What do you do when you want to travel, but can’t? A staycation, of course! But without a theme or a plan, a “staycation” can devolve into little more than a Netflix binge. With the government shutdown and no tourist places open right now, I had to take travel matters into my own hands. I ended up having a pretty fun camping trip in my yard. You can try these ideas while you’re quarantined, or come back to this post anytime for staycation ideas that won’t break the bank.
Pitch a Tent
What’s camping without a tent? Okay, you may choose to use an RV or camper instead, but choose something that will get you in a different element, at least for the night.
If you don’t have any camping equipment, you can post online and perhaps one of your local friends will let you borrow theirs. If not, get creative! If it’s warm enough, you could sleep in a hammock or on an air mattress on the lawn. If the back seat of your car folds down or you have a truck bed, that can make a great sleeping area- make it cozy by filling it with pillows and blankets. Even a living room camp out can be a fun experience for families.I remember years ago, some coworkers and I got really creative and saved a bunch of cardboard boxes that were destined for the recycling bin. We turned that into a makeshift outdoor village, and a couple of us were brave enough to spend the night in it! (You can read that whole story in my first book, Uncommon Adventures.)
If you have a large yard or property area, then you probably have several choices for a flat surface area that would make a decent tent space. Pick an area that will give you a scenic view. But if you live in an apartment, don’t despair. You can still pitch a tent on your porch or balcony if you have one of those, or perhaps a shared communal yard. Going back to camping in your living room, you could do that with just sleeping bags on the floor, but popping up a tent inside can add some extra fun.
Build a Fire
I’m lucky enough to be staying at a place with an outdoor fire pit and pre-chopped wood. But even if you don’t think you can build a fire where you are, you may be surprised! You can collect kindling from moss, leaves, pine needles, twigs, and other things that fall off trees. You can even order firewood online to be shipped right to you. While you’re ordering firewood, consider adding an outdoor fire pit to your basket. That makes for a safe and easy place to start a fire. Check your local burn laws if you’d prefer to build a fire ring, or make use of the charcoal barbecue you already have.
Indoors, you can use a fireplace, or make an imaginary fire. Back in first grade, my class had an end-of-year “camping party” where we decorated the classroom ourselves, and then sat around a “campfire” that one kid made out of paper to tell stories. If you’re lacking kids or creativity, just look up “yule log” on YouTube or a streaming service.
There are several ways you can build a fire. My two preferred ways are tepee and log cabin, both of which are built to look exactly as the name implies. If you build a tepee, put kindling in the center of the area that you plan to set up your logs around. If you build a log cabin, you can put kindling in the center after you’ve built the walls. (Note on kindling: this is a good opportunity to make use of that junk mail and other paper waste.) Once you light the fire, keep an eye on it. Feel free to tell stories and sing songs around the campfire!
Cooking outside can be as easy as roasting sausages and s’mores over a campfire, or you can turn it into a complicated craft. But before we get into food, let’s start with what to cook on.
If you can start a fire as aforementioned, that can be both a fun and challenging way to cook. Of course, if you have some sort of barbecue, that makes for an easier way to cook out. Also consider building a solar oven, which could be constructed using materials found around the house. (I made my last solar oven out of a shoe box, black paint, a thick piece of clear plastic, and some reflective shipping insulation.) Most camp recipes that you make outdoors can be modified for a standard kitchen, but if you’re camping indoors, it’s a fun novelty to roast a mini marshmallow on a toothpick over an unscented candle or a lighter.
My family has been celebrating with a “Fire Friday” every week of quarantining together. Since I don’t eat hot dogs, when they roast those, I’ve put chicken sausage on a roasting stick. We’ve also made “hobo meals” by putting meat, veggies, and seasonings into a foil packet and sticking that on top of the coals. If you get really creative, you can make almost anything. I remember some of my camp coworkers once stuck leftover personal-size pizzas on their roasting stick and cooked them over a campfire. I’m looking forward to a pizza cooked in cast iron. And don’t forget dessert! Last week I made an easy dump cake in a dutch oven over the campfire coals.
Get Immersed in Nature
A camping staycation may be just for one night, but you can include camping activities during the daytime too. Go for a hike, or at least a walk around the neighborhood. Look for wildlife around your home. (I’ve been seeing lots of lizards lately.) Just one look on Pinterest can give you lots of camp-themed ideas, such as:
Play board games (Doing this with my family recently led to a very interesting story that I’ll share someday!)
Read books or magazines
Create and compete in a scavenger hunt
Send out postcards (bonus if you make them yourself)
Play with glow sticks
Tie-dye shirts, pillowcases, or bandannas (especially fun if you use squirt guns)
Play yard games
Plant potted seeds or bulbs
Race in an obstacle course
Journal or write
Just take a look around your house and see what supplies you can creatively use for a fun and memorable camping experience. The other day, I got a delivery that was kept cool with dry ice. I decided to use the blocks of dry ice to make smoke, to make metal scream, and to flash-freeze a variety of foods. The point of a camping staycation is to have fun and take a break from the normal.
What is your favorite camp-themed activity? Share in the comments below!
Want more camping and staycation ideas? I’ve written a couple books on the subject that I think you’ll find useful:
Backpacking Europe on the brink of a pandemic sure brought on a lot of interesting travel experiences! I think the most unusual was what was supposed to be a week-long trip to Salzburg, Austria: home of The Sound of Music.
My original plan was to start in Bavaria, Germany, then go to Salzburg, Italy, Switzerland, and back through Austria on my way to seven other countries. When I realized that Italy was no longer a possibility due to safety concerns, I restructured my time in Switzerland and Austria, including adding a sixth night to my five nights in Salzburg. A week later, the seven other countries I wanted to go to were no longer an option due to border closures. At the time, I wasn’t sure if I would go to a different part of Europe, explore Germany, Austria, and Switzerland more deeply until the borders started reopening, or fly home early, but since Salzburg was next on my schedule and still available, I would head that way and figure out what to do from there.
