June 18th, 2014

Who needs Sonoma? Look for a winery on the East Coast!

I just recently took a long weekend trip to Sonoma County, outside of San Francisco. For a Floridian, a weekend jaunt cross country to San Fran was quite the trek…and it definitely left an impact on my sleep schedule for a few days. The end result of my many pictures posted on Instagram, however? A suggestion from another Florida friend that we do a girls’ weekend to Sonoma County sometime. I will admit that I fell completely in love with northern California, but the thought of making the trip cross country for another short weekend jaunt left me groaning and asking myself, isn’t there something comparable on the East coast??

Well…believe it or not, there was! And more than one!

Loudoun, VA

This area is just a short 30 minutes from the heart of our nation’s capital, which earned it the nickname “D.C.’s wine country.” The region specializes in reds like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvigon and Cabernet Franc. For those who prefer white, you’ll find Chardonnay and Viogner.

Shenandoah Valley, VA

Just an hour west of D.C. you’ll run into Shenandoah’s wine country, which has become a hot spot for thrill seekers. From mountain biking to horseback riding, the area is full of activities to suit everyone. This region specializes in Viogner, Feisling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin, Petit Verdot, and fruit wines.

Hudson Valley, NY

Just an hour and a half north of New York City, this wine region is one of the oldest winemaking regions in the country. There are currently more than 25 wineries to sample and the region specialize in whites and blends.

Mason-Dixon Wine Trail , York, Penn.

This area is home to 14 family-owned wineries that are known for their friendly boutique tasting rooms. The area specializes in Reisling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vidal Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin and fruit wines.  

Missouri Wine Country

So while this one isn’t on the East coast, it’s also far closer than flying to California. It’s also my home state and a mere two hour flight from Tampa.  Missouri wine country is surprisingly large and little known to those outside of the Midwest. Ironically, however, winemaking began in this area when German settlers arrived and planted grape vines in Hermann, MO, making it the oldest wine region in the country.  It is home to over 100 wineries and is broken into five separate corridors: the Hermann Wine Trail, the Route Du Vin, the Missouri Weinstrasse, the Missouri River Wine Trail, and the Ozark Mountain Wine Trail.This area specializes in Chardonnay and sparkling wines. If you’re in the market for red wine, try the Norton, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

So what do you think? Would you branch out and try one of these less well known wineries? Make sure that if you do decide to branch out that you take along your wine suitcase so you can bring all the great wine back home with you!

May 6th, 2014

Airlines bring in $3.5 billion in baggage fees

passenger_airplane_1920x1200Don’t expect airline baggage fees to be going away anytime soon. According to USA Today, airlines brought in $3.5 BILLION last year in baggage fees. They use these ancillary fees to pad their bottom line and, in some cases, use them as a way to lower fares to make their flights look more appealing. There are some things you can do to lower the cost of flying.

Be flexible.

If your travel plans can be a little more flexible you are going to be able to get better deals. This means not flying on Monday, Friday or Sunday. The more affordable flights are available mid-week or in the early morning or really late at night – even red eye flights.

Book early.

In the past, you could get the best prices about 30 days out from your flight. Those days are gone, though. Airlines start managing fares about three months out, which is a great time to start looking for your flights.

Carry on your bags.

Most airlines still allow you to bring carry-on luggage free of charge. Check the policy for your airline, and if this is the case, make sure your bag fits the requirements. In the past airlines were less concerned with specific size requirements, but they are getting more and more strict and often require passengers to test questionably-sized bags before getting on board to ensure they meet the specified measurements.

Weigh your checked luggage.

Some airlines have changed the weight requirements for checked luggage, so make sure you have checked your airline’s weight limits and used a luggage scale to weigh your bag BEFORE heading to the airport. Make sure you bring a scale with you on your trip, since souvenirs can push bags over the maximum weight limit. Overweight baggage fees can add up big time, and they can be especially painful for overseas flights.

Where will you be taking your next trip?

April 29th, 2014

Tips for Memorial Day Camping

Memorial Day weekend is just a month away and, for many, marks the front door to summer. With a three-day weekend available, a camping trip is a great solution for getting away without spending a fortune. However, if you’re considering this, you aren’t the only one. Here are some tips if you want to go camping over Memorial Day weekend.

Plan ahead

Establish which campsite you want to visit and contact them again to see if you need to reserve a spot. It’s a huge camping weekend and there will be many people out. You don’t want to wait too long and show up with no place to put your tent.

