Travel, Uncategorized

Best Sites for Flight Deals

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Travel has a reputation for being expensive.

And it can be, if you let plane tickets, 100$ per night hotel rooms and eating out for three meals a day add up! The trick is knowing how to cut your travel costs. All it takes is the willingness to do a bit of research!

As flights are generally the most expensive part of a trip, today I want to show you how to minimize those plane ticket prices! The following is a list of the sites I use to travel far and often, without having to spend too much money.

If you are flexible on dates:

Scott’s Cheap Flights is my favorite resource for international flight deals. Once you subscribe (there’s a free version, which I use, and a version with a small monthly fee), you’ll get emails every time a great international deal appears. They go fast, and you’ll probably be travelling during the off-season, but if you’ve saved a few hundred dollars to travel you’ll be able to snag a great ticket!

What I’ve bought from here: $470 round-trip Seattle to Paris, $480 round-trip Seattle to Rome

The Flight Deal for domestic and some international flights. Similar to Scott’s, you’ll get emails about deals. This one is better for travelling to bigger US cities (think Houston, Denver, New York), but occasionally has international deals, like $180 round-trip Seattle-Cabo.

If you’re looking for the cheapest flight during a certain time frame:

 

Kayak and Skiplagged both allow you to search for the best deals within a certain time frame, and will show you the price differences if you are able to shift your flight around a few days (for instance, if you left on Sunday instead of Monday you might save $100). I love using these if I have to be somewhere on a certain day, because even if it’s a busy tourist season you’ll still get the best deal.

What I’ve bought from here: $200 round-trip Seattle to Houston tickets to visit my family

Finally, Google Flight Search works for either situation, because it allows you to browse dates and prices at your leisure. It usually has the best prices for everything, but you have to be careful when you book and make sure the fare actually works. I spent 3 hours on the phone with an airline once only to find out that the $350 round-trip Seattle to Italy ticket I was after was a “travel agent price” and I couldn’t book it unless I was booking for an agency.

What I’ve bought from here: $400 round-trip ticket from Seattle to Reykjavik, sorta on the higher side but the best available for the weekend that worked with my schedule.

Before you buy:

Check the baggage allowance! Some airlines get you by charging extra on these tickets for a carry-on or checked bag, so make sure you know what’s free to bring!

Make sure your ticket is not with Spirit. Not worth the price, I promise.

 

I hope these tips help you get to your next destination! Let me know in the comments if you have other suggestions or cheap flight tips. Happy flying!

 

 

 

Local exploration, Travel, Uncategorized

A Weekend in Portland

As much as I love long periods of international travel, there’s something to be said about spending a weekend in a nearby city.

Last weekend my boyfriend, Landon and I headed down to Portland, a 4 hour bus ride from Seattle. We only had to be there for a few days, for an RRCA (Road Runners Club of America) coaching course I was taking, but chose to tack on a few days for exploration. We spent some time Googling, asked my old cross country camp cabin mate for some ideas (she’s spent a good chunk of time in Portland- check out her blog at isabellanais.com and Instagram: @isabellanais), and hit the road.

Here are our tips for a weekend in Portland!

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For coffee:

Obviously, you have to hit up Stumptown. There is no coffee I have ever tasted that beats this Oregon-based company, and being in one of their actual shops was a no-frills, high quality experience. As we we staying near the Woodlawn area, we also stopped by Woodlawn Coffee & Pastry a few times. They even had French gluten free pastries!

After a cold walk through the city one night, we stopped at Barista, another cafe focusing on quality over decor. Opting not to sit in the handful of high, austere chairs scattered near the window, we grabbed some delicious Americanos and enjoyed their heat as we continued to meander along the waterfront.

I wish I could recommend more coffee shops, but as my classes over the weekend began at 8am, I ended up drinking a lot of Starbucks, as it was open and close to the class location.

For food:

We are health nuts, so we did what we could to stay healthy outside of my coaching class, where I was inhaling hot, greasy pizza. Because really, who can resist free pizza? (If you can, seriously- teach me your ways!)

