Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Travel Tips : Balancing a Home Base & Traveling

Lately I've been coming across a number of travel bloggers that have all but given up having a home base and try to constantly travel, seeing as much as they can without a home to go back to in between.  And while that may work for them, as much as I love traveling, I also love having a home to come back to, a place that's all mine, where I've picked out the furniture, that I've painted the walls.  I love the feeling of knowing that at the end of those long plane rides and missed connections, I have my own bed on the other end, that I have a home where memories are made and that holds pictures of our adventures and Nick's photography hangs on the walls.

And while Nick and I travel a lot more than the average couple, what may not come across as much here on the blog is that we have a very normal day to day life in Portland in between our trips.  We have definitely put down roots here in the Pacific North West; we own an apartment here, we own furniture in said apartment, we own 2 cars and we work normal day to day jobs.  We have months where we're replacing dishwashers and washing machines and getting new tires on our cars and I think from the outside, it often looks like all of our money goes to travel.  While a large percentage of our income does indeed go to travel, we also live a very normal life here which does require our salaries and our income as well and we've, over the years, come up with ways to be able to balance our budget to include the travel we do as well as to be able to live an interesting and fulfilling life at home too.  So over the years, here's what I've come up with for tips to balance both a home base (which is incredibly rewarding) and traveling the world.

1.  Discuss finances openly.
This one might just be the most important and without this tip, none of the others below will be able to work.  It's really easy to overspend on travel because once you get in vacation mode, it's easy to justify spending more on items that you wouldn't otherwise.  Be honest about how much money you can afford to use for traveling and how much you can realistically save in your day to day budget.

A great way to be able to save more money for travel is to go through your monthly bills and try to cut those down as much as possible.  Call your cable provider and ask for current deals or make sure you're on the best cell phone plan for what you use.  There are ways to cut a lot of your monthly costs just by making the effort to call and see if you can get better deals from your providers.  Another way to save more money is to get a second job or do freelance work on the side, to be honest, that's how most of our travels are funded, through our side work.

Another note on this tip, make sure and discuss finances for your home as well.  There is always something that needs to be done or paid for when owning or renting a home and it's important to know that while you may want all of your extra income to go toward travel, that's not really realistic. Make sure to budget for what your home will need as well and any unknown expenses that might come up too.

2.  Set aside money for travel and don't touch the account until you're booking your trip.
A few years ago when we decided we wanted to travel often, we set up accounts at our banks just for this reason.  Set up a separate account for travel finances and only add to it until you have enough for a trip.  Having a specific savings account for a trip is a great way to divide out your money and not be able to the touch the money until you need it for your trip.  I do this still to this day and whatever goes into this account isn't touched until I need to pay for trip items or I get cash out when we leave.

3.  Use points and credit cards to your advantage.
Credit cards and loyalty points can be a huge help when saving for a trip.  Nick and I have finally gotten to a point (granted it took us a few years) to really figure out how to best use points to our advantage.  Any more, probably half our large trips are bought on points or credits, as well as many of our smaller USA trips as well.  Between air miles and credit card points, we spend about half as much on trips as we did in the first few years.  At the end of the day, this means we can travel more because we're spending less.

Just a few tips on this note to take advantage of include booking hotels and airfare with points from credit cards or miles, using sign up bonuses on new credit cards to supplement your accounts and researching different options using points that can work to your best advantage.

*You can read about some of my favorite travel credit cards here.

4.  Be honest about what you need.  Sell items that aren't important and use the money for additional things you'll like more.
I've always been the type of person that sold things I didn't use, but this is a great way to make a little extra cash and savings.  I regularly clean out my closet and sell clothes I don't wear at local resale shops.  I do the same thing with books that we don't want to keep or furniture that we replace.  It also helps that we just don't have the room to keep things we don't need (we live in a 500 square foot apartment), but it's also a great way to make some extra money aside from your daily income to put away for travel.  Every little bit helps and over time, being honest with what you really need in your daily life can help you narrow down what's important and what's not.

5.  Don't expect everything to come at once, building a balanced home and travel lifestyle takes time.
I see this one time and time again with friends of ours, they get jobs, apartments/homes and suddenly they want everything at once.  To get to the point Nick and I are at now, and by no means are we even still experts on this, it's taken 5+ years.  We've updated our apartment over the years, purchased furniture piece by piece over the years, learned how to travel more and more economically, saved money for travel and other things but it's all taken years to do it.

