camp, Couponing to Travel, saving money, Travel Life

June 2019: Getting Back Into Travel Saving

With a wonderful trip to Ireland and the UK in May, June was a time to transition back into saving for travel. Here are a few things I did, as well as what I’m looking forward to.

The Pacific Crest Trail

I only took one overnight trip this month. Although it wasn’t too far from home, I got to experience a new campground, new friends, and a new learning experience. Best of all, it was FREE!

The Pacific Crest Trail Association is a nonprofit organization that maintains the long National Scenic Trail that goes from Mexico to Canada while crossing through California, Oregon, and Washington. Since a section of the trail goes through the mountains near me, I was able to attend one of their Trail Skills College weekends this past month. Most people traveled a lot farther than I did to attend- some people traveled seven hours! Although Trail Skills College is offered in several spots along the Pacific Crest Trail, a lot of people like Southern Oregon’s “Big Bend” section or the classes that the PCTA offered here.

I joined this two-night weekend camping trip at Hyatt Lake. On Saturday, I spent the day taking the “Cooking and Camping with the Crew” class, where I learned some planning, cooking, and hygiene skills that could be used in all my travels, but particularly when I volunteer with the PCTA in the future. Although I didn’t sign up for any Sunday classes, I was able to take advantage of kayaking on the beautiful Hyatt Lake.

The next weekend, I found myself back on the PCT! I haven’t had the opportunity to volunteer on a trail project with the PCTA yet, but I did lead a hiking group around the Green Springs Loop outside of Ashland, Oregon. So all of my June travels involved this little slice of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Sick Days and Syria

To be honest, my PCTA Trail Skills College experience wasn’t as great as I expected it to be. Sure, everyone was nice, the food was good, and I learned some good skills. But I ended up with some GI troubles. To make matters worse, the campground we were using had its water shut off, so no bathrooms or running water! Not the best way to spend a sick weekend, but I was just well enough that I didn’t want to go home and miss out.

A week later, I made sure that I was starting off healthy, because I was going to do an eating challenge. I took The Ration Challenge, which meant for one week, I would eat the same food distributed to Syrian refugees. I had to make two substitutions. (Since I’m soy intolerant, I replaced the vegetable oil ration with coconut oil. I also exchanged sardines for a vegan protein alternative since I don’t eat seafood.) I learned to get creative with the little I had. With only a few ounces of flour, I learned to make really thin crepes. With rice outweighing the rest of my rations combined, I learned to make congee, rice milk, puffed rice, and extending everything else by sneaking in some rice. I enjoyed the lentils and think I’ll start adding more to my regular diet. Although I prefer to add tahini and spices, hummus made out of just chickpeas and oil is still delicious. But most of all, I gained empathy for these hardworking people and joined a global movement.

All was going well until my second-to-last day of the challenge. As recommended, I limited my physical activity that week. However, I still went on three walks, the last one was to get to a CPR and First Aid class I had to take. I had only eaten a few spoonfuls of congee for breakfast that day, and I brought some crepes with a little protein spread on them. One hour into the class, I wasn’t feeling well. I felt like I was going to pass out. That would have been super embarrassing for me. My classmates and instructor would have thought I was being squeamish over the course material, when in reality I used to be an EMT. It was just that I didn’t have enough sustenance. As my table partner wrapped the fake injury on my arm, I used my free arm to pull out my crepes and eat them. I also drank my water. It wasn’t enough. I excused myself to the bathroom, still feeling faint. I found a roll of Lifesaver mints in my purse and ate half a roll of them. The fast-acting sugar made me feel better within minutes, so I decided it was safe to continue with the Ration Challenge. Later that day I attended an evening church service where I took communion without thinking, but that was my only “cheat” day, and even then I had two ounces of oil and two pounds of rice left over at the end of the challenge!

But sickness seemed to be a weekend theme this month. The last Saturday of the month was also spent in sickness. On a positive note, it means I wasn’t spending all my money on weekend adventures!

Restarting the Savings

From January to April of this year, I kept a log of my savings. I took a break in May so I could enjoy the fruits of my savings with half the month spent on a trip to the British Isles. Although I got back to saving this June, I ended up not keeping a spreadsheet. My plan is to modify my old spreadsheet and start using it again this July. But just because I didn’t record everything doesn’t mean I didn’t save!

I didn’t really spend any money on travel. Two nights of camping with the PCTA was free, as was the day hike on the PCT. Before the camp, I stopped in Ashland for their free First Friday Art Walk. I just had to cover the cost of getting to these places in my car. I’d say that was a good deal!

When I wasn’t sick or on the PCT, I enjoyed my hometown. I did two other hikes, one up Table Rock and the other through Denman Wildlife Area and Touvelle State Park (I visited on a free admission weekend). The Medford Parks and Rec department hosts summer movies, and I attended the first two. The first movie was a drive-in, which was extra fun!

I’ve also been walking a lot. One day, I walked 15 miles! That day included a walk to a beauty college to get a discount pedicure. Unfortunately, two days later I got a blister on my toe while walking, so I didn’t get much time to show off the pedi! I try to replace driving with walking whenever possible, even when it means coming home from the grocery store with a bag stuffed full of collard greens that were on clearance for fifty cents a pound! Walking is my main form of exercise, but I also got in some free cross-training!

Although I don’t have any gym membership, I did end up getting a good workout at two YMCAs. I was recently contacted by two young adults that used to live with my friend’s family when they were little girls, and they asked me to visit them since they recently moved to Grants Pass, Oregon. It’s been nine years since we last saw each other, so it was awesome to reunite. We went to their local Y, and they were nice enough to give me a guest pass so we could all go swimming. A week later, I went to my own YMCA for their free Family Night.

I did some things on Swagbucks and was able to cash out a free $25 gift card that I’ll be using at a restaurant on my upcoming trip!

