Archive | March, 2013

#909 Fix Your Broken iPhone Yourself

28 Mar

Through various circumstances, I ended up with an iPhone last year. I would have been happy to continue with my basic, unlocked Nokia, but after a week with the iPhone my husband and I were loathe to admit it was an awesome, sleek looking piece of technology. Most of the point of an iPhone is that it looks cool. So when a relatively innocuous fall resulted in this:
broken iphone screen

Well, the whole sleek and smooth look that is the hallmark of the iPhone was gone. Not to mention that the iPhone was shedding shattered glass at a fast rate. Interestingly enough, the glass didn’t seem too harmful in terms of sharpness and cutting, but it had to be fixed. The iPhone glass kept disintegrating. After a little research, what seemed like a huge and expensive fix at first, started to shape up into not that big of a deal.

First a look at the prices:

  • Apple charges $149 (!) for an iPhone screen repair for the 3GS, which is what I have (not including shipping and tax). Total cost depending on the shipping and replacement option I chose would put it close to $200. Just a note that Apple is always overpriced, IMO.
  • Third party service repair runs about $100 for an iPhone screen repair (not including shipping), although I found one on sale for $30-$40 depending on my shipping option. But you have to ship it off in most cases.
  • DIY kits run the gamut of anywhere from $2.50 to $70. The kits include various tools.

O.K., so as a consummate DIYer, I should have gotten a kit and be done with it, right? But I was doubtful. I didn’t have the time. I didn’t want to mess around with it. On sale, paying $30 for someone else to take care of it didn’t seem so bad. I would have said no to $100, but maybe… Then my husband declared, “If anyone can fix it, you can!” Well, nothing like an ego boost to kick my lazy butt into gear to fix my own iPhone.

But then there were all the choices for iPhone screen replacements (or digitizers as they’re called). What was the difference between the cheap ones and the more expensive ones? What about the tools? I didn’t want to order something that wasn’t right and didn’t work. I then remembered technology is the Wild West in terms of prices and offerings. So really, there is no difference between a $5 kit and a $65 kit…except $60. So I ordered a $7.99 kit (including shipping!) from Amazon to fix my broken iPhone and got to it.

Disclaimer: This is not a DIY tutorial. There are loads of those online. I included a link for a video at the bottom of the post. This is my experience and what I learned from it.

First, I realized the kit I got only came with a suction cup, two pry tools, adhesive and the new screen. There were no screwdrivers, so I had to get my own. Luckily, I do have a tiny screwdriver from a repair sunglasses kit and a magnetic one for tiny tech jobs from past attempts to mess with my laptop. If you don’t have either of these, make sure you get a kit that comes with a screwdriver. Those screws are TINY! A regular screwdriver will not fit.
replacement iphone screen

Now that I was fully equipped:iphone and tools 2

I realize I also needed a sharp pen knife (and I already had the needed hairdryer on hand):
swiss army knife
I began. Eeek!:
open iphone


There was no going back…

iphone in two pieces

I got the screen off…but I still had to take the broken glass off the frame as I was only replacing the glass, not the frame…This was where the pen knife came into play…
broken iphone screen
iphone glass removal

The frame was finally free of all broken glass and old adhesive!
iphone frame

Now I put it back together…with some new adhesive from the kit and the new, replacement iPhone screen (digitizer)…and reconnected and screwed everything back in. Would it work? (Nervous moments while it rebooted…)
iphone with apple logo

The inexpensive digitizer replacement screen worked great. And the iPhone is now back to its original state!
iphone turned on


Lessons learned:

  • DIY is always cheaper and provides a huge ego boost. I can fix my iPhone!
  • Anyone can do this. It’s not hard, just time consuming. It took me about an hour and a half because the glass was really shattered, and I was documenting. I imagine one hour is average for the repair.
  • Do NOT touch the LCD screen. Fingerprints are hard to clean.
  • If your iPhone LCD is broken, it’s just more expensive for that part as well as the screen, but DIY for both is totally feasible. How to tell? If your iPhone screen is shattered, but you see everything behind it fine than your LCD is fine. If the screen is not showing things right or at all, then your LCD is compromised.
  • The only special parts you REALLY need are the tiny screwdriver, replacement adhesive and replacement iPhone screen. The other tools can be improvised or replaced with something else or things like a fingernail. You don’t need a heat gun. My not-very-good hairdryer was fine. And a sharp pen knife can do a good job in the place of a specific tool.
  • Go cheap on the replacement iPhone digitizer. They’ll all get the the job done – but some will save you more money than others. Get the one that saves money.
  • All model iPhones are different. iPhone 3G is NOT the same as iPhone 3GS. Make sure you get the right one.

There are lots of DIY tutorials for iPhone screen replacements on YouTube and elsewhere. The most thorough and helpful that I found was this one:

They have lots more videos on iPhone, iPad and iPod touch repairs.

So if you think you have to pay a lot for fixing your shattered iPhone screen – I only paid $7.99 and with a little bit of time.

#910 Pick Your Luxury And Enjoy It

26 Mar

yoplait container

Yogurt as a luxury – it made my life easier. Photo via flickr by suzyq212.

For years I bought individual yogurts to take to work. My husband was always trying to convince me to buy the huge container of yogurt that was less money. When I told him, “it’s my luxury, let me enjoy it,” he understood and never mentioned it again.

Yeah, yogurt might not seem like a luxury, but it made me happy. I liked the little, individual yogurts because I could get a bunch of different flavors, they were easy to grab for breakfast or part of lunch and I didn’t have to scoop out yogurt from a big container into a smaller Tupperware container to take with me. Yes, they were more expensive, but I felt like they made my life easier. And it was worth it. Now that I work for myself, I get the big containers, but for a long time those individual Yoplaits were my little luxury.

chocolate cake

One piece at a time for satisfaction or the whole thing at once for illness? Photo via flickr by kimberlykv.