I had literally just checked out of a Munich hostel and was headed to the bus station for Salzburg, but decided to check my email while still connected to the hostel WiFi. I’m glad I did, as the Salzburg hostel sent me an email at that exact moment! It read:
How are you?
Unfortunately we have to cancel your bookings from the 16th of March till the 14th of April 2020.
So that means that you just can stay two nights with us!!
The hostel and actually all of the accommodations in the county of Salzburg have to shut down due to safety precautions. The parliament decided to take stricter measures to combat the spread of the Coronavirus.
We are very sorry that we can’t accommodate you this time.
Thanks for understanding.
We hope to see you another time here in Salzburg.
I considered turning around and checking back into the Munich hostel. But what good would that do? I decided to make the most of the two nights I would have in Salzburg. After the bus left the Munich station, I reconnected to Flixbus’ WiFi and started researching what to do.
With all the museums in Salzburg closed, I wouldn’t need the three-day museum pass that I was planning to buy. That meant I could do everything else I’d been planning to do in two nights, or three days. I decided to stay as long as I could on the last day and take the last bus back into Munich unless I could find another destination from Salzburg. Flixbus ran the Munich-Salzburg route back and forth several times throughout the day. So once I talked with the hostel about how late I was allowed to check out on March 16th, I would figure out which bus to take then.
Flixbus actually dropped us off a few miles outside away from my hostel. I asked a young, English speaking local how to take the city bus to Mirabelle Gardens, which was the bus stop closest to the hostel. She told me the bus number to take and even saved me money by telling me to buy a ticket from the kiosk instead of from the bus driver.
As I rode into town, I enjoyed the scenery. The scenery on the ride from Germany into Austria was beautiful the few times I looked up, but I was so busy stressing out and researching ideas that I hadn’t had much time for viewing then. But now on this short ride, I saw the mountains, the castle, and people filling the streets. When I got off at my bus stop, I walked in the opposite direction from Mirabelle Gardens, knowing I’d go back there as soon as I checked in and dropped off my suitcase. And that’s exactly what I did.
The Hills Are Alive
While many Austrians hate “The Sound of Music”, it sure does a lot for the tourism industry in Salzburg. That’s because it’s the setting for the classic movie, and some scenes were even filmed on location. There is a Sound of Music Tour that seemed to be the only tourist activity that was still running during my weekend there, but in order to practice social distancing (and save some money), I decided to see the sights on my own.
Mirabelle Gardens, just a short walk from YoHo Hostel and thus my most-visited site in Salzburg, can be seen toward the end of the famous “Do Re Mi” song. Julie Andrews and the seven Von Trapp children run through a garden tunnel, march around a fountain featuring a pegasus statue, and then hop up the famous unicorn-guarded Do-Re-Mi Steps before finishing the song on a literal high note. I got to see all these filming locations, plus step inside parts of the Mirabelle Palace.
The Hills surround Salzburg. Although I didn’t hear the sound of music while hiking them, I enjoyed spending several hours walking around the city from this height. I found some art pieces, churches, and even a green grassy hill that looked similar to the opening scene of “The Sound of Music.” (The real location for that scene is on private property in Germany.)
The Castle makes a couple appearances in establishing shots of the film, but its history and magnificence are so much more. While home to several museums that were all closed during my visit, I did get free range of the castle grounds, including walking around inside its walls. It was my final destination uphill, but I walked down to a fabulous area.
Saint Peter’s Cemetery, just downhill at the foot of the castle, seemed oddly familiar, even though I knew I hadn’t seen it before. It turned out that it served as inspiration for the cemetery where the Von Trapp family hid before escaping to the mountains. However, that scene of the movie was played out on a film lot instead of on-location. The real site is even more beautiful, filled with miniature gardens tended by the survivors of the departed. While the cemetery is clearly named after the adjacent Saint Peter’s Church, it is surrounded by a total of three churches.
Downtown Salzburg was an interesting place to take a Rick Steves audio tour. Naturally, most attractions in this area were closed during this time, but even the shops that were open were closing down as the sun set. Still, lots of people were walking around just because it’s such a fun place to explore. The Von Trapps enjoyed exploring this area too. In the movie, just before the kids learn how to sing, the explore their town in their play clothes made of curtains, including buying produce from the downtown open-air markets.
Toscanini Hof is the festival hall where the Von Trapps sang “Edelweiss” before escaping the Nazis. I should use this moment to point out that “Edelweiss” is not a true Austrian song and was made just for the musical. But this festival hall is really real and really historic.
YoHo didn’t come along until long after everything else I saw in Salzburg, but it’s worth mentioning since it was where I was staying. This hostel offers a free apfelstudel shot, free salad in the evening, and free toast in the morning. But they’re best known for probably being the only accommodation in the world to show “The Sound of Music” every single night in their theater. I settled in to watch the 3-hour movie while stress-eating a chocolate bar and casually researching what to do once I got back to Germany, which was where I decided I was going to go when I got kicked out of the hostel. But it was fun to watch the movie with a new perspective, noticing all the locations I had been to earlier, and getting ideas for where else I still needed to go. When the movie ended, I went to bed. I was in a six-bed female dorm, but it turned out that I was the only one staying that night. Maybe that should have been a sign to leave sooner.
Nonnberg Abbey involved another hike up the hill first thing in the morning. But since I decided to better practice social distancing on this day, I wanted to go to more out-of-the-way attractions. While this wasn’t the abbey used in “The Sound of Music”, this is the real-life abbey that the real-life Maria was a novice at, but then left to go live with the Von Trapps. It was the perfect place to social distance: the entire time I was there, I only saw one nun who came into the sanctuary, set up some things, and then promptly left. And this was a Sunday morning! I considered joining this abbey like Maria did, just as an attempt to get away from all the crazy going on in the world!
Schloss Leopoldskron was one of the mansions used in the movie. The Von Trapp mansion from the movie is actually three different locations: one for the front, one for the back (which is up against a lake), and then the interior which was actually just a soundstage. This mansion is the one used for the front exterior shots, making it our first view of the Von Trapp property in the movie’s runtime. It was a nice, sunny walk out there, but the property was only open to guests of the hotel.
