48 Hours in Bruges

I visited Bruges last month after hopping on a P&O Ferries Hull to Zeebrugge ferry. You can spend a day in Bruges on typical mini cruise break or could have the option of extending your stay and enjoying a 48 hour in Bruges like we did. To help give an idea of what you can see and do in Bruges, I’ve compiled a guide on enjoying the best of Bruges on a budget. I hope you find it useful.

 

48 Hours in Bruges

Bruges

Introduction to Bruges

Bruges is the capital and also the largest city of West Flanders, situated towards the northwest of Belgium. Like Amsterdam, it is a canal based city and is often referred to as the ‘Venice of the North’ along with other similar Belgian cities.

The name of the city, Bruges has been in the history books since the ninth century. The name in all probability derives from the old Dutch name for bridge. Bruges became an important port of trade during the Golden Age (12th-15th centuries) bringing unprecedented wealth to the area. The Golden Era subsequently dwindled around 1500 with the silting of the Golden Inlet or Zwin channel. Presently, Bruges is a meticulously preserved historic city. Amble down the cobblestone corridors and get lost in Bruges’ medieval history.

 

Things to do in Bruges

1.Basilica of the Holy Blood

Entry: €Free

The Basilica of the Holy Blood is located in Burg Square and consists of a lower and upper chapel. The 12th century Basilica is dissected into architecturally distinct upper and lower chapels.The lower chapel is dedicated to St. Basil and is a Romanesque structure. The upper chapel is built in the Gothic style and contains a phial apparently of the blood of Christ that was collected by Joseph of Arimathea and brought to the city by the crusaders, namely Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders. In the film, ‘In Bruges’ Brendan Gleason in the character of Ken visits the relic of the Holy Blood.

2.Church of Our Lady Bruges

Church entry = €Free / Museum = €4 ( Subject to change )

The Church of Our Lady in Bruges is a very old Gothic Church of Roman Catholic denomination. It was built around the thirteenth century with later additions being made to the building during the fourteenth and fifteenth century. The tower of the church is the tallest in the city, standing at 377 feet.

The church is the repository of many notable works of art including a statue of Madonna by Michelangelo, the Crucifixion reportedly by Anthony van Dyck and the Supper at Emmaus, ascribed to Caravaggio.

The Church is undergoing restoration so entry to the Church is free while the museum with Michelangelo’s world-famous Madonna and Child has a €2 entry fee.

View from the top

Concertgebouw

Follow the lines-Concertgebouw

3.Concertgebouw

Cost: Guided tour of the building including access to the rooftop is €8.

The Concertgebouw or Concert building in Bruges is a modern structure that offers a great panoramic view of the city. The concert hall can seat upwards of 1200 people across three levels and also features several exhibition halls in the Lantern Tower that provides city views.

Architecturally the building rests on thousands of poles. The concert hall is designed to provide fantastic acoustics. The building facade is dressed in distinct red terracotta tiles and the Lantern Tower is made of glass. This is certainly a quite modern structure that stands out from the other buildings comprising the historic Old Town of Bruges. Entry fee is pricey but I enjoyed the luxury of not queuing and having the rooftop views to myself compared to the Belfort.

Groeninge Museum Bruges

Hieronymus Bosch‘s famous triptych-The Last Judgement in the Groeninge Museum

4. Groeninge Museum

Entry: €12

Groeninge Museum houses six centuries of Flemish and Belgian painting on the site of the medieval Eekhout Abbey. Particularly, it features Hieronymus Bosch‘s famous triptych The Last Judgement which also appears in the movie ‘In Bruges’ ,where the two hitmen have a discussion about heaven and hell after seeing the painting. Other notable artists who have works displayed in the museum include Jan van Eyck and Marcel Broodthaers. Despite it being pretty pricey, definitely worth making a pit stop here.

Sashuis Bruges

Sashuis by the lake of love, Minnewater Lake

Swans Minnewater Lake

Swan Lake aka Minnewater Lake

5. Minnewater Bridge

Minnewater Lake or the Lake of Love is situated in a leafy, green park to the south of Bruges. A local legend has evolved around the lake down the years. According to folklore the lake is the seat of the tragic love affair between Minna and her warrior lover Stromberg. The legend claims you will experience eternal love if you cross Minnewater Bridge with your sweetheart.

View from Sint Janshuismolen

Sint Janshuismolen Bruges

Sint Janshuismolen

6. Sint Janshuismolen

Entry fee: €4

This is a historical location like no other you have visited before. Sint Janshuismolen is one of two existing windmills that remain in the city. The windmill has been reportedly grinding grain since 1770 and to this day it is open to visitors during the peak of summer. A quaint wooden structure perched on top of a green rolling hill – it makes for wonderful photo opportunities.

Begijnhuisje Bruges

Begijnhuisje Bruges

t-Begijnhof Brugge

t-Begijnhof Brugge

7. Begijnhuisje

Entry: €Free

A beguinage is a complex created to house beguines: religious women who lived together in a separate community without taking vows. The Begijnhof Brugge is a carefully preserved beguinage in Bruges, the only one of its kind in the city. Beguines no longer take shelter in the building, since 1927 it serves as  Benedictine convent. This is a quiet peaceful place. A grassy central tree studded yard is flanked by about thirty white painted houses dating back from the 16th century and later. The original Beguine house near the entrance way has been preserved as a museum and is the repository of paintings, 17th and 18th century furniture and lacework.

Triennale Brugge

Triennale Brugge

8. Triennale Brugge 2018: Liquid city

This is a contemporary art and architecture route in Brugesand will run from 5/5/2018 till 16/9/2018. In 2018, the Triennial returns to Bruges for the second time. Held once every three years, this artistic route, with surprising installations by celebrated artists and architects, is spread right across the city centre. The Triennial explores the future of a city like Bruges, and hopes to serve as safe point of reference.

 

Where to Eat and Drink in Bruges

Eating and drinking as you will discover is not the cheapest compared to other European cities but there are a few simple tips I can share with you that will save you some pennies

cheap-eats-bruges

Carrefour Picnic

8. Carrefour

Carrefour supermarket was my best friend when visiting Bruges. Given how steep the price of beers were in bars, I bought a few beers and had a fantastic picnic in front of the beautiful Sint Janshuismolen windmill. Another day, we did a simple lunch of baguette, cheese, olives and some chips in the main square. Sometimes these simple meals are the ones you remember.

Bruges Beer Experience

Hanging with the Beer Fairy at the Bruges Beer Experience

9. Bruges Beer Experience

This is a museum where visitors can learn about the history of beer making and sample different brews. Skip the tour and go straight to the bar to sample 5 Belgian beers for €10-best deal in town

Address: Breidelstraat 3, 8000 Brugge, Belgium.

Hours: Mon-Sun 10AM-6.30PM

Chocolatier Dumon Bruges

Chocolatier Dumon

Nathalie-Dumon-Chocolatier

Nathalie Dumon is carrying on Madame Dumon’s fine tradition of creating Bruges finest chocolate

 

10. Chocolatier Dumon

This is just the place to get your chocolate fix, when in Bruges. This award winning chocolatier is the best place for tasting and buying chocolates. Enjoy either the melt in the mouth truffles with a hard chocolate shell and buttercream interior or pralines – a hard chocolate shell with a variety of centres. Whatever you choose, the fine chocolates made by Madame Dumon and her children daily, are a treat.

Address: Eiermarkt 6, 8000 Brugge, Belgium.