July Plans

From now through November, my savings focus will be on my cruise to The Bahamas. I’m flying out on Thanksgiving evening for a week of fun in Florida and three Bahamian islands. I’ll be keeping track of my savings and should update you at the end of the month with a savings spreadsheet. Since I got such a great deal on the cruise, there isn’t much that still needs to be paid for on this trip, so I might need to set another travel goal in the next month or two! Where should I go in 2020?

I also joined Plastic-Free July. As I travel, seeing garbage where there should be beauty has been discouraging. Pollution is a global problem, and reducing single-use plastic is a visual and effective way we can all work to combat this. I’ve been working on reducing my footprint for a while, but maybe this month will give me new ideas and inspiration. I think it might help grow my travel fund, too.

As far as travel, I don’t have anything set in stone for July, but I know that will change soon!

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destinations, England, saving money, Things to Do, travel tips

The London Pass: Is the Upfront Expense Really Worth It?

I had a great time in Ireland and England! I took a break from writing here so that it could truly be a vacation, but now that I’m back, you can expect a lot of posts with advice for the British Isles in the coming weeks. To start out, I’d like to go back to the very first item I purchased for this trip. I bought it before I bought plane tickets, or even knew what time of year I’d go to Europe: it’s The London Pass.

What I Did With My London Pass

Tower Bridge London
On Tower Bridge. Note the blue London Pass lanyard around my neck. Free souvenir with purchase!

I bought a three-day pass, and those three days were packed! Here’s a quick breakdown, along with the approximate normal price in pounds:

Day One: 

  • Tower of London (normally 28, but the pass also includes a skip-the-line at the entrance)
  • Tower Bridge (normally 10)
  • HMS Belfast (normally 16)
  • The View from the Shard (normally 32)

Day Two:

  • Churchill War Rooms (normally 22)
  • Westminster Abbey (normally 23)
  • Big Bus Hop-On Hop-Off (normally 34)
  • St. Peter’s Cathedral (normally 20)
  • Royal Mews (normally 12)
  • Kensington Palace (normally 20)

Day Three:

  • City Cruises (normally 19)
  • The Fan Museum (normally 5)
  • Cutty Sark (normally 15)
  • Royal Observatory (normally 16)
  • National Maritime Museum (admission is free to everyone, but passholders get a free book worth 5)

Feel free to use my itinerary on your own trip or tailor it to fit your personal preferences.

Although I met my goal of doing an average of five activities per day, I did feel rushed in some areas. A lot of the attractions have fairly short hours (10am-6pm seemed common), so I was never really sure what to do early in the morning or late in the evening. If opening times were longer, I would have been able to see more, plus spend more time in places like Tower of London.

What About Other Cities?

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One advantage that The Leisure Pass Group has over other types of passes is that it often includes transportation, such as this City Cruise on the London Thames.

The London Pass is just one item sold by The Leisure Pass Group. They offer passes similar to The London Pass in different cities around the world. The only time I ever considered another one of these passes was when I was heading to Paris. It offered admission to a lot of the museums that I wanted to see. However, so did the Paris Museum Pass, which was just a fraction of the price. The Paris Pass did offer a few extras, but none that I was willing to pay the extra price for.

To sum it up, out of all the city passes sold by this company, The London Pass seems to offer the best value.

How to Save Money When Buying the Pass

Stonehenge Tour England
Visiting Stonehenge from London can be pricey! But it’s a little less pricey if you use The London Concierge.

The London Pass is a huge expense. The per-day cost was more than my hostel bed and meals combined. Currently, a three-day pass is 125 pounds, which exchanges into more than the $50-a-day that many modern urban backpackers try to budget by. Even the cheapest-per-day pass for 10 days is more than $25 a day, which doesn’t leave much room for housing and food in one of the world’s most expensive cities. So many of us budget-conscious travelers will have to accept the fact that if you really want to experience all that London has to offer, you’ll have to spend more than your usual per diem. You can always balance it out later with some less expensive trips. (I’ve got nearly-free camping trips planned out this summer.)

However, spending money in an expensive city doesn’t mean I’m not going to try to save where I can! The London Pass often offers some money-saving options.

For starters, decide how many days you want your pass to last. Obviously, the more days your pass is valid, the more expensive it is, but the less it costs per day. As a first-timer to London, I found that a three-day pass was perfect for my one-week trip. I fit in everything I came to see (plus a couple pleasant surprises). That left me with a few days without a pass, which were still chocked full as I spent those visiting free attractions (like parks, free museums, and iconic places like Abbey Road), and well as some attractions that weren’t part of The London Pass, such as London Eye and Up at the O2.

If you plan in advance, you can keep an eye on The London Pass’ website to look out for sales. I bought my pass during a sale, and ever since then, I’ve noticed that they often offer online sale prices.

You can also find discount codes online. I won’t share any here since they’re always changing, but a quick search on Google should give you the most up-to-date promo codes. You can combine a promo code with a sale for maximum savings.

One more way I saved with The London Pass was by using The London Concierge. The London Concierge is a discount ticket purchasing website exclusively for people who have purchased The London Pass. You can buy tickets from The London Concierge even before you activate The London Pass. This is where I bought my bus trip to Bath and Stonehenge, making it a good deal.

But Is It Really Worth It?

Kensington Palace London
Feeling like royalty as I wait for my prince on the Kensington Palace staircase? Priceless.

If you total up the amount I could have spent at the attractions I went to during my three-day pass: 86+131+60= 277. Even at the normal retail price of 125 pounds for a 3-day adult pass, I got more than double my money’s worth. Or did I?

As I mentioned before, there were a couple of attractions I would have liked to spend more time in (namely Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral). However, I felt pressured to rush through these a bit so I could fit more attractions into the day and get my money’s worth. If I had been paying directly for these attractions, I would have spent more time at them. There were also a couple attractions I went into just because I had the pass. Although I ended up enjoying the HMS Belfast, I never would have entered without The London Pass.

