Tag Archives: travel

Lessons learned after 2 weeks overseas

Before I share the fun stuff about our trip, I thought I’d share some of the financial lessons we learned on the trip. We planned ahead, and we did a lot of things right. But we also made some mistakes.

If you have a smartphone, turn off data roaming.

Luckily, I knew about this one before we left. I brought my iPhone with us to Europe, but I left it on airplane mode the entire time we were there. If I had left data roaming on, my phone’s automatic updates would have racked up hundreds of dollars in overseas roaming charges.

Fortunately, I still had access to wi-fi, so I could connect my phone to the hotel wi-fi to connect to the Internet for free. This was a lifesaver when we needed directions or information. We were also able to use the Skype app to make calls home basically for free. This was a huge moneysaver since calling cards are expensive and hotel phone fees are astronomical.

Don’t touch the hotel phone.

I wish I’d read the fine print on the card next to our hotel phone as soon as we got to the room. When we arrived in London, I realized that I’d forgotten to notify my credit card company that we’d be traveling abroad. We planned to use the Capital

One card for most of our purchases over there to avoid overseas transaction fees, so the last thing I wanted was for the card to be shut off for suspicious activity. I used the hotel phone to call Capital One collect. Capital One agreed to accept all long distance charges for the call. The hotel still charged us around 12USD just for using their phone. Ugh.

When I finally looked at the fee card, I saw that the hotel even charges fees for local calls. This was the case in all three of the hotels we stayed in. To be safe, just avoid the hotel phones all together.

Over-overestimate for food costs.

I pride myself on overestimating my budget most of the time. I like to build some cushion into the budget by assuming things will cost more than they do. Usually I’m pleasantly surprised to discover we’ve spent much less than we planned.

When we left for Europe, pretty much everything but food was paid for. I estimated $100 a day for us to eat, a number that I thought was pretty high based on our past experience, even considering the money we’d lose in the conversion. We typically spend very little for food on vacation. In this case, I was wrong, and we ended up going overbudget. It wasn’t by an astronomical amount, and it wasn’t a big deal because we’d built extra into the budget on top of my estimates.

Think hard before buying tourist passes.

A few months ago, I struggled with whether we should purchase London Passes for our trip. The London Pass offers admission to a ton of tourist attractions in London for one flat fee. The cost of the pass is much lower than the combined admission fees of all the attractions, but the catch is that it’s impossible to see everything in just a few days. I added up the cost of all the attractions we thought we’d see and compared it with the cost of the pass. It seemed like it would work out to be a good deal, so I went for it.

What I didn’t plan for was my pregnancy. Because I was tired and a feeling sick some days, we ended up seeing a lot less than we planned. In the end, we lost about 50USD on the passes. Blerg.

On the other hand, we bought Paris museum passes for 32 euros each and ended up getting 75 euros in admission out of each of them. Package deals aren’t always a bad deal, but you really have to do the math.

Despite these few hiccups, we stuck to the budget pretty well, especially considering how much we were able to do and see over there. If you’re planning a trip overseas, I hope you can learn from our mistakes to make your experience even more successful.

Photo by e01

iPhone apps that make my life easier

My friend Kacie is thinking about getting a smart phone. She’s been asking me lots of questions about my iPhone, and she requested that I share some of my favorite apps here. Okay!

As someone who doesn’t talk on the phone a lot, I use it more for browsing the Internet and applications than I do for talking. If you’re like me and you’re not a big cell phone user, you might consider getting an iPod Touch instead. Having instant access to the Internet without wi-fi is a really convenient perk, but it’s not necessary if you don’t want to spend the extra money on your cell phone bill.

Here are the ways that the iPhone has made my life easier:


I am perpetually lost. I have a terrible sense of direction, and even when someone gives me explicit directions, it’s easy for me to get turned around anyway. Now that I have GPS on my iPhone, even if I take a wrong turn, I can map a new course to help me find my way back. The maps aren’t also completely accurate, but they’re usually accurate enough to help me find my way.


I’ve never been able to get it together enough to use a day planner. I always forget to enter appointments or lose the thing entirely. My iPhone calendar is the closest I’ve come to organizing various dates and appointments. I love that I can choose multiple times to alert myself, and because it’s my phone, I check it frequently enough to see when things are coming up.