Hours: Tues Closed, Wed-Sat 10AM-6PM, Sun 10AM-5PM

Vlissinghe Bruges

Vlissinghe

11. Vlissinghe

The oldest cafe and one of the oldest pubs in the world- this inn serves great food, beer and also has a nice terrace and outdoor pétanque area.

In the winter and autumn, there is a warming stove, where you can enjoy a bite to eat with a draft of beer. This 500 year old establishment in the Saint-Anne quarter is an oasis of calm and tranquility.

Address: Blekersstraat 2, 8000 Brugge, Belgium.

Hours: Mon-Tues Closed, Wed-Sat 11AM-10PM, Sun 11AM-7PM

Li O Lait Bruges

Li O Lait, Bruges

12. Li O Lait

Hipster cafe joint serving hearty bagels and great filter coffee and speciality teas- this is just the place to get your caffeine fix. There are even vegetarian options on offer too.

Address: Dweersstraat 30, 8000 Brugge, Belgium.

Hours: 9 AM-5.30 PM

Books and Brunch, Bruges

Mega toast sandwiches from Books and Brunch!

13. Books and Brunch

Vegan and veggie friendly restaurant with a great selection of used books to read. This is a cozy, casual eatery, perfect for the bibliophile who likes to brunch. The prices are higher than average but the ingredients are fresh and their mega toast is enough to feed two-keep that in mind.

Address: Garenmarkt 30, 8000 Brugge, Belgium.

Hours: Mon-Sat  9 AM-3PM

 

Where to stay in Bruges

Sabrina snug on a huge bed in Hotel Albert 1

1. Hotel Albert 1

If you are looking for something central and cosy then the Hotel Albert 1, housed in a typical historic Bruges town house , is perfect if albeit a little expensive. Due to the great effort devoted to redirecting traffic away from the historic centre, this area is a relatively pedestrian friendly zone, reasonably quiet. The interiors are comfortably furnished in an English-cottage style with all sorts of modern conveniences. The rooms here are very cosy, great beds and a filling breakfast buffet.

Address: Koenig Albert 1-laan 2-4, 8000 Brugge, Belgium.

Rates start from €80 a night via Booking.com

Snuffel Hostel Bruges

Snuffel Hostel, Bruges

2. Snuffel Hostel

This hip design hostel is located centrally in the old part of Bruges. It is only 500 meters from Market Square and the Basilica of the Holy Blood. With a nice onsite bar and regular program of live music, a fully equipped kitchen and no curfew, this is the place to stay in order to discover the city. With a free breakfast included in the price of a night’s stay, Snuffel Hostel is perfect for the budget-conscious traveller.

Address: Ezelstraat 42, 8000 Brugge, Belgium.

Rates start from a fantastic €50 for a private and €22 for a bed in a 4 bed dorm, booked via Hostelworld.com

3. Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce

Not budget or even mid range by any means but the Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce deserves a mention in any guide about Bruges given its starring role in the movie ‘In Bruges’. It is situated in the heart of Bruges, with the Groeningemuseum just a 2 minute walk away. Many other key historic landmarks of the city are within easy walking distance of the property, including the Market Square, The Basilica of the Holy Blood and the Church of Our Lady.

Address: Wollestraat 41, 8000 Brugge, Belgium.

Rates start from an eye watering €180 a night booked via Booking.com

Bruges

Factbox

P&O Ferries run frequent crossings to and from Hull to Zeebrugge. There are lots of choices of cruises, with the Bruges minicruise a very popular one. The mini cruises (based on a short break, car and two adults and an inside cabin) from Hull for £129. For more information and offers ring 0800 130 0030 or check out www.poferries.com

Disclaimer

I was invited by P&O Ferries to experience their mini cruises from Hull to Zeebrugge. I’d like thank them and also extend my gratitude to Anne de Meerleer and everyone at Visit Bruges for their invaluable tips and support during our stay.

While my trip was courtesy of P&O Ferries but the opinions expressed here, are entirely my own.

P&O Ferries ‘mini-cruise’ to Bruges reviewed

13 hours and 15 minutes

If you’re clearly in a hurry to get to Bruges, then the P&O Ferries Hull to Zeebrugge ferry is probably not your best choice. There’s plenty of flights that will get you to Brussels and then onto Bruges in a few winks plus, there’s also now a new direct train service from London. Clearly, you have to be a fan of slow travel to enjoy the concept of taking a ferry.

If you’re looking to travel with your family and bringing the car to Europe, then the choice of taking the ferry is an easy choice to make. Plus if you have pets, it is a far more easier bringing them by ferry. I can’t think of anything more terrifying that being stowed into the cargo hold of a plane and being stuck there for the duration of a flight.

Pride of Bruges

Pride of Bruges

However, I don’t have any pets. No car too. Which begs the question- why on earth am I taking the ferry to Zeebrugge in the first place?

Open disclaimer. P&O Ferries invited me to experience their route plus secondly, I really don’t know Bruges. Last time I visited, it was a cold December night, just 2 days after the Brussels attacks, There was a sombre mood in the air and I wasn’t particularly feeling in the Xmassy mood to soak up the markets and melting snow.

Sun-deck-PO-Ferries-Hull-Zeebrugge

Creating memories on the sun deck, Hull to Zeebrugge ferry

My other reason, is simple. Nostalgia. I took this trip based on a memory of a previous crossing to Amsterdam with a rival ferry company. It was February and not the ideal time to cross the North Sea. However, I was with a great group of friends. We weren’t in any particular hurry to reach Amsterdam and the fares were pretty decent. The ship and facilities were nothing much to write home about. I did enjoy the novelty of watching the latest Indiana Jones movie onboard in their cinema. The rest, the dining experience was nothing much to write home about. Nor was the terrifying spectacle of drinking beers with a bunch of inebriated stag and hen groups tearing up the bar from the early hours. Luckily, we were tired enough and slept through the night with hardly any disturbance. Then there’s the fact of waking up in a boat and hearing the ship’s horn bellow as it is about to enter port. It is quite a thrilling way to reach somewhere. Beats waking up for a 5am cheap flight anyday.

Hull to Zeebrugge by ferry

Depature time for our Hull to Zeebrugge ferry

Hull to Zeebrugge by ferry

So almost 10 years later, for a variety of reasons, I am back on a mini cruise , from Hull to Zeebrugge with the girl. The trip gives us the opportunity to spend the night in the beautiful and historic city of York. From York, Hull is just over an hour and 30 minutes by train. We hop on a cab at Hull Station and soon find ourselves in Terminal 2 in the Port of Hull which is where we will depart for Zeebrugge.

Boarding-the-minicruise

Boarding the ferry with no waiting lines or queues

The ferry terminal is pretty chill. There is hardly any queue for checking-in. It was 2 hours before departure and a surreal sight to see no queues. The chatty and friendly lady at check-in tells us that with only 200 passengers ( it can hold upto 930 passengers ), it will be a pretty quiet crossing given it was a bank holiday Monday. Security is a breeze and barely 5 minutes after getting our tickets, we were walking up the ramp via the rear of Red Deck 5. Curious, we have a wee wonder and find the deck has a Sunset Show Lounge, a Bar, a casino that is no longer in operation, a Starbucks Coffee café, duty free shop, a reception, a Bureau de Change, and cabins to the front.

