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Cheap Travels

21 Jul

One thing I love even more than traveling is inexpensive traveling.  Spontaneous inexpensive traveling is even better.  I got to spend last weekend in New York with some friends (boyfriend, best friend, and best friend’s boyfriend to be exact).  The idea of NY came up several weeks prior and due to the overpriced ($400+) airfares, was quickly dismissed by all.  All, but myself that is.  Once I get excited about something I won’t let it go until I have 100% proof that all hope is lost.  Luckily, my persistence paid off.  I found roundtrip tickets to NY for $160 (that was $69 each way pre-tax).  Take that, doubters!  The excitement was back on.  Then, to make our lives even better, Chandler’s (the best friend’s boyfriend) mom scored us a free hotel room.  So, the grand total of my travels to the city (excluding the unavoidable shopping, dining, and cabbing expenses) = $160.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

I’m not always so lucky with my travels, but I definitely do my research.  Here are a few resources that I’ve found helpful along the way:

Southwest Airlines.  I heart Southwest.  I really do.  They’re typically my airline of choice when booking in advance (at a minimum of 14 days).  They generally have very reasonable fares (check out their “Wanna Get Away” tickets for the best prices) and the planes, flight crew, etc. are all nice.  I’ve been enrolled in their Rapid Rewards program since I started my relationship with them on my first flight to Las Vegas.  It’s been quite a rewarding relationship.  The benefits of flying SW are numerous; the often joke-cracking and sometimes musical flight attendants, the $0 you are required to pay for bag number one OR two, the free drink coupons that come with your free roundtrip ticket reward,  the peanuts/pretzels that you get no matter how short the flight, and so much more.  It’s just a fun airline who allows their employees to have fun, making the whole experience that much better for the customers.  A couple of things to note about SW; They don’t advertise on other travel websites (Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, etc.) so you have to remember to check the sw website separately when doing your research.  Also, there is no assigned seating and no difference of class.  All seats are basically first-come-first-serve.  Flights are boarded in groups assigned by the order in which you check in (which can be up to 24 hours prior s take-off).  A few recent exceptions to this standard include the “Business Select” tickets (which just give you priority boarding and a free drink) and “early bird Check-in” which allows you to check in ahead of the masses by paying an extra $10-15.

American Airlines.  Although I hate to cheat on my beloved SW, occasionally they leave me no choice.  When I don’t plan my trips enough in advance or I happen to plan a spontaneous getaway, I’ve learned to look at AA.  While the SW fares are guaranteed to increase as the travel date approaches (which totally makes sense in the whole money-making business, but doesn’t encourage last-min travels) I have found in the past that AA will sometimes have ridiculously low fares at the last-minute.  I’m not sure how or why they do this when other airlines are offering the same ticket for close to 3 times as much, but I definitely won’t forget it.  The trick with these tickets is to check back frequently as prices can change daily, and to look at all the dates around your travel… sometimes a day can make all the difference in price.  One note here is that these unusually cheap tickets are non-refundable, and can’t be transferred or exchanged without paying a whopping $150 fee, so make sure you’re 100% before clicking the purchase button.

Travelzoo.  A friend turned me onto this website a couple of years ago and I love it.  This isn’t like Expedia or Travelocity.  Travelzoo doesn’t overwhelm you with every travel destination known to mankind… they simply present you with the best deals of the moment.  You can go on and look at the hotels/flights/packages to a region that are currently being offered at great prices.  They take the best deals from the previously mentioned websites and bring them all to one place so you don’t have to do all the work.  In addition, you can sign up for the Top 20 email alerts.  It’s simple to do and you will receive a weekly email containing the 20 best deals of the week.  There’s some pretty great stuff on there.  If nothing else, it’s a fun reminder of all the great places out there you’ve yet to visit.

Tripadvisor.  After finding a hotel I usually run it through the tripadvisor website to see what I’m really dealing with.  I love reading the reviews and looking at the pictures.  Every hotel is going to put up professionally taken well-lit and perfectly orchestrated pictures of their location, but tripadvisor travelers will show you what it looks like in real-life.  Trust me, it’s good to see.  (Having said all this, I do realize that generally 90% of people who leave reviews on these types of sites are the people who’ve had problems.  People expect a good hotel and good service so don’t feel compelled to leave remarks unless they are seriously disappointed… but something like bedbugs, loud street noise, or dead bodies under the bed- you never know- are definitely things I want to know about beforehand).