But other than that we were pretty good. We stocked20171119_195124.jpg up on healthy staples at Whole Foods for most of our snacks/meals (budget travel, anyone?). Bulk nuts, Lara bars, carrots and celery with this delicious local hummus, opal apples, mandarin oranges, boiled eggs…

But of course, we also wanted to eat out. Portland is known for having some delicious and healthy fare, so we stopped by vegan restaurant Blossoming Lotus and were in awe. The whole menu was incredibly creative, all vegan and with plenty of gluten free options. My boyfriend had this amazing curry with tempeh, and I had “live nachos” with cashew cheese. For dessert we split an apple pie and some truffles. The whole thing was divine and we felt wonderful after, which was the best part.

Finally, we hit up Kure, a juice/smoothie/acai bowl type of place a few times. The first time I ordered an AMAZING turmeric latte with ashwagandha and reishi- delicious and so healthy. I tried a green detox drink, but it was a little too lemony and sour for me. It’s probably very effective as a detox juice if that’s what you are looking for, though!

The acai bowl we tried was Kure’s “Bowl of the Gods”, which was not only delicious and filling but also looked pretty.

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For outdoor adventuring:

My boyfriend got to do a bit more exploring outdoors than I did, as I was inside drawing up marathon training plans and differentiating between lactate threshold and tempo workouts. Still, we both were able to spend some time hiking through the arboretum at Washington Park– that’s in the photos you’ll see below. Landon was able to explore Macleay and Mt Tabor as well, which sound beautiful and soul-filling. Beautiful places in nature just do that to you…

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All in all, we were able to make a great weekend out of it. The draw of Portland for me, other than all things running-related, is the abundance of healthy eateries and the spirit of outdoor adventuring.

Have you ever been to Portland? Where would you recommend? Leave your ideas below!

Travel, Uncategorized

7 tips to make your first solo trip a breeze

So you’ve gone on road trips with your family, beachy vacations with your friends, and even stayed in a neighboring town for a weekend with a friend or lover. Now you’re starting to itch for a further trip, a bigger adventure… you’re thinking maybe you want to go overseas.

And… you kind of want to go alone.

I’ve heard from a lot of my friends recently that they are nervous about taking a solo trip overseas. As someone who has done this multiple times, I cannot recommend it enough- but I can understand that it might not be the most comfortable for everyone (check out my post on embracing discomfort!).

However, I am of the firm belief that if you want to travel, you should let nothing stop you. Sometimes that means having to go it alone! So here are my best nuggets of advice, to help ensure your first solo trip is a wonderful experience instead of a stress-filled nightmare.

***real quick: these tips are for people that are nervous to travel solo for the first time. if you are not nervous, DO NOT worry about this list, just buy the plane ticket and go!***

TIP #1: Stay close(ish) to home!

If you’ve never left your small hometown in Ohio, don’t make your first big trip a backpacking excursion around the edge of the Sahara desert. Start with somewhere that will give you the confidence to keep traveling after this trip, like London or some big city in Canada. Get out of your home country, but head somewhere that’s not that drastically different. This way, you’ll still be overseas but you’ll experience less culture shock.

TIP #2: Go to a bigger city.

Bigger cities have more resources for travelers, and are generally easier to get around on foot or by using public transportation. There’s usually also more to do, so going bigger basically just makes your trip easier and more engaging.

TIP #3: Stick to your language.

Again, we are working to minimize the stress of this trip. Trying to ask for help when no one understands you? Stress-FULL. So. Take your first trip somewhere that speaks your language, so that if you need anything you can be sure people will understand you!

TIP #4: Do your research.

Research the area- the currency, a map of the places you’d like to see, the cab fare from the airport to your hostel… make a plan! You shouldn’t always travel with a plan- spontaneity is fun. But for your first trip, the more you know, the better you’ll feel. Then you’ll get there and realize oh, I know this- this is easy! Knowledge is power, and the experience of feeling capable abroad will build your confidence for the future.

TIP #5: Get social.

Stay in a hostel with other travelers, or at an Airbnb with locals. Ask people to take pictures of you when you’re out being tourist-y. Get comfortable chatting with strangers and it will make the loneliness of going alone a lot less, well, lonely.

TIP #6: Know what to do in an emergency.

