Things I Learned While Traveling to Hawaii

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Marie. You can read more of Marie’s articles over at her own blog, Family Money Values. Enjoy! 

My spouse, one adult son and I recently returned from a trip to Hawaii from the mainland.  Here are a few things I learned while traveling.

 

Start looking for your airfare early and grab it when it seems like a deal.

I did start looking early – in June for an October flight.  I had read that prices typically go down when you get closer to the travel date.  So when, I saw a great flight (i.e. one that left after dawn and arrived in the early afternoon with just two stops) at a price of around $950 a person, I didn’t snap it up.

As time went by, the flights kept getting worse and the prices higher.  I finally snared three tickets at around $1090 each, but the flight there from the mainland had 2 stops instead of one and it arrived in Honolulu 4 hours later than that great flight I found first.

 

Don’t count on actually getting the flight you booked.

Unfortunately, this flight went through Dallas and the day we left home, Dallas had weather.  We got on the plane, sat there waiting to take off and the pilot announced that we were delayed due to weather in Dallas and we would get an update on the hour (it was quarter after the hour – so not even an update for 45 minutes).  When the update finally came through, it wasn’t good.  We were allowed off the plane.  Thank heavens my son got right in line to try to re-route.  It took at least half and hour for him to get to the head of the line and we were the last folks to get helped.  We ended up leaving at 12:30 pm instead of 8 am, going to Chicago, then San Francisco then Maui and finally into Honolulu – actually arriving at around midnight their time – which meant that we had been en route for 24 hours.  However, if we hadn’t re-routed, we would have spent the night in the Dallas airport instead!

 

Book your seats when you book your flight.

I did manage to do this right.  I had 2 tall men with me so I booked them into aisle seats and took the middle seat.  We did get these seats, except the on the re-routed flight.

 

Travel light – using duffel bags.

The airline we traveled on (indeed most airlines today) charge at least $25 to check one bag and more as the number you check increases.  We already had decided to travel light, just using a carry on and a personal bag.  The airline we traveled on had requirements posted for carry on bags that were smaller than my roll on bag, so I borrowed duffel bags from my other son to take.

I also used a soft side laptop bag instead of a purse – and outfitted my spouse the same way.

It was lucky that we used duffel bags instead of a wheeled carrier as there were multiple legs where folks with wheeled carriers had to be checked prior to boarding.

Update:  On some airlines, you now can only carry on a bag that fits under the seat – you have to pay extra to use the overhead bins!

 

Wear your heaviest clothes, but stay comfortable.

Since we would be in hot weather most of the time, but were going to see the stars at the Mauna Kea visitor center where the temperature can be below freezing, we needed multiple kinds of clothes.  I wore my heaviest shoes, carried my jacket and wore layers of clothes.  The jacket came in handy as a pillow on the plane.

Be sure to check to make sure your clothes don’t have metal on them though.  One of my shirts had a metal zipper so I got patted down three times at security check points!  Quite embarrassing.

 

If your flight is delayed, make sure you can still get your rental car.

Knowing we would be late arriving in Honolulu, I checked the operating hours for the rental car agency and saw that it would be close.  I also saw that they wanted to know if you would be late and would hold (maybe) your reservation if you called.

I did call while waiting for a flight in a very noisy airport.  The number I called was supposed to be the local rental agency but wasn’t.  The lady on the phone had to put me on hold and get hold of them to see if they would stay to get my car to me.  Luckily they agreed to have someone there at midnight when we arrived!

 

Take good ear phones.

I did take ear phones, but they weren’t very good ones.  I had rented a movie on my Kindle to watch in flight, but couldn’t hear it with my cheap ear phones!

 

Take a blind fold.

Mine came in handy on the two over night flights we ended up having.

 

Take snacks.

Even 5 hour flights don’t serve much food anymore.

 

Volunteer to check bags.

Although we wanted our bags with us on the way out, on the way home we eagerly volunteered to check our bags at the gate – complimentary instead of a $25 fee.

On almost each leg, the airline offered to check carry on for free at the gate, saying that the flight was crowded and there wouldn’t be enough room to handle all the carry on bags.

We figured, coming home, it wouldn’t matter if we had to wait to retrieve bags and it wouldn’t be tragic even if they were lost or delayed.  Of course, we kept the laptop bag with our valuables in it with us.

 

Don’t book advance paid reservations for the first day there.

