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Do People still use Travel Agents?

  Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs via Compfight cc

It’s been some time since I got married and it’s about time we started planning for our honeymoon! We’ve been batting around honeymoon ideas for more than a year and we finally decided to go on a cruise in the Mediterranean and then stay a few nights somewhere afterwards. My in-laws are experts at cruising and go once a year so when they heard that we wanted a honeymoon cruise they recommended that we use their travel agent. It seems pretty old fashioned at first to us because now you can find your own vacations online easily. Most people our own age of course just book everything online themselves and travel agents are generally used by older people. I actually thought that it was more for people who couldn’t really find their own bookings online. Not quite so. It turns out that going through a travel agent can still be useful!

We had a nice email exchange with our travel agent and she’s been helpful in many ways. Eventually we booked a cruise with her but did our online booking for tickets and hotel. Hopefully it’ll save us more money in the end to use a travel agent than not! We almost canceled our booking when we found that Travelocity was offering a $200 extra shipboard credit. In the end though we decided to not cancel with her and take our chances. We already have $175 shipboard credit and having more might mean that we wouldn’t use it all.

In what ways can a travel agent be better than doing your own online booking?

Insider deals
I’m not sure if airfare and hotels are better to be booked by a travel agent but cruises seem to be a good thing. Most travel agents will keep track of the best cruise deals that are out there and they will know about all the cruise companies. Some also have inside deals with the cruise companies if you have a large group. It’s only the two of us for this so we were only able to get a deal that is being advertised online though.

Price adjustments
Once you book a cruise online usually there’s only a small window of time to get a price adjustment if the cost drops. We’re booking our cruise far in advance so the likelihood of it dropping anytime soon is pretty slim. Booking through a travel agent though will allow you to make price adjustments for much longer. The time period is basically up to the time of our cruise I believe. We could’ve gotten a $200 shipboard credit instead, but through Travelocity we couldn’t get any price adjustments. We’d certainly be kicking ourselves if the price dropped and we couldn’t save some money!

Experts in travel
Obviously travel agents work in the industry and they have to know their stuff to earn money. They can tell you what a good deal is and if a trip is worth it. They have tons of knowledge that we just don’t have. Many of them also travel a good amount and can tell you from personal experience the good and bad. Since we’re traveling to Europe and we don’t know much about traveling there a travel agent can help give us some tips and knowledge.

Someone to bat for you
When things go wrong then you have someone on your side trying to make things right. Travel agents do get commission from your booking so they have more interest in helping you. Anybody would certainly drop a bad travel agent that doesn’t help them when trouble surfaces. This can of course save you time, worry, and possibly money when it comes to cancellations.

 

I feels a bit odd to be using a travel agent because it seems so old school! I remember being pretty young and going to the local travel agent so that my mother could book airfare to California. Now she books her own airfare online herself actually. We’re spending a good amount of money on our honeymoon though so I think having a travel agent in this case might help us in the end and give us more peace of mind.

Do you use a travel agent for any of your vacations?

City of Angels vs the Emerald City (aka Seattle)

Photo Credit: Surrealize via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Surrealize via Compfight cc

I’m back! I enjoyed a lovely few days with my family eating a lot, relaxing, playing with my nieces, and staying indoors due to Seattle’s infamous rainy weather. It’s always sad to leave and say goodbye, but of course I love being able to sleep in my own bed and be at home. Both Los Angeles and Seattle are considered big cities that are doing their best to be green. Seattle is beautiful with all its lush greenery. Thus the nickname Emerald city. The air up there is definitely a lot cleaner and it always smells fresh. They certainly do have a lot more trees up there! I love both cities for different things, but let’s do a quick comparison.

Recycling
The recycling services for both cities are pretty much on par. You can recycle a wide variety of items and it’s pretty easy to do so. Seattle though also has a yard waste and compost service that Los Angeles doesn’t have! Anything organic is allowed in their brown bins and they are trucked off to be composted! Since its an industrial large scale composter even bones and meat are allowed to be put in the brown bin. Traditional small scale composting done in your backward doesn’t generate enough heat to break down hard items like bones. Meat is also a problem because it attracts pests.

Transportation
Everyone drives much slower in Seattle than in Los Angeles! The carpool lanes are only bound by a solid white line and you can merge in or out at any point. Buses are also widely available and very convenient. In downtown all the buses are free to use if you stay in the area. I’ve ridden the commuter buses from the suburbs to downtown and they are very efficient. It would take just as much time to drive and find parking than it would to take a bus downtown. Buses in Los Angeles can be old and dirty a lot of times. People in Seattle get to ride newer buses that are always clean.

Food
Los Angeles definitely has more diversity and options that Seattle in this regard. Seattle has a strong local food and eco friendly seafood movement, but lacks in ethnic diversity. There is still a Ranch 99 but only a few decent Chinese restaurants. The same for other ethnic foods.

