9.23.2013

SHE CALLS IT CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM

My Mom and I, 1981

It's 1993. I'm acting in a painfully bad play at my high school.  At the intermission, all the actors (including myself) go out into the lobby to visit with our families.  Parents can be heard showering their children with false praises for what is an obviously mediocre (at best) play. I approach my mother and ask her what she thinks so far of the show.  Her response,  "Is that my lamp and rug up there on stage?  I thought it looked like my stuff."  And that was that.

Then there was that time earlier this year when I called my mother to tell her that I had been asked to be the president of the children's organization for our church's congregation.  She replies, "What? That makes no sense.  Is that a new Bishop? Does he even know you? Of all the people, why would he ask you to do that job? I just can't see you doing that at all.  That makes no sense"

Or then there was the time my mom was telling me about an experience she had at church  For the "special" musical number, an older woman sat down to play a piano solo. Before she began, my dad leaned over to my mom and said, "That's going to be Kaci [a very good pianist] when she's older." Then the older woman started to play and when they realized she was not as good as they had expected,  my mom leaned over to my dad and said, "Uh, just kidding, that's more like Cristin when she's older."  Then my mom comes home from church and tells me the whole story so that I can laugh at how funny she and my dad can be at my expense.  Good one, Mom!

Finally, there was that time a little over a week ago when my sister, Caitlin, called my mom, bawling her eyes out, to tell her that she had decided not to do this blog anymore. In typical Mom fashion, she responded, "Oh, Caitlin, stop crying.  It's just a dumb blog.  You could probably go on for months before anyone noticed that you and Kaci had stopped blogging on Cristin's blog. Seriously. This is silly."

Some might call this type of behavior a lack of tact.  My mother calls this "constructive criticism."

I have never doubted my mother's love for me. When I was told four days after Amelia was born that we needed to move out of our home, my mother instantly got in her car, drove from Arizona and packed up my whole house for me so that I could focus on recovering from having a new baby.  Or then there was that other time when she watched my difficult 4 year old for over two weeks so that I could gallivant around Europe with my husband. These are only a few recent examples. She's always been willing to do anything it takes to help me out when I need it.  

When I bring up her, shall we say candid, responses, she usually responds, "Do you want me to be a Paula Abdul or a Simon Cowell?"  I get it.  Watch any of those television talent shows.  When the Paula Abdul-type judge makes a comment, nobody takes it seriously.  However, when the Simon Cowell-type judge has something nice to say its very important and everyone listens,  That's what happens when your compliments are few and far between. My mother makes a good point.  I do value her honesty.  I have just learned that in a conversation with my mom, if I want false compliments, I need to look elsewhere, because she's not going to give me any.  

That's why I know that when my mom gives me the greatest compliment you can give in our family - "I want YOU to care for me in my old age" - I can honestly say, "Aw, shucks, Mom, really? You want me to change your bed pan and give you sponge baths?! That's the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me!" because I know she really really means it.

I love you, Mom!


9.11.2013

DEAR TEACHER PARENT GROUP OF MY CHILD'S SCHOOL

Dear TPG,

I'm just going to cut right to it:  I. Hate. Fundraisers.

You and I.  We are on the same team.  Maybe I haven't officially joined your group, but that wasn't because I don't like you.  You do some great stuff for the school.  We both want what is best for the students.

However, pulling the kids out of class to attend a sales presentation about cookie dough is just poor form. These are vulnerable children who are being manipulated by a fundraising company that YOU hired.  It kinda makes me sick.  Are brainwashing and shallow incentives really the correct way to be going about earning money for our precious school?  I should be able to opt my kids out of this type of collusion.

As a result of your "awesome" assembly, my kids are obsessed with selling cookie dough.  (What kind of brainwashing did they do at this assembly?  Teach me your techniques!) My son who can't recite his math facts yet, has memorized all the fundraiser safety rules and accompanying prize packet. Although he's pretty sure that the first rule, don't go door to door, is intended to be a joke.  No, I assure him, it's not a joke.  And no, I tell him, I will not help you sell this stuff.  I want nothing to do with this thing.  Luke didn't like that response and threw a fit.  Charlie said he didn't need my support and decided to set up a lemonade type stand in front of our house to advertise his cookie dough.  Surprise, surprise, no one came to buy his cookies.