Stock up on gear

If you don’t want to purchase your own camping gear, ask around of your friends and family to see if there’s some you can borrow.

Take it to the next level

Consider learning a new skill during your trip, like cycling, rock climbing or kayaking.

Be prepared for all weather

You never know what kind of weather will crop up, although in some parts of the country the weather is more predictable than others. Make sure each person is prepared for both hot and cool weather and bring extra garbage bags in the tents to bring your gear back to the car in a downpour.

Know the rules of the campground

Get a copy of the campground rules and keep in mind that behaviors like littering, playing loud music, or getting rowdy can get you kicked out of the campground.

March 4th, 2014

How to Outsmart Pickpockets

How to Outsmart PickpocketsWhile it may be hard to believe with so many of us buried under the snow, summer really is just a few short months away, and it stands to reason that spring will EVENTUALLY arrive (it is March, after all). Next month begins shoulder season in Europe and the number of visitors will rapidly grow until it reaches the high season in mid-June. While Americans are typically safe from violent crimes, they are very susceptible to pickpocketing. And is it any surprise, really? Americans arrive in Europe jetlagged, loaded down with valuables, and in many cases clad in Tommy Bahama and white sneakers. (You know it’s true!) If you wore a petty thief in Europe, you would probably target Americans, too!

However, there are things you can do to minimize your risk of falling victim to purse-snatching or pickpocketing.

Be prepared. Don’t bring unnecessary valuables with you, and consider getting theft insurance for expensive electronics. Make sure you back up photos frequently (I would suggest backing them up to Dropbox or another location online) and keep your items in an anti-theft bag from PacSafe. Make photocopies of your passport, tickets and itinerary in case you are robbed.

Stay aware of your surroundings and who is around you, especially at crowded tourist sites, and also avoid putting yourself in risky situations.

Wear a money belt. Keep your cash, credit cards and passport in a money belt under your clothing at all times when you’re out and about. When I was at the final destination of a month-long backpacking trip in Europe, my bags were stolen from the room in my hostel. I literally lost everything…except for my travel documents. As painful as the situation was, it could have been way worse if I hadn’t been prepared for the worst – just in case.

Secure your bag. When we sit down at a restaurant, we often put our bags at our feet…and forget about them for a little while. It would be easy for a thief to discreetly swipe your bag without you ever noticing. Reduce the risk of this happening by using a PacSafe WrapSafe Secure Cable Lock.

December 10th, 2013

How to Avoid Looking Like a Tourist

communicating in a foreign country

Learn a few basic words in the language.

Have you ever noticed how many negative connotations are associated with the word “tourist”? Having lived in Florida for years, one can’t help but notice the influx of “snowbirds” during the winter months. While there are times you will, inevitably, stand out, there are some simple steps you can take to avoid looking like a tourist.

  1. Stay out of the way. Don’t stop in the middle of a crowded sidewalk to have a photo session. Instead find a bench of some other location out of the hustle and bustle to regroup.
  2. Dress the part. Do the research ahead of time to find out what kind of temperatures you’re going to be facing during your trip. You don’t want to show up in a shorts and t-shirt when everyone around you is dressed in jackets on a chilly evening.
  3. Put away the guide books. Nothing screams “tourist” more loudly (and alerts the pickpockets more quickly) than walking round with your nose in a guide book. Make yourself familiar with the maps and sights before you leave your hotel, or even over coffee at breakfast. Save notes and even take photos of the maps on your phone and hit the road. If pulling out the guide book becomes necessary, try to be discreet.
  4. Learn the language. No one expects you to be fluent, but try to learn a few words like “please” and “thank you.” You may even want to consider investing in an electronic translator so that you can communicate more easily.
  5. Don’t be an obnoxious tourist. Don’t go out and get sloppy and drunk. Don’t get loud and obnoxious in public. You know that you don’t typically like those kinds of people, so make it a point not to be one.

November 18th, 2013

4 Useful Tips for Safeguarding Your Items When Traveling

When traveling to another country, or even another state, protecting your belongings, like cameras, money and personal identification, should be your primary concern. Next time you travel, follow these tips so you can focus on enjoying the traveling experience, rather than filling out police reports for stolen items.

Money 
When traveling, take steps to prevent losing your money to a pickpocket or other thief. First, divide your money in several different places to ensure that a thief only gets part of your money if they are successful. Next, purchase a travel wallet that you can use for holding small quantities of cash, the money you will be using to pay for smaller items you don’t want to place on your credit card. Place your larger bills, identification and credit cards in a money belt under your clothing. In the event you are the victim of a pickpocket, you will only lose your small bills and not your credit cards or ID.