Sometimes it’s O.K. to make  a choice that doesn’t make sense financially, but it’s worth it because it brings a happy pleasure. The key is to pick the one thing that is a YOUR comfortable indulgence as a little luxury you afford. If you truly enjoy it, then it will pay for itself by warding off the feeling of being constantly denied and unable to fulfill yourself with some self-indulgence for your life comfort. Dieters know best that a life of constant denial can turn ugly. Like when a dieter is so deprived that he or she eats a whole chocolate cake and then is ill. Instead of eating a small piece of chocolate cake at the end of the day, the dieter made himself or herself crazy and ended up overindulging instead of indulging correctly. It’s the same thing with your budget and life’s pleasures.

Life’s pleasures don’t have to cost anything, but if a life pleasure does cost something, then make it your luxury you afford yourself to make sure you don’t overindulge in bad spending habits. Depending on the cost of the luxury, it can be a daily, weekly or monthly pleasure. Too long between intervals might lead to flagging resolve, however it is possible. If it’s a daily pleasure, than it’s something small, like a 60 or 70 cent yogurt. If it’s a weekly pleasure, it might be something like eating out for lunch with a friend. If it’s a monthly pleasure, it might be a massage or dinner at the newest restaurant in town.

The easiest thing to do is to decide on the luxury beforehand. If you don’t decide what your little pleasure will be, than you’ll be saying “yes” to everything that comes along, which doesn’t make financial sense. But if you know you have your reservations booked for the end of the month, than it’s easy to say “no, I’m looking forward to my self-indulgence instead.” The little bit of denial makes the later pleasure than much better and more satisfying.

#911 Know Your Triggers (And The Consequences)

25 Mar

brain

Photo via flickr by Life Mental Health.

Do you buy stuff when you’re feeling down? Do you get a bonus and spend it all? Do you shop to spite your spouse?

Behaviors have patterns. Behaviors start with something that triggers an action that then continues in a predictable arc of one thing that leads to another as habits, rewards and brain chemistry spur on the behaviors to create a unique pattern.

Say Susie had a bad day at work, so to cheer herself up, she goes downtown to pick up something fun for her closet. Her brain likes the comforting, familiar action and making a purchase temporarily spikes her chemistry to lift her spirits. She goes home and adds the item to her closet full of “feel better” stuff. It makes her feel better only for a short time. She doesn’t feel better when she gets her credit card bill or bank statement. She doesn’t feel better when she goes to work and the same issues arise that made her feel bad in the first place. She doesn’t feel better even though her home is brimming with items that made her “feel better.”

cell phone

You always need more and then it’s outdated. Photo via flickr by David Chartier.

Or Joe gets a new gadget because he earned an extra paycheck. It’s a celebration gift to himself. But then he has to have the accessories that make it that much better. And the technology upgrades in a few months, and he has to upgrade too. It’s all a reward because he’s doing well and deserves to have what he wants. But he doesn’t have the money to repair his car when it breaks down. He’s not saving for retirement. And he’s too busy to take the vacation he can’t afford anyway. His gadget that brought him initial joy and awe, now has been upgraded two more times, has glitches and even though, he lived without it before, he can’t imagine living without it now.

Or Betty has a fight with her husband, so she shops online when he’s not around. She hides the purchases, but has smug satisfaction that he doesn’t know and that she can do whatever she wants. She’s adding to her marital problems instead of solving them. And it’s a task to intercept the credit card bill.

What ever it is, most of us have a trigger that sets off buying things as a justification to feel better, celebrate, feel like we’re in control or any number of any other emotions. If you can take an objective look at when and why you buy things, then you can analyze whether you’re doing it for the right reasons, whether it fits into your budget and whether it’s masking other problems or issues in your life that are not only not being resolved, but worsened by burying it in “retail therapy.”

You’re determining…why do I buy things? When do I buy things impulsively? Is it justified? Affordable? Does it solve problems or create them (however hidden)? Can I make better financial decisions on how to spend my money (the answer to this one is undoubtedly yes in 99% of cases)? Once you’ve honestly assessed yourself, which shouldn’t take a therapist, you can then start to tackle the behaviors that are triggered by an event.

poshmark logoSusie buys things to make herself feel better. Instead she realizes she has way too much stuff, and she’s still unhappy. So she sells everything in her closet (most with tags still on) on eBay or Poshmark, and feels really good about cashing in. She then resolves that the next time she feels bad she’ll figure out why she feels bad and what she can do differently to make herself feel better. She has a bad day at work. The next day, instead of dreading going to work, she figures out who she has to talk to and what she must do to make her work and work issues better. She does it and work is lovely. Yay! Or work still sucks but she makes so much money on Poshmark she can say sayonara to her job and reinvents herself as an online consignment shop.

Photo via flickr by Derek Keats.

Photo via flickr by Derek Keats.

Joe realizes he’s been sucked into the black hole of technology upgrades and headaches. His bonuses have yielded a worthless drawer full of old tech for which he paid top dollar. He’s tired of being surprised by bills and never feeling relaxed. He set a goal of a $1,000 emergency fund and to take a vacation for the first time in five years. He’s always wanted to go on an African safari. The next time he makes an extra paycheck, he puts it into a low interest savings account at a credit union and is surprised by how quickly he meets his goals. Now he know what the savannah smells like and how hot the African sun is at midday.

Betty’s forced to tell her husband about the hidden credit card bills when he loses his job. Her job isn’t enough to cover all their expenses. She’s so ashamed of her furtive behavior and knows that honesty would have solved a lot of problems. Her husband takes on the household budget while looking for a new job, and they take a class on martial communication. In the end, Betty discovers how share her feelings including anger with her husband, and her husband learns how to forgive. Plus he realizes he loves accounting, gets his CPA and finds a job easily. With money no longer tight, Betty can buy things again, this time openly through her monthly budget allotment for “fun” and without dreading the credit card bills.

happy girl

Photo via flickr by Public Domain Photos.

