Hills National Monument is Spoke’n Hostel, located right next to the city limits. Although I didn’t spend much time in the town proper, my fabulous night in Mitchell suggested that Spoke’n Hostel is the place to be in Eastern Oregon!

I was greeted by the owners, who have renovated their church to welcome TransAmerica cyclists and Painted Hills travelers in the most beautiful way possible. The sanctuary-turned-bunk room is the best I’ve ever seen. The big locally-made beds with privacy curtains offer a comfortable rest and personal necessities (like lamps and charging ports). Surprisingly, I was the only guest that night, so I was upgraded to a cozy private room. Down in the basement, I used the library, kitchen, games, and other fun activities. Even the backyard is picturesque!

Bend, Oregon

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In the heart of Oregon, you’ll find Bend, a city thriving with its city fun and outdoor adventure. I spent nearly two full days exploring just a sample of what Bend had to offer. I went for long walks, including my own alcohol-free version of the Bend Ale Trail. I followed the Deschutes River, ate delicious food, and saw unique sites like the High Desert Museum and America’s only remaining Blockbuster Video.

 

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Bend has history, too! And what better way to be a part of its history than staying in the city’s very first brick building? Bunk + Brew Historic Lucas House was an old building with a young heart. Just a block away from downtown, Bend’s only hostel offered a variety of dorm rooms (I stayed in the four-bed female-only dorm), make-your-own-breakfast, and adventurous employees who can make your time in Bend even more enjoyable.

Other Oregon Hostels

La Pine State Park Oregon

For the third night of my trip, I couldn’t find a hostel on the route between Bend and my home in Medford, Oregon. Instead, I stayed budget-conscious while getting a room of my own by renting a cabin and staying at La Pine State Park. While I enjoyed the miles of hiking trails and seeing the world’s largest ponderosa pine, I did miss the typical hostel amenities, such as breakfast, walkability, and getting to meet other travelers from around the world. (I think there were only two other campers on that below-freezing night!)

 

 

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However, the next week, I was on a shorter road trip on Oregon’s I-5 when I discovered that Wolf Creek Inn offers hostel rooms as part of their historic hotel. Here are a few other Oregon hostels I’ve stayed in:

I loved staying in the Eugene Whiteaker Hostel.

Ashland Commons is another good hostel choice.

Question: Which hostel would you most like to stay at? Do you have a favorite road trip route? Let me know in the comments!

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Foodie, resources

VALENTINE GIVEAWAY: 6 Free Meals from Around the World

While I can’t always leave home to travel the world, I often try to bring the world into my home. I’ve recently been using Gobble, a meal kit delivery program that lets you pick your own food and brings it right to your door. Since everything is already measured out for the recipe, it makes cooking a breeze. I’ve enjoyed trying new dishes and selecting meals inspired from many nations around the world.

Now, I’d like to pass on a FREE six-meal box to you.

Here’s how to enter:

  1. You MUST be a follower of this blog.
  2. Leave a comment below telling me your favorite blog post from JessicaLippe.com. (Note: This contest cannot count as your favorite post- if this is your first time here, go explore and read and then come back here to comment.)

Once those two steps are complete, you’ll get one entry! For another entry, check out my Instagram post.

Can’t wait to win? Everyone who follows this link and makes a new Gobble account will get a free dinner kit for 2!


View this post on Instagram

 

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Rules: Contest begins February 13th and will end on February 14th at 11:59pm. Winner will be selected and notified via email or Instagram within 48 hours. Winner must provide relevant information for Gobble invitation and create a Gobble account. Prize is one free box containing six meals. Winner must create a new Gobble account in a timely manner in order to redeem prize. This contest is not sponsored or endorsed by Instagram.

destinations, resources, saving money, travel tips

How to Save Big Money in Rome

While planning a European trip to a different destination, I was recently contacted by a fellow magazine editor asking about money-saving tips for her upcoming trip to Rome. I realized I hadn’t shared much about my time in Rome. Although it was over three years ago, I spent nearly three weeks there and have a lot to say about it! So instead of just telling her how to save on her trip, I thought I’d share my tips with everyone!

See the Free Sights

You don’t have to pay admission to see beautiful and historic masterpieces. Rome has many piazzas, each worth exploring. Even for attractions you have to pay for (such as the Colosseum and Castel Sant’Angelo), you can still get pretty good views from the exterior. Here are a few of my favorite free sights:

Trevi Fountain Restoration, Rome, Italy
The Trevi Fountain was undergoing restoration while I was there, so they set up a little pool so we could still make our wishes and throw coins.

Trevi Fountain: Technically this isn’t entirely free since you’re supposed to throw two coins in. (I tossed in two one-cent coins to make it as cheap as possible!) But this is definitely one of the must-see Italian statues.

scala sancta rome italy
People praying their way up the Scala Sancta

Scala Sancta: This “Holy Staircase” was imported from Jerusalem and believed to belong to Pontius Pilate. Jesus Christ would have walked these steps several times on the day of his crucifixion. Tradition is to pray as you climb these steps on your knees, and anyone is invited to participate.

Spanish Steps, Rome, Italy
Just a few steps of the entire staircase… it’s huge!

Spanish Steps: No matter how exhausted I was, it was always worth climbing the massive Spanish steps. This is also a good place to sit, eat a snack, and people watch. Being a popular tourist area, you can hear many languages spoken and get a glimpse of all the stunts put on for tourists (“floating” people, rose selling, etc.)

Bocca Della Verita
Close call with the Bocca Della Verita

Bocca Della Verita: The “Mouth of Truth” is an ancient piece of art that supposedly bites off the hands of liars. When I stuck my hand in, I said: “you will bite my hand now”. I think it was too confused to know what to do.

Villa Borghese Map, Roma Italia
So much to do… and I love that the park is heart-shaped!