You will probably be fine. But just in case, make sure you know the local emergency number and, if abroad, the location of your country’s embassy. Covering all your bases will help you relax and enjoy the trip.

TIP #7: Trust yourself.

Really, the biggest way to get over being nervous about solo travel is to prepare for what you can, know what to do if something goes wrong, then throw yourself into it and understand that it will be a learning process. But there are so many benefits. You get to follow your own schedule, do what you want, eat/drink/sleep whatever, whenever…. Your first solo trip, if done well, will inspire you for a lifetime.

So… where are you going? And when?

 

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Travel, Uncategorized

embracing discomfort

Travel is often uncomfortable, and you know what?

That’s okay. It’s supposed to be.

There are, of course, the vacations you take in order to have fun, unwind, relax and have a drink on the beach. There are family trips and trips with friends that can be relaxing or challenging in their own ways.

But the kind of discomfort I want to discuss today is the kind you encounter when you board a plane, alone, to a completely foreign country.

This discomfort comes in the form of a pendulum’s swing, an emotional roller coaster veering from elation and joy to depression and anxiety, often flinging you from one extreme to the other with no identifiable catalyst.

The challenge this poses to the solo traveler is not to be underestimated. Such drastic mood swings can be frustrating at best and trip-ending at the worst.

So what’s a traveler to do?

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1. Know yourself

Be aware of what is valuable to you. What will you miss? What will you be excited about? If you are the kind of person who is very outgoing and social, don’t plan a solo trip where you stay by yourself in a hotel all week. Stay at a hostel, go to local events and meetups (you can use meetup.com or use Airbnb’s experience feature), or just go to a bar and chat with the locals. See if anyone from your hometown has a friend overseas they could connect you with.

If you are more of an introvert, know that. Maybe you’re staying in a hostel or with a friend or family member, and that’s fine, but make sure you give yourself a little time to breathe. If you really can’t give yourself a ton of time, at least take a moment in the shower to enjoy the quiet, to breathe and center yourself. Or get up 20 minutes earlier and go on a short walk- that adds the bonus of being able to check out your new surroundings!

On the flip side, seek out those experiences you enjoy. Don’t do whatever seems cool or popular, do what YOU want to do. I’m going to Paris in a couple months and although on my last trip there, I checked out all the touristy things, my only desire this trip is to spend some time writing in small cafes, walking around to see the city, and reading anywhere with a view. This might seem boring to some but I’ve learned that this is one of my favorite ways to become immersed in a foreign city.

2. Expect to be emotional

Traveling can throw a lot at you. Your senses are heightened because everything is new and your brain is trying to make sense of it all. As a result, a lot of strong emotions can come from out of the blue. You might be exuberant one moment, but then you see something vaguely familiar, or are challenged in some way (losing a train ticket, mispronouncing something, not understanding the grocery store)… and just like that you are miserable and wish you’d never left home.

There are a couple things you can do to offset these moments. First, remember to breathe in the moment. It’s easy to get stressed about little issues when you’re on the road, but a lot harder to solve them if you’re all worked up about it. Remember that you are capable, you are going to be fine, and then get to work solving whatever is going on. If you are lost, ask somebody for help. Miming often works when you don’t speak the language. People are generally kind and willing to help.

If you’re lonely, let yourself feel it, but again- breathe and then work on putting yourself together. Don’t lay around in your Airbnb looking at pictures of your hometown. Get out and explore. Remember why you are traveling. I doubt it was because you wanted to lay low and feel sorry for yourself.

If you really miss something, remember that you can always go back home. Just don’t let your emotions control your experience. Make a plan for what to do when you’re down- use that time to do something quiet and refreshing, like a hike or walk in a beautiful park. Use your energized moments to get out and do the louder things, the ancient structures and city centers.

Remember that however you feel, it will pass, and it doesn’t mean you should give up on your travels. Just be smart.

3. Do it anyway

Once you understand that you will feel down and out of sorts or elated and joyous in turn, you have much more control over your experience. Knowing yourself and how you react so different situations is powerful, and travel will teach you that.

You will be uncomfortable.

But when you return you will have changed.