We wanted to see Pearl Harbor and I figured, with Honolulu time being 5 hours behind ours we would be up early the day after arrival.  I had purchased what is called a Passport ticket – to reserve a time slot to go to the USS Arizona Memorial and to tour the USS Missouri, the USS Bowfin and see the Pacific Aviation museum.  I paid in full in advance for all of us.

Since we needed sleep after our 24 hour travel time, we didn’t want to get up at 7 am to face Honolulu rush hour traffic (which is bad) to get to Pearl an hour prior to our 9 am reserved USS Arizona time slot.  It took multiple phone calls to the reservation center to figure out that we could go see the rest of the stuff later in the day.  Luckily, I had already booked a time slot for the second day to go back to the USS Arizona Memorial in case we wanted to – so we just went the next day to see it.

How about you all? What travel tips do you have to share?

***Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/aigle_dore/8274728646/in/

5 Ways To Get The Best Vacation Hotel Deal

hotel-mypersonalfinancejourneyThe following post is by MPFJ staff writer Travis, who blogs at Enemy of Debt where he candidly shares his family’s financial struggles, failures and successes. As a father and husband, he provides a unique perspective on balancing debt, finances, and family.

The point of a vacation is to get away from the stresses of everyday life and relax. Unfortunately, planning the vacation is not a stress free activity. Taking time away from work, arranging travel, accommodations, and transportation can all take their toll on a person’s state of mind. One might think that booking a hotel room would be a relatively easy task. Unfortunately, even once you decide on a hotel getting the best value for your money has a difficulty factor ranking right up their with negotiating the price of a car.

This is especially true when the hotel IS the vacation destination. For example, my family and I are planning a vacation to a water park destination a few hours away from home. The hotel we like to stay at includes both an indoor and outdoor water park, as well as an indoor amusement park. We spent hours navigating their website in an attempt to book our room, and learned a few things that could make a significant difference in our vacation budget.

1. Investigate Room Types

Hotels have several types of rooms. The first thing to do is to familiarize yourself with all the types of rooms available, and identify which ones will work for the number of people you have in your group as well as how you plan to use your room. Sometimes we’ve required a kitchen to do our own cooking, and sometimes we don’t. Some rooms have a pull out sofa that we normally assign to our son. It allows him to stay up later and play video games on the biggest television in the room while the rest of us retire to bedrooms with a door and sleep undisturbed. As we read the descriptions of the room types, I wrote down which ones would work for our family.

2. Collect Information on Packages

Hotels and vacation destinations may have packages available that can help you get the most out of your vacation dollars. We found that the hotel we had chosen were offering special family packages, as well as various types of two night package specials. I again wrote down the packages that best fit our vacation plans.

3. Search For Online Specials

Many web sites, not only for hotels but also many retailers, have a tab labeled, “Coupons,” or “Online Specials.”   Our vacation destination had a “Specials” tab that stated all guests between May and August received free tickets to a water skiing show. I printed off the page and included it with all our vacation information. We had been to the show previously, and would love to see it again.

4. Explore All Options

We wanted to get an idea as to the cost, including taxes and fees, of different room/package combinations. We filled in our information as if we were actually going to make a reservation, selecting each combination of room and package that we were interested in.  Things got a little confusing here, because the website allowed me to pick between “Package Prices” and “Best Rates.” However, the best rates were the standard room only prices, while the package prices were discounted prices. The term “Best Rates” was misleading, as they certainly were not the least expensive option.

The lesson here is to ignore what the words say, and simply get a price for every room and package pair. As before, I wrote down the price of each room/package combination that we were interested in.

5. Call the Hotel Directly

Once I’d compiled a list of room/package combinations that work for us that also fit within our budget, I called the hotel directly. I had to be careful to ensure I was actually talking to the specific location. When dealing with a hotel chain many times I ended up talking to their central reservation office. One can verify they are talking to the actual location, and if not ask for a direct number. Usually the direct number can also be found on a hotel or resort’s web page.   Once I was connected with local hotel, I inquired about any specials they have have that aren’t listed on the website. I also asked a series of questions to find out if they give any discounts for corporate rates, AAA or Costco Members.

The more questions you ask, the better chance you have at finding additional discounts, or having the hotel reservation agent tell you about a deal that you may not have found otherwise.