Hellbrunn Gardens is pretty far outside of the main part of town, but I enjoyed the nature path to get there. Although the gardens and palace are not featured in “The Sound of Music” there is a very important movie prop located there. The song “16 going on 17” takes place in a gazebo that the movie producers gifted to Salzburg. The city of Salzburg decided to place it in Hellbrunn.
Villa Trapp was the final Sound of Music-themed location I visited, but it was not featured in the movie at all. Even the star, Julie Andrews, hadn’t seen this location until just a few years ago. This is the mansion that belonged to the REAL Von Trapp family. It’s not as big and flashy as the other mansion was, but this one is also a hotel now, and I was able to sneak onto the grounds for a few minutes. The movie took a lot of liberties when compared to what happened to the family in real life.
More Music with Mozart
Salzburg was a musical city long before the Von Trapps came to town. Globally, Salzburg is even better known as the birthplace of the classic composer Mozart. Mozartplatz is a big centrally-located pedestrian square with a statue of the namesake’s likeness. I walked by his birthplace downtown, though with the closures all you could really see was the place where you could normally buy tickets. I also went to another house where he lived until he left Salzburg. Unfortunately, he left his hometown in bad circumstances. Come to think of it, the Von Trapps left under bad circumstances too. And as it turned out, I also left Salzburg under bad circumstances.
After a long day of walking, I settled back into YoHo for the evening. I was trying to decide what Austrian food to order from the hostel restaurant when it opened, and looking forward to another night featuring “The Sound of Music.” While I waited, I figured this would be a good time to schedule my return trip to Germany.
There were always several buses between Salzburg and Munich, and my double-decker ride there only had seven passengers. But when I opened the Flixbus app, there weren’t any buses scheduled for the next day. Or the next. Or the next. In fact, there was only one ride available at all, scheduled for that evening.
I quickly searched the news to see what was going on. Germany was closing their border with Austria with only a few hours’ notice. I had to get back that night, or else I’d be a homeless refugee!
The Flixbus app was having some issue where I couldn’t book a seat on the remaining bus. I tried on my phone’s browser, and I had the same issue. I even tried using the hostel’s desktop computer, but the problem was with the website itself. When I finally could get through, even that one remaining bus ride had disappeared. I would have to take the train, for more than five times the price of a bus ticket. I’d also lose out on what I spent on that night’s booking and have to pay for an additional hostel back in Munich, but it was a small price to pay to escape the crazy situation.
I hadn’t been to the train station yet, but it wasn’t too far from YoHo, so it was easy to walk there even with my luggage. A receptionist at the hostel had told me the best kind of ticket to buy to get back to Munich, so after entering the large, modern-style station, I found a kiosk and did as he told me. But I was confused by the ticket and where to go to catch my train. I found two cute Germans who also spoke English to help me out. After a while of waiting and worrying, I was soon on the train and zipping out of Austria, just in time.
I had already stayed at two different hostels in Munich, but that night, I checked into yet another hostel. I only booked one night, but in reality I had no idea what I’d be doing the next day, or if I even could extend my stay. But I knew that it was time to start figuring out how to get home early, even if it cost me a lot extra in buying a brand-new ticket. It turned out that many of the guests at this hostel had also just rushed back from Austria and were stressing out about what to do. Instead of figuring out how to rearrange our travels as we had previously done, we were now focused on getting back to our home countries.
Relating to the Von Trapps
On the train ride, I realized that my experience escaping Salzburg was similar to the Von Trapps. Now, the real Von Trapps and the movie Von Trapps both escaped Austria in very different ways, but somehow I related to both of them.
In the movie, when Captain Von Trapp is hiding his family in the cemetery and speaking with the nuns about what to do, he looks out to a distant mountain, and declares that his family will climb over it to get to Switzerland. Unfortunately, Switzerland is pretty far away from Salzburg, and you can’t see the Swiss Alps from this city. If that was the mountain they climbed, they would be headed right into Germany! That would be a terrible idea for them at the time, but escaping to Germany was the best option for me. (I had to cancel the Switzerland portion of my trip that day since Germany was also closing borders with them.)
The real Von Trapps’ actual escape wasn’t quite so dramatic. They left their mansion with backpacks and went to the train station. It wasn’t the same train station I went to. In fact, I saw where there used to be a stop very close to their house. That train thankfully didn’t take them into Germany, nor did it go to Switzerland. It went to Italy. Italy was originally going to be my next stop, but in my situation, going into Italy would lead to more danger instead of taking me away from it. I probably relate to the real story more because even though it’s urgent, scary, and stressful, it isn’t too dramatic. So you’ll probably never see my Salzburg escape on the silver screen. But at least I didn’t have to climb every mountain!
I use travel prep as an opportunity to do some minor upgrades in my life. I just ordered a new phone. (My current one cracked on my first day in Dublin and I haven’t replaced it for the past eight months.) And I typically get a new credit card too. Prepaying for transit and accommodation for my trip allows me to easily reach the minimum spend to get sign-up bonuses.
I signed up for my first Capital One card on my trip to the British Isles. That was a Savor card, and I really enjoyed the sign-up bonus, free currency conversion, and cashback, among other benefits. But that one was Mastercard, which isn’t quite as widely accepted as Visa. It also had an annual fee.
That’s why I was excited that Capital One Quicksilver (which is a Visa card) had no annual fee and 1.5% cash back for every purchase, plus a signup bonus after you spend $500. It also has the benefits you can find in every Capital One card, like not freezing your card just because you’re in a different country. My experience has been that Capital One is very traveler-friendly.
I’m not as deep into the rabbit hole as many credit card-hacking travelers, but I do take advantage of the perks when I can. Unlike others, I typically prefer cards that have cashback bonuses instead of airline miles or hotel points. With cashback, you know exactly what you’re getting. With “miles” or “points”, the values of these pseudo-currencies can change on a whim. Plus, with cashback, I can use my reward to pay for whatever I want. I can use cashback for bus trips, meals, gear, or even paying my bills when I’m back at home. This allows greater freedom than being tied to a certain airline or hotel chain.
