yosemitefalls_smallIt’s the first year that I actually have Memorial Day off since I work for a smaller business. My husband got Friday off too though so I decided to take my floating personal day (cause no one has to work on their birthday) early and have a 4 day weekend too! What better way to celebrate than to check out some national parks?

Admittedly I haven’t really visited a lot of national parks. From LA I am within a day’s drive of quite a few of them actually. Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon, and Zion are just a few examples. This weekend wasn’t the best time to go as it was busy everywhere, but what’s a working woman to do? I don’t have a lot of 3 day weekends! It’s also not the best time to try to be budget friendly as we didn’t plan this vacation far enough in advance and it wouldn’t matter because everything is pricier. I still tried my best though!

The Plan
I had 4 days to go wherever I want. Of course I want to maximize my time but relax at the same time. We headed out Friday morning to Yosemite first since it’s farther away. Then on Saturday afternoon we headed down to Sequoia. Monday we headed home in the afternoon after one leisurely late breakfast. We did our due diligence by researching things we want to do, and also buying any tickets we needed before we go. Yosemite was absolutely insane and Sequoia was pretty busy too. We lucked out on finding parking spots before they closed off the lots but it was still tough getting through all the people. Apparently there was one distraught woman who was hitting the shuttle bus at Yosemite because the bus driver wouldn’t let her get on the crowded bus.

Food Stuffs
Grand Canyon was such a beautiful place to visit, but the food was pretty horrible. It’s pretty much the same thing for all of these places. It was crowded, touristy, overpriced food all around. Instead of stocking up at an overpriced last stop shop at the parks, we did some grocery shopping and hauled it there. This saved us when we didn’t have time to go find food at Sequoia when we were trying to make a cave tour reservation. It wasn’t real food, but it was something to fill our tummies until we could get somewhere else.

Places to Sleep
This could’ve been the biggest money saver. We could’ve camped at Yosemite for $12 a night. Well, we stayed in hotels. Definitely more than I would like to spend but it’s worth it for me! After running around all day I definitely appreciated my comforts even more. A good night of rest was essential to keep my energy up through the busy weekend. For three nights of hotel stay we’re at about $450 because of the holiday weekend. It’s pretty cold in Yosemite and Sequoia at lows of 30 degrees though so there’s no way I would even consider camping. The hotel at Yosemite is much pricier though so we decided to only stay one night there at least. At both parks we ended up staying about an hour outside of the parks to save a bit of mula too. It was insanely expensive closer to the park! That meant we had to drive quite a bit to get to where we wanted to go though.

Year Pass for all National Parks
It’s $30 per park for a pass that’s valid for 7 days. For 2 parks that’s $60 already. Luckily my husband went on an all guys road trip to Zion a week ago and had the foresight to spring for the $80 year pass! It’s unlimited to any national park whereas the week pass is only to that specific park. His friends chipped in $20 so the price of this pass is already at $60 for us. Of course to take full advantage of this we’re going to try to use it at other parks too.

 

Overall this was a decently pricey trip because of the hotel accommodations. It was pretty insane at Yosemite and it kinda felt like home with crazy drivers there! You’d think on a national holiday like Memorial weekend that people would be nicer, but alas no. I still had a great time though and we made the best of it. Today we were debating on going back to Sequoia in the morning but with the crazy winding roads and how tired we are of crazy people, we just took our time to get home. It’s good to be home for sure!

What did you do for this Memorial Weekend?


 Photo Credit: howuch via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: howuch via Compfight cc

Flying during wintertime isn’t always the most ideal time as weather delays are pretty likely to happen. When it comes to visiting family though sometimes there really isn’t a choice since I have family all over the US! Usually I can snag a non-stop flight and not have to worry about making a connection. Just this past December though flights were pretty pricey and I decided to make one way a one-stop flight to save a bit of mula. I wish I hadn’t done that but I also could’ve prepared myself better for a possible overnight stay in a city not of my choice.