Charlie's version of School Fundraising

Luke sleeps with the prize packet glued to his face. Thanks to the generosity of his Uncle Larry, he currently has enough for the "wacky clacker ball."  He told me that this Saturday is his most important day because that is when he intends to earn enough for the Wii U.  "Uh-huh," I say, disinterested.

Let's get this straight, PTG. I'm not anti-school fundraising, I'm anti-dumb school fundraising.

Besides being incredibly manipulative, I find this type of fundraising to be highly deceptive.  After the fundraising company is paid, how much can the school actually earn?  50 cents on the dollar?  I hate paying $15.00 for a tub of cookie dough because a) that is outrageous and b) the school is probably only receiving half of that, if even that much. 

There has to be a better use of time and resources.  I realize that fundraising is a necessary evil.  Evidently our tax dollars aren't even enough to provide the teachers with an adequate amount of copy paper, so the PTG fundraisers really do add a lot to the school.  Why not do a walkathon? Or a silent auction? Or a raffle of items donated by local companies? Limited overhead means more money will go to the school than the fundraising company.  Or what happened to just asking for donations?

Would I be a bad mom if I threw away all that fundraising stuff while my kids are sleeping tonight?  Oh wait, it wouldn't matter because that fundraising company you hired is jamming it down my children's throats every single day at school.

TPG, I truly do appreciate all the hard work and effort you put into helping the students, but when it comes to this kind of fundraising, I just say NO.

Sincerely,

A Tired Parent

9.10.2013

COMBINED BIRTHDAY PARTIES: YES OR NO?

See how well they get along? Maybe they would think a joint birthday party was cool.

Lately, life has seemed extra busy. So busy, that I completely forgot Jonah's birthday is less than a month away and I have no plans for the little guy. Emma's birthday is also coming up, just a month apart from Jonah's. Ugh, I don't mean to sound like a party pooper, who doesn't want to celebrate my children's birthdays because I do... but two birthday parties in two months just feels like a lot. It hasn't been a problem in the past because both kids were still young and we mostly just had separate family birthday parties for each. The problem now is that both Jonah and Emma want a party. Both are old enough to have friends (well sort of) and both are old enough to understand, whine, and complain if one kid gets a party, a fun friend  kind of party that is, and one doesn't. 

Since Jonah and Emma also have a lot of the same friends, I thought if I were to send out a party invite in October and another invite for Emma in November it would be a bit much for the parents of their friends to take time out of two months in a row for Nalder birthday parties. So after some thought, it seemed much more reasonable to throw one combined birthday party with friends. I asked what some of my family thought of the idea and I was surprised at the opinions the topic generated. 

My sister Cristin, so far, is the only one who has advised me against a joint party. She says that if I throw them one party, no one will want to come, and no one will want to bring two gifts for two kids. Which leads me to another question: How do you go about gifts at a combined sibling party?

Unless the invitation specifies no gifts, will the parents be self-conscious about spending less on each child then they might if it were a party for one kid? Or feel as though they are required to spend more, or bring one gift for both siblings? Wich doesn't bother me at all, I even thought of saying no gifts please, but my other sister Kelley shot that down and said that it's a little kids party and you want people to be able to give them gifts. She also said I need to make two cakes. Really!? Oh so many choices!

So many questions are running through my head. Do we sing the Happy Birthday Song twice? Do we light the candles twice? What will the theme of the party be? Do I make pink and blue cupcakes? After pondering on this topic I thought I would  try and Google  "combined sibling birthday party" and see what inspiration I would get. 

I found the following images: 

The first picture I found was this card, which is very cute. Makes me excited for so many cute invite ideas I could come up with for Jonah and Emma. 

photo credit here

Then I saw this next picture and thought it was interesting how the parents stuck candles on each end of the cake. I just can't tell if these siblings are happy or disappointed. They both look a bit confused. 

photo credit here. 

Oh what to do, what to do. So what do you guys think? Do you think this is a good idea, or each child deserves their own celebration? Should I give it a try? Have any of you ever attended one? Ever had one? Plan to have one? 