I try to get more than 1% cash back on every purchase I make. That’s why I like how Quicksilver gives 1.5% cash back across the board. While making purchases for this trip, I’ve been using the Swagbucks shopping portal for their partners at online stores like Tracfone and Hotels.com. Then I get a percentage of cash back from Swagbucks in addition to the cashback offered by the credit card company. It’s like getting a 3-10% discount without having to clip coupons or scour sales!
Nowadays, it’s so easy to sign up for new credit cards. I remember when I had to go to my bank every time I was interested in changing my spending medium. Just go to the website and sign up! This is a big advantage when you want to use a bank that doesn’t have a physical location near you. I’ve done all my Capital One banking exclusively online, which makes it simple to keep tabs on how much I’m spending. And by monitoring my spending and saving, I can redirect funds to things that are more important to me (like trips).
It only took me a couple minutes to apply for Capital One Quicksilver online. The hardest part was deciding which credit card I wanted to get next, but I guess I already did that legwork for you!
Making Your Credit Card Work for You (and not the other way around)
As our society becomes more and more cashless, I’m assuming most people reading this already have at least one credit card. And it’s obvious that I’m encouraging you to sign up for another one. (You should always travel with at least two credit cards in case one gets lost, stolen, or frozen.) I think credit cards have a lot of benefits that paper money doesn’t, like theft protection, spending reports, and, of course, cashback and bonuses.
However, I don’t think EVERYONE should get a credit card. If you’re in debt or struggle to pay on time or in full, then, by all means, get rid of your credit cards! Cashback and bonuses are only useful if you’re not paying late fees and interest. If you’re not in a place where you can be smart with a credit card, go all Dave Ramsey and focus on managing your money in more physical ways.
If you have a track record of being responsible with money and paying bills on time but don’t yet have a credit card, this might be a good time to consider building your way to an excellent credit score. Apply for a credit card and you can literally fund your next trip or any big monetary goals you have!
Do you use a credit card to help you travel? What do you think are the biggest advantages/disadvantages?
Disclosure: This is not a paid ad. I do get a signup bonus for the first five people to use this link and qualify for Quicksilver card, but no other compensation has been or will be made. I just get excited about credit card benefits that travelers can take advantage of!
Christmas came a few days early for me this year! Delta Airlines sent me a check for $685.03. That extra three cents seems odd, but that’s because it’s an exchange of 600EUR, which I earned just for filling out a form and having a flight delay in Europe four years ago.
I only just found out about an EU law that says if your flight is delayed for mechanical reasons in Europe, you can request that the airline compensate you up to 600EUR. I wasn’t sure if my flight from Paris back in 2015 was outside the statutes of limitations, but I decided to check it out and fill out the form anyway. Sure enough, it worked! Part of me is kind of hoping that my flight home from my upcoming European trip will have a mechanical delay; this reimbursement check would end up being more than what the flight cost me!
While my first flight delay for a Eurotrip ended up paying me royally, I had another experience with delays on my second trip to Europe that was a nightmare. But first, since this is a Christmas blog post, let’s talk about popular movies for this time of year.
Home Alone and Home Alone 2
Oh, that Kevin! Most of us remember these Christmastime movies for the booby traps a lonely boy pulled that should have killed the two robbers multiple times over. (Remind me how this puts us in the holiday spirit?) Like many Americans, I spent part of this December watching Home Alone and Home Alone 2, while pretending that Home Alone 3, 4, and 5 never happened. (And now Disney+ is making a sixth movie? I don’t think I ever got around to seeing 4 or 5.) But this time around, something struck me in the earlier scenes of the movies.
In the original Home Alone, Kevin McCallister’s family forgets him at home on their flight to Paris. As soon as they get to Europe, his mom doesn’t even get a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower as she immediately tries to turn around and go back home. Since most flights are fully booked, she has to bribe passengers and go to places other than her hometown airport in Chicago. She ends up in Scranton, which at the time was a mostly-unheard-of city, but now is pretty well-known thanks to The Office. While I spent a few more hours at the Charles de Gaulle airport than I would have liked, I’m thankful that most of my time in the area was spent enjoying Paris. I knew I couldn’t accidentally leave anyone behind because I was traveling solo.
In the sequel, the family manages to make it to the airport with Kevin, but then immediately loses him. Thanks to being a decade before 9/11, Kevin accidentally hitchhikes on a plane to New York while the rest of his family headed to Florida. Were my mom and I supposed to bring Kevin on our Christmas trip to Florida earlier this month? Oops.
What do both of the McCallister’s horrific flight mishaps have in common?
I never had a problem with American before my flight to Dublin this past May. Then again, I can’t specifically recall any flights I previously took with them before this. Now, in their defense, when everything goes exactly as planned, flying on American can be pleasant. I even got ice cream on my flight from London Heathrow to Phoenix, Arizona. But if one hiccup happens, you have to deal with their customer service. That’s where the problems happen.
I had a Chicago layover, but my flight there couldn’t land on time, supposedly due to weather. (If there’s a delay they can blame on weather, airlines aren’t entitled to compensate you anything. However, if it’s solely the airline’s fault… see my beautiful payout above.) However, I’m not entirely sure how weather-related it was because my flight to Dublin took off on time. So of course, I missed that connection.
The captain told us that if we missed our connecting flight, our new schedule would be emailed to us. The problem was, when I was boarding that plane, the gate agent took my carryon from me without any warning and told me it would be checked all the way to Dublin. Unfortunately, I had packed my charger in my carryon so I really had to conserve my cell phone battery. I hesitantly turned on my phone and checked my email, but I had no email from American Airlines.
I went to the nearest American Airlines gate agent and asked what they could do. They told me to check my email, duh. They seemed completely uninterested in helping any of the stranded passengers. But eventually, they gave me a phone number to call. At least they pointed me to some payphones when I explained my carryon and phone charger were taken away. (When I asked if I could get my carryon back, they told me probably not, but the only way to find out was to leave security and ask at the check-in desk. But, because it was so late the desk may already be closed and I wouldn’t be able to get back into the secure area.)