You will know what you can deal with, from being lost, losing your passport, realizing how much you miss having a home and being around so-and-so, etc. You’ll also have witnessed some of the world’s beauty, seen how other people live their lives and connected yourself to something greater than yourself.

You will have a much harder time learning all these things without the inherent discomfort of traveling solo.

So do it.

Get out of your comfort zone.

Explore the world.

Find out who you are

and grow.

Travel, Uncategorized

why minimalism enhances your travel experience

MINIMALISM.

It’s 2017, you’ve heard of it.

Whether you’ve seen The Minimalists’ documentary, Marie-Kondo‘d your life, or think it’s a silly millennial thing… you’ve heard of it.

Minimalism is, as I understand, eliminating unnecessary STUFF in order to truly enjoy, experience and appreciate your life. You can apply the concept of having less to the things you physically own or certain less tangible aspects of your life (though we won’t get into that here).

Whatever you think of utilizing minimalism for your general lifestyle, you can’t deny it makes travel simpler.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you…

  • didn’t always have to pay to check a bag at the airport?
  • never had to worry about overflowing suitcases?
  • could instantly find whatever you’re looking for in a bag?
  • always had room to bring home a keepsake?
  • spent more time exploring than worrying about getting your stuff around?
  • could explore on layovers without having to find a place for your luggage?
  • never had to worry about your clothes wrinkling from lack of space?

YES. Yes it would. So here are the ways you can start embracing minimalism while traveling…

First, simplify your wardrobe. Even if you love fashion and changing up your attire all the time at home, keep a separate set of clothes to travel with. Buy items in neutral colors, like white, grey, black, blue, green or brown. Invest in a few high quality pieces that are super functional, instead of bringing a million layers. For example, instead of having to don a different jacket for rain, wind, or cold, get one black (goes with everything) hooded, lined raincoat.

This already sounds simple, I know. But if it’s so simple, why are you still overpacking??

All you need to carry with you on any trip shorter than a month, depending on climate, is 1-2 shorts/pants, a handful of shirts, a good coat, maybe a hat, a solid pair of shoes and some undergarments. Again, invest in a high quality version in each of these in a neutral color and you won’t even have to think about what you’re putting on in the morning, because it’ll always look good and be functional.

My next tip is to bring less tech. So many people carry around an assortment of chargers, cords, wires, etc, for just a few electronics! The easiest way to fix this is to just bring a laptop with a wall charger (make sure you have the right charger for the country you’re going to!) and a USB cable.  Charge everything (camera, phone, iPod, whatever) by connecting that cable to your computer.

In that vein… One extra electronic thing that’s worth being along is some kind of e-reader. If you’re like me and can consume 6-7 books while traveling, especially on trips with long flights, do your back a favor and consolidate them into an e-reader, so you aren’t lugging a library around all the time.

Beyond clothes, a camera and some entertainment for the journey… what do you really need? Are you going to a big city or modern town? Chances are, if you really need anything, you can buy it there.

When you use the idea of minimalism to reduce the amount of things you have to worry about carrying with you and looking after, you free up more space to truly enjoy your travel experience. The less unnecessary travel gear you buy, the more money you have to eat out at that beautiful place on the Seine, or to go on a camel tour in Marrakech.

Next time you travel, really think about what you’ll need when you’re abroad. It’s always worth it to be able to spend more energy on enjoying the trip.

Travel, Uncategorized

How to travel the world when you don’t make tons of money

Hey guys! Guess what? In the coming months, I’m spending a week back in Paris and another exploring Rome!

Luckily, I’m able to afford it…

…even though I’m a paid-by-the-hour grocery store employee living in one of the most expensive cities in the US.

– – –

If I go to AirFrance’s website right now and look for a round trip ticket from Seattle to Paris in economy class (not the cheapest, but the second cheapest) for a random handful of days in November, it costs about $3,000 for a youth ticket.

The ticket I recently purchased cost $470.

The average hotel price in Paris is about 120 euros, or $140. Six nights in Paris gets you close to $900.

I’m staying in a hostel for the same amount of time. It cost $188 for the week.

If you spend $30 on dinner per night, $15 on lunch and $15 on breakfast, you spend around $400 throughout the week for food.

