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/

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/

Taking Vacations on the Cheap: Piggy Back on Your Spouse’s Business Trip

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Welcome to My Personal Finance Journey! If you are new here, please read the “About” or “First-Time Visitor” pages to find out more about us. If you would like to receive free updates on articles like this by email, then sign up here or you can subscribe to the RSS feed. Also, check us out on Twitter or Facebook. Thanks for visiting! Keep on learning!
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The 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.

When you are living like no one else so later you can live like no one else (as Dave Ramsey is fond of saying), there isn’t much room in the budget for a vacationStill, if you’ll be repaying your debt for longer than a year or two, foregoing all vacations can be difficult.

We are 1.5 years into our debt repayment and likely have at least another two years.  While we are paying down debt, our children are getting older, and we’d like to take them to see other areas of the country.  Luckily, we’ve found an excellent way to do just that, by piggy backing a family vacation on either my husband’s or my conference attendance.

My husband is in a post-doc position, so being visible at conferences through presentations is vital to his career growth.  His employer pays for his transportation, hotel, food, and conference ticket.  We, as a family, have tagged along several times for a minimal price.


Places We Have Been

By far, our favorite location was Washington, D.C.  Almost all of our expenses were covered–hotel, mileage for our car ride there and back, my husband’s food, and conference admission.  The kids and I had all day to visit different national monuments and museums.  Many tourist attractions in Washington, D.C. are free, so we paid very little out of pocket.

We have also been to Philadelphia, Raleigh-Durham, Columbus, OH, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Montreal.  This year, his conferences are in Memphis and Boston. 

My son is 8 and a history nut, so we’re excited about taking him both places.  In Memphis, we plan to visit the National Civil Rights Museum and Graceland.  We’re not sure what we’ll visit in Boston since that conference isn’t until the fall, but traveling there will be exciting as it is a city rich in history and none of us have been there before.

Note from Jacob: If your husband ever is heading to Richmond, Virginia (near where I live in Charlottesville) for a conference, there is a lot of Civil War/Confederacy history there that your son might like! 🙂

How Much We Spend

Typically, for each vacation, we spend less than $200 as a family.  We have a few tactics for keeping the cost low:

1.  Stay in a hotel that has a refrigerator and microwave, at least.  Before we go on a trip, I make several meals in advance and freeze them.  Then, we fill our cooler with the freezer meals as well as sandwich supplies and homemade snacks such as granola bars and muffins.  Once we reach our destination, we buy some vegetables that are microwavable and fruit.  We always eat at the hotel, which makes our food costs no more expensive than they’d be if we were eating at home.

Note from Jacob: This really works wonders! I use this tactic when I am traveling for running races. Not only is being able to eat in your hotel room cheaper, but I can also get more of the targeted types of pre-race food that I want as well! 

2.  Visit free attractions.  Whenever possible, we visit free attractions.  This is easy in a place like Washington, D.C., but it proved to be a bit more difficult in Raleigh, for instance.  There were some things we would have enjoyed doing in Raleigh, but we just had to pass because we couldn’t afford the expensive tickets.  In Memphis, we will likely spend money on Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum.  After that, we will try to find free things to do for fun.

3.  Pack food for the car ride.  We pack sandwiches and snacks for the car ride as well as lots of water so we don’t need to stop to eat.  Not only is stopping at a restaurant to eat time consuming when traveling, it’s also expensive.

Tagging along on my husband’s conferences only works for those conferences which are in driving distance.  Still, using this technique, we’ve been able to visit some interesting places at a fraction of the price the vacation would have cost. 

We’ve enjoyed this method of vacationing so much, even when we are out of debt, we’ll likely use this as our main method of vacationing.

How about you all? Have you ever accompanied a spouse on a business trip for a vacation?  What techniques do you use to save money?

Share your experiences by commenting below! 

    ***Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/ianloic/3725569230/sizes/l/in/photostream/

    Couch Surfing – How Does it Work and Is it Right for You?

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    Welcome to My Personal Finance Journey! If you are new here, please read the “About” or “First-Time Visitor” pages to find out more about us. If you would like to receive free updates on articles like this by email, then sign up here or you can subscribe to the RSS feed. Also, check us out on Twitter or Facebook. Thanks for visiting! Keep on learning!
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    The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Shondell of Call Me What You Want, Even Cheap. She blogs about her recent car loan and mortgage pay off and a whole bunch more. Check out her blog right here.

    Last month, I wrote about house swapping, which is a fascinating way to travel and have the luxury of being in a home. There is also couch surfing, which is another great way to travel.

    Couch surfing is a common expression used to refer to home stay networks, accommodation sharing, and hospitality services. These groups are essentially comprised of a network of travelers who serve as guides or hosts for people who are visiting their country.

    Couch surfers are people who travel a lot. They love to see different places and meet people who share the same passion. Through the information and help that members get from the community, they get an inside look of the best places to visit and the most interesting things to do while in the city or country. The best part about couch surfing is that hosts allow travelers to stay at their homes during their visit.

    How It All Began

    In 1999, Casey Fenton came up with the Couch Surfing Project. The idea sprang from his experience when he found a cheap flight from Boston to Iceland. He sent random emails to students from the University of Iceland looking for a place to stay and got over 50 replies with students offering him accommodations. During his flight back to Boston, he started to develop the ideas which soon materialized as the Couch Surfing Project.

    During the early stages in 2004, the site had more than 6,000 members. The years that followed, he had an increasing number of members. By 2011, CouchSurfing became the most widely used free accommodation site with approximately one million active members.