While all these situations are purely fictional and all characters are imagined (any similarities to real persons is purely coincidental), I’m sure you can see yourself in one of them or think of your own behavior that triggers buying to fill a need, want or desire. You can also see that buying something does not fix life issues, compounds problems and ultimately leaves you unfulfilled.

If you know your trigger and aren’t doing anything about it. Stop, and make a plan. If you don’t know your trigger, think about your life. Keep a journal about what you’re buying and how you’re feeling to see a pattern. If you know your trigger and are working on changing it, recruit help from a spouse, partner or friend to keep you on track and avoid moments of weakness. You’ll soon find your life more fulfilling, happy and less cluttered.

#912 Travel Savings: Rely On Public Transportation, Bikes, Your Thumb Or Feet

22 Mar

While you might not be able to live without a car in your daily life, try to live without one when you travel. Just like in daily life, it saves money not to have a car on vacation. Public transportation is cheap and well networked in many parts of the world, which means you should take advantage of public transport to save the expense of a car rental.

Pretty much any city has a great bus, tram or subway network. It might be confusing and you might take a few wrong turns, but asking for help usually sets things straight.

Don’t be freaked out by something that looks like this:

Paris metro map

A general rule (whether you’re in the Paris metro or not) is that subways, buses, trains and any other form of public transportation operate with the END destination advertised.

If you have to take the #4 purple Paris metro line to get somewhere, there are two endpoints – Porte d’Orleans to the south and Porte de Clignancourt to the north. Depending on what stop you are at on the purple line in relation which stop you want to get off at, you either go north, Direction Clignancourt, or south, Direction D’Orleans. You simply hop off at your stop on the way to the end destination. Just because your train or bus doesn’t say your destination, doesn’t mean it’s not stopping there. You just have to figure out what line your stop is on, and which direction train, bus or tram will take you there. Just count stops along the way.

london underground

Photo via flickr by az1172.

Public transportation tickets are also cheaper based on your destination or zones of travel, so make sure you buy a ticket for the correct zone or stop off point that you want to avoid paying more for the ticket than you actually use.

In any new city I try to familiarize myself with the public transport system and have a map on hand. Once you get the hang of public transport, most systems are similar. If you are planning ahead, bus, train and metro stops are marked on Google maps, so you can figure out a way to get from one place to another on a street map, or you can look up a map of the local public transportation online.

I can say from experience, using public transportation is not always well advertised or initially evident when making travel plans. But if you have it in your mind that you want to use public transportation, then you’ll be able to do it with little hassle once you’re on the ground. I’ve hardly ever been able to look at a travel destination, whether for business or pleasure, without being able to scrounge up the means of figuring out public transportation not only to get around the city, but also to get out of the city and visit smaller towns.

You don’t want a rental car in the city anyways.

There are some rural areas where public transportation is limited. In the end, you can decide that a rental car will give you more freedom to truly discover the countryside and hidden locations. If you rent a car, try AutoSlash or dohop. I’ve had trips where most of the time public transportation works great, and then for a few days a car rental is better. But that means I’m not renting a car for the whole time.

hitchhiker

Don’t be afraid to hitchhike if you feel like it’s safe to do so, which it usually is. Photo via flickr by jakesmome.

You might think about hitchhiking instead of renting a car where public transportation is scarce. If you’re American, you’re probably seriously worried about this option and would never consider it. I probably wouldn’t hitchhike in the U.S. on my own, but almost anywhere else in the world is statistically safer than the U.S. In other parts of the world, outside the U.S., hitchhiking is common and is not reserved for down-on-their-luck individuals.

I have a rule never to pick up a hitchhiker by myself, unless it’s a woman, but the majority of hitchhikers I’ve given rides to are old ladies…and German tourists. I’ve had old ladies load themselves up in my car practically without permission and directed to where they wanted to go. Usually it’s a few paces down the road. I’ve given rides to old ladies, older couples, single women, couples, teenagers, preteen boys with stinky shoes and more old ladies. They’re all friendly and grateful. They’re just trying to get to where they want to go without a car or after the last bus has passed. Usually the older women don’t want to wait around (or pay for) the bus that’s coming in half an hour.

Velib rental bikes paris

Rental bikes are loved by locals and tourists alike. Photo via flickr by LWY.

Another option I like for cheap transportation is walking. Probably because being a “good walker” is in my Swiss blood.

More and more cities are also adopting the Paris Velib bike system, which allows you to rent a bike for a short period of time to get around. In the past few years, I’ve seen installations of this bike system in many more cities and even larger towns, so check to see if the city you are visiting has a public bike system, or you might spot it when you’re out and about once you get there.

Next time you plan travel, don’t jump straight to renting a car, think public transportation, walking or hitchhiking to get yourself around on the cheap.

 

#913 Travel Savings: Vacation Close To Home – But Not At Home!

21 Mar

Maine coast

Budget vacations included camping in our home state. Beautiful!

I like to think I don’t have many pet peeves. But one of my pet peeves are mash-up words like staycation. Another pet peeve is people who think a staycation is a good idea. I’m all about saving money, but your sanity is more important.

Vacations are meant for relaxation and getting out of your familiar surroundings in order to stimulate your brain and refresh and revive it. You can’t relax when you’re surrounded by the house you have to clean, the bills you have to pay, the laundry you have to do, the ceiling you have to paint, the front steps you have to fix, the dog you have to walk…..I could go on. These are all daily and weekend activities that fill your life on a regular basis. A vacation is stepping outside of all that and letting go. It’s really hard to let go when you’re surrounded by everything that you have to do, want to do or think you should do. So cross the word staycation from your mind and don’t give the idea any credit as a substitute for vacation.

Myth number one about a staycation is that it will save you money. I might be wrong, but unless you have the willpower of steel, with lots of time on your hands and projects and activities to fill your time, you’ll probably end up spending more money than you should. So here are some ways to go on vacation, i.e. go to a relaxing and different environment to let go of your everyday life, without breaking the bank. And plus, you’re already a budget whiz who’s planned and saved for vacation anyways, right?

