• Posts Tagged ‘vacation’

    Vegas Baby!

    by  • October 1, 2013 • Tagged:   • Comments

    When we started our blog, we were freshly engaged, and had started to plan our wedding. Readers of our blog know that we had some expensive ideas for the wedding and not many of you agreed with our decisions. We went ahead with our own plans anyway a few years after that first post. Five years after that, we’ve made it through five years of wedded bliss. Oh how time flies!

    While we took an extravagant European trip for our honeymoon, we decided to go a very different route for our five year anniversary and went to Las Vegas. There’s a lot about Vegas that I love: the bright lights,the sounds, the people, the shows, the restaurants, the ridiculousness of it all. Of course all of that costs money, not to mention costs for transportation and lodging.

    There’s another activity that I love in Vegas: GAMBLING. I know, I know, a personal finance blogger who loves gambling? That’s bad news, isn’t it? Well, yes and no. I would say that over the years I’ve done quite well and quite poorly at gambling, and have come out about even. During one spectacular trip to Vegas, I won enough money gambling to cover my airfare, hotel, and food, and I went home with a $1,000 extra dollars (which I actually donated to my church!).

    I do have rules, though. I always play at a live table. Friends of mine really like the convenience of being able to log in to an online casino from home. They have lots of fun doing that, but it’s not for me. I also have a limit as to how much I am willing to lose. I generally give myself $200 to play with. Depending on the night, though, $200 can either last 15 minutes at a very cold craps table, or it could last all night at a hot roulette table. I’ve heard of people who also have winning limits, but I think that’s ridiculous. If I put a winning limit of $300 on myself, I would have left $700 on the table, literally. But you must know yourself and follow your own rules.

    My favorite game to play is craps. I’m a fairly conservative bettor and generally bet the minimum on the pass line and take the fewest amount of “free” odds. I’ll increase my bets only if I’m up 50% of my original allowance (so if I gave myself $200, I’ll increase if I get to $300). The best is when the table is full of rowdy people and there’s a hot roller. Everyone goes crazy every time the point is hit and everyone has a good time.

    The second most favorite game of mine to pay is blackjack. Yes, the rules are fairly simple, and there’s tons of guides online of when to hit, stay, double down, or even surrender. I’ll play roulette at the end of the night to wind things down, or pai gow poker if I need some free drinks.

    Fortunately this last time in Vegas was with my wife, who isn’t an avid gambler but is a good sport. She’s also good at keeping me honest and true to my rules. Anyway, I was there to celebrate with her, not just gamble my savings away.

    Planning a Holiday on a Budget

    by  • May 31, 2013 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    Trying to plan a holiday when money is tight can be hard, especially if you’re planning a break for the whole family. There are lots of ways to save money though, so going away somewhere nice doesn’t have to break the bank.

    Firstly you should think about where you’d like to go. It’s almost certain that popular tourist spots are going to be much more expensive than somewhere a bit different. Summer breaks to Lapland for example will be far cheaper than a trip to London. And while most people consider it primarily a winter destination, Lapland actually has a lot to offer in the summer months. You can go berry picking with the locals, hike through the stunning Finnish scenery and even experience 24 hours of sunlight on any given day.

    You should also look into self-catering while you’re away. Try to find accommodation with cooking facilities so you can buy what you need from the local supermarket and avoid paying expensive restaurant prices. You might also like to consider staying close to home. Obviously the further away you go, the more money you’re likely to spend. Staycations are becoming more and more popular now and can be a great way to get to know some of the history and culture of your own country.

    As always it’s best to book online to avoid paying any fees with a travel agent. If you can, try to book in advance. If you’re not in a position to do that, however, you may be able to find some great last-minute deals, though this can be risky if you have your heart set on a certain holiday. Before you start planning, set yourself a budget and make sure you stick to it. Do it for all parts of the trip, from flights to accommodation, food to entertainment, that way you’ll know exactly how much you have at every leg of the journey and can avoid running out of cash at the end of the holiday.

    Wherever you do decide to go, remembering that visiting destinations off-peak can reap great rewards, do your research and find out if there are any free activities on offer around the area. A lot of cultural sites have free entry and can be great fun for everyone. Also browse online and see if you can find any discount deals if you book in advance. Walking around the city or town you’re staying in can be a great way to get to know the place and to soak up the local atmosphere.

    There’s Much More to Egypt Than the Negative Headlines

    by  • March 7, 2013 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    So why Egypt? Isn’t there all this bother there at the moment, you know, the protests and trouble and all of that? The newspapers are full of it. Please, please, please forget the headlines because they only tell a tiny part of the Egyptian story, a very tiny part indeed.