There were some attractions that I didn’t feel were worth it. The View from the Shard was little more than a rooftop bar with a big cover charge (and it wasn’t even on the roof). Touring Westminster Abbey was okay, but I had a much better time at the free Evensong service I attended there a few days before I started using The London Pass. Of course, every person’s opinion is different, so I didn’t know how I’d personally feel about these attractions until I went there myself. Now that I know, I know not to go back to those places if and when I return to London.

In fact, while The London Pass was good for a first-time visitor to London like me, I don’t think it would be a very good value for a returning traveler. Some of the attractions were one-and-done deals. For those that I would be interested in seeing again, I would plan out my visit ahead of time and try to find discount tickets specifically for those attractions. Or I would just enjoy the abundance of free museums, church services, and parks available to everyone in London. Although you might miss out on a few must-dos, it is possible to spend nothing on attractions and still have an enjoyable time in London.

Conclusion: For London first-timers who are spending several days or more in the city, go ahead and buy The London Pass. Buy a short-length pass (three days seemed almost perfect), and supplement your non-London-Pass days with an abundance of free attractions and sites not included in the London Pass. If you’ve been to London before or are only going for a very short trip (say, a weekend getaway or a business conference where you won’t be available during the daytime), try to find other ways to save on the attractions you want to visit.

the london pass.png

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Couponing to Travel, jobs, saving money, Travel Life, travel tips

April 2019: Work Hard, Save Hard, Travel Hard

April had a lot going on. I worked a ton of hours, but I also traveled a ton of days. And yet I still had time and energy to focus on saving. In fact, I far surpassed my goal of couponing $2000 this year! How did I do it all?

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This past month, I accomplished a one-day goal of making it to the top of this mountain, but I also accomplished a long-term goal of couponing to Europe!

To find out about my current savings challenge, click here.

Check out my previous savings challenge updates: January, February, and March.

Work, Work, Work

April Fools
Work doesn’t have to be boring. It’s the perfect place to throw April Fools

My main job doesn’t usually allow us to work overtime, but I was given a few exceptions this month because there were shifts that no one else was available to cover. (Like me, pretty much everyone who works there has multiple jobs, and some take time off to travel too.) Yay for extra hourly pay! I also got paid time-and-a-half for working several hours on Easter evening. Since I did all the Easter activities in the morning and afternoon, I didn’t miss out on the holiday while earning holiday pay.

Besides the pay and knowing that my work makes a difference in the world, another perk to working more hours is that I’m not tempted to spend money while I’m at work. Still, I’m excited to turn the pay from this work time into fun during travel time!

Travel, Travel, Travel

Keep Portland Weird Sign
My first trip to Portland in nearly five years. The rest of my travels were to smaller towns (or even to the backcountry)

To be honest, I thought I’d be further along in preparing for my trip to Europe. But here I am, just a week away and I haven’t even packed yet! (On my last trip to Europe, I was all packed over a month ahead of time.) But other travel opportunities kept popping up, and I wanted to take advantage of them all! I don’t think there will be any more travel until I head to the airport on Wednesday, so now I’ll be able to focus on getting ready to go. But everything else was definitely worth it!

I mentioned last month that I got a super discount on a cruise to The Bahamas. My mom and I decided to buy our plane tickets to the departure port a few weeks ago. While that would normally cost less than the cruise itself, because of how much I saved, the plane tickets will be the biggest expense! I also purchased two excursions through the cruise line and saved a total of 19%. (That’s 10% off during a sale weekend, and another 10% back for using the cruise’s credit card.)

But the real fun was all the travel I got to do in April. The first weekend was sort of a camp weekend, except it didn’t take place up at camp. It was my first time participating in the annual coast trip. Even though it rained the entire time, we stayed in a cool rental home and did get to go out a little.

It felt more like camp last weekend when I went up to the mountains on my own. I visited the church we attend during most weekend camps, and afterward, I went a few miles up the road to hike a bit of the PCT. Despite being a native Oregonian, I don’t have much experience with the Pacific Crest Trail. This was the longest I’ve ever hiked on it, and my first time hiking it in the state of Oregon. It made for a pretty good day trip, all for the cost of just a little gas in my car!

That wasn’t my only hike this month. I spent one of my days off hiking on Roxy Ann, which is just a few miles from my house. I went up to the summit of the peak and then explored a new trail I hadn’t been on before.

Another outdoor adventure was a day trip to the Lava Beds National Monument. While this normally isn’t a cheap excursion (it’s now $25 dollars per vehicle entry), I time my visits to Lava Beds around the National Parks Service’s free entry days. With a free entry day to kick off National Park Week, I got to explore about a dozen lava tubes for just the cost of getting there. I also made short stops at Tulelake National Wildlife Refuge and Valor in the Pacific’s Camp Tulelake on my way there and back.

Pear Blossom is my city’s annual big festival. Although I ended up working the morning of the parade, I did attend the street fair the day before while I was babysitting. I actually walked there with the kids, which was an adventure on its own. While they each bought a snack, we mostly walked around to snag freebies from some of the booths. I got some good stuff! Some of it, like a travel tube of sunscreen, will be useful on my trip to Europe.

I housesat for a few days. It was just while my parents were on a camping trip, but being in a different environment (and using their hot tub) is a change of pace.

But my biggest trip of the month was at the very end, and actually went into May. I knew I’d have to go to a passport agency if my passport didn’t come, so I made an appointment in Seattle. It did end up shipping, but I decided to head north anyway. Like March, I was invited to another advance screening of a Christian movie. However, they didn’t offer this screening in Medford. Although know I spent more in gas to get there than what a movie ticket would cost, I did get to see the upcoming Kendrick Brothers’ movie Overcomer. I took a friend along, and we both really liked it.

Portland was just supposed to be an extended day trip, with me driving there while my friend slept and her driving home while I slept. However, shortly before we left, she decided to get an AirBnB reservation. This extended our trip by a day and allowed us to pack in more adventure. (Since May 1st involved travel up until my scheduled work time, and then I went to bed immediately after work, that’s why I’m posting this update late.)