  • brittany spaniel

    Bringing the dog is easy and saves money if you stay close to home.

    Visit a friend or sibling: We all know someone who lives in a fun place or someone we’d like to see and catch up with. If he or she is within driving, bus or bargain airfare distance, pay them a visit and enjoy yourself. The nice thing about staying with someone is not just the free accommodation, but you’re likely to stay in catching up over dinner and beers or barbecuing the backyard. Which you could have done at home, but it’s much more fun somewhere else. Pitch in with groceries, making meals or bringing booze. Of course, he or she also has a standing invitation to visit you.

  • Bring the dog. Paying for a kennel or someone to watch your dog can really add to vacation costs. Staying close to home usually means it’s pretty easy to bring the dog along. Dogs are just like people, they go nuts and get really stimulated in a new place and in different surroundings.
  • Get to know your state or country. You don’t have to leave your state or country. I can’t think of any country or state that does not have at least one of the following: Natural beauty, interesting attractions, cool towns or hidden treasures. Tourist boards would agree. To save on accommodation if you don’t know anyone, camp, couch surf or get a vacation rental. If you want to remove the temptation of filling your days by buying things or paying for attractions, being in the middle of the woods will fix that problem for you by default. There’s a reason they have nature sounds on relaxing, white noise machines.
  • Go for a long weekend. O.k. so you really can’t afford a full 5 or 10-day trip. Get in a long weekend as your vacation, and you can spend the rest of the time at home. I’m fine with the compromise. I like to vacation at the beginning so I return home more relaxed and can take anything waiting for me at home more in stride. But you could take a long weekend at the end of your time off to get the feeling of “getting away from it all” before returning to work.
  • Pick up a new skill or hobby. You can really get your brain excited and have something to talk about when you return from vacation if you pick up a new skill or hobby. You can learn to cook a certain cuisine (or learn to cook at all), find out everything you wanted to know about fishing or work on photography or writing skills. Some of these you can simply do yourself by picking up your camera or pen and paper. Others you can find free workshops or a knowledgeable aficionado willing to show you. If you do pay for a class, good research can lead  you to a great find for the money.

What was your favorite “I didn’t even leave the state (or country)” vacation?

#914 Travel Savings: Vacation In Off Season or Shoulder Season

20 Mar

Greek beach

Beaches are still empty in May.

May is the perfect time to vacation. The weather is great almost anywhere you go. Airfares and accommodations can be had at lower rates. Everything is up and running. And best of all, in many vacation destinations, the locals have yet to tire of tourists and welcome you with open arms. Those are my reasons I pick May to vacation. I also love June, but it’s starting to get into tourist madness and higher prices. September and October are gorgeous, but have a risk of rainy days. The winter months in many vacation spots, outside of tropical destinations, are a bargain.

I don’t understand everyone taking vacation in August. Fares are through the roof. It’s hot. It’s crowded. And the locals now hate tourists… or are on vacation themselves. So next time you want to take vacation. Don’t go to the Caribbean in February or Europe in August. Go to Barbados in April or May and Rome in November. You’ll save a lot of cash and won’t have to fight for a spot on the beach or a reservation.

The Netherlands in November is cold but lively with locals.

The Netherlands in November is cold but lively with locals.

Here are some vacation suggestions and considerations for traveling in the off season or shoulder season, which is the time period in between off-season and high season:

  • A lot of attractions are closed or have limited hours. When planning a vacation, make sure a major attraction you want to see isn’t closed for the season or renovations. Although most museums, tourist spots and attractions are still open, they have limited hours, so if you really want to see something, you’ll have to be sure to make it on time.
  • Transportation may not be running. If you’re counting on public transportation like buses, ferries and trains, just like attractions, transportation has off-season hours that may be limited or unavailable. Plan accordingly.
  • Some destinations have no off season. Ever try booking something in New York or Paris? Iconic cities never have off seasons, although bargain airfare can be had during winter months as long as it’s not around the holidays.
  • The holidays or school vacation is not off season.
    rooster

    No tourists here.

    Hotels, airlines and the rest of the travel industry know when demand for vacation destinations are high, which include holidays and school vacation, even though they might fall during traditional “off season.”

  • Be happy being cold or hot. To take full advantage of off season vacation destinations, be O.K. with freezing your butt off in Germany or sweating in high humidity in Costa Rica. Off seasons are off for a reason – the weather is not ideal. But if you’re flexible and don’t let the weather get you down, you’ll be fine.
  • Plan climate appropriate activities. If you’re going to be cold on vacation, maybe plan to spend the time indoors and enjoy the warmth of hot toddies and restaurant fires. If you’re going to be hot on vacation, plan to spend time on the water where you can cool off easily.
  • Get excited about seeing the “real” side of life. Off season may just give you a glimpse of local life without the hustle of the tourist trade. Relax your pace and enjoy being the only foreigner about.
  • Shoulder season will get you vacation deals, but not as good as off season. All that being said, I ideally pick a shoulder season time to vacation for more agreeable weather and better services. Shoulder season does offer vacation bargains and lower rates compared to full-on high season, but don’t expect to save as much as in off-season. You’ll still have to manage your budget tightly in order to keep within your finances.

 

 

#915 Travel Savings: Eat Biblically, Eat In The Streets And Be Your Own Chef

14 Mar

Honey from this stand fed us for a long time.

Honey from this stand fed us for a long time.

I have proof that bakeries are from heaven.

My husband and I were driving down tiny back roads through central Crete, completely lost and passing one abandoned town after another. Breakfast was long gone. Our frustration with the signage and gnawing in our stomachs were increasing tension levels by the second. I get seriously cranky when I’m hungry.

Just when we thought we were lost in the empty hills, and our lovely Grecian vacation was looking darker than the sky above… the clouds parted. A light shone down. As we came to the top of the next hill, we saw that the light was shining on a bakery in a tiny town center. In a single burst of joy, we could only feel pure happiness. Not only did the bakery exist, but they were pulling spinach and feta rolls from the oven. And the baklava was oozing warm honey. We bought everything.