Realize that realistically to be able to have both a lovely home to come home to and travel the world can be an investment over time but when you get there, it's such a fulfilling feat!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Confessions of a Traveler

When I read articles or blog posts about traveling, there are always a number of things that I kind of laugh to myself on, things that never happen the way they say they are going to happen or things that you suggest doing that really can't be helped most of the time.  And with the amount that I travel, I've come to learn that sometimes you just have to "live and let live" while on the go.  Whether you are running through airports to catch flights or embarking on a road trip, there are some things that just can't be helped, hence, here's my list of my own confessions as a traveler.

It's totally ok...

To eat super unhealthy while traveling.
I'm not saying throw everything you know out the window about eating healthy while traveling, but on the other hand, sometimes it's almost impossible to do everything you're supposed to with your eating habits on airplanes or in airports.  I go with what's available and don't worry too much about it.

To not look like a celebrity when you land.
You know those paparazzi pictures of the stars when they land in an airport and their outfits are impeccable and their makeup is amazing?  Yea, that doesn't happen to the rest of us.  My outfits are usually wrinkled and my makeup and hair definitely look like I've been on a flight for 10 hours.  Don't worry about it, that's life.

To ask the flight attendant to move if there is something wrong with your seat.
Seat doesn't recline, even though they said it would?  Large neighbor next store taking up your arm rest?  Screaming baby right next to you?  Believe me, I've been there.  It's totally ok to ask the flight attendant nicely if there is possibly another seat you can move to.  Often times, even if it's a full flight, they might have some options, so it never hurts to ask.

To ask at the gate if there are any upgrades available.
99% of the time they are going to say no, but you never know, you might get lucky.  But be nice!  The nicer you are, the better chance you have of getting one.

To not disinfect your entire airplane seat.
I've read countless articles about everything you're supposed to do when you get to your seat on an airplane.  You're supposed to wipe down the seat, the armrests, the window shades, and believe me, I've been on flights where people do this.  But seriously?  You get on a plane full of people and can barely move most of the time anyways, this is one of those things I say "live and let live."

To laugh at the "gorilla bags" people come on the plane with.
Nick and I have come up with the term "gorilla bags" to explain the bags people come on the plane with.  They have so much luggage they look like they might have brought their entire wardrobe with them.  I get it, it's costly to check bags and everyone wants to bring everything on board with them, but for the hassle of how long it takes for them to get those massive overfilled bags into the overhead bins while everyone watches, either get a better bag that holds all your stuff or take out half and don't overfill it.

To ask for an extra snack or refill of your drink.
There are certain airlines that I love their particular snacks or sometimes want a refill on my diet coke after the flight attendant comes through.  Most of the time, if you ask nicely, they will be more than happy to comply with your request.  I've had flight attendants give me all sorts of free food and drinks on flights when I've gone back and asked for it.  They are more than happy to help you if you ask nicely!

To not always have an amazing experience.
It's ok to not enjoy every trip you take or every experience that comes your way.  Believe me, I've had some trips that I look back on now and am not sure how I survived them.  But those are the travels that make you stronger, that push you further and that you aim to not repeat.  It's ok to have places that you don't love or trips that you wouldn't wish upon anyone, but at the end of the day it's what you take from those experiences that matters most.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Day Trip to Astoria

Last weekend Nick and I headed North to Astoria, a coastal town about two hours from us here in Portland.  We like to escape to the Coast every once in a while and it had been years since either of us had to been to Astoria, so we decided to spend the day up North in the cooler weather.  Turns out, we both fell in love with cute little Astoria and by far, turns out to be our favorite Oregon coastal town close to us.  This most Northern spot in Oregon sits on the opening of the Columbia River into the Pacific Ocean and has stunning views of Washington State across the river as well as out to sea.

We'll definitely be making repeat visits in the future, but for now, here's a look at our day on the Oregon coast.

Photo by Nick
Photo by Nick
Photo by Nick
Photo by Nick

Photo by Nick

Photo by Nick

Friday, July 25, 2014

Destinations : Paraguay & Tromso

We're back today with my monthly series called Destinations.  Each month I am interviewing travelers all over the world near and far about destinations they've been to, what they packed, how they got there and so much more. 

Today I have 2 amazing bloggers sharing their chosen destinations with you.  I'm so excited to welcome Kelley and Vanessa to share some amazing places in the world with you today!

Hey everyone! I’m Kelley and I blog over at Move By Yourself.

Today I’m going to tell you all about the wonderful country of Paraguay.

Well technically, I didn't choose it. I was placed here for the Peace Corps and I’m so glad I was. Ever since I’ve been trying to prove to people that you shouldn't skip over Paraguay in your South American travels.