Villa Borghese: This giant park definitely has some fun things you can pay for. I ended up renting a Segway here. But it’s also a good place to have a picnic, overlook the city, and go up to the zoo entrance. (The zoo has an admission fee, but they have a few free displays before the ticketed area.)

Stay in a Hostel

You can get a downtown hostel for around 20 euro, depending on location and time of year. I ended up staying in three hostels during my time in Rome. I wasn’t thrilled with the first one. I loved the second one but it was small and only had a few days of availability. I finally settled into the third one. Since hostels can be so diverse, make sure to carefully read the reviews on a website like Hostelz.com. (Fun fact: I wrote the description for Italy and many of the Italian destinations on that website!)

Try to get a reasonably-priced hostel that includes breakfast to save even more money. Breakfast can include a lot of things, such as breads, spreads, juice, and croissants, but my favorite hostel breakfast treat was cookies. Yes, they have cookies for breakfast! While you’ll want to eat out at least a few times in Rome, it’s also an experience in itself to visit a grocery store like the locals. See what kinds of things the other shoppers buy, and then head to your hostel’s kitchen to try your hand at an authentic Italian meal!

Walk

Walking by Tiber River, Rome, Italy
Carrying a backpack meant I could spend the whole day out and about, like walking along the Tiber River

Rome has a subway system, but not one worth getting excited over. Due to the buried historical artifacts under Rome’s surface, it would require too much expensive excavation to build a subway that takes you everywhere you want to go. I only rode Rome’s subway once (and only because someone handed me a free ticket), and it was overly crowded. Street traffic and taxi prices are even worse.

What’s a better solution? Walking! Most Rome sights are all within a few miles of each other. As you walk from one place to another, you’ll likely find dozens of other interesting stopping points along the way. Some ancient artifacts and ornate architecture are just casually located throughout the city.

Go to Church

Pope Francis in the Vatican
The closest I got to meeting Pope Francis

When in Rome, it doesn’t matter if you normally go to church. Going to church here is a must-do. Of course, you’ll have to visit the Vatican, the world’s smallest country and headquarters of Catholicism that just so happens to be encased inside Rome. When the Pope is in town, he speaks on Wednesdays and Sundays. Go to both if you can, as they are different experiences. When the Pope’s not speaking, go inside St. Peter’s Basilica. You could spend hours there! Vatican City also offers admission-based activities such as climbing to the top of the Basilica (take the stairs to save on the elevator fare) and the Vatican Museums (plan an entire day here and don’t just visit the Sistine Chapel!)

Outside of the Vatican, there are still plenty of other churches that are worth stepping into. They’re all open most of the day to visitors, and can be a welcome cooling-off point during warm months. I made a point to stop inside every church I passed, and I was never disappointed.

Although most churches in Rome are Catholic with services held in Italian, I did end up attending a Sunday morning Protestant service held in English. In fact, it turned out that the pastor was from Oregon like me! Rome Baptist Fellowship is a centrally-located international gathering of travelers, expatriates, and even locals gathering together, which was a fun experience.

Stop at the Palatino

Palatino, Rome, Italy
I spent at least as much time at the Palatino as I did at the Colosseum- so much to walk right up to!

This is more of a time-saver than a money-saver, but you want to make your time in Rome count! Don’t wait in a long line to buy a ticket at the Colesseum. Instead, head over to the Palatino, an attraction in its own right lurking in the shadows of the more famous attraction. Buy a ticket and enjoy the sights there, and then head over to the Colesseum and skip the line there. Tickets are good for both attractions, but for some strange reason, many people skip the Palatino.

Tour with Rick Steves

Rick Steves Audio Tour, Jewish Ghetto, Rome, Italy
With Rick Steves coming through my ear buds, even this street sign in Rome’s Jewish Ghetto had an interesting history behind it!

If you like guided group tours, Rick Steves probably has the best ones out there. I prefer to travel solo, but Rick Steves still played a major role in much of my European travel. If you download the free app, you can access tons of audio tours and more advice for your travels. In Rome, I took audio tours through places like the Jewish Ghetto, the Colesseum, Heart of Rome, and Trastevere, just to name a few. I discovered a lot of interesting things I would never have noticed on my own.

At night, I would often fall asleep in my hostel dorm with my earbuds in, listening to Rick Steves tell a story about one of his European adventures or interviewing another travel expert. It made me excited to wake up the next morning and explore Rome more!

Eat the Lunch Specials

Italian Pasta in Trastavere, Rome
Course 2…

I was told by multiple people to go to the Trastevere area for lunch. Or, if you like eating dinner at an American time (like 5) instead of an Italian hour (like 9), lunch specials can still apply. At most of the restaurants in this part of town, you pay a fixed price and then get to choose what food you want for each of the three courses off a special menu.

Trastevere is an interesting part of town not for its famous attractions, but because you can get a taste of what life in Rome is really like. Burn off your lunch calories with a walk around these cobblestone streets. Since it’s located on the Tiber River, walk along there too. There are sometimes special events along the river, such as a Nutella street fair that I happened to find there! That resulted in a free Nutella snack that I saved for another meal!

To save money at nearly any meal, drink water! And not the bottled kind. Rome has safe drinking fountains throughout the city where you can fill up for free.

Eat Gelato

Fassi Gelato, Rome, Italy
Move over, Baskin Robbins with your 31 flavors… there were so many unique flavors at Fassi!

You can’t go to Italy without indulging in gelato. It was a great snack, dessert, or sometimes even a meal-on-the-go! My favorite gelateria was called Fassi. It’s a little ways away from most tourist attractions, so the price is lower and you know you’re getting the real deal. A hostel roommate introduced me to this place, and in return, I introduced several more roommates. Now I’d like to introduce everyone to Fassi!

Another Italian treat you must try in Rome is tiramisu. For both gelato and tiramisu, I’d recommend seeking out a dessert at least once a day and trying a new flavor each time!

save big money in rome

Thinking back to my time in Rome is making me realize that despite spending a few weeks there, I left so much of it unexplored! Do you have any money-saving suggestions that I missed? Help my friend out by leaving them in the comments!

destinations, film, resources, saving money, travel tips

Couponing for Mary Poppins Returns (and a Visit to Her Hometown!)