 

Inside Cabin P&O Ferries Hull Zeebrugge

Inside Cabin

We have a standard inside no frills cabin with two bunk beds. The room comes with an ensuite shower and toilet. The room is a bit dated but functional. You have a reading light, plug points (including a USB port) and the beds are itself are pretty comfy. Granted, it is pretty cramped but given the amount of time we intended to spend in the cabin , we were pretty happy with this. However if your budgets permit, definitely do consider the option of upgrading to one of their club class cabins. They are quite spacious and I’d love to wake up to the view of the sea.

Sabrina quaffing our £14 bottle of white wine on the sundeck

After dumping our bags in the rooms we head to the outer decks as the ship is about to leave port.  There is a nice outdoor sundeck where you can grab a bottle or glass of wine from the ship’s bar and have a drink. It was a gloriously late April sunny afternoon and perfect for alfesco drinks. At £14 a bottle for their house wine, granted this is not the cheapest bottle of wine you will buy in your life but then again, I have spent far more on far worse wine.

We soak up the sun and get chatting to some of our older fellow passengers. When I asked them what made them choose a minicruise they mentioned they loved the onboard dining options and also the entertainment provided- ‘Its a holiday within a holiday plus we can bring the car with us so it gives us a lot more freedom.’

Their feedback whets our appetite and after we polish off the wine, we clearly look forward to our meal.

The Kitchen-Gorging on the curries from the fantastic buffet

You have the choice of two restaurants on the P&O cruise ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge. You have the Kitchen, an all-you-can-eat dining venue with a very impressive selection of meal options. On the other hand you have the Brasserie, à la carte restaurant offering a more premium dining experience. I check the prices for the Brasserie and the Kitchen and they are not too far apart but we had already pre-booked a package of dining in the Kitchen plus breakfast which for around £24 which is pretty decent value.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the all-you-can-eat buffet type restaurants but when you have the leisure of time and the luxury of an open evening, it doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

Cheese board selection and the delicious icecreams

The buffet options are impressive as I mentioned and include a salad bar, a selection of hot soups, a hot buffet that include meal, fish and veggie options and a themed hot buffet which had a nice selection of curries plus naan bread and poppadoms. I really enjoyed the curries and the salad bar. To top it all of they have a fantastic cheese board selection plus dessert selection that included mousse, baked desserts, fruit and a range of gourmet ice-creams. This was the mother of all buffet meals. I think I went a bit overboard with the buffet and ate too much.

After the meal, I was naturally comatose. We went for a stroll around the ship to walk off the post dinner coma and found ourselves pretty much alone on the outer sun deck again. To our left was the last stretch of sun drenched land we would see in awhile. A quick look at Google Maps revealed the place to be the Spurn National Nature Reserve.

We head back to checkout the range of entertainment options available onboard. There’s plenty to keep you amused. We discover a games arcades , a small play area for kids ( worth noting that during the summer months children’s entertainers are employed to keep the kids entertained plus there are specially trained staff to help run a kids club). There’s even a quiet lounge where you can sit down with a book and just enjoy the sea views. There’s also a programme of live music and bingo which pulls in the crowds. I’ll admit, I wasn’t too enamoured by the live musicians but they had the sparse crowd of onlookers entertained. The floor later transforms into a disco which I imagine pulls in a few punters. We leave soon. We don’t know whether it was the incredible amount of food we consumed or whether we were just tired but we go for another wee stroll on the outer deck for a breath of fresh  sea air.

sunset from sea

Sunset from sea

We had timed it perfectly. The sun was about to sink into the horizon and given the clear weather conditions, the sky looked spectacular. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing the sunset from the sea but it really is something else, especially given how perfect the weather was. We huddled together on one of the benches and enjoyed the sky turn red, pink and then that beautiful shade of pale blue when you can’t tell the difference between the sea and sky.

Spot of Duty Free Shopping..

We head back to our cabin but get distracted by the duty free shop enroute. It is a good time to catch up on a bit of window shopping. We try out some designer shades, try out the latest range of perfumes and even buy a few essentials- extra storage memory cards for the GoPro! While shopping, we had duty manager Carrie who has been working on this route for the last 18 years! We were curious to know more about what life was like onboard and what motivated her to do the job all these years.

‘I love meeting people and onboard you’re always meeting people from all walks of life. Plus our staff are multinational so it is a pretty diverse and interesting work environment. We all take care of each other here and are one big family. The work itself is enjoyable but pretty intense but I have the flexibility of working a few weeks then taking a few weeks off. I have a good work/life balance and I can’t see myself doing anything else.’

We go to bed at around 11pm and sink soon into a deep sleep. At 6.30am we have a wake up call and bleary eyed head to the kitchen for breakfast. There’s a nice selection of hot food on offer but we’re both still heavy from last nights epic buffet so we slurp on lots of caffeine and grab some fruit before heading back to the room to pack our bags. Around 8.30am the ship finally comes into sight of land. Skies are blue. Sun already has a nice sting. The prospect of another beautiful day in a different country. The seagulls whirr above our head as the ship honks loud and clear to announce journeys end. We grab our bags and return our keys at reception. The end of any journey in life is always a bittersweet moment. The end of an experience and the beginning of something fresh, unknown. What next?

Journeys end. Pride of Bruges docking at Zeebrugge

Securities and custom is a doddle and within 5 minutes we’re walking our way towards our transfer coach that will whisk us to Bruges in little over 30 minutes. Ostend is just 25 minutes away while Antwerp is 1 1/2 hours away so there’s plenty of choice of places to visit. If you are returning in the evening, you have little under 7 1/2 hours in  Bruges to enjoy yourself. We had the luxury of staying for 3 whole days and then travelling to Portugal so that was pretty much our journeys end. I’m not a fan of rushing through a place and I would much prefer staying for a 2 night short break before returning. The P&O Ferries site give you the option of booking your onward stay in Bruges so checkout their site for more details.

What next?

Verdict

So. In the end to summarise, we both enjoyed it. The food was a major highlight and surprise compared to my previous experience of mini cruising. While the entertainment am sure will appeal to others, I’d love to see other options like the in house cinema making a comeback. Another plus were the staff who were really friendly and helpful.

The overall package works well if you have the luxury of time and in no particular hurry to get from A to B. Taking the mini cruise harks back to a more distant era of travel when the journey itself was truly the adventure. Cruising is making a comeback, maybe a reaction to the frantic pulse of modern life and the difficulty of getting away from it all.

After an hour of leaving land, the night before my GPS signal disappeared and I could no longer track the ship’s route on my phone. No wifi ( you can buy it onboard if you feel the need to be connected) and no clue of where we were in that wide stretch of blue sea between the English and Belgium coast- it felt strangely exciting and peaceful.

Out to sea. No stress and strains, just the gentle waves below lulling you in a deep sleep.

Factbox

P&O Ferries run frequent crossings to and from Hull to Zeebrugge. There are lots of choices of cruises, with the Bruges minicruise a very popular one. The mini cruises (based on a short break, car and two adults and an inside cabin) from Hull for £129. For more information and offers ring 0800 130 0030 or check out the P&O Ferries website.

Disclaimer

I was invited by P&O Ferries to experience their mini cruises from Hull to Zeebrugge. All opinions expressed here, are entirely my own.

Watch Budget Travel on Facebook Live: “Lost Luggage: What You Need to Know”

Budget Travel editor-in-chief Robert Firpo-Cappiello will be live on Facebook on Wednesday August 15 at 1:30 p.m. Eastern presenting “Lost Luggage: What You Need to Know.”