There is an international airport in Asunción, the capital of Paraguay. You can also take a bus if you are already in South America. There are direct buses from Buenos Aires and other Argentine and Brazilian cities.

The 3 largest cities in Paraguay are Asunción, Encarnación and Ciudad de Este and all three have several lodging options. Hostels, budget hotels or more high class hotels at still affordable prices. Don’t be surprised if a Paraguayan you just met invites you to stay at their house; that is just the kind of people they are.

Two of my biggest tips for travelers to Paraguay relate to weather and language. Summer time in Paraguay which is between November and February can get incredibly hot so I would recommend avoiding those months. Also, the two languages spoken in Paraguay are Spanish and Guarani and you should try and speak a little bit of Spanish before you come here as not very many people speak English.

I recommend light and airy clothing, Paraguay can be warm and humid all year round. You can wear shorts if you want, but you will stick out like sore thumb. I tend to wear dresses or skirts when it’s warm. Don’t forget sunscreen and bug spray!

When it comes to cities, Encarnación and Asunción are two of my favorites in Paraguay! There are some great nature-related places to visit in Paraguay – the Sand Dune Islands of San Cosme, Salto Cristal, a large waterfall near Ybycui National park, the Pantanal area in the northern part of Paraguay where you can do a lot of animal spotting and the Jesuit Ruins in Trinidad.

The best tip I can give you when it comes to Paraguay is that the people of Paraguay are the biggest and most important tourist attraction. That may sound weird, but, the people of Paraguay are genuinely the nicest people I’ve ever met. So make an effort to meet the locals!

I blog over at Snow in Tromso which is my travel and expat blog situated in the Arctic of Norway.

I'm sharing Tromso in Northern Norway with you as this is the city I'll be moving to in a couple of weeks. 

Back in September 2013 I graduated uni and took a gap year to figure out what I really want to do in life. I've always been fascinated by the North and found a one year distance program in Northern Studies at the University of Tromso which I started immediately. I also discovered their Master program in Indigenous Studies which I found really interesting and for which I applied. However I've never been to the Arctic before at that point so I wanted to travel to that area before making the decision on whether or not I really wanted to move there. 

The easiest and cheapest way to get to Tromso is by plane. I booked my flights with Lufthansa and went from Frankfurt, Germany to Oslo, Norway and afterwards to Tromso.

I stayed in the Viking Hotell which is situated right in the middle of the city centre and from which you have an amazing view on the mountain Storsteinen. It's also one of the cheaper hotels in Tromso and I felt completely at ease there. The rooms are very modern and clean and the breakfast buffet is delicious! Furthermore you can make your own waffles every afternoon in the common area which is absolutely great!

Tromso and Norway in general is quite expensive so it's important to book your flights well in advance. Norwegian and Wideroe are the cheapest airlines but SAS offers you a discount if you're under 26. Also if you're a group of 3 or more people it's cheaper to book a flat rather than several hotel rooms as that way you can also cook meals yourself instead of eating out. Furthermore you don't really have to book an expensive guided tour (whether that is a Northern Lights or a hiking tour) as you can easily explore the area by yourself. Take the cable car Fjellheisen up to mountain Storsteinen and go hiking or just explore the wonderful view on Tromso from above.

As Tromso is situated in the Arctic of Norway, warm clothes are a must year round. Temperatures can reach 25 degrees in summer but it can also snow in June so you want to be prepared for everything. Bring layers, that is to say thermal underwear and a good winter jacket in winter; shirts, pullovers, hiking shoes, a water resistant jacket and trousers as well as a fleece jacket year round. Wellies in summer as well as spikes and winter boots in winter are also necessary. 

The cable car Fjellheisen is definitely a must for everyone visiting Tromso. The view from the mountain is amazing, no matter which season you're visiting the city in. If you happen to visit the city on one of those rare warm summer days you might want to spend some time at the beach. Telegrafbukta at the very end of Tromso island is the perfect place for that. If you're into museums, I can only recommend you to visit Tromso University Museum which is divided into the Polar Museum in the city centre and Tromso Museum 10mins from the city centre by bus, which focusses on the indigenous people of Norway. Polaria, an aquarium where you can also see bearded seals and where you can watch a film about the Northern Lights in a panoramic cinema, and Perspektivet, an art museum which focusses on cultural photography are also must-sees. 

Don't be undeterred by Norwegian prices. I promise, the landscape you'll see in Northern Norway is unique and stunning and totally makes up for the amount of money you have to pay for your holiday!