London skyline and pigeons
Despite the song from the original movie, please don’t feed the birds. I heard a Parisian tour guide describe the overpopulation of human-dependent pigeons as “winged rats”.

I may be a little late to the game, but yesterday I finally got to see Mary Poppins Returns.

With all the adventures Mary Poppins has with the kids, it got me thinking about my own travels. Especially about London.

But wait, I haven’t been to London yet!

However, England is on the itinerary for my next international trip. (The other potential destination on this trek includes Germany.) Consider this my official announcement! Now that the word is out, here are the two questions I know I’m going to be asked:

  1. When are you going?
  2. How can you afford it?

The answer to number one isn’t set yet, as it mostly depends on the answer to number two. And that brings me to the point of this post…

But First Let’s Return to Mary Poppins Returns

Movie Ticket and Popcorn
The ticket says it was $5.25, but it wasn’t really.

Although I saw the movie during my theater’s “Discount Tuesday”, I still didn’t want to pay that price. I noticed that Fandango had an offer for this particular movie. If I bought $8 worth of Ivory soap, I could get up to an $8 discount to see Mary Poppins Returns. Although I didn’t really need the soap, I decided to buy it anyway and try to find something useful to do with it. (I ended up selling it all for the same price I bought it.) I uploaded my receipt to Fandango, and they gave me a promo code. Even with Fandango’s reservation fee, the total of the ticket was still just under $8, so I got to see the movie for free.

But wait! That’s not all! Last month, there was a similar Fandango promotion with Chex cereal. For buying three boxes of cereal, I could either see The Grinch or get a $5 concession credit. There was no minimum spend for this deal, so I found some valuable coupons that made each box of Chex just over a dollar each. Since I’d already seen The Grinch with another free ticket promotion (disclosure: I’ve found discounts or free tickets for the last several movies I’ve been to), I decided to get the concession credit, which I finally used yesterday. I was disappointed to find out that there was a small price increase in concessions since I last went to Tinseltown, but I decided to still buy the junior popcorn. The posted price was $5.40, but I used my $5 off coupon.

I didn’t even pay for gas. I live just over a mile away from the closest movie theater. By choosing an afternoon movie time, I was able to safely walk there and back during daylight hours.

My grand total for this complete movie theater experience? Forty cents!

And since Mary Poppins Returns is a Disney movie, I’ll be uploading a picture of my ticket to Disney Movie Rewards. There I’ll get a small rebate that I can use toward a variety of Disney merchandise, tickets, and more. I also scanned my Cinemark Connections so I earned points for future movie-related discounts. And the forty cents was paid with my rewards credit card for cash back. Once these three rebates are used, I will have made money from this excursion!

So What Will I Do With the Savings?

As I just demonstrated, seeing a movie like Mary Poppins Returns in theaters doesn’t have to be expensive. Going to the real London doesn’t have to be either, although I guarantee that it will cost much more than even a full-price movie ticket! Starting at the beginning of 2019, every discount I score will be logged onto an Excel spreadsheet titled “2019 Couponing to Europe”. Although I’ve couponed before, I’ve never couponed with the goal to save for a trip!

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I have seven different categories for coupons and deals:

Swagbucks: This is my main online way to save and earn. Since doing things like taking surveys and watching videos takes time kind of like work does, I’m only counting rebates and discounts on this spreadsheet to make things simpler. Check out the “Shopping” and “Discover” sections of the website to find good deals- so will even give you a bigger rebate than what you initially spent!

GiftCardGranny: This is my other go-to online savings place. It’s a search engine specifically for finding discount gift cards. Over the past year, I’ve already saved lots of money by buying gift cards to places I normally shop anyway. Although I still have several of those gift cards waiting to be used up, I look forward to refreshing my gift card stockpile this year. By having an account, I also earn “Granny Points” that I’ll eventually redeem for free gift cards!

Other Online: This covers any online deals I found that aren’t through Swagbucks or GiftCardGranny. The one item I have in this category so far is an Amazon gift card I received through a nonprofit I helped to sponsor.

Fred Meyer: This is where I typically shop in town. (For U.S. residents outside of the Northwest, this store is called Kroger in your region.) Most weeks they offer a “Freebie Friday” deal, where anyone with a free shoppers card can download a coupon for a completely free item. Fred Meyer also accepts manufacturer’s coupons, which I’ve already taken advantage of. In addition, I use their gas station because I’ve found ways to get discounts on Kroger gas, too.

Other In-Store: This is the category my movie deals went into. It’s basically the catch-all for any coupons or discounts not mentioned above unless it’s related to my trip or my bank.

Travel-Specific: Over three years ago when I went to Europe on my Mediterranean Trek, I got two free nights in a Venice hotel since I’d made so many other bookings on HostelsClub. I still have some credit on that site, which I plan to use. While researching for my trip, if I find any discounts or free hours for attractions I was planning to visit, that goes in this column. Any freebies or specials for food, lodging, airfare, and transit will go here too.

Banking: I used to use a credit card that gave me 1% back on all my purchases. I recently got a new credit card where I get 1.5% back, plus a $200 bonus for spending $1000 in the first three months. I’ve transferred all my expenses to this credit card except for my rent, which I pay in cash. All of my credit rewards will be saved for travel, plus all of the interest I earn from my savings account. I also recently opened up a new account at a credit union that is separate from my bank where I’ll be depositing the sum of all my travel savings each month. (It currently has a little more than what I’ve saved so far since I wanted to start earning dividends as soon as possible!)

What Are the Caveats?

The problem with couponing and other discounts is that you can get caught up in such a good deal it is, you forget that it’s not even something you would normally buy. I am trying to be very conscious with only couponing if it falls into one of these three categories:

  1. It’s a discount on something I would normally buy anyway
  2. It’s something I would like for free
  3. It’s a deal that will end up making me money (this is the best kind!)