Save, Save, Save

National Pretzel Day free pretzels
We each got a free pretzel on National Pretzel Day

I’ve saved $2,243.91. I also made a lot of extra money working, but I decided to stop counting that as I’ve already met my earning goals and it was getting difficult to keep track of all the extra time I worked.

One fun way I saved this month was while babysitting on National Pretzel Day. After picking the kids up from school, we all headed to Wetzel’s Pretzels to grab a free soft pretzel.

Overcomer wasn’t the only movie I saw this past month. I saw Unplanned during my local theater’s discount Tuesday. I used my Cinemark Rewards to get a $3 off coupon for my movie snack pack. My local library also had a free movie day this month, and they provided popcorn and soda for free! The library was also a good place to borrow materials and attend a lecture about a local historical area.

I bought a Groupon last year that I wasn’t able to use, but Groupon allowed me to exchange it for another one. I used it towards a massage and used a coupon code on top of that. So I got a super-inexpensive-yet-quality massage!

Lowe’s had a spring sale a few days ago. When I first saw someone post about it on Instagram, I thought it was a scam. Why would they send you a gift card just for texting them that was good for one day only? Later when I found out this was legit, they had already run out of coupons. However, I’m a part of a few Facebook saving groups, and someone from one of those groups gave me a $10 code that she wasn’t going to use. I used it to buy potting soil (for free seeds I got at Pear Blossom) and some spinach seedlings. I’m now growing a variety of herbs and veggies in containers on my front steps.

I was a little lacking in Swagbucks this month, but I did end up earning enough to get a discount Visa gift card as well as a discounted gift card to Domino’s.

The biggest savings was using my Carnival credit card towards my cruise. Not only do I get savings when I book shore excursions, but I also got a $200 credit with my first use! Two of my credit cards actually owe me money right now due to rewards.

What May Will Look Like

2019 Couponing Savings Goal
My April spreadsheet. Check out all the ways I surpassed my goal!

I’ll still be saving money, at least for parts of May. It’s my birthday month, so of course I’ll be redeeming a few birthday freebies! But since I’ll be on my trip for the majority of the month, I will also be taking a vacation from tracking my savings. I may travel frugally, but am willing to spend money if it’s worth it. At this point, my savings have added up to a big amount. With it, I’ve been able to pay for my flights, hostel reservations, and packaged attractions. Basically, the only extra expenses will be food, ground transportation, and maybe a souvenir or two. I’ve been working so long for this, but I can’t believe that it’s finally here!

resources, road trip, saving money, travel tips

How to Save Money on a Passport

Can you believe there was an upcoming road trip that I DIDN’T want to go on? I really didn’t want to go to Seattle. It’s not that I don’t like Seattle. In fact, that’s the city where I first really fell in love with travel. But I wasn’t looking forward to the reason that I might have to go there.

The government was forcing me.

Seattle Pike's Place Market Pig Art
At Seattle’s famous Pike’s Place Market when I was sixteen. This was a trip taken out of necessity, not pleasure. But it did end up letting me save money on a passport!

This is my personal experience in getting two passports in twelve years. Read to the end for tips on how to save money when getting YOUR passport!

Seeing Seattle

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The Seattle Space Needle. Money tip: It’s super expensive to ride the elevator to the top, but totally free to walk around the artsy perimeter!

You see, when I was fifteen, I applied for my very first passport. I was headed to Peru with my youth group. Unfortunately, this was 2007, when it first became a requirement that US citizens have a passport to go to Mexico and Canada. That really increased the demand for passports, and mine somehow got misplaced or pushed to the back burner in the passport-producing office. No matter how many times I called to check on it or how many times it got expedited, it was just not coming on time. And I applied months in advance! My mom had to drive me to an appointment in Seattle to get a same-day passport just a few days before I left. My original passport ended up arriving the day before I RETURNED from Peru! So I ended up having two US passports for a short period of time, but since that’s illegal I had to send the unused one back. (I also ended up with two birth certificates due to this fiasco, but apparently, that’s allowed.)

On that trip up to Seattle, I was excited. I had been a couple times before on choir trips. I think I fell in love because it was my first time being out of state for multiple days without any relatives. Who knew this independence would cultivate a solo female traveler? Even though I was going with a family member now, I was excited to see things on my own terms this time. My mom had never been to Seattle, but she wasn’t nearly as excited. She warned me that she would turn the car around if we heard word that my passport was being shipped. She wanted to leave Seattle pretty much as soon as I had a passport in hand. However, it did take several hours between our appointment and the time that the passport got printed, so I did have time to show her the main sights. While I did understand that this excursion was unplanned for and an inconvenience, I didn’t get why we couldn’t think of it as a fun bonus trip. Now that I’ve had experience as an adult getting my second passport (well, technically it’s my third if you count the one I had to return), I’m definitely more understanding.

I Almost Repeated this Seattle Incident

Eiffel Tower Paris France Europe
Paris was the first stop of my first trip to Europe. But will I be able to complete my second trip to Europe next week if I don’t have a passport?

For my upcoming trip to Ireland and England, I made plans. I bought tickets. I made reservations. I saved money. I kept you all updated in my progress for getting there. I even booked another international trip for later this year. I was excited to go, and nothing could stop me. Except for maybe the fact that I didn’t have a valid passport.

My first passport expired in 2017. I originally planned to renew it six months before its expiration so that I would always be ready to jump at any opportunity to visit another country. I even got my passport photos taken and filled out an application. But then I decided not to send it in. I didn’t have any travel plans in the works. I figured that I would wait until I actually needed a passport again. Since an adult US passport is valid for 10 years, I could extend the validity by waiting. Unfortunately, I waited a bit too long.

I applied for my passport seven weeks before my departure date. The government asks for 4-6 weeks for processing, and lately, I’ve heard most people getting their passports in less than four weeks. So I figured I was good to go.