JOIN US ON FACEBOOK

To join our fun, informative discussion, go to Budget Travel’s Facebook page and “like” us. Then, you can sit back and learn how you can decrease the odds of your bag getting lost, and what to do if it does.

SEND US YOUR TRAVEL QUESTIONS!

One of the most informative and entertaining portions of our Facebook Live segments is when readers share their travel questions for our editors to answer live on camera. There are three ways to share your questions with the Budget Travel newsroom:

  • Email us at info@BudgetTravel.com.
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  • Post a comment below.

See you LIVE on Facebook on Wednesday afternoon, August 15. And remember: All of our Facebook livestream segments are archived on our Facebook page after they air, so you can check them out (along with our articles, slideshows, and videos) any time you like.

7 Ways to Save Money on a Camping Trip

Planning a camping trip? Be prepared to open your wallet. Adult campers spent an average of $546 on camping gear alone in 2016, according to the 2017 American Camper Report from Coleman Company, Inc. and The Outdoor Foundation. And when you factor in expenses for food, permits, and transportation, your camping budget could quickly go up in flames.

The upshot? There are ways to cut costs without putting a damper on your camping trip. Here’s how.

1. AVOID EXPENSIVE CAMPGROUNDS

Many campsites and parks require campers to pay a nightly rate. These costs can range significantly. There are high-end campgrounds like Camp Gulf in Miramar Beach, FL, where a beachfront camping pass costs $219 per night during the summer. In general though, a camping permit costs around $12 to $25 per night. However, there are also a number of free campgrounds where you can pitch a tent or park an RV without coughing up dough, including an array of federal lands such as those overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). To find one near you, use Freecampsites.net or Campendium.com.

Pro tip: Many campgrounds charge less for night passes in the middle of the week. It’s also generally easier to get a reservation than camping on a weekend.

If you’re planning on taking several camping trips during the year, consider buying the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands annual pass. It’s $80 and it covers entrance fees at more than 2,000 national parks and national wildlife refuges, as well as standard amenity fees at national forests and grasslands. Current U.S. Military and their dependents can get a free annual pass; seniors age 62 or older can get a $20 pass.

2. STAY CLOSE TO HOME

Getting to and from your camping destination matters—the further the drive, the more you’ll have to spend on gas. A simple solution: find a campsite that’s within short driving distance from your home.

3. BORROW OR RENT CAMPING EQUIPMENT

High-quality camping gear and equipment can be expensive, but you don’t want to cheap out either. (Picture this nightmare: you buy a cheap tent, but it blows over during a storm.) Instead of purchasing your own equipment, consider borrowing from a friend or renting from a shop like REI Co-op, which lets you rent gear in 12 states (rei.com).

Have your heart set on buying your own gear? Purchase lightly used gear from a resale shop or website like Switchback Gear Exchange (goswitchback.com), which sells used sleeping bags, tents, water filters, and camping accessories.

4. SKIP PREPACKAGED MEALS 

A lot of prepackaged meals are expensive—and they’re not always tasty. Cooking your own food while camping out requires some extra effort, but it can be a great way to save money. Another cost saving measure? Instead of buying a portable grill or burner, bring food that you can prepare over a campfire. All you need is a little aluminum foil. (Do a simple Google search for “Foil-Wrapped Camping Recipes.”)

5. DITCH BOTTLED WATER & OTHER DISPOSABLES

This one might seem obvious, but a lot of campers still make the mistake of buying and lugging a case of bottled water with them. To save money and protect the environment, bring a reusable water bottle. If you won’t have access to fountains, make sure you buy a bottle with a filter. (Brita sells one for $8.88 on Amazon.)

Forget about bringing disposable products like paper plates, cups, and silverware as well. Real dishes and flatware are easier to eat with and only take a few minutes to wash off—and they’ll save you money over time. Taking a family trip? Consider a four-person dinner kit.

6. EXPLORE FREE CAMPING ACTIVITIES

Waterfront campsites often offer kayak and boat rentals but they can be expensive. Look for free ways to enjoy the great outdoors. Explore walking trails, fishing, hiking, and biking paths. Bring board games to pass the time on rainy days. And after the sun sets, lie down and enjoy stargazing.

7. STAY FOR FREE BY VOLUNTEERING 

Willing to trade a little labor for a free camping pass? A number of campsites and RV parks offer volunteer, or even paid “workamping” positions, in exchange for free access to the grounds. Not all of these jobs are glamorous, though. Janitor positions are often in demand. Still, these jobs can help you save a ton of money, and maybe even make a little extra cash. Plus, you’ll have the opportunity to meet other outdoor enthusiasts and make friends for your next camping trip.

Travel News: Cruise Bookings Are Up, a Blowout Day of the Dead Celebration in San Antonio, and California’s Wildfires Rage On

Got a hankering for adventure? So do millions of other travelers, which is giving a big lift to the cruise industry, a new report shows. In this edition of Travel News, we have the details on the study, an update on the ravaging wildfires, and a not-so-subtle reminder that it’s never to early to start planning fall travel, especially if you’re interested in the country’s biggest Day of the Dead celebration.

CRUISES GROW IN POPULARITY AMONG ADVENTURE-HUNGRY AMERICANS

More than 27 million people board cruise ships each year and that number is on the rise. According to a recent report from the Cruise Lines International Association, 62 percent of agents surveyed report a spike in cruises booked to Alaska, which now ranks the fastest growing destination in the cruise industry. The Caribbean/Bermuda/Mexico, Mediterranean Europe, and Canada/New England are also seeing popularity growth by 41 percent, 36 percent, and 36 percent, respectively. Most agents cite more vacationers with an itch for adventure as the driving force, a major reason for Alaska’s popularity. It makes sense, then, that the report found younger travelers taking more cruises. Over the past two years, bookings by travelers ages 40 to 49 have increased by 39 percent and by individuals aged 30 to 39 by 43 percent. The enthusiasm has also played out in consumers’ willingness to spend more, shelling out cash to add land-based excursions to their trip.

IN TRUE TEXAN STYLE, SAN ANTONIO GOES BIG TO CELEBRATE DAY OF THE DEAD THIS FALL

New Orleans has Mardi Gras, Boston has its St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and San Antonio has Día de Muertos. The ancient traditional Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead, is a commemoration of those who have passed away. It’s so historic that it was added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008. This year, as San Antonio celebrates its Tricentennial, it’s pulling out all the stops for the three-day holiday, holding 20 events from October 20 through November 3. Free music and cultural performances will take place pop-up-style in the city’s public spaces. Plus there are various festival-esque events like Muerto Fest, a free festivity with traditional open-air alters, parades, live poetry and a remarkable range of live music. Local youth steal the spotlight on November 2 and 3 for Say Si Muerititos, a community event where students showcase their art as local dancers and musicians perform throughout the day. And restaurants around San Antonio are pitching in with specials throughout the two weeks. In short, if you haven’t arranged your travels to this city to celebrate its centuries-long heritage, you can double-down on the revelry if you start planning now.