Non-stop flights are definitely going to be my choice to save on hassle and time. It’ll cost more for sure, but after a bad experience then sometimes it’s worth it! After a nice holiday vacation spent with family I was flying back to LA with one stop. There was some lovely storm weather that made us miss our connection.

Instead of waiting in the customer service line for an hour we booked a hotel and got out of the airport for a bit. Luckily before our first flight had left we had the foresight to see if customer service could save us a spot on the first flight out in the morning just in case we missed the connection. We froze our butts off outside, got ripped off by a cabbie, 4 hours of sleep, and were back at the airport early the next day! I ended up taking the day off from work since I could barely function.

It was not the best experience ever but we didn’t just let it sit there. We contacted the airline’s customer support to see what they could do. Luckily we got vouchers for $200 each at least! Takes the sting out of losing all the mula when we were trying to save mula! Next time we’ll hopefully play it smarter!

Plan ahead for the worst
I’m really glad we have the savings to cover the amount of money we ended up spending. It was stressful enough to be stranded! One thing is to have enough cash on hand in case its needed for times like this. Another is to make sure we pack all our essentials into the carry on bags. We were lucky enough to have jackets on us, but we still weren’t dressed for the 0 degree weather in Denver!

Always ask if there’s anything the airline can do
Many airlines don’t do anything for customers if weather causes problems. In our case the weather was the primary issue, but also because our first flight was delayed because it had been held for other passengers. We also technically were able to make the flight, if all the roller bags on our flight hadn’t been gate-checked because the plane was too small. I did make it to the gate, but they closed the door in front of me and wouldn’t hold the plane for my husband who was waiting for our bag. Always ask to see if there’s anything that can be done because if you don’t ask then you definitely don’t get anything.

Spring for non-stop
I was trying to save money but after everything I lost money! It’s hard to predict when flights will be delayed but I’m going to budget in the extra money for a non-stop flight to save me from getting white hairs.

 

Did you ever try to save money on something and ended up paying more?

 


Photo Credit: _christine via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: _christine via Compfight cc

It’s halfway through January and a good portion of the my year has already been booked in terms of large events! Mostly that’s in terms of vacations and weddings. All the big stuff that I need to really plan for in a year to make sure I’m covered in terms of travel, gifts, lodging, and of course any little side parties that come along with those big events! It’s pretty crazy how weddings and travel can really determine what your year will look like in terms of where you should be putting money towards.

I’ve got a lot to consider and plan for and I have to make sure I have enough mula set aside for all of these. So far I’ve got a possible mini vacation and three weddings for this year. All three weddings are with family or good friends so I’m definitely going to all of them. The first one I happen to be the matron of honor in and will be planning a bridal shower and bacholorette also. Luckily it’s at least in town but my house will be taken over by family for sure. The other two are out of town so I’ll need to account for travel, lodging, and any possible extra travel for the bacholorettes. The mini vacation isn’t as big as it’s within driving distance.

Time for me to set aside a budget for this and see what I can afford (or what I would like to afford!). It’ll be good times to look forward to and being able to know about this ahead of time will lessen the impact.

Book travel early
Such a must when it comes to flying. I’ve always booked at least 2.5 months early to make sure I get the best possible rates. Of course it’s always a gamble and prices could drop (and they have) after I buy a ticket, but it’ll always be lower than getting it right before a trip. You’ll always pay the price if you wait too long to buy plane tickets.

Budgeting for gifts, spending money, and surprises
It’s going to be a pricey year in terms of gifts, bridal showers, and bacholorette parties! After getting married I know how much weddings cost and I certainly spent a good amount on mine. With weddings of family and good friends I’ll need to account for a higher budget too. I might as well have a good time too so throw in some spending money to pad the budget a bit and there I go.