    The Relationship Between the Hosts and the Surfers

    With couch surfing, the hosts act as the community’s backbone since they go to great lengths just to make travels easier and more convenient for the surfers. They provide a place to stay, meals, and even take the visitors out on tours. Surfers, on the other hand, are those who travel to many different places around the globe and make connections in a foreign land.

    Fees and Charges

    Unlike hotels that often charge exorbitant amounts, the accommodation and hospitality services offered by the hosts are absolutely free. Members who are reported charging their surfers would be eliminated from the community. Registration is also free. Members can post their pictures, the accommodations they offer and other information that would make them trustworthy.

    Verification of the Security of Members

    In terms of security, networking often establishes the reference. Several factors like gender, age, location and activity may also be considered by members who are looking for possible accommodations.

    The couch surfing community increases trust and security through three methods and these are all visible on the profiles of the members who will be the potential hosts or the surfers. It includes the following information:

    • A Personal Vouching Method

    This is where a member gets vouched by other members who had the chance to meet him or her through couch surfing. A member normally starts getting vouched from site founders. Being vouched for three times or more simply means that the person has already gained the trust of several others within the community.

    • Personal References

    After using the service, both surfers and hosts are given the option to leave personal references. The user may also give negative references if deemed necessary.

    • Credit Card Verification (Optional)

    Members may use credit card verification as a way of ensuring security while using the hospitality services offered by the couch surfing community. This is the primary income-generating source for the community. The verification fee may vary depending on the country of registration in order to promote economic fairness.

    Who Are Qualified to Become Ambassadors

    In general, any member who wants to help promote the services of the couch surfing community and volunteer for different duties on the site can become an ambassador. As ambassadors, the members are expected to act as role models and follow the group’s code of conduct. Ambassadors are delegated with certain tasks like welcoming new members, performing administrative roles, promoting the use of the site and answering questions from members.

    Over the years, the couch surfing community has developed a culture that aims to make travelers feel welcome and safe, even in a city far away from home. Those who want to feel more secure while enjoying their travels abroad would surely be thankful for the existence of such a community that offers hospitality services. If you love to travel and see the beauty of the world at a lesser cost, couch surfing would be a great option for you.

    How about you all? Have you ever couch surfed? If so, how did you like it? 

    Share your experiences by commenting below!

      ***Photo courtesy of http://pixabay.com/static/uploads/photo/2012/04/13/11/50/sleeping-32057_640.png

      Creative Ways to Save Money While Traveling

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      Welcome to My Personal Finance Journey! If you are new here, please read the “About” or “First-Time Visitor” pages to find out more about us. If you would like to receive free updates on articles like this by email, then sign up here or you can subscribe to the RSS feed. Also, check us out on Twitter or Facebook. Thanks for visiting! Keep on learning!
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      Click here to enter my free $51.95 giveaway for a chance to win 5% of My Personal Finance Journey blog income and give another 5% to a charity of your choosing! Deadline to enter is January 31st, 2013.

      This 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.


      One of my favorite things to do (and my wife’s) is to travel because we get to check out new places and experience new things.  There’s always something different to see in a new place, and I personally find it fascinating to see other cultures and other parts of the country – how they act, what they like to do, and what they eat.  Over Christmas, we got the chance to head over to New York City for a few days, and had a lot of fun.


      We were able to keep to a pretty strict budget though, and there were multiple ways that we were able to score some awesome deals:




      Local Flavors – 

      When we are out traveling, we always look to see what the locals do and eat there.  New York was no exception, but there were so many different places to eat, and lots of them are very good and very cheap.

      There’s a lot of different ethnic neighborhoods in New York, and we were able to have some northeastern kosher vegetarian Indian food for dinner.  The total cost to us was around $25, for 2 entrees and water to drink.  The food was so good that I couldn’t believe it!  The next night, we had Chinese food, and we spent around $27 for an 2 entrees and an appetizer (it was happy hour so the appetizer was half off).  Not only do we get great, cheap food, but we also get to see how other people live!




      Public Transit – 

      This one is pretty obvious, but should be repeated.  We each got $29 subway passes that were good for 7 days when we were in New York.  This is just a fraction of what you would pay getting taken all over the city by the taxi (which costs about $25 from LaGuardia airport to midtown).  Each ride on the subway costs $2.25, and in two days, the pass had paid for itself.




      Free Museum Days – 

      On the way back from New York, my wife and I got unexpectedly delayed for about 12 hours in Charlotte, NC.  Instead of staying at the airport, we paid $10 to rent a car for the afternoon and drove into town (the bus stopped running at 2 pm since it was Sunday).  We had some lunch and then found some museums nearby.  One of them was free that day because it was the last day of one of the exhibits that they were showing.  We were able to enjoy an awesome museum for free!  Some museums have free days once a week, some vary, but its a great way to save a few bucks when traveling.  If you are not in town when any are free, don’t worry, there are plenty of other ways to save.




      Public Art/Street Festivals – 

      This is one of my personal favorites when I’m traveling.  I love going to check out the public art around towns.  My personal favorites is this giant blue bear in Denver, Colorado.  No matter the size of the town, there is usually a public art display, or many.  They make great stops on walking tours on nice days, and the best part about them is that they are free!




      Schedule Around 1 Big Event – 

      In New York, we scheduled the trip around 1 big event – a play on Broadway.  My wife really wanted to see one, so we made that the focus of our trip and did cheap stuff other than that.  We were able to get student tickets for a discount, but they were still pretty expensive (you can also get discounted tickets to Broadway shows at a booth near Times Square if you’re in NYC ever!).  We had a lot of fun and will remember it for a while, so it was a very good way to spend our money.

      How about you all? What ways do you save money on vacation? 

      Share your experiences by commenting below!

        ***Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/chitrasudar/2778096382/