I called the customer service number and the first person sounded really helpful. He told me a flight was currently boarding to London Heathrow, and he could get me a ticket that had a layover there on the way to Dublin. I happily accepted, and he told me I could pick up a boarding pass from the gate agent. I dashed over to the boarding gate, but when I got there, the two gate agents said I couldn’t board. I explained that customer service just sent a ticket for me, and they said that wasn’t possible, because my original ticket was going to Dublin, not Heathrow. They told me I would have to wait until the next night for the next Dublin flight. I still wonder what really happened between that customer service agent and those gate agents.
I ran back to the phones and called customer service again. That representative confirmed that they weren’t allowed to reschedule me on the Heathrow flight and didn’t know what the other customer service rep was talking about. This rep apparently tried to find a better flight for me so I didn’t have to spend an entire day in the Chicago airport, but instead hung up on me. During the third call, after I explained how rude and unprofessional his coworkers had been, this representative finally figured out that if I flew to Philadelphia the next day for another layover, I could catch a flight that would arrive a few hours earlier than if I waited in Chicago. I would be missing my first day in Dublin no matter what at this point, but I was ready to get out of Chicago as soon as possible. I still had to spend the night inside that airport. That was incredibly miserable. (I would rather sleep in the Chicago Greyhound station than the Chicago airport, and this is coming from someone who’s slept in both!)
The worst part? My original plan was to arrive in Dublin the day before my birthday. Instead, my 28th year started out on a cramped plane with hardly any of my personal belongings and no sleep or showering for days. Due to the time change, I also lost 6 hours of my birthday. I’m not sure if I fully turned 28 if my birthday was only an 18-hour day.
Of course, I still had a great time in Ireland as well as England later in the trip. But my American Airlines flights home experienced delays as well. I decided on this trip to no longer support this airline. While some of the events were out of their control, friendlier customer service would have made this ordeal a completely different experience. Even before I found out about compensation for my Delta flight, this company provided extra in-person customer service reps to answer passengers’ questions as well as extra snacks. I could easily spin my Delta delay into a positive experience, while American Airlines’ indifference kicked my trip off with a nightmare.
Watching Home Alone will Never Be the Same
Guess what airline the McCallisters took in both of their Home Alone movies? That’s right, American Airlines! While the airline obviously agreed to this product placement, these movies will now forever serve as a reminder of how horrible their customer service can be when things go wrong. I can’t blame the airline for leaving Kevin at home, granted. But as I watch the ticket agent shrug her shoulders and tell the mom no to her requests to get back home, I’m reminded of how little the customer service reps cared when I was alone and needed help.
The funny thing was, I didn’t realize it at the time, but the Chicago airport that I was stranded at was the same airport that started both of the McCallisters’ misadventures. (At least they just barely managed to make their flights at this airport… well, everyone except Kevin, that is.) Maybe Chicago O’Hare and American Airlines together create the perfect epicenter for travel mishaps, whether real or fictional.
Whether you travel this season or having future trips on your Christmas list, I wish you the best of travel. Merry Christmas!
Have you ever experienced a flight delay, cancellation, or missed connection? Share how it turned out in the comments!
It’s finally happened: the cruise I’ve been planning for months! Although I didn’t get the chance to send postcards even to close relatives, here are a few “Christmas postcards” I hope you all can share. Wish you were here!
It’s been a fun time in Florida. My mom and I arrived to our beachside hotel, and the next morning, we walked the less populated section of Las Olas, and the afternoon was spent at the beach. The food’s been good too: a French cafe, Pimenti Brothers sandwiches, and Bubba Gump’s! As much fun as we’ve had, I bet the cruise will be even better.
The newly remodeled ship, Carnival Sunrise, was packed with so many great things, like a minigolf course, two waterslides, and a high ropes course overlooking the sea. I spent my time onboard playing games, eating from several restaurants, watching ice carving and other art, going to great performances, and just relaxing in our stateroom or on the Lido deck. Our cruise director was The Flying Scotsman, so we were always in for a treat of his singing and kilted comedy.
This exclusive section of the island of Eleuthera, The Bahamas, is only available by cruise ship. As the name implies, the resort is owned by Princess Cruise Lines, but since Carnival is owned by the same company, we were allowed to enjoy. Most of our first day in my 14th country and my mom’s 4th was spent relaxing in lounge chairs on the beach, enjoying a barbecue buffet, and snorkeling with the tropical fish.
Prior to our day in the capital city of The Bahamas, I designed my own walking tour. It was fun to follow the sites I’d been planning on seeing plus a few more surprises along the way! We went to places like Fort Fincastle, the Queen’s Staircase, Government House, a chocolate factory, a church, and so much more! And since the cruise port is right in the middle of downtown, we could easily get back on in the middle of our time there for a free lunch, which was good because I started feeling landsick while at the Straw Market! (Okay, it was actually vertigo, but it’s funny how being on land can start to feel strange after a couple days at sea.) It was also pretty neat to see so many flowers in bloom at the same time that Christmas decorations were being put up! Overall, it was a jam-packed day exploring all over (the safe part of) Nassau on foot.
Our last stop in The Bahamas involved an incredible shore excursion. We boarded a glass-bottom boat and saw the city from a unique point of view. Below us, we saw yellowtail and blue tang. Then when we went to deeper waters, I saw a shark! Pretty soon, dozens of sharks were swarming the boat. When we safely returned to shore, we spent some time at Port Lucaya and picked up a souvenir or two before bussing back to the cruise port.
Just because our cruise ended doesn’t mean that the shore excursions had to end! Our last trip before headed to the airport for our flight home was my first visit to the Everglades. They were a lot different than I imagined! First, we had an hour-long airboat ride where we learned about the local flora, fed the birds, and saw two wild alligators. We saw even more gators, all of whom were rescues, at a gator show where a handler stuck her head in one of their mouths! Last on the schedule for me was to order alligator tacos, which tasted like chicken. It was a fun time in Florida and on this whole sunny vacation!