Then the miracle continued…There was an adjacent grocery store where we celebrated finding food and the right direction with purchases of large bottles of beer.

All I can say is that the baklava lives in our memories as the single most incredible delight we’ve ever tasted. Manna from heaven. We were drunk for the rest of the day, not on the beer, but from the honey-fueled ecstasy of warm baklava from a heaven-sent bakery in the Cretan wilderness. And it hardly cost anything.

Luckily we didn't have to end up eating these when we were lost in the middle of nowhere.

Luckily we didn’t have to end up eating these when we were lost in the middle of nowhere.

One of the great pleasures of travel is discovering new food and enjoying local cuisines. But this doesn’t have to mean eating out for breakfast, lunch and dinner in restaurants. It means finding local grocers, farmer’s markets, bakeries and food stalls. If you eat out for every meal when you travel, not only will you be spending far too much money on food, but you’ll also not have a balanced diet. One of the best ways to save money and eat well is to cook for yourself, and this is no different when traveling.

If you get a vacation rental, then make sure you book one that includes a kitchen, which is not difficult. Unlike hotel bookings, it’s easy to find a vacation rental that comes with a fridge, cook top and some pots and pans. That’s all you need to get started. In fact, you don’t need a kitchen, and could swing it in a hotel room, but something like refrigeration is a great help. And it’s much nicer to be able to spread out in a kitchen and have a table.

You also don’t have to spend all your time preparing food. You’re on vacation, you want to get out and see the city or country you’re in! That’s why it’s nice to mix up making your own food with finding great street food for a quick and delicious meal on the go that’s not going to eat up your sightseeing time. Street food is the cheapest and most fun way to eat out when traveling.

Here are some easy ways to cook for yourself and enjoy street food when traveling, which will be easy on your budget:

  • Find the local supermarket. A lot of times the supermarket is right around the corner. Just because you’re buying your own food doesn’t mean you have to miss out on local food. Try new things you’ve never seen or local brands. If you can’t read the labels, be adventurous and see what comes up. I’ve ended up with wasabi peanuts that I thought were some sort of chocolate product in the Netherlands. I’ve stumbled across the most amazing sour cherry juice at a corner grocer in Macedonia. I’ve discovered pillowy soft potato flat bread in Sardinia. I’ve enjoyed Cheerwine in North Carolina, and Moxie in Maine. All of these products were locally produced, and probably never appear on restaurant menus. Another bonus to stopping by the supermarket is that you can stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables. One of the biggest drawbacks when traveling is that fresh produce is hard to come by when eating out. A salad at dinner doesn’t nearly cover my fresh produce needs. I used to fall upon an apple after 10 days of travel like it was the purest form of goodness. Really, I was just craving fresh fruit after serious deprivation. If you shop for yourself, stocking up on in-season fruits and vegetables is no problem, and a healthier solution to snacking and eating on the go.
  • Ask for the local street or farmer’s market. While a grocery store is usually very easy to find, you’ll probably have to ask a local about street and farmer’s markets. The location and date and times might vary, so it’s best to get the info from someone who knows. You can stock up on cheeses, breads, fruit and local specialties at these markets. They’re the best for picnic lunch shopping and turn into an adventure of discovery themselves.
  • Brake for roadside stands. If you see an old lady sitting on the side of the road selling fruit, STOP! You’ll get local produce and a fun story. You’ve never imagined cherries so sweet and juicy. I’ve also seen people selling local honey, fish and wine. It’s all part of the travel adventure and seeing what people around the world eat and drink.
  • Eat Biblically. When my husband and I find ourselves eating bread, honey and almonds on the road. Possibly for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We laugh. It seems so biblical. Where are the locusts? Sometimes we mix in a few dates and olives. But it’s cheap and good. The bread is fresh made, the honey is local as are the dates and olives. Who needs anything more?
  • That tiny stall sells the best crepes, sandwiches, kebabs…Street food is the cheapest way to eat out when traveling. As you are not sitting down, you can stroll with your food down new and exciting streets or sit in the park enjoying the sunshine. The key is not to be scared off by the look or size of the place. If the line of locals is long, then you’ve come to the right place.
  • Find that heavenly bakery. The local bakery will provide delights unending for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Don’t be afraid to try everything.
  • Get the right portions. If you know how long you’ll be staying in one place, you can tailor how much you buy to your time. It’s easy to throw leftover cheese and containers that close well into a day pack to consume on the journey to the next destination, home or for when you arrive at your next location.

Here are some ideas for each meal when traveling as well:

  • Breakfast: The bakery is your friend. Or the baked goods section of the grocery store. That paired with some fruit and tea, and I’m ready to go. Tea is a lot easier when traveling. Hot water and a bag that you could bring yourself, as I do to make things easier. Making the switch from coffee is pretty easy, healthier and you still get some caffeine.
  • Lunch: Picnic time. Picnic in the park. Picnic on a hike. Picnic on a city bench. Picnic on the castle walls. The most fun is shopping the street markets or farmer’s market for lunch. Our standby is bread, cheese, dried meat and some fruit. And olives. I never liked olives until I met my husband. Those black olives in a can that taste like cardboard, those aren’t olives. The black, oily, squizzled kind are olives. The fat, briny, smooth black kind are olives. The giant green ones with pit are olives. The hot peppered, oiled ones are olives. They don’t come in a can. You can buy as many or a little as you want.
  • Dinner: Dinner can be a repeat of lunch. Or you can cook up something hot and easy in the kitchen. I love local sausages, another thing I didn’t grow up with. In fact, I lived in an anti-sausage, anti-pork household. But then I discovered fresh made sausages around the world. They’re so much better than any processed, mystery meat that only tastes overly salty from the grocery store. Finding a local butcher or the meat counter of the supermarket will yield tasty locally flavored sausages or other local specialties that are easy to prepare.
  • Dietary restrictions or food allergies: If you’re vegan or vegetarian, it’s so much easier and more diverse to shop and cook for yourself while on vacation. If you have food allergies, it’s also easy to manage without fear.