I’ve also already run into some situations where I wasn’t sure if something actually counted as a discount. For example, I made two returns to stores this year. I wasn’t sure if I should put them on my spreadsheet since that would open the door to “hacking” by just buying and returning purchases. But both of these purchases were things that I thought I truly needed at the time but the course of events changed that. I am trying to buy only what I absolutely need for the time being, so this shouldn’t be much of an issue in the future. However, I plan to start selling some of my old belongings soon, and I can’t decide if that is something that should count on my couponing spreadsheet.

Am I Saving in Other Ways?

Of course! My couponing goal is $2000, which I’m hoping covers the overseas plane ticket and most of my time in London. In Germany, I plan to spend one week volunteering, so I won’t have any expenses during that time. For other Germany expenses, possible England side-trips, and pre-trip costs (I need a new passport, etc.), here are some things I’m doing:

  • I’m currently doing an eat-out-of-the-pantry challenge to see how long I can make meals using only food I already have (or things I get for free with couponing). Since I also get free meals at work, I imagine that my pantry will last me awhile.
  • I’m taking on extra work when it’s offered for hourly or per-project pay. I currently work several jobs, which is great because I typically don’t spend money while I’m working. So more work means more pay AND less spending!
  • My spending’s on a diet. For the final three weeks of January, I’m not spending any money unless it’s my regular charity donations or I get a rebate that’s greater than my purchase price. After that, I know I’ll be more conscious about my spending and saving habits.
  • I’m finding other ways to earn through Swagbucks.
  • I’m walking a lot more, whether to run errands or just for recreation. This is partially to save money on vehicle expenses, and partially to get my “backpacker body” back!
  • $2000 isn’t the cap for couponing. If I find ways to save even more before I leave, that means even more money for fun!

With just a spoonful of sugar, saving for England and beyond can be a fun challenge!

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Note: This post utilizes affiliate links.

Accommodations, camp, holiday, resources, road trip, saving money, seasonal, travel tips, Winter

How I Paid Next-to-Nothing for a Hotel Room

I rarely ever stay at hotels. There are so many other accommodation options that typically provide a better value in terms of service, activities, and price. But I recently decided to book a short end-of-year weekend trip to the Oregon Coast. I usually camp when I’m on the coast, but since I don’t have a heated RV, that isn’t a practical option in the winter. I did check out the state parks to see if they had any heated yurts available. I only found one campground that had one yurt available for one night. I reserved that for a grand total of $51, but that still left me with another night of no accommodation. That’s when I turned to look at hotels.

I ended up finding a hotel room in an ideal location that included breakfast and a few other amenities I would enjoy. Although the room was listed for $70, I used some creative techniques to get the price even lower than the cost of my night in the yurt. And then I did a little bit more to get it for practically FREE!

I will be doing the same process to save money on hotels in the future, and you can too! You can use either tip separately, or combine both for maximum savings!

2 Simple Tricks

This post utilizes affiliate links

Tip 1: Hotels.com Hacks

I decided to book on Hotels.com so I could easily compare the prices of different hotels. It turned out that Hotels.com offers even more savings than just price comparisons! I found a hotel that normally started at $70 but was discounted to $65.

That was okay, but I wanted it for less, especially after taxes and fees were added to that price. I found a Hotels.com promo code that saved me 10%. With that included, my grand total was down to $63.06. Not bad, although I wanted to do better. I booked it anyway.

After paying, I read up on Hotels.com’s price guarantee. Basically, it said if I could find the same type of room at the same hotel for the same dates for a lower price anywhere online, they would match that.

It only took me one Google search to find several booking sites that offered rooms at this hotel for $51. But upon closer inspection, these were for rooms with a queen bed. I had booked a king bed, since on Hotels.com they were both the same price. But on these sites, the king room was still at $65. No savings there.

Then I decided to visit the website for the hotel itself. Oftentimes, booking directly will be a little cheaper since the hotel doesn’t have to pay commission fees. Sure enough, I found a room with a king bed for $51 on their website. I took a screenshot and filled out a quick form on Hotels.com. Pretty soon, I received a refund of $14.58.

That meant I got what might have been a $70 room (not including taxes and fees) for a grand total of $48.48 (including taxes and fees). All I had to do was use a promo code and a price match. I’ve stayed in some hostel dorms for more than that! It was even $2.52 less than my campground yurt!

(Note: Hotels.com has a rewards program where if you buy 10 nights, you get one night free. However, my promo code excluded me from collecting rewards points. But since getting 10% off a night now is better than possibly getting a free night sometime in the future after 10 other nights, I didn’t mind. If you’re trying to decide whether to use a promo code or the rewards program, check out tip #2 for one more thing that may help you decide!)

If that sounds like a good deal to you, feel free to stop reading here. If you’d like to save even more, check out the next tip!

Tip 2: Swagbucks Savings

Swagbucks is essentially savings central. You can earn points called SB by doing things like searching the web, online shopping, and taking surveys. I’ve even earned quite a bit here by donating to charity! After earning SB, you can trade them in for real cash. You can cash out to PayPal or a Visa card, or buy one of hundreds of gift cards. These gift cards can even buy your way to free travel. 

If you don’t have a Swagbucks account yet, click here to sign up with a 300 SB bonus!

Join Swagbucks!

I earned enough just from my regular Christmas shopping to get a Hotels.com gift card. Adding the Swagbucks app to my browser has notified me of lots of cashback opportunities I didn’t even know existed. If you don’t want to spend any money at all, you can still earn with Swagbucks. I’ve earned gift cards by taking surveys, using the Swagbucks search engine, and checking out free offers- no purchases are needed to get a gift card!