WEST COAST WILDFIRES CONTINUE TO BURN

With 16 active blazes in the state and one just over the border in Oregon, California’s first responders are putting out fires on multiple fronts, from the Ferguson Fire, which forced parts of Yosemite National Park to close for the first time in nearly three decades, to the Mendocino Complex Fire, the largest in the state’s history. In northern California, outside of Redding in Shasta County, firefighters continue to battle the Carr fire, the state’s sixth-most destructive of all time. As of Friday morning, California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is reporting that the Carr fire is 51 percent contained, but it’s burned 181,496 acres and claimed eight victims so far, with a red-flag warning in effect through Saturday night due to hot, dry conditions and gusty winds. While the Whiskeytown recreation area has been evacuated and is closed to visitors until further notice, some of the region’s notable attractions remain open, including McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, the museum at Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Lake Shasta Caverns, and Santiago Calatrava’s Sundial Bridge. “We have been so impressed by the tremendous efforts and sacrifices made by emergency services personnel, and we are so proud of this community,” says Laurie Baker, CEO for the Redding CVB and general manager of the SCWA.

Read This Before Your Kid Flies Solo

As a child, I looked forward to flying alone from Florida to New York for the summer. It meant a few blissful weeks spent with cousins I rarely saw, and precious time with my grandparents, who I knew would be waiting for me at the gate.

This year, I put my own children, ages 6 and 9, on a plane by themselves to see their grandparents. Getting them on the two-hour flight was relatively easy; waiting for them to land took a bigger toll on my nerves. But they arrived safely, and yours will too. Here’s what to expect when your child is flying alone domestically:

WHO’S A “MINOR”?

Airlines generally consider a minor to be between the ages of 5 and 14. Some airlines, like Southwest and Alaska, cap the age at 12, but you can request and pay for unaccompanied minor status for your older child regardless.

SOLO FLIGHTS FOR KIDS ARE PRICIER

That solo flight is not cheap. Every airline adds a surcharge. Some are relatively small: Southwest charges $50 per flight, per child, or $100 round trip. JetBlue’s program costs $100 per child, per flight, or $400 round trip.

EACH AIRLINE HAS A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT POLICY

You will book the flight differently on all airlines. Delta is unique in that you book the flight by phone using their Unaccompanied Minor phone line, which adds a level of comfort knowing there is a dedicated support staff for your questions. Most other airlines allow you to book the flight online; you just indicate the child is flying alone when prompted for the status of the passenger (adult or child) or when prompted for the passenger’s birthday.

AIRLINES DO THEIR BEST TO KEEP YOUR KID SAFE

You tell the airline in advance who will be dropping off and picking up your child, and ticketing agents ID the designated adult on both ends to let them through security and to the gate. (Unfortunately, they often only let one adult through.) The airlines will also give your child a bracelet or lanyard to indicate they’re unaccompanied, along with an envelope with their flight details.

The flight crew typically places unaccompanied minors in the front of the plane to keep an eye on them, but prepare your child to be on his or her own during the flight and to go to by alone to the bathroom or ask for help if needed.

A WELL-PACKED CARRY-ON WILL KEEP YOUR KID HAPPY

Pack books and games to keep your child occupied and happy, and if you’re sending them with a tablet, charge it and/or pack a charged external battery. Buy food at the airport in case there is no substantial meal on the flight. Be sure to point out where they should place their envelope with all of their flight details, and include a list of important phone numbers just in case. And show them what’s in their carry-on before you say goodbye.

BE PREPARED FOR A LONG TRAVEL DAY

It will take a lot of time. You and the adult on the other end will be meeting your child at the gate, which means you’ll have to go through security both times. On the departure end, you’ll arrive at least an hour before just as if you were flying and you’ll need to stay until the plane is in the air, so don’t expect a quick goodbye. On the arrival end, allow at least 30 minutes to park and get to the gate, more if you’re in a major airport.

CHECK THE FLIGHT ARRIVAL BOARD OFTEN

Arrival gates change, and you could be waiting at the wrong one when your child deplanes.

SOME INTERNATIONAL AND CONNECTING FLIGHTS DON’T ALLOW SOLO KIDS

Each airline treats these cases a bit differently, so read each airline’s FAQs carefully.

DON’T DOWNPLAY THE EMOTIONAL IMPACT OF SAYING GOODBYE

Letting your child fly alone might be harder than you imagined. My daughter clung to me before her flight, my son didn’t even wave goodbye. And until they landed safely, my stomach was in knots because my most precious cargo was out of my hands, high in the air. It can be terrifying if you think of it this way. So try not to. Send them to the family members they rarely see. You’ll be forging lasting memories—and an early sense of independence.

LEARN MORE

Visit each of the major U.S. airlines’ websites for more information on their unaccompanied minor programs.

Hotel We Love: Hotel Theodore, Seattle, Washington

The Theodore in this Seattle hotel’s name is a nod to the 36th president, who stayed at the property during and after his term. When it opened in 1930, it was an Art Deco temple, a showcase of the promise of the riches of the Pacific Northwest, and it was all thanks to the help of local creativity and industry, from the furniture makers to the laborers and craftsmen who built the place. It continues to be a tribute to Seattle originality, from the quirky art on the walls to the objects on display chronicling centuries of Washington’s innovation culture. (More on that in a moment.) Sleek and sophisticated yet laid-back and casual, Hotel Theodore fuses then and now for a rich and whimsical snapshot of the city.

THE STORY

The building, crowned with a glowing vintage “Roosevelt” sign, was unveiled in 1930. A model of glamour, it featured a grand lobby and Art Deco detailing. Recent renovations kept the bones of the lobby in place and restored the Art Deco touches. It opened to guests in November 2017.

THE QUARTERS

Tufted leather headboards and dark wood furniture calls to mind the vintage elegance of the place, but the technology and little perks (Nespresso coffee makers, retro-looking Tivoli clock radios, luxe linens, oversize LCD televisions) remind you you’re very much in the 21st century. And a peek inside the mini fridge reminds you you’re very much in Seattle, what with the range of local beers to choose from. Among the 153 rooms, there are nine size options. About 80 percent have king beds, but even the smallest Deluxe Double is luxe and spacious.

THE NEIGHBORHOOD

The hotel sits smack in the middle of downtown Seattle, a notably walkable city. An array of local restaurants as well as familiar retailers—Nordstrom, Macy’s, H&M—are located within blocks. It takes 15 minutes or less to walk to the famed Pike Place Market or the hip enclave of Belltown, and a little more than that to reach Capital Hill, a popular tourist destination for coffee-loving visitors, as it’s home to the sweeping Starbucks Roastery, a veritable carnival of a coffee house with a food court–like setup and a huge roaster that attracts a picture-snapping crowd every few hours when it motors up. There’s even a bar. Should you feel like venturing out to the beach or opt for public transportation to and from the airport, the hotel is a few blocks away from a Link light-rail station.

THE FOOD

When it opened, the hotel was a pioneering example of a hotel that emphasized experience, not just practicality. To that end, its original restaurant, the Old West-themed Rough Rider Room, was a destination for visitors and well-heeled locals. That ethos remains at the industrial-chic Rider, where you can watch oyster shuckers in the kitchen and cooks at work at the open wood-fired grill station. The dishes—largely seafood—are simple and unencumbered, yet indulgent. The cocktails, on the other hand, are exercises in zany creativity. Case in point: At the Oyster Bar is a mezcal drink with touch of oyster water. The bar is open until midnight, so take your time with those drinks. The breakfast menu offers decadent sweet and savory options.

For a midday pick-me-up, MADE Coffee, located in the lobby, is very much in line with coffee-obsessed Seattle code, with its offerings of craft java drinks made with beans roasted on a 1949 Balestra wood-fired roaster.