9.09.2013

CHILDHOOD "CLASSICS" MY CHILDREN WILL NEVER SEE

A few weeks ago, we noticed that our boys kept saying "Pee Wee Sherman" in this weird voice and then laughing in an even stranger way.  "Pee Wee Sherman... Pee Wee Sherman... huh huh... huh huh..." they would say over and over.  We didn't know who or what "Pee Wee Sherman" was but the kids thought he was hysterical.  I tried to ignore it for a couple of days, until it became so obnoxious, I couldn't take it any longer.  
Me:  "Who is Pee Wee Sherman, you guys? This is driving me crazy!"  
Boys:  "He's someone Wyatt told us about. He laughs like this and does this dance and..."
Me: "Oh, do you mean Pee Wee HERMAN?"

Boys: "No, Pee Wee SHERMAN."
Me:  I'm pretty sure, you mean Pee Wee HERMAN.  (I proceed to to do a really bad Pee Wee Herman impersonation.)
Boys:  Yeah, that's Pee Wee SHERMAN.
Me: No, you mean, Pee Wee HERMAN.
Boys:  Who's Pee Wee Herman?
It went on like this for quite awhile until the boys reluctantly conceded that their beloved Pee Wee Sherman and my creepy Pee Wee Herman must be the same person indeed.

Pee Wee Herman aka Pee Wee Sherman

I was going to show them a Pee Wee [S]Herman movie until I watched one of the trailers and then I remembered, those movies are straight up weird.  Pee Wee isn't funny.  He's creepy.  This may or may not have something do with my own perception of Paul Reubens as an actor. Or maybe there is just something about a pale faced grown man riding a bike and acting like a rude little kid that I find strange and unfunny.

This past year, we have been showing the kids movies that we loved as children.  A good movie will always be entertaining. Some of the successes have been Flight of the Navigator, The Journey of Natty Gann, E.T., Back to the Future, Home Alone, The Princess Bride, Annie, and Star Wars.

In doing this I have also discovered there are many movies from my own childhood that I can't believe my parents ever let us watch.  (I don't think they were bad people, I just think we all didn't know any better back then.)  These weren't movies we just watched one time, but over and over and over and OVER again. These are the movies that are so ingrained in me that they are synonymous with memories from my childhood.  Let's just say it's interesting how much goes over your head when you are so innocent.

Keep in my mind, my kids are young.  (My oldest is 7.) So, my list might be a little different from yours.  In addition to Pee Wee's Big Adventure, here is a list of movies from my childhood that I will *probably* never show my children.

1. Spaceballs.  I saw Spaceballs before I ever saw Star Wars.  When I finally did see Star Wars, at the age of 18, all I could think about was Spaceballs while I was watching it.  I viewed it once as an adult and I couldn't get over all the sexual innuendo.  The captain even has this raunchy scene in bed with these twins. Then there is the use of the F word in a major scene at the end. What were my parents thinking letting little kids watch this?? (I love you Mom and Dad!)

Pizza the Hutt is one of the scariest creatures ever created on film. *shudder*

2. Short Circuit.  This was one of my all time favorite movies as a kid.  I watch it now and all I see is a rude robot who cusses and womanizes.  Really funny, not.

Number 5 hitting on Alley Sheedy for the umpteenth time.

3. Back to the Beach. This was my family's Princess Bride back in the day.  We watched it more times than I can count, DAILY. Would I show this to my kids? No way.  Too many skimpy bathing suits, sexual innuendo and did I mention the super skanky bathing suits?  That whole scene with Bob Denver and the breathy, barely dressed, bimbo, is uncomfortable.  Plus, Pee Wee Herman makes an appearance carried in on a surfboard.  While I still think this movie is hilarious (That "Does Dolly Parton float?" part still makes me laugh.), it's not the type of thing I want to share with my 7 year old son at the moment.

Get a room, Gilligan!

4. Little Shop of Horrors.  I'm not saying this is a bad movie, just one that isn't appropriate for little kids to watch. (Can't imagine why since the title has the word Horrors in it.) Yet for some strange reason I remember watching this as a little kid many times. My own children know the music, so they actually beg me a lot to watch it.  I refuse.  While I actually really love this movie, it's way too creepy and dark for little kids. That hasn't stopped me from telling them the story... as a bedtime story... in the dark... with a flashlight pressed up against my face... to FREAK them out!  [Insert maniacal laugh here.]



5.  Jurassic Park. I actually did show this to the kids and now I totally regret it. We were in a hotel room and it was on television. They still talk about how scary it was.  Sorry kids!