In my experience with this specific vacation destination there were dozens of combinations of rooms, packages, and specials. I don’t think that the hotel is purposely trying to make it difficult or confusing for potential guests to find the best deal. I think that the hotel adds ideas as they come up with them, as well as matching discounts offered by other hotels in the area.

I also don’t think that my experience with this vacation destination is unique. I believe that there are other hotels and resorts that have the exact same problem with their reservation system. The good news is that by following these steps, you can navigate the even the most confusing reservation system and find that gem of a package that helps you stretch your vacation dollars to the max, and finally get that relaxation you deserve!

How about you all? Have you tried and succeeded in lowering your hotel vacation costs by using any of these tricks? What other tips can you give other readers to lower their hotel vacation costs?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Photo courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/uniquehotelsgroup/5691503052

Which Do You Prefer: Experiences or Things?

family-experiences-my-personal-finance-journeyThe following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Melissa Batai.  Melissa is a freelance writer who covers topics ranging from personal finance to business to organics to food.  She blogs at Mom’s Plans where she shares her family’s journey to healthier living and paying down debt.

Growing up, my family didn’t have much money. Many of my clothes came from my three older cousins as hand-me-downs. One time, I hit the mother lode—a pair of Gloria Vanderbilt jeans was in the bag of clothes.

Woo hoo!

I finally had a pair of designer jeans. I wore them almost every day and felt like a million bucks. Once, my best friend asked to wear them, and I let her.

When they came back to me, they were covered with big white splotches. My friend had “accidentally” washed them when there was bleach in the washer. My jeans were ruined, and I was devastated.

Back to my unbranded jeans and my hand-me-down fashion.

In that instant, I learned how quickly the joy from material items can fade.

I’ve always been too cheap to buy designer anything. Why waste the money when the clothes will only last a little while? After my Gloria Vanderbilt jeans debacle, I never worried much about designer clothes.

In fact, I have decidedly not kept up with the Jones’ for much of my life. I drove a Toyota Tercel until it had 150,000 miles on it. Our current Toyota Sienna has 152,500 miles on it, and I have no plan to replace it any time soon.

I now regularly buy my clothes second hand, and in the world of big screen TVs, we make do with our 24 inch screen. Oh, we only have one television in our house.

My kids don’t have or play video games, and they have a very limited number of toys.

My husband and I have cheap flip cell phones with pay as you go minutes. No smart phones here.

We live a simple life, free of much materialism.

Sure, we’re on a tight budget, but mostly, my husband and I agree that we’d like to spend money on experiences rather than things.

I often feel alone in this thought process because many of the families around me have nice things—designer clothes, iPhones, new cars, etc. Yet, one researcher argues that my family and I are on to something:

“There’s a very logical assumption that most people make when spending their money: that because a physical object will lasts longer, it will make us happier for a longer time than a one-off experience like a concert or vacation. According to recent research, it turns out that assumption is completely wrong.

“‘One of the enemies of happiness is adaption,’ says Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who has been studying the question of money and happiness for over two decades. ‘We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them’” (FastCoExist.com).

This phenomenon explains why some people are always chasing the latest technology. You know the type. (Maybe you are one of them.) Even though your electronic gizmo, whether it be a phone, computer, video game, etc., is working just fine, you’ll put down your hard earned money to buy the next version. It’s a never ending quest to have the latest and greatest. I once worked with a man who had to get a part-time job on the side just to feed his technology habit.

However, Gilovich suggests, “Rather than buying the latest iPhone or a new BMW, you’ll get more happiness spending money on experiences like going to art exhibits, doing outdoor activities, learning a new skill, or traveling” (FastCoExist.com).

Even better, you won’t have a lot of clutter in your home because you’re not buying stuff.

Travel Experiences

In the year in between my undergraduate and graduate education, I had the opportunity to go to Switzerland to become a nanny for six weeks. I had never been outside the United States before. While being a nanny was pretty much a disaster (that could be an entirely different post!), I LOVED everything about traveling.

I can still remember my flight to Switzerland. I sat next to a man from Croatia who was a ship captain, and we talked almost the entire flight.

I had the chance to walk through downtown Zurich multiple times with the children, and I also took a trip by myself to the border of Italy. The journey was amazing.

Two years later, my cousin and I had the chance to go to China with one of my friends. We got to climb the Great Wall of China and visit Harbin for the annual ice sculpture exhibit. We rode a train for 20+ hours to get there. It was an experience I’ll never forget. To this day, my cousin and I can talk about that trip and instantly feel like we’re right back there again.

