Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Travel

If you know me at all, you know I love a good excuse to travel. But for me, half the fun of traveling somewhere new is finding a good deal to take us there. Some of my favorite travel websites for booking trips are:
JetSetter
BookIt
GrouponGetaways
(you'll have to sign up first here and then click the "getaways" tab on the top)

The one I use the most is Travelzoo. (I, by the way, am getting no kick-back for advertising this company... just sharing it with you guys because it's great!) If you sign up for their email list, they send out a weekly top-20 list of deals from your city. It is GREAT! And makes for fun future vacation planning/dreaming (like the African Safari that came through recently that was slightly enormously over our budget but fun to dream about!).

The great thing about taking a minute to read the weekly emails from Travelzoo is that it gives me a point of reference/reality-check for what types of trips we'll actually be able to take in the near future. For instance, last year, when a deal for a Mediterranean Cruise came through for $699/person, I knew from looking at those cruises in the past and dreaming of one day going on one that it was a STEAL! The cheapest deal I had found previously was for nearly $3,000/person. Now that's a vacation clearance if I've ever seen one. So we said "Happy 5 Years of Marriage to Us" and booked it! Okay, there was a LOT more that went into it than that since Matt is the wiser, more responsible, less impulsive one of the two of us ;) ...but we did book it about a week later and LOVED it!

Here are some things that we try to do to plan vacations well and make the most of our trips:

  • We usually plan our destinations around a deal, but if there's a place we have in mind to visit, and I haven't seen a deal come through on any of the above sites, I Google "vacation deals in ________" or "hotel deals in ____________", or search TripAdvisor for the best hotels or resorts in a certain area. Sometimes, even nicer hotels like The Fairmont or Ritz Carlton (yes, even the Ritz!) will run promotions for free-nights or resort credits that make their hotel stay an overall better package than the other hotels/resorts. So don't rule out the fancy hotels! You can also visit their websites- most hotels and resorts have an "offers" or "specials" tab on their homepages.
  • We book vacations spots that other people recommend. Matt found our July getaway through Trip Advisor's 2013 Traveler's Choice page. It highlights the top 25 hotels, beaches, destinations, and islands with separate categories for family hotels and romantic hotels. Check it out!
  • Matt asks about resort fees or additional charges that we may incur during our stay. Sometimes they don't tell you about hotel parking fees or resort fees, so it's better to ask before you book.
  • We read lots of reviews about a place before we book it. Matt's really the one that gets the credit for this. He is great about reading reviews as we're planning a vacation. The site we use the most for this is TripAdvisor. I like that you can look through traveler photos and get an idea of what the resort really looks like rather than going off of the professional photos.
  • Depending on where we're staying, we sometimes pack snacks or bring our own lunch. We do this so that we can splurge in other areas that matter more to us. And just to be clear, good food is way important to both of us, so the snack-packing is sometimes planned so that we can justify a fancy-smancy meal out at a nice restaurant. We did this when we went to Chateau Elan since we could drive to the resort and bring our own cooler. We'll also pack a bottle of wine and wine glasses when we travel so that we can enjoy a glass in our room before dinner and not spend the money at the restaurants. (I learned that trick from my mama!) You can also call the restaurants and ask if you can bring your own wine- there's usually a corking fee associated, but it's much cheaper than ordering a bottle or even two glasses at the restaurant.
  • When we're planning, we decide if we're putting our money into the vacation or the hotel. For example, sometimes a deal comes through Travelzoo for a hotel stay that's super discounted and in a city we'd like to visit. The hotel may not be very fancy, but the deal lets us see a new place (or visit a place we love, like Greenville) and spend our money on sightseeing and eating out while we're there. Other times, the hotel or resort IS our vacation. So we may stay fewer days but splurge a little more on the hotel and amenities while we're there. And then other times, like in San Francisco, Nashville, and Las Vegas, we get lucky and get a fancy hotel at a great rate AND get to do lots of sightseeing!
  • We use credit cards to gain miles for flights. Credit cards can be great if you're careful to pay them off each month. Using credit card points, we've been able to fly to Las Vegas (I need to write a post about that trip!), Colorado, San Francisco, and are in the process of planning our next trip with the points we have now!
  • Matt asks if there are any upgrades available every time we stay somewhere. The assumption is "free" upgrades, but he doesn't say that at first. He just asks at check-in if there are any nicer rooms or upgrades available. If we're celebrating something, he'll milk that angle- "My wife and I are celebrating her birthday... my birthday... our anniversary" or "This is actually the first time my wife and I have stayed in your hotel (because they usually ask).. there wouldn't happen to be any upgrades available for our stay, would there?"As I mentioned in our San Francisco post, it works about 95% of the time, and I say 95 because sometimes there really aren't any other rooms available. But they usually try to toss in something! So my advice would be to book the most affordable room that still meets your needs/wants, and try for an upgrade when you get there.


Here are some of the places we've been in the past few years:

Friend Trips:

Places I would love to visit one day:
Bora-Bora

South Africa

Fiji

Canada (Niagara Falls)

Spain

Cinque Terra (Italy)

Norway

Ireland

Greek Islands

Paris

Virgin Islands & British Virgin Islands

Costa Rica

I think that about covers my travel love/advice for this post! 

I also shared a list of 10 travel trips in a post that you can check out here

If you think of any questions or have any of your own dream vacation destinations that should be added to my list, do share in the comments below!

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9 comments:

  1. Wonderful advice! Your pictures are great.

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  2. Holy cow! You all have been to a TON of places! Thanks for the awesome advice it's very helpful

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  3. Thanks for all the advice Heather!! Great tips!! I'm so looking forward to getting back to traveling, now that we're almost empty nesters(our youngest will be a high school senior this fall). You've taken some fantastic trips. My favorite on the list and where I want to some day live...is of course PARIS!! Thanks for sharing and thanks for linking up! Have a wonderful rest of your week!

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  4. Great advice. Your to visit list looks a lot like mine. Love it!

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  5. I have traveled a lot in the last few years, but I always enjoy seeing other people's travel albums. I still want to go to Italy, haven't made it yet. I have been to Paris twice in the last year and I love it so much. You give such great advice. I never like paying full price for a trip.

    Visiting from DYWW.

    http://agutandabutt.blogspot.com/

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  6. This is perfect timing as my 3 week vacation starts Monday and I want to take a sporadic trip. Your photo are amazing. Great trips you two have racked up on!

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  7. Great tips! You have been on so many trips but you definitely need to add Scotland to your list (not that I am biased at all...) :) We plan to do California next year, that will probably cost a small fortune so we are not thinking any further than that although one day I would love to go to New Zealand.

    Alison
    x

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  8. thank you so much for sharing your tips and beautiful photos! you and matt have been on so many incredible vacations!! ahhh, take me away!! steve and I loved Nashville. one of my favorite trips ever!! I can't wait to go back. and Utah...ahhh, I sometimes wish I lived there. I hope you get to travel to all the places you listed!!
    xoxox

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  9. I'm so jealous of all of your travels! So awesome though & great tips!

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