budget travel

I’m A Little Different, And So Is My Travel Style

Growing up, I always felt that I was different from the other kids in school – but I couldn’t quite figure out how. In elementary and middle school I analyzed the differences in my body compared to the other girls to try to explain it. While I (of course) found some differences, they never panned out to be what I was searching to explain. By high school I still hadn’t cracked the secret, and I started to try various fashion styles and music to see if the ambiguous feeling had to do with my personal tastes. But no luck there either. When I would change my looks, the way I dressed, or the types of music I listened to in order to try to find the elusive “real me,” none of the changes ever felt right.

It’s taken twenty years since I first started exploring other “Eliz” options, and I feel I finally understand what the difference is: what makes me happy.

Miami Beach, May 2013

Miami Beach, May 2013

Here’s a good example. I’m only five years out of college and Ibiza is nowhere near the top of my travel list. If Eliz were a brand, Ibiza would be considered “off brand.” I don’t go clubbing. I don’t research trendy restaurants. You are far more likely to find me on a winery tour than a pub crawl.

I work at a media agency, where I often joke that I’m a Gen X’er in a Millennial body. While that’s not necessarily true outside of my taste in television (which may actually be closer to Baby Boomer status), I’ll admit that I have very mature travel tendencies. I always opt for the nicest hotel we can afford. When my boyfriend and I went to Vancouver in 2013, we were twenty-five year old tourists who stayed at the Four Seasons because we found a good deal. More often than not we are the youngest people in our hotels/B&B’s by ten to twenty years because our top priority is a very clean, comfortable pillow.

Further, I must admit I haven’t stayed in a hostel in eighteen months. Some Millennial readers and travelers may frown on that decision, citing the importance of the camaraderie and affordability that hostels provide. By all means, you do you! While I like meeting new people, I like nice mattresses more. Nice mattresses make me a very happy tourist.

Side Note: I have not written off hostels all together. I will most likely stay in one again.

With that said, I wanted to make sure to disclose all of these preferences and priorities to you, dear reader, because I am a travel blogger who writes about budgeting for travel. Meaningful travel may mean different things to different people, but the end goal is always the same:  a truly enjoyable vacation.

I hope you budget for travel that you know will make you happy. The good news is that you know yourself best! You probably already have an idea about what kind of travel would bring you the most joy at your personal budget level. My only advice is that you should always trust your gut. I’m not here to try to tell you what to do, I’m here to help and inspire you to do it.  🙂

Like I said, I’m a little different…and I finally know why. I’ve come to terms with my tendencies to travel above my age bracket. I’ve accepted and embraced this (as well as other older-skewing interests) about myself…and I hope you will, too!

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How To Prep for a Big Trip: Six Things To Do Six Weeks Before Takeoff

Every summer for my boyfriend and my anniversary (Aug 25th) we go on a full-week trip. Typically I am the one who plans the whole shebang due to my passion for travel – go figure. 🙂

This year two of our close friends are getting married at a vineyard in the Piedmont region of Italy on September 5th, so we are traveling a week later than usual in order to attend. The wedding should be gorgeous, and we are very excited for the vacation!

View of the pool and nearby Piedmont vineyards from the Albergo Castiglione B&B (image source: http://www.piemonte-traveller.com/en/c/albergo-castiglione)

View of the pool and nearby Piedmont vineyards from the Albergo Castiglione B&B (image source: http://www.piemonte-traveller.com/en/c/albergo-castiglione)

We will be in the Northwest part of Italy during the entire trip. Our itinerary includes stops at several Piedmont vineyards, two days in Turin, two days in Lake Como, and two days in Milan. The general plan is to sip and taste our way through the region, coupled with a little bit of hiking and sightseeing to burn off the calories!

I've circled in red the cities we will visit in the NW part of Itlay (image source:  http://www.kandaclub.com/hot-destinations/italy/italy-regions.html)

I’ve circled in red the cities we will visit in NW Italy (image source: http://www.kandaclub.com/hot-destinations/italy/italy-regions.html)

That said, even though the hotels, rental car, and Da Vinci’s Last Supper tour have been booked for months, we are now officially in countdown mode. This trip will last ten days, and it gives me peace of mind to start a few of the preparations now.

