Accommodations, saving money, travel tips

4 Ways to Get a FREE Hostel Stay

Hostels are known as a great way to save money on accommodation while still getting amenities such as breakfast, information services, a central location, and free WiFi. But what if I told you that you could stay at an already-affordable hostel for even cheaper? In fact, what if I told you that your next hostel stay could be FREE?

Here are four ways that you can get a free night (or more) at a hostel. Every single one is legit: no stealing or sneaky work is involved at all. I’ve done all of them myself, so I guarantee they can work!

1. Win a Contest

Eggplant Sandwich Niagara Falls Canada
I won free hostel nights by leaving a Facebook comment about this eggplant meal I ate overlooking Niagara Falls over five years ago.

I’m getting two free nights in a hostel on my next trip to Europe! I just found out that I won a contest on St Christopher’s Inns’ Facebook page. Of course, I’m excited. (Although they have a lot of hostels in a lot of European cities to choose from, I think I’ll check out their new Berlin hostel.) But it has been a numbers game.

I started entering their weekly contests when I first found out about them, hoping to get some free nights for my trip to London. Instead, I paid for my stay there (but I did save some money by booking all my hostels directly). I stopped entering the contests for a while after that trip, but then when I decided to go back to Europe in 2020, I started entering the contests again. Last week, only about a dozen people entered versus the usual 50-90, so I had greater odds when they picked my comment as the winner!

Other individual hostels and hostel chains may occasionally offer contests. Booking sites like HostelWorld do this every now and then as well. The best way to make sure you’re notified about any upcoming contests is to follow social media pages and sign up for newsletters. This may not be a guaranteed way to get a free hostel stay, but it’s worth trying!

2. Check Out Promotions

Dublin performer
The hostel even gave me a free ticket to access this evening concert in addition to my free birthday stay.

I got a free night in Dublin on May 10th. Why? It’s my birthday, and I found out Isaac’s Hostel offers a free night’s stay to celebrate! Originally, I wasn’t planning on arriving in Ireland until a day or two after my birthday, but when I discovered this promotion, I booked my flight accordingly. (Upon my arrival, the hostel staff even gave me a few freebies, like a rental locker that normally had a 5-euro deposit and a free evening event.)

A more common promotion is if you pay to stay a certain number of nights, you’ll get one night free. (Most of the offers I’ve seen are either three nights for the price of two or book a week and your seventh night is free.) To find the most up-to-date offers with specific hostels, check out the hostel’s direct website or social media pages.

3. Do a Work Exchange

Niagara Falls Fireworks
A fantastic fireworks view on the hostel rooftop was one of the many things I got to help promote in Niagara Falls.

If you’re planning on staying somewhere for a month or longer, it makes sense to try to get a job at the hostel. A lot of hostels don’t actually pay most of their employees, but they do provide free housing. Usually, the work exchange is part-time so you still have time to get a paying job, attend classes, travel, or do whatever else you were planning to do in the area.

If you don’t want to stay long-term, available work exchanges are rarer, but still sometimes possible. I’ve done a few short-term hostel work exchanges by doing some promotional work. Some social hostels will give a free night to musicians who are willing to do a performance in their commons. If you have a special skill that a hostel business will find useful or marketable, start asking around.

4. Be Loyal

Piazza San Marco nighttime Venice
I ended up with a stomach bug during my two free nights in Venice, but that meant I could afford to pay for an extra two nights and get these great Venetian nighttime views.

Why are people still booking on HostelWorld? There are better hostel booking sites out there that actually reward you for using them. I got two free nights in a private room in Venice (just steps away from St. Mark’s Square), because I made several of my bookings for my Mediterranean Trek using HostelsClub. This site is great at rewarding loyal customers, as reviewing the hostels you’ve stayed at can get you a discount off of your next booking!

Hotels.com also has hostel listings in addition to the hotels they’re known for, and many of them are affiliated with Hotels.com Rewards that allows you to stay a free night for every 10 nights you book through this site. I’ve only made one hostel reservation for my trip to Germany so far, but because I booked through Hotels.com, I got the best price AND I’m already close to getting a free night!