Locals.  Locals are an invaluable assets to any traveler, especially when making a trip for the first time.  Ask around.  Ask you friends (both real-life and strictly Facebook), relatives, and complete strangers.  Some of the best suggestions come from the people who know the area the best or have had good experiences before.  Sure, you can go to various websites and look up the top restaurants/bars/shopping/attractions, but that can be so overwhelming sometimes with the abundance of information. So, when in doubt.  Ask a local.

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Break Away

13 Mar

It’s a funny thing to me… how even without realizing that spring break is around the corner, my body started to crave warm weather and sandy beaches.  Maybe it’s just the natural response to months of cold and wet weather that finally start to break way for the sun.  Or, maybe it’s my body remembering that for so long in my life… this was a vacation time.  Whatever it is, it’s not so cool.  I don’t need to go to the beach right now for various reasons (including, most importantly, the amount of college kiddies that will be covering every square inch of my relaxation zone).  But, these temptations are tough to resist.  Let me tell ya.  Every part of me wants to grab my bathing suit, throw on some sunglasses, and drive my butt down to the gulf to put my toes in the sand for a few days, BUT… I’ll resist the urge.  For now.  While being an “adult” certainly has it’s pitfalls (limited number of days available to use said adventures), it also has this other wonderful positive spin… you can use them any time of the year!  I know, it’s so great!  Now, my vacations aren’t limited to Spring, Summer, Fall, and Christmas.  Now, my friends, I can “break” whenever the heck my little heart desires.  (Although, to be fair, I kinda always did that anyway… attendance policies never stopped this girl! Except for maybe graduating on time. But that’s another story for another day).  So, don’t you worry, I will have my day at the beach.  I’m not sure where, when, or who with, but it will happen.  It HAS to happen (for my sanity and the well-being of my family and co-workers).

I would love to go here:

My sister & I at Ke'e Beach... soaking up every last minute.

I wish, with every tiny piece of my soul, that I could be at this place right this very instant.  (By the way, it’s the 2000’s already people, why haven’t we figured out teleportation yet??).  This is taken from a family trip to Kauai, Hawaii back in 2007.  We stayed at a house right on the beach within walking distance of the Na Pali coast.  That place was perfection.  I had planned to hide on our scheduled departure day and be stuck there forever, but chickened out in the end.  I’m still convinced I could live a perfectly happy and normal life as a beach-bum, if anybody wants to join me.  Some people try to tell me that I would eventually get tired of the beach and it would lose it’s magic.  Ok, Crazies!  Shame on you for speaking such negative things about my home!!  We are no longer friends.  That kind of scenery out your window could never get old.

I’m contemplating businesses I can start on the island (because who needs a vacation when you live in paradise?).  Any and all ideas are welcome.  I’m thinking I may just set up shop on the sand with some sunscreen and popsicles until a wealthy vacationer offers to be a financial backer to my island wedding business.  It could work.  OR, or I could be that person in all the ads for the local hotels/tourism board that is enjoying the beach, pool, restaurant, etc.  Now, there’s a job I’d be good at.  😉

Speaking of packing up and moving to paradise… does anyone else remember this little contest that was put on a year ago?  They were going to pay somebody to live in Australia for 6 months and blog about their experience.  Hellloooo, dream job.  Apparently it was a lot of people’s dream jobs.  The site got so jammed with visitors that it was down for a day or so.  The whole point of this contest was to draw attention to the area and increase tourism.  Hope it worked! (although, I have to say, I’ve yet to check in and see what the winner did with the opportunity, so maybe it didn’t?)

Birthdays & Babies & Snow, Oh My!

17 Feb

So many fun things have happened since my last post… Let me give you a run-down:

I got snowed-in.