Know when to say no
It’s important for me to be there when people important to me are getting married but I don’t have to say yes if it’s not possible. I’ve definitely declined many times before when I didn’t think I could financially make it even for family or other good friends. Just being I get an invite doesn’t mean I have to say yes. If I’m able I’ll send a small gift but otherwise travel and lodging can cost too much.

Making it a mini-vacation
Anytime there’s an opportunity for travel then it’s also possible to create a mini-vacation. Work trips are great because you can stay a few extra days after or before possibly. Weddings are a great opportunity to stay longer in one place. If it’s a destination wedding then it’s already a vacation! Have to pay for the travel anyway so why not stay longer?

 

It’s going to be a great 2015 and I’m really looking forward to everything. There will surely be a lot more events added to my calendar (I would hope) but this is a pretty good start.

What big events are you planning ahead for in 2015?


Santorini, Greece

Santorini, Greece

I’ve traipsed my way through a good 7 different cities in the past 2 weeks and while I’m out some money, I’m also well rested and my legs got some good toning up. As vacations do it flew by extremely fast and before I knew it I was on the plane flying back home. We flew out to Rome, Italy 2.5 weeks ago, hopped on the cruise ship and went to 6 different places. Crete, Mykonos, Ephesus, Athens, Santorini, and Katakolon! It was a big whirlwind and each day was a bit crazy but it was a nice way to see a lot without too much hassle.
This was actually the second cruise I’ve been on and there are things I learned the first time around to save money this time. I love cruises because they are all inclusive room and board, but at the same time I dislike how almost everything but the basics is an additional fee. We didn’t bother with modern niceties like internet because it was $25 a day! Yep, that’s a day. Not the entire trip. My internet bill for a month is about that much. That’s just one example. It’s the worst part about being on a cruise when they are trying to sell you things every single minute you’re on there, but if you know how to avoid it then the cruise experience is still pretty wonderful. We also made sure to stay a few extra days at our end port of Rome so that we can enjoy vacation sans cruise ship too!
Here’s a quick general cost breakdown of the entire trip to see how much we spent for both of us
$2600 for the 9 day Mediterranean cruise (for the third option up room-wise)
$2600 for round trip airfare plus 4 nights of hotel in Rome (we bundled this through Expedia to get cashback and basically the hotels were free after the bundling)
$1400 for spending money for food, gifts, fees and transportation

We also had $175 of onboard credit to use which we put toward an excursions we wanted. That’s a total of about $6600 that we spent on a two week honeymoon! There are certainly areas we could have spent less, and many many areas we saved money on.

Spending a little more for our honeymoon
We definitely could have spent less on the cruise itself with a lower cost room. The lowest priced room is small without any windows in the interior of the ship. We decided for our honeymoon to get one on the outside with a large round window to enjoy the view. Cost more but we figure for our honeymoon we could do it once.

Beware of buying extras on the ship
Going on a cruise with the mindset that nothing is free will help keep your money in your wallet. Everything costs something even if you “win” a prize. We didn’t spend any extra money on anything on the ship except for what was already included in the overall price. This means internet, drinks like alcohol and soda, special dining restaurants, bingo, casino, algae detoxifying cleanse, fitness classes, photos and more and more. The first day I had actually won a body composition test to tell me my body fat percentage and what I could do to work it off. After a long session I was told I needed to also detoxify my body and was presented with a special $300 algae cleanse. On sale of course at a special price only available on the ship.

Excursions can be a double-edged sword
We did book 2 excursions on the ship to use our on board credit. If we wanted to really save money we should’ve booked it off the ship with other companies. We chose the two that would’ve been more complicated to do so because of multiple destinations and far locations to the port. They are easy to take but what ends up happening is that you get taken to special shopping areas where prices are jacked up just for tourists. In Turkey we were even taken to a carpet presentation to buy hand-made Turkish carpets for thousands of dollars. Luckily we look young and were not approached by any salespeople.