Weather
If I had a choice I would be in Seattle for the spring and summer, then Los Angeles for the fall and winter. It does rain a lot in Seattle but mostly in the fall and winter. Spring and summer are absolutely gorgeous with all the greenery and the temperature doesn’t get as hot as LA. Here it’s 72 degrees most of the year, but it can get pretty blistering hot in the summer.

 

I love going to Seattle to visit my sister and her family. I try to go as often as I can but so far it’s only once a year. My nieces are both adorable and growing up so fast! In terms of being green both cities offer a lot of options for their residents to be green, but I think Seattle does better in the actual act of it. People in Seattle have much better access to unspoiled nature and are more connected to it. You can drive 20 minutes away from the suburb and find yourself on an amazing trail that takes you to a lake hidden away. In LA any hiking trails are overrun with people and dogs and you have to drive very far to really see unspoiled nature.

The cost of living is of course much less in Seattle also. Houses are cheaper and even items at Costco can be less than buying it here! If I had my way I would love to live for half the year in Seattle and the other half in LA. That’s not really financially feasible though so I guess I will choose to remain in LA!

Have you ever been to Seattle or lived there? What do you love about the Emerald city?

Chilling out at the Airport

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This definitely isn’t one of my favorite things to do. It’s always crowded, people are always grumpy, and going through security is like drawing the lottery but you don’t win anything. You might “win” because you don’t have to go through the radiation machine, but then you can also get selected for the full pat down. Either way not a fun experience. Flying is the fastest way to get anywhere right now though so I guess we will all have to go through the airport at some point.

Being at the airport is not really fun so why did I end up here 3 hours early? My husband dropped me off being going to work since it’s on his way anyway. It saves us about $25 for the taxi fare if I decided I couldn’t handle the airport for so long. It’s also a lot more pleasant to be dropped off by my husband than some surly taxi guy. I wish that people were allowed to still go to the gate to greet and drop off people. Those were such sweet times when you knew you would see your loved ones right away.

I’ve got lots of time now before boarding my plane. What to do until then? I brought my iPad along so I can write this blog post, and of course I have my phone too.

Get some exercise and window shop
I’m at a small terminal that doesn’t have any stores to look at but I know the larger ones do have a shopping area usually. There’s a Hudson but I don’t particularly feel like looking at touristy goods and books right now. You can always walk around and check out your entire terminal!

Look at all your food options
Since I have plenty of time I can look at every option I have to see what’s best for lunch. Slim pickings here but I have a Starbucks, Burger King, La Brea bakery stand and Gladstone’s. I really should have brought my own sandwich with me but I didn’t think of that so I’ll probably end up with one from La Brea. Gladstone’s doesn’t even show their prices on the outside menu which means they are definitely overcharging.

People watching
Bought myself some tea and parked myself near the line at Starbucks. If you’re a people watcher then the airport is great for this! There are so many different kinds of people here coming through. I think being able to hear people order at Starbucks is interesting too. It always sounds like a different language.

Sometime later this day I’ll finally be in Seattle! I had planned to take public transportation to my sister’s but she’s overruled me and picking me up. She used that tone that meant no discussions allowed. Looking forward to seeing my family! My luggage will be a lot lighter once I empty it of gifts.
What do you do to kill time at the airport?

We’re going on a day-trip!

Photo Credit: osvaldoeaf via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: osvaldoeaf via Compfight cc

Happy friday! I’m looking forward to the weekend when we’re going to take a day trip down to San Diego! Going to visit my husband’s best friend and his family. They just had a little baby girl and we’re both excited to see how she is and her older brother. Of course how his best friend and wife are doing too! I love day trips because they’re like a mini vacation and they don’t cost very much. Usually the highest cost is from gas. Luckily we have a Prius so it won’t be that bad.

We’re mostly going to be just catching up on this one. About 2 hours to drive down there, hang out and get some food together, then drive back up to Los Angeles in the late afternoon. San Diego is the perfect distance away for a good day trip. The scenery entirely changes and you feel like you’re somewhere else. It would be nice if we could spend more time there, but then we would have to think of lodging and it would take up our entire weekend.

On short trips there’s a few things we do to save money and make it as efficient as possible.

Take the most fuel efficient car
Common sense of course to take the car that doesn’t guzzle as much gas. The whole trip will end up taking 4-5 hours round trip to drive, plus you need to think of all the possible driving when you get there. My husband filled up the Prius today so we definitely have enough to get us there and back. This also means we won’t have to find a random gas station along the way. Most likely we would end up paying more for gas!

Keep it to places that you can drive to in about 2 or 3 hours
It’s a day trip so you don’t want to be driving the entire day! I find that 2 or 3 hours away makes it feel enough like you’re getting away for a little bit, but it won’t take you forever to get there so you can enjoy it.