Comparison shopping

Have you ever bought something for what you thought was a great price, and then kicked yourself later when you found it on sale for cheaper somewhere else? It seems that no matter how much comparison shopping you do beforehand, it’s easy to end up in this positive. I always do a quick search on my iPhone before I buy to make sure that no one else is selling it for cheaper right now.

Road trips

The iPhone has absolutely changed long car trips for us. We invested $30 in an FM transmitter that allows us to broadcast the iPhone through a radio station. In addition to letting us play music from my iPod library, it allows us to listen to episodes of This American Life on its incredible iPhone app and catch up on the news with the NPR News app. We used to burn a ton of CDs with music and podcasts before hitting the road, but now all we need is my tiny little iPhone.


I haven’t actually tested this yet, so I’ll have to follow when we get back from Europe, but I’m planning on using Skype to help us stay in touch with family while we’re out of the country. Roaming phone and data charges are incredibly expensive overseas. I plan to keep my phone on Airplane Mode while we’re out of the country. This basically turns it into an iPod Touch. I’ll still be able to connect to wi-fi where ever it’s available, which means we can use the Skype app to make phone calls at much cheaper rates. If we connect with other Skype users, it’s even free.

Online banking

Because we keep the bulk of our money in savings accounts, our checking account balance is typically pretty low. It’s really important that we keep up with transactions to make sure we’re not overspending. I often log into our checking account to make sure all of the bills are withdrawing as they should. I also use the Mint.com app occasionally to check our budget and see how we’re doing.


The Couch to 5K app made training for my 5K a lot easier and more.

Social Networking

While it’s not the most productive use for a smart phone, connecting to Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks where ever you are is a definite perk for smart phones. It makes waiting in a long line much more bearable, and it’s definitely fun to snap a picture and immediately upload it to Facebook or Flickr when I see something interesting.

Do you have a smart phone? What are your favorite ways to use it?

Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this post in any way by AT&T or Apple. But it sure would be nice if they sent me a new iMac. :)

Photo by chanc

Countdown to Europe & moving: 2 months to go

Can I tell you how excited I am that our trip is now absolutely, completely booked? Because I am SO excited. Everything is booked, paid for, and all of our travel documents are compiled together in a neat little stack on the bookshelf.

The last thing we booked? Tickets to see Les Miserables in London. I don’t even think I’m ready to talk about that yet because it’s possible my head will explode.

I should be relieved, but the amount of documents and confirmations and plans to keep straight are more than a little overwhelming, especially when I consider the fact that we’ll be packing up the rest of our lives approximately five days before we board our trans-Atlantic flight. Eep.

Speaking of moving. You know, that other thing we’re doing in May? I haven’t even thought about that thing. Yes, you read that correctly. I’ve been planning our 12-day European vacation for over a year, but we’re now two months from transporting our lives over 800 miles away and I haven’t even begun to compile a to-do list.

Well, I guess that’s not true. I’ve booked our movers and reserved a moving van. I know what needs to be done. I need to pack up three years of our lives — currently occupying over 900 square feet of space — and condense it all to fit in a 17-foot moving truck. I also need to find someone to sublet our apartment so we won’t end up paying rent in June and July. Ugh.

What I don’t need is boxes. Because I have a pathological fear of not having enough boxes when I need to move, I refused to throw away any of the boxes we used when we moved here. I also have kept every single box that came into this apartment that I felt might be useful in a move. It began as a single closet full of boxes, but they’ve now spilled out into our guest room. The floor is no longer visible. I open the door to the guest room, and all I can see is a wall of boxes.

Have I mentioned before that I despise moving? It’s pretty much my least favorite thing ever. From the nightmare of going through years of accumulated stuff to the limbo between packing and unpacking, moving makes me anxious, exhausted, and overwhelmed. I’m excited for the change, but I’m preparing myself for the worst this time since we’re not moving into anywhere permanent. I’m staring into several months of limbo until I finally get to unpack all of my boxes and begin decorating my new home.

Anyway, all of this is to say that I’m procrastinating. But on the bright side, did I mention our trip to Europe is completely booked? Because it is.

Photo by e01

Tips for a happier, healthier cruise

This past weekend we took a three-night cruise to the Bahamas. There were a lot of ups and downs, but I wouldn’t discourage you from trying it for yourself. It’s definitely an economical way to travel, and even though I don’t think I’ll do another cruise in the future, I definitely recommend it to those travelers who are looking for a relaxing getaway rather than a non-stop travel experience.

If you decide to try cruising for yourself, here are some things I wish I’d known before our trip.

Take the stairs.