9.06.2013

THE MOST PERFECT GUACAMOLE RECIPE


Do you know anyone who does NOT like guacamole? I sure don't. (Insert poster here that reads "There's too much guacamole, said NO ONE!") I've made guacamole so many times and I really think this is one of the most perfect guac recipes I've come up with.







Start with nice, ripe avocados. Slice them in half lengthwise and remove the pits. Scoop out the flesh and place into a bowl. (Now comes the important part.) Anyone can mash up avocados and call it guacamole but it's what you mix with it that makes it superb. Here's what I like to use: minced garlic, chopped fresh cilantro, minced red onion, minced jalapeno, minced tomatillo, fresh lime juice and a good pinch of kosher salt. Oh, and make sure not to mash the avocados too much. I like it when there's still a few chunks here and there--unless you like your guacamole to resemble baby food...?



MMMmmmmm. SOOOoooo gooood.



And here's a tip if you want to protect your mouthwatering masterpiece from oxidizing: press plastic wrap directly on top making sure to get out all the air bubbles. If you do this, it will last longer in the fridge and won't turn that icky brown color. (Yuck, that would be a shame.)

BEST GUACAMOLE RECIPE
serves 2-4 as an appetizer with chips (but if you want to eat the whole thing by yourself I won't tell anyone)

INGREDIENTS
4 ripe avocados
2-3 medium sized limes, juice only
3 tablespoons red onion or shallot, minced
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 small

tomatillo, finely chopped (tomatillos look like green tomatoes with a papery husk on the outside--remove the husk)
1/2 jalapeno, minced
1/2 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
kosher salt, to taste

DIRECTIONS
Slice avocados lengthwise and discard pits. Scoop out flesh and place in mixing bowl. Add a pinch of kosher salt and lime juice. Mash avocados with a potato masher or fork until creamy but leaving some chunks. Add all the remaining ingredients and mix just until incorporated. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Serve with tortilla chips, crackers, raw vegetables, grilled chicken, burritos, tacos, or just about anything!



9.05.2013

FOR THE LOVE OF CLIP ART


Not very many people know this about me but I love making clip art. I guess you could call it my guilty pleasure, because I felt like such a dork, being a grown woman who loves to doodle on her free time, I didn't even tell my husband! When he found out what I was secretly up to, he gave me a really weird look and said, "So, you're an artist now?" Bahahaha! Um, I wouldn't call it that. But whatever I'm doing, is fun! 

Since I love being creative so much, I thought I would share some clip art with you, or whoever loves to scrapbook (digital scrapbook), make invites, or cards as much as I do! I have some available in my little etsy shop which you can check out here, but once a week I'll make some fun free ones to share on our blog, just because, well, we all know when cute stuff is free, it's always more fun, and I guess I just really like you guys! wink, wink. 

Ok, ready? (Don't be too sad that it's not Halloween stuff. That will come, but come on guys it's barely September!)


Wreath's are so popular right now, but I can see why! There is so much you can do with it! Here are some ideas for you.



Here's the link to download the clip art! Have fun! 



9.04.2013

THE TOP TEN TOTALLY "TERRIFIC" TOILET TRAINING TACTICS


As I psych myself up to begin potty training child #3, I thought it would be interesting to compile a list of actual potty training strategies that I have either used or personally known of someone using.  These are all true stories.  Seriously.

Tactic 1:  Hold a Fleet Baby Laxative up in your hand when your child is 18 months old (yes, you read that right, EIGHTEEN MONTHS OLD) and say dramatically, "Either you do this yourself or I do this for you."

Tactic 2: Brainwash your daughter.  Never actually tell her to use the potty, instead check out dozens of children's books about using the toilet from the library.  Only watch movies about going to the bathroom. Make it the topic of all discussions in your home with everyone but your daughter.

Tactic 3:  Park your son in front of the tv on a little portable Elmo toilet that speaks Spanish when a "deposit" is made.  Make him watch "Elmo's Potty Time" on repeat and drink liquids until he goes.  Ignore the red circle deeply imprinted onto his little bum at the end of this 2+ hour ordeal.  Tell yourself you're not an awful person for making your son do this, when deep down you know it was borderline child abuse.

Tactic 4: Wait till your stubborn 3 1/2 year old is 1 month away from starting preschool and have a straight forward rational talk with him that it's time for him to start using the toilet... and for you to stop changing his man poop diapers. 