The downside to loyalty rewards is that you’ll have to pay for some nights upfront. Because of this, I suggest that you compare the rewards booking site you’re using to the website of the actual hostel. Sometimes it’s significantly cheaper to book directly with the hostel, making the booking site’s offer worthless. But some booking sites, like Hotels.com, offer a price match guarantee, so it’s still more economical to book through them. You may not get a completely free hostel stay, but saving money will add up over time.

Get more hostel and money-saving travel tips in my book, Uncommon Adventures, available in Kindle and paperback!

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Have you ever gotten a free night’s stay? Tell me about it in the comments. I love hearing from you!

Books, saving money, travel tips, Uncommon Adventures

How to Save on Travel Books (or Any Books)

I’m excited to feature my travel book, Uncommon Adventures, in this post. However, while my paperback only costs $6.98 (and the ebook is just $2.99), books often are pretty pricey. Travel books are definitely no exception!

Despite the price, travel books will contribute to having a better time traveling. Famous travel writer Rick Steves often says “Guide books are a $20 investment for a $2000 trip.” But I know firsthand that when it comes to saving for a big trip, every penny counts. Especially if you’re visiting several destinations, a guide book for each location could add up to be hundreds of dollars!

Uncommon Adventures, Rick Steves, and a pumpkin

It does seem counterintuitive for me as a travel writer to recommend ways to save on travel books, especially since some of these tips may cause less of a profit for me. But I think it’s important to share tips to save that will allow you to have richer travel experiences. If you like what I have to say and use any of these tips to save money while reading my book, I’ll still appreciate it.

Whether you want to read my book or a book by another author, here are some ways to save money when it comes to travel books.

Use the Library

This sounds like an obvious way to save money on books. Obviously, most libraries have a travel section where you can borrow books for free. But let’s dig deeper.

Be warned that using the library for travel books can sometimes end up costing MORE money! No, I’m not talking about late fees, though you should try to avoid that. A few weeks ago, I went to the library and decided to check out the travel section to see if they had any of my favorite travel books like Europe Through the Back Door or How to Travel the World on $50 a Day. Instead, a Rick Steves book about Belgium caught my eye. Since I’m planning a trip to Germany, which borders Belgium, I decided to thumb through it. Not only did I end up checking out the Belgium book, but it convinced me to take a side trip from Germany to Belgium! And since the bus from Hamburg to Brussels has a layover in Amsterdam, I decided to make a stop there too! So in the future when you see my Instagram pictures of Mannekin Pis or Anne Frank’s House, know it was the library’s fault that I went there!

Library Guidebooks, Movie, and Reciept
My library’s receipts tell me how much money I saved when I check out books, DVDs, and more! (I’m even currently borrowing a ukulele from the library!)

Oftentimes, instead of browsing for books shelf by shelf, I go to the library website and search for books I want. Then I can reserve them, which is especially helpful if a book is currently checked out by someone else or is shelved at another branch. The library will ship it to my nearest library, which right now is within walking distance of my apartment. Yay for no gas or parking fees!

I know library books can be a bit of a debate in the writing community. Isn’t it better for the author if you buy a book? Check out the next tip for how you can use the library AND support an author at the same time.

Make Requests

Do you want a specific book that your library doesn’t have? Most libraries accept recommendations for the next books they should order. You can ask your librarian for the exact details on how to make this request, but often it’s as easy as filling out a short form on their website.

I’ve made many requests for book orders at my library, and most of them have been approved. I’ve requested travel guides and novels that take place in interesting locations. And I’ll admit, I requested that my library purchase both Uncommon Adventures and Girls Who Change the World, both books authored by this girl named Jessica Lippe.