Storage
Place items of importance deep inside your luggage. Packing expensive items towards the top of your luggage makes it easy for potential thieves to quickly remove the item without anyone noticing. By placing it deep within your luggage, thieves won’t be able to access these more expensive items without drawing attention. Make sure any important items are placed in a small carry-on that could fit under your seat and not a larger carry-on that would go into the overhead bins. With limited space in overhead bins on airlines, many people are forced to check luggage unexpectedly. The smaller bag allows you to remove the important items before the flight attendant checks your luggage. Make sure the smaller bag is one that can safely fit underneath an airline seat.

Keep Items Close
When holding a camera bag or purse, keep the items close to you at all times. Do not set them on a bench or chair, even if you’re sitting or standing right next to them. When holding the strap of a bag, wrap the strap around your hands; don’t just hold it. This extra step makes it harder for a thief to tug the item, unexpectedly, from your grip.

Look Local
Do your research. Don’t just pay attention to the customs of the culture you’re visiting, but also how people dress and act in public spaces. Tourists often stand out, making them a prime target for pickpockets and thieves. While it’s not always possible to fully match your surroundings, do your best to blend in whenever possible. Blending goes beyond clothing and also takes into consideration your behavior. For example, instead of stopping in the middle of a busy sidewalk to find directions, find a bench or shop to go into to regroup or find your way. Keep the guidebooks and maps away whenever possible when in public. Plan your route and activities in your hotel room before you leave and put the information in your phone for later viewing if needed.

While these tips can help you safeguard your personal items while traveling, nothing replaces awareness. It’s easy to get distracted while seeing sites in a new city, but it’s important to enjoy the sites while staying aware of your surroundings. Combine this awareness with the tips above, and you will more likely come home with only positive memories to share with your friends and family.

Venera Glanville writes all about travel. Her recent work is on her journey traveling across Europe while working remotely and going to school online. Most recently, she has written on the Top 15 Accredited Schools Offering Online Masters Degrees.

May 3rd, 2013

10 Must-Have Items for Your Camping Trip

For families that are struggling to afford a trip overseas, camping while abroad is the perfect option. Whether you’re exploring the Yorkshire Dales or soaking up the rays of Lake Garda in northern Italy, camping is an easy way to enjoy every moment of your trip (without breaking the bank). Before you go, check off this packing list to ensure you don’t forget any outdoor essentials:

10 Must-Have Items for Camping Trips

1. & 2. Tent & Bedding

However obvious this may sound, a tent and proper bedding are essential to your comfort when sleeping under the stars. When investing in a tent, consider aspects such as size, weight, whether it is waterproof, and how it is assembled. If there aren’t many of you, a pop-up tent will do, but if you have a larger group, a sturdier tent with sections will probably be more useful (and help keep all of you sane)!

3. Medication

Fingers crossed you will have a great time, but in case you do get ill at all, always carry essential medications and materials that would usually be found in a basic first aid kit, such as plasters, bandages, and sterile gloves. Soap, antiseptic, and adhesive tape are also advisable to have on hand. As far as what instruments to take with you, scissors, tweezers, and a lighter are really handy to have for health reasons, as well as for any other odd jobs you may need to do during your trip.

4. Personal Hygiene

Whether you have power or not while camping, there probably won’t be enough sockets to go around. You can buy most grooming products in miniature bottles and cans, as well as DIY showers that don’t require a power source, so you can smell fresh(er) for your entire trip.

5. Clothes

Waterproofs, summer shorts, and thermals are all worth considering for your trip, as camping, wherever you are, is extremely unreliable weather-wise. Packing changes of clothes in carrier bags or plastic wrapping of some sort can save y0ur clothes from becoming damp. There’s really nothing better than being able to get out of a damp tent wearing clean, dry clothes.

6. Directional Tools

For any romantic wanders or family hikes, it is always safe to have a compass, map, or some form of GPS with you. These range in price, and depending on your confidence with being one with the outdoors, may not mean adding many more items to your ever-expanding luggage.

7. Water

Whether you need to boil water to cook your evening meal, enjoy a hot chocolate under the stars, or take a warm shower, water is essential for your trip.  Stock up on large storage containers for easier usage and transportation.

8. Tool Kit

These come in handy for putting together tents, as well as mending emergency bbqs, getting stuck in a muddy field, or trying to adjust the gas cylinder or electrical sources. Don’t think you’re cutting corners by leaving these bits at home. They may be a bit bulky to travel with, but when the tent starts to lean to far to the left, you will have everything you need to rectify it.