#916 Travel Savings: Skip The Hotel, Get A Vacation Rental

13 Mar

tuscan hills

Our vacation rental in Tuscany overlooked rolling farmland and vineyards.

 

I’m totally sold on vacation rentals…let me tell you why vacation rentals are awesome. First, you’ll get more space for less. Second, you’ll have a complete or partially complete kitchen at your disposable. Third, you’ll be living amongst the locals. Let’s take a closer look at these three reasons.

You’ll get more space for less: Say you have an accommodation budget of $40 per night for your travel, you could stay in a one or two star hotel in a cramped, out-dated room, or you could rent a whole apartment with more space than you need, airy views, balconies and anything else you can imagine. If you chose your rental accommodation well, you’ll get a lot more for your money than some scratchy towels and complimentary shampoo. This is especially good for family vacation travel as you’ll be getting the space you need for the spouse and kids without being separated or cramped. With the advent of the share economy online, a lot of people are willing to rent their space for a bargain (more on this below).

Our vacation rental from TripAdvisor was less than a hotel and much more spacious with a balcony overlooking olive groves and the Mediterranean.

Our vacation rental from TripAdvisor was less than a hotel and much more spacious with a balcony overlooking olive groves and the Mediterranean.

You’ll have a complete or partially complete kitchen: Renting a house or apartment means you get what comes with a house or apartment. Dishes, pots and pans, a toaster…this might not seem like what you want, but it’ll save you money. You can have breakfast at home in the morning and then head out for the day. I’ll talk more about eating and food savings tomorrow, but having a kitchen comes in super handy, especially the fridge. Other available perks usually include wi-fi, TV, movies, games and other creature comforts in case of a rainy day.

You’ll be living amongst the locals: Chances are the vacation rental will be in a regular neighborhood. The owner might be next door or down the street. That means you’ll see where the neighborhood goes, what they do and how they live. The owners are usually more than happy to point you in the right direction or take you out to local sights and secrets, which makes the experience all the more special. You might get in invited for a meal or become part of the family. Or you can go your own way, but know you have a local resource to help you out if needed. Hotels tend to point you to the usual, unimaginative tourist spots, because they think that’s what you want. Locals will point you to what the locals do and love, which is often the “real” version of the country.

 Now for finding reasonable vacation rentals. There are lots of sites that rent very expensive rentals, but the share economy of the internet, meaning regular people put up what they have to offer for the mutual benefit of the community, has allowed budget vacation rentals to be easily accessible and dirt cheap.

Airbnb: I hate real B&Bs because I feel uncomfortable staying in a home that the owners clearly love while they hover anxiously and wait for me to love it just as  much. And in the morning it feels like if I don’t declare the breakfast scones the best I’ve ever tasted they’ll ax-murder me in my sleep.

During a particularly horrible airbnb rental, we stayed out of the house as much as possible. We'll try again, much wiser this time.

During a particularly horrible airbnb rental, we stayed out of the house as much as possible. We’ll try again, much wiser this time.

It’s too much pressure to superficially oh and ah for someone else’s benefit. Plus most times it feels like staying at my grandparents. That being said, I’ve been excited about airbnb for years, the super-popular pioneer of the share economy for vacation rentals. There are both rooms you can rent in someone’s home if you don’t mind someone else there, and also whole places to rent for yourself if you prefer that, as I do. I’d never successfully been able to get dates and availability to align with airbnb until recently.

I rented a place in the summer that looked and sounded great. The best part was that I negotiated a significantly lower rate with the owner for a longer stay. You’re dealing with real people for the most part, so bargain away when messaging your request. When we pulled into the driveway, I already had a sinking feeling. I wanted to stick with it to give it a try. My second deadly mistake. My first was picking a place that was new with no reviews (although this can be false as the horror show we endured now has several 5-star reviews).

Over the next week and a half of a month long stay, the list of everything wrong kept piling up. There were piles of junk covered with tarps everywhere…hoard much? Every surface of the house was sticky and dirty. The tap water was undrinkable and smelled like a fish bowl because it was lake water. I’ve lived in a place where we had to haul in our own water, but please warn me if this is the case in a vacation rental!

The “breakfast” that the owner said airbnb advised to make it feel like a B&B was an open and half-gone orange juice and milk container. I’m not one to be crazed about germs, but I don’t want a stranger’s half-drunk OJ. The promised wi-fi didn’t work. I had made it clear we only wanted to rent if we could also work, which meant wi-fi access in the home.  This was more of a necessary rental that we were turning into a quasi-vacation.

The owner kept peering in the windows and popping by to fix stuff. Go away, crazy person, we want to relax and get some work done! But the last straw was the emergence of fleas a week in…and the owner’s total nonchalance that fleas were acceptable. Look lady, it’s not A flea…it’s fleas crawling on my baby’s head, it’s fleas biting our ankles, it’s fleas in a whole section of the house. Get us out!

More outings during the "fleas are not cool with us" negotiations.

More outings during the “fleas are not cool with us” negotiations.

Like I said, it was my second mistake not to pull the plug on the rental right away. Airbnb gives you 24 hours before they release the funds to the owners for the renter to get out of a bad situation. After that, it’s a lot more difficult to cut and run without losing money. I called airbnb anyways to lodge my complaint and document. This was the best thing I did. Because now I had to negotiate with the owner to get out and get refunded. Airbnb could do little but standby and step in if we couldn’t reach an agreement on our own.

Like I said about real B&Bs, the owners think of their house as their baby and pride and joy, this was no different with the airbnb rental owner. She clearly thought her place was amazing…and we were out of our minds. We were prima donnas not used to “nature.” O.k. I’ve camped, lived in the woods, laughed at cockroaches in a Spanish hotel, ignored blood-stained hostel sheets…I’m not super-picky.