Tactic 5: Show your daughter how her favorite doll can "go potty" on the toilet.  "Wipe" the doll's bum. "Wash" the doll's hands.  "Give" the doll a gummy bear.  Ignore your daughter when she tries to imitate your behavior by dunking every stuffed animal and doll she owns repeatedly in the toilet.

Tactic 6: Buy a "Poo Poo Train." Stick it on top of the refrigerator for your son to look at every day.  Each day he is dry, give him part of the train.  Make sure the train says "Poo poo!" instead of "Choo! Choo!"  This is key.

Tactic 7: Let your son pick out his favorite character underwear. If he has an accident in it, launch into an over dramatic scene about how he pooped on Lightening McQueen ("How dare you poop on Lightening McQueen!!!") and then throw it away in the garbage. FOR REAL.

Tactic 8: Potty train your dog and the 2 year old will naturally follow the dog's lead. That's all you need to do.  It's that easy.

Tactic 9: Never put your child in diapers to begin with.  You can call it something sophisticated like, "Elimination Communication," while everyone else calls it "crazy."  Hold your child over houseplants and street gutters when you sense that it's their time to go.  Be one with nature and your child's bowel movements.

Tactic 10: Let your child run around naked all summer so that they will get a sense of what is really happening when they feel warm urine flow gently down their little legs and nature poop onto the grass.  (Hey, it's fertilizer!)

Now that I've written it out, I still don't know what to do.  Ugh, I hate this.  I think I will have to go with Tactic 11: Wing it, because no amount of subliminal messages or baby laxatives can make your child do what ultimately she can only do for herself.  Wish us luck.  Have I mentioned how much I hate this?

9.03.2013

VEGGIE TRENDS: KALE SALAD



It seems as if kale has become the new Romaine. (And remember when Iceberg was used for everything? Eww. Iceberg is like so 1995...) Anyway, it's about time we realize the benefits of this vitamin enriched-cancer fighting-cholesterol lowering-super duper queen of greens, no? If you haven't tried kale you are missing out. It can be prepared in so many ways but, like anything, it's best when eaten raw.

Recently I've enjoyed three different kale salads from three different restaurants. It seems as if they all use the same formula for their recipe: very thinly sliced kale, lots of salty cheese, some type of dried or fresh fruit, something crunchy, and lots of olive oil and fresh lemon juice. So, I thought I would try using that ingenious combination of sweet/salty/crunchy/bitter/tart and come up with my very own version of the ever so trendy kale salad.


KALE AND CHICKPEA SALAD WITH LEMON VINAIGRETTE
serves 4-6

SALAD INGREDIENTS
10 ounce bag washed and shredded kale with stems removed (shred it again extra thin)
15 ounce can drained cooked chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans)
7 ounces cubed feta cheese
1 small bag pita chips, broken into rough pieces
2 small boxes of raisins (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds

VINAIGRETTE INGREDIENTS
3-4 minced garlic cloves
3-4 lemons, juiced (about 1/2 cup of juice)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
pinch of kosher salt

DIRECTIONS
In a small bowl, slowly whisk the olive oil into the lemon juice. Add the minced garlic and season to taste with salt. In a large bowl, add the salad ingredients then toss with the vinaigrette to coat 


The raisins might seem weird, but they really make this salad yummy. (Kale is just so bitter that it really yearns for something a little sweet.) Also, if you don't like feta a good substitute would be lots of freshly shredded parmesan cheese. Another great thing about kale is that it's a very thick and dense vegetable which means it can be dressed ahead of time. If you do choose to add the vinaigrette before hand, it's probably best you sprinkle the pita chips on the top--unless you like your pita chips wet and soggy, which is totally up to you. Also, the chickpeas are completely optional. I do like adding them for even more protein though, which can really turn the salad into an entree instead of a side.


8.30.2013

EMMA'S PLAYHOUSE


Ever since we moved into our house, I've wanted to turn Emma's closet into a playhouse. Luckily our house has a lot of  addtitional storage space so I could do this without sacrificing too much! 

 
It looked like this for way too long. I just couldn't decide what to do. I knew Zach didn't want me to completely ruin this closet (as in rip out all the shelves and build stuff in there) so I knew whatever I did, needed to be minimal and be able to transfer back into a regular closet when needed. I'm still using it to hang up some of Emma's dresses. I did this little makeover so fast (it took me three days, all during nap time)  and Emma loves it! 