I hope you enjoyed these “postcards”. Of course, you can read even more like this when you follow me on Instagram.
As much as we may wish for them, clear skies don’t always grace us while we’re travelling, especially in some parts of the world where it’s more likely to rain than shine. Of course, rain doesn’t need to stop you from getting outside and exploring whichever destination you have visited but if you’re feeling a little more like staying dry then here are 5 activities that you could do to escape the rain.
Go bowling Bowling is a popular sport all around the world which means you probably won’t need to look too far to find a bowling alley near you. A great way to stay inside and away from the rain, bowling is also a really easy sport for people to understand so even if there’s a language barrier between yourself and some of the people you have met on your travels you’re bound to still have a great time and make some fun memories.
Visit an indoor museum It’s likely that museums were on your travel itinerary anyway so why not switch around what you had planned for certain days and visit the museums on a day when the weather isn’t being so kind. Don’t rush your way around the museum, take your time and purchase the audio guide to make sure you really take in everything that the museum has to offer and remember to check out the gift shop to help support the museum.
Go swimming If you’re going to get wet anyway why not go swimming! If you’re in a city then you’ll be able to find a swimming bathe or leisure centre near you for you to have a splash around in, or if you’re by the beach and the waves are still safe, then why not take a dip anyway and enjoy the beach while it’s a little quieter. Snorkelling can be a whole new experience when it rains and the raindrops landing on the surface of the sea look magical from underneath, an experience you have to try at least once.
Check out a shopping mall Another fun rainy day activity is to go shopping and find some gifts and souvenirs for your friends and family back home. To stay dry and undercover try to find a shopping centre, market or mall which is all enclosed and undercover, or if you are going to brave the streets then just pack a trusted umbrella and make your way from shop to shop ensuring to have plenty of food and drink stops along the way.
Visit the local library Almost every major city has a library and many smaller ones do too. Libraries are great places to cosy up on a rainy day, you can either bring your own book and simply enjoy the ambience and read or why not do some more research on your travel destination by searching for some local maps, guide books and magazines? Some libraries also have postal services which make them a great place to sit and write your postcards before sending them off to your friends and families.
Hostels are known as a great way to save money on accommodation while still getting amenities such as breakfast, information services, a central location, and free WiFi. But what if I told you that you could stay at an already-affordable hostel for even cheaper? In fact, what if I told you that your next hostel stay could be FREE?
Here are four ways that you can get a free night (or more) at a hostel. Every single one is legit: no stealing or sneaky work is involved at all. I’ve done all of them myself, so I guarantee they can work!
1. Win a Contest
I’m getting two free nights in a hostel on my next trip to Europe! I just found out that I won a contest on St Christopher’s Inns’ Facebook page. Of course, I’m excited. (Although they have a lot of hostels in a lot of European cities to choose from, I think I’ll check out their new Berlin hostel.) But it has been a numbers game.
I started entering their weekly contests when I first found out about them, hoping to get some free nights for my trip to London. Instead, I paid for my stay there (but I did save some money by booking all my hostels directly). I stopped entering the contests for a while after that trip, but then when I decided to go back to Europe in 2020, I started entering the contests again. Last week, only about a dozen people entered versus the usual 50-90, so I had greater odds when they picked my comment as the winner!
Other individual hostels and hostel chains may occasionally offer contests. Booking sites like HostelWorld do this every now and then as well. The best way to make sure you’re notified about any upcoming contests is to follow social media pages and sign up for newsletters. This may not be a guaranteed way to get a free hostel stay, but it’s worth trying!
2. Check Out Promotions
I got a free night in Dublin on May 10th. Why? It’s my birthday, and I found out Isaac’s Hostel offers a free night’s stay to celebrate! Originally, I wasn’t planning on arriving in Ireland until a day or two after my birthday, but when I discovered this promotion, I booked my flight accordingly. (Upon my arrival, the hostel staff even gave me a few freebies, like a rental locker that normally had a 5-euro deposit and a free evening event.)
A more common promotion is if you pay to stay a certain number of nights, you’ll get one night free. (Most of the offers I’ve seen are either three nights for the price of two or book a week and your seventh night is free.) To find the most up-to-date offers with specific hostels, check out the hostel’s direct website or social media pages.
3. Do a Work Exchange
If you’re planning on staying somewhere for a month or longer, it makes sense to try to get a job at the hostel. A lot of hostels don’t actually pay most of their employees, but they do provide free housing. Usually, the work exchange is part-time so you still have time to get a paying job, attend classes, travel, or do whatever else you were planning to do in the area.
If you don’t want to stay long-term, available work exchanges are rarer, but still sometimes possible. I’ve done a few short-term hostel work exchanges by doing some promotional work. Some social hostels will give a free night to musicians who are willing to do a performance in their commons. If you have a special skill that a hostel business will find useful or marketable, start asking around.
4. Be Loyal
Why are people still booking on HostelWorld? There are better hostel booking sites out there that actually reward you for using them. I got two free nights in a private room in Venice (just steps away from St. Mark’s Square), because I made several of my bookings for my Mediterranean Trek using HostelsClub. This site is great at rewarding loyal customers, as reviewing the hostels you’ve stayed at can get you a discount off of your next booking!
Hotels.com also has hostel listings in addition to the hotels they’re known for, and many of them are affiliated with Hotels.com Rewards that allows you to stay a free night for every 10 nights you book through this site. I’ve only made one hostel reservation for my trip to Germany so far, but because I booked through Hotels.com, I got the best price AND I’m already close to getting a free night!
The downside to loyalty rewards is that you’ll have to pay for some nights upfront. Because of this, I suggest that you compare the rewards booking site you’re using to the website of the actual hostel. Sometimes it’s significantly cheaper to book directly with the hostel, making the booking site’s offer worthless. But some booking sites, like Hotels.com, offer a price match guarantee, so it’s still more economical to book through them. You may not get a completely free hostel stay, but saving money will add up over time.
Now that it’s November, we are in the month that I’ll get to take my first trip to The Bahamas! I’m counting down the days both for this cruise and my 2020 backpacking trip around Central Europe.
