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#881 Halloween Savings: How To Save 50% On Halloween Candy

22 Oct

This money saving tip takes planning and patience. And a secret stash hideout that no one can find.

Step 1: Hit the post-Halloween 50% off sales on candy on November 1. (The earlier you hit them the better the choices.)
50% off halloween candy discount

Step 2: Check the expiration date to make sure the candy will be good NEXT Halloween. Check… (I did indeed buy this candy and plan this post a year ago…)
halloween candy expiration date

Step 3: Sample a few… just to make sure they’re good.
halloween candy lemonheads

Step 4: Stash the candy in a cool, dry place where NO ONE will find the secret cache.

Step 5: Hand out candy when next year’s Halloween rolls around. Sample a few just to make sure they’re still good (they are!). No one is the wiser as you hand out the candy. Repeat yearly.
halloween candy in hand

 

Bonus: You don’t have to shop for candy last minute.

It has to be Halloween candy because many candies that are not usually individually wrapped are individually wrapped for handing out. Other holidays have themed candy that makes it obvious that you are handing out the wrong holiday’s candy.

Alternatives to handing out candy to massive amounts of ungrateful children:

Keep your house dark and hope no one comes by.

Hide in the bushes with a really scary costume and jump out to scare people away.

Personally, being cheap on this one is easier than the previous two. You can still enjoy the holiday and it eliminates my pet peeve that holiday candy is always 50% off after the fact. Well, I just solved that problem for you. You’re welcome. You can use this tip for any holiday. Just don’t let anyone know that it’s your game plan. They probably will tell others to avoid your treats on the holidays. Come on people, sugar never goes bad!

#882 Halloween Savings: Don’t Let That Pumpkin Go To Waste

21 Oct

jack o lanternAfter carving up your Halloween jack o’ lantern, do you:

A. Let it rot on your lawn or doorstep until it is a disgusting heap of orange and black moldy goo.

B. Throw it away.

C. Compost it.

D. Roast it for pumpkin puree.

I pick D.

So this money-saving idea may be bordering on cheap, but I like to think of it as Native American resourceful. As in nothing goes to waste. I thought my mom was seriously cheap and weird when she did this, but then I moved to Europe where they don’t have pumpkin puree in a can. But they do sell pumpkin slices in the grocery store. That’s when I started to roast my own pumpkin, and my mom’s crazy ways seemed a little less crazy.

Please note: Pumpkins go moldy very quickly so this has to be done within 24 hours of carving to be safe. This means, don’t carve the Halloween pumpkin until the day of or day before Halloween. Who really uses a jack o’ lantern for more than Halloween night anyways?

Step 1: Discard the top with the stem and cut the pumpkin in half.
halloween pumpkin and top

halloween pumpkin cut in half

Step 2: Cut the pumpkin into even-sized cubes and trim the dried-out layer. Don’t worry about trimming the rind off, leave it during roasting.

halloween pumpkin cubes
Step 3: Place the cubes on a cookie tray, rind side down, and brush or spray with canola oil. Roast at 350 degrees until a skewer inserts easily into the cubes, about 40 minutes.

halloween pumpkin roasted
Step 4: Allow to cool for 5 minutes and then trim off the rind with a butter knife and place soft cubes in a bowl. Mash to desired consistency. Or place in food processor for a smoother finish.

mashed halloween pumpkin
Alternatives: Steam on the stove top or cook in a pressure cooker (the rind should be removed for these methods). The end result will be more watery. I like the drier finish of roasting, plus it adds a nice flavor.

Step 5: Measure into 1 or 2 cup servings and freeze what is not used right away.

halloween pumkpin puree

How this Halloween money-saving tip actually saves you money: From one average-priced $6 pumpkin, you can get roasted pumpkin seeds (isn’t that the best part of carving a pumpkin), a Halloween decoration and pumpkin puree. A small pumpkin (that in my case was actually $4.50)  yielded exactly 7 cups of pumpkin puree. libby's pumpkin pureeOne can of premium brand puree is $1.98. Generic brands are $0.99 – $1.20 per can. One can of pumpkin puree is 2 cups. That means my 7 cups is equal to 3 1/2 cans of store-bought puree or $6.93 worth of premium brand or $3.37 – $4.20 worth of generic brand puree. The premium brand canned pumpkin puree cost is more than the original cost of the pumpkin. The generic brand cost is slightly less than the original cost of the pumpkin. And that’s not factoring in that this would be the third use of the single purchase of a pumpkin.

Additional benefits of turning your jack o’ lantern into pumpkin puree:

  • No concerns about BPA in canned goods
  • Pumpkins are packed with nutrients namely beta-carotene just like orange carrots. The fresher the pumpkin, the better the nutrients so making your own means it’s fresh and hasn’t been sitting around, exposed to extreme temps to kill bacteria during manufacture and other practices that kills food nutrients.

Your regular jack o’ lanterns might not be the best flavor choice, but there are a huge variety of pumpkins. If you get one from a farm stand or farmer’s market, the grower may be able to tell you more about the richer-flavored pumpkins to choose from.

What to do with all this roasted pumpkin?
If you’re Euro, you’ll go savory with pumpkin soup, pumpkin ravioli or pumpkin risotto.
If you’re American, you’ll go sweet with pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread or pumpkin muffins. I once made killer pumpkin cheese cake and pumpkin creme brulee.

The best part is that Thanksgiving is just around the corner and you’ll be able to wow the guests with tales of home-roasted pumpkin pie.

#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…

#919 Travel Savings: Take The Mystery Out Of Airfare Prices, Part 1

7 Mar

Become a airfare ninja. Photo courtesy of JapanPhotoLibrary.com.

Become a airfare ninja. Photo courtesy of JapanPhotoLibrary.com.

Become an airline ticket booking ninja by using two websites, Skyscanner and Bing Travel (formerly farecast.com) to guarantee the best price on airfare. You will completely revolutionize the way you book tickets, get cheap airfare and obliterate your anxiety about paying too much for plane tickets. Here is a pictorial demonstration, and proof that using these sites correctly saves you money on airfare. On average, I’ve saved $50 a ticket on airfare, which is a typical average.

skyscanner and farecast

 

 

So there you have it, Skyscanner and Bing Travel are great tools to shop around for the best airfare prices. They use compiled airline ticket stats and trends that you wouldn’t otherwise have access too to help take the mystery out of constantly fluctuating air ticket prices. Next up, I’ll look at more sites and stats to help you save money on airfare.