Four weeks passed. No passport. I started checking online. All it said was that it was “being processed”. Finally, I had to do it. I made an appointment at Seattle’s passport agency.

There’s actually a closer passport agency in San Francisco. I couldn’t go there in 2007 because it was all booked up for weeks. (It probably wasn’t as bad as the agency I saw when I went to New York City in June 2007. The line of people waiting to get passports there wrapped around the block! If I’d known that my passport wouldn’t be coming, I would have stood in line with them.) I considered going there this time, but I’ve driven in San Francisco traffic before. It might be faster to drive to Seattle. I also wanted to take a quick trip to Portland, so I could just tack on a detour to Seattle after that.

Thankfully, the day after I made my appointment to go to Seattle one week before I leave the country, I got an update that my passport was being shipped. This not only saved me time and stress, but also saved me the extra day I would have to take off of work to get to Seattle, the costs associated with driving up there, the night in a hostel, and parking fees, not to mention the expedited fees.

Did I Save Money?

Inca Kola Peru
My first time using my passport was a mission trip to Peru, where I fell in love with their Inca Kola.

So yes, I guess I saved money by planning ahead (although I barely squeaked by with only a one-week buffer). I won’t have to cover the costs of a mandatory bonus trip. But even when I did have to take this bonus trip for my first passport, my family was surprised that we still ended up saving some money.

At the recommendations of friends, my mom and I stayed in SeaTac, the Washington city between Seattle and Tacoma that houses the airport. A motel there was cheaper than downtown Seattle. On the way there, we did have to stop in Salem, Oregon so I could get a new birth certificate. (My original birth certificate was wherever my original passport was.) That cost money, but even today it’s nice to know that I have a backup birth certificate in case something happens.

We knew there was an additional expedited fee, and my mom assumed that we’d also have to pay the passport fee. When we got to our appointment, we found out we didn’t have to pay the passport fee again (we already paid it when we applied for the original passport). But it was a nice surprise to find out that we didn’t have to pay the expedited fee either. It wasn’t our fault that my passport was left untouched for months, so the government was nice enough to cover their mistake. Since the agency is in a metropolitan area, we did have to pay for parking. But while we waited for the passport to print, we were able to sightsee on foot for free. We went to the sports stadiums, the Space Needle, and so much more!

Renewing a passport is a little less expensive than applying for a first-time passport IF you send in your previous passport. I kept my old passport in my dedicated travel supply drawer, so I sent that in with the lower fee. The renewal application is something you just have to print and mail, which saved time. I paid extra for tracking with the postal service, but overall spent less than my first-time passport.

Or did I?

Here’s the super-special way I saved on my first passport that I like to brag about, since I don’t think it could ever be replicated.

How old was I when I applied for my passport? Fifteen. For children who apply for passports at age fifteen and younger, the passport is only valid for five years. It costs less than an adult passport. If you apply after your sixteenth birthday, you have to pay for a full-fledged adult passport, but that is valid for ten years.

By the time I was headed to Seattle to get my same-day passport, I had already turned sixteen. That meant they had to give me the ten-year adult passport. But the agency considered the payment that was sent with my original passport application as payment in full. That meant I got a ten-year passport for the price of a five-year passport. When I did receive the original passport, it was indeed only valid for five years. Actually, it was never really valid at all since the government demanded that we send it back. But I definitely enjoyed those extra five years on my first passport. For the first five years on that passport, I took two trips to Peru and a trip to Mexico. With my five free years, I walked to Canada a couple times. (Yes, I walked to Canada. Okay, I was staying less than a mile from the border in Niagara Falls, so it wasn’t that big of a feat.) It was also during those five free years that I spent three months backpacking across the Mediterranean. That’s a well-used discount passport!

How to Save Money on Your Passport

US Passport
Headed home from Seattle with my very first passport. Glad I don’t have to go through that this time around!

Note that these are based on my experience in the US. Your results may vary.

  • If you have an expired passport, keep it in a safe place so you can use it to save time and money on your next passport application.
  • If you don’t have travel plans, consider waiting to apply for a passport. (But don’t wait too long!)
  • Don’t get your passport photos taken only to not apply for a passport. It’s illegal to send in photos that are older than six months, so these pricey pictures are pretty much worthless after that.
  • Don’t pay to expedite your passport. Apply for it more than six weeks before your departure date. If it doesn’t look like it will come in time with this precaution, call to have the government expedite it for free due to their delay.
  • Spring on the few extra dollars to get tracking when mailing in your passport application. Once it’s arrived at the processing center, you can track it for free at passportstatus.state.gov.
  • If you do end up having to visit a passport agency, make the most of your trip. Check to see which agency is closest to your home, but also consider further agencies if it will save you money or make your trip more fun. Depending on the circumstances, you may have to pay the expedited fee at the agency, but if it’s due to a processing error, you should be able to get your passport at no extra cost. Make sure you have all the needed documents (and maybe some extras, just in case), so you don’t take this trip for nothing. There are only a handful of passport agencies scattered across the United States, so it will be an ordeal of a trip for most of us!

Did you think it was possible to save money on a passport before you read this? Did anyone besides me end up with a discount passport? Share your thoughts in the comments!

 

How to $ave on your Passport
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It’s tricky to get a passport discount, but you can easily save money on travel and more by heading over to Swagbucks!

Couponing to Travel, day trip, destinations, resources, saving money, Travel Life, travel tips

March 2019: How to Save Money with MORE Travel?!?

Welp, I’ve just about made it! I’ve wanted to save $2000 in coupons and sales in just over four months, and in March alone I couponed over half of that amount. Yes, I scored some super-big deals this month (two of them were each worth about $500), and well as several smaller ones. And yes, I will share how I did it with you.

But first, you may want to catch up on ways I’ve saved each month since the beginning of the year:

Here’s what I did in January.

And here’s February.

If you want to know what I’m saving all this money for, this post explains it. 