Thus, I have created a list of six things I am doing six weeks in advance of our trip to prepare:

  1. Double-check our airline seating assignments and see if better seats are available.
    Right now we are booked to fly from New York to Milan on Emirates, which is an airline that I have never flown before. I’m looking forward to the new experience since I’ve heard great things about Emirates’ customer service onboard! With that, I find it important on long-haul flights to strive to be next to a window (for sleeping), as far forward on the plane as possible, have seats that recline, not be near a bathroom, not have a wing obstructing my view, and avoid sitting in the same row as strangers (preference two-seater rows if available). On top of that, I don’t want to pay extra money for my seat. Usually I have to make compromises, but I typically continue checking the available seat map before my trip to see if any seats open up that check-off several boxes on my nice-to-haves list.

    Looks like there are no rows of only two seats - bummer.

    Looks like this plane does not have two-seater rows…bummer.

  2. Review Emirates’ baggage policy and limitations.
    One reason why we chose to fly Emirates to Milan this summer instead of other airlines is because they allow two 50-lb. checked bags free per flyer, even though we are neither part of their awards program nor have an Emirates credit card. While we won’t be taking that much luggage with us, it is comforting to know we will not need to worry about busting our budget on luggage fees. With that, it is always wise to double-check your airline’s luggage policies for weight, quantity, and dimension to ensure you have no surprise costs. Every airline differs.

    Check the baggage policies for your specific airline and qualifications to avoid fees

    Check the baggage policies for your specific airline and qualifications to avoid fees.

  3. Make sure our passports aren’t expired.
    Check! We still have a couple more years before that becomes an issue. That was easy. Next…

    Generally U.S. passports expire every ten years (image source:  http://www.bbc.com)

    Generally U.S. passports expire every ten years (image source: http://www.bbc.com)

  4. Look up the average weather during the time of year we are traveling at each city we’re visiting.
    Additionally, I also try to read online forums where other people have written about their own travel experiences during the week (or month) I plan to travel. In that way I am able to arrive mentally prepared.Example:  In May in Miami will the weather be sunny most of the day but usually rain from 2pm-3pm in the afternoon? Yes. After learning from surprise situations like that, I’ve found it is best to read other travelers’ ideas online that help me avoid getting drenched during my afternoon spent poolside and still have a great time.

    It rained off and on EVERY DAY when we went to Betws-y-Coed, Wales in late August 2012, so I always needed to carry an umbrella and wear a raincoat and waterproof shoes - just in case!

    It rained off and on EVERY DAY when we went to Betws-y-Coed, Wales in late August 2012, so I always needed to carry an umbrella and wear a raincoat and waterproof shoes – just in case!

  5. Brainstorm what we will need on our trip (but don’t start packing yet).
    My boyfriend and I learned this tip after a stressful experience. In 2012 on the day we were supposed to fly to Manchester, we darted around midtown Manhattan trying to find a place that sold hiking shoes that we could wear during our Mount Snowdon climb the following day. Needless to say, the shopping excursion was exhausting since the number of people who need hiking shoes in Manhattan is minimal and our deadline was tight. (We ended up buying Clarks WaveTrek Waterproof walking shoes instead of legitimate hiking boots.) Thus, moral of the story is that you should take a lesson from our book and identify if there is anything you will need (i.e. new suitcase, power converters, selfie sticks, comfortable footwear, jeans, money belt, raincoat, etc.) while you still have enough time to order online and/or search several stores.

    I ended up buying that hat when we got to the base of Mount Snowdon because I didn't realize how cold it would be - but at least we had the hiking shoes!

    I ended up buying that hat when we got to the base of Mount Snowdon because I didn’t realize how cold it would be – but at least we had the right shoes!

  6. Figure out how I am going to pay for things while in Italy.
    I’ve written about this before in tip #6 of my budgeting hacks, but I’ll repeat that it’s very important to determine how you will pay for things ahead of any foreign travel so you can make the necessary arrangements and save money on fees.