If you’re new to this blog or haven’t been following this series, you can click here to find out how I got this incredible deal on a cruise to The Bahamas. I write up a recap as each month passes, so that you can see my travel savings progress and get some tips for how you can save, too!
Travel Agents Aren’t Helpful
Although I booked the cruise months ago, not all the pieces for this trip happened all at once. Later, we booked plane tickets. My mom and I decided to catch a flight that arrived in Florida the day before the cruise departs, so we knew we’d eventually need to book a night at a hotel.
Then, the airline we were taking there decided to cancel our flight.
Of course, since we’d already paid, they automatically booked us on another flight. The problem was, it would be a day later, so we wouldn’t get to Florida in time to board the ship. My mom called and had them change it to the day BEFORE the original flight. So that’s how we ended up making plans to spend Thanksgiving in Florida! (Do they serve flamingo there instead of turkey?)
The benefit to that was we each got $100 travel credit with the airline. So I guess I’ll soon have another trip to plan!
Now that we had to book two nights at a hotel instead of just one, my mom suggested that we visit a travel agent at AAA. I don’t know if I’ve shared this here before, but the one other time I met with a travel agent at this company, I ended up spending more on a Niagara Falls Pass than if I’d just bought one at a tourist info center when I got there. So I didn’t have a good feeling about seeing another travel agent.
I should’ve trusted my gut.
We gave the travel agent our requirements for a hotel, and everything he showed us was NOT what we asked for. All of them were too far away from the area we wanted to stay in, or too expensive. I thought maybe that’s just what the going rate was, but I was still skeptical and wanted to do my own research at home.
Does this mean I should become a travel agent? Maybe. But the sad thing is, even when you do pay upfront for a service like you do with AAA, travel agents are still looking for the biggest commission possible. Do your own research to find out what the best deal will be for you instead of them.
What to Do in Florida
Having a beach-side hotel pretty much takes care of our entertainment needs while we’re in Fort Lauderdale. So the only other expenses to consider are food and travel (from the airport and then to the cruise port). I’m covering all that for free with Swagbucks.
On Swagbucks, I got free gift cards to a few restaurants in walking distance from the hotel. I also got a free Uber gift card. I’d recommend this site as a way to earn some extra money and cover some costs of any kind of trip you’re planning. They have free gift cards for airlines, cruises, restaurants, gas stations, and more!
Speaking of camp, I started back up helping at weekend retreats. That’s been a fun way to spend my weekends and reduce my expenses. (Free travel!)
I worked a few extra shifts, which will help fund my European adventure. And there’s some more exciting things in the works for my work. I can’t share them with you yet, but I should be able to by next month’s update!
My biggest goal is to make sure I have a great time at the end of the month as I leave for my trip! The cruise goes into December, so I will not be giving a December update. I am choosing to not use WiFi on this trip, partly to cut costs and partly so I can be in full break mode. And I won’t have as much savings updates to tell you because I’m not going to be miserly on this trip! But don’t worry, this website has lots of other travel content for you to read, and I’ll probably make a few more posts until then.
I’m working on a launch for my next book. It’s more a niche audience, just people who work at or are interested in working at camps. But I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from beta readers in the professional camp industry, so that’s encouraging.
As far as Europe goes, I still have a lot of planning to do for that. I have a rough itinerary, but a large part of that depends on if I’m accepted into the Diverbo program. I have yet to hear from them, but I loved my time with them in Spain and hope to continue this voluntourism in Germany. If/when I’m accepted, I’ll start booking hostels. Here’s hoping!
Oh, and Christmas is coming up, isn’t it! I guess I have some shopping and preparations to do!
Travelling is a fun adventure that everyone should experience at least once in their lives. However, you might be looking for routes that are not so typical if you are looking to do something a little different with your travel dreams. If this is the case, then it is a good thing you have stumbled across this article, because we are going to be looking at some awesome ways to travel that you might not have considered.
The first thing that we are going to look at is day trips. Some people think that you can only go on day trips to destinations that are in your country, or even just places that are close to you. This is not the case, and if you go online and search around a bit, you are likely going to find that there are some awesome deals for day trips to places. This saves you quite a bit of money because you are only paying for your flights and spending money, rather than having to book an expensive hotel.
Obviously, you are not going to be able to see an entire place in one day unless it is relatively small, so if you want to do it this way we suggest that you make a list of the things that you want to see while you are in certain places. This will mean that you really make the most out of your trip, and you are travelling the world one day at a time.
In A Caravan
The next thing that we can suggest to you is that you get a caravan and start adventuring this way. Road trips are the best, and you can go so far in one of these vehicles without having to worry! You can even look into hybrid caravans which are great for the environment. So, if you are conscious about contributing to the carbon footprint of the world but you still think this is going to be an awesome adventure for you, then this could certainly be an option to explore.
Think of all the awesome things that you could see if you get a caravan! You can set off when you like, wherever you like, and you aren’t going to have to pay for expensive accommodation. All you need is money for gas, and the road is your friend.
Finally, some people like to go to one place at a time, but if you are going travelling for a prolonged period of time, then you might want to do this through planning out systematic destinations. Now, we know that some people already do this, but not enough, which is why we are mentioning it. Plan out where you want to go, and then work out flights to each of these places from the last destination you were in. You will find this an awfully big adventure and saves you a lot of time and money.
We hope that you have found this article helpful, and now have a few ideas of some awesome ways to travel.
I’m excited to feature my travel book, Uncommon Adventures, in this post. However, while my paperback only costs $6.98 (and the ebook is just $2.99), books often are pretty pricey. Travel books are definitely no exception!
Despite the price, travel books will contribute to having a better time traveling. Famous travel writer Rick Steves often says “Guide books are a $20 investment for a $2000 trip.” But I know firsthand that when it comes to saving for a big trip, every penny counts. Especially if you’re visiting several destinations, a guide book for each location could add up to be hundreds of dollars!