Yes, I'm totally the mom who makes my daughter pretend to read a parenting magazine! Ha ha! It happened to be lying in her room and it was just too funny. A little mommy in her little house.


Sorry, this is a picture overload I know. I wasn't sure if I wanted to put this little ikea dresser in there, but she has a lot of baby doll stuff and plastic food I figured she could use the storage. 






Aside from the main kitchen set, everything else was stuff I had lying around our house, or stuff I thrifted (of course). For the wallpaper I just used good old wrapping paper. So much cheaper! A little trickier to apply, but the spray adhesive I used made it super easy! So that's what I've been up to lately! Let me know if you have any questions. My next project is getting Emma's room finished so maybe I'll take some pictures of that and show you guys when it's finally finished.

8.29.2013

HOW TO TRAVEL WELL ON A TIGHT BUDGET

This is the second post in a 3 part series about how to travel well on a tight budget.  You can read the first part about how I traveled to Europe using eBay here.  

Now that you have gathered up all that junk around your house, sold it on eBay and saved your winnings, the next step is to spend it wisely.  Let me preface this by saying that I did some extreme budget travelling as a poor college student and this isn't that.  Sleeping in hostels, sharing hotel rooms with 6 other people, and eating free samples at grocery stores for your lunch is cool when you're 19, but when you're a real adult you want to have a true vacation, not a scary lesson in how homeless people survive on the streets.

We are not wealthy, but we like to travel, so with that being said, here are MY tips for travelling well on a tight budget -

AIRLINE TRAVEL




Think outside the box when it comes to how you will fly to your destination.  When we traveled to Italy in March, rather than flying directly to Rome, it was cheaper to fly into London on a large carrier and then buy a separate ticket on a different airline to Naples. Don't neglect checking out the smaller budget airlines that won't come up on your standard flight search on Kayak or Priceline.  I like to use Skyscanner to view all available flights when choosing a flight.

For cheap domestic flights, Priceline's "Name Your own Price" is fantastic.  We scored tickets on a direct flight from LAX to Washington, D.C. on Virgin America for $246 a ticket while others were paying almost double that for a red eye flight.  My in-laws found tickets for around $300 from LAX to Honolulu by bidding the same way.  Get over your fears.  This Priceline system totally works and it is awesome.

Don't be afraid to fly on the really cheap airlines.  Last June we traveled as a family to Hawaii on Allegiant Air. Contrary to popular belief, the plane was not made of cardboard, but was actually a nice new jet! It actually turned out to be a really good experience and we saved a lot of money flying this way.  I made it my goal to fly the whole way to Hawaii without buying anything extra during the 5 hour flight (because that is how they really make their money).  I brought empty water bottles to fill up after we went through airport security and packed lunch (salami, crackers, yogurt and fruit) in cold bags for us to eat at the airport and on the plane. Since there was no in flight entertainment, I made sure to load our iPad and iPhones with lots of movies. I didn't pay extra to reserve seats with the hope that maybe I wouldn't have to sit next to my kids during the flight.  (Plan failed.  They seated us together anyway.)  It may sound like a lot of extra work, but I saved over $1,500 this way and got to fly home on a very popular holiday weekend.

Regardless if you have to pay for your luggage or not, pack as little as possible.  Diapers?  Buy them at your destination. You can see in this picture how we packed only 2 large suitcases and 1 carry-on for our family of 5 to spend 2 weeks in Hawaii.  This included our snorkels, fins, beach towels, and even a laptop! Pack light. It'll cause less stress and will easily fit in any rental car.


LODGING

I love to use Hotwire's secret rates to reserve a hotel room.  A few weeks ago we booked this really nice 3 star hotel with a fireplace in the room (ooh la la!) on the beach in Morro Bay for half the price of the 2 star ones further up the road.  Priceline's "Name Your Own Price" is also great, but I feel like I have a little more control when I use Hotwire.  Betterbidding is a great website that enables you to make an educated guess at what your "mystery hotel" will be before you book it.  Another great option is Hotels.com. Sometimes I will reserve a good backup hotel on Hotels.com that I can easily cancel just in case I don't find a better deal through a different website. Also, it is important to read reviews and look at other tourists' pictures on Tripadvisor.  Be advised, this type of research can reach OCD levels when you are trip planning and there comes a point when you just need to make a decision and book a place to stay.  Don't turn into a crazy person.  I warned you.