    I was recently convinced that I should open a Charles Schwab account since their debit cards have no foreign transaction fees. However, I have not been able to receive the debit card yet because I still need to transfer funds into the new account. Before I can transfer the funds online I need to authorize an external account, get it approved, and then transfer the money – all of this takes time. As a result, I’m grateful to have started this process in advance so I can hopefully receive the new card in the mail before our trip! Also, if something goes wrong, I have enough time to brainstorm a Plan B. (This blogger goes into more detail in point #6 of this entry for why Schwab is great for travelers.)

With the above list I hope to prove that it’s always better to prepare as much as you can in advance. In fact, I often buy a guidebook and skim through the local tips to see if there is something I have not thought of regarding my destination. If you have the time, you might as well  use it to avoid feeling stressed before you go!

Are there any other tips that I’ve missed? If you have any other pointers for vacation prep six weeks in advance, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!

San Francisco Trip In Review: Road Trip To Mendocino!

During the second day of Derek and my weekend stay in San Rafael, the four of us decided to take a road trip to the coastal town of Mendocino. Derek’s brother had recommended it highly, since he knows it is exactly the kind of thing we like to explore:  a town chock-full of artist galleries and quaint shops that is adjacent to a gorgeous state park.

Although the town of Mendocino has under one-thousand residents, it is heavily supported by day-trippers from SF, the nearby Alexander Valley wine industry, rural-roaming artists and hippies, and a military base several miles up the road. To get to the town, we had to drive many hours through wine country and a Redwood Forest – both of which bared incredible views. At certain points the roads became so windy as we maneuvered up/around the hills that we all felt a big of vertigo hit our systems!

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Winding hills through Mendocino County during our drive to the town

Standing in the Redwood Forest on the way to Mendocino

Standing in the Redwood Forest on the way to Mendocino

Once we arrived in Mendocino around 2pm, the town was packed with fellow travelers who were in town for the Mendocino film festival. Unfortunately it took much longer for us to get there than we had calculated, so we missed the lunch seatings at the restaurant we were planning to try (Cafe Beaujolais). However, we ended up at a friendly joint in the downtown area called the Goodlife Café and Bakery.

Split pea soup

Split pea soup

Mocha and chocolate chip cookie

Mocha and chocolate chip cookie

Bread pudding

Bread pudding

After grabbing a quick bite, we bee-lined over to the Ford House Museum building before it closed at 4pm in order to learn about the town’s history and scope out the artwork of one of Derek’s brother’s clients.

Ford House (image source: mendoparks.org)

Ford House (image source: mendoparks.org)

The building itself was constructed in 1854 for a local family, and now houses a historical museum featuring old photographs as well as models of the town in the nineteenth century. I loved wandering through the downstairs living rooms while learning about the logging industry that founded the town.

Once we made our way through the museum, the four of us ventured out into the Headlands state park to explore. I’m a huge fan of hiking, and we spent the rest of the trip exploring the sea-eroded rocks, grassy cliffs, and sandy beach.

Our group exploring the coast

Our group exploring the coast

Me taking a look at the rocky coast along the Headlands

Me taking a look at the rocky coast along the Headlands

View of the old Presbyterian Church from the Headlands

View of the old Presbyterian Church from the Headlands

An awesome tree I found

An awesome tree I found

Gorgeous wildflowers along the bluffs

Gorgeous wildflowers along the bluffs

View of the rocks jetting out into the Pacific

View of the rocks jetting out into the Pacific

Me and Derek enjoying our hike along the Headlands

Me and Derek enjoying our hike along the Headlands

Trail marker along the bluffs

Trail marker along the bluffs

Stunning view of the Mendocino coast

Stunning view of the Mendocino coast and vintage buildings

Walking over the rock tunnels

Walking over the rock tunnels

Matt and Liz exploring the rocks during low tide

Matt and Liz exploring the rocks during low tide

Graffiti on an old shipping dock

Graffiti on an old shipping dock

Me and Derek enjoying the sandy beach during a low tide

Me and Derek enjoying the sandy beach during a low tide

When it came time to head back to San Rafael (around 6:30pm so we could be pass the windy roads before dusk), I had an urge not to go. The coastline had bewitched me, and I felt like I could spend weeks exploring the trails along the water where the lush foliage and bright flowers grew effortlessly out of stony cliffs. I had never seen rocks and bluffs like the ones in Mendocino – and they inspired me.

Mark my words:  someday I will go back!