Hotels.com is one of the online stores where you can earn cash back on Swagbucks. Although the offer varies from time to time, you will always earn more SB if you book a hotel room without earning Hotels.com Rewards. So if you book a room on Hotels.com with a gift card that you earned on Swagbucks, and you get SB for your stay, you’re basically getting paid to stay in your hotel room!

Since I used a promo code I was not eligible to earn SB on this particular trip, but I ended up saving more with the promo code than what I would have earned in SB. However, when I make a reservation in the future, I will check to see if Swagbucks has a better current payout than the available promo codes!

(Note: On this road trip, I’ll also be paying for gas with gift cards earned through Swagbucks. Check out this post for more details.)

Now I have a great trip at a great price to end 2018. One of my 2019 goals is to pay for a trip with creative couponing (such as using Cardpool as well as Swagbucks and tricks like these for Hotels.com) so you can expect to hear more great ways to save in the new year!

Accommodations, camp, destinations, Foodie, resources, travel tips

Caving, Camping, and Cooking

A few years ago, I took a camp cooking class at my local REI. The class instructor asked everyone what their cooking experience was at camps. As I thought back to the camping I had done, I realize I had mostly gone to restaurants or otherwise eaten cereal or other easy-to-make things. I had to tell him I didn’t really have experience, despite all the camping I had done.

Ever since then, I decided that I wanted to explore different ways I could cook at camp. My most recent camping experience was at Oregon Caves National Monument. While I had hiking, camping, and caving, I also got to enjoy delicious food thanks to Mountain House!

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I arrived at Cave Creek Campground, the rustic campground that is part of the Oregon Caves National Monument, on a Friday. I spent the afternoon setting up camp and enjoying the camp amenities. My campsite was right next to the creek! After a few hours of exploration and relaxation, it was time to start making dinner, which turned out to be relaxing as well!

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I decided to make chicken and rice. Now that sounds like it would be difficult to make at a campsite, but Mountain House made it super easy. Mountain House is a maker of freeze-dried camping food. They’re actually also based in Oregon, so it only felt right to use them on an Oregon camping trip! (Though I’m sure they’d be delicious no matter where you are.) Here’s all I had to do:

Step one: Boil water.

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Step two: Pour some water into the packet.

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Step three: Zip up the packet and wait a few minutes while it “cooks”.

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Step four: Enjoy! While this meal is tasty as-is, it’s also totally customizable. I decided to slice up a tomato and add that to the mix.

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After that, all I had to cook was the mandatory things that you have to cook for every camping trip: s’mores!

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Even the next morning, breakfast was simple, filling, and amazing. Mountain House makes breakfast meals as well, and I had those meals on both Saturday and Sunday morning.

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I spent most of Saturday away from the campground. The main attraction of Oregon Caves National Monument is about four miles uphill from the Cave Creek Campground. I went up there and opened and closed the caves that day! I took the first tour of the day, which told of all the stories about the cave held. And then I took the last tour, which was candlelit!

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In between those two tours, I went hiking, visited the visitor center at the Chalet, and took a guided tour of the Chateau.

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Because there weren’t any fires allowed in this area, I enjoyed some of the snacks I brought, and I got a little meal at the 50s-style diner in the Chateau. However, after the last tour when I went back to camp, I was craving another Mountain House meal!

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As I was camping, I realized that it was a great way to save money. My campsite only cost $10 a night, which is only a fraction of the price of a room at the Chateau! Because of that, I was able to take two tours, and I still had money left over for future adventures. Cooking my own food is something that always saves me money, whether I’m camping or at home. Mountain House made that easy to do even at a basic campsite. All I needed was hot water. (If for some reason you can’t get hot water, I tasted it before it was cooked. Trust me, it’s still good!) Even though I was eager to devour all of the Mountain House meals that I brought, if for some reason I wasn’t able to eat them, no worries. They’re good until 2048!

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(In case it wasn’t obvious, Mountain House provided me samples in order for me to write this post. No other compensation was made.)

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Have you ever camped at a National Park or Monument? Tell me about your experience in the comments below!

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Accommodations, camp, resources, road trip, travel tips

Exploring Oregon: On the Road with Lewis N Clark

Over 200 years ago, Lewis and Clark took an incredible expedition to the Oregon Coast. Their journey reshaped America as they explored new places. A couple of weeks ago, I also took an adventurous journey to the Oregon Coast. While Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are no longer around to guide me on my travels, this trip was made easier with Lewis N. Clark!

There are plenty of hotels, guest houses, and AirBnBs in every town along the Oregon Coast, but to get the full experience, camping is a must. There are camps near each of Oregon’s coastal towns. Camping frees up money that you would have spent on accommodations to do other fun things, like shop for handmade candy, buy a craft straight from an artist, eat at a local restaurant, or put a little extra gas in the car for more adventures. Plus, camping near the coast is an experience in itself; the sounds, the sights, and the smells are all wonderful.

Unfortunately, there are downsides of camping, especially if you’re trying to cram as much as possible into a short trip. Setting up and tearing down a proper campsite can take up to several hours! With this road trip, I only had a day and a half before I needed to get back home. My itinerary included stops in Roseburg, Bandon, Port Orford, Gold Beach, Brookings, and the Redwood Forest. Even as much as pitching a tent would mean that I’d have to miss out on adventures in some of these places. So what did I do? Set up camp in my car!

If you drive an SUV, van, or some other vehicle where you are able to stretch out, you can actually transform your car into a cozy home away from home. I’ve done this several times before. I always make sure to bring some sort of padding, a sleeping bag, and a sheet that I can hang up to block out the windows. This time, I also brought along Lewis N. Clark. Their new BeWell Ultimate Comfort Set was small enough that it hardly took up space in my car, but unfolded to include everything I might need for my night away. Inside this pack, I used the blindfold to sleep in darkness, the earplugs to sleep in silence, and the travel blanket when my sleeping bag just wasn’t warm enough. The carrying case even inflated into a pillow. Although this was my first time using this Lewis N. Clark BeWell Comfort Set, it certainly won’t be my last. It’s going on all my trips with me! I can especially see it being useful for long plane flights.

