I was just one of millions who were shocked yesterday at the fire that destroyed Notre Dame in Paris, France. But all the memories I had from nearly four years ago with this structure came rushing back. While in Paris, I loved walking to this city center and did so several times. I took a walking tour around the island that taught me a lot about the history and art. I climbed to the belltowers, found sanctuary inside the sanctuary, attended an evening service, picnicked in its shade, and even explored the underground crypt. I never imagined that this building that pointed to God for over 850 years would be destroyed in my lifetime.
Without the dedicated firefighters working hours upon hours yesterday, Notre Dame would be in worse condition than it is now, and for that I’m thankful. But we must also remember that it’s possible there wouldn’t be a cathedral to save today if a writer hadn’t saved it nearly 200 years ago.
Victor Hugo and The Hunchback
Notre Dame de Paris wasn’t always as beloved as it is now. After years of neglect, it found itself in a state of disrepair in the 1800s. At the time, a Parisian writer by the name of Victor Hugo decided to do something about his beloved city center. He wrote a book titled Notre Dame de Paris. It ended up being translated into many languages. In the English translation, it was titled The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Maybe you’ve heard of it?
As the popularity of the book spread, readers spilled into Paris to visit the now-famed Notre Dame. This eventually pressured the government to restore the cathedral to its former glory. Why? If you haven’t read the book, the story might not be what you’d expect. Many of us think of the Disney adaptation, which, while I didn’t enjoy it much as a kid, as an adult it became one of my favorite Disney movies due to its unique themes. Victor Hugo actually spent more of his book describing the Notre Dame, with the storyline more as a selling point. It’s even darker than Disney’s darkest cartoon, and does not have a happy ending. But the point was made, and Victor Hugo got his real-life happy ending of a restored cathedral. I was able to visit Victor Hugo’s final resting place in the Pantheon in Paris, lying amid other famous French who shaped their culture.
What Writers Can Do
As I watched the live updates of Notre Dame burning, I couldn’t help but think of Victor Hugo and how he used his character Quasimodo to save the cathedral only to have it destroyed today. But if a writer could save Notre Dame once, could another writer save it again?
I’m not saying that writer is me. Although I have toyed with an idea of a story about a backpacker who visits places like Paris, it’s still only an idea in my head and not on paper. I did feel a personal connection to Quasimodo as I stood in “his” belltower, I actually have the same type of scoliosis that this character did. (Obviously, mine is a mild case where his was much more extreme.) As an urban backpacker, this can cause extra pain as I travel. Paris was the first place I visited in Europe, and while I was already starting to feel pain there, I couldn’t help but feel like it was a place of refuge and freedom.
But most of us are writers in some form or another. In this modern age where anyone can be published, maybe we all can work together in writing our way to save Notre Dame again. I’ve already been inspired by the news reporters saying that it will be rebuilt (though we don’t have a timeframe yet- hopefully in this lifetime!) and the people on social media who have pledged money and shared their own stories. If you’ve been to Paris, share your personal experience so that the Notre Dame’s memories will not disappear, even if its roof has. If you haven’t seen Notre Dame, I know its tales have still affected you in some way. Share what you’ve learned about the historic cathedral, or write about how excited you are to see it being rebuilt. Who knows? Maybe one of us will become the next Victor Hugo, writing a book that features the future Notre Dame.
Start now: What’s been your experience with the Notre Dame, whether in person or through books/movies/etc? How did you feel when you heard it caught fire? Share with the world in the comments below!
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:
When are you going?
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
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!
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:
It’s a discount on something I would normally buy anyway
It’s something I would like for free
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.
Do you love the idea of getting flights, lodging, ground transportation, meals, and attractions for free or steeply discounted? Who wouldn’t want that! This is what makes travel hacking so enticing. But this can be too daunting when it comes to churning credit cards and running up a big bill.
Never fear, there are plenty of travel hacks where owning a credit card is completely optional! Below are credit-free hacks based on my personal experience, as well as a few collected from others in my travel networks.
When I first visited the Subaru dealership, I brought measuring tape with me. I wanted to make sure I was able to lay down in the trunk with the back seat down. If you road trip in a van or SUV, this could be a comfortable and cheap option for overnights. For me, I started doing this as a kid. Before getting my own tent for Christmas, I would often choose to sleep in the back of my dad’s Jeep Cherokee during family camping trips. My first car was a 2000 Ford Explorer. I bought it for about $1750, and made a large portion of that back in savings by sleeping in it at free campgrounds and WalMart parking lots. Since then, I’ve learned to fit an inflated air mattress in the back, how to make temporary privacy curtains, and that my favorite free spot to stay the night is casinos that allow RVs overnight. Just a few steps away, I have access to bathrooms, WiFi, and security!
Help others for airline perks.
Back when I was an EMT, I helped out with someone having an emergency while boarding our plane. Had this person stayed on the flight, the crew would have offered to refund my ticket to sit with her. Although this didn’t happen, a flight attendant gave me one of those super-expensive snack boxes I would never afford to buy myself. Megan Parsons shared, “this couple asked if they could help me because I am flying alone with a baby. I said yes and their boarding position jumped significantly.” Obviously opportunities like these don’t always arise, but it always helps to keep an eye out!
Use free toilets.
