Here were a few of my favorite things in Thessaloniki:
Taking a Walking Tour
I’ve taken a lot of walking tours, but the Thessaloniki Free Walking Tour was among the best. I took the upper town tour, and I got to see a lot of things that I never would have discovered on my own. The guide is great; he played music, gave travel tips, and really made the tour personalized.
Visiting the White Tower and City Walls
As the most iconic site in Thessaloniki, the White Tower is fun to go inside and explore. It is one of two remaining towers from the old city wall. The remaining walls and northern tower aren’t quite as popular, though their lack of tourism does make them free to visit. If you enjoy history, seeing the towers and walls are a must-do on your visit.
Having a Rotunda View
I stayed in RentRooms, a hostel with a view of the Rotunda. I loved eating breakfast at their outdoor cafe for the scenic view as well as the food. The Rotunda is a UNESCO World Heritage Site from the 4th century. I enjoyed being able to go inside, though the exterior seemed more ornate. Nearby is another ancient structure, the Kamara.
Thessaloniki is in Greece, but while there you can also visit Turkey. There’s a little bit of Turkish soil in the middle of this city! Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, was actually born in Thessaloniki. His family home is now a museum owned and run by Turkey. I enjoyed going through the house and learning about Turkey, especially since Istanbul was my next stop in my Mediterranean Trek.
I visited a few Thessalonian museums. I saw ancient ruins, Jewish history, and photography. Even outside of the museums, art abounds. A long stroll along the boardwalk is not only good for seeing the sea, but also all kinds of statues and other art. Wherever you go in Thessaloniki, keep your eyes open and you’re sure to find art.
These are just a few of the most memorable of the many things I enjoyed in Thessaloniki. What is most enticing to you in this part of Greece?
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
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:
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)
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)
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?
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
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?
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.
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?
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
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
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
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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!
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
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
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
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
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.
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!
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!
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.
I made this video to show Busabout, but I’d love for you to watch it too. Show all your friends, and leave a comment on the video to tell Busabout who belongs on their Ultimate Travel Squad this summer!
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!
In light of recent events, I’m going to postpone my original posting plans and spend today talking about Nice, France.
On this day exactly one year ago, I was spending my final day in the United States before embarking on a three-month journey which I’ve come to refer to as my Mediterranean Trek. My first destination actually was Paris, France, which made the attacks late last year feel more personal and devastating. After Paris, I spent a few weeks in three cities in Spain before returning to France, this time through the southern part and to Nice.
Nice is a beautiful city with exquisite art, architecture, and natural beauty. Like Paris, they also have a Notre Dame Cathedral near the center of the city, which I loved seeing lit up at night. I even attended an evening mass there. (Though since I don’t speak French, I have no idea what they were saying!)
Much of Nice’s art was related to other famous pieces around the world. I found decorated architecture that was made by Gustave Eiffel himself! I also found replicas of statues outside of France, such as Michelangelo’s David and The Statue of Liberty. Of course there was some completely unique art with unique history in Nice as well.
Old Town is a big tourist attraction to visit, but I went to an even older town and headed to the northern part of Nice, where I ended up walking along some ancient ruins!
But the best reason to visit Nice is for the beach lining the Promenade des Anglais. While the beach itself isn’t very comfortable for sunbathing (it’s made of chunks of rock instead of sand), the Mediterranean Sea is so blue and perfect for swimming in! And while it is a strenuous hike, going to the top of the hill to overlook the city is definitely worth it!
I missed Bastille Day in France by just a couple of days, but I did get to attend a French event that is known around the world. I wrote an article for TravelingMom with tips based on my experience witnessing the final stage of Le Tour de France. I sent it in for publication before news of the most recent attack broke out, but I do hope that Le Tour enthusiasts are kept safe and that it doesn’t deter anyone from watching the race in person. I think one of the best things we can do after an attack is show that we are not afraid, and getting involved in Le Tour de France is just one way to do it! Click here to read my tips for watching the final stage of Le Tour de France in person.