Dr. Thomas Gilovich acknowledges, “Shared experiences connect us more to other people than shared consumption. You’re much more likely to feel connected to someone you took a vacation with in Bogota than someone who also happens to have bought a $4,000 TV” (FastCoExist.com).

Two years after my trip to China, my husband and I traveled to Japan to visit his family before we became engaged. I’ll never forget walking out of the train station in Osaka and being fascinated by the busy traffic and all the different hair and fashion styles. I saw beautiful mountains and golden temples. It was definitely a trip to remember.

Family Experiences

Now that I’m older and have a family, worldwide travel isn’t as easy or as practical as it used to be. Instead, we try to travel locally and spend time showing the kids places rather than buying them things.

Since we moved to Tucson last summer, we’ve taken the kids to many different sites such as local missions, Old Tucson, and Tombstone. These trips weren’t always cheap, but they created memories that bond us as a family.

Why Are Experiences So Much Better than Things?

Think about your things. How many do you truly value? I can think of sentimental things that I love like a few of my late grandma’s possessions that I have or the ring I bought in Ireland, but honestly, there are not many material things that I’m attached to.

By contrast, I think fondly on all of my vacations, even a trip to Ireland where we stayed in a dank, damp cottage and found, in our beds that were so old that they sunk in the middle, many spiders. It wasn’t a good time while I was there, but now, all of us who went look back on the trip fondly and with laughter.

The Atlantic supports this idea, arguing, “Looking back on purchase made, experiences make people happier than do possessions. It’s kind of counter to the logic that if you pay for an experience, like a vacation, it will be over and gone; but if you buy a tangible thing, a couch, at least you’ll have it for a long time. Actually most of us have a pretty intense capacity for tolerance, or hedonic adaptation, where we stop appreciating things to which we’re constantly exposed. iPhones, clothes, couches, et cetera, just become background. They deteriorate or become obsolete. It’s the fleetingness of experiential purchases that endears us to them. Either they’re not around long enough to become imperfect, or they are imperfect, but our memories and stories of them get sweet with time. Even a bad experience becomes a good story.”

How about you all? What do you prefer? Possessions or experiences? Did you prefer one previously and now you prefer the other?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Photo courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/brianauer/2112309566/

The Hidden Cost of Hybrids

toyota-prius-my-personal-finance-journeyThe following is a post by MPFJ staff writer, Derek Sall. Derek is the owner of the blog, LifeAndMyFinances.com, where he teaches people how to get out of debt, save money, and become wealthy.

Hybrids first went mainstream with the introduction of the Toyota Prius that boasted an impressive fuel efficiency of 42 miles per gallon in the city and 41 mpgs on the highway. Compared to the typical average of well below 30mpgs, this car was simply amazing. It was quiet, high tech, surprisingly spacious, and had some decent power considering its efficiency. Obviously, this car would save money in gas, but were there additional costs associated with the hybrid that few car-buyers would notice before the purchase? As with most purchases, unfortunately yes, there are costs that may hurt your ability to save money in the long run.

1) The Higher Initial Costs

When purchasing a newer model, many dealers like to talk in term of payments, rather than the actual total that the car is selling for. Often, this is because they do not want their customers to experience sticker shock. It’s much easier to wrap your head around a $300 a month payment than it is to spend a total of $28,000. Also, to make the costs between gasoline-powered vehicles and hybrids seem negligible, they can extend the time frame of payments on the hybrid so that the per-month price is basically the same.

In reality though, the sticker price on the hybrid model is often much more expensive than the non-hybrid – typically $2,500-$5,000 more expensive. So immediately you are starting in the hole by purchasing a hybrid vehicle, just hoping that you can make up the difference in fuel savings.

2) Variable Fuel Prices

One of the biggest selling factors for hybrid vehicles in 2013 and much of 2014 was the steep cost of gas. If you typically spent $2,000 a year at the pump, purchasing a hybrid could immediately save you $750 a year, which would cover the initial purchase costs in just five years!

However, at the surprise to many, gas prices actually started going down in the fall of 2014 and they still remain relatively low today. With these reduced running costs, the break-even time frame extends beyond the five-year mark and is now more like eight or nine years! It becomes a little more difficult to justify a purchase when it won’t start saving you money until a decade after the purchase.