“Go when you can, not when you must.” I heard this from a NYC tourguide ten years ago, and it’s stuck with me as a useful, albeit awkward travel motto. Of course needing to use the bathroom when there isn’t one available can result in ruined clothes, laundry expenses, smelly luggage, and embarrassment. I’ve pointed several visitors to free bathrooms in a small tourist town near where I live, and look out for free restrooms while I travel. This tip is especially useful in areas where most public toilets cost money, since they’re still usually free at restaurants, paid attractions, churches, trains, and porta potties. (Bonus tip: always carry a pack of travel tissues. Your stall may be out of toilet paper, and in some countries the stalls don’t always have toilet roll holders!)
Get free food and drinks in the airport with this simple tip.
We know that the shops and restaurants in airports are overpriced. But do you know how to get food and drinks past TSA security? More and more people are realizing that you can bring an empty bottle and fill it with water once past security, instead of dropping several dollars for a disposable plastic bottle. (If you do forget your water bottle, some airport fast food places might give you a free water cup.) You can add single-serve flavor packs if you wish. As for food, it’s totally okay to go through security as long as it doesn’t contain many liquid-based components. (Mustard on a sandwich should be fine; a heavily-frosted cupcake is a no-go.) You don’t even have to fit your food in your carry-on or personal item as long as it’s consumed before boarding.
Find mistake fares and airline sales.
Stephan Mark Smith shared, “Check each day until you find a mistake fare.” While I personally have yet to find a mistake fare, I did take advantage of a cheap airline sale a few years ago. As long as you’re not too picky about your destination, you could plan a great trip around a cheap flight!
Fund your trip with gift cards.
Just about every aspect of travel can be paid for with a gift card. If you have partially- used gift cards lying around, get creative and brainstorm how they can be used towards upcoming travels. For everything else, check out Swagbucks. Many people think of this site as a rebate program. But I promised that none of these travel hacks require a credit card, and this one doesn’t have to, either. On Swagbucks, you can earn points by watching videos, playing games, taking surveys, and my favorite, using a search engine. These points then translate into gift cards for gas, hotels, cruises, restaurants, Groupon, and more. You even get free points just for signing up!
Check the fine print on coupons.
Between free travel gear and free souvenirs, this hack has saved me a lot of money, and provided me with wonderful things I never would have gotten if I had to pay for them! I ignore most coupons because their stipulations require me to buy something I don’t need. But years ago, while backpacking Nashville, I found a coupon that offered $3 off at a local candy store- no minimum purchase! I even surprised the cashier when I got a $2.50 nut log for free. Since then, I stay on the lookout for coupons offering free food, free souvenirs, and free gear. I also like stores that allow coupon stacking or using coupons on already-discounted items. My favorite coupon right now is the $10 rewards coupon I get from Eddie Bauer twice a year. I have to spend at least $10 to get $10 off, but it’s still a good deal for useful gear and clearance items!
Visit your library before leaving.
A library is more than books. When planning my trip to Europe, I learned about Rick Steves, and wanted more of his advice than what was offered online and on PBS. I went to the library and found his Europe Through the Back Door guidebook as well as a few seasons of his show on DVD. Of course my rental time wasn’t long enough to bring these with me in Europe for 90 days, but I could take notes on the most useful information for me. For shorter trips, a borrowed library book is great for downtime, as long as you make sure not to lose it. With a lot of weekend road trips I’ve been taking lately, I enjoy getting an audio book or two from the library to listen to in the car. I’ve also taken periodicals from the free magazine rack. Your library may have other perks that benefit travel as well.
Double up on freebies at events.
Some of my favorite travel memories have been at free local events. I went to some of these at the advice of a local person or fellow traveler. Others I stumbled onto completely by accident. Either way, you’re likely to find a free concert, play, or street fair, especially in large cities. Not only is the event free, but you can often double up on freebies at events like this since the sponsors often give free items away. This could mean food, apparel, pens, and other items that make excellent souvenirs.
If something goes wrong, cash in on all you can.
I definitely would not recommend getting into a car crash as a way to travel hack. With recent personal experience, it’s a hassle, it’s costly, and it can ruin the joy of travel, at least temporarily. But if something like this does happen to you, milk it for all it’s worth. My favorite car crash perk has been the free massages and chiropractic adjustments, especially helpful since my health insurance ended just a couple weeks after my crash. You can enjoy this benefit even if you were only a passenger in a crash. When I got my rental car, I planned a weekend getaway to Redding, California. While I paid for the gas, the rental was covered by insurance, and it didn’t add mileage to my own car. Speaking of mileage, since my car was totalled before its warranty ended, I got most of it refunded. While each situation differs, look into what’s available in the event of an unfortunate incident involving a car, plane, hotel, restaurant, event, or attraction. Don’t be demanding or threatening, but be sure to get what you’re owed.
What travel hacks have you done? Let me know in the comments!
My recent guest posts took me all around the world!
Across the Ocean
If you’ve ever been to Disneyland or Walt Disney World in the United States, you may wonder if it’s worth going overseas to international Disney parks. Even die-hard Disney fans may want to stick to the original two! When I went to Disneyland Paris, I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome!
Do you have a tourist attraction near where you live that you just haven’t visited yet? I’m not above playing tourist in my hometown. I’ve enjoyed historic Jacksonville, hiking places like the Table Rocks, and even Harry & David (although I enjoy that last one less since I worked there). But one attraction I just haven’t made it to is also one of the most widely known: the Pacific Crest Trail. I got to explain why in this collaboration with other travel writers. Do you think what I said was a good reason, or just an excuse?
I will try to hike the PCT soon. (Not the whole thing; just the part near me.) I’ll let you know what I think when I get there!