"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning. "
-Albert Einstein

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Golden Gate City

San Francisco, California!! Gold Rush!! 

I set out to plan an Anniversary trip for Andrew and I and I knew with it being July, I didn't want to go anywhere blisteringly hot.  I had narrowed my search down between Seattle and San Francisco...both great options, both places we had expressed a desire to visit.  So, the final decision came to $.  Which was the best value and I am happy to report that San Francisco was the better value by over $300 per person!!

I booked our trip through Expedia.com and I was able to book our flight and hotel together and by bundling them together I saved $200+ per person.  Expedia and other similar sites usually have great deals when bundling flight and hotel together.  Be sure to do your research though, I compared flights separately and rooms separately and the best value for this trip was to bundle.

Upon landing in San Francisco, our first reaction was...whew, it is chilly!!  The city sits on the bay and it gets the cooler air from the Pacific and it seems that the cool air settles in the bay.  To be honest, it felt amazing for July 4th weekend!!

We had an amazing hotel located right on the bay.  We were not far from the airport so we had a great view of the planes landing and taking off.  If it was warm enough, we had breakfast each morning out on the patio and enjoyed the lapping of the bay against the rocks and the view of the planes.  If it was early enough, we also had the pleasure of watching the fog roll over the hillside from the Pacific into the Bay, then by mid day the fog would all be gone.  Evening time rolls around, and the fog is back.  It created a surreal atmosphere, otherworldly almost.  I have to say, the weather was my tops in my book!

"I travel because I would rather see something once than read about it a thousand times."
 -Steven Manson

On our actual anniversary, we booked a Twilight Tour of the City, which for us was great since we had no car.  We caught a bus at our hotel and from then relaxed and let someone else do the driving!  We were able to see all the major sites of San Francisco and not worry about traffic or parking or STRESS!  Normally I'm not a fan of structured tours, but this was a great way to see the high points and do it in a relatively stress free environment.  Our tour guide was amazing!  He was a 30+ year native so he had tons of great side stories to tell during the tour!

A tradition of ours when we do travel is we always enjoy visiting and watching a baseball game, if in season.  We were lucky as the Oakland Athletics were home during our visit!  We decided to walk a few blocks from our hotel, catch the BART, bart.gov ( San Francisco/Oakland area mass transit) and ride across the bay to Oakland.  Riding any sort of mass transit can be scary at first, but once you have ridden in a couple different cities, you come to realize that they are all very similar in layout and procedure.  We had a nice ride and it was kind of neat because our train traveled underneath the bay.  We had a great afternoon for our baseball game and Oakland won!!  Adding these sorts of adventures always make for a more memorable trip.  We can mark O Coliseum off our list of MLB parks we have visited! O.co

On our journey home we had some unexpected delays at the airport thereby causing us to miss our connection flight from Phoenix back to St. Louis.  When these unexpected things happen, its always best to just relax and know that its not worth getting all stressed out about.  We ended up getting booked on the 'red eye' flight out of Phoenix and as a happy bonus, the airline upgraded us to first class.  Neither one of us had ever flown first class so this was fun for us, even in the wee hours of the night!

Our adventure to San Francisco was a long weekend trip and it proved to us that we didn't need to spend an exorbitant amount of money or spend weeks away to have a memorable and enjoyable time! Always look for those shorter weekend getaways and take advantage of them.  Sometimes you just need a break and change of scenery, and weekend trip is perfect for that!

Keep exploring and traveling friends...and remember  "discovery consists not in seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes."  -Marcel Proust

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Travel on a Shoestring Budget

There are great ways to see great sites without spending a fortune.  When I was planning my trip to London, I decided to make the journey approximately 7 weeks ahead.  I stumbled across the first tip by happy accident.  By booking your flight within the 6-8 week window, you can save hundreds off the ticket price.  I was able to save nearly $200 on my flight alone and at the time, I didn't even realize this trick!
When I booked my trip, I wanted it to be a birthday trip and my birthday is in November, so I wanted my trip then.  Again, I happened upon another travel tip by accident.  November-February is typically known as "off peak" travel season to Europe.  There are less travelers during this time and costs are lower for travel.  The weather can be tricky, so plan accordingly and watch the weather leading up to the travel dates.  All of these reasons can equal a great and inexpensive time to travel to Europe.  

In preparing for my trip, I knew I wanted to keep costs low so I was trying to figure out ways to see as much for as little as much.  I also knew I wanted to see how the English lived and I knew I might not get to see and experience that as well by staying in a hotel.  So, I did some extensive research into hostels and room lets...my research led me to airbnb.com.  With this site, a traveler can book just a room or the entire home/flat.  The site allows travelers to filter out by price, size, amount of travelers, travel dates, etc.  I was able to find a perfect attic room in a flat that was only a few blocks from an Underground station within the Greater London area. In my arrangement, I had full access to the kitchen, and bathroom.  I was given two keys and could come and go as if it were my own home.  The best part with this site is that it can be very inexpensive.  I was able to book my lodging for 6 days/ 5 nights for under $400 total.  This was a huge savings to my overall travel budget!  In future travels I will most definitely use this site. I had a great experience and would recommend all travelers on any kind of budget to check this site out before settling with a hotel.

In my trip, I planned on using public transportation so I knew I needed more information and best pricing options.  I wanted to travel throughout London via the Underground so I researched the best way to access the tube, pricing, etc. I found visitbritain.com and there I was able to purchase a prepaid Oyster card for visitors to access the Underground.  By purchasing a prepaid card, I saved money each time I swiped my card.  Instead of paying $8 per trip, I only paid $4.  The underground system in London is extensive and navigating it can seem intimidating, but like anything, after a few times riding, you get used to where to stand, sit, etc.  

When traveling via trains in Europe and Great Britain, there are some times that tickets cost more than other times.  For example, peak time in London is from 7 am- 9 am and  4 pm- 7 pm Monday through Friday, therefore ticket prices are higher.  Great Britain has regional trains that have separate websites to purchase train tickets.  These sites are usually easy to navigate and purchasing tickets is simple.  The rest of greater Europe has rail passes available for 4 countries at a time, or a global pass.  There are some restrictions with these passes as well.  And in some cases, depending on the nature of your travel, you may want to purchase tickets at the stations.  By doing this, the traveling still has some spontaneity feel to it.  Be sure to check the prices of the rail pass versus pay as you go tickets in order to get the best price.  Raileurope.com is the place to price tickets and passes.  

I knew when traveling to Great Britain, I would need to exchange money so again, I researched the best options for this as well.  I discovered that exchanging my money here would save me in exchange rates and commission fees.  I live in a very small town, so I first called all the local banks and some do monetary exchanges and some don't, so be sure to do your research before assuming your bank does this.  Some banks only offer this service to those who are customers as well.  Travelex.com is who I went with to exchange my money.  I conducted the entire transaction online, with no transaction fees and was able to pick up my money at the airport as I was leaving the country.  This site can do transactions within 24 hours which is nice for those last minute trips or those oops moments when money exchange is forgotten!

I hope this entry has been informative and has given some tips and money saving ideas that will help you make travel more attainable and realistic.  In closing I must give one last great site that I visit daily is ricksteves.com.  He has travel shows and numerous travel tips for traveling Europe.  His site is very organized and easy to navigate and will give tips and pointers that most novice travelers are unaware of.  He is my inspiration for travel, blogging, and showing just how fulfilling travel can be!  

"Fill Your Life with Experiences, Not Things.  Have Stories to Tell, Not Stuff to Show."