You will be eating too much, and the food is mostly bad for you. Yes, in an ideal world you’ll eat nothing but reasonable portions at the giant buffet, but I don’t have that kind of will power. If you don’t either, one way that you can make sure you can (somewhat) counteract the damage is to ignore the slow, overcrowded elevators and take the stairs. There were 12 floors on our ship, and we were constantly going up and down the stairs. By the end of the trip, my calves were aching, which tells me I got at least a little exercise.

Bring a watch.

I don’t know if it’s part of the cruise “experience” and they want you to forget the time, but there was a serious shortage of clocks on that ship. We had to turn on the TV and flip to the channel guide to see the time in our room, because there was no clock. The only place we ever saw clocks were on the stairs. A watch would have made it easier for us for us to keep track.

Remember: nothing is “free.”

Because food is included in the cost of your ticket, you won’t receive a bill at the end of your meals. It’s a strange and wonderful feeling, but beware: that feeling makes it easier to spend money on the extras on the ship. After all, food is “free,” right? Why not treat yourself to all of the extras? But food isn’t free. Remember how much you paid for that ticket, and budget for extras accordingly.

They give you a little card hooked up to your credit card, which is what they swipe for all extra purchases. Don’t get too caught up in the “free” mentality, or you’ll undoubtedly end up with a painful bill at the end of the trip.

Read the fine print.

Several times we were almost duped into spending money without realizing it. For instance, after dinner we were offered a cup of espresso. There was no mention of an additional charge — until I read the fine print at the bottom of the menu that said specialty coffee drinks were subject to additional charges. Know what’s included with your ticket and what’s not so you won’t be surprised.

Be (somewhat) reasonable.

You are on vacation, so your resistance will already be low. Then you’ll be surrounded by unlimited food and drink. You’ll be approached by a bartender with a tray of delicious drinks every five minutes. All you have to do is swipe your magic card.

Take it from me, though. If you eat, drink, and spend too much, you will be sorry. We set a limit for what we could spend on the trip, which we only exceeded slightly. I can’t say the same for the food. I ate way more unhealthy food than I intended, and I definitely regret it.

Enjoy yourself, indulge, but also keep in mind that the real world is waiting for you, and you can’t leave those extra calories behind on the ship.

Photo by 27828104@N08

Countdown to Europe & moving: 3 months to go

These countdowns seem to be coming more frequently now, but it’s only because time is flying. I’m not complaining, though. Everything is coming together now. I’m pretty much done planning for Europe. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for moving. I feel like planning for that has barely even begun.

Last week, our passports arrived in the mail. It’s exciting, and it’s a relief. We applied about 8 weeks before we’ll need them for our cruise to the Bahamas, so we’re lucky they were processed so quickly (less than a month).

The only thing left for us to do is book our train tickets. We’re riding a train from London to Amsterdam and another train from Amsterdam to Paris. We can’t book tickets more than three months in advance, but next week we’ll be able to reserve our seats. Once we’ve purchased our train tickets, we’ll have everything booked!

We’ve talked a little bit about an itinerary, and I’ve asked everyone I know who’s traveled abroad to tell me what we must see. Honestly, though, I’m wary about over-planning. I want to relax while we’re there, and I don’t want to feel like we have to be doing something every second. We’ve made a list of the things we absolutely must see. Beyond that, we’re trying to keep things as loose as possible.

There’s nothing much to report as far as moving goes. To be honest, I’ve been in denial about what I need to do. The guest room where visitors used to sleep? It’s completely overrun with boxes and various items with which we don’t know what to do. I’ve been talking about clearing some of this clutter for months now, but I’ve yet to do anything. I’m sure this will be like every other time I’ve moved — I’ll put off cleaning until it’s time to pack, and then I’ll drive myself crazy trying to get rid of stuff and pack boxes simultaneously. I’ll probably never learn.

But who wants to think about packing and cleaning when I could be planning for Europe? Besides, think of how fun it will be when it’s time for me to pack and I’m going through 3 years of useless junk!

Photo by pedrosimoes7

Tips for applying for your passport

We’re setting sail for our cruise to the Bahamas in 44 days, which means we’ll need our passports much sooner than we originally anticipated for our trip to Europe in May. I already planned to take care of that this month, but booking our cruise really pushed me to do it sooner rather than later.