It does seem counterintuitive for me as a travel writer to recommend ways to save on travel books, especially since some of these tips may cause less of a profit for me. But I think it’s important to share tips to save that will allow you to have richer travel experiences. If you like what I have to say and use any of these tips to save money while reading my book, I’ll still appreciate it.
Whether you want to read my book or a book by another author, here are some ways to save money when it comes to travel books.
Use the Library
This sounds like an obvious way to save money on books. Obviously, most libraries have a travel section where you can borrow books for free. But let’s dig deeper.
Be warned that using the library for travel books can sometimes end up costing MORE money! No, I’m not talking about late fees, though you should try to avoid that. A few weeks ago, I went to the library and decided to check out the travel section to see if they had any of my favorite travel books like Europe Through the Back Door or How to Travel the World on $50 a Day. Instead, a Rick Steves book about Belgium caught my eye. Since I’m planning a trip to Germany, which borders Belgium, I decided to thumb through it. Not only did I end up checking out the Belgium book, but it convinced me to take a side trip from Germany to Belgium! And since the bus from Hamburg to Brussels has a layover in Amsterdam, I decided to make a stop there too! So in the future when you see my Instagram pictures of Mannekin Pis or Anne Frank’s House, know it was the library’s fault that I went there!
Oftentimes, instead of browsing for books shelf by shelf, I go to the library website and search for books I want. Then I can reserve them, which is especially helpful if a book is currently checked out by someone else or is shelved at another branch. The library will ship it to my nearest library, which right now is within walking distance of my apartment. Yay for no gas or parking fees!
I know library books can be a bit of a debate in the writing community. Isn’t it better for the author if you buy a book? Check out the next tip for how you can use the library AND support an author at the same time.
Do you want a specific book that your library doesn’t have? Most libraries accept recommendations for the next books they should order. You can ask your librarian for the exact details on how to make this request, but often it’s as easy as filling out a short form on their website.
I’ve made many requests for book orders at my library, and most of them have been approved. I’ve requested travel guides and novels that take place in interesting locations. And I’ll admit, I requested that my library purchase both Uncommon Adventures and Girls Who Change the World, both books authored by this girl named Jessica Lippe.
If you can’t personally afford to buy a book, ask your library to make the purchase for you. It’s a great way to support an author. Better yet, if you’ve bought a book you really like, also ask the library to buy so others can share your book treasure. Naturally, I’d recommend going to your library’s website and requesting they order Uncommon Adventures right now!
As an added bonus to making library book order requests, you often get to be the very first person to check out a book, even before it’s been shelved!
(Note: You can still use this tip even if you don’t have this library service! Instead, make requests for specific books as Christmas or birthday presents. Friends and family probably want to give you a gift that will help you with your trip but would prefer to gift you something you can unwrap instead of cash or an experience gift. Travel books are the perfect solution.)
Use Your Resources
I’m not the biggest fan of AAA guide books. They’re very advertising-heavy and don’t seem to paint the full picture for their destinations. But I always get a copy of their book for my next destination. Why? Easy: I can get it for free.
If you or someone you know has a membership with AAA, getting their guide books is a great way to make up the cost of membership. (I’d also recommend membership for their emergency auto services, which I’ve used recently!) But there are probably lots of other resources available to you. We’ve already mentioned the library, and next, I’ll be talking about digital resources you may have. But you can also check out book exchanges such as Little Free Library, or online sources like blogs and Pinterest. Or find a traveler you know in person and ask if they have any literature they can pass on to you.
I’d highly recommend getting at least one hard copy of a travel book that you can keep in your possession. The rest of your travel books can be ebooks or from the library, but on your own hard copy, you can use the margins to take notes from your library books or other resources you can’t take on the trip with you. Then, tear out the pages of this book that are relevant to your specific trip.
I got the tip to tear out pages from your travel guide from Rick Steves. Of course, he recommends this because it will cause people to buy more of his books! However, it truly is a good tip since it allows you to pack lighter and keep more organized. Since I tear up my free AAA guidebook that’s filled with notes from Rick Steves and other sources, I don’t have to spend any money replacing torn books.
You can buy Uncommon Adventures for $6.98, plus shipping. Or, if you have Kindle Unlimited, you can get the ebook for free! In this digital age, you can get the same exact content as a book’s print copy in digital form, but you’ll save several dollars by going the ebook route.
There are more ways than just eBooks to get good travel book content. Referencing Rick Steves again, in addition to reading his guidebooks, I often watch his PBS show. I have many of the episodes on DVD, but you can stream his shows and his lectures for free online. On his show, he often quotes sections of his books verbatim. He also has his Rick Steves Audio Europe app that contains audio tours, interviews, and excerpts of his books in audio form.
Whether you’re reading an eBook, streaming an educational program, or listening to an audiobook, there’s one extra advantage for travelers to use digital versions of books: they reduce the weight of your luggage! Instead of bringing a guide book for each of your destinations plus some recreational books, just download them all onto your phone or another device.
Uncommon Adventures is Compact!
While I often travel with just a Bible app on my phone nowadays, on my first trip to Europe, I struggled with how to pack a Bible when I wanted to pack light. Shortly before my trip, I attended a local street fair, and someone from a Christian booth offered me a free Bible. It was just the New Testament plus Psalms and Proverbs, but it was smaller than my hand. The small print and thin pages made it perfect for packing, and it was worth having a print Bible so I could take this cool picture in Athens on the exact spot where Acts 17 took place! (I share more about this amazing accidental experience in Uncommon Adventures.)
While Uncommon Adventures is a full-length book, the adjusted page margins and print size allow it to be only 84 pages. That’s thin enough to slip into your carry-on bag! And because it costs less to print fewer pages, that savings is passed on to you as the reader.
I know I like to have some books and daily reading guides in print form instead of digital, especially if I’m going someplace where I won’t always be able to charge my devices. In that case, avoid large print editions! (Even if you have a hard time seeing small print, a pair of reading glasses will probably take up less weight and space than bigger books.)
Another way that Uncommon Adventures is a great compact book is that it is multipurpose. Instead of a devotional and travel guide, you just have to bring this one slim book on your trip!