If you only eat out a few times and cook the rest of your food wherever you’re staying, you can easily get by on $150 for a week.

So we’ve taken what was a $4,300 trip down to an $800 trip. 

Want to know how I do it?

1. Make it a priority.

I’m a travel addict, and I’m assuming if you’re reading this you are too. I dream about feeling the rumble of a plane as it lifts into the air, watching patchwork landscapes shift beneath me. Then comes the magical feeling of walking out of the airport, suitcase in hand, somewhere you’ve never been before… It’s simply beautiful.

So I do everything I can in order to travel more often. Sometimes this means making sacrifices- picking up extra shifts at work the week before a trip so I can still pay for rent that month, buying only secondhand, eating a lot of oatmeal, rice and bananas… But it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice because it means I get to travel!

If it’s important to you, it’ll be easier to dedicate the time and energy required to make it happen.

2. Keep an eye on your bank account.

As much as I love rhapsodizing about how much you can save to travel, it’s not free. Travel is expensive, and if you’re not watching what you’re spending you can easily let money slip down the drain.

Every time I get a paycheck, I set aside what I need for living necessities (rent, food, electricity…) and anything I’m doing that month, like a brunch with friends or family member’s birthday. The rest goes into a savings fund that I can only withdraw from a few times per month, which means it’s less likely I’ll waste it on a new pair of shoes or a fancy dinner.

It also helps to use cash for thing like grocery shopping- it helps you physically see how much you’re spending instead of mindlessly swiping a card. It also limits you when you’re out and about- it’s a lot harder to casually pick up $50 worth of random clothing items when you only have a twenty dollar bill in your pocket.

3. Find ways to cut back and/or make more money. 

Live with a roommate and share housing costs. Use YouTube or Amazon and spend $3.99 on one movie per month instead of paying for cable TV. Eat out less and cook more- you can make some pretty tasty things out of vegetables, spices and grains, and those are all very inexpensive. Get a second job. Buy secondhand clothes and home goods.

There are so many ways to live comfortably on a small budget! You still might need to make some sacrifices- but again, if travel is important to you they won’t feel like sacrifices. Giving up your 5$ a day Starbucks habit and having coffee at home might suck now, but when you’re sitting at a cafe in Italy eating pizza and drinking wine, you’ll be glad you did it.

4. Be flexible on dates and locations.

I’ll tell you right now: going to Paris on Valentine’s Day is going to be hard as hell on a budget. But if you look for deals and patiently wait, you can find amazing opportunities.

I recommend writing a list of all the places you want to go, then waiting for a flight to go on sale or be reduced in price. That way you can buy the plane ticket and work the rest of your schedule around the date the flight is available. That’s always going to be the most expensive part of your trip, so getting it out of the way is crucial. I use Scott’s Cheap Flights, and save up money while watching for deals. Then when a ticket is available, I jump on it!

 

For example, I’ve always wanted to go to Italy. I saved for a few months and then found a $480 round trip ticket to Rome (on average ~$1000).  Kayak is good if you can’t be flexible on dates but still want the cheapest price for your dates of travel

You can also use Airfare Spot or Thrifty Traveler. 

5. Stay with locals!

AirBnb is amazing. I’m spending less than $200 for a week in my own room with a balcony in Rome! I haven’t tried Couchsurfing yet (though I plan to next summer), but I’ve heard good things. If you’re nervous about staying with locals then find a hostel, which will be comparable in price but more like a budget hotel.

None of these options will be as fancy as staying in a hotel… but you shouldn’t be hanging out in your living space for your whole trip! You should be out exploring!

6. Pack light.

Airline bag fees are everywhere, and will take huge chunks out of your travel budget. Also, many budget tickets only allow you to bring one carry-on, so save yourself the worry/expense and just bring a backpack. You honestly don’t need more than that!

Those are my top pieces of advice for those of us on a budget but still looking to see the world. Definitely shoot me a message through my contact page if there’s anything else you want to know!