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If you can’t personally afford to buy a book, ask your library to make the purchase for you. It’s a great way to support an author. Better yet, if you’ve bought a book you really like, also ask the library to buy so others can share your book treasure. Naturally, I’d recommend going to your library’s website and requesting they order Uncommon Adventures right now!

As an added bonus to making library book order requests, you often get to be the very first person to check out a book, even before it’s been shelved!

(Note: You can still use this tip even if you don’t have this library service! Instead, make requests for specific books as Christmas or birthday presents. Friends and family probably want to give you a gift that will help you with your trip but would prefer to gift you something you can unwrap instead of cash or an experience gift. Travel books are the perfect solution.)

Use Your Resources

I’m not the biggest fan of AAA guide books. They’re very advertising-heavy and don’t seem to paint the full picture for their destinations. But I always get a copy of their book for my next destination. Why? Easy: I can get it for free.

Europe Guidebooks
The AAA Guidebook is free. The Rick Steves book is also free, but only from the library.

If you or someone you know has a membership with AAA, getting their guide books is a great way to make up the cost of membership. (I’d also recommend membership for their emergency auto services, which I’ve used recently!) But there are probably lots of other resources available to you. We’ve already mentioned the library, and next, I’ll be talking about digital resources you may have. But you can also check out book exchanges such as Little Free Library, or online sources like blogs and Pinterest. Or find a traveler you know in person and ask if they have any literature they can pass on to you.

I’d highly recommend getting at least one hard copy of a travel book that you can keep in your possession. The rest of your travel books can be ebooks or from the library, but on your own hard copy, you can use the margins to take notes from your library books or other resources you can’t take on the trip with you. Then, tear out the pages of this book that are relevant to your specific trip.

I got the tip to tear out pages from your travel guide from Rick Steves. Of course, he recommends this because it will cause people to buy more of his books! However, it truly is a good tip since it allows you to pack lighter and keep more organized. Since I tear up my free AAA guidebook that’s filled with notes from Rick Steves and other sources, I don’t have to spend any money replacing torn books.

Digitize

Uncommon Adventures Amazon

You can buy Uncommon Adventures for $6.98, plus shipping. Or, if you have Kindle Unlimited, you can get the ebook for free! In this digital age, you can get the same exact content as a book’s print copy in digital form, but you’ll save several dollars by going the ebook route.

There are more ways than just eBooks to get good travel book content. Referencing Rick Steves again, in addition to reading his guidebooks, I often watch his PBS show. I have many of the episodes on DVD, but you can stream his shows and his lectures for free online. On his show, he often quotes sections of his books verbatim. He also has his Rick Steves Audio Europe app that contains audio tours, interviews, and excerpts of his books in audio form.

Whether you’re reading an eBook, streaming an educational program, or listening to an audiobook, there’s one extra advantage for travelers to use digital versions of books: they reduce the weight of your luggage! Instead of bringing a guide book for each of your destinations plus some recreational books, just download them all onto your phone or another device.

Uncommon Adventures is Compact!

While I often travel with just a Bible app on my phone nowadays, on my first trip to Europe, I struggled with how to pack a Bible when I wanted to pack light. Shortly before my trip, I attended a local street fair, and someone from a Christian booth offered me a free Bible. It was just the New Testament plus Psalms and Proverbs, but it was smaller than my hand. The small print and thin pages made it perfect for packing, and it was worth having a print Bible so I could take this cool picture in Athens on the exact spot where Acts 17 took place! (I share more about this amazing accidental experience in Uncommon Adventures.)

Acts 17 on Mount Areopagus, Athens
I didn’t know it when I was packing this miniature book, but it helped history come to life in Greece.

While Uncommon Adventures is a full-length book, the adjusted page margins and print size allow it to be only 84 pages. That’s thin enough to slip into your carry-on bag! And because it costs less to print fewer pages, that savings is passed on to you as the reader.

I know I like to have some books and daily reading guides in print form instead of digital, especially if I’m going someplace where I won’t always be able to charge my devices. In that case, avoid large print editions! (Even if you have a hard time seeing small print, a pair of reading glasses will probably take up less weight and space than bigger books.)