In addition to the comfort set, I also brought along the new Lewis N. Clark self-inflating travel pillow. It’s a smaller pillow that can be made even smaller as you deflate it into its stuff sack. This little pillow added some extra comfort and support while car camping. During the day, it also helped support my neck or back as I drove long distances. The shape of this pillow was especially beneficial in providing comfort.

If you’d like to see more photos of my Oregon Coast Car Camp-out, check out my Instagram. To get these and other great Lewis N. Clark travel products, go to lewisnclark.com.

How do you make your adventures more comfortable?

I was provided with the above mentioned Lewis N. Clark gear for review purposes. No other compensation was made.

Accommodations, culture, destinations, Foodie, Hawaii, hike, resources, saving money, souvenir, Things to Do, tour, travel tips, Walk

How to Vacation in Maui on the Cheap

Hawaii is known as an expensive vacation destination, and the island of Maui is no exception. However, my sister and I recently returned from eight nights on this tropical paradise, and we did it on a budget! If you’d like to see Maui, Hawaii without the typical price tag, take a few of our tips.

(Note: Although we did get good deals on our flights, airline tickets involve too many factors, such as season, origin, and personal resources. I’ve decided that, because all the variables that went into our flights probably can’t transfer to yours, to leave this expense out. If you want to save money on flights, there are plenty of articles out there dedicated to just that!)

Some links are affiliates. All links are personally recommended by me!

Gear

For the most part, I just used what I already owned to pack my bag. In Hawaii, you can wear shorts and swimsuits year-round, but I also packed a rain jacket for the unpredictable weather changes as well as leggings and a long-sleeve because I wanted to hike Haleakala with its cold summit. Since most of the clothes were compact, it was easy to fit everything into carry-on luggage and not have to pay for a checked bag.

One thing I did need to buy was razors. I ordered a starter pack from Dollar Shave Club, which included a handle, four blades, and some travel-sized toiletries, all for $5. Better yet, I took advantage of a Dollar Shave Club deal on Swagbucks, so I was paid back in rebates.

One item I knew I’d need, but didn’t have was a snorkel. I decided to just rent one in Hawaii. However, before going to the snorkel rental shop, we stopped at a grocery store. There I found snorkels for the same price as a one-day rental. Since my sister and I both knew we’d be snorkeling multiple days, we bought these and made our money back with our first swim. I snorkeled a total of three days and saw some incredible sea life, making it a worthwhile purchase.

Accommodation

We rented dorm beds at Maui’s Banana Bungalow Hostel. This was by far our biggest expense on the island, and one of the most expensive hostels I’ve ever stayed at. But the $51.40 per night was much more reasonable than any Maui resort or vacation home. I suppose the only cheaper option would be camping, but that is only available in remote areas, and I wanted to be close to the action. Plus, the hostel offered more than just a bed to sleep on. Banana Bungalow provided other money-saving measures that I’ll explain through the rest of this post.

Transportation

While most Maui vacationers rent a car, here’s our big money-saving secret: we didn’t drive at all! The main reason I chose to stay at Banana Bungalow was because they offer different tours to different parts of the island each day of the week. I ended up going with them to several famous beaches, Haleakala National Park, and even the Road to Hana. Of course, the drivers/guides work for tips, but these tours were worth more than pricey commercial tours.

Since Banana Bungalow is near downtown Wailuku, we simply walked to town to eat good food and see some incredible sites. Iao Valley is in the rainforest about three miles outside of the city, so we hiked there one day. For other excursions that we took on our own, we utilized Uber and Lyft. As it was our first time using these rideshare apps, we got registration bonuses, and I also used my Swagbucks to get a free $25 Uber gift card. We would just compare prices between Uber and Lyft and go with whatever was cheapest for our situation. (Use Uber promo code jessical42262ue to get a $15 Uber ride for free! For Lyft, use promo code LIPPE15551 for a special discount.)

Activities

Thankfully, most of Maui’s attractions don’t cost a dime. All beaches are open to the public. Swimming is free. Hammocking is free. Hiking is free. Most parks are free. With the Banana Bungalow tours, we didn’t even have to pay for gas or parking. The only activity expense I had with these tours besides tip money was the national park entry fee into Haleakala.

Since my sister’s birthday was in the middle of our trip, we decided to celebrate at Maui Tropical Plantation. We originally weren’t going to take the tour and instead enjoy the free botanical walking paths and my gift to her would be a meal at the restaurant. But then we changed our minds on the restaurant and decided to eat from the less costly coffee and ice cream shops, so then my birthday gift to her was paying for the tram tour. It was $20 per person and included lots of sights, information, and fruit!

Food

Admittedly, this was the most difficult category to keep on a budget, and I definitely made a few splurges. Most food in Hawaii is expensive, so I didn’t want to be paying exorbitant prices for the same food I eat at home. I also wanted opportunities to taste local cuisine. However, I did pack a variety of snacks so that I didn’t have to buy food in airports, and I used these snacks to supplement a couple of meals in Hawaii as well.

The hostel offered make-your-own pancakes every morning, so breakfast was covered. Often while cooking in the communal kitchen, others would make food and offer leftovers to everyone. There were even free shelves in the fridge and pantry, so that provided a few ingredients.

The tours stopped at grocery stores such as Safeway and Foodland so we could load up on reasonably-priced food. These stores have local, grown-in-Hawaii produce sections, so I focused my shopping there. We also bought fresh fruit at Maui Tropical Plantation’s market and packaged goods at an Asian market down the street from our hostel. We even got food at Costco. The restaurant menu had some different choices from our local Costco, but still had $1.99 pizza and $1.50 hot dogs!