Cost of gasoline over 2 years-my-personal-finance-journey

Source: GasBuddy.com

3) Highway Trips

The people that are typically the most interested in hybrid vehicles are the ones that travel great distances to work. It certainly makes sense that they would be looking for better fuel efficiency with the miles that they’re racking up each year, but the only problem is that the hybrid vehicle isn’t really built to save as much fuel with long highway trips. In actuality, the hybrid actually gets better fuel efficiency with more starts and stops in the city (which is why they often boast a higher city efficiency rating). And on the flip side, gasoline-powered vehicles often get better gas mileage on the highway, so the divide between the gas mileage of the hybrid vs. the gasoline model isn’t that great.

As an example, let’s compare my 2001 Honda Civic to the 2000 Toyota Prius. My Honda gets 27mpg city, and 34 mpg highway. As we stated before, the Prius gets 42mpg city and 41mpg highway. If I drive mostly long distances, then I’m likely taking the highway almost everywhere I go, and the fuel efficiency is only a slight amount better than my non-hybrid vehicle, so the savings is even less than you might initially think.

4) The Cost of the Battery

Hybrid vehicles have a specially made battery that is powerful enough to power the entire car for periods of time. This amount of power is impressive, but it doesn’t come without a hefty price tag. If a hybrid car needs a battery replacement, it can often cost between $1,000 and $6,000 dollars. Yikes! If your car is eight years old at this point, then it might not even be worth the amount of the replacement!

Because people are scared of this cost, used hybrid vehicles can often be more difficult to sell. So, even if your battery doesn’t fail, you will still be eating some of the cost because you’ll have to sell the car for cheaper than a run-of-the-mill gas-powered model.

Before your next car purchase, be sure to review the hidden costs!

How about you all?  What hidden costs did you encounter when purchasing your last car (regardless of what kind it was)?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

Things to do Over Spring Break Without Breaking the Bank

spring-break-my-personal-finance-journeyThis following is a post by MPFJ staff writer, Jeff. Jeff writes about sustainable living and finances at his website, Sustainable Life Blog. Jeff really enjoys traveling with his wife as much as he can, to wherever he can.

It’s March, and that means it’s almost spring break for those of you in school or those of you with school age children. Unfortunately, I’m neither and don’t get any time off, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not any fun to day dream and research about vacations I would take if I could.

A Matter of Time

One of the first things that I look for when planning a vacation is how much time I have. Many on spring break have a week (9 days if you count both weekends) but not everyone wants to be away from home for that long. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for you to get settled back into school and work or take care of any small things around the house before you hit the road.

This is a common trap to fall into, and I’ll admit it happens to me all the time. I went on a two week vacation once, and gave myself exactly half a day before I had to go back to work again. I was scrambling the rest of the week to get caught up with housework and other things.

Picking The Right Place

There are plenty of great places that you can go to, and even more so when the weather is warm. My favorite thing to do on vacation is go camping or spend time outdoors. In March, the weather may be a bit cold for tent camping, but there’s probably a scenic area (like the forest service or recreation.gov) near you where you can rent a cabin or something similar to stay in for a few days. Once you get the lodging and travel costs taken care of, you can soak up all the time you need in nature and enjoy the free entertainment it provides.

Of course, if that’s a bit out of your price range, considering doing a few “staycations“. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a staycation is where you stick around your local area, and do “touristy” things that you have not done yet, or have not had a chance to do up to this point. I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve gone to visit friends in other cities and asked about going to a specific place, only to have them respond with something similar to “we’ve lived here X years and have never been there”. You can check out local museums, an art show or perhaps a local play.

The last time I tried this, I went on a “food tour” and found a bunch of awesome restaurants and had a little bit to eat at each one. I really enjoyed the food tour, and I didn’t have to deal with the major expense of a vacation. There’s also no travel headaches to deal with, like airport parking and long lines.

Relax on the Cheap

I’ve never found a reason for vacations to be difficult on the pocketbook, but sometimes people can make them that way. Getting away and spending time with those that you care about is what matters, not where you go or what you’ll be doing. Focus on the right things when you’re vacationing, and you can easily save a bit of money too.

How about you all? What sort of things do you like to do for spring break that can also help you save a little money?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Photo courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/tomronworldwide/16048660691/