It ended up that she was quite angry that I contacted airbnb instead of letting her “flea bomb” the place and have us stay there the rest of the time. However, it was only her fear of being blacklisted by airbnb that allowed me to negotiate payment only for the time we had stayed and a refund for the rest of the time not spent. A completely fair solution in my mind, but only agreed to by the owner after a long stare down on my part. It was tense and unpleasant to say the least.

That all being said, I still want to love airbnb. I’ll give it another try. I’m much wiser to the 24-hour policy. I won’t let hurting someone’s feelings or economic prospects get in the way of our comfort and happiness.

Rustic and romantic, our agriturismo rentals always blended farm and comfort (view from lying on our ubercomfy bed).

Rustic and romantic, our agriturismo rentals always blended farm and comfort (view from lying on our ubercomfy bed).

Other alternatives to airbnb include, homeaway, but they let you work out the payment with the owner, making it more of a hassle. Roomorama is growing competition for airbnb although its listings are not as extensive.

The best success stories I’ve had actually come from TripAdvisor vacation rentals, which partners with Flipkey.  The rentals are verified and have many more corporate offerings, but there are also individuals offering rentals, which offer the best deals. I’ve enjoyed stays from TripAdvisor rentals without a problem. I’ve always rented from individuals who have been friendly and accommodating, including staying up past midnight to welcome us.

Of course there are always local sites and real estate agencies as well as Craigslist to find a vacation rental if the other sources fail you or in more obscure areas not well covered by the others.

In Italy, you can do vacation rentals at farms, usually near a large city or quaint town for a relaxed budget accommodation. Italy’s agriturismo network is large and well-run, mostly by families earning extra income on their farm. Our agriturismo stays in Italy were always spectacular and well within our budget, much to our delight.

I find sites like VRBO to be too expensive and hard to sift through.

If you haven’t tried vacation rentals, try it. I guarantee you’ll kiss hotels goodbye.

 

#917 Travel Savings: Know Your Budget Airlines

12 Mar

southwest airlines logoWhen I first went to Europe, trains and public transport were the cheapest option for a student to get around. Ten years later, budget airlines completely changed this rule, making air travel quicker and cheaper than any other option. In the US, trains are laughably slow and buses only make sense for routes of only a few hours or less. Budget airlines now offer travel deals that make destinations and vacations much more attainable on a budget without spending all day or night on a train, bus or in the car.

However, budget airlines may or may not show up on consolidator sites and airfare search engines, so it’s good to know which budget airlines are out there and how they operate in order to decide if it’s a good budget option for your travel. You should check their websites directly if they are not coming up on consolidator sites or searches. WhichBudget is a flight search engine that does search budget airlines all over the world. As it is a search engine, it only finds the flight for you and then directs you to the airline’s site or a site like Expedia to book. Most budget airlines offer point-to-point service, meaning there are no connections. I’ll focus mostly on the US and Europe as that is what I’m familiar with, but if there are others in Central and Latin America or any part of Asia that you are familiar with and recommend, let everyone know in the comments.

Before getting into the different airlines, there are a couple money-saving tips when booking a budget airline ticket:

  • Buying snacks and drinks on airplanes is too pricey - bring your own.

    Buying snacks and drinks on airplanes is too pricey – bring your own. Photo via flickr by swanksalot.

    Don’t buy the snacks and drinks. It doesn’t make sense to save money on the ticket and then pay for overpriced snacks and drinks on the flight. It’s much better to bring your own. For water, I bring an empty bottle through security and then fill it from a water fountain on the other side.

  • Carry-on only. While even non-budget airlines are charging for bags more often, budget airlines always charge for anything besides a carry-on.
  • Avoid all other charges. While the ticket might be cheap, adding anything onto it might be expensive, like priority boarding. Some airlines even charge for the type of card you use to pay for the ticket.
  • Budget airlines might be the best choice for a one-way or multi-leg journey. Regular airlines might charge as much or more for a one-way ticket or exorbitant amounts for a multi-leg journey. Because budget airlines sell the tickets per leg of the trip without penalty for no return, they offer better prices. So you can plan your Grecian honeymoon by flying into Athens and out of Crete without hassle and expense.

Now for the budget airlines. The airline industry is competitive and carriers are often going under, popping up or merging, so this is as current as possible.

Budget Airlines in the US:

  • Southwest Airlines: The biggest budget airline in the world, Southwest was an pioneer in budget airlines, using no assigned seats and point-to-point service. It has major operations out of Chicago, Baltimore and Las Vegas, along with many other cities. It acquired Airtran Airways, greatly expanding the network and the two will be fully integrated under Southwest next year. Along with open boarding, many Southwest destinations are in and out of smaller airports in a certain area, meaning the commute to/from the departure airport might be farther or more inconvenient, however with the acquisition of Airtran, more cities and destinations are served directly. My personal experience with Southwest have been pretty awful, however my personal experiences with Airtran have been positive. I haven’t flown either since they began merging so maybe awful plus good will equal neutral.
  • jetblue-logoJetBlue: Although it has fewer cities served than Southwest, JetBlue easily makes connections without strict point-to-point service, mostly through JFK airport in New York. Their website is also easier to navigate, when you enter your departure airport, it automatically pops up all possible destinations from that airport for you to choose from, unlike Southwest’s site where you have to guess which cities they fly to from a departure airport or keep their flight map handy. My experiences on JetBlue have been positive, although non-point-to-point destinations often are the same price as regular airlines and are more limited in available flight times.
  • Allegiant Air: Operating limited point-to-point routes from smaller cities, Allegiant Air, has managed to stay in the game longer than most budget airlines. If you live in a smaller metro area, they may be the perfect solution to avoid going to a major airport to fly.
  • Frontier Airlines: frontier airlines logoIf JetBlue best serves the East Coast, Frontier Airlines serves the West Coast. Frontier Airlines largest number of flights run out of its hub in Denver. They offer strict point-to-point service from many other smaller and major airports. It’s gone through the typical bankruptcy and reorganization dance many airlines have in the past ten years and still survives.
  • Spirit Airlines: The ultra-low cost airline means it charges for pretty much everything off-setting low ticket prices. Unfortunately, customer service and satisfaction is ultra-low as well. One bonus is they serve more Central and Latin American destinations from Florida than any other budget airline. Most other budget airlines only serve the Caribbean and Mexico.
  • Sun Country Airlines: If you live in the Minneapolis-St. Paul or Lansing, Michigan area, you’ll be well-served by Sun Country Airlines and lots of destinations. Most other cities are routed through Minneapolis-St. Paul and have fewer destinations. Despite struggles, Sun Country Airlines has managed to hang in there.
  • Virgin America: The newest budget airline is based out of San Francisco and offers the most flights to/from California. Based on the successful British version of Virgin Airlines from Sir Richard Branson, they are out to grab some of the budget airline market.