Week before last, we put together all of our documents and headed to the passport application office on Tony’s campus (you can search for the office nearest you here). I was really nervous about all the hoops we’d have to jump through, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it wasn’t that difficult. The whole process took about an hour and a half, and I was able to do it on my lunch hour. We filled out the application in the office and had our photos taken there, too. You could cut your time in the office significantly by filling out the paperwork ahead of time and bringing in your photos.

If you’re dreading your passport application process for an upcoming trip, keep these things in mind.

It takes 6-8 weeks to process your application.

If you’re planning to apply for a passport, I’m sure you already know this, but it’s really important to keep in mind. I didn’t think about the timeframe until after I booked our cruise, but luckily we were still able to get our applications in 8 weeks before our cruise. We’re cutting it close, but I’m optimistic that it will be okay. If you can’t wait 6-8 weeks, you can apply for expedited processing with a 2-week turnaround, but you’ll have to pay an additional $60 and cover the cost of 2-day delivery.

Bring your certified birth certificate.

You’ll need a certified state ID or driver’s license and your birth certificate. Some hospitals issue a “certificate of birth,” but you’ll need a certified copy from your county, city, or state to apply for a passport. Look for a notary stamp and a signature from a county or city official to be sure. Also, you’ll have to send the original copy with your application. They’ll send it back to you when they’re finished processing your application, but be prepared to be without your birth certificate for a couple months.

You’ll need a 2″ x 2″ headshot.

You can have passport photos taken at many drugstores and photo processing locations. Passport photo regulations require that the photo be recent and in color with a plain white or light-colored background. If you’re in a hurry, choose a passport application agency that will take the photos for you. We paid $8 each to have our photos taken at the office, which is comparable to prices I saw at drugstores.

To save time, fill out the paperwork ahead of time.

You can fill out the passport application ahead of time and bring your completed application to the office. I wish we’d done this, because I made a mistake on mine in ink and ended up filling it out twice.

Bring a check or money order.

The total cost for each passport was $100, but it doesn’t all go to the same place: $75 goes to the U.S. Department of State and $25 goes to the application agency for processing fees. The $75 passport fee is payable to the U.S. Department of State and sent along with your application, so it must be paid in check or money order. You must have a separate check or money order for each application. The passport agency allowed us to pay the processing and photo fees in one lump sum on a credit or debit card. If you use an online bank that doesn’t offer paper checks (like ING), you can get a money order at the Post Office for a fee of $1.10.

Track your application.

About a week after you apply, you’ll be able to track the status of your passport online.

Overall, the process wasn’t as difficult as I expected. Cross your fingers that we’ll get our passports with plenty of time to spare!

Photo by clappstar

The cure for a case of wanderlust

Tony and I have spent a good deal of our young lives being responsible. We save our money instead of spending it. We take short weekend trips instead of traveling to exotic far-away lands. We spend our weekends at home watching movies instead of drinking at bars with other 25-year-olds.

I’m not complaining. This is the life that I want, the life that makes me happy. There’s only one thing about it one thing I would change: I want to travel more.

Neither of us was very responsible with money in college, but we didn’t travel, either. We didn’t go on extravagant spring break trips or study abroad. It remains my only real regret about the way I handled my education.

Now that we’re so close to finally settling down, it’s made me think a lot about this one aspect of young life that I feel I missed. I know that we’re still young. We still have plenty of time. But I also know how much will change.

Because we know what’s coming, we’re trying to pack a lot of young living into a very short time. It’s why we decided to go to Europe. It’s why we spent much of the summer taking short little trips to the beach and the mountains.

All of this is to tell you that Tony and I did something a little crazy last week. We booked a 3-day cruise to the Bahamas. We’re setting sail in just 52 days — roughly two months before the week that we’ll move and board a plane for Europe.

We paid in cash, and we can absolutely afford it even with the trip to Europe and the move coming up. And yes, we got a very good deal.

We can afford it because we spent the last three years hoarding money, saving as much as we could for what will come once we arrive in Indiana. We’ve worked hard to put ourselves ahead of the curve when it comes to our finances. It won’t hurt our long-term goals to make a few spontaneous decisions in the short time we have left as a married couple without children.

I’m not saying that we’re going to spend the next few months blowing our hard-earned savings. I’m well aware of our limits and our goals. But we’ve got a little extra money, probably for the last time in a long time, and I intend to have a little fun with it. The important thing is that we keep our goals in mind, and we enjoy ourselves without getting too far off track.