Another way that Uncommon Adventures is a great compact book is that it is multipurpose. Instead of a devotional and travel guide, you just have to bring this one slim book on your trip!

Be sure to check out Uncommon Adventures on Amazon and leave a review!

Uncommon Adventures by Jessica Lippe

How have you saved money on books? Share your tips in the comments!

 

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5 ways toFall (1)save on travel books

destinations, interview, Things to Do, travel tips, Walk, writing

A Beautiful Day in the Portland Neighborhood

Have you ever driven 4.5 hours for a fun afternoon and evening? I did this week. I just wanted a walk through the park, dinner, and a movie. But I wanted to do it in Portland, Oregon.

I visited Portland back in April and technically even drove through it on my way to Multnomah Falls a couple weeks ago. But other than that, I haven’t visited my state’s largest city since I moved here. Oregon offers a lot more than Portland, so I usually prefer to explore the rest of the state, but there were a few items on my to-travel list that had to be done in Portland, so it was time to take another trip there. While city travel can be expensive, I made this trip for only the cost of gas and food!

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Lloyd Center

The Lloyd Center is a shopping mall, movie theater, and more. A unique aspect is the indoor “ice” skating rink, right in the middle of the shopping center. But my favorite part is the free and plentiful parking. Of course, the parking lot and garage are only meant for patrons of the mall or theater. I went on a quick walk through the mall and later went to the movies (more on that later), but I did go for a walk while my car was left parked there, and all was good.

Steel Bridge

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Portland has a lot of bridges spanning the Williamette River. One of my favorites is the Steel Bridge. It’s got a lot of great views (including the famous “Made in Oregon” neon sign), but I didn’t realize just how great it was. I walked on the pedestrian walkway alongside the car and train lanes on my way into Downtown Portland. But on the way back, I discovered that there was a lower level just for pedestrians! My trip to London inspired me to love and explore different levels of bridges (I went over, across, and under London Tower Bridge), so getting a different perspective of the Steel Bridge was great.

Keep Portland Weird

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I traveled to Portland a lot more as a kid, and it definitely wasn’t as weird back then. I blame the TV show Portlandia for encouraging this subculture. I definitely came across some people living out the “Keep Portland Weird” motto as I strolled through Chinatown, which was capstoned when I finally saw this slogan on the side of a building. It’s right across the street from Voodoo Doughnuts, another Portland must-do. However, I decided to skip the doughnuts this time because I had other eating plans.

Teote

I don’t eat at restaurants much, mostly because I’d rather spend that money on travel. But since I was already traveling, I decided to spend some money on a unique dinner. Portland has a lot of options for that. I ended up deciding on Teote, because I love Latin American food. I got a delicious vegetarian plate. They have a few locations throughout Portland. I decided to eat at the “Teote Outpost” location, which is inside the Pine Street Market. This was partly because it was easy to incorporate into my walk, and partly because there was more I wanted to do in this unique food court.

Wiz Bang Bar

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I’ve never had Salt & Straw ice cream. This is really crazy, because many people know me as the traveler who eats lots of ice cream. So obviously, the unique flavors of this Portland-based ice cream company were calling my name. However, instead of going to a Salt & Straw shop, all of which were a bit out of the way from all my other plans, I went to Wiz Bang Bar. This is owned by Salt & Straw, but instead specializes in unique soft serve. I sampled a couple unusual flavors and decided to get honey lavender soft serve with cookie dough in a waffle cone. There was a lot more to see and eat at Pine Street Market, but I was already getting full and had more to do, so I took my cone to my next stop.

World’s Smallest Park

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Ever since I was a kid, I loved learning about unique Guinness World Records. One record, the world’s smallest park, was in my home state, but I never ended up visiting it until this trip. Mill Ends park started out as a hole in a street median where a light pole was supposed to go. When left abandoned, a journalist started turned it into a little park. Features vary from time to time, but all that was there during my visit was a small tree. A small park only requires a short visit, so I was soon on my way again.