ALL THE REST

About those aforementioned objects on display…The hotel teamed with Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry to curate items that tell an engaging history of the city’s innovative spirit. Take time to visit each floor, where you can find cases displaying everything from axes and saws and other logging tools to the digital insides of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’s first Kindle to draft tools used in designing Boeing’s early aircrafts. But ask any hotel staffer’s opinion, and she’ll likely tell you her favorite is up on the 17th floor: an early model of native son Eddie Bauer’s first down jacket.

No matter where your day takes you, try to get back to the hotel between 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. for the aperitivo hour, when they offer complimentary drinks.

RATES & DEETS

Starting at: $149 (November to April), $189 (May to October)

Hotel Theodore 
1531 7th Ave.
Seattle, WA 98101 
(206) 621-1200 / hoteltheodore.com 

Things To Know Before Visiting Yosemite National Park

Admittedly I did very little research before rocking up to Yosemite National Park at the peak of summer this year. While everything worked out as it always does, and I had a fantastic time exploring this glorious natural playground, I feel like I could have saved myself some time and stress while there had I been a bit more informed.

Frugal Frolicker specializes in outdoor travel adventures. The post Things To Know Before Visiting Yosemite National Park appeared first on Frugal Frolicker.

One Week In Northern California: Road Trip Itinerary

If ever there was a place that was made for road tripping, it would be western USA.

I always thought I’d have plenty of time to explore this part of my country when I eventually “settled” in California – I just never considered the possibility that I’d end up permanently residing overseas instead.

Frugal Frolicker specializes in outdoor travel adventures. The post One Week In Northern California: Road Trip Itinerary appeared first on Frugal Frolicker.

5 Things I Loved about Turks and Caicos

Recently, my husband and I spent a week in Providenciales at The Somerset on Grace Bay. We went with friends and wanted more room, so we splurged for a unit at this luxury condo resort.

This was not a budget stay by any means, but it was pretty swank and definitely worth it. This hotel has some regular rooms, but the bulk of their accommodations are 1, 2, 3, and 5-bedroom condos with full kitchens and living areas. This means you get all the amenities of a luxury resort but the feel of an Airbnb — and all on a world class beach.

While our hotel was grand, I really loved Turks and Caicos and believe we will be back. I have been to almost every country in the Caribbean, and Turks and Caicos is now in my top five next to favorites like Anguilla and Aruba. Here are the reasons I loved this destination so much and why I think you should add it to your travel list this year.

You can get there with Southwest Airlines.

There are a ton of airlines loyalty programs you can use to get to Turks and Caicos with miles, but I love the fact you can fly Southwest to the island. We wound up redeeming only 40,000 miles for two round-trip tickets, and as always this included two checked bags for person.

You can book sweet excursions through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

You can book many hotels in Turks and Caicos through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, even though we didn’t choose this option. One thing we did book through Chase, however, was a four-hour snorkeling excursion and boat ride. This trip cost us 28,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards for four people and included lunch and an open bar in addition to snorkeling and private beach stops. I loved it and I much preferred paying with Chase points versus handing over the $400+ it would have cost our group otherwise.

There are a ton of lodging options.

One thing I loved about Turks and Caicos is the fact that there are many, many condo options available. This makes it a solid option for our family in the future since we prefer rental condos when we travel with our kids. Checking around on Airbnb and VRBO.com, I have also noticed that many options are more budget-friendly than the luxury resorts of Grace Bay.

It’s easy and safe to rent a car.

You don’t really need a rental car in the Grace Bay area, but we got one anyway. It only cost us $167 for a week in a compact car through Expedia, so we figured why not. It was nice to drive all around the island, and specifically to the south end where the water colors were amazing!

The beaches were so beautiful.

Grace Bay reminded me a lot of Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman only it was a lot less developed. The water was some of the clearest you can find in the world, and the sand was soft white powder. The waves barely moved, which made my favorite beach hobby (drinking beer in the water) super easy. The beaches in Turks and Caicos were easily as beautiful as Rendezvous Bay in Anguilla, minus the spectacular mountain views.

 

The Bottom Line

I loved Turks and Caicos, so much so that I can’t wait to go back. Honestly, my only real gripe is just how expensive the food and drink was. Cheap local beer was $42 per case at the grocery store for heaven’s sake, and a box of cereal ran for $6 to $7. We bought some very basic snacks and salad ingredients one day and spent over $100. I also paid $4 for a single cucumber!

Turks and Caicos is worth it, but definitely make sure you bring your wallet and eat cheaply when you can. Having a condo really helped us in that respect, so I will go that route again the next time we visit this group of islands.

Have you ever been to Turks and Caicos? If so, what did you love about it?

 

 

[Image Source: The Somerset]

Should You Bother with Hotel Credit Cards?

Earlier this year, my husband and I both signed up for the Hilton Aspire credit card to cash in on the insane perks — things like the 100K signup bonus, automatic Hilton Diamond status, $250 resort credit, $250 airline credit, and free weekend night. Later in the year, my husband also signed up for the Hilton Business credit card to earn an additional 100,000 points.

Between those bonuses, some remaining Hilton points from hotel stays, and regular spending, we now have around 680,000 Hilton Honors points.

Across other hotel credit cards and loyalty programs, we also have 300,000 Radisson Rewards points, around 10,000 starpoints, two free IHG nights to spend at any IHG property worldwide, and a free Hyatt night at a Category 1-4 property.

At the moment, these points are becoming difficult to use. I *am* planning a big Hilton trip somewhere, but I can’t seem to decide when and where. I also likely have more points than I need, since I was considering staying in a property that’s 95,000 points per night for four nights and getting a 5th night free.

I’m at a total loss for the Radisson Rewards, and the random free nights may not be used for a while.

This brings me back to the point of this post: Is pursuing hotel rewards and hotel nights worth it?

What I Love (and Hate) About Hotel Credit Cards

In a lot of ways, I think pursuing hotel points is absolutely worth it. The free nights many hotel cards offer make renewing the card and paying the annual fee is a steal in many cases. Plus, I can usually use our random free nights for hotel stays on the way to see our in-laws or for staging at a hotel the night before a flight. I also love racking up huge stashes of hotel points for fancy stays in hotels I wouldn’t normally pay for. With our Hilton Honors points, for example, I have flirted with the idea of spending five nights at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island or splurging for a few nights at the Rome Cavalieri Hotel in Italy when I go again next April.

Still, I definitely think you need to plan a little if you want to put hotel points to good use. Not only are hotel programs devaluing all the time, but it’s easy to forget you have points or free low-tier nights with some programs if you don’t keep track.

Another factor that makes it difficult for us to use hotel points is the fact we travel with our kids a lot. While you can use hotel points for stays in many destinations like the Caribbean and book a room for four, it is almost possible to use hotel points for a family in Europe unless you can book a suite or want to book two rooms. Most of the time, we prefer a condo with a few bedrooms when we travel with our kids anyway.

The Case for Flexible Rewards

This is part of the reason we focus a lot of our spending on flexible rewards cards — specifically cards affiliated with Chase Ultimate Rewards and my Barclays Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard. While Chase Ultimate Rewards lets you transfer points 1:1 to popular programs like Hyatt, IHG Rewards, Marriott, and Ritz Carlton, you can also book hotels — and even condos — through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.

I typically use my Barclays Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard rewards to book cruises and trains, but I have been known to use them for Airbnb stays, too.

Both of these options are a lot more flexible than hotel points, which are almost always good only for stays with a specific hotel brand.