    Millions of tourists are visiting Egypt right now, and having a fabulous vacation to boot. So dust down your credit cards and enjoy what Egypt has to offer. You won’t be sorry. Let’s face it, there are few countries in the world that can boast 6,000 years of civilisation filled with a list of pharaohs as long as your arm. Names like Tutankhamen, Cleopatra, Nefertiti and others perhaps not so well known.

    Then there’s the Sphinx, the River Nile, the Valley of the Kings, the Temples of Karnak, Abu Simbel and more – hey you could be here reading all day. Almost forgot the pyramids, too, of which some 130 or more have been discovered so far. So there’s plenty to keep you going. Plenty to keep you coming back, too!

    To most foreign visitors, Egypt is practically all about enjoying its huge number of antiquities. And in case you didn’t know it, there are plenty banks around – HSBC, Barclays, Citibank and others –  well able to top up the cash should funds begin to run low. Or simply use your credit card in one of the many thousands of ATMs which are to be found on just about every street corner these days. Easy as pie.

    If you’re more into sand, the beach and desert variety, then you’ll find ample quantities of both in the famed Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh and in the desert. Depends what your idea of a great vacation is – lounging on a beach all day sipping your favourite tipple or sweating profusely on the back of a camel heading out into the emptiness of the Sahara. Your choice.

    While Egypt has suffered over the last year or two in terms of tourist numbers because of the January 2011 revolution, the same can’t be said for the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and particularly the city of Dubai. Heard of it? Who hasn’t. Dubai, surrounded by the emirate of the same name, is simply an incredible experience, a place everyone should visit at least once before kicking the proverbial bucket.

    Marcello Baricordi, General Manager for Visa UAE, said recently that the UAE was ranked first in the Middle East for having the most advanced travel and tourism sector. It was no surprise, he said in the Visa 2012 report, Tourism Outlook: UAE, that millions of tourists selected the country as a holiday destination year after year.

    While 8.2 million overseas visitors sought out the UAE in 2011, a drop of 8.8%, it was important to note that the actual amount spent on Visa credit cards increased significantly over the previous year, indicating the quality of visitors that the UAE was attracting.

    He added, “It is also vital to remember that despite the volatility in the Middle East in the midst of the Arab Spring of 2011, which saw the number of tourists in the region as a whole drop by 7% in 2011, the UAE emerged as a safe haven in the region and continued to attract international visitors.”

    Why not read this extremely interesting report yourself? It can be found here.

    Stupid Mistake: Missed Travel Insurance Deadline

    by  • January 14, 2008 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    I just discovered we made a stupid mistake. We missed the deadline to apply for travel insurance. WE are planning to spend a few days of our honeymoon in Turkey, a country that has seen a recent surge in terrorist threats and activity. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we won’t be affected, but we had planned on purchasing an upgrade to our travel insurance policy that would allow us to cancel that part of our trip in case we feel that the terrorism has become too dangerous. We booked our honeymoon through a travel agent, and she dutifully sent us the paperwork for the travel insurance, along with a nice hand-written note reminding us to fill it out and promptly fax it back to her.

    We didn’t.

    For a month, the paperwork sat untouched on the desk and we kept saying, “We really should send that in soon” but neither of us even bothered to read it. Finally, I decided to start this task. I researched travel insurance and found out that the one our agent had recommended is highly rated and considered the best policy for where we’re going. You can even apply online. Hooray!

    So I start the application, and one of the first questions is, “When did you first pay a deposit for any part of your vacation?” I answer it truthfully, and instantly many of the insurance upgrade options are grayed out. A tiny message informs me that these options are only available in the first 15 days after the first deposit is made on any part of our trip. Oh nos!

    We can still purchase the basic coverage, but not the upgrade that would let us cancel due to terrorism. Now we just have to hope that everything settles down in time for our trip. We did learn a valuable lesson though: book your travel insurance as soon as you put down that first travel deposit!

    Hotel Concierge Service: Above And Beyond

    by  • December 27, 2007 • Tagged: , , ,  • Comments

    About 10 times a year I travel for my job. Sometimes the work that I do is quite easy, and I have more time to relax and do some sightseeing, or even make a vacation out of it. Other times the job can be quite stressful as we have to cater to our clients and make sure things go smoothly. When I need things to go especially well, I often enlist the services of the hotel concierge. Their advice is often invaluable in finding out the perfect restaurant in an unfamiliar city, for getting access to rooms at their hotel or another venue for impromptu meetings, or even getting umbrellas when an unexpected rain occurs. Of course, their work is rewarded with a generous tip.