9. Furniture

Another home comfort that is readily available and inexpensive — but makes a huge difference when you’ve had a hard day hiking — is to sit in a real chair, snuggle up with a blanket, and toast marshmallows over the fire (rather than getting cold and muddy sitting on the  ground).

10. Food and Cooking Supplies

Just because you’re camping doesn’t mean you should sacrifice good quality food. With a stove, grill, or smoker, you can cook anything you fancy. Be sure to check the regulations of your camping site in case you are not allowed to store gas canisters to cook with — so you’re not left with beans on toast for your entire holiday!

 

This article was written by Kathryn Thompson, a freelance writer, mum to three young daughters, and very happy camper.

 

Image source: trailhikers.tumblr.com

April 16th, 2013

How to Eat for Less While Traveling Abroad

eating abroad for less

Budgeting for the cost of food on your upcoming trip abroad may seem like a hassle, but if you add up all the meals and snacks, the total can take a serious bite out of your spending money. If you want to save money when you go on vacation without cutting out the fun, here are some great tips on how to eat for less.

 

Cook Your Own

Cooking your own meals is the most obvious solution for anyone who wants to save money on food when they go abroad. By going to a local market and picking up lots of fresh ingredients, you can cook up your own meals and save a fortune on restaurant bills. For this you will need to book accommodation with a kitchen, and you should also make sure you have a fridge to store your food.

 

Take a Food Cooler

If you cook your own food but want to eat out during day trips, one thing you should take along is a cooler. You can then load it up with sandwiches and drinks before you go to the beach or elsewhere, and you won’t have to spend your money eating out in a restaurant or buying snacks during the day.

 

Always Be on the Lookout for Offers

Always keep an eye out for 2-for-1 deals and all-you-can-eat offers to save on your meals. You should also sign up for deal sites, like Groupon, for the region you are travelling to, and some places may even provide discounts for students or pensioners, so always keep this in mind.

 

Eat a Big Lunch

One surefire way to eat well in restaurants while saving money is to have a big lunch. Many restaurants put on lunchtime deals to attract more customers, so fill up on the same food for less during the day and then have a light meal in the evening.

 

Avoid the Hotel Restaurant

One restaurant that you should probably avoid if you want to save money on food is the hotel restaurant, which is notorious for pushing up prices. This is especially true for the hotel breakfast, which can often cost you a lot more than going to a nearby café. So if you want to eat out, get out and enjoy some of the local restaurants where you can eat just as well, and usually better, for less.

 

Carry Snacks and Drinks

People often only think about meals when they plan their food budget, but the cost of snacks and drinks can quickly add up, especially if you are in an area frequented by tourists. To save money, stock up on snacks like cereal bars and dried fruit, and take a water bottle with you that you can fill up when it is empty. If you are going somewhere where the water quality is questionable, buy a bottle with a filter and save a small fortune on drinks.

 

Ask the Locals

Perhaps the best way to eat well for less while abroad is to ask the locals for establishments that they recommend. Restaurants frequented by tourists often charge a premium, so do some detective work and find out about the secret places that the tourists have yet to discover, and you will eat just as well, or better, for less.

 

Eat Well and Pay Less

There is no need to stretch your food budget when you go on holiday. Food and drink expenses can add up significantly over the course of a week or two, so follow the tips above to reduce the amount you spend on your meals, and use the money you save to have an even better time on your holiday.

 

Jodie Bishop is a travel consultant and avid traveler herself. She enjoys sharing her experiences and tips through blogging and her articles mainly appear on travel blogs. Visit www.travelstart.co.za for destination ideas.

March 6th, 2013

Fun in the Sun: Pensacola on a Dime

Every year, my family travels to Northwest Florida, home to the “World’s Whitest Beaches.” While we move around from place to place, we always make a stop in Pensacola Beach. Although it may resemble an upscale beach town, Pensacola offers a number of unique travel treasures that are quite affordable — or free!

pensacola beach

Beaches
With snow white sand and water so clear you’ll think you’re at the pool, the beaches are a can’t-miss! (And hey, it’s free, right?) Lounge sandside in the heart of Pensacola Beach to stay in on the action, or head east onto Santa Rosa Island to have a stretch all to yourself. Herons, sand crabs, stingrays, dolphins, and even sharks often make appearances, so keep a lookout!