The Bottom Line

Should you bother earning hotel points? I think it’s smart to rack them up if you have a plan to use them and also diversify with other types of programs. As for me, I’m done racking up hotel points for a while — at least until I can figure out how to spend the ones I have.

Do you rack up hotel points? Why or why not?

Be Careful When Changing Your Car Reservation

I’m not normally too big on renting cars, but occasionally it’s a necessity. On a recent trip to Seattle, I knew I wanted to get out of the city to explore some of the Olympic Peninsula, so I wasn’t going to get away without renting a car. The details of the end of the time in Seattle were a little up in the air when I locked in my car rental reservation.

I was able to get a rental with Hertz for around $250 for a week. This is a little higher than my ideal car rental price of around $30 per day, but wasn’t too much more expensive to make me reconsider my plans.

After spending a lovely week hiking in different parts of Olympic National Park, I had finally figured out the details of the last couple of days in the city, and realized that it made way more sense to drop the car off at a downtown rental location. Typically, there is no drop fee or it’s really small when picking up a car at the airport and dropping in a nearby city. I called ahead to make the change and was told that the fee would be an additional $29. Considering it was going to save me some time and a fair amount of hassle, I decided to make the change.

Fast forward to actually dropping off the car, and the price on my bill was about $90 more. I pretty much always expect something to go wrong with car rentals, so this really didn’t surprise me. I talked to the lady who was working at the counter, but the location was a non-corporate location and she was unable to get the issued solved then and there. She did, however, open up a support ticket and give me a number to call for followup.

When I arrived at the hotel, I had a chance to take a look at my original bill and my new bill and was finally able to figure out what went wrong. Hertz had dropped a coupon off of my account when they made the change to my reservation!

This lesson reinforced to me that car rental companies take every chance they can to rip off customers and that it’s always necessary to check and double check your bill after finishing a car rental, especially if you make a change to your reservation.

Have you ever made a chance to a car rental reservation and had something weird happen?

Put These 5 Things on Your To-Do List Before SPG/Marriott Programs Fully Merge

Marriott slowly has been releasing pieces to the Starwood merger puzzle, and we now have yet another important piece. The chain announced that the joint loyalty program would launch officially Aug. 18.

What This Means for You

It’s the end of SPG as we know it. The loyalty programs will merge into one, and there will no longer be separate award charts for the two hotel chains. Aug. 18 is when new standard redemption rates for award nights will be implemented and new elite status tiers will take effect.

Now that the Doomsday Clock is nearing midnight, make sure you do these five things before the programs fully merge.

No. 1 – Lock In Increasing Award Nights at Old Rates

About a month ago, Marriott released a new award chart for all its hotel brands, including The Ritz-Carlton, which will join the same program, and we have had time to study it. Some properties are increasing in price, and others are going down.

If you have a trip coming up, find the hotel you want to book and see if redemption rates are going up, going down or staying the same. If the rate goes up, make sure to set a reminder and book your stay before Aug. 18. You don’t want to be redeeming more miles for the same room come August, specially if you know your travel plans now.

No. 2 – Rebook Stays Decreasing in Price at Lower Rates

Technically, this step has to be completed after the programs integrate, but the gist is similar to the first to-do point. Evaluate the list of hotels and take a look at the properties decreasing in price, especially if you have made a booking prior to when the new chart was published. Once the programs officially merge, cancel your stay and rebook at the new, lower rate. You’ll save points by adjusting the booking after Aug. 18.

No. 3 – Prepare to Book Category 8 Properties at Category 7 Rates

Through the end of this calendar year, Marriott will implement seven new redemption categories. However, come 2019, another category will be introduced for the chain’s highly desired properties, which will require the most number of points to book. In comparison, we’re talking about 60,000 points per night at a Category 7 hotel vs. 85,000 points per night at a Category 8 hotel, which is a huge difference.

If you have enough points to book a long-enough stay to make it worth your while and have your eye on one of these sought-after properties, make sure to book quickly. You’re not the only one looking to redeem points at Le Méredien Bora Bora or The Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman, and it’ll be a feeding frenzy. You don’t want to be left out, that is if availability at these hotels actually exists.

No. 4 – Purchase Starpoints for a Luxurious Getaway

Which leads me to the next point. Keep in mind that Starpoints will be converted to the new Marriott points at a ratio of 1-to-3. So, if you almost have enough points to cover multiple award nights at one of the soon-to-be Category 8 properties, you can purchase the remaining Starpoints to book a once-in-a-lifetime stay. As always, don’t buy points just because. Make sure to crunch all the numbers before purchasing points because it isn’t a great investment in most cases, but this might be the case where it makes sense.

No. 5 – Book a Marriott Hotel + Air Package

Mariott’s Hotel + Air Packages have been a great use of Marriott Rewards points, and if you’re after value one last time, do not wait to book a seven-night stay at one of Marriott hotels, as long as you have use for a certificate.

Again, don’t do this without a plan in mind. Rather evaluate your options and see if it makes sense for you. We still do not know how the existing travel packages would translate to the new program, and I do not recommend buying one of these packages speculatively. They might be more limited than you think.

What have you done to prepare yourself for the inevitable integration of the two loyalty programs?

Easy Weekend Getaways for West Coasters

Living on the West Coast is pretty great overall. No, we don’t get those amazing business class fares to Europe, but we enjoy long-haul flights to international destinations. And if we don’t feel like hopping on a plane, there are plenty of awesome places to explore within 2-hour flying distance. If you’re a West Coaster and looking for great weekend destinations, here are my five picks:

San Diego, CA. Southern California has lots of great vacation spots, but what makes San Diego so great is that it has something for everyone. Awesome city? Check. Beautiful beaches? Check. Amusement parks galore? Check. The airport is also smack dab in the middle of the city, making transportation a breeze. San Diego is really the perfect spot for a quick weekend getaway, regardless of who you’re traveling with.

Los Cabos, Mexico. Cabo isn’t on the West Coast of the U.S., but it’s still the perfect weekend spot if you live on the West Coast and want a stress-free vacation. Thanks to all-inclusive resorts like the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos, it can be incredibly cheap. For just 20,000 points per night, you get a room at an awesome beachfront resort along with free meals and activities. It doesn’t get better than that. The best part? Southwest has lots of flights to Cabo, so chances are you can get there cheaply – especially if you have the Southwest Companion Pass.

Carmel, CA. When I really need to relax and be surrounded by beautiful scenery, there’s nothing better than Carmel. On points you can book the Hyatt Carmel Highlands for 30,000 per night. This rate applies to both Garden and Ocean View rooms, which is well worth it! Even if you don’t end up in an Ocean View room, the views from the hotel lobby (which has floor-to-ceiling glass windows) is pretty stunning and open to all guests. Aside from the hotel, Carmel is also just a beautiful city with rugged scenery, great food, and lots of charm.

Seattle, WA. If you’re tired of the 100+ degree weather this summer (right here), hop on a flight to Seattle. Known for its beautiful summers, Seattle boasts sunny days and reasonably warm weather all season long. More importantly, the city has tons of great hotels, restaurants, and outdoor activities to keep you entertained. Do follow this advice that locals are always drilling into my head: DO NOT visit the city while a cruise ship is in town. I’ll leave it at that.

 Cannon Beach, Oregon. Cannon Beach is a sleepy little coastal town with stunning beaches, located just two hours away from Portland. If the thought of driving two hours from a beach sounds anything but relaxing, keep in mind that Amtrak has bus service from Portland to Cannon Beach. You’ll take in lovely scenery and end up in a great little town where you can enjoy a relaxing weekend.