I feel I should admit that I do have some advantages here- no family to look after, no school schedule to work around, a job that pays a little over minimum wage and is okay with me taking a week at a time off to fly around the world. Still, if you have more responsibilities it doesn’t mean you can’t travel, it might just mean you need to save up a little longer and travel for shorter periods. You do what works for you.

If you want to travel, you can make it happen, I promise.

So… where are you going to go?

Travel

Travel Diaries: Miramar Beach, Florida

 

It begins at 4ish in the morning, when I land at the airport in Houston, Texas.

I hang around the airport for a couple hours, eating bags of Lays from vending machines. It’s too early for any of the eateries in a domestic terminal to be open, and it’s the only available snack I’m not allergic to. I’m starving and in desperate need of coffee, but potato chips will have to do for now.

Eventually my parents pull up to the already muggy passenger pick-up area. I head over to meet them, and proceed to surprise the heck out of my younger siblings.

They’ve just begun a 10 hour road trip to a beach in Florida and had no idea they would be stopping at the airport to pick me up on the way! It’s a birthday surprise for my youngest sister, who has been begging me to visit for months. Little did she know!

After my parents and I brag about how we’ve planned this for four months and exclaim over how proud we are of pulling it off, and my siblings have had time to produce a sufficient amount of shocked expressions, we’re on our way.

Before reaching Florida, we must drive through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. I sleep through most of of the drive, despite gulping from the 20 oz thermos of coffee my parents have passed to me in the backseat.

In Louisiana, there’s a rest stop where they serve “free coffee and smiles”- we sip our free coffee

and walk a short loop around some alligator statues to stretch our legs.

I open my eyes again crossing “the largest swamp in America” (whichever state that’s in…) and crossing the Mississippi river, then remain unconscious until we near our destination…

The rental condo my sister had found for us to stay in was a mere half mile from the ocean, with stunning views of the coast. From our deck we could see for what seemed like miles… Every morning we woke up to the sound of seagulls mingling with the distant rhythm of waves, and a gorgeous sunrise. In a word, it was paradise.

Every day began either at the pool or in the ocean, and we dipped in both at least once, usually twice each day. I preferred the ocean, as the Puget Sound back home isn’t as great for swimming and it was fun to have the opportunity to play in salt water. The water here was so blue and so clear, the sand pale and soft, contrasting with the crashing waves… And is there anything so awe-inspiring and mystical as the endless, open sky?

We left the shores near our condo every day for a while to check out neighboring cities. Our first little adventure was the boardwalk at Destin. It reminded me a little bit of Sentosa in Singapore– a little bit touristy but quirky enough to be interesting.  There was a pirate ship, a zip line and a lot of places to get cocktails…

The next town we hit up was Seaside, a white-walled little oasis off another beautiful white sand beach. While exploring we found a juice bar and all got fresh, fun juices- mine had cilantro and pineapple! After having several mimosas on the beach over the course of the week I felt this was much needed.

In Rosemary Beach, the architecture took a turn for the more elaborate. My mother said it reminded her of Leavenworth, WA- a bit European.

It was definitely a more well-off area- we weren’t able to actually go on the beach because we didn’t have a key code to get past the gate…. still, we wandered a bit and ended up being able to get coffee, at a real coffee shop called Amavida, a luxury in Florida. Good coffee is hard to find in the south. Maybe it’s because I’m used to Seattle, and hot coffee doesn’t sell as well in a more humid climate… Most of what’s in stores is just Community coffee (basically a cheap, Folgers-esque coffee) or similar. Even the Whole Foods only sold their line of Allegro coffee and like two other options, compared to the 20-30 other brands you’d find at any grocer in Seattle, often from local roasteries.

My point being that the americano I had from Amavida was life-giving.

Our last big stop before we drove back to Texas at the end of the week was a long fishing pier where dolphins were said to hang out. And they did! We saw a handful of them swimming around interrupting the fisherman who were trying to make catches. There was a giant sea turtle roaming around which we caught a glimpse of, too, but the dolphins stole the show.

Our final night ended with a firework show along this beach, after sampling alligator meat at a taco place for dinner. A weird way to spend an evening but super enjoyable.

All in all, a relaxing week of adventure, sand-coated bikinis, cocktails on the beach and salty hair moments with my family. What more could you ask for?