Growing up in Atlanta (and then Nashville) all my life, the most snow I’d ever seen at one time was probably somewhere around 8 inches. (And that was our famous “blizzard” of  ’93  ).  So, give me a couple of inches of the white stuff in the forecast and I get all giddy like a child… therefore you can only imagine what the thought of 20+ inches would do to me.  Well, 2 Thursdays ago I was sitting at work when I got an email from the bf including the weekend’s forecast for Maryland (the far-away place where he lives), 18-24 inches.  I almost peed my pants.  I HAD to see it.  I just had to.  So… a couple dramatic ticketing moments, a quick late-night packing, and a 5:20 AM cab ride later, I arrived at Nashville airport on my way to see the big snow.  All of the other flights into Baltimore for the day had been cancelled so I was just praaaying that I made it out in time.  I did.  And what a wonderful little adventure it was.  We ended up getting over 30… yes, THIRTY, inches of snow from Friday night trough Saturday morning.  Insane.  Needless to say, my flight out on Sunday night was cancelled, delaying me another day in the snow (no complaints here).  I finally made it out last Monday night… and just barely.  On Tuesday, the area got an additional 20something inches… putting them at the biggest snowfall in history (or something like that).  I’m pretty sure the people of the Baltimore-Washington area are absolutely sick of digging their way to civilization, but I had a blast.

I got a new niece.

Lyla Kate (2nd daughter to my brother and his wife) was born on February 10, 2010.  And she is beautiful.  I love her to pieces… all 6 pounds of her.  Big sister, Marlie “lubs” her too, I actually had to fight her for my chance to hold her baby sister.  Maybe after a couple weeks at home with the attention-grabbing little one, she will be more willing to let me sneak her away?  Let’s hope so.   Aunt Becky needs some Lyla-Lovin :-).

I turned 25.

Yes, I’m old.  It’s weird… parts of me feel really old (like that teenage, N’SYNC obsessed, girl) and parts still feel pretty young.  Either way, Happy Birthday to ME!  I spent the day hanging out with the bf and went to dinner with a few close friends.  I didn’t want a big fancy.. anything this year.  Just wanted to keep it low-key. (blame it on the age).  I’ve been officially welcomed to the quarter-of-a-century club, thanks for that, and I’ve been pre-warned of a quarter-life crisis.  No need for worry, I started having those years ago.  Guess I’m just ahead of the game!

Valentines Day happened.

(insert pictures of heart-shaped boxes of chocolate and teddy bears, gag)

While I could probably write an entire post on my feelings towards this certain Hallmark-created holiday, I will try to keep my thoughts to a brief few, as to not offend so many of this holiday’s biggest supporters.  I hate the idea of forced-affection.  Why are we required to express our feelings on this single day of the year?  Would it not be more meaningful on a random day during the summer perhaps?  I believe so.  I don’t want my bf to give me flowers and candy because the social media is telling him to… I want him to it because HE wants to… and WHEN he wants to.  Valentines day has become so unoriginal and un-meaningful.  (Plus, it totally steals all the thunder from my birthday, and pre-occupies friends and makes presents very expensive… just saying).  Not to mention the added pressure on your significant other to compete with and live-up to the insanely high expectations you now have for this holiday.  Bleh.  In conclusion- Be random and spontaneous with your sweet displays of affection, it will mean so much more in the end.

V-O-L-S…

31 Dec

Well here I am, on the road again, just like I wanted. And although I’d much prefer the roads leading to beaches & possibly Disney World (hey, it IS the happiest place on earth), I guess the road to Atlanta is better than no road at all. So here I am, writing my first official road-blog (all made possible by my constant companion, my Blackberry). Pratt & I are heading to the Chick-Fil-A Bowl to see the Vols take on Virginia Tech. It wasn’t our first choice of destinations for this awesome week away from work, but due to a lack of planning, and funds (and of course, a love for our TN Vols), it’s the plan.

And I can already tell you that I won’t be attempting too many more road-blogs around Pratt. He insists on talking to me and asking me questions (like, “what are you blogging about?” And “so you’re saying I shouldn’t surprise you one day and have your windows tinted?”) every couple minutes, thus forcing me to restart my whole thought process. I’ve politely asked him to remain silent just until I finish but he seems to find my anger humorous. So be it.

The past couple years, we’ve attempted to have a totally awesome New Year’s experience by attending various parties/events. But, I’ll tell you this… They’re a whole lotta nothin. Its a lot of build-up to a very anti-climatic ending. They verge on disappointing. Well, I’ll go ahead and say that NYE 2 years ago, at the Gulch in downtown Nashville, WAS disappointing. An overpriced party packed full of drunk people you don’t know, that all leads up to a 10-second countdown to a balloon-drop. Not that much fun. I think the only reason I attend those things is so that I can put on a pretty dress and heels. I love sparkly dresses. And an good excuse to wear one.