 

What are some of your weekend getaway suggestions for West Coasters?

Portland Family Fun Guide: Timothy Lake

 Portland Family Fun Guide -- Everything you need to know to enjoy Timothy Lake on Mt. Hood in Oregon!

Timothy Lake (Mt. Hood)

On the eastern shore of Timothy Lake, in the Mt. Hood National Forest, lies Gone Creek Day Use Area. It’s a great place to take your family for a day trip to explore a mountain lake. On a hot summer day in August, we took our kids, ages 2 and 5, to join another family for some summer fun.

We started the day with a stop in Sandy at the famous Joe’s Donuts for coffee and you guessed it, donuts. All fueled up, we drove for an hour into the mountains to Gone Creek for a day of outdoor play. For $5/vehicle or the National Forest Recreation Day Pass, we parked at the Day Use Area. With life jackets on, the kids jumped right into the icy, mountain water. We brought an inflatable boat, buckets, shovels and balls for hours of water and sand play.

At lunch time, we feasted on a homemade lunch and cupcakes to celebrate a newly minted 5 year old. Afterward, the kids jumped on their bikes to ride down the paved roads. While there is a 16 mile single track loop around Timothy Lake, our kids were too young to use it.

After hours of hard play and exercise, we settled down for a little fishing from the shore. The kids cast and the daddies untangled the lines. We didn’t catch anything but the lake is stocked with trout several times a year.

When the sun started to sit low in the sky, we packed up and got in the car for the 30 minute drive to dinner.  The Ratskeller Pizzeria in Government Camp serves pizza, pasta, burgers and salads and a great kid’s menu. The family side of the pizzeria has a kid’s area with chalkboard walls and coloring materials.

With bellies full and energy exhausted, we had a quiet drive back to Portland.

Tiffany Larson is a mom of two and lives in the Portland Metro area. 

portland-family-fun-guide-2

Ready to discover (or re-discover) Portland? From the coast to the Gorge, from Clark County to Salem, the Portland Family Fun Guide will allow you to experience the awesomeness this area has to offer!


The post Portland Family Fun Guide: Timothy Lake appeared first on Frugal Living NW.

How to Get Your Money Back on Track After Summer Splurges

For many growing up, summers used to mean camp, school vacation, part-time jobs, and internships. But for Millennials, specifically those in their mid-20s to early-30s who might have some more discretionary income, the word ‘summer’ can sometimes become synonymous with ‘splurge.’ Summertime is the season for concerts, new wardrobes, dinners out with friends, and you guessed it – travel, travel, travel.

Which makes total sense! The weather is nicer, the days are longer, school is out, and work is typically slower. But don’t be fooled, airlines, hotels, concert venues and even those Airbnbs, know summer is prime time too. According to the 2018 Travelport U.S. Vacation Survey, Millennials (ages 18-34 years old) are most likely to spend more on their upcoming vacations than other age groups, with one out of three willing to spend $5000 or more!

Typically with this type of experiential spending – whether it be a fancy dinner spot during your vacation in Italy, a museum tour in London, or a must-see artist on tour – it can’t be returned. An experience is not like an expensive pair of jeans you bought at Nordstrom on impulse because hey, you look good and why not #TreatYoSelf. Those can easily be returned if you revisit and find they aren’t worth the investment, but spending a day on a rented boat? Not so much.

So if your spending this summer got (or is still getting!) a little out of hand, it’s time to get back on track. 2018 isn’t over, people! Use the next five months to regain lost ground on personal finance goals. Here’s how to get started.

Assess the Damage

Ok, so you went a little bit overboard? As the expression goes, ‘there’s no use crying over spilled milk,’ and there’s no point in stressing over purchases that can’t be returned. Honestly, we’re all human and we all make mistakes – especially financial ones! The good news? Nothing can’t be undone. Yes it may take a while to rebuild a credit score or a savings fund, but there are plenty of ways to get things back on track

First thing’s first: rip of the bandaid, look at the damage done, and ask yourself a few questions. How high is my credit card bill? Can I afford to pay this off now? When is my next paycheck? Will that help cover some of the splurge? I don’t want to dip into my emergency fund, but do I need to? The best counteract to getting overwhelmed is getting organized. Spend time checking your bills and looking at your bank account balance and credit statement.

The next step? Rewrite your budget to fit your current reality. “Budgeting” makes people think of limiting their fun and restricting their choices, but if you take the holistic view, budgeting actually helps relieve constraints and increase life choices down the line. Mint helps you build personalized budgets that make sense for you today and set you up for success tomorrow. If your wallet had an active, lively summer, maybe try to cool it down a little in the fall to rebalance. Think: home cooked meals, fewer workout classes, and no overpriced lattes.

Take Action

Whether your 2018 personal goals include reducing credit card debt, spending less, adhering to a budget, or paying off more loans, the best thing you can do to get back on the horse is to check your credit score. Our friends over at Turbo give you your score completely free and with personalized advice to help get you where you want to be financially.

If you see your score has taken a ding – don’t freak out! Working to improve your credit and your credit score might seem like black magic, but I promise it isn’t. In reality, your credit score is based on very real, very measurable criteria – and you do have the power to change it. Here are three of the easiest ways to improve your credit score:

  • Set up autopay: Whether or not you make payments on-time is the single most important element in the calculation of your credit score. As long as you pay your bills on or before the deadline, your score will be in good standing.
  • Increase your credit limit: One of the biggest factors in determining your credit score lies in how much of your current credit balance you’re using. Every credit card has a credit limit or a maximum amount you can spend. Your credit score will take a hit if your credit balance is more than 30% of the available limit. WARNING: do not use this increase as an excuse to up your spending!
  • Keep old accounts open: Your credit age makes up 15% of your credit score, and the only way to increase the age is to keep old accounts open and avoid opening new ones. Every time you open a new credit card or take out a new loan, the average age of your score decreases. In other words, if you just sit tight with the accounts you have now, your score will likely increase on its own.

Learn from Your Mistakes

We’ve all seen the movie clip of a shopaholic freezing her credit card in a block of ice. This may be semi-effective, but is it realistic? Hell no. It may be a way to tackle spending right now, but it’s hardly a long-term strategy. The best way to really take hold of your finances and get back on track is to be real with yourself. Have the #RealMoneyTalk with yourself, set goals, and actually work on keeping them!

Remaining aware of how much you are really spending with a credit card also helps to encourage cautious consumption. In addition, try leaving it behind every so often. Although we’ve been encouraged to “never leave home without it,” there are moments when this advice may actually make it seem easier to use it rather than being cautious of what that phrase really means. Most days, leaving the credit cards at home isn’t an inconvenience and carrying a debit card or paying with cash will help you feel more in charge of your finances while setting you up to improve your numbers.

Splurging, especially in the summer, is fun, exciting and easy, but it IS detrimental to your financial health. The best way to get ahead of the urge to spend is to again, be real with yourself. Building money into your budget for little (and occasionally big) indulgences is a healthy way of allowing yourself the ability to afford something fun while keeping yourself on track with your goals. This also helps you  battle “frugal fatigue” and prevent yourself from making impulsive purchases.

What did you splurge on this summer? Shake it off and tell us in the comments!

The post How to Get Your Money Back on Track After Summer Splurges appeared first on MintLife Blog.