Do research before you get there
We like to know a few places to go for food and fun before we get there. This way we won’t be wandering around not knowing where to go and also end up eating at a restaurant that isn’t good. Been through that experience where you don’t know where to eat and are so hungry you just go to the closest place. Also, it would be horrible if you drove there for something specific and found out it was closed!

Pack some snacks and water
It’s a short amount of time to drive, but bringing your own snacks and water can save you some money. You won’t be tempted to stop by a gas station to buy junk food.

What will you be up this weekend?

Are Carbon Offsets Legit?

Photo courtesy of www.islandtransvoyager.com
Photo courtesy of www.islandtransvoyager.com

Air travel is pretty normal for most people these days. Most people end up flying a few times a year for holidays, weddings, business, and vacations. A few years ago, airlines and airfare websites started adding an option to purchase carbon offsets. What are carbon offsets exactly and are they legit? It’s something I’ve seen and wondered about but never went through with. Along with the purchase price of the airfare, I also wasn’t keen on spending more money on something I didn’t know was legit or not.

Last week, I ended up buying an airplane ticket to fly to Seattle for my sister’s birthday in a few months. She had suggested carbon offsets as a topic for this blog before, so I thought it was a perfect time to see if I could buy some carbon offsets and see what they really are. I went through Expedia, Orbitz, and Virgin America, only to find no carbon offset options. So now, it was up to me to do some research of my own to see what carbon offsets are and how much I needed to buy to negate my trip to Seattle.

So the basic idea behind carbon offsets is to compensate for the carbon you create. First, you should be trying as hard as possible to reduce waste, recycle, buy less and smartly, and reduce your overall impact on the earth. It is nearly impossible to entirely erase your carbon footprint though, so that’s where buying the carbon offsets come in. They are, in theory, supposed to zero out the rest of your carbon footprint so that you can live a carbon free life. Individuals can do this, and so can companies. For this post, I’ll focus on the individuals like us. We can buy carbon offsets for our lifestyle or for single instances like an airplane trip.

The money you give for carbon offset programs are used in many different ways. All with end goals to reduce the amount of carbon in the air, either by taking out existing carbon or preventing it in the first place. Forestry programs are a big one where trees get planted and forests are maintained. Trees are a popular method to reduce carbon in the air. Other programs can create alternative forms of energy production. Instead of coal plants, your money could be invested in wind or solar power. Money can be used for energy efficient buildings or distributing earth-friendly appliances to people who need them. There are many ways carbon offset programs work, and a legitimate company will tell you what their program does and how they implement it.

There is a controversy over carbon offsets. People against carbon offsets say that it allows people to simply buy carbon offsets to be earth-friendly, instead of actually taking action to reduce their impact. Critics say that businesses use carbon offsets to justify their unclean practices. Instead of actually trying to make their business run with less of a carbon footprint, they simply purchase carbon offsets. Other cons are that there are many carbon offset companies that can be scams or just out for profit. Some forestry efforts do not result in any carbon reduction at all. If the trees planted only survive one year, then not a lot of carbon has been reduced.

Overall, carbon offsets are another method to try to reduce our impact. If properly done, we would only buy carbon offsets after doing all we could to minimize our impact. Plane trips are one example, as there’s not much I can do to minimize that, other than driving or taking a train.

So now, I needed to figure out how much carbon to actually offset for my flight. Using a flight calculator I found online (which may or may not be entirely accurate), this is how much carbon one round-trip to Seattle would create:

660.593 pounds of carbon = 0.33 tons of carbon (1 ton is 2000 pounds)

Now that I knew how much carbon my flight would approximately create, I then needed to research how to buy carbon offsets. Most carbon offsets programs are run by for-profit businesses. Since those are harder to research and ensure they are legitimate, I decided to find a charity instead. Also, by donating money to a charity, I get the potential tax breaks too!

I decided to go with the Nature Conservancy. They are a decently well known charity that has a three out of four star rating on Charity Navigator. Always research charities and make sure they are well rated on Charity Navigator before donating! There are plenty of scam charities out there ready to take your money. The Nature Conservancy also has a section where they really explain carbon offsets and how their program works. Their carbon offset program starts with donations at $15 for a ton. Since my flight to Seattle is 0.33 tons, technically $5 should cover that. I went ahead and donated $10 to cover two round-trip flights to Seattle though. I’ll be going up there in the near future again at some point anyway.

The Nature Conservancy Carbon Offset Program FAQ’s
Charity Navigator

Buying carbon offsets to reduce your overall impact is another thing that you can do. I’ll have to look how much my lifestyle affects my carbon output at some point. Of course, my attempts at reducing my carbon footprint are absolutely essential! I’ll keep working on that and hopefully will reduce it down as much as possible.

For further reading, check these two links out.
Wikipedia – Carbon Offset
How Stuff Works

What’s your opinion of carbon offsets?