Urban Waterfalls

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Many people travel to Oregon thinking that Portland is the only thing to see (newsflash: it so is not!!!), but they at least take a day trip to see Multnomah Falls and other waterfalls along The Gorge. I’ve enjoyed lots of waterfalls, but these ones were unique! This piece of art took up the entire park block. I could jump from platform to platform over the water, and I even found a hidden path to get behind one of the waterfalls. This was super fun, but wasn’t the end of my time in Portland parks, or even the end of my time with water features!

Waterfront Park

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In contrast with the world’s smallest park across the street, the Tom McCall Waterfront Park is huge! There’s a lot to see and do along this park, but I mostly wanted to enjoy my time strolling along the Williamette River and to try not to get attacked by a goose. I sat by the fountains and walked the entire length of the park until I was back at Steel Bridge, which I crossed and headed back to the final event of my time in Portland.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

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The reason that inspired me to take this trip to Portland was an event that you can participate in a theater near your own hometown… but you’ll have to wait until Thanksgiving. I was invited to attend an advance screening of “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood“, based on a true story about an unlikely friend of Mister Rogers. (It was coincidental that in the movie, this friend was named Lloyd Vogel, and I was watching it at the Lloyd Center!) Tom Hanks did an excellent job portraying the beloved children’s show host, and I was glad I brought a spare napkin from my meal at Teote, because this movie evoked all the feels! And don’t think that just because it’s about Fred Rogers that it’s for kids. In fact, adults will get a lot more out of this film. I hope you go see it, and have a beautiful day in Portland or whatever neighborhood you explore next!

“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is about a reporter who was assigned to interview Fred Rogers. I wish he were still alive because interviewing him would be a dream come true for me! But I have had the opportunity to interview dozens of inspiring living role models, like Bethany Hamilton, Sadie Robertson, and more. These interviews will be featured in Girls Who Change the World, which releases October 1st.  Click here to preorder Girls Who Change the World!

Girlz 4 Christ

 

 

culture, destinations, England, road trip, travel tips

The Stonehenge of America

As a US American citizen, it’s not always easy to hop across the pond for European adventures. So when I can find a European experience in my own country, I’m all for it!

There are a lot of Stonehenge knockoffs in the United States. I regret not having a car while living in Nebraska, because it could have taken me to see Carhenge. There’s also a Foamhenge in Virginia and Alabama has its own fiberglass “Bamahenge”. But nearest me is the Stonehenge of Maryhill, Washington. It’s just across the Oregon border, making it easily accessible by both states. After I visited Multnomah Falls, I headed further east for this next stop.

Since I got to visit the real Stonehenge while in England this past May, it was fun to compare the original stones with this full-scale replication.

History

Stonehenge

Me with the Heel Stone at England’s Stonehenge

 

England: Part of the enticement to Stonehenge is that no one knows for sure how it was made or what it was used for, though we do estimate it at being 5000 years old. Many theories for its purpose have been presented over the years, but currently, there is strong evidence suggesting it was a sort of calendar device, due to its specific alignment with the solstices.

maryhill stonehenge

The Heel Stone at Maryhill’s Stonehenge

 

Washington: One hundred years ago, England’s Stonehenge was believed to be used for human sacrifice. So when the founder of Maryhill’s Stonehenge wanted to build a memorial to the recently-deceased of World War I, he thought about the sacrifice these soldiers gave and thought Stonehenge would be fitting.

Material

Stonehenge Visitor Center

A replica of what may have been used to transport the heavy stones of Stonehenge

 

England: Perhaps Stonehenge’s biggest mystery is how the builders obtained the stone from 200 miles away, without any modern machinery. Erecting this circle would have been difficult as well.

Maryhill Stonehenge

If it’s made of concrete, should it be called Concretehenge?