We did go out to eat several times, but not to fancy sit-down restaurants. We happened to be in Wailuku during their First Friday street fair, so we loaded up on all kinds of local cuisine from the various food stands and trucks. We ate at food trucks and stands a couple other times, like on the Road to Hana where we split a roadside meal served on a banana leaf. (We passed on the banana bread when we realized it was from a bakery a block away from our hostel. We walked there the next morning and got the banana bread for a fraction of the price!) We also ate at a few walk-up restaurants. We even ate at McDonald’s, but I only ordered off their unique local menu. Spam and eggs, anyone?

Shopping

I got a few mementos from this trip, mostly free. I wrote in my journal every day. I pressed a flower in its pages. I brought my National Parks passport so I could add a Haleakala stamp. And of course I took lots of pictures!

Toward the end of our trip we went to Lahaina, which was a good place for shopping. There were fairly good prices at ABC Stores, where I got chocolate covered macadamia nuts and a bracelet. Out of respect for preserving the natural beauty on Maui, I did not smuggle out any coral, sand, or rocks.

Maui did end up costing more than my typical frugal trips, but we were able to have a good time without breaking the bank. I hope you’ll be able to enjoy Maui on a budget, too!

How to Vacation in Maui on the Cheap

How do you lower the price of an expensive destination? Let me know in the comments!

resources, saving money

Travel: It Doesn’t Cost The Earth To See It

Picture Source

Traveling is an experience that everybody should make a priority on their bucket list. And you shouldn’t just go on the same old vacation to some sunny resort at a popular destination. Obviously, relaxing vacations are fun and you should allow yourself the luxury of getting a tan on a lounger from tan to time. But there’s so much to see in the big wide world that it seems a shame not to explore. Of course, your financial situation might be holding you back. But it doesn’t have to cost the earth to see it. Here are some ways to make travel more affordable.

Make a budget.

Before you go on your travels, you need to make a plan. Whilst that may sound boring, it’s important that you’ve thought about the financial element of your proposed trip so that you can be sure you’ve got enough money to cover everything. Once you’ve calculated the costs, you can figure out whether it falls within your affordable limits. But you shouldn’t have to compromise. You might need to raise additional funds if your budget won’t quite cover everything you want to see and do. Perhaps you have family or friends who are willing to help you out (especially if they’re traveling with you).

Of course, the thought of owing money to loved ones might make it hard for you to enjoy your travels even if they’re happy to give you a fair amount of time to pay them back. Whilst your credit score might not be great if you’ve struggled with your finances in the past, that doesn’t mean borrowing money is completely off limits. You could check out companies such as Evolution Money for secured loans that use your house as collateral. There’s always a way to prove you’re financially trustworthy in order to get the funds you need for your travels.

Visit public sites.

Of course, it isn’t too hard to find cheap flights with a quick Google search. If you wait for the right time of year then you’ll be able to find good deals to all those destinations you’re desperate to see. Still, the journey is only part of the cost of a vacation. You have to think about the costs that’ll be incurred whilst you’re traveling. When seeing towns or cities on your travels, you should strive to visit public sites for a free experience. Museums are obviously a good place to start; you’ll get to learn something about the culture and history of the place you visit without putting a dent in your wallet. National parks are also well worth visiting; you can’t put a price on seeing mother nature.

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Work on your travels.

Finally, one of the best ways to afford your travels is to make traveling part of your career. You could become a tour guide in one of your favorite cities in the world and you’d never have to leave there. You could even work on a cruise ship if you’d rather be on the move and constantly traveling to new places. Not only do you get to see beautiful countries all over the globe but you get to be part of a friendly family of cruise ship workers who travel with you. Of course, there are numerous career opportunities all over the world; you could even look into volunteering abroad because many charities will cover your travel expenses.


Ednote: Just enjoyed a great, budget-friendly Thanksgiving day trip. Went with my family to snowshoe Crater Lake National Park- can’t wait to tell you about it!

resources, saving money, travel tips

11 Travel Hacks that Don’t Require Credit Cards 

Do you love the idea of getting flights, lodging, ground transportation, meals, and attractions for free or steeply discounted? Who wouldn’t want that! This is what makes travel hacking so enticing. But this can be too daunting when it comes to churning credit cards and running up a big bill. 

Never fear, there are plenty of travel hacks where owning a credit card is completely optional! Below are credit-free hacks based on my personal experience, as well as a few collected from others in my travel networks.

Last trip of the summer with a free trip to Lava Beds

Plan your costly attractions around free times.

I wish I would have kept records of how much I have saved with this one simple hack; it’s probably hundreds. In Madrid, I waited to visit the art museums until after 5pm, when they are free. I happened to be in Athens for a national holiday I didn’t even know about, yet celebrated with free admission to all the ruins, including Acropolis. I’ve had even more success stateside. I planned my San Francisco schedule around free admission times to Golden Gate Park’s attractions, found a rare free day to visit Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, and I have gone on several trips to various National Park Sites on their free entry days. Just last month,  I was spelunking in over a dozen lava tubes at Lava Beds National Monument, and it only cost me the gas to drive there!

Camp in your car, even in Amish country! My Explorer in Holmes County, Ohio.

Make a bed in the back of your car.

When I first visited the Subaru dealership, I brought measuring tape with me. I wanted to make sure I was able to lay down in the trunk with the back seat down. If you road trip in a van or SUV, this could be a comfortable and cheap option for overnights. For me, I started doing this as a kid. Before getting my own tent for Christmas, I would often choose to sleep in the back of my dad’s Jeep Cherokee during family camping trips. My first car was a 2000 Ford Explorer. I bought it for about $1750, and made a large portion of that back in savings by sleeping in it at free campgrounds and WalMart parking lots. Since then, I’ve learned to fit an inflated air mattress in the back, how to make temporary privacy curtains, and that my favorite free spot to stay the night is casinos that allow RVs overnight. Just a few steps away, I have access to bathrooms, WiFi, and security!

Before arriving at Disney World that day, I responded to a medical emergency on my plane and got a free snack box. Apparently even more snacks were justified

Help others for airline perks.