This year, however, no plans. No sparkly dresses (unfortunately). Our game will be over about an hour before midnight and we officially have no idea what we intend to do once that moment arises. I’m ok with that. It takes the pressure off. There’s no expectations of greatness. What a perfect start…

So as I finish this blog of randomness, all thanks to constant interruption from the child behind the wheel, I wish you all well in 2010. Enjoy your totally awesome, or perfectly boring New Years Eve’s and be safe!

I just can’t wait to be on the road again

15 Dec

After a wonderful weekend with family in Atlanta, it’s unfortunately time to return to my “reality”.  I dropped Pratt off at the airport bright and very early this morning for his flight back to Not-So Maryland, (aka: my least favorite state, for obvious reasons).  As I pulled through all of the newly restructured BNA pathways… I found myself longing for another trip.  What can I say, I’m addicted.  I love to travel.  It doesn’t even have to be anywhere exciting… there’s just something thrilling to me about the whole process.  This, all coming from a girl who didn’t take her first flight until she was in her twenties.  Yes that’s right, my family drove EVERYWHERE.  I’ve been on more planes in the past month than during the first 20 years of my life. Granted, I do have a much better excuse for my numerous flights than ever before.  In fact, I’m pretty sure Southwest should have special assigned seats for Pratt and I en route from BNA to BWI (and visa versa).    

But aside from obligatory visits to the bf (kidding, I enjoy them), I love just going.  Anywhere. (and not just by plane). I’m constatntly thinking about and plotting my next “adventure”.  When my mind wanders… it’s to my next vacation. When I get more money… it goes towards my next vacation.  I don’t know if it’s the temporary escape from monotony or just the excitement that comes from the feeling of temporary freedom, but I crave it.  Needless to say, I’ve had my fair share of airport experiences in these past few years.  I wouldn’t categorize myself as a “pro” by any means (considering I’ve never even ventured abroad), but I’ve definitely earned “frequent flier” status.  Apart from having BNA and BWI memorized like the back of my hand (side note- who really memorizes what the back of their hand looks like?? I’m just saying),  along the way I’ve slowly compiled a list of, what I believe to be, necessities when flying the friendly skies.  In the spirit of sharing:  

A Blackberry (or any phone with internet capabilities).  But personally, Blackberry always wins. 

T-Mobile Blackberry Bold 9700

  

An iPod (loaded with a few new tunes and plenty of classics).  I always like to download something new right before a trip and spend my journey critiquing it. 

iPod Classic

  

Bose Headphones.  I got some as a Christmas gift a couple years back and I never fly without them.  I never fully appreciated their noise-cancelling capabilities until a recent flight with a very unhappy 1-year-old.  These babies are gold.  Trust me.  Not to mention that every song sounds like a private in-flight performance . 

Bose Noise-Cancelling Headphones

  

Anti-Swine (sanitizer and disinfectants).  You really can’t have too many of these.  I sanitize after I touch anything at the airport or on the plane.  And these wipes are especially handy for wiping down tray-tables and armrests. (and headrests, you know,  just in case someone might have had lice).  I never thought myself a germaphobe, but I do realize this all makes me sound like a crazy lady.  Well worth it in my book. 

Purell Hand Sanitizer

Clorox Wipes To-Go

 

Big purses.  How else are you to carry all of your above-mentioned goodies through the airport?  (I’ll spare you my Olsen obsession for another post) 

Ashley Olsen + Big Purse

   

Jacket or small blanket. It never fails.  The day I decide I can survive that short little 1.5 hour flight without protection is the day the captain has a hot-flash and decides to freeze us out with sub-zero temps. 

This might be pushing it

  

Easy shoes & minimal accessories.  I’ve never encountered too much of a problem with passing through security, but having shoes that come on and off easily can be a small blessing.  Summer travel is easy with flip-flops and various other quickly removable sandals, but it’s the cold months that get ya.  Those tall, super-cute, have-to-spend-20-minutes-tucking -in-your-jeans, kind of boots are a game killer on a busy day. 

Not the best idea

  

Chargers.  Being caught at the airport for hours while your plane is delayed, and your phone is dead is not cool.  How will all of your social-networking buddies know all about the misery you are suffering??  Really, you’re doing it for them.  Think about them. 

Phone Charger

  

   

 

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