Do not travel without a hotel reservation.  We did this in South Korea.  Worst. Decision. Ever.  (I still love you, honey.)


CAR RENTAL

Don't rent a car unless you absolutely have to.
 It can be such a pain and cost to drive/park sometimes. Familiarize yourself with public transportation and don't be afraid to use it.  In big cities a car is actually a hindrance not a solution.


Most rental car companies have a "mystery car" plan where you pay significantly less at the time you make the reservation with the understanding that you don't know what your car will be. Each time we have done this, we have not been disappointed.  Priceline's "Name Your Own Price" is another good bet.

If you are planning on renting a car when traveling internationally, familiarize yourself with the rental and insurance rules before you get over there.  We didn't have a problem when we rented a car in New Zealand, but in England it was a complete disaster.  We didn't know enough about the laws to not buy the rental company's insurance and it added a huge unplanned cost to our trip.  Grrrrr.


FOOD

Stay at a hotel or bed and breakfast with the best breakfast ever.  It isn't a deal breaker if they don't have a breakfast, but it definitely helps.  Take a look at the breakfast that was included with our place in Rome.  I never had to buy lunch.  Instead I would just snack on the leftover pain au chocolats and prosciutto I had shoved in my backpack (and coat pockets) from breakfast.  I know it sounds borderline crazy to eat leftover prosciutto out of your coat pocket, but I was saving money!


If you are traveling internationally, make a commitment to eat only one meal out a day.  While eating out can drain your budget, I still think it's an important part of exposing yourself to the culture of the country you are visiting.  If your "free" breakfast isn't cutting it, hit up the local grocery store deli or street vendors.  I like to look on Tripadvisor for good, local, and cheap, restaurants.  Also, ask locals and go there.  If the menu is translated into another language and has pictures, avoid it at all costs.  The prices at those kind of places are usually hiked up big time for the confused tourists who treat the local currency like Monopoly money.

GENERAL RULES

Never ever use a credit card.  
I know many travel gurus will tell you to use credit card points to get all sorts of free airplane tickets and hotel stays, but this has never worked in my favor in the long run.  Also, when I swipe a credit card to pay for things, it causes me stress because I know I will have to pay for it later. Pay for your whole vacation before you leave and as you go, so that you can come home and start saving for your next trip, rather than digging yourself out of a financial hole from the last one.

Travel off-season as close to the "on" season as you can.  I know this doesn't work for every destination (I don't think Hawaii has an off-season), but you will see a huge price difference with everything. When following this rule, remember not to be disappointed if it is still snowing in Salzburg in March when you travel there to fulfill your lifelong dream to see all the Sound of Music movie locations.  I'm just sayin'.


Take a splitter and two headphones when visiting any place with an audio guide, so that you only have to rent one instead of two. People always comment about how smart Erik and I are when they see us doing this.  No, you don't have to get the audio guide, but it really does enhance your experience quite a bit. Pompeii is just a pile of rocks unless you know what you are looking at.

When in doubt, PRICE IT OUT! Sometimes it is cheaper to purchase a rail pass, city attractions pass, or vacation package, and sometimes it isn't.  Take the time to look at the real numbers.

Plan, plan, plan and then... be spontaneous! I use Tripit to create a very detailed itinerary (with backup plans) of almost everything I want to do.  This will actually allow you to be more spontaneous.  I know it makes little sense, but believe me, when you know what your options are you are able to make better decisions.  Some of the best things we've done have been things we did not plan at all.

Do your research.  If you want to go to Legoland, look for tickets on Retail Me Not. (There is no reason to ever pay full price for Legoland.)  If you want to visit an Aquarium, look on the Internet for free children's tickets at the local library.  Look up the opening and closing times of museums, restaurants, parks, etc. before you leave on your trip.  It will cause you so much less stress in the long run.

Ask locals for advice.  If they are nice, they will guide you to the best places to see. If they are really nice, they will treat you like a celebrity and ask to take lots of pictures with you!


So that's it!  Any questions?  Now you are ready to go!

Part 3 will cover How to Travel Without Your Children.

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