 

Washington: Originally, the plan was for this memorial to be made of local stone. But building a Stonehenge out of stones proved to be difficult even in more modern times, so they switched to concrete. The concrete doesn’t look nearly as beautiful as the original stones, but they tried to improve the appearance by using foil to create a crumpled texture.

Appearance

Stonehenge

England’s Stonehenge with a visible attempt to keep the ruins intact

 

England: Stonehenge is in ruins; there’s no doubt about that. I visited midday, so I was able to walk around the path, admiring the stones from a bit of a distance. There are special sunrise and sunset tours that allow visitors to walk into the inner circle, but they still cannot touch the stones. Many pieces have fallen and some are missing.

Maryhill Stonehenge

Can you picture the original Stonehenge looking like this one in Washington?

 

Washington: My favorite part about this Stonehenge is that it was an opportunity to see what Stonehenge was intended to look like. At a mere century old, the preserved memorial shows the Stonehenge with all of its transepts intact. Best of all, you can get up close and personal with this Stonehenge. Spend as much time as you want walking through the inner circle, and even touch the “stones” if you want. No special tour necessary.

Location

Stonehenge

England’s Stonehenge as seen from the road

 

England: Stonehenge is situated on the Salisbury Plains. Although its mostly surrounded by farmland (sheep get to spend more time viewing Stonehenge than humans do), it is visible from the throughway. To walk around Stonehenge, though, you’ll need a ticket before taking the bus ride from the parking lot to the stone circle. Since I’m not comfortable driving in England (or really any foreign country), I took one of the many bus tours that stop at Stonehenge.

Washington's Stonehenge as seen from the road

Washington’s Stonehenge as seen from the road

 

Washington: Fortunately, I am comfortable driving in most of the United States, which is good because I’m unaware of any busses that stop here! Parking was free and right next to Stonehenge. This Stonehenge is also conveniently located off a highway, though you have to drive a mile or so down country roads before it becomes visible. It sits atop a hill, with a gorgeous view down to the Columbia River and the surrounding farmland. Instead of sheep, these farms are for orchards and wind power!

Other Attractions

Stonehenge Visitor Center

A prehistoric re-creation at the Stonehenge visitor center in England

 

England: The visitor experience at Stonehenge has really improved with the addition of a visitor center. This museum has videos, artifacts, and replicas of past life in the area. There are also bathrooms, a gift shop, and a cafe. I took the advice of some other travelers who said I shouldn’t take such a long bus ride from London just to visit Stonehenge. So I found a bus trip that also included an extended stop in Bath.

War Memorial

War Memorial next to Washington’s Stonehenge

 

Washington: There was a little building at the site entrance, but it wasn’t open at the time so I don’t know what lies inside. There was a flyer that listed some interesting events, and there were port-a-potties on the side of the building. Although there weren’t restaurants, there was a picnic table where I enjoyed a snack I brought. There’s also a soldier memorial to remember the wars that have happened since this Stonehenge was erected to commemorate WWI. I also don’t think you should make this trip just to see this Stonehenge. Across the river bridge is The Dalles, Oregon, which leads into the high desert. I also included Multnomah Falls, Crater Lake National Park, and a few state parks on this weekend trip.

One other big difference between the two Stonehenges was the crowds. One had hundreds of visitors while I was there, while the other only had a couple visitors at a time and I even got to spend some time all alone there. I bet you can figure out which was which!

Have you ever visited a replica of a landmark from another country? Tell me about it in the comments; I’ll probably want to see it too!

The Stonehenge of America

Whether you’re in the US, Europe, or anywhere else in the world, you can turn little attractions like this into real adventures! Learn how in my brand-new book, Uncommon Adventures, available in paperback and Kindle ebook

Uncommon Adventures Jessica Lippe
Want to take more trips to places like this? Be sure to check out my new book, Uncommon Adventures, now available on Amazon!
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?

0423191518.jpg
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!

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!

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I have seven different categories for coupons and deals:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Are the Caveats?

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

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

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

Am I Saving in Other Ways?

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

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

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

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