Look straight ahead and walk quickly
While I loved being able to to visit so many places in a short span of time, it also meant I ended up in very touristy areas. The locals are used to this and will spend all their time trying to sell you their wares. They’re pretty aggressive and will be yelling at you to come in and some will even touch you. If you don’t want to buy anything then don’t even look around because that’s an invitation for several people to converge on you. If you wanna spend money them let them fight over you! Otherwise it can be a nuisance to have people trying to sell you things all the time.

Taking advantage of public transportation and other alternatives
The easiest thing to do of course is to hail a cab and pay obscene amounts of money for them to shuttle us around for half an hour. In LA cabbies are the best option if you don’t have a nice friend to bring you to the airport. Luckily in Europe they have great public transportation and we took full advantage of that to save some mula. We took the trains a lot to get from the airport and to ports. One thing I did wish I spent more money on was to get on the express train so we wouldn’t have to deal with our luggage and a lot of people.

In Santorini there were two options to get from the port to the main city. 5 euros for a donkey ride or a cable car. As much as I wanted to try the donkey ride I didn’t want to burn my clothes afterwards. I took the cable car.

 

This was most likely our last big trip for a while and we certainly tried out best to enjoy it while not spending all of our money! We had a wonderful time with what we had already paid for. The ships already have a ton of free activities that we took full advantage of. The first day we walked round and poked in every nook and cranny. There was mini-golf, rock climbing wall, billiards, shuffleboard, jacuzzis, pools, soccer, basketball, shows, a gym, buffets and nice dinnertime dining. There’s more but I won’t bother listing it all out. Our few days in Rome after the cruise was also amazing and it was great do things on our own schedule too.

What’s the biggest vacation trip you’ve ever done and how did you save money on it?


Photo Credit: ecstaticist via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: ecstaticist via Compfight cc

It’s the middle of September and I can’t believe how fast the year has gone by. Months ago we my husband and I booked our honeymoon and now it’s almost here! We’re extremely excited to take some time off from our busy life every since we got engaged. It’ll be our last chance to really take a nice long vacation out of the country as we’re probably going to switch tracks soon and start prepping for a family. Our last hoorah before we get entirely tied down! We really wanted to do something nice, but of course try not to spend too much money on it since we have other goals we want to hit. We’ll be going on a lovely 9 day cruise to the Greek Isles, Turkey, ending out trip with a few days in Rome.

All inclusive

If you have never been on a cruise before then you really need to try it! Cruises are all inclusive which means that you don’t need to pay for any of your meals on board. There is usually one or two fancy restaurants that are extra, but all food buffet style and in the dining room are inclusive. It’s basically a big hotel that also feeds you day and night. There are a ton of extras you can definitely shell out for, but all the basics of a vacation are in the price already. There are tons of free activities you can do and of course sunbathing on the deck is absolutely free!

Getting a nicer room but with a lower end cruise company

The only other cruise we have been on was a Carnival cruise. It’s the lowest priced cruise company but we still had a good time on it. Other people told us that for our honeymoon we should definitely try a nicer cruise company like Princess. We went with Royal Caribbean so that we could book a nicer room that is still lower than the price of Princess. We also heard that it was mostly older people cruising on Princess. Royal Caribbean usually attracts more people of our age.

Giving ourselves a budget

We’re going to try to set ourselves a budget for every single day and try not to go over it. We’ll most likely be more lax than usual though because it’s not easy to get to Europe. Don’t want to be so frugal that I end up not getting something I really want! Still we’re going to try to stick to that budget!

Researching and planning out some days

There are some ports where we can simply walk around and others where we would need to join a tour or rent a taxi to get somewhere further inland. The cruise does offer tours but they can be pretty pricey. We might end up doing just one though if it happens to be one we really really want to go to. Most people will say that I would be wasting my money by doing so, but I do have on-board credit that I most likely won’t use for other items. Plus if it makes it much easier for one day to get to where I want to be then I’m not going to miss that $100.

 

Only a few more weeks to go until I set off on my cruise! Pretty darn excited!

What tips do you have for saving money on a cruise?