Spring Break Bucks

ScienceWorks rocks
Glowing rocks at the science museum… membership and admission covered by babysitting!

Like most adults, I don’t get a designated “spring break”. But kids still do. Parents often need to hire babysitters for longer hours during spring break and other school vacations. Since I babysit on Fridays, I made some extra money for the extra hours.

If you’re good around kids, school holiday babysitting isn’t even hard. In fact, we had some fun playing tourist around town. Since the kids’ spring break covered two Fridays, on the first Friday we went to the nearby town of Ashland for the Scienceworks science museum and Dagoba chocolate factory. The next week, we went downtown to the food truck food court and then toured Harry & David’s world headquarters. (The kids liked the sweets, and I had to agree!) So basically these gigs involved having fun. They did like sleeping in each morning and then playing video games before doing anything else, so I got to use that time to read guidebooks and plan for my upcoming trip. Win-win!

I also took on some extra shifts at my regular job. So far this year, I’ve made an extra $926.26 in additional income. Half of that ($463.13) is going to go toward my trip. While I’m happy with this amount, I was expecting to have earned a little more by this point, so hopefully I’ll have more moneymaking opportunities before I leave in May.

Preparing for Departure

Travelon Packing Cubes
Four packing cubes for the price of zero… now that’s a deal worth getting excited over!

I’m not leaving the country until the second week of May, but I did a lot in March to get ready for it. And I tried to save money everywhere I could!

The most important item that I need for this trip is a passport. Unfortunately, the US government isn’t too keen on offering discounts. (I did unintentionally get a discount on my very first passport, but that’s a different story!) But anyway, I applied for that so I should receive a new passport in time.

Another key element was getting a flight between Ireland and England. The plane ticket I bought last month flew into Dublin and out of London, so I searched Kayak.com and found a ticket for the short hop for just under $34. No couponing was involved here, but I think it’s the cheapest flight I’ve ever flown!

I booked a couple of short tours to major sights outside of the city, and that was a good area to save a few bucks. I’m going on an overnight tour to Blarney Castle, Cork, and the Cliffs of Moher with Paddywagon Tours, and managed to save $11 there. I also used The London Concierge (exclusive to buyers of The London Pass) to book a Stonehenge and Bath tour with Golden Tours. I made my booking during a flash sale weekend, so I saved $15!

As far as gear goes, I’m trying to use what I have. But I did have an Eddie Bauer $10 off coupon. Combined with a 50% off sale weekend, I got a set of packing cubes for free!

Healthy Living

Medford Growers Market
Walking to the farmers market kills two (healthy) birds with one stone- plus I saved on gas!

The word “health” and “cheap” don’t normally go together. I had an unusual case of adult hand-foot-and-mouth at the beginning of the month. Because of the blisters covering my throat, I could only eat and drink certain items for a few days. To get a better deal on these foods and avoid spreading germs to innocent shoppers, I tried Fred Meyer’s ClickList for the first time. I ordered everything online, used digital coupons, went to the parking lot, and everything was delivered to my car. I still prefer shopping in-store so I can price compare and find clearance specials, but it’s nice to know that this option is available and cost-effective.

After I was back to my healthy self, I decided to get even healthier. My plan is simple: walk a few more miles and make sure at least 50% of what I eat is vegetable. This will get me in better shape so I can walk even more around Ireland and England (though I won’t necessarily follow the vegetable rule there!) This hasn’t directly saved me any money, but it will allow me to do more on my trip and save on health costs in the long run. And so far, it hasn’t cost me any more than my usual food.

Big Ticket Savers

Couponing Spreadsheet March Update
Look at all I’ve saved and earned! Just $100 left to coupon!

I’m so glad I got a reward credit card. My CapitalOne card offered a $500 reward for spending $3000 in three months. This was on top of its regular cash back. Normally, $3000 is a lot of money, but I put all my trip expenses on it, plus made a few other strategic purchases.

And Finally: How to Save Money with MORE Travel

Union Creek Oregon
The views from our snowshoe trip. But soon, I’ll exchange snow for sea!

At the beginning of the month, the only entertainment I had planned was seeing an advance screening of the movie Breakthrough. Entry was free with an invitation, and I bought a discounted Cinemark gift certificate from GiftCardGranny so I could get free popcorn. The movie was great and you should go see it, but I was in for a surprise at all the adventures the rest of the month would bring!

As I mentioned above, day trips while babysitting were a great way to get paid to adventure locally. Helping at camp two weekends this month was also a way to free fun. Meals, lodging, and activities are covered, so I’m spending less than I would need to spend at home.

On a free weekend, I went snowshoeing and sledding with my parents. By going as a group, I didn’t have to buy a sno-park permit just for myself. Plus, it’s not safe to snowshoe solo.

But the best travel deal I cashed in on this month won’t happen until November and December. Swagbucks recently added Carnival Cruises gift cards as an option for redemption, and they were extra discounted when they were first posted. Although that offer is no longer valid, I’d encourage you to keep checking on Swagbucks‘ rewards as they often offer some good ones, but long story short, I got the entire base price for a 5-day cruise to The Bahamas for just $30!

I also got a Carnival credit card to help pay for the taxes, fees, and excursion expenses for this trip. So I’ll soon be getting another credit card reward, this time for $200 plus FunPoints. And despite being in my 20s, I joined AARP Rewards for Good so I could get 10% off another cruise gift card. (I bought it with my CapitalOne card to help me reach my $3000 minimum.) I’ll still have to pay for my flight to Fort Lauderdale where the cruise departs, so maybe I’ll be doing these monthly couponing updates even after my Eurotrip so you can see how I’m saving for my cruise!

 

 

 

Accommodations, Birthday, Books, Couponing to Travel, day trip, destinations, saving money, Travel Life, travel tips

February 2019 Update: Change in Plans and Change in the Bank

February may be the shortest month of the year, but these past 28 days were packed with more than I expected. I worked even more than I do in a typical month, I saved more money with couponing than I did in January, and a lot happened with my planned trip.