    However, the requests that my coworkers and I ask from the concierge pale in comparison to others. A Chicago Sun-Times article reports the unusual requests that Jon Winke, a concierge at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago since 1975, has had to fufill for guests. Some of them include:

    • A guest wanted to see the premier of the movie “Disclosure” but he didn’t want anyone sitting within three rows of him. Winke rallied staff members to go to the theater and buy enough tickets to block off several rows.
    • A mother of the bride left her contact lenses in a taxi and was upset about having to wear glasses to her daughter’s wedding. Concierge staff tracked down her California optician, got her prescription and had new contacts delivered to the hotel within two hours.

    Have you ever used the hotel concierge to make your life easier? What was the strangest request that you have asked from one?

    (via Chicagoist)

    Reimbursed Vacation

    by  • October 25, 2007 • Tagged: , , ,  • Comments

    beach.jpg
    photo: Davide Schiano

    Since Her and I graduated from college, we’ve never taken a “real” vacation together…something about paying off debt got in the way. We could never justify spending a lot of money to take a nice real vacation together.

    I’ve mentioned a few times that I get to travel for my job, and that I usually get put up at nice hotels. This past summer, I was offered the chance to go to a pretty nice location for work to attend a conference. I was going to be there for a few days and would have a lot of downtime. I thought it would be perfect opportunity to have Her come along and have a fun vacation on the cheap. Here’s how we did it.

    When I signed up for the Citibank AAdvantage card, I was entitled to received a free companion ticket. I made the reservation for both of our tickets with American Airlines; my ticket would get reimbursed, and Her’s was free with the exception of taxes (which amounted to about $20).

    Our company generally reserves hotel rooms only a few weeks in advance of travel. Because of this, many of the hotels near the convention center were already booked. We ended up booking a room at a hotel that was a little farther than walking distance, but happened to be the nicest hotel I have ever stayed in. It might as well be the nicest hotel I will EVER stay in. We arranged a 4 night stay, but since I was doing work on only 3 of the days, we had to pay 1 night out of our own pocket. Since I was there for a conference we got a reduced rate on the room for all of our stay. We could have probably stayed somewhere cheaper for that 1 night, but all we could find were hotels that were far away from the convention center and hotel we were arranged to stay at. We decided the hassle wasn’t worth the $50 we’d save.

    Since we were more than walking distance to the convention center, we needed the use of a car. We rented a car for the full 4 days we stayed there, but paid for 1 day out of our pocket. We got a phenomenal deal on the rental through the travel agency that my work goes through, so we ended up paying $15 plus gas for the rental car.

    Whenever I travel, all of my meals are reimbursed as well. On the non-business day we were there, we ate pretty frugally – living in Chicago has given us an astute sense of where the cheap, but good eats are. Some of the days we ordered room service for 1 – the portions were so large that it easily fed both of us. Other meals weren’t extravagant, but weren’t all at at Subway, either. We saved a ton on food – so much that I didn’t mind the incredible pain in the ass it was to file the expense reports, separating our meals.

    A lot of the stuff we did for fun was free or cheap. We’re not really into touristy stuff, and much rather prefer to go on self-guided tours and get a feel for the culture of the place we’re visiting. We did do 1 touristy activity and got tickets from the hotel since they offered discounts. I guess that is one of the perks of staying at a super-nice hotel.

    After I was reimbursed for everything, our total out of pocket costs for the vacation was approximately $400. Not bad for 2 roundtrip flights, 4 nights hotel, 4 days of rental car, 4 days of meals, and entertainment. Oh yeah, and we got rewards for ALL of the vacation. The only downside is that I actually had to work on two of those days; although if it weren’t for my job, we wouldn’t have been able to have our first “real” vacation together.

    Budget Vacation Tips

    by  • June 26, 2006 • Tagged: , , ,  • Comments

    Would you like to take your family of 4 to Paris on $991? How about a honeymoon in Paris for $600? I discovered this very practical vacation bargain article tonight while looking for ways to trim costs on our honeymoon. It’s a Christian website, but there’s no proselytizing in this article. One of their suggestions includes doing a Home Swap (where you and another family swap homes for your vacation), which I’ve always been interested in doing. I stayed in a furnished apartment when I studied abroad in France, and I’ve always thought that home feeling would be nice to have on all trips abroad. This article has lots of creative ways to save money on your next vacation.