Historic Pensacola
Take the toll bridge over to mainland Pensacola and explore Historic Pensacola. Tour Historic Pensacola Village for less than $10, or head to Pensacola’s French Quarter — the Seville Historic District — to the marina to watch the yachts come and go.

Naval Air Station Pensacola
While on the mainland, head to the Naval Air Station Pensacola — home of the Blue Angels! Take the 177 steps to the top of Pensacola Lighthouse, or take in a Blue Angels practice session for free! The National Naval Aviation Museum can also be toured for free. Here you can transcend time andwalk amongst a number of restored aircrafts (and even sit in some!), tour a town set during WWII, and purchase souvenirs from the gift shop.

Fort Pickens
Back on the beach, Fort Pickens offers another way to step back in time — this time back to the Civil War. Built in the early 1800s, this historic structure even once housed Apache Indian leader, Geronimo. Take a self-guided tour (you guessed it) for free!

pensacola skywheel

360 Pensacola Beach
While you may be flying high from watching the Blue Angels, 360 Pensacola Beach is the ultimate way to view the beach from above! Enjoy the view in a regular, air conditioned gondola, or invest in VIP treatment and enjoy leather bucket seats and television in a glass-bottom gondola!

TIP: We kept an eye on daily deal sites like Groupon and Living Social in the months leading up to our trip and got not only our 360 Pensacola tickets half off, but also great deals on food and drink at local restaurants!

February 26th, 2013

How to Save Money & Minimize Costs When Traveling Abroad

We all know there’s a lot to do before any trip, but it’s a whole different ballgame when you’re headed abroad! Sure, you need to get your passport in order and make sure to show up at the airport earlier than normal. But the decisions that you make leading up to an international trip can either save or cost you hundreds of dollars.

How to save money and minimize costs while traveling abroad!

Most Common Mistakes

For starters, most people aren’t aware that they might incur international usage fees when booking their travel accommodations. The odds are, you’re going to do so with a credit card, and more than 90% of credit cards assess surcharges for transactions made through foreign-based merchants. In other words, if you use the wrong card, you could be unnecessarily inflating the cost of your trip by 2-4%.

In addition, international travelers commonly exchange their dollars for Euros, Yen, etc., at a local bank or Travelex kiosk before they embark on their journey. Big mistake.  On average, Visa and MasterCard’s exchange rates are 8% lower than those banks charge and 16% lower than Travelex rates.  Not only that, but you also benefit from automatic conversion at the point of sale, when you use a credit card or debit card on the Visa or MasterCard network to handle spending related to an international trip. That means you don’t have to carry a bunch of cash around and will be less of a target for pickpockets.

Easy Fee Fixes

With that in mind, you should make sure to do the following before any international trip:

  • Open a no foreign transaction fee credit card: You’ll want to use a credit card to make the majority of the purchases related to a trip abroad, in order to benefit from the low exchange rates and superior fraud protection. You just need to make sure to find a card that doesn’t charge for foreign usage before booking anything. Such cards are becoming more common -– neither Capital One nor Discover charges foreign fees on any of their cards –- so your search shouldn’t be too involved.
  • Find a debit card with minimal international ATM fees: You won’t be able to use plastic everywhere you go abroad, so it’s a good idea to supplement your spending power with a low-fee debit card that will enable you to access cash on an ad hoc basis.
  • Tell the issuers that you’re leaving: Card issuers will put a freeze on your account if they see international transactions being made without notice. That’s a hassle anyone would rather avoid, so make sure to say goodbye before leaving for your trip.

More Ways to Save

The potential for unnecessary costs don’t end when you leave for your new destination. The biggest thing to watch out for when in a foreign country is what’s known as dynamic currency conversion. That’s when foreign merchants offer to convert purchase totals into U.S. dollars in order to charge unfavorable exchange rates and pad their pockets. It can be hard to tell whether such an offer is a money-making scheme or pure kindness, so just make it a policy to only sign receipts with costs expressed in the local currency. If you have a hard time converting currency in your head, just bring a cell phone or pocket-size calculator with you.

Finally, it’s important to note that even if you do everything right before and during a trip, you could still wind up with inflated costs if you don’t pay off what you owe quickly enough. If you won’t be able to do so within the month, you may want to consider transferring your debt to a balance transfer credit card. People with excellent credit (roughly half of all consumers) can currently score a 0% rate for 15 months without paying any annual or balance transfer fees. That alone could add hundreds to your overall savings on these trips!

This guest post comes from our friends at Card Hub, a leading website where consumers can compare and apply for credit cards that don’t charge international fees.

 

Image source: runawayjane.com