Wondering what this challenge is? Start here. 

Check out my progress report from January. 

Shall I start with the good news or the bad news? (Hint: always pick the bad news first.)

I’m Not Going to Germany

After waiting over a month to hear a response about my pending placement with Diverbo, I sent a follow-up email. They finally got back to me saying that both the program I wanted to be in as well as my back-up program were full. They didn’t even have room on the waiting list for my first choice! Since this was a big motivator (and money-saver) for going to Germany, I decided to defer my time there until I have a confirmed place in a Diverbo program and instead went back to the drawing board.

Mount Tibidabo, Barcelona, Spain, Western Europe
At the summit of Mount Tibidabo during my previous trip to Europe, shortly after my time with Diverbo

A few years ago, as I was about to make my first trip to Europe, I wanted to see it in three trips: one for the Mediterranean (check!), one for the British Isles, and one for Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and the Czech Republic. Since I didn’t want to lose my momentum for going to England, I decided to go back to this original plan and add Ireland to the mix. (I also briefly considered Iceland, but since that’s so far away from the rest of Europe, it could be included as a stopover for just about any trip.) The switch from Germany to Ireland surprisingly came with some money-saving opportunities!

How I’ll Save Money In Ireland

Last week, I bought my plane tickets! I will fly into Dublin and out of London. I haven’t bought a flight between the two islands yet, but I’ve looked up the cost and it’s incredibly affordable.

While I was always planning to go in May, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be in Europe for my birthday or celebrate in my hometown first and leave a day or so later. As I looked up Dublin hostels, I found a cool one that offers a free night on your birthday. That sealed the deal for me! My 28th birthday will be my first full day in Dublin.

Birthday Hot Air Balloon Selfie
What’s more exciting: this hot air balloon ride I took on my birthday in 2015, or being in Dublin for my birthday in 2019?

I’ll actually stay in two hostels in Dublin, and three in Ireland. After a couple nights in the first hostel, I’ll take a bus trip to see sights like Blarney Castle and Cliffs of Moher while spending the night in Cork. When I return to Dublin, I’ll stay at the hostel that partners with the same tour bus company. For spending two nights there, I get a free bus trip to Wicklow!

 

Overnight Greyhound Bus
I’ve taken many bus trips in the past, including exploring the breadth of the US, France, and Spain!

I wanted to take a third excursion to Northern Ireland and Giant’s Causeway, but decided to go with a different tour company this time. Although this one wanted to charge me an extra 5 euro for what would basically be the same trip, they included the admission for the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge when other tours did not. And because I started making a reservation but didn’t finish, they offered me a 5-euro-off coupon code to come back to their site. Score!

I was disappointed that I would not be part of a cultural exchange like I would in Germany’s Diverbo. (It turns out that people in England and Ireland are already great at speaking English!) But I did find out about another opportunity to connect with local Dubliners…

My Money-Saving Activities this Month

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve earned an additional $629.51 (through extra work hours and projects) and saved $772.41. This was a few dollars short of my goal (I wanted to be at $800 by now), but I’ll chock it up to being a shorter month. This doesn’t include the money I’ve saved by using the library. My library lets me know how much money I’ve saved on my receipts, and it’s been nearly $1000 this year alone. I’ve chosen not to include this since I probably wouldn’t buy the books, DVDs, and musical instruments I borrowed, at least not for full price. But this did lead me to other money-saving ventures.

Library Guidebooks, Movie, and Reciept
All the money I’ve saved with things like guide books. Even The Princess Bride movie was for Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher (Cliffs of Insanity) research purposes.

I’ve been borrowing a lot of Rick Steves books, and one mentioned an Irish program where you can meet a local. With City of a Thousand Welcomes, the organization will pay for me and a local volunteer to go out for a nice tea and chat. I’ve already reserved my spot for the day I arrive!

Europe Guidebooks
One of these guidebooks is so good, I read it like a novel. The other I’m allowed to tear apart and bring along with me. Both are FREE!

Since I can’t take the library’s Rick Steves books to Europe with me, I took advantage of my AAA membership and got their Europe guidebook for FREE! I plan to tear out the England and Ireland sections and just take those along with me, with a bunch of notes added from my other reading.

Wildlife Safari Guanaco
A guanaco at Wildlife Safari’s drive-through

Despite my focus on saving money this month, I was still able to take a day trip to Wildlife Safari. I celebrated World Hippo Day with their free hippo-themed activities, and even used a free carload pass I was given a few months ago (for donating blood) to get everyone in my car free admission to the drive-thru safari. So I got the whole trip just for the price of (discounted) gas! The rest of my recreation was free activities like local walking, hiking, and even snowshoeing on our snow day! I also experienced the snow and sledding for the two weekends I helped at camp, and filled a few more days with extra work shifts.

Looking Ahead

With dates set and airline tickets purchased, I know March, April, and May will be focused on this trip. I have a few coupon and other savings ideas set into motion, but I have a feeling that I’ll soon be scrounging for more ways to save.

February Couponing to Europe
My couponing spreadsheet thus far. The blank spaces are deals that I plan to use, but haven’t cashed in on yet.

As of right now, I have $772.41 couponed and $629.51 extra dollars earned (only half, or $314.75, of my extra earnings goes towards this trip). That’s a total of $945.02 saved for this trip, but I’ve already spent $1644.07! Most of this expense is for the overseas flights, but also includes trip insurance, The London Pass, and the Giant’s Causeway day trip. So this trip is technically “in debt”, but I am putting all these expenses on a rewards card so that I’ll get a nice cash back bonus in time for the trip. Since I have other necessary trip-related expenses like hostels, more out-of-city excursions, transit, and food, I’d better keep on couponing!

Have you ever experienced an unexpected change in plans that ended up saving you money? Let me know in the comments!

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!

Couponing to Travel, 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!

screenshot (5)

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!