Budget airlines in Europe:

  • easyjet logoeasyJet: easyJet offers a large point-to-point network within Europe and to North African and Middle Eastern destinations. It’s largest hub is London-Gatwick, but on mainland Europe, Milan is its largest hub. The airline flies in and out of major airports for the most part, getting you to your destination quickly and without extra hassle of being flown to a secondary airport. Like Southwest, seats are up for grabs and extras are extra. easyJet quickly replaced any thought I had of train travel in Europe because of their low fares and speedy flight times. My experiences flying them are all positive.
  • Ryanair: This Irish airline is easyJet’s biggest competition, while it does usually offer lower fares, Ryanair flies into smaller, secondary airports instead of major ones like easyJet. ryanair logoThis means you’re not really going to Paris, you’re landing more than an hour away with a charter bus ticket to pay in order to get to/from the outskirts of Paris, where the metro will finally get you into the city more than two hours later. This is fine if you actually want to fly into the smaller airport, but the cost of getting to your final destination may negate the low fare if you are far from where you want to go. The amount of time spent traveling is also greater. Plus, I swore I would never fly Ryanair again after I thought the plane was going to shake apart leaving Shannon airport. It didn’t but the arm rest cover came off in my hand and the seat back was broken. I have of course flown them again but their service is not as “luxurious” as easyJet.
  • Wizzair: Based in Hungary, this budget airline serves destinations to/from Eastern Europe very well. They tend to fly from secondary airports to reduce costs as well.
  • Flybe: Serving point-to-point destinations to/from the U.K. and Ireland, Flybe is most useful for British or Irish travel to mainland Europe including Eastern Europe. Or an option for flying to the U.K. or Ireland from mainland Europe.
  • Jet2: Like Flybe, Jet2 serves point-to-point destinations to/from the U.K. and Ireland. However they have more vacation destinations like Greece, Morocco and the Tel Aviv than Flybe.
  • Monarch: A U.K. budget airline serving many vacation destinations to/from the U.K.
  • transavia: A Dutch low cost carrier with the best service to/from the Netherlands and Paris-Orly to  many vacation destinations around Europe, Morocco, Egypt and the Middle East.

There are many more smaller budget airlines for various European countries that serve limited markets, which might serve well if you are in that country. Other budget airlines in Latin America, Asia and around the world exist, however I can’t vouch for their service, but if you can, let us know. If you are trying to find a budget solution to your travel logistics, try looking up the country’s budget airlines. Happy Travels.

#918 Travel Savings: Take The Mystery Out Of Airfare Prices, Part 2

11 Mar

airplane wing

Photo via flickr by Problemkind.

Now that you know exactly when to book your flight, how about where to book your flight? There are so many sites and options to book air fare. Here are some thoughts about getting the best out of when you go to book your plane ticket:

  • Book flights on Tuesday or Wednesday. It’s true! I noticed airfare was lower early in the week when using Farecast.com, now Bing Travel, and started to notice a difference when I booked tickets on Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon. The stats on ticket prices also confirm this airfare trend. Another booking and airfare advice website, Farecompare, argues that precisely at 3 p.m. ET on Tuesday is the best time to book. If you can’t make it exactly then, Tuesday or Wednesday, is better anytime than booking on Friday or over the weekend into Monday.
  • calendar imageFly on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Saturday. It make sense to fly on off days. Everyone else wants to fly out on Friday and return on Sunday night or Monday. If you can fly out on Saturday or fly back on Tuesday, you’ll save money. Thursday is sometimes iffy as prices are often higher on that day as well, but the airfare could be better than flying on Friday.
  • Get student air fare prices. If you are a student, or in many cases a teacher, two sites are helpful in booking lower ticket prices for your flight. STA Travel and Student Universe, are two companies who offer students lower flight prices. If you can, avoid STA Travel’s ISIC card, your student ID is worth more to get discounts and is free from the university or high school you attend. Sometimes they make you buy the card to get discounts. I can honestly say I never used the ISIC. My student ID however, always got me the student price.
  • united_continental_logoBook directly on the airline website. It used to be that airline websites always had higher prices than consolidator sites. Not anymore. I often find the same or better prices directly on the airline’s website after using a consolidator site to pick which airlines have the lowest fare. The bonus to using the airline’s site is that you can often find better flight times than the consolidator sites offer and mix and match flight times more easily.
  • Don’t pay booking fees. There’s no reason to pay a booking fee anymore. There are plenty of sites that don’t charge a booking fee, use one that doesn’t.
  • momondo logoCompare travel booking sites. Momondo is a popular booking site to get the best prices. Kayak is another popular one, as well as Yapta, which is run by Kayak. Yapta automatically alerts you to a price drop after you book and helps you get a refund depending on the airline’s policy. If you’ve done your research, you’ll find they all offer the same price most of the time, but it’s always good to take a look.
  • Be flexible. Swapping your dates out is the best way to get lower fares. If you wait until last minute, you can get deals as well, though it’s much tougher on popular routes. For last minute booking, check Priceline or Airfarewatchdog. On Priceline, you can offer what you want for hotels, rental cars and flights and get great deals if you don’t care about specifics before booking.

Up next budget airlines…