Back when I was an EMT, I helped out with someone having an emergency while boarding our plane. Had this person stayed on the flight, the crew would have offered to refund my ticket to sit with her. Although this didn’t happen, a flight attendant gave me one of those super-expensive snack boxes I would never afford to buy myself. Megan Parsons shared, “this couple asked if they could help me because I am flying alone with a baby. I said yes and their boarding position jumped significantly.” Obviously opportunities like these don’t always arise, but it always helps to keep an eye out!

Even in Europe, you can find public toilets (and bidets!) for free

Use free toilets.

“Go when you can, not when you must.” I heard this from a NYC tourguide ten years ago, and it’s stuck with me as a useful, albeit awkward travel motto. Of course needing to use the bathroom when there isn’t one available can result in ruined clothes, laundry expenses, smelly luggage, and embarrassment. I’ve pointed several visitors to free bathrooms in a small tourist town near where I live, and look out for free restrooms while I travel. This tip is especially useful in areas where most public toilets cost money, since they’re still usually free at restaurants, paid attractions, churches, trains, and porta potties. (Bonus tip: always carry a pack of travel tissues. Your stall may be out of toilet paper, and in some countries the stalls don’t always have toilet roll holders!)

I even brought Laduree macarons home from Paris in my carry-on so my family could taste them.

Get free food and drinks in the airport with this simple tip.

We know that the shops and restaurants in airports are overpriced. But do you know how to get food and drinks past TSA security? More and more people are realizing that you can bring an empty bottle and fill it with water once past security, instead of dropping several dollars for a disposable plastic bottle. (If you do forget your water bottle, some airport fast food places might give you a free water cup.) You can add single-serve flavor packs if you wish. As for food, it’s totally okay to go through security as long as it doesn’t contain many liquid-based components. (Mustard on a sandwich should be fine; a heavily-frosted cupcake is a no-go.) You don’t even have to fit your food in your carry-on or personal item as long as it’s consumed before boarding. 

I planned my entire Tennessee trip around a good airline deal.

Find mistake fares and airline sales. 

Stephan Mark Smith shared, “Check each day until you find a mistake fare.” While I personally have yet to find a mistake fare, I did take advantage of a cheap airline sale a few years ago. As long as you’re not too picky about your destination, you could plan a great trip around a cheap flight!

Last year I found a gift certificate on Groupon to take my family to Trees of Mystery

Fund your trip with gift cards.

Just about every aspect of travel can be paid for with a gift card. If you have partially- used gift cards lying around, get creative and brainstorm how they can be used towards upcoming travels. For everything else, check out Swagbucks. Many people think of this site as a rebate program. But I promised that none of these travel hacks require a credit card, and this one doesn’t have to, either. On Swagbucks, you can earn points by watching videos, playing games, taking surveys, and my favorite, using a search engine. These points then translate into gift cards for gas, hotels, cruises, restaurants, Groupon, and more. You even get free points just for signing up!

Do an online search before booking tickets or making a reservation. You could find steeply discounted prices to places like Wildlife Safari.

Check the fine print on coupons.

Between free travel gear and free souvenirs, this hack has saved me a lot of money, and provided me with wonderful things I never would have gotten if I had to pay for them! I ignore most coupons because their stipulations require me to buy something I don’t need. But years ago, while backpacking Nashville, I found a coupon that offered $3 off at a local candy store- no minimum purchase!  I even surprised the cashier when I got a $2.50 nut log for free. Since then, I stay on the lookout for coupons offering free food, free souvenirs, and free gear. I also like stores that allow coupon stacking or using coupons on already-discounted items. My favorite coupon right now is the $10 rewards coupon I get from Eddie Bauer twice a year. I have to spend at least $10 to get $10 off, but it’s still a good deal for useful gear and clearance items!

Books make wonderful cheap, unplugged entertainment for camping trips. And that’s just one free thing you can get from the library!

Visit your library before leaving.

A library is more than books. When planning my trip to Europe, I learned about Rick Steves, and wanted more of his advice than what was offered online and on PBS. I went to the library and found his Europe Through the Back Door guidebook as well as a few seasons of his show on DVD. Of course my rental time wasn’t long enough to bring these with me in Europe for 90 days, but I could take notes on the most useful information for me. For shorter trips, a borrowed library book is great for downtime, as long as you make sure not to lose it. With a lot of weekend road trips I’ve been taking lately, I enjoy getting an audio book or two from the library to listen to in the car. I’ve also taken periodicals from the free magazine rack. Your library may have other perks that benefit travel as well.

Soda was just one of many sponsor freebies at Paris’ Tour de France street fair!

Double up on freebies at events.

Some of my favorite travel memories have been at free local events. I went to some of these at the advice of a local person or fellow traveler. Others I stumbled onto completely by accident. Either way, you’re likely to find a free concert, play, or street fair, especially in large cities. Not only is the event free, but you can often double up on freebies at events like this since the sponsors often give free items away. This could mean food, apparel, pens, and other items that make excellent souvenirs.

Upsides of a totaled car: massages, rentals, cash for a new car…

If something goes wrong, cash in on all you can.

I definitely would not recommend getting into a car crash as a way to travel hack. With recent personal experience, it’s a hassle, it’s costly, and it can ruin the joy of travel, at least temporarily. But if something like this does happen to you, milk it for all it’s worth. My favorite car crash perk has been the free massages and chiropractic adjustments, especially helpful since my health insurance ended just a couple weeks after my crash. You can enjoy this benefit even if you were only a passenger in a crash. When I got my rental car, I planned a weekend getaway to Redding, California. While I paid for the gas, the rental was covered by insurance, and it didn’t add mileage to my own car. Speaking of mileage, since my car was totalled before its warranty ended, I got most of it refunded. While each situation differs, look into what’s available in the event of an unfortunate incident involving a car, plane, hotel, restaurant, event, or attraction. Don’t be demanding or threatening, but be sure to get what you’re owed.

What travel hacks have you done? Let me know in the comments!