We plan to pack a lot of living into the next few months. :)

Photo by rednut

Countdown to Europe and moving — Four months to go

The end of the holiday season was particularly bittersweet for me. We’re moving and taking a trans-Atlantic vacation in 120 days, and it’s finally time for me to start doing all the things I’ve been putting off until “after the holidays.” It’s so exciting, but overwhelming, too.

I’ve been breaking everything down month-by-month to make sure I get it all done. Here’s what’s on my plate for January.


Last month I set a date for our move and booked the movers and the truck. We’re renting a U-Haul and hiring a moving company to load up the truck. I don’t know if I’ve written about this before, but honestly, even though loading the truck ourselves would be more frugal, hiring people to do it is the best $150 I will ever spend. We’re on the third floor, and it’s just us. Knowing that two professionals will be here to lug our heavy possessions down three flights of wind-y stairs takes a huge load off my mind.

Just before the holidays I also informed my boss and co-workers that I’ll be leaving in May. My plan was to make an announcement in March, but the other employee in my department is pregnant and due in June. I felt like it was only fair to let everyone know well in advance so they could plan for both of us to leave around the same time.

We’re also continuing to declutter, but that’s not going as well as I’d hoped. :( I’m hoping the New Year will motivate me to really start getting rid of stuff so we can lighten our load.


For Christmas, Tony’s parents got me a couple of frugal vacation planning books for Paris and London. This month I plan to read through them and make a to-do list based on the tips I find valuable.

Since our flight and hotels are already booked, there isn’t much left to do beyond deciding what to see in the cities and getting our passports. This month we’ll be taking care of the passports to make sure we have plenty of time.

Everything is coming together nicely. Here’s hoping it’s smooth sailing from here to May.

Photo by tahir

Europe Update: 5 months to go

tower bridgeNow that we’ve booked our trip, there’s not a lot for us to do this month. Our flight is booked, and we’ve chosen our hotels. Our travel dates are set, and we’ve paid for the trip.

It’s been almost a month since we booked the trip, and I only have one regret so far: I didn’t use Ebates.com* when I booked the trip. I could have earned 2% back on the trip, which would have earned me about $70. It’s not a huge amount of money when you look at it next to $3500, but every little bit counts. That $70 could have bought us a pretty extravagant dinner in London. So I’m kind of kicking myself now. But I want to pass the lesson on to you: if you’re booking through Expedia, it’s absolutely worth it to go through Ebates! Don’t make the same mistake I did!

This month is all about research. We’ve made a tentative list of all the things we want to do and see while we’re abroad, and we’re making final decisions about what we’ll have time to do.

I’m also looking at discount cards for London and Paris. Both cities have discount “passes” that allow you to pay a single fee for free admission to a number of attractions. The passes are really only worth it if you plan to see a lot of the attractions available, so we’re trying to decide if it’s worth the money.

We made a list of the things we want to do without looking at the attractions available through the passes. Then we compared our list with what the pass offers.

The nice thing about the London Pass is that you can order it ahead of time and have it shipped to you. If you choose the option with transportation included, you can get right on the Underground from Heathrow and travel to the city with your pass. This would be incredibly convenient. Considering what we want to do in London and the cost of transportation, we’ve decided that the London Pass might be a good option. We’ll probably end up saving only a small amount of money, but the convenience will make it worth while. I added up all of our costs, and we’ll save a few dollars a day. But we’ll be able to skip lines, and we won’t have to worry about picking up Underground passes. I also think we’ll do more of the things we want to do if we pay ahead and we’re not counting dollars while we’re there.

The Paris Pass also includes transportation, but the attractions offered don’t line up quite as well with what we want to see. We’re still considering the option, but we might end up skipping the Paris pass and paying cash for what we want to do there.

To pay for the trip, I opted for the Capital One card. We’re charging all of our expenses on the card and paying them off right away. The card is interest free for the first year, we won’t pay any overseas transaction fees, and we’re earning 1% cash back on all of the money we spend. When we’re overseas, I plan to use the card to pay for food and other purchases that allow Visa. We’ll carry a small amount of cash, but I don’t want to get hit with high fees for ATM withdrawals and currency conversion. I also don’t want to end up with a bunch of pounds and euros at the end of the trip, so I want to keep our cash to a minimum.

That’s it for this month! Planning has actually been much easier than I anticipated so far. And next month we’ll be applying for passports, which we’re really excited about!

As always, I welcome any advice from seasoned travelers!

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Photo by anirudhkoul