Couponing to London.jpg

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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

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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!

road trip, saving money, travel tips

How I Get Discounted (Or FREE!) Gas Every Time

How would you like to pay less than the posted gas prices every single time you visit the pump? Better yet, how would you like to get some road trip snacks and even the gas for FREE? Yes it’s possible. I would know; I haven’t paid the price that the gas station sign has indicated for a long time! Whether you want to make a road trip less expensive or want to save up for your next goal during your day-to-day commute, here’s how to do it:

Subaru Forester

Note: I typically use Kroger-brand gas stations (known regionally as Fred Meyer, Turkey Hill, etc.) because it turns out to be the cheapest for me locally. If your Kroger gas is for some reason expensive or you don’t live near one of their pumps, don’t worry. You can still apply most of these tips to get a good deal on gas near you!

Look Up Prices

Go to GasBuddy.com or open the GasBuddy app before you decide where you’re going to fill up. This service lists up-to-date gas prices at stations near you. When I’m at home, the cheapest place is typically either Fred Meyer or Costco, which are the only two gas stations I ever use! If you’re on a road trip, it’s helpful to know where you should fill up.

Now that you know where the cheapest pumps are, let’s knock some more money off that gas price…

Become a Member

Go to the customer service desk of Fred Meyer, King Soopers, Ralph’s, Baker’s, or any other store under the Kroger umbrella and ask to get a shopper rewards card. This is free to get and automatically gets you three cents off per gallon at most Kroger-owned gas stations. You can also sign up for a credit card that has a few more perks, but I think that the rewards card is a safer way to go, and if you follow the tips below, could ultimately give you more savings.

The rewards card isn’t just for three cents off. Every grocery store purchase earns you fuel rewards points. If you spend enough at the grocery store (and earn at least 100 points), you can get anywhere between ten cents and a dollar off at the pump! You can also download store coupons right onto this card.

I’m not as familiar with rewards policies for other gas stations, but it’s worth checking out as you can get some great deals. Sometimes, my Costco gas station is cheaper than my Fred Meyer gas station even after the three-cent discount. Since you have to show your membership card to get Costco fuel, that certainly has been worth it!

Use Your Receipt

Almost every Friday, Kroger-owned stores have a “Freebie Friday” coupon that you can download from the digital coupon section of their website. Even if you normally use a different grocery store, make sure to put this on your card and take advantage of the free item (you have three weeks to pick the item up from the store before the coupon expires). You don’t have to buy anything else to get this deal. Just scan the free item, scan your rewards card, and grab your receipt.

Make sure to take a good look at that grocery receipt because it can lead to even more gas savings. My receipt often says that if I go online and fill out a survey about my shopping experience, I will get 50 fuel rewards points. So after just two receipt surveys, I’m getting 10 cents off per gallon, and I didn’t have to pay a cent to do it! You can earn fuel points up to once a week, so get your weekly freebie and fill out its receipt survey to enjoy 20 cents off per gallon.

After following the above steps, you’ll really start to see some savings in your gas budget. For a while, these steps were all I did. But we’re just getting started!

Buy Gift Cards

I recently got involved with buying discounted gift cards online. My favorite website to go for this is Gift Card Granny. It’s basically a search engine for gift cards that shows you where you can get the biggest discount. I can usually get a 2-4% discount on grocery and gas cards. (For more frivolous stores, such as movie theaters and restaurants, the discount is usually more like 10-20% off!)

I normally buy my gas at Fred Meyer stations, but since Fred Meyer is owned by Kroger, I look up other Kroger-owned stores on GiftCardGranny to see what currently has the biggest discount. If you’re using another gas station, find out what other gift cards may also work there. (For example, if you buy gas at Safeway, also look up gift cards for Vons.) Once you receive your gift card, just make sure to use both your gift card and rewards card at every gas station visit.

Special! If you’ve never used Cardpool before, then use this link to get a bonus $5 off your first purchase!

Just in case you’re wondering, most discount gift cards sites verify the cards they sell and have a guarantee for all your purchases. I’ve never had a problem buying discount gift cards.

Once you add this tip to your routine, you should save several bucks on each fill-up. Are you ready to do one more thing to get FREE gas?

Use Your Computer or Smartphone To Make It FREE

If you read money-saving blogs, you’ve probably heard this before. But ever since I started to seriously use Swagbucks, my gasoline budget has become non-existent!

After signing up for Swagbucks, install a couple things onto your browser’s task bar. First, make Swagbucks your primary search engine. You’ll get paid for every few web searches. Also make sure to install the Swagbutton. If your shopping online, the Swagbutton will notify you about any coupon codes or rebates that your purchase qualifies for. These are the best ways to easily earn Swagbucks that won’t affect your daily routine, but if you’re interested, you can also fill out surveys, watch videos, play games, and more to earn Swagbucks!

Get a 300SB bonus when you sign up for Swagbucks here!

You can exchange your Swagbucks for a variety of gift cards. Swagbucks has gift cards to some gas stations, like Safeway, Sunoco, and Chevron. That’s an easy way to get free gas. However, I usually redeem my SB for a $25 or $50 prepaid Visa card. I then go back to GiftCardGranny and pay for my discount gift card with my free prepaid Visa card. You can also do the same thing by cashing out your SB into PayPal, but prepaid Visa cards usually give you more bang for your Swagbucks.

Other Ways to Save Even More On Gas

  • When shopping for a new car, look for one that has better gas mileage than your old vehicle.
  • Coast whenever you go downhill, need to slow down, or approach a stop sign. Basically, the less your foot is on the gas pedal, the better.
  • Can you limit your drives to work by doing something like working double shifts or working partly from home? Last December I changed my commute from 10 miles to one mile by moving closer!
  • Walk or bike when you can. As a bonus, you’ll exercise, get fresh air, and better enjoy the beauty of the route.
  • Try not to drive for just